Friday, August 26, 2005

Cory Doctorow's Eastern Standard Tribe

Cory Doctorow's Eastern Standard Tribe is a look at what life would be like with all barriers removed by instant communications -- except for the need to sleep.

The action happens in two familiar places for me, London and the Route 128 area around Boston. The main character, Art, leads a double life: He's a "user experience" designer and a spy for the Eastern Standard Tribe, those who choose to live on New York and Boston time, no matter where they actually reside. Art has been sent to sabotage the rival Greenwich Mean Tribe by designing systems for the megacorporation Virgin/Deutsche Telekom that appeal to the executives and bean counters, but are almost entirely unusable. His aim is to gum up the already inefficient Europe, widening the economic gap between GMT and EST. This is a bit too plausable for comfort, especially for someone who rides the Tube every day. I can think of many other products, laws and procedures that are apparently designed by sadists.

The story opens, however, when Art's life has already gone off the rails. He's on the roof of an insane asylum outside Boston, trying to decide whether to give himself a lobotomy by sticking a pencil up his nose. How he got there is told in flashbacks, involving corporate intrigue and backstabbing over a proposed music-swapping service designed to boost road toll revenue for his real employer, MassPike.

The writing is excellent, extremely funny and done with a lighter touch than in his latest, Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town. I only wish the book was longer. At only 221 pages -- in very big type -- I finished it in just a few daily commutes.

Definitely recommended for my friends in family in both time zones.

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