Short works

Books : reviews

Cory Doctorow.
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom.
Tor. 2003

rating : 2.5 : great stuff
review : 4 June 2006

In the utopian post-Scarcity Bitchun society, there is no need to work for a living, no poverty, no hunger, no disease, no death. People can do work, to gain "Whuffie", respect from their fellows. Julius is over a hundred years old, has composed three symphonies, died twice and been restored from backup, and is now part of an ad-hocracy maintaining one of the old rides in Disney World. Everything seems fine, then an old friend reappears wanting to commit suicide, a rival faction tries to take over the ride, and someone murders him. Things go downhill from there.

A great vision of a post-Scarcity world -- not utopia, but pretty close to it, if it weren't for the people. Lots of great little observations of the way people might live, might find value in their lives, and might still mess things up.

Cory Doctorow.
A Place so Foreign and Eight More.
Four Walls Eight Windows. 2003

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 10 February 2007

Doctorow's first published collection of short stories, some great, some really peculiar.


Craphound. 1998
Doctorow's "signature" piece. Jerry Abington is a professional craphound, prowling old yard sales, looking for stuff people throw out that he can buy, and sell on to collectors at a profit. He's hooked up with one of the aliens who arrived recently, who is also into yard sales. Then he breaks the code, and bids against his alien friend.
A Place so Foreign. 2000
James Nicholson is uprooted from 1898 to the gleaming, jet-pack-filled 1975, when his father is made ambassador to the future. But when his father vanishes, James has to go back home, only to discover that the past has become a foreign country.
All Day Sucker. 2003
Being smarter than the smartest man alive doesn't help, if you try to solve the wrong problem.
To Market, to Market: The Rebranding of Billy Bailey. 2000
Billy Bailey is a heel, making a living from the brand. But being a heel isn't as exclusive as it used to be, so Billy decides to rebrand himself.
Return to Pleasure Island. 1999
Muddy brothers George, Bill, and Joe work at Pleasure Island, giving the kids what they want, and watching them turn into donkeys. But when will they get what they want?
Shadow of the Mothaship. 2000
The aliens have come, and they're peaceful. Very peaceful.
Home Again, Home Again. 1999
Later in the timeline of the bugout aliens, not all the humans have been able to adapt.
The Super Man and the Bugout. 2001
What if Superman really were Canadian, and Jewish? And had nothing to do after the aliens came?
0wnz0red. 2002
The ultimate hack -- your own body.

Cory Doctorow.
Eastern Standard Tribe.
Tor. 2004

rating : 2.5 : great stuff
review : 5 November 2006

Even in the Global Village, with everyone online, people still need sleep. So the world has fragmented into time zones, collections of people who share interests and the same sleep patterns. Art (not his real name) is a member of Eastern Standard Tribe, working on user interfaces that will sabotage their great rivals, the Greenwich Mean Tribe, when he has a great idea that could earn him and his co-workers a fortune. So why is he sitting trapped on the roof of an asylum, seriously considering performing a self-lobotomy via a pencil up the nose? (Don't try this at home, people. It never helps.)

It's a great ride figuring out why, in the highly connected, highly competitive, highly caffienated world Art lives in. That world is closer to today than the one in Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, so is more recognisable, and more scary for that.

Cory Doctorow.
Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town.
Tor. 2005

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 23 April 2008

At first sight Alan appears to be a slightly eccentric neighbour, spending six months sanding down the wood in his new house, offering to soundproof his neighbour's wall instead of complaining about their loud music playing, and helping a friend install pirate wifi network points throughout the locale. But it emerges that Andy comes from somewhere much weirder: his father is a mountain, his mother is a washing machine, his brothers include an island and a set of nesting dolls. But then the neighbours aren't much better: one has wings, and one can detect outsiders like Archie.

Okay, call me old fashioned, but I like my stories to make sense, or at least to make me think that they might make sense if looked at from an angle I can't quite manage to see. I didn't get that feeling. There's lots of interesting little subplots, wry techno-jokes, and good (if nasty) characterisation. But it didn't gel for me. I did a quick web-trawl after to see if I'd just missed an obvious (or even non-obvious!) point, but found little help. So, an interesting, sometimes fun, sometimes disturbing, always disjointed, ride, but no destination.

Cory Doctorow.
Thunder's Mouth Press. 2007

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 29 September 2007

Doctorow's second published collection of short stories, some not so short. Here he writes futuristic stories by, as he puts it, rigorously and accurately predicting the present. The theme of intellectual property and digital rights management is pervasive, occasionally amusing (as in the reason behind some of those strangely familiar story titles), and often chilling.


Printcrime. 2006
IPR meets universal fabricators.
When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth. 2006
A bioweapon destroys humanity, except for sysadmins around the globe locked in their air-conditioned machine rooms. Their task is to rebuild the earth.
Anda's Game. 2005
People who play interactive games for money, building up game-points to sell to other gamers, are spoiling the spirit of the game. But are they the real enemy?
I, Robot. 2005
Detective Arana-Goldberg is tracking down those heinous pirates importing foreign electronics when his daughter goes missing. Does his defector wife have anything to do with it, and can he find his daughter before the Social Harmony agents get wind of the problem?
I, Row-Boat. 2006
Robbie the Row-Boat is an uplifted intelligence, persuaded to the Asimovian religion, who has to rescue a real human from the ire of an uplifted coral reef.
After the Siege. 2007
A city that revolted against IPR restrictions is besieged by the copyright holders, and its inhabitants starved towards surrender. Valentine lives through the siege with the help of a "wizard", reporting on the siege for the rest of the world. (Partly inspired by events that Doctorow's grandmother experienced during the Seige of Leningrad.)

Cory Doctorow.
Harper Voyager. 2009

rating : 2.5 : great stuff
review : 10 November 2013

What Does The Future Look Like?

Perry and Lester invent things. All sorts of things. Seashell robots that can make toast. Boogie Woogi Elmo dolls that drive cars. They also invent an entirely new economic system. ‘New Work’ is a New Deal for the technological era, and together Perry and Lester transform the country, with journalist Suzanne Church there to document their progress.

But their success is transient and the New Work bust puts the to shame. Down but not out, they go back to what they do best – inventing things. Until a rogue Disney executive grows jealous and convinces the police that their amazing 3-D printers are being used to run off AK-47s, at which point things get very dark very quickly…

This brilliantly entertaining and original novel from the visionary author of Little Brother fizzes with bold ideas about the future and how technology shapes society.

Perry Gibbons and Lester Banks are “makers”: they invent things by mashing up, modding, and extending existing tech into new and innovative products. When Landon Kettlewell, new CEO of Kodacell, employs Perry and Lester, and asks journalist Suzanne Church to cover their work, little does she know that this is the beginning of a new era, for technology, for journalism, and for her. She documents their highs and lows over the next several decades, in a world that is changing around them dramatically, and where some big companies furiously resist that change.

Great stuff. This near-future tale has all the obvious advocacy of the Maker philosophy, but it unflinchingly tackles the downsides, too. Shareholder blindness, corporate malevolence, corrupt police, geek naivety, short-termism, and personal issues all stop this from being a wide-eyed utopia. It has a gritty realism, which makes the underlying optimism plausible.

And, most importantly, it addresses the real problem of 3D printers: what’s the killer app? Without that, they are just curiosities and hobbyist kit; with it, they are ubiquitous.

Cory Doctorow.
For the Win.
Harper Voyager. 2010

Cory Doctorow, Charles Stross.
The Rapture of the Nerds.
Titan. 2012

rating : 2 : great stuff
review : 15 May 2013

Huw Jones is a technophobe living on Earth with the remaining meat people after most of the population uploaded themselves into the interplanetary cloud several decades ago. He is overjoyed to be called to jury service, to help decide whether some post-singularity software should be downloaded. But things don't go as he expects, and he finds himself on the run, pursued and attacked by judges, fundamentalists, genies, and weakly godlike versions of himself. Life will never be the same again.

This is superb. Every sentence bristles with wit and insight, and the plot boils with unexpected and ever more serious consequences, delightfully weird extrapolations, and deep questioning of humanity. I particularly like the slow realisation that Huw, despite being a deep technophobe of his own tech-level, is in fact more comfortable and adept with that technology than most people are today are with ours.

Cory Doctorow.
Information Doesn't Want to Be Free: laws for the Internet Age.
McSweeny's. 2015

In sharply argued, fast-moving chapters, Cory Doctorow’s Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free takes on the state of copyright and creative success in the digital age. Can small artists still thrive in the Internet era? Can giant record labels avoid alienating their audiences? This is a book about the pitfalls, and the opportunities, creative industries (and individuals) are confronting today—about how the old models have failed or found new footing, and about what might soon replace them.

Cory Doctorow.
Little Brother.
Harper Voyager. 2008

Cory Doctorow.
Titan. 2013

In the wake of a terrorist attack on San Francisco, student Marcus Yallow was wrongly detained and brutalised by the US government. Now a webmaster for a crusading politician, Marcus is leading the fight against the tyrannical security state.

At Burning Man festival, an old contact emerges from hiding to give Marcus a flashdrive of incendiary evidence, with instructions to leak it if anything should happen to her. When she is kidnapped, Marcus must decide whether to go public—and risk losing his employer the election—before the same shadowy agents come after him.

Cory Doctorow.
Attack Surface.
Head of Zeus. 2020

The cost of security is everything you believe in.

Most days, Masha Maximow Is sure she’s chosen the winning side. In her day job she works for a transnational cybersecurity firm, helping states spy on their citizens’ telecommunications with state-of-the-art software. The perks are fantastic, and the pay is obscene. But sometimes for fun she’ll use her mad skills to help the very troublemakers her company works to shut down – if their cause is just. It’s a dangerous game but it’s a hell of a rush.

When her targets were strangers in faraway police states, it was easy to compartmentalize, to ignore the collateral damage. But now it’s hit close to home, and the hacks and exploits she’s devised are being directed at her friends and family. Masha is going to have to make a difficult choice about where her loyalties lie, and whatever she chooses, someone is going to get hurt.