display | more...

The Circle
By Dave Eggers
Knopf, 2013

The Circle is a novel of near-future dystopian science fiction, although it's primary purpose is as a morality tale, presenting the reader with a social message about the importance of privacy in the computer age.

Mae Holland has just been offered her dream job, a chance to work at The Circle. It's the biggest tech company since... well, ever, bigger than Facebook and Google combined. But almost from the first day it becomes clear that accepting this job also requires accepting a rather pushy corporate culture, one where active use of social media and frequent attendance of company events is required. This isn't too bad... after all, they give her the most up-to-date tablet and phone, and the campus events are pretty cool -- everything from rock concerts to yoga classes to tech lectures.

It isn't long before the extracurricular requirements become not just intrusive, but overwhelming, and Mae finds herself having to give up more and more of her personal life to keep up with her work-related social life. This is overwhelming, but no matter how intrusive work becomes, the benefits are bigger and better. Mae sees more and more of her privacy and her free time slipping away, and can't do anything about it -- to the point that she no longer has a life, and has convinced herself that she doesn't care.

This novel did not impress me. It is somewhat reminiscent of Walden Two, with the author so interested in telling us every detail of the setting -- the company, its magnificent campus, its founders and their ideals -- that it serious diluted the actual story. The writing is wooden, with weak dialog and boring characters, and lots of slice-of-life expository lumps. It does not help that the main character, Mae, is constantly dealing with crippling self-doubt while being constantly overwhelmed by fairly mundane events. Of course, a lot of this is necessary. Mae has to be young and insecure to explain why she goes along with the shaky logic -- and illogic -- of her coworkers. We have to hear about the mundane bits of life so that we can see how completely they are disrupted by The Circle.

In the end, this comes across as a blunt and perhaps overworked morality tale, the moral being that we need to keep a firm grasp on our privacy rights. Unfortunately, in order to make this point the author drains most of the cheer out of the tale, and we are left with a rather dreary and depressing 500 pages of people being sad while surrounded by interesting technology.