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Review: 'Whiskey Tango Foxtrot' sends up social media, Internet fanatics

| Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014, 3:18 p.m.

If you find little to laugh about in the revelations that the National Security Agency peeps into the online lives of ordinary Americans to combat terrorism, settle in with David Shafer's of-the-moment new novel, “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.”

Shafer's savvy, sardonic take on our social media- and Big Data-worshipping society is as current as your Twitter feed. Leila Majnoun is an Iranian-American working for the global nonprofit Helping Hands when she stumbles on American mercenaries guarding a remote site in a forest in Burma, propelling Leila and her loved ones into a dark world of Internet smears and power-mad multinational moguls.

Leila gets an assist from a disaffected American spy named Ned (Edward Snowden, without the inexplicable affinity for Russia?) who connects her with Dear Diary, an Anonymous-like group of rebels fighting The Committee, a secretive syndicate of media and drug companies plotting to control the world's information.

That puts her in touch with Leo, a bipolar child-care worker whose recent spiral into mania led him to post a rambling blog about a secretive group siphoning up all electronic transmissions. It strikes his family as paranoia but others as too close to the truth.

Leo's college buddy, Ned Devereux, wrote a booze-and-pill-fueled essay that becomes a self-help phenomenon titled “Bringing the Inside Out.” A lucrative book deal makes him a wealthy man and the personal guru for James Swain, an Internet billionaire plotting to gather and store all of the world's knowledge offshore in a project called New Alexandria.

Shafer's sendup of the self-help movement is snort-aloud funny. Mark Devereux writes “bless-ays” that urge people to wrap themselves in their Knowledge Blankets and make “consciousclusions” about themselves. Mark appears on the TV show of the Oprah-like Margo to tout his book and Swain's Node, hand-held computers designed to connect children to the Internet that are a key to Swain's knowledge takeover.

Biometrics. Big Data. Target knowing enough about your shopping preferences to predict when you are pregnant. Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg uniting mobile technology and social-media giants to connect the world to the Internet. Nothing in “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” sounds all that outlandish.

Just in time for your August beach trip, put “Whiskey” on your Amazon Wish List. As if they don't already know you want it.

Patty Rhule is a contributing writer for USA Today.

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