Thursday, March 2, 2017

Book Review: The God’s Eye View by Barry Eisler

Theme:  A; Character development:  C

At the center, The God’s Eye View is about balancing the government’s need to monitor its citizens in order to deter terrorism and the rights of the individual to privacy.  There are, of course, any number of these balancing acts in our daily lives – in medical research, in the use of military power, in the use of force in policing, and so on.  But the monitoring vs. privacy tug-of-war will continue to gain momentum as time goes on due to the meteoric rise of surveillance technology.  It is, quite simply, a theme for the times and for the future, and for that reason alone, The God’s Eye View is a worthwhile read.

Of course, the author has the government, in the form of NSA Director Theodore Anders, so far beyond the point of equilibrium in this balancing act, there is never any question of government vs. individual.  It’s more a question of which individuals will live and which will die in Director Anders’ quest to keep his last technological marvel out of the public’s gaze.  Pitted against Anders is Evelyn Gallagher, the developer and primary analyst on NSA’s camera and facial recognition network, just one small cog in the overall NSA surveillance machine.  And with strict compartmentalization of information, Evie has no way to know just what she is up against.

The story is very well written, producing a fair amount of adrenaline in my bloodstream that served no purpose other than keeping me awake to the wee hours.  There were a couple of ideas that were somewhat overworked, e.g., Evie is a divorced, working mother who would do almost anything to protect her son.  But overall, the flow of the story was good.  For those who are squeamish, the violence is somewhat graphic, although consistent with the plot.  By comparison, the sex was also somewhat explicit, but I’m not sure what the grope-by-grope description did to further the story; it seemed out of place and serving no purpose beyond checking another box in a commercial success formula.

My primary concern with the book, however, was in the development of the characters.  Every author uses stereotypes as a crutch.  Readers immediately recognize the boring accountant or the timid librarian.  But usually, that method is reserved for secondary characters when depth is unnecessary, saving the author a lot of stress on the wrists.  But in The God’s Eye View, it felt as if there were few characters that were not primarily stereotypes.  It ended up feeling like a world inhabited by caricatures, rather than people.  But even so, that limitation did not outweigh a well-written plot and a timely theme.

Overall, The God’s Eye View is a solid read, significant because over time, technology-driven surveillance has the potential to give the government absolute power over the populace.  And we all know that if power tends to corrupt, what absolute power will do.