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Cory Doctorow's first novel, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, used
the themes of reputation capital, flexible work teams, and the struggle
between classical and modern culture as the milieu for his story. In
Eastern Standard Tribe, Doctorow visits the themes of tribes based on
common interests or (as the title suggests) time zones, file-sharing, and
what I'll call "tactical consulting operations".
As the copy on the inside jacket cover states, the main character is an industrial saboteur working on behalf of the eastern standard (U.S.) time zone tribe. If you've ever thought that consultants might not have your best interests at heart (e.g., "If you aren't part of the solution, you can make a lot of money by prolonging the problem."), then you'll be happy to know that Doctorow capitalizes on that theme. His main character, Art, worked in London as a consultant before his boss and girlfriend got him committed to an insane asylum in Boston.
The bulk of the narrative in Eastern Standard Tribe switches between Art's current location, the asylum in Boston, and his experiences leading up to his commitment. The story itself is interesting and reminds me quite a bit of William Gibson's Pattern Recognition, but there's not nearly as much story here as there is in Gibson's book. A superficial comparison such as length (Pattern Recognition is near or over the traditional novel length of 100,000 words, while Eastern Standard Tribe runs about 60,000 words) offers a partial view of the difference, but the real distinction between Doctorow's latest work and either his Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom or Gibson's Pattern Recognition is that I never quite understood why I should care about the tribes and the competition among them.
Doctorow goes to some length to describe what tribes are. Specifically, pages 108-114 are an expository speech Art makes during a group counseling session in which he explains tribes and how they operate. I started with a body of knowledge of how interest-based groups operate in the Internet world, so I skipped through the speech quickly. Doctorow handled the exposition of reputation capital systems and competing work groups in Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom much more effectively, throwing the reader into the mix and using brief passages to explain key points as he went along.
Why do I compare Eastern Standard Tribe to Pattern Recognition, the work of a far more experienced author? Because the look and feel of the novels are so similar, and because there's a quote from William Gibson on the cover of Eastern Standard Tribe. Gibson says that Doctorow's book is "[u]tterly contemporary and deeply peculiar--a hard combination to beat (or, these days, to find)." He's right, in the sense that Doctorow's work is both firmly grounded in the plausible near future and outside the mainstream, but I hope that Doctorow's next book motivates the reader's interest more effectively.