The title of this book really is Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (WTF). As it clips along you find yourself wondering: who can you really trust? Who is watching you and why? Who is the greater threat: government or unregulated big corporations? We’ve given up our privacy willingly, but what else are we giving up? What if we’re giving away ourselves, only to have to buy it back? And why am I laughing?
Leila, a non-profit worker stationed in Myanmar, is familiar with a government that is both corrupt and watching her actions. Is the government tailing her or is it someone else? On the way back from a trip outside the capital she sees four men who look totally out of place, speaking in English, talking about tech support. They see her, and it’s clear that’s not a good thing. She decides to try to solve the mystery, but before she’s learned anything, her family is threatened with ruin and is asking her to return to California. On the way home, she gets nabbed by Dear Diary, a quirky tech savvy network who is fighting the Committee, the international cabal that has targeted Leila’s family and is plotting to take ownership of everyone’s data.
So WTF does Leo have to do with all this? He’s a trust-fund baby who can’t run a business, can’t hold a job, writes screeds on his blog about a lot of stuff including a world government that keeps track of everything going on, online. That last one is accidentally right on, more or less, in the form of the Committee. The Committee has a thin skin, even a little guy like Leo must be stopped.
Leo’s former friend, Mark, wrote an essay that was made into a wildly successful self-help book. He’s self-aware enough to know he’s a fraud, but he’s been seduced by the money that his relationship with a tycoon named Swan has made possible. Unbeknownst to Mark, Swan is part of the aforementioned Committee, and Swan has plans for Mark.
Eventually these characters all come together, and Dear Diary battles the Committee to save the world. It works because the threat is a version of what we know. We know that our information is gathered, but generally don’t feel threatened until a credit card or social security number is hacked. Shafer imagines a bigger plot, a bigger threat and keeps it perfectly balanced, not to heavy, not too light.
Shafer keeps the book moving at a good pace and the characters are engaging. He uses humor well. The self-help genre is such fun to ridicule, and Shafer does it well. The humor isn’t limited to self-help he skewers almost every aspect of our contemporary culture. Will this book feel dated 10 years from now? Who knows? Read it now and enjoy.