What did I do on my spontaneous day off? I finished reading fellow blogger Ken Layne’s book Dot.Con.
The book describes the travails of down on his luck reporter Larry Jonestowne. Jonestowne lands in San Francisco and decides to try grab a slices of the then ever expanding Internet pie by becoming a Tech journalist of sorts. Well, his first assignment goes badly and soon he is on the lamb with a stolen identity and host of enemies. The adventure takes him through some of the ugliest neighborhoods in the Bay Area, Las Vegas, and even the beaches of Mexico. All the while, Larry uses a unique style of tabloid internet journalism to keep his enemies guessing and to keep his income flowing.
All I can say is what fun! It is a practically non-stop mis-adventure through the Dot Com world. The characters are eccentric and quirky but real (besides the main character you have an obese “Fat People’s Revolutionary” named Terry Texas and her side kick, an overweight hyper-insecure hacker wannabe; The main heavy Thomas Sander, a main of vast weight, riches, ego, and cruelty; and a host of other small but sharply draw bit players. The descriptions of the various settings are such that you wonder just how Ken could describe these places in such detail. I guess being a nomadic wanderer pays off sometimes. Along the way, the book skewers journalism, the Dot Com bubble, the unique victim/group politics of California, and a host of other inflated egos and issues. Just when you think the story is slowing down Ken adds another twist to the puzzle, leaving you wondering just how Larry is going to escape the ever impending crash. Despite Larry’s a . . . lack of strict ethics, you find yourself rooting for him against a bizarre but all to real cast of characters. When you finally get to the end and survive the final twist, you are ready for the next episode in the life of Larry Jonestowne/Jesus Ramirez.
I have read a great many popular novels. The question I have after Dot.Com was: Why isn’t Ken Layne writing novels for a living? Popular culture spits out terrible books at an alarming rate; books full of bad writing and insipid plots. Ken Layne has written a witty and sharp satire of an incredibly topical subject and has financial problems? What a shame.
Now, obviously Dot.con is not great literature with a capital L (and I don’t think Ken is claiming it as such). But so what, you can’t read that stuff all the time. But this book is certainly better than a massive chunk of what currently passes for popular fiction. Ken gives me what I am looking for in a good read:
– An interesting and plausible plot (within the limits of the work itself).
– Fascinating and believable characters.
– Dialogue that provides pace, content, and humor.
What is so interesting about Dot.Con is that even though it is fiction you feel like you are learning something about San Francisco and its environs. The descriptions of the neighborhoods – the restaurants, the streets, the people – seem so real and are described in such a way that you feel like if you went there you would recognize the place. In other words, Ken describes the place not just as filler but as a crucial part of the story. The story is soaked in the setting; the people and places influence and reflect each other. From reading the book you get the feeling that Ken would be a fascinating person to have a conversation with, as someone who could write these descriptions must have lived an interesting life.
If you don’t have a copy of Dot.com yet get one from Ken. It is a great read and a fascinating look at life in California during one of the strangest parts of its ongoing strange history.
BTW, If you want to read an interview with Ken I did awhile back click here.