Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Book Review: Cumulus by Eliot Peper

Pros: plausible future, interesting characters, fast paced

Cons: ending 

In the near future, Cumulus controls much of the world’s technology. It’s founder, Huian Li, wants to extend her company’s reach but is frustrated when an important acquisition falls through. Graham Chandler used to work for the Agency until its never ending bureaucracy drove him out. He’s spent the past few years working his way through the ranks of Cumulus and now he’s making himself indispensable to Huian. Soon she’ll be his puppet and he’ll run Cumulus.

Lilly Miyamoto’s first love is film photography but she’s tired of pimping out her life, photographing Greenie weddings, barely able to afford her place in the slums. Two unexpected encounters give her the chance to make her photography mean so much more.

The book isn’t set too far in the future, but the internet has progressed and more things have been automated (cars, for example) and co-ordinated. The rich can afford the better private services of Cumulus, while state operated programs flounder due to reduced budgets. This has created an even larger socio-economic gap between the rich and the poor than currently exists. Graham’s soliloquies about past jobs in foreign countries and how he’s noticed the gap growing at home are quite interesting.

The main players were all fun to read about. They had layers to who they were, with ambitions, faults, habits, etc. I really liked Lilly’s gumption given her unfortunate circumstances.

The book is fast paced with short chapters creating a sense of tension as the story jumps between viewpoints.

I really enjoyed the book right up until the ending, when it all fell apart. Suddenly Graham’s motivation is lacking in a way that makes no sense. And while there’s a sense that the events of the book will have a huge impact on the players, some last minute decisions seemed odd considering what was about to happen. I’ll go into more detail in the spoiler section.

On the whole it was a fun, quick read. I just wish the author had spent more time considering the ending.


Problems I had with the ending:
1) I’m supposed to believe that Graham, who has constant thoughts about socio-political inequality decided to work for the largest tech company in the world - spending years getting to where he needed to be in order to start controlling it from behind the scenes - and had no idea what he wanted to do with the company? I’d assumed he had some plan for fixing the problems he always complained about. He’s simply too meticulous for me to believe he put in so much effort with no end goal in mind.

2) Huian plans to preempt Graham’s leak by leaking the information herself. Does that include the sex tapes he made using Cumulus’s spyware (including his blackmail files)? How about all the private financial, employment, and medical records of her employees? Because that’s all stuff he set up to release. And I doubt anyone will be thrilled to learn about the depth of information Cumulus can access and how lax their security protocols are with regards to the privacy of their customers. I can only imagine how many people would want to cancel their Cumulus service because of this leak.

3) Despite the very obvious legal trouble Huian is about to be in (she even mentions this) and her recent decisions ordering the execution of his lover, Frederick decides Huian should be on the advisory committee overseeing the implementation of bringing Cumulus to the poor. Now, assuming the privacy concerns of #2 don’t make people decide they’re better off without Cumulus recording all their private moments, how is she divorced enough from the company to be part of an independent council? She’d obviously side with the company and what the next CEO thinks is best.

4) Following on #3, how does removing a corrupt mayor help if pretty much everyone in politics and on the police force is equally corrupt? From what the book said, everyone worked with Frederick. And the problem with electing someone who isn’t corrupt is that you’re stuck voting for one of the people running for office, and how do voters know who is and isn’t corrupt?

5) Frederick states at the end of the book that he wants to retire and his organization will survive his leaving. If he had so little control of his operation, how has he not been replaced by someone with more ambition? I’m also a little concerned that the author set up the head of a criminal organization as the sole example of a great leader (following a phrase used just prior to this scene).

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