In an economically struggling America, two good friends, Perry and Lester, invent and sell novelty items made of junk. This places them in the vanguard of the New Work movement, and they ride that wave until it busts in obvious parallel to the bursting of the dot-com bubble. They shake themselves off, and build an ever-changing amusement ride in south Florida. It seems to be catching on, which in turn, catches the attention of a nervous Disney executive concerned about declining attendance at the Disney World attraction he oversees in Orlando.
And that’s pretty much the plot. It’s the story of Perry and Lester, two guys with lots of imagination but not much business sense. They are joined by Suzanne Church, a journalist turned blogger who reports on what they are doing, and by a few other supporting cast members.
Mainly this is a book of social commentary. It highlights contrasts between protecting vested interests and investment in new ideas, open and proprietary technology, and big corporations and small entrepreneurs. It did all of this fairly well, I thought, and the future it paints is somewhat depressing but believable.
The characters are also believable, for the most part. I have only read one other Doctorow novel, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, and the characters in this one are a definite improvement. They aren’t admirable or even especially likeable, but they have understandable motivations and personalities. Even the two characters serving in the role of villains are more pitiable than evil.
The prose is serviceable and the story flows logically. My biggest gripe about the storytelling was the inclusion of a far too descriptive sex scene, which felt like it was cut and pasted out of some steamy erotic romance novel. It wasn’t required, and it didn’t fit. Oh, and it talks about people smoking clove cigarettes, which are no longer legal in the U.S. and I doubt they will be again in the near future. You can still buy small, clove cigars, but they’re not as good. (Yeah, I used to smoke the things.)
Anyway, as a near future tale about two average geeky guys, this isn’t bad. It’s not silly. It doesn’t rant. The characters aren’t cardboard stereotypes, and it brings up some interesting ideas. I can recommend it for readers interested in seeing one possible future that believable extensions of current technology and economic trends make possible.