Utterly contemporary and deeply peculiar — a hard combination to beat (or, these days, to find).
The future has caught up with the visions of the original cyberpunk writers — their virtual communities, online identities, encrypted data packets, communication gadgets, and rampant digital viruses are all here — and now the future’s uncharted territory is about intellectual property and copyright protection. Many of the original cyberpunk crew have retreated to the present and the past, while Cory Doctorow has stepped up to the future.
I’ve found it kind of rare to stumble over a book that really speaks to me, that resonates, clicks in with a core aspect of my life. Eastern Standard Tribe is one of them.
Unlike the characters in “Down and Out,” who could be killed and easily resurrected through advances in nanotechnology, Art and the supporting cast of “Eastern Standard Tribe” are thoroughly mortal, blessed only with “comms,” phonelike devices that put incredible computing power at everyone’s fingertips. Their vulnerability gives “Eastern Standard Tribe” an urgency and poignancy that Doctorow’s first novel lacked. One definitely finds oneself rooting for poor, beleaguered Art, and Doctorow resolves his plight with a satisfying dose of suspense and humor.
San Francisco Chronicle
While some might consider Doctorow a booster for the online, wired lifestyle, his books contain subtle but pointed warnings about the flaws of high tech societies. Being a Tribalist, living out of circadian synch with the people around you, relating with people you mainly know as a handle on a screen, encourages paranoia and disloyalty, smartness instead of happiness. Art becomes an object lesson in how such a society can ruin a person, and his salvation doesn’t lie in technology.
The power of Eastern Standard Tribe draws on traditional storytelling elements — tight plotting, sharp characterization and keen thematic treatment. The novel is immediately accessible, the near-future setting all too familiar. Despite the shifting between chronologies and tenses (first- to third-person throughout), Doctorow maintains an unrelenting pace; many readers will find themselves finishing the novel, as I did, in a single sitting.
There’s a certain casual but insistent forward flow to his writing that makes you want to keep reading. It’s rather like the motion of a Haunted Mansion Doombuggy: it shows you something cool, but its wiggle tells you that something cooler is waiting just over there in the next chamber… [The book is full of] argumentative personalities, smooth-talking biz-dev guys and anal-rententive user experience orthos so real that you want to pimp-slap them with a hardcover edition of Tufte.
The Adventures of Accordion Guy in the 21st Century
Cory Doctorow writes fast and furiously, the words gushing out of him in a stream of metaphor and imagery that keeps you glued to his futurist tales…
Doctorow offers characters that are absolutely human. There are no robots here — these people are sexed up and emotionally charged.
Now Magazine, Rating: NNNN
The first thing you notice when reading Eastern Standard Tribe is that it suggests a methodology that Doctorow follows when building his novels: identify and research a cool new idea, add more and more cool bits to that idea, and then build that into a story. In Down and Out the cool idea was reputation-based economies, and in Tribe it’s a new kind of social group emerging that chooses to abandon its local standard time to live and work in stop with another more desirable one…
Damien Broderick, in a recent review, coined the rather amusing term “blogpunk,” which seems to very much apply to Doctorow’s work. It refers to the tendency of writers of online journals to accumulate fascinating factoids and then share them amongst themselves. And, to an extent, you can see that in Tribe. The novel’s background is full of cool things — cars running on lard and such — but it’s just that, background. At its heart, Tribe is a witty, sometimes acerbic poke in the eye at modern culture. Everything comes under Doctorow’s microscope, and he manages to be both up to date and off the cuff in the best possible way.
Doctorow peppers his novel with technology so palpable you want to order it up on the web. You’ll probably get the chance. But technology is not the point here, merely a fascinating, convincing backdrop for the story. It’s a really old story, actually — boy meets girl. What follows is not unexpected, or even particularly new. What is unexpected, shocking even, is how smart Doctorow is when it comes to the human heart, and how well he’s able to articulate it.
This novel feels whiz-bang modern, but Doctorow’s prose uses the oldest trick in the book — utterly direct simplicity. Even when he’s explaining a sophisticated system of mobile music swapping, Doctorow comes off like a standup comedian. The insights he offers seem obvious, but only in retrospect. He seems smart because he makes the reader feel smart. When Doctorow talks, when Art argues, we just get it. There’s nothing between the language and the meaning. The prose is funny, simple and straightforward. This is a no-bullshit book.