PopCo by Scarlett Thomas has been on my to be read wishlist since it was first published. I'm sure I heard about it on BookCrossing from one of my many British friends. In 2004, though, I was also swamped in a recent move, a new job, and a very active toddler. That year I managed (by my present day standards of reading) a meager 175 books and most of those were ones I read to my son.
In the twelve years since it came out, I've maintained my desire to read it, though the reason behind it has long since vanished into the miasma of forgotten memories. By the time I got around to reading Popco all I remembered about wanting to read it was that I loved the cover art and was intrigued by the title.
Yes, I could read the blurb. I could read reviews. But there's something fun about reading blind. I think that stems from all the old books I've purchased used and read without out the benefit of blurbs.
So, PopCo, where does one begin? At its most basic, it's about a game designer stuck at an all hands offsite retreat. She has deadlines for a new line of spy toys she's designing. Now she's at this idiotic retreat with all her coworkers, expected to upthink the company, branding, and to get into the head of their most difficult to design for customer: the teenage girl.
But it's more than that. There are long, fascinating passages about cryptography and cryptanalysis. There are how-tos for some of the best known, most used systems. Deeper down, there is the story of a coded pirate treasure map. And it's all tied together with her memories of being raised by her grandparents, a grandfather who was a hobby cryptanalyst and her grandmother, who worked alongside Alan Turing in WWII.
And that's still just the surface of the book. It's layers upon layers of social commentary that is still relevant, even if some of the details are now dated (such as there never being a computer who can win at Go, nor can there ever be robots that walk upright).