by Eliot Peper
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Bandwidth is subtitled "an Analog novel," and there is already another title announced for October. If I read that one I might change the URL for this page, maybe not. It seems to be set in the same world as his previous novel, Cumulus, which I reviewed two years ago. That company is briefly mentioned here, but another has ascended in the tech world. My best guess as to when the earlier book was set is around 2050, but there's no indication how much later Bandwidth takes place. Considering how quickly tech is advancing now, it may just be a few years, maybe as much as another fifty, no way to know. A side plot involves how climate change has wreaked havoc around the world. The main character has had a peripheral effect on that, but later events compel him to change course to correct earlier decisions.
Dag Calhoun works for Apex, a lobbying firm hiring out to the highest bidders on the world stage. One of his major clients is an oil and gas producer, who not only has won major tax incentives for drilling within the Arctic Circle, they have also made a killing by acquiring land in areas not affected by major disasters. Southern California is essentially dead from a combination of rising coastal waters, raging wildfires, and loss of water access, and the Arctic is warmer and less ice-bound with every passing day. Another of Dag's clients is Commonwealth, the tech giant far in advance of what Cumulus had accomplished. Earlier there had been HUD devices (like a supercharged Google Glass), as well as contact lens displays, but Commonwealth developed neural implants to provide the "Feed," essentially an internet in your head. Not all nations have signed on to Commonwealth, instead providing similar but less effective tech for their citizens. As the novel begins, Dag is in Mexico to lobby a prominent Senator to support adoption of Commonwealth services. To avoid spoilers I'll just say the meeting doesn't end well. The ones who provide that type of tech to Mexico have ties to cartels, and Dag later learns one of his other clients also has influence with the cartels to keep the status quo.
Analog is either a group of people, organized or not, or maybe just a place Dag goes to on several occasions. It's a bar where people are cut off from their feed, so information can be exchanged without it being compromised by tech surveillance. Commonwealth is confident of their system's security. Unfortunately, they're wrong. Dag becomes aware of a secretive group able to tap into anyone's feed, not only to compile comprehensive dossiers on prominent people, but also to manipulate a person's news and entertainment feed to shape and direct their attention. They have an altruistic motive, but it's still a massive breach of privacy. They lure Dag into their web by what he at first perceives to be threats of blackmail, but he later is led to believe it was a test to see if he could unravel the clues and find his way to them. He surprises himself by becoming sympathetic to their goals, and decides to work with them to alter world policies concerning climate change. Various events and other information gathered causes Dag to waver in his trust for his new partners, even to question his own motives and commitment to the truth. The plot is continually unpredictable, and the stakes are high. At times it reads like an espionage thriller, at others an examination of corporate malfeasance, but through it all a questioning of whether tech will be our greatest enemy, or our ultimate salvation. Or perhaps both at the same time.
One of the things I felt weakened Cumulus was its short length which did not allow for enough back story for the plot and characters. Bandwidth is only slightly longer, but Peper does a much better job with character development, and every page is packed with either action or the exposition needed to propel the plot at the proper speed. I was lucky in getting this free direct from Amazon since I subscribe to their "First Reads" offerings, but that has expired now. But the ebook and hardcover are very reasonably priced, since they are from Amazon's 47North imprint, and it is recommended. I haven't yet pre-ordered the next title, Borderless, but I'm sure I will eventually get it. It will be out on Kindle, hardcover, and paperback on October 30.
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