The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow is SF about SF—its childish preoccupation with hardware, its retrofutures that drag on the genre like The Carousel of Progress tied to an escape zeppelin, and the immature demands for “positive” futures and happy endings. Ah, but happy endings for whom?
What makes Doctorow’s story so unique is that in almost every science fiction story meat-space is privileged over cyber-space. The hero wins when they successfully resist technology and establish their humanity as an opposing force against the tyranny of the machine. Doctorow and other techno-positive thinkers like him argue forcefully that such thinking can only lead to dystopia and suffering. In a world of ever-quickening technological upheaval the question remains important for us: Change or Progress?
“The novella showcases all of Doctorow’s strengths. We have fascinating ideas by the bucketful, but they never swamp the personal dimension of the story. Jimmy’s struggles to deal with his past, his isolation as the only immortal, and his complicated relationship with his childhood friend and sometimes lover Lacey are all skillfully handled, giving the story emotional depth that belies its flashy set pieces. Despite the extravagant setting, the story is still deeply relevant to our own time and place; it tells us both that things will change and keep on changing, but that the basic elements of human life, our relationships to our parents, ourselves, and each other, will still be with us.”
In a scant one hundred pages, Doctorow infuses our imagination with engaging characters, a tightly woven narrative, and carefully woven themes of isolation, family, and genetic engineering into Jimmy’s journey through the American wasteland. Doctorow eloquently marks the differences between change and progress as one of Jimmy’s preoccupations.
It’s pure Doctorow, filled with more invention and movement than many writers can fit into a book series
For fans of Cory Doctorow, reading The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow will be a no-brainer. Grim as it is, it’s also as thought-provoking as anything he’s written. If you’re new to the author, start with the interview in the back of the book to get a taste of the fireworks factory that is Cory Doctorow’s mind, then read the novella for an example of why he’s a cultural force to be reckoned with, and finish up with the “Copyright vs. Creativity” speech to get a quick rundown of some of Cory’s core beliefs. This is a lovely little book in every respect, from its stylish design to its phenomenal content.
For the last decade Doctorow’s work has poked at the edges of what will surely be a transformative issue for humankind and even for human nature, but with two slim volumes released simultaneously he had finally gotten his hands on the core of the problem—we must cut loose from the old-fashioned corporate propaganda Carousel of Progress, and make our own techno-utopian futures.
He’s got the modern world, in all its Googled, Friendstered and PDA-d glory, completely sussed.