Saturday, May 21, 2016

Cumulus: a very short review

I happened to pick up and read Eliot Peper's Cumulus.

For a book that is so trendy, so timely, so in-the-moment, it seemed somehow appropriate that I read it as an e-book. The transience, the evanescence of the e-book format just seems right for Cumulus. When everything is in the ("Cumulus") cloud, what even exists?

Anyway, back to the book.

Cumulus is set in Oakland, where Oakland resident Huian Li is the CEO of cloud computing giant Cumulus, Inc. She commutes to her office in the San Francisco Presidio by private helicopter, and lives in the "Green Zone," whose residents are transported, secured, monitored, landscaped, patrolled, and in general fully cared-for by its corporate owners.

Meanwhile, down in the Oakland flats, a loose collection of community organizers, hackers, artists, environmental activists, and others are trying to regain control of their lives in our modern over-surveilled world.

Like I said, it's trendy.

And it's written quite well, too. Here's a sample:

Vera still failed to understand how important Huian's mission was. The level of commitment required didn't leave room for fluffy concepts like work/life balance. Huian's calling wasn't a hobbyist fascination with macrame. Technology was the only scalable tool available to help shape a better future. The question was whether people chose to participate in that future or not. Huian was a harbinger of that new reality. She would stop at nothing to push forward the inexorable, beautiful, conflicted locomotive of human civilization. Dystopias were the province of the undisciplined.

"the inexorable, beautiful, conflicted locomotive of human civilization:" Peper's little capsule summary of Huian's motivation is actually a very nice assessment of both the appeal and the danger of the high tech lifestyle, and it well-encapsulates the addictive, seductive pull that Silicon Valley has upon the bright, young, aggressive, ambitious people who arrive here.

Being frank, Cumulus is a bit too pat. It follows a fairly obvious trajectory, with some other rather crudely-drawn characters who are not as interesting as Huian, and several times it seems to shy away just when it nears the brink of a true insight.

But Peper is talented, and alert, and interested in the ideas of the day. Cumulus is a fun and interesting start, and I hope he develops his story-telling skills in the future.

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