Bruce Sterling, Locus Magazine: Walkaway is a real-deal, generically traditional science-fiction novel; it’s set in an undated future and it features weird set design, odd costumes, fights, romances, narrow escapes, cool weapons, even zeppelins. This is the best Cory Doctorow book ever. I don’t know if it’s destined to become an SF classic, mostly because it’s so advanced and different that it makes the whole genre look archaic.
For instance: in a normal science fiction novel, an author pals up with scientists and popularizes what the real experts are doing. Not here, though. Cory Doctorow is such an Internet policy wonk that he’s ‘‘popularizing’’ issues that only he has ever thought about. Walkaway is mostly about advancing and demolishing potential political arguments that have never been made by anybody but him…
…Walkaway is what science fiction can look like under modern cultural conditions. It’s ‘‘relevant,’’ it’s full of tremulous urgency, it’s Occupy gone exponential. It’s a novel of polarized culture-war in which all the combatants fast-talk past each other while occasionally getting slaughtered by drones. It makes Ed Snowden look like the first robin in spring.
…The sci-fi awesome and the authentically political rarely mix successfully. Cory had an SF brainwave and decided to exploit a cool plot element: people get uploaded into AIs. People often get killed horribly in Walkaway, and the notion that the grim victims of political struggle might get a silicon afterlife makes their fate more conceptually interesting. The concept’s handled brilliantly, too: these are the best portrayals of people-as-software that I’ve ever seen. They make previous disembodied AI brains look like glass jars from 1950s B-movies. That’s seductively interesting for a professional who wants to mutate the genre’s tropes, but it disturbs the book’s moral gravity. The concept makes death and suffering silly.
…I’m not worried about Cory’s literary fate. I’ve read a whole lot of science fiction novels. Few are so demanding and thought-provoking that I have to abandon the text and go for a long walk.
I won’t say there’s nothing else like Walkaway, because there have been some other books like it, but most of them started mass movements or attracted strange cults. There seems to be a whole lot of that activity going on nowadays. After this book, there’s gonna be more.