If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that I adore Eliot Peper. We met randomly (he sent me an email), which turned into a long-distance relationship, culminating in FG Press (our now defunct publishing company) publishing Eliot’s first book titled Uncommon Stock (and being the first book that FG Press published).
Eliot went on to publish several other books with FG Press. When FG Press failed, we revered the rights back to him (and all of the other authors) for their books, which Eliot went on to self-publish. He followed it with a number of other books, including Cumulus and Neon Fever Dream. He also wrote a clever short story about discrimination which was inspired by David Cohen.
Eliot recently signed a deal with 47North (one of Amazon’s imprints). His first book under that imprint, Bandwidth, just came out. I read an early pre-release version and loved it. So did, apparently, the NY Times Book Review.
“In a setting that could be a prequel to “Trail of Lightning,” Eliot Peper’s BANDWIDTH (47North, $24.95) is a thoughtful meditation on the ethics of power among those who broker it. Not far in our future, San Diego is a perpetually burning wasteland, the Arctic has melted and Dag Calhoun, a partner at a lobbying firm called Apex Group, helps rich people get richer from catastrophe.
But while working on behalf of Commonwealth, a company that provides internet to most of the planet, Dag is recruited by a secret organization called the Island. Their ability to hack into people’s feeds — the augmented reality through which everyone experiences the world — grants them unprecedented powers of surveillance and persuasion. But while Dag’s in the business of breaking the world, the Island’s in the business of saving it — and they want Dag to be their double agent.
“Bandwidth” is a book that savors everything: Dag dwells as much in the scents and tastes of coffee and tequila as he does in philosophical problems of means justifying ends and the limits of ethical persuasion. Peper manages a great deal of complexity without sacrificing clarity or pace, and I read it all in a single fascinated sitting.
That said, the book gives me pause where its women are concerned. A portion of the plot hinges on the premise that one’s sexual predilections can be deliberately and artificially curated, and while I could see the effort made to embed that premise in the novel’s context, it still left a bad taste in my mouth; similar logic underpins rhetoric about “turning people gay” or “curing” homosexuality. Still, the depth and vulnerability of Dag’s perspective, his loneliness and the value he places on his few real friendships, kept “Bandwidth” feeling real and urgent.
In an afterword, Peper observes that “in an age of acceleration, contemplation is power.” It’s a good note on which to end — perhaps with an exhortation to digital readers to seek this column in print, where you can linger and contemplate to your heart’s content.”
As any writer knows, it’s a huge deal to get a review in the NY Times. As my GPS often says, Eliot, “you have arrived.”