As sometimes happens, I remember an author and then, like a crazy fan, I get every book that I haven’t read of his (or hers) from the library. That happened when I was sick and was reading The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Fourth Annual Collection. I read Cory Doctorow’s I, Row-Boat. I remembered how much I liked Down and Out at the Magic Kingdom. I put everything I couldn’t remember reading on hold. This last weekend I indulged myself in one author, Cory Doctorow, for the whole weekend.
I started with For the Win. This is a book about video game players around the world working in sweat shops bonding together for a worldwide union walkout. Although the online game, World of Warcraft, is not specifically mentioned, there was a lot of connections. My kids were deeply into World of Warcraft for a time. I enjoyed entering into a world that I only saw over the shoulders of my kids when they went through their World of Warcraft period.
It was interesting to read this novel in the wake of the popular movements spreading through the middle east. Those movements would have been nearly impossible without the technology of the modern world. Only the transparency created by the internet, makes it difficult for the leaders of these countries to react violently while the world watches. In the same way, in the book, the technical ability of the union to disrupt the corporate game (hit them where their wallet is) makes it possible to make the corporations agree to submit to collective bargaining. The collective bargaining issue is in the news with the situation in Wisconsin so this book is timely in several ways.
Then I read Makers. This is a book about a group of young engineers who begin a movement of making things, starting new creative revolution in America’s deserted strip malls. I love this idea. An often discussed topic in our household is the fact that America doesn’t make hardly anything anymore. This is not strictly true, but it seems to be for the most part. The idea of America becoming a country of makers again is a great feel-good idea. Unfortunately, this movement falls apart.
When that movement fails, they go on to design a carnival ride documenting its failure. Open access allows people through a simple joystick to change the ride itself. It’s an interesting near future, very influenced by the recession and the declining middle class in the United States. As a side narrative, he documents many people living in marginal shanty towns. The main characters, however, seem to do ok, making me wonder if perhaps he is obliquely talking about class. I would love to see him return this future, a la Orson Scott Card, and come back at it from the perspective of one of the minor characters in the shanty town.
The third book I read was Someone comes to town, someone leaves town. This book was different from the other two, in that it played with fantasy, within the context of the modern world. I had actually read this book before. Even though I realized it right away, I couldn’t remember the end only the beginning and middle and that I liked it. So I read it again. I still don’t get all of the familial metaphors in the book, but it was riveting even a second time. I think the metaphors amounted to this: Mom washes, cleans and comforts. Dad shelters and gives wisdom, but is slow. Both parents are pretty ineffectual against the real world. Sibling violence runs deep, and no one can escape it fully unless you are an island. Children born close together tend to be seen as a group and not as individuals. When you find your lover, she will shelter you as much as you will shelter her. Her ability to shelter you may make her unable to venture out into the world.
Overlaid on this grotesque fantasy narrative is the real world narrative of building a bootleg wi-fi network. I didn’t find this as interesting as the grotesque fairy tale that he had going, but it seemed to be important to connect the main character concretely with the real world.
So overall, I enjoyed all the books. They deal with a plausible near future with very plausible technology: 3d printers, for example. It will be interesting if such near future ideas will be able to stand up against the onslaught of the real future. I mean even though 1984 has passed, 1984 by George Orwell is still interesting to read and important in the canon. I struggle a little more with Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury. It is not the ideas which are still interesting, it is the “aw shucks” sort of 1950s writing that I find a little distracting. I have to say in the case of Someone comes to town, someone leaves town, the wi-fi idea has pretty much come true, part through blanketing every coffee shop and library with free wi-fi and also through cell phone internet usage. The novel still stands well with its liberal wild west internet ideas and almost magical narrative. Only time will tell with the other novels if they can stand the onslaught of the future.