You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Cory Doctorow's first two books

I'll say this about Cory Doctorow the guy can write. Some writers are known for their plots, some for their characters, some for their detailed settings. Cory Doctorow is simply a great writer.

I recently read Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, and liked it so much I decided to read another of his books, Eastern Standard Tribe. They are both fairly light science fiction. Both relate a tale of a male protagonist facing a conspiracy against him. In the world of Down and Out, death is obsolete, and people have “whuffie” accounts instead of bank accounts. Whuffie is basically a measure of esteem from your peers, and a high whuffie can get you just about anything. The main character, Julius, lives in Disney World's Magic Kingdom as part of an Ad-hocracy that has taken over the park. He becomes afraid that a rival group is trying to take over his favorite ride, the Haunted Mansion, when he is killed and has to be restored from a backup.

Doctorow really brings life to his world, and his characters are full of emotion. The elements of paranoia and jealousy add a lively flavor. But the writing takes flight with the descriptions of technology and the concepts behind them. Like the cochlea implants and subvocalizers that enable people to communicate quietly. Everybody is “online” all the time, like a super-extended version of the Internet.

The conceit in Eastern Standard Tribe is that cultures of the world are divided by time zones, and their circadians, and members of some tribes work as secret agents against the interests of other tribes. Art is such an agent, working in England for the Greenwich Tribe but really subverting their efforts in favor of the Eastern Standard Tribe. The story alternates between flashback and Art's problems in the insane asylum he's been stuck in since his coworker betrayed him in order to sell a great idea they'd been working on to a different tribe. The concepts aren't as earth-shattering in EST, but it's still a great read. What's most interesting to me is Art's work as a user interface consultant. Basically he re-engineers products so that they're more usable by consumers. The technologies he explores all promote connectedness. In Doctorow's worlds, people are brought together through more and more networking. For example, Art's big idea is to let drivers' car stereos talk to one another and download music wirelessly as they drive.

Both these protagonists become alienated from the world and have to grasp for ways to re-connect to their life. Julius after his restore, Art in the insane asylum.

These books are just over 200 pages each, and they're quick and easy reads. It's like you took an 800-page novel and condensed it to the 200 best pages.

Links to the books:


Blogger Steve Eley said...

Hi Dylan,

Saw the link in your .sig file. Great idea for a blog!

Of the two books, I've only read Magic Kingdom, and I thought it was...okay. My main problem with it was that I couldn't bring myself to like the protagonist very much. He sunk way too easily into lethargy and didn't do a lot to solve his problems. That may be emblematic of real life, but it annoys me in fiction. I've heard cool things about Eastern Standard Tribe, though, and hope to check it out soon.

And if you're a Doctorow fan, you may be interested to know that the most recent Escape Pod is a narration of "Craphound," possibly Doctorow's best-known short story. If you haven't already, give it a listen! You'll probably dig it.

10:21 PM, January 21, 2006  
Blogger Dylan Peters said...

I took the lethargy as part of the restore defects that led to his paranoia and other problems, so I was able to see past that. It's a fun book anyway. I agree that characters that let events control them, instead of the other way around, can be annoying.

9:09 PM, January 23, 2006  

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