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Eastern Standard Tribe: A Novel Paperback – May 22, 2018
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"Warlight" by Michael Ondaatje
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From the Inside Flap
"I know many science fiction writers engaged in the cyber-world, but Cory Doctorow is a native....We should all hope and trust that our culture has the guts and moxie to follow this guy. He's got a lot to tell us." -Bruce Sterling
A powerful and funny novel about time, tribalism, and a young man's dismaying discoveries about his own life
"Cory Doctorow is the most interesting new SF writer I've come across in years. He starts out at the point where older SF writers' speculations end."
--Rudy Rucker, author of Spaceland
"Cory Doctorow doesn't just write about the future--I think he lives there."
"Cory Doctorow rocks! Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is about a world that is visible in its outlines today, if you know where to look, from reputation systems to peer-to-peer ad-hocracies. Doctorow knows where to look."
--Howard Rheingold, author of The Virtual Community and Smart Mobs
"Nicely understated: meringue laced with caffeine."
-Publishers Weekly on Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom
"It's cool, it's hip, and it's fun-but more important, it's about something. Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is a sleek, tightly written book that, as the best science fiction should, engages with the world."
About the Author
Canadian-born Cory Doctorow is the author of the New York Times bestselling young adult novel Little Brother, and the co-editor of the popular blog BoingBoing. His other YA novels include Pirate Cinema and Homeland, the sequel to Little Brother.
His adult novels and short stories have won him three Locus Awards and the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. He has been named one of the Web’s twenty-five “influencers” by Forbes Magazine and a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. He lives in London with his wife and daughter.
Top customer reviews
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This book is classic Doctorow. In it he foretells our addiction to smart phones, the rise of connection and the industrialization of the copyright regimes.
It's impossible to put down, and if you haven't read it yet, I'm truly jealous.
While not overly techie there's enough thrown in to capture the feel, but us oldies, who remember when MS-DOS (look it up, kids) was new, are able to keep up.
I particularly enjoyed the intelligence that went into this. The unforced humor was the key to my liking it as much as I did. I've already ordered more of his books.
This is the first novel I've read from Doctorow, who I don't know much about except that he writes satirical SF novels, has certain opinions about copyright laws and digital sharing and appears occasionally in that online comic that's all stick figures. He strikes me as one of those writers that is pretty good at writing essays outlining his ideas and thus should be very careful to avoid having his novels turn into essays with plots. He seems aware of that pitfall here and does his best to straddle a sort of middle ground but unfortunately it doesn't do the plot or the essay any favors at times.
He sets the novel in a near future world where the Internet has allowed people from different parts of the world to bond together via similar ideas and mentalities. As those mentalities (an extension of subcultures) often seem centered around certain geographical areas, those "tribes" pledge allegiance to different timezones. Each tribe has agents living in different parts of the world furthering the tribe's agenda while pretending to be a native of that time zone, meaning that a lot of coffee and melatonin gets consumed as they are perpetually never in sync with anyone else around them (nobody seems to think of the obvious excuse to avoid suspicion, which is just claiming you have narcolepsy or you're an online gamer). I suppose you can quibble with the conceit that you can group people by time zone (the East Coast/West Coast differences are nothing Woody Allen hasn't done before but being that the Central Standard Time has Canada, Texas and Mexico finding a common denominator might be difficult . . . I don't think he even addresses what happens during Daylight Savings Time, although maybe its been discarded in his future) but I don't think he's proposing it seriously, more as a jumping off point for other ideas.
The hero of our novel is Art Berry, who we're told in the beginning is super smart and good at seeing the world in ways that the average person isn't capable of because they're lulled into passivity. Unfortunately Doctorow demonstrates this through one of the more cliched ways of showing how a character is good at penetrating the BS of the world, namely lecturing everyone in church about their own religion better than they can despite not being a believer (to the delight of the open minded pastor), something that always comes across to me as slightly condescending and smug. But it establishes his "he's a loner, baby, an intellectual rebel" credentials fairly early on, which is good because the book is pretty short.
From there we eventually shift into two parallel narratives, Art telling us about his stay in an asylum after he's involuntarily committed and what happened to get him stuck there. Prior to be thrown in the padded wall slammer he's doing okay for himself, working in London secretly undermining the Greenwich Mean Tribe with a friend and fellow conspirator, while starting to date a woman he was involved with in an accident. Its only when he comes up with a neat idea for music file sharing in traffic that things start to go haywire for him.
Oddly enough, for a novel centered around the future, the nature of copyright and the associations we make with people who don't live near us, the most entertaining parts of the novel are where poor Art has to try and prove himself sane to people that are convinced that you're insane until proven otherwise and all your attempts to prove your sanity only mark you as insane. Its not the most savage treatment of how we deal with people with mental health problems you'll see but there's a nice "Catch-22" vibe as Art's struggles to prove he's not cuckoo for cocoa puffs are only met with condescending pats on the hand and "of course you're not crazy, love" reactions. Doctorow of course can't help himself at some points and has to have Art spew out genius ideas that like-minded open-minded people such as himself immediately recognize as genius and do their best to help him accomplish (you may not agree with how brilliant they are but they're at least worth thinking about) and if I hinted that his ultimate triumph has something to do with getting like-minded folks to help him fight the close-minded establishment I don't think I'd be spoiling that much for you.
The sections not in the asylum are a bit more problematic, as we see Art and his friend Fede do their best to be saboteurs without being found out while trying to strike a deal for Art's idea with the Eastern Standard Tribe. Along the way Art attempts to date Linda, which has its own share of verbal landmines. Art's relationship with Linda walks the line between "grating" and "tedious", with Linda jumping down his throat every time he places a word wrong before shifting back into being, if not loving, at least affectionate. It happens often enough that you start to wonder if Linda is slightly bipolar or Doctorow is making some satirical point about dating that doesn't quite come across in the novel. All it made me wonder is why he doesn't ditch her after the first "moderate your tone" lecture. Is he that desperate for a date or that starved for attention from ladies? You do start to feel sorry for him after a while because he seems nice, if hapless, but its hard to see why he keeps subjecting himself to that level of abuse. Its possible to argue that Linda's actions later perhaps explain her methods but I saw it as just an extension of her personality, for better or for worse.
So that leaves you with Art's file sharing concepts, which probably seemed brilliant in 2004 but now in the days of streaming seem a bit dated (though as a guy with a house full of CDs I perhaps shouldn't be a judge of what's cutting edge) and the whole idea of the tribes, which unfortunately doesn't get a lot of pages devoted to the ins and outs of how exactly it works. While scene after scene of a dude taking No-Doz perhaps would belabor the point, the idea of people living secretly on a different time zone than everyone around them comes across more in idea than execution . . . on paper it sounds like a 21st century John Le Carre novel about "circadian spies", but in practice it appears to be more like a bunch of people at their college reunion reminiscing about how they used to pull all-nighters when studying for finals, not really mining the concept for the drama it perhaps deserves.
Unfortunately because of its length and inability to decide what it wants to focus on, it leaves the book as neither fish nor fowl, not dramatic enough to really engage you in the story but too focused on constructing straw-men for our protagonist to wow to really delve deep into the nuts and bolts of where Doctorow saw society going and explore how we might live in it. Due to its length he wraps it up fairly neatly and pat (a little too pat, with a last minute coincidence that felt too "only in fiction") before it goes too far but what you're left with is the sense that you read a missed opportunity for something a little more biting, a little more provocative. As an example that Doctorow is clever it works just fine, but as a means to make us look at the world differently after the book is finished I'm not sure if it succeeds and since it seems most of the drive of the book is devoted to that it ultimately may not be as successful as it thinks it is.