Review: Former Instagram employee debuts thrilling novel about Silicon Valley’s toxic side

“Please Report Your Bug Here” by Josh Riedel Photo: Holt

The first web page of Josh Riedel’s strong debut novel bears the promise of illicit thrills. What you’re about to learn, explains Riedel’s narrator Ethan Block, is an account of the unusual, seemingly not possible issues the San Francisco author skilled whereas utilizing a brand new expertise developed by his Silicon Valley employer.

“Legally, I shouldn’t tell you this story,” Ethan tells us, citing a nondisclosure settlement. “But I have to. I need you to understand when I say I know how to disappear.”

“Please Report Your Bug Here” is just not the primary — and nowhere close to the very best — sci-fi thriller to cope with Silicon Valley’s immense energy. But it’s a wise and brisk novel that, regardless of some sometimes leaden prose, speaks the language of a definite cohort — 20- and 30-somethings who, as one in all Riedel’s characters says, had been “practically raised” by the web however have since discovered it more and more alienating.

Author Josh Riedel Photo: Holt

Riedel’s writer’s bio identifies him as “Instagram’s first employee,” a job he’s left however one which seems to have left him skeptical of the business’s purportedly utopian beliefs, which makes him and his major character a minimum of superficially comparable.

Ethan is in his mid-20s when he’s employed as the primary employee of DateDate, a brand new relationship app that has shortly surpassed 1,000,000 customers. He desires “to be a part of changing the world,” however his workdays aren’t any enjoyable. He’s in control of ridding the app of genital pics and different inappropriate pictures — “hateful taunts, gruesome memes, even a beheading I can still see” — posted by attractive customers and toxic bots.

After persuading his boss that he wants a hand, Ethan hires Noma, who spends her downtime with anti-establishment techies and artists in an Oakland warehouse. Noma shortly turns into a trusted DateDate employee and a buddy (she’ll be a useful a part of the motion later within the guide). But as a contractor, she’s jettisoned when the corporate is acquired by a tech behemoth Ethan calls the Corporation.

Ethan relocates to the Corporation’s enormous Menlo Park complicated, the place he tries to benefit from the free meals, massages and shared campus bicycles. But it quickly turns into clear that some bizarre stuff is afoot. Tinkering with the expertise that powers DateDate and a few of his highly effective new employer’s immersive virtual-reality merchandise, Ethan by chance travels to an alternate dimension. His keep on this “other world” is transient, and all he can keep in mind is a glimpse of “tall, wet grass.” But when he discovers that Ting, the daughter of a high-up Corporation man, has vanished after utilizing the identical little bit of VR, Ethan investigates, imperiling his job and rather more.

Riedel does an admirable job of describing the strain between his protagonist — a so-called “fuzzy” as a result of not like his “techie” colleagues, he studied artwork historical past in school — and Silicon Valley’s world-bettering propaganda.

To the diploma that he’s a self-conscious aesthete who expounds on “the luminosity of Vermeer’s glazes,” Ethan is annoying. But as he comes to grasp the extent to which the Corporation’s enterprise mannequin is constructed on hiding toxic data-harvesting techniques in its terms-and-conditions agreements, he tries to do one thing about it. This marks him as totally different from most of his colleagues — and, provided that not everyone returns from the guide’s fictional “other worlds,” doubtlessly in peril.

Riedel’s prose may be stiff, a weak spot that’s sometimes obtrusive. DateDate’s prime boss is understood merely because the Founder, and when he does one thing seemingly out of character, Ethan tells us that he “never considered the Founder as that type of founder.”

But Riedel’s depiction of the guide’s technological and monetary transgressions — the Corporation, we study, has purchased DateDate in order that it might surreptitiously home its “experimental code” — is convincing. As is his portrayal of a sure kind of tech business software, one in all whom says, “This (airport) lounge doesn’t even break my top ten.” With guys like this round, it’s no marvel that some persons are searching for different worlds.

Please Report Your Bug Here
By Josh Riedel
(Holt; 288 pages; $27.99)

Book launch: Josh Riedel in dialog with Yohanca Delgado: 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 17. Free. Booksmith, 1727 Haight St., S.F.


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