Eastern Standard Tribe by Cory Doctorow
Tor HCVR: ISBN 0765307596 PubDate: 03/01/04
Review by Ernest Lilley
224 pgs. List price $ 23.95
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In the opening of Winne The Pooh, Chrispoher Robin asks the narrator to tell Pooh a story. The sort he likes are stories about himself. Like Pooh, and most of us, actually, Cory likes those sorts of stories too. Eastern Standard Tribe, about a idea flinging consultant in the near future certainly qualifies as such. The techno-concept that makes up the title is that groups of people wind up ignoring local time to form their own cliques of web and cell phone connected likeminded folks living on whatever time zone their tribe calls home. For the frenetic, international consultant, any idea can be monetized Art Berry, that would be the US Northeast, always running on Eastern Standard Time. Interesting, but writing 15 minutes into the future doesn't leave you much time to stay ahead of reality.
Art is, as I've said, an idea guy. While it's true that he's in it for the money, he's still moderately likeable. He's got a lot of ideas, a girlfriend he picked up after hitting her with his car, a best friend who's also his worst enemy and when the book opens, he's locked in a mental institution in Massachusetts. More specifically, he's locked on the roof. How he got there, and why isn't all that important, except that it consumes a fair amount of the book. Which is ok, really, as he recounts the events between meeting his girlfriend, by hitting her with his car, and the ultimate betrayal by best and girl friends, landing him in the looney bin.
You couldn't call Art heroic. You'd be hard pressed to call him anti-heroic. Mostly, he doesn't think in those terms. He does, however, think in terms of utility, as in whether or not there's a market or need that one of his ideas can fill. So, somewhat incidentally, he winds up creating things that people like, or find helpful, and hence, he comes across as not a bad sort. Besides, he's got loyalty going for him. Pity it's not contagious.
Art tells you, right off, that he was born to argue. To pick things apart and find the logical inconsistency in them, which is both a fun and frustrating way to live, but at least it's interesting. Art's best friend Fede is a real piece of work. Art may have been born to argue, but Fede was born to win arguments, and isn't handicapped by reason. This is a much less frustrating way to live, but less interesting as well. Then there's Linda, who he quickly falls in love with, operates on an entirely different plane - one based on giving guilt and throwing confusion to the male. All of which is to say that Linda and Fede are two of a kind, while Art is more of the opposite. Do opposites attract, then? Or will birds of a feather flock together? Guess.
Plot? Well, no, not really. Eastern Standard Tribe is mostly a venue for Doctorow to roll out clever ideas (and they are clever) about what the near future holds for entrepreneurs and how much more society can get mucked up.
All in all, EST is a fun little book to breeze through, which doesn't take long at 224 pages. If Art wasn't likeable, it wouldn't be worth your time, but he is, mostly, and he brings some interesting concepts to the reader. The central one, that people can identify with others based on time zones, leaves me waiting to be convinced, but time will probably bear him out in essence, if not in fact.