book review: walkaway

Walkaway is the latest novel by Cory Doctorow. It’s a utopian tale of people who, because of ubiquitous 3d printing technology (that can produce food, drugs, shelter, clothing and whatever else out of raw material feedstock) drop out of the default society that has no place for them apart from working terrible jobs to try and become one of the zotta-rich (since the 1% is now giga-beyond mega-rich).

The story follows a bunch of different walkaways, starting with three who make the decision after a communist party. One of those three is the daughter of a zotta, which fuels most of the plot. Otherwise it’s about how a post-scarcity society based on walking away from the ratrace could work. It’s hugely utopian and I really liked it, even when default society was sending the troops in to destroy these techno hippies.

I have always wanted to live in something like walkaway. Owning nothing I didn’t mind getting stolen and working on things to work on them, not because I need a paycheque to live.

The marketing material stressed how it’s his first Adult novel in years (after doing a run of YA work), but the main difference between this and something like Little Brother is that this has sex scenes. Which are fine, but whatever. It still felt like a YA book and a big part of that is that until the last quarter of the book everyone we see walking away are people’s kids or hipsters or disconnected from the world scientists. No one walks away from their kids, or brings them with them. It feels very adolescent not to deal with the responsibilities you’re walking away from. Or maybe that’s just something I notice more now that I’m more of a boring grownup. The book feels like it’s telling me if I wanted to walk away I should have done it before now. So that’s kind of depressing, to have a novel show you the society you want and say you’re too late for it. I guess that’s just what aging is for though.

book review: homeland

I will confess that I put off reading Cory Doctorow’s Homeland for months simply because the story opens at Burning Man. Back when it came out I bought it, put it on my ereader and read the first few pages and went Ugh. I don’t know why exactly. Maybe it’s just the kind of book that needs to be read in summer. In any case this time I was ready for it and really liked the book.

Homeland is the sequel to Little Brother, but in this one Marcus has graduated from high school and dropped out of university and is trying to get by in our modern economy, which gets him involved in politics. There are plot points about leaking politically sensitive materials and surveillance and hacking party politics to reflect what real people (or at least tech-savvy San Franciscans) care about. It’s pretty great, and sadly topical.

The topicality is a big part of what I like about this book. Aaron Swartz wrote the afterword and it’s great. The book did have a bunch of Doctorow’s essayistic explanatory tics (you read a lot about cold-brewed coffee in this book) but it feels more like a novel with excited explanations than a polemic with a plot. But there’s enough information in it to be inspiring.

It’s the kind of book I’d like lots of people to read, not just high school students. It was enough of a kick in the ass for me to finally root my old phone and install Tor on it, so if you measure a book by how it changes behaviour this was a good one.

book review: makers

I read Cory Doctorow’s Makers on the plane to China and early in my bakery hanging out time. It was the ebook version I got for free from his website and loaded onto my ereader, so it’s DRM-free.

So Makers is about these inventors who create new things and then move on. It’s sf in that it is the future and there are new technologies they use and make use of, but it’s a very recognizable near future. Some of the interesting things in the story are fatkins, a way of dealing with obesity by basically ramping up your metabolism so you need to eat 10000 calories a day. There’s a bit more to it than that. So there are these inventors and the first part of the book is them getting into business making cool shit. Then the next part of the book is about after their new economy sort of collapses in on itself, they get into the theme-park business. It’s Cory Doctorow, what can you expect. I still don’t get theme-parks but whatever.

The first part of the book is very explainy. “Here’s this neat thing and how it works and isn’t that cool?” but it gradually does build into a story that works. It’s no Little Brother, but it’s inspiring in its own way. Actually making stuff and then moving on seems like the way to run a business. Not just having your hand in the next person’s pocket. But you need to be wildly creative to do that and not everyone is.

book review: little brother

I waited a goodly while to read Little Brother, Cory Doctorow’s Hugo-nominated YA book from last year. More because of the YA-ishness, and also because I understand the political things the book is getting at and don’t need them fed to me in the form of fiction. But. I’m going to be the Teen specialist when I go back to the branch (word on the street is that will be no earlier than February 20th) so I figure I should read some YA books. I guess. The good thing is that Little Brother is pretty good.

There’s a terrorist attack in San Francisco and then the Department of Homeland Security comes in to quash the terrorists by quashing civil liberties and the right to privacy and all that. They set up a secret Gitmo-on-the-Bay where enemy combatants are held without trial. The hero of the story is a 17-year-old who gets caught up in the DHS security net and designs ways to fight back against it. Along the way there are authority figures who try to argue all is good in the name of security, a little bit of teen sex, adventure, waterboarding and manipulated newsmedia.

What it isn’t is subtle. The bad guys are very very bad, be they severe haircut lady from DHS or the vice-principal and his bully-snitch. I hated them. Immensely. It was weird how much of a reaction I had to the casual destruction of privacy and freedom to say stuff. It made my body angry. As I was reading I was flooded with these adrenalin surges when people said their War on Terror equivalents of Freedom is Slavery. So on that level (of pushing my buttons) the book worked. On most levels, really.

Somehow I doubt I’ll be able to get all the girls in the Teen Book Club to read it though.