Cory Doctorow Writes Stories for the Times We Live In
Radicalized: Cory Doctorow (2019)
Four stories. Four explorations of exceedingly plausible near-future realities. Author, journalist, and all-around bad-ass Cory Doctorow’s new book, Radicalized, has written a quartet of tales that are not only timely and extremely relevant, but engrossing and entertaining. This is a difficult feat, and the results are quite satisfying.
I first became aware of Mr. Doctorow through his superb articles for various online sites, many of which seek to shed light on aspects of our modern technological life which the normal, everyday consumer is not aware of, especially the obscured and malicious ways that technology is used by companies and governments to stick it to the average individual, oftentimes without their consent. Through my reading of his essays and articles I became aware of his fiction work, and when I found out that Radicalized was to be released, I requested a review copy from Mr. Doctorow himself, who was kind enough to provide one.
Science fiction, or as it is referred to these days, speculative fiction, can sometimes concern itself with ideas and themes so vast and deep that the individual human stories are left undeveloped. This is understandable, and does not reduce the power of works such as these. Huge, sweeping galactic stories allow a reader to expand their reality-tunnel, to include whole swaths of expansive consideration that would otherwise never occur. Other science fiction tales revolve around the experience of one person, or a small group of people, and their day-to-day lives as affected by futuristic or speculative technology and science. The four stories in Radicalized fall in this vein.
Unauthorized Bread, a personal story of a refugee in the near future and the increasingly labyrinthine technology that dictates what a person can or cannot do, even to the smallest detail of their life, starts things off. Not only is it an affecting tale of honest yet desperate people seeking to make the best of life for themselves and their children, but it is a deeply cautionary tale about the dangers of extending endless “rights” to companies and technology, and removing those “rights” from individual consumers. It resonated with me, as I rail against the ridiculous idea that companies are trying to force down our throats, that being that digital programs and items are not “owned” by the person that bought them, but “leased” from the corporation who sold it. All the legal rights are transferred in this manner from the consumer to the producer. This is evident in the rise of “Right-to-Repair” movements around the world. In 1960, if you bought a TV, it was yours to fix, alter, customize, etc. because you purchased the item. If you could not fix it, you could find a clever person, or a certified repairman, who could. In 2019, if you buy an Apple product, and you choose to try and repair it yourself, the law does not protect you. It protects Apple and essentially creates a monopoly where they control all access to their machines, repair services, software, etc. HORROR. They can essentially force you to purchase new items, and of course those new items will come with even stricter user contracts and restrictions.
Model Minority explores what happens when a superhero wakes up, and begins to understand that he is a tool of a corrupt system. All it takes is deciding to swoop in and stop a group of policemen who are severely beating an older black man. The hero’s involvement sets off a chain of events that would be very familiar to anyone who has ever studied what happens when one person, even an exceedingly GOOD person, decides to fight a system that has the ability to control how people see things, and which will lie with impunity to protect its status quo. It also sheds light on the manner by which people actively ignore the ugly shit around them, as long as it doesn’t happen to them. People are willing to overlook the most horrible things as long as they feel free to do so.
Radicalized is a story that would resonate with anyone who has lived with or through a loved one’s chronic illness, and had to deal with faceless corporate insurance companies whose job is to make money for their shareholders by withholding expensive treatments from the very people who pay outrageous amounts of their monthly paycheck for Health Insurance. The rage, the feeling of impotence in the face of corporate anonymity, drives a group on an online forum for survivors to what, to them, is the logical end result. It is a very gripping story, and sadly all-too familiar.
The Masque of the Red Death, the final story, presents us with a powerful, successful, cut-throat capitalist as he arranges plans for him and a select group of people to hole up and survive what he refers to as “The Event,” meaning the financial and social collapse of the United States. The story does a great job of presenting the actual thoughts and reasoning behind this man’s decision making, and they shine a bright light on the qualities and traits that are sought and rewarded in the world of finance, a world where no product is created, no service is provided, and the only thing that matters is taking rich people’s money and making more money with it, while taking a fat cut for the broker. It is a bleak tale, and will hopefully have readers thinking deeply about what truly matters in life.
This has been a good couple of months for me on the science fiction front. I have found several new writers whose work I will explore, and whose careers I plan on following because their stories are so great. I look forward to digging into Cory Doctorow’s previous work, and seeing where his ideas take me in the future. I highly recommend this book.
(This book is available for purchase here: AMAZON )