Friday 11 September 2015

Some Thoughts about Fishbowl by Matthew Glass

A little while ago I featured Atlantic Books for my Make Mine an Indie series. Predictably I got sucked into their catalogue and ended up requesting a couple of titles. Fishbowl is a little different from things I usually read. It's about the internet and a guy called Andrei Koss who sets up a 'meta-network' which connects people with similar interests from all around the world. It's tag line is 'the internet is everywhere. Those who control it, control us...'. Basically this network - called Fishbowl - set up by a college guy in his dorm room becomes a multi billion dollar company and the novel explores the challenges of expansion and commercialisation on the original concept and on Andrei himself.

This book is so interesting. Thematically, I loved it. Fishbowl's motto of 'don't make the world worse' and the idea it is founded on, of Deep Connectedness - basically connecting people based on their interests and regardless of location, age etc - was really compelling for me. However I had a lot of issues with the way that the book was actually written. I don't know if I'm going to be able to do a very good job of explaining myself, so bear with me.

I felt like Fishbowl was so much a novel about the thing it was about; the development of a meta-networking site that could connect users of all the other social networking sites with each other, that that was kind of bigger than the characters or the plot. By the time I'd read 300 pages about a character and the author was still using their first and last names I felt like he wasn't even kidding himself that it was a character propelled story anymore. The characters are fine but they all felt extremely two dimensional to me. There are times when the author attempts to go a little deeper with some of the characters and there are even times when it works, but it never really carried through for me. The whole way through I felt like the characters were only doing things because the storyline required them to rather than because it was something that character would have actually done.

Fishbowl did take me a while to get through, but that said, I did keep picking it up again. As I've said, the idea was really interesting to me, and the details behind the kind of business that it is and the ways it works and the tensions between different social networking companies and things like that were handled really really well, it just slightly lacked the human element.

I'm still working out how I felt about the ending. It wasn't the ending I wanted and I felt a little bit like the author had backed himself into a corner by the end and the only way out of it was the way he took, which felt a little unsatisfactory to me. However I'm not sure if I feel like this because the ending was actually problematic or just because it wasn't the nice, resolved ending that I usually enjoy.

Although I didn't love this book on a lot of levels, overall the reading experience was really great because it challenged a lot of my preconceptions about things and pushed me to think about things I'd never considered before. In terms of ideas, Fishbowl is definitely worth your time. If you're looking for great characters, maybe not, but particularly if you're interested in the internet and how social networking works, you should be picking this up.

Buy Fishbowl on Indiebound (affiliate link)

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