Anyone remember this gem (for the link-wary, it’s the trailer to the 2001 film Antitrust)? This book is basically that movie, 10-15 years later. They’re both entertaining, just not incredibly sophisticated. It’s amusing that a film based on this book is now set to be released in April 2017, because though The Circle is technically an original property, it reads like a watered-down reboot of a great many superior predecessors. I’ve gotta think that made it really attractive to Hollywood: it’s digestible and familiar, but isn’t obviously a remake or franchise installment.
The axes of technology, totalitarianism, human impressionability, and social pressure have driven a great number of science fiction classics (and future classics.) I’m not sure if it’s fair to The Circle that I’m so far failing to review it without separating it from the great many things it reminds me of, just because there is so much parallel thinking that is bound to happen in future-tech speculative fiction. But there are, as an example, episodes of Black Mirror that came after The Circle but managed to cover similar topics in a more compelling and intelligent way. So even where Eggers isn’t rehashing classic tropes, he’s still not exploring his own ideas to their full potential.
The problem at the root of The Circle is that there is no one to care about or root for. The protagonist, Mae, is as flat a character as I’ve encountered in some time. I honestly can’t think of anything to say about her. In my most charitable interpretation of Mae’s complete lack of presence, I’ll posit that this *may* be a statement from Eggers on how the Circle consumes humans and spits out corporate automatons.
The supporting characters aren’t any better. The guy who is meant to be Mae’s foil, the voice of reason against the Circle’s creeping monopoly on society itself, is so insufferable that I was almost driven to root for Mae simply to spite him. He may be — he is — completely correct, but he’s a pompous mansplainer and about one impassioned monologue away from becoming the messiah figure of his own luddite cult. Mae’s supposed best friend, Annie, is either absent or passive aggressive and antagonistic in that “I’m just joking, love ya bitch!” way that is rather cliche for men writing women. Like we all love each other despite being catty, and not just that… we’re actually genuinely supportive of our best friends.
Ultimately, though I read The Circle really quickly, I just think it contributes nothing substantive to its subgenre that isn’t better explored by other properties, both older and newer. The characters are nothing and the plot, for all that it was the only thing that redeemed the book by not dragging, ends up going essentially nowhere. It’s maybe meant to be a gut-punch of an ending
that the Circle wins
but I only care about that so far as it affects the people I care about in this fictional universe, and the number of those people is zero. Just read 1984 or watch Black Mirror instead.