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Eastern Standard Tribe
Cory Doctorow
Tor Books, 224 pages

Eastern Standard Tribe
Cory Doctorow
Cory Doctorow was born in Toronto, in 1971. He has sold fiction since the age of 17. His story, "Craphound," was published in Science Fiction Age. Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom was his first novel.

Cory Doctorow Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: A Place So Foreign
SF Site Review: Down And Out In The Magic Kingdom

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Greg L. Johnson

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A man sits on the roof of a psychiatric hospital, his mind poised on the edge of a question: Is it better to be smart or happy? It's a false dichotomy, of course, but such is the state to which Art Berry's life has led him. It's also the point at which Cory Doctorow's Eastern Standard Tribe begins telling the story of Art's life.

Art is a member of the Eastern Standard Tribe, working in London to undermine the working of companies located in Greenwich Mean. Instantaneous global communication has produced a newly-emerging social structure in which people organise themselves not necessarily by the geographic area in which they live, but by the sub-culture they most personally identify with. Thus Art, who identifies with the culture of the American East Coast, has adjusted his personal work/sleep schedule to allow him to live in sync with people who live in the eastern United States. More and more people around the world are doing the same thing, producing a world where traditional boundaries mean less, and the effects of sleep deprivation are a truly serious problem.

Eastern Standard Tribe is a refreshingly new science fiction look at the near future. The events that lead Art to the roof the insane asylum include meeting a new girlfriend, a brilliant business idea involving the downloading of music on the Massachusetts Turnpike, and the betrayal of a trusted co-worker. Doctorow paints the picture of a world that seems to have stepped directly from our own, and yet feels distinctly different from the many near-future scenarios, including cyberpunk, corporate domination, environmental and biological dangers and others that readers of modern SF are well acquainted with. Eastern Standard Tribe does share some concerns, especially with the cyberpunk crowd, but Doctorow's vision is definitely the result of someone who has grown up in a world that is increasingly wired together, rather than that of a writer trying to envision what such a world would be like.

Eastern Standard Tribe is a fairly short novel, and its length is both a major strength and the novel's one weakness. By keeping it short, Doctorow maintains the focus on Art's life and his place in the world. There are no wasted words here. But there's also more to learn about this future that Art is living in and helping to create. Our view of his world is limited by Art's experience in it; his life is a fairly privileged one, and you suspect that there are problems out there that Art simply doesn't have to deal with.

That's a minor complaint in what is an engaging and fun read. Art's life story presents an interesting character and the world he lives in. That we might like to know that world even better may be an indication that Doctorow has already mastered the art of leaving his audience wanting more. As it is, Eastern Standard Tribe is a first-rate character study, and a novel that stands out among the best of contemporary science fiction.

Copyright © 2004 by Greg L. Johnson

Reviewer Greg L. Johnson was a bit surprised to find Art, upon returning to the East Coast, tearing into a steak that he positively describes as "bigger than your head." Greg thought such an appetite was a trait of his own Fly-Over Land Tribe. His reviews also appear in the The New York Review of Science Fiction.


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