Fourth Estate, £12.99

PopCo, by Scarlett Thomas

A feisty, zeitgeisty rage against the machine

Scarlett Thomas's
PopCo is a big, zeitgeisty novel that free-associates in the way that only cyberpunk science-fiction used to be able to do. It is such enormous fun, and so peppered with sharp observations and satirical jabs, that it gets away with editorialising patches, a certain hastiness of composition that has the heroine's age drop a couple of years between chapters and means Edgar Allan Poe's name gets consistently misspelled (again), and a home stretch which works better as a call-to-arms than the ending to a novel.

Scarlett Thomas's PopCo is a big, zeitgeisty novel that free-associates in the way that only cyberpunk science-fiction used to be able to do. It is such enormous fun, and so peppered with sharp observations and satirical jabs, that it gets away with editorialising patches, a certain hastiness of composition that has the heroine's age drop a couple of years between chapters and means Edgar Allan Poe's name gets consistently misspelled (again), and a home stretch which works better as a call-to-arms than the ending to a novel.

However, it's hard to resist a book which has so many good jokes and, furthermore, comes complete with a crossword puzzle, a list of prime numbers, a frequency chart for the occurrence of letters in English (bound to come in useful) and a recipe for "Let Them Eat Cake" cake.

The upfront story is about Alice Butler, a minor "creative" in a global toy company. Alice becomes more aware of her employers' ghastly ethics while confined at a Thought Camp on Dartmoor, under orders to develop a killer product to push on teenage girls. Slightly reminiscent of the cynical-neurotic-adorable narrator-heroines of Anne Billson's novels, Alice has a wonderfully realised voice. Thomas makes a great deal of her habitual paranoia and the elaborate mechanisms she has devised to circumvent encroachments by an as-yet unspecified "enemy". Bizarrely, these feed into the successful code, surveillance and spy toys that she has designed.

The think-tank strategies used at the retreat are compelling and credible, as are the sort of rotten things PopCo gets away with. We're supposed to despise the company mainly for employing abused third-world labour, but it's easier to be appalled by guerrilla-marketing trickery like the invention of a "mirror brand" - a non-logo range designed to appeal to kids who think they're too cool for the mainstream - or the backing of "unauthorised" fan websites.

Embedded in the story is a powerful and affecting account of the heroine's own childhood and teenage years. This accounts entirely for her paranoid mindset and present occupation, but also prods her towards an inevitable rebellion. There's a great deal of good fun about code-breaking, maths and (get this!) buried pirate treasure, for which it's worth putting up with infomercials for the vegan life and a long spell in which Alice is ill in bed.

If the heroine, her code-breaking grandparents, and the kids from her school years are vividly characterised, most of the other PopCo employees don't quite register. The boyfriend she picks up at camp is so nebulous that you expect him to be revealed as the villain, and when many co-workers own up to being in an underground movement, it's still hard to differentiate them from the genuine drones. PopCo doesn't quite answer all its mysteries - which will mildly annoy some readers, but enthuse others.

The reviewer's most recent novel is 'Dracula Cha Cha Cha' (Pocket)

Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
Arts and Entertainment
Swiss guards stand in the Sistine Chapel, which is to be lit, and protected, by 7,000 LEDs
artSistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer, Lord Alan Sugar, Karren Brady are returning for The Apprentice series 10

TV
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Angelina Jolie and Winona Ryder star in 'Girl, Interrupted'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Ed Stoppard as Brian Epstein, Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Elliott Cowan as George Martin in 'Cilla'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas Pynchon in 1955, left, and Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix in Paul Thomas Anderson's adaptation of his novel, Inherent Vice

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Nicole Scherzinger will join the cast of Cats

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Fans were left surprised by the death on Sunday night's season 26 premiere

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lady Mary goes hunting with suitor Lord Gillingham

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Dunne, played by Ben Affleck, finds himself at the centre of a media storm when his wife is reported missing and assumed dead

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lindsay Lohan made her West End debut earlier this week in 'Speed-the-Plow'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Artist Nathan Sawaya stands with his sculpture 'Yellow' at the Art of Brick Exhibition

art
Arts and Entertainment
'Strictly Come Dancing' attracted 6.53 million viewers on Friday
tv
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant plays Detective Emmett Carver in the US version on Broadchurch

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor goes undercover at Coal Hill School in 'The Caretaker'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ni , Rock of Rah, Vanuatu: The Ni live on one of the smallest islands of Vanuatu; Nelson flew five hours from Sydney to capture the 'isolation forged by their remoteness'
photographyJimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style
Arts and Entertainment
David Byrne
musicDavid Byrne describes how the notorious First Lady's high life dazzled him out of a career low
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

    Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

    A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
    Time to stop running: At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity

    Time to stop running

    At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity
    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
    An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

    An app for the amorous

    Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

    Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
    She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

    She's having a laugh

    Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

    Let there be light

    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
    Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

    Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

    Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
    Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

    A look to the future

    It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
    The 10 best bedspreads

    The 10 best bedspreads

    Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
    Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

    Arsenal vs Galatasaray

    Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
    Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence