‘Whiskey Tango Foxtrot’ a thrilling, data-filled ride

We move through a data-rich world, watched by a bevy of electronics. Nowadays, our phones know us better than our lovers. It knows what you Googled last summer, and, in some ways, that’s even scarier than knowing what you actually did.

In “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot,” David Shafer explores the implications of a society as rich in information as ours, especially when it’s put to the whims of very powerful men. While most of us would prefer to ignore the metadata we throw off with every single mouse click, Shafer gleefully jumps in to the vaporous world that exists beyond the pale of the 0s and 1s that construct our familiar, everyday environment.

His magnificently human characters constrast crisply with the cold, binary systems that very nearly assume their own personality in his pages.

Mark Deveraux, a motivational speaker with south Louisiana roots (in my head, his long-gone father is Edwin Edwards; both Deverauxs work a room like the Silver Fox), can’t believe his luck — until he realizes how tightly controlled he is by the digital cabal. Leila Majnoun, an aid worker who stumbles into The Bad Guys while frustrated in the latest attempt to do her job in Burma, gets her whole family wrapped up.

Leo Crane is the trust-fund son of a board game maker, but, in the haze of a pot-and-booze fueled binge, manages to articulate parts of the nefarious plan that will soon grab them all.

Take your helicopter friend. The one who eschews customer loyalty cards because then They know what you buy. That guy, plus a few million and a lot of self-medicating. That’s Leo Crane. Now take his black helicopter fears, the ones about the loyalty cards and the messaging apps that watch what you’re doing through your phone’s camera, and multiply it times a serve-whale. Shafer’s bad guys are just that devious, and are probably additionally devious in ways your black helicopter friend hasn’t even thought of yet.

Shafer’s Good Guys are every bit as shadowy as the Bad (and they’re very, very shadowy). So much so that I still can’t decide if they’re even good. That’s the brilliance of this book.

You’ll look at your black helicopter friend a little different after the last page is read.

Beth Colvin is The Advocate’s books editor. Follow her on Twitter, @bethcolvinedits.

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