Unlike many other works of dystopian science fiction, The Circle is set in a very near future, fitting neatly into the early 21st-century United States sociopolitical world of Google, Wikileaks, big data, and personalized advertisement.
The novel, a dozen years into Eggers' writing career, has received mixed reviews. Some reviewers applaud the relevance of a discomforting fable about the proliferation and infiltration of technology into society and personal life. Many other reviewers complain that Eggers' message is too blatant, that this future is unrealistic (for example, online anonymity disappears), and that his protagonist Mae is cartoonish and underdeveloped. Ellen Ullman of the New York Times writes, "Eggers tends to overexplain ... the scene .... The words 'author's message' flash above the scene, as they do about too many others." Those who expect an account of women in STEM, or deep characterization, will be disappointed to realize they came with the wrong interest, while those who seek a novel-length fable about privacy and technology in their times will be better rewarded.