Company Town by Madeline Ashby
Published in May of 2016.
If you are reading this post on 11/8/16, my guess is that you are looking for some distraction.
How can we think about anything else on this day but the most consequential presidential election that any of us are likely to live through?
But you are online, and it is hours before we will starting getting any voting results, so this is a great time to distract ourselves with something totally different.
And what could be more distracting than a book that - as Bryan Alexander observes - mashes up near-future science fiction, plus a crime story, a classic detective story setup, and strong echoes of cyberpunk.
Oh..and why we are talking about Bryan Alexander. Forget Oprah’s Book Club. The Powerball prize fpr any near future science fiction author is to picked for Bryan’s book club.
If you want to read an excellent discussion of Company Town from another member of our book club, this one containing spoilers, then check out Tim Lepczyk’s review.
For our distracting 11/8/16 discussion - I’ll limit myself to a few observations about Company Town:
Observation #1 - Company Town Is Difficult to Put Down:
If the web is not distracting enough for you today, and you need to lose yourself in something that is not political, then go ahead and download Company Town. The wonderful thing about reading books is that you can’t click over to another tab. No multitasking. You sit, and you read. (Or you listen to the audiobook and go for a long walk or clean the bathrooms or something). You cannot simultaneously read Company Town and go on FiveThirtyEight. Nobody named Nate Silver will intrude upon your reading enjoyment of Company Town.
The main reason that Company Town is so diverting is that the main character, Go Jung-Hwa, is just so cool. Hwa is a bodyguard to sex workers and scions, an unaltered human in a population of genetically altered and synthetically improved humans, and a completely original and sympathetic character. Parts of the ending to Company Town still don’t make much sense to me, but I enjoyed getting to know Hwa (and the world that she lives in) to such degree that a few minor plot gaps feel completely forgivable.
Observation #2 - Company Towns and College Towns:
If you live in a college town, there is a good chance that you also live in a company town. A town where a single entity is the largest employer, and the social life and cultural feel of the town is dominated by the college. While reading Company Town I kept trying to recast the story from that of a city built on an oil rig off the shores of eastern Canada, to one of a city built on an oil rig that had been turned into a college off the shores of eastern Canada.
In Company Town, Hwa’s lack of synthetic implants and improved genetics makes her invisible to all surveillance. In a college town, would Hwa be invisible to the unblinking gaze of website tracking cookies and learning analytics?
Observation #3 - Online Book Clubs Are the Best:
Bryan Alexander seems to be pulling off in his book club what I wish every professional organization working at the intersection of technology and education would attempt. That is to get our community to reflect on our work in higher education through the lens of art.
One of the best parts of reading this book was the knowledge that I’d have the chance to chat about the book with Bryan and his friends.
Which near science fiction book from Bryan’s list do you think that the book club should read next?
How are you distracting yourself today?
What are you reading?
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