Keir Graff, Booklist Online Editor, works closely with the editors of Booklist to ensure a lively rapport between our print and electronic products. In addition to writing book reviews and e-newsletters, he contributes to Likely Stories, the Booklist blog, musing on publishing news and the art of the review. He has written four novels for adults and recently published his first children's book, The Other Felix (October 2011).+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
When the Circle Closes . . . You’re Trapped Inside!
When I was younger, I consumed a lot of horror fiction, sometimes in novel form, more often in the form of a video triple feature, an all-night splatterfest in which the iconic cycle of Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead might end with the actual breaking of dawn outside my windows.
But, while I’ve retained an intellectual fondness for the visceral pleasures of, um, viscera, this affinity has become more and more hypothetical as the years go by. My changing habits might be attributed to becoming a boring, job-holding adult, or to fatherhood (once you’ve suffered projectile-vomiting at the mouth of your one-year-old, Linda Blair’s antics in The Exorcist are merely yawn-provoking). But what’s really happened, I think, is that I’ve become scared by different things.
Overgrown graveyards, fast-moving zombies, houses designed to kill innocent teenagers? Sorry, those are all nothing compared to social media and smartphones—that is, the world we actually live in. And so I suggest you read the scariest book I’ve read all year, a book that is not horror but definitely is horrifying: Dave Eggers’ The Circle.
So it’s a book about a young woman who goes to work at the coolest, hottest, fastest-growning tech company on the planet. How, you ask, is that frightening?
(You may assume it is scary merely by comparison with our own jobs, which is partly true: once you read about The Circle’s super-sweet Bay Area campus, which is Google’s actual campus meets everyone’s idea of what Google’s campus is actually like, you’ll never look at your own company cafeteria with anything but revulsion. But there’s a lot more to it than that.)
Well, The Circle, where young Mae lands her dream job, has cornered the market on search, social media, and e-commerce. They’re digitizing every piece of information you can think of, and a lot more you can’t, meanwhile planting video cameras that cover every square foot of God’s green earth. Oh, and they’re also advocating for a single login that will connect every single aspect of your life, from the shopping you do to to the reviews you write to your mandatory duty as a U.S. citizen to vote in elections (and, just maybe, on what people ought to be having for lunch).
We’ve all watched horror films where someone is running down the road in front of a car, and we’ve all yelled at the screen, “Stop running straight down the middle of the road! Turn right or left! Go into a building!” Which would work, right? Because cars can’t drive inside buildings. But in Eggers’ scary new vision of about ten minutes from now, there will be no escape. No place to run, hide, or avoid annoying pop-ups that demand your instant response. One character does try to drop off the grid and guess what? Well, I don’t want to ruin it for you, but . . . the grid finds him, and it doesn’t go well.
Much horror fiction scares you while reassuring you that, ultimately, you’re safe. This is not that book. In fact, ever since I read it, I feel as though I’ve read dozens of sequels in the form of articles about the latest advances in consumer technology—technology that’s all fine and great until we just can’t turn it off. And, given how many people I see walking around with their handheld screens leading the way, we don’t even want to turn it off. If technology is the vampire that needs to be invited in before it can steal our souls, well, we’ve already given it our spare set of keys.
The Circle is a book that should scare us, that should make us do things differently—but, if we’re going on the record of two other visionary works, Brave New World and 1984, it ain’t gonna happen.And that’s scary.