Sunday, November 03, 2013

"The Circle", a novel by Dave Eggers

This book is unlike anything that Eggers has previously written.  Since he has no formulaic pattern to his writing that is not what is unusual.  What is striking is that the tone of the book was almost uniformly disturbing or just plain agitating to this reader.  Don't look for much if any wry humor here.  What maintained attention and flow was Egger's straightforward, clear, and precise writing and a subtle build up of tension as the book developed.

On the surface "The Circle" is a book named after the company it describes.  It is a futuristic story about a company that has subsumed the social networking and information gathering capabilities of Google, Microsoft, Twitter, Yahoo, Apple, and other information technology firms, but that is mentioned in only one early sentence of the book and is not the story.  The story is about what the resulting firm's goals are.  That is to be the ultimate force in all social interaction.

Part of its mantra is "Secrets Are Lies, Sharing Is Caring, Privacy Is Theft".  As the book develops there is little redemption here and fully thought out characters range from megalomaniacs, repulsively self centered hyper-sensitive creeps, brilliant misguided technologists, fully exploited naive managers, and those that fall by the wayside as the bulldozer of The Circle's vision crushes them.  That vision of no more of "the selfish hoarding of life" is one that would lead to "world peace" and the end of the "messiness of humanity"(It should be noted that this book was published last month and thus written much earlier, well before the revelations about the NSA that are now upon us).

What one realizes is that, while the book is set in future, it is analogous in many ways to what is already taking place with social media as it exists now.  Sentences or paragraphs that awake this thought of our current trends are not hard to find if one is thinking about making the connection to today.  Did someone friend you or not, where is the response to my e-mail, why did my ranking on a web site drop so precipitously, what did that person really mean in that comment on my work,  these thoughts are just the beginning.

Dave Eggers is one my most highly regarded writers, both due to his talent but also due to his humanity as he exhibits in his many initiatives and in his work.  When I first started reading this book it was clear that it was something different so there have been no reviews of this book read here, no looking at any comment on Amazon, nothing.  No influence, conscious or unconscious, was wanted on what ended up being this comment.

The book is worth reading, best accomplished in big gulps, even if it is more alarming than charming, with the operative word being ALARM now.


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