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Eastern Standard Tribe Hardcover – March 1, 2004
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Cory Doctorows Eastern Standard Tribe is a soothsaying jaunt into the not-so-distant future, where 24/7 communication and chatroom alliances have evolved into tribal networks that secretly work against each other in shadowy online realms. The novel opens with its protagonist, the peevish Art Berry, on the roof of an asylum. He wonders if it's better to be smart or happy. His crucible is a pencil up the nose for a possible "homebrew lobotomy." To explain Art's predicament, Doctorow flashes backward and slowly fills in the blanks. As a member of the Eastern Standard Tribe, Art is one of many in the now truly global village who have banded together out of like-minded affinity for a particular time zone and its circadian cycles. Art may have grown up in Toronto but his real homeland is an online grouping that prefers bagels and hot dogs to the fish and chips of their rivals who live on Greenwich Mean Time. As he rises through the ranks of the tribe, he is sent abroad to sabotage the traffic patterns and communication networks in the GMT tribe. Along the way, he comes across a humdinger of an idea that will solve a music piracy problem on the highways of his own beloved timezone, raise his status in the tribe and make him rich. If only he could have trusted his tightly wound girlfriend and fellow tribal saboteur, he probably wouldn't be on the booby hatch roof with that pencil up his nose.
As a musing on the future, Doctorow's extrapolation seems entirely plausible. And, not only is EST a fascinating mental leap it's a witty and savvy tale that will appeal to anyone who's lived another life, however briefly, online. --Jeremy Pugh
From Publishers Weekly
John W. Campbell Award-winner Doctorow lives up to the promise of his first novel, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom (2003), with this near-future, far-out blast against human duplicity and smothering bureaucracy. Even though it takes a while for the reader to grasp post-cyberpunk Art Berry's dizzying leaps between his "now," a scathing 2012 urban nuthouse, and his "then," the slightly earlier events that got him incarcerated there, this short novel's occasionally bitter, sometimes hilarious and always whackily appealing protagonist consistently skewers those evils of modern culture he holds most pernicious. A born-to-argue misfit like all kids who live online, Art has found peers in cyber space who share his unpopular views-specifically his preference for living on Eastern Standard Time no matter where he happens to live and work. In this unsettling world, e-mails filled with arcane in-jokes bind competitive "tribes" that choose to function in one arbitrary time or another. Swinging from intense highs (his innovative marketing scheme promises to impress his tribe and make him rich) to maudlin lows (isolation in a scarily credible loony bin), Art gradually learns that his girl, Linda, and his friend Fede are up to no good. In the first chapter, Doctorow's authorial voice calls this book a work of propaganda, a morality play about the fearful choice everybody makes sooner or later between smarts and happiness. He may be more right than we'd like to think.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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But somehow, the cleverness seems to out-pace the writing. This book is packed with clever ideas, but they never go anywhere. Plot twists don't make a lot of sense, the setup at the beginning never develops into a meaningful plot.
Ultimately this is a frustrating book. So much good up front, so little on the back. As if Doctorow had a beginning and tossed off an ending just to get the book out. This is possible since he's released it under the Creative Commons license; it may be he was in a hurry to make the statement by getting it out there and didn't take time. Or it may be that he's just an idea guy and has trouble with the plots (as I writer, I've been known to suffer this).
This book is worth reading for the first few chapters. Truly, truly worth reading and re-reading. But it's not a satisfying book; my hope is that Doctorow lives up to his potential with the next one. because when he's good, goddamn, he's incredibly good.
The term “Eastern Standard Tribe” refers to a loose knit group who operate on the Eastern Time Zone of the United States. It is a group or tribe of likeminded people who are digital friends. Most have never met each other but have so much loyalty they help when one of their members get in trouble. Think of it as Facebook friends who are actual friends. It is an interesting concept that anyone on the Internet can relate to.
Throughout most of the book, you the listener are not really sure what the main character does for a living, why he has so much time to screw around, or what his extremely strange friends do either. All of it comes clear and is well worth the effort. You are also not quite sure if the main character is completely sane or if all this is some kind of psychotic episode. Again, stick with it, it’s well worth it.
It is a fun, 20 something book with a SciFi twist, a kind of “Generation X” in the 21st Century. The characters are well developed and likable (even the ones you hate). There is an especially funny scene where the main character and his girlfriend are being mugged in London. He manages to talk them out of it with his keen wit only to end up being interrogated by the bumbling police for half the night.
Narration is by P.J. Ochlan, who does an excellent job. He holds the right sense of irreverence throughout the story and the accents are well done.
Eastern Standard Tribe will not be for everyone. It is quirky and strange, sometimes breaking the forth wall by speaking directly to the listener, even revealing the structure and mechanics of the plot. It doesn’t take itself seriously and is a good ride. Listen with that in mind and you will enjoy the book quite a lot.
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For some reason, that doesn't suggest to Art that perhaps Linda is fundamentally untrustworthy and not looking out for his best interests.
Art's having fun, screwing with V/DT's user interface, dreaming up a really good, fun, and profitable idea for EST to sell to MassPike, involving rights management for downloaded music. There are frustrations, too, of course, as he begins to dimly realize that Fede might be double-crossing him, trying to steal his idea and cut him out of the deal. There are more frustrations as Linda and Fede make increasingly contradictory and irreconcilable demands on him. Eventually, on a trip which he thinks is to pitch the idea, and a side trip home to Toronto to introduce Linda to his Gran, Art finally figures out that Linda is not his friend, either. He reacts very badly, and winds up on the roof of a mental institution in Massachusetts, trying to decide whether to stick a pencil into his brain.
There are some neat ideas here, and the story moves along briskly, alternating between the main story and Art on top of the asylum, trying to figure out what he does next, with quite adequate amounts of suspense. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite satisfy. Except for Art, neither the characters nor the book's main conceit, the Tribes, feel fully developed. I was left feeling that this will probably be a fun book to read when Doctorow finisihes writing it.