Monday, October 15, 2007

Books: The Traveler

I'm about halfway through The Traveler, by John Twelve Hawks (Seriously, what's with that middle name? Is it a pen name, or were his parents just exceedingly odd?)

As the NY Times review of the book observes, Traveler reads like "a cyber 1984," which, as far as I'm concerned, is unfortunate. Y'know, since that book has already been written. Perhaps I'm being a bit harsh. Traveler doesn't actually feel like 1984 merely updated for the internet age. It feels more like Hawks loved dystopian novels like 1984 as a young'un, and now, when he has a cool plot idea, he decides to set it in a big brother dystopia.

The problem is, it's getting more and more apparent that the current danger is not an oppressive governmental system. We've been amply warned of that, and are very wary of it. No, the worrisome direction in which we are currently moving is toward the cronyism of a government that is no more than a tool of big business. Sure, the government has done some crummy things lately as far as civil rights are concerned, but it's important to remember that we, the people, have an expectation that the government respects civil rights - there is no such expectation for multinational corporations.

Have any of you heard of CRM? It stands for Consumer Relations Management, and it's a concept so prevalent that it's introduced to business students in their basic marketing course. The idea is that the corporation should pursue a one-on-one relationship with their customers, offering them only the products and services that they are likely to desire. Sounds OK, no? Unfortunately, pursuit of this goal involves collecting LOTS of data about you and your purchasing habits - over the course of years - and then compiling it all into a data warehouse. That's somewhat concerning, but most (not all!) companies have privacy policies that preclude them selling that information to third parties. The catch? When a company with a CRM database goes bankrupt, there is a precedent of considering their consumer data an 'asset'. It is therefore sold to the highest bidder. Disconcerting, no?

To get back to the novel, despite the somewhat juvenile and arbitrary choice to house the story in a big brother dystopia, I'm actually quite enjoying the book. The story follows several different characters living "off the grid," which is quite an accomplishment in Hawks' dystopia (it's tough enough in today's USA!). My favorite, and probably the strongest character, is Maya. She is a Harlequin, a sort of modern warrior - she uses a sword and everything! Well, ok, she uses a shotgun too, but you get the idea.

As I pointed out earlier, I have yet to finish the book, so I don't know if these characters meet up, although I suspect they do. All in all, it's been a good and interesting book so far, and I suggest you give it a shot.

The Traveler

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