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Doctorow, Cory

Entry updated 12 February 2024. Tagged: Author.

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(1971-    ) Canadian author and "digital rights activist" (his terminology), who began to publish work of genre interest with "2,000 Year Check-up" for On Spec in 1990, but who came to relatively wide attention with his first mature story, Craphound (March 1998 Science Fiction Age; 2005 ebook), in which Aliens turn out to conceive of the marks and detritus of our human passage over the planet as collectible; bargains are sought and struck. The story intensifies Philip K Dick's similar intuition in The Man in the High Castle (1962). Other short fiction of interest includes "I, Robot" (14 February 2005 Infinite Matrix), which won a Locus Award for novelette, as did "When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth" (August 2006 Jim Baen's Universe); "After the Siege" (January 2007 Infinite Matrix) won a Locus Award for best novella.

Doctorow, who won the John W Campbell Award in 2000, is a writer and activist highly conscious of the transformations the human race is facing. In his view these challenges are daunting only to relict members of the species, and the futures towards which we pro-actively surf will be deeply intriguing and enabling (see AI; Computers; Futures Studies; Intelligence; Prediction; Singularity). Much of his work consists of nonfiction advocacy, as collected in Content: Selected Essays on Technology, Creativity, Copyright, and the Future of the Future (2008). He has complex views on the relationship of the information-dense world we now inhabit (see Internet) and the free flow of information within this network, where (he feels) we now essentially live and work. In this context, a text like Essential Blogging: Selecting and Using Weblog Tools (2002) has proved extremely valuable, perhaps of more permanent use than some of his polemical advocacy, where impatience and enthusiasm sometimes fuse the syntax of argument. It stems from his work as one of the collaborators on BoingBoing, for several years one of the most prominent and successful of weblogs.

His fiction is perhaps less remarkable; though it never lacks competence, there is sometimes in the fast-lane urgencies of his plots an echo, perhaps more resounding than he fully intends, of the Hard SF of the previous century, where human virtue and successful problem-solving are sometimes tacitly conflated. In Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom (2003), which is set in an information-driven world wrought very nearly to its uttermost, and backup Clones turn the frequent deaths of its protagonists into something like rides, the archaic Disney World is wracked by conflict over the introduction of far more sophisticated Virtual Reality environments than had previously been tolerated in this retro venue. Eastern Standard Tribe (2004) treats post-modern tribalism as a distributed network based on information consanguinities rather than blood or proximity; the worldwide membership co-ordinates itself by living according to Eastern Standard Time (i.e. east coast American time): it is a hopeful view of the world to come. Early stories are assembled in A Place So Foreign and Eight More Stories (coll 2003); Overclocked: Stories of the Future Present (coll 2007) assembles later work. Doctorow has argued that the future for long prose fictions (which he feels to be essentially iterations of print technology) is problematic, though of great potential interest; his own transformed/transformative work of fiction was anticipated with much interest.

Little Brother (2008), which initiates the Little Brother sequence, may be the work in which his gifts first came into full focus. Marketed as a Young Adult novel, it follows a teenage hacker named Marcus in near-future San Francisco (see California); through no real fault of his own, he falls into the clutches of the Department of Homeland Security, enabling Doctorow to articulate through his story a range of arguments about the necessity of various kinds of freedom in a suspicious and information-governed age. Little Brother is one-sided, polemical, joyously didactic, and comes dangerously close in places to wish-fulfilment; but it also suggests that the author, his talents, and the cultural moment may have aligned. It won the John W Campbell Memorial Award and Prometheus Award; Homeland (2013), which tied for the Prometheus Award, continues the story directly, while Attack Surface (2020), no longer marketed as young-adult, focuses on a companion of the original protagonist, also an infotec mover. Her gradual discovery that the kind of corporate monster she works for more or less runs the world may seem belated in real-world terms; but is effectively conveyed.

For the Win (2010), a singleton, is placed in a very Near Future world where Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games are being used to manipulate virtual money, within an almost cheery revolutionary frame. The Lost Cause (2023) is set in a Near Future California very severely affected by Climate Change, where any solutions are seemingly hamstrung by climate change deniers; but the Young Adult protagonist, and his involvement in the Blue Helmet movement, provide arguments for joining together to effect revolutionary planetwide remedies. [JC/GS]

see also: Ebook; Identity; Laws of Robotics; Money; Torture.

Corey Efram Doctorow

born Toronto, Ontario: 17 July 1971


Little Brother

Martin Hench

individual titles

collections and stories


works as editor


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