Thursday, May 08, 2014
DeepArcher to the Bleeding Edge
Recently I have been working for a Silicon Valley tech firm which does not have a special shuttle for its employees from San Francisco to the Peninsula a la Google. So I take two Muni buses to the 4th and Townsend Caltrain station at an ungodly hour of the morning, ride the modified bullet commuter train to San Carlos, and then board a once-an-hour shuttle to the suburban office parks of Redwood Shores.
It's hell, but I need the money, and Silicon Valley is fascinating in its own ineffable, disembodied, science fiction way. Plus, I get to see Brian Barneclo's astonishing Systems mural every morning as we pull out of the downtown San Francisco station.
Possibly the best description of our new digital age and its weird discontents comes from the great American novelist Thomas Pynchon in Bleeding Edge, published last year when he was 76 years old.
It's one of Pynchon's more accessible novels, sort of a combination of The Crying of Lot 49 with its heroine stumbling over elaborate conspiracies and Vineland, with its mixture of family warmth and political warfare between federal fascists and California leftists.
Bleeding Edge takes place in New York City from Spring 2011 to Spring 2012 after the first dot-com bubble popped in Manhattan's Silicon Alley followed by the 9/11 World Trade Center collapse. The characters are predominantly Jewish, ranging from capitalists to commies, Zionists to anti-Zionists, fighting many of the internecine battles that have dominated the 20th Century.
The protagonist is a plucky, very funny, Jewish Mother named Maxine Tarnow. In her career as an accounting fraud investigator, she gets mixed up in the dark deeds of a powerful, shady tech company called hashslingerz, founded by Gabriel Ice, who reads like a cross between Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Google's Sergei Brin. Her journeys with family members, friends, artists, multi-culti gangsters, government assassins, detectives, hackers, and finally into the Deep Web is fascinating.
Silicon Valley and the World Wide Web has always felt a bit surreal and evanescent, as if it's a particularly outlandish invention from a Pynchon novel itself. Reading this book while journeying on a train to work there has been like wandering in a hall of mirrors. Highly recommended.