IN one of the best essays in this sterling collection, activist Rebecca Solnit describes Silicon Valley as "a decentralized, diffused region: postindustrial, postcommunal, postrural, and posturban -- postplace." Nothing so new in that observation, but in the pages that follow she explains the reasons that placelessness matters. When there's no there there -- no Bastille to storm -- then confronting power becomes so frustrating that it's easy to just give up and play another round of Doom. Silicon Valley is the very image of "postmodern control, in which power is transnational, virtual, in a gated community, not available at this time, in a holding company, incomprehensible, incognito." It becomes a maze, echoed in the Web, with its endless branchings. If you track that corporate power diligently across the globe, she insists, you will find all the victims -- Third World peasants uprooted by agribusiness, the bewildered homeless of her beloved San Francisco, the impoverished imaginations of an entire civilization. But "the scene of the crime
This book, and all of Solnit's work, is an attempt to nail down the sources of that power, to pin them to the page. Her effort recalls Norman Mailer's 1968 masterpiece, "The Armies of the Night." Solnit spends less time self-dramatizing, and bombast is not part of her arsenal, but she's a comparably gorgeous writer. (Try this casually tossed-off description of the "smog-filtered Los Angeles light," which "always gave me the impression that a thrifty God had replaced our incandescent sun with diffused fluorescent light.") And she's a far more reliable reporter than Mailer, who tended to examine everything through the lens of his peculiar pugilistic psyche.