NESFA Members' Reviews

Eastern Standard Tribe

by Cory Doctorow

Tor, 2005 [2004], ISBN 0-765-31045-7

A book review by Elisabeth Carey

Art Berry lives in a world just slightly askew from the rest of us. In our increasingly wireless world of instant and constant communication, he gives his loyalty not to a state or a company or family and friends he sees regularly, but to the Eastern Standard Tribe—a largely faceless collection of people whose home time zone is the Eastern Standard Zone, who are locked in cutthroat competition with other tribes aligned with other time zones. Art himself is currently working in London, engaged in industrial sabotage against the Greenwich Mean Tribe. Virgn/Deutsche Telekom thinks he's working for them, improving their user interface; in fact he's trying to make it almost unusable. He's got a partner and supervisor from the Tribe, Federico, and a new girlfriend, Linda, whom he met when she staged an accident with him as the fall guy so that she could claim the insurance.

For some reason, that doesn't suggest to Art that perhaps Linda is fundamentally untrustworthy and not looking out for his best interests.

Art's having fun, screwing with V/DT's user interface, dreaming up a really good, fun, and profitable idea for EST to sell to MassPike, involving rights management for downloaded music. There are frustrations, too, of course, as he begins to dimly realize that Fede might be double-crossing him, trying to steal his idea and cut him out of the deal. There are more frustrations as Linda and Fede make increasingly contradictory and irreconcilable demands on him. Eventually, on a trip which he thinks is to pitch the idea, and a side trip home to Toronto to introduce Linda to his Gran, Art finally figures out that Linda is not his friend, either. He reacts very badly, and winds up on the roof of a mental institution in Massachusetts, trying to decide whether to stick a pencil into his brain.

There are some neat ideas here, and the story moves along briskly, alternating between the main story and Art on top of the asylum, trying to figure out what he does next, with quite adequate amounts of suspense. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite satisfy. Except for Art, neither the characters nor the book's main conceit, the Tribes, feel fully developed. I was left feeling that this will probably be a fun book to read when Doctorow finishes writing it.

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