Saturday, September 20, 2008

Cory Doctorow: Eastern Standard Tribe

Cory Doctorow's Eastern Standard Tribe takes place in a high-speed near future of advanced technology. It jumps around in time, with flashes back and forward getting about equal time.

Art Berry is a member of the Eastern Standard Tribe, a granfaloon of people synchronized to Eastern Standard Time, regardless of where they live. Art has been serving EST as a double agent working for the Greenwich 0 Tribe in London, but his erstwhile partner and his paramour have conspired to get him committed to an asylum so they can exploit his latest invention unhindered.

Art feels very similar to Charles Stross' Manfred Macx from Accelerando: a high tech entrepreneur living a life two sigmas faster than those around him, inventing constantly, and caught up in other people's conspiracies. Art is a human factors designer who has a good feel for the zeitgeist, and enough reputation that he has no trouble getting backing to implement outlandish ideas and see whether they'll catch on quickly.

The plot-line associated with the asylum has the paranoid feeling of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest". On one hand, Art's friends really were out to get him, but on the other hand, once you're sent to an asylum, there's no way to convince the doctors that you're sane, especially if you try to ask them how to prove you're not crazy. Art's inventiveness serves him in good stead here, as he manages to find a way to cause a ruckus that allows him to contact a sympathetic and influential psychiatrist who believes his story.

The story is well-told, but without depth or broad implications. The most interesting aspects are the world building and Art's struggle to get out of the asylum. The former is well-played; it's a believable fast-paced world with a constant introduction of new toys and tools, but most of the population is unaware of the constant struggle to invent and deliver the things they use. I enjoyed the story, but it's not more than an entertaining diversion.

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