Fantasy trappings notwithstanding, Someone is Doctorow’s most realist novel to date, both his most linear and most peculiar. Its pleasures derive not despite the logical jump-cuts and defiant tangents, but because of them. Not everyone likes Alan in the novel; one character complains, “I had to know the why….From the outside, it’s impossible to tell if you’re winking because you’ve got a secret, or if you’ve got dust in your eye, or if you’re making fun of someone who’s winking, or if you’re trying out a wink to see how it might feel later.” It’s a drive that compels me as well.
This is one of the few books where I feel that everything is as it should be, stylistically and structurally it seems as if the finished product exactly matches the original plan. As with all his other novels you can download it for free from the author’s website, but I urge you to buy it, because the world needs more books like this.
It’s wonderful, no question about it. But it’s hard to take from time to time, whether because of the calisthenics necessary for all that imagination stretching or because Cory Doctorow’s portrayal of evil is so truly frightening; I did not want to watch some things happen.
Magical realism and
literary iconoclasm abound in a novel that should appeal to fans of
experimental fiction in a near-future setting.
It’s official: Cory Doctorow has become the new Neal Stephenson. Or, rather, he’s become the new early-period Neal Stephenson, since Stephenson himself has moved away from quirky, computer tech-y, zippy future-kitsch. Doctorow began filling the resulting gap with his first novels, Down And Out In The Magic Kingdom and Eastern Standard Tribe. But his latest, Someone Comes To Town, Someone Leaves Town, is his most Stephenson-like novel to date, all bizarre characters, cutting-edge culture, and technological lectures, swirled into a refreshing, compellingly grounded semi-fable.
Make Magazine’s Phil Torrone has loaded Someone Comes to Town onto his fancy PalmOS watch. I’ve known intellectually all along that this was theoretically possible, but actually seeing the book on a ferchrissakes watch is pretty wild.
Last week I did a virtual book-signing of my novel Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town along with an interview in the massively multiplayer online world Second Life. All last week, Hamlet Linden, the game’s embedded reporter, has been running the transcript of the interview in the Second Life blog, New World Notes. Now the whole thing is online.
On a related note, Damon Wallace continues to add to his amazing collection of fan illustrations of scenes from my novel, including Alan’s tiny thumb, Marci in the family cave, a sketch of Davey and a wicked-creepy Davey attack on Alan. These illos are just gobsmackingly wonderful.
HL: [Audience member] Jarod Godel asks, “A lot of the backstory and universe in Someome Comes To Town was left open; was this done on purpose, trying to encourage fan fiction to fill in those gaps?
CD: Not to encourage fan fiction per se, but the human imagination has a lot higher polygon-count than prose could ever have. Leaving most of the world in shadow lets readers fill in very high rez pictures where you don’t have the throughput in the printed page. That said, if fan fiction emerged that filled that in, I’d be mightily chuffed.
At the heart of these juxtapositions — back-country living versus high technology, freaks and monsters versus everyday, normal people — are Doctorow’s propositions about the democratic flow of information and communications. Who are the real “lumbering dinosaur[s] . . . thrashing in the tar pit,” the regimented, slow-moving corporation that regulates communications, or the characters like Alan, who argue that the free wireless network project is a protection of fundamental human rights?
One more interesting point about the science in this story: It isn’t futuristic or untried, except, maybe, that the citywide network will be enabled by hardware that has been constructed entirely from garbage (discarded computer parts found in dumpsters).
“What am I?” The question is ongoing. Doctorow uses Alan as an embodiment of self-discovery on individual and cultural levels. With Alan’s efforts to spearhead the wireless movement (executed by street people, squeegee kids and junkies), Doctorow suggests that the notions of high and low tech, archaic and advanced, have less to do with the technologies we create than with the ways that we use them.
On Sunday, I did an in-game book-signing in Second Life, a massively multiplayer online world. Now, part one of the transcript from the interview is online. The signing was stupendously weird and fun — people turned up in avatars designed to look like characters from the book (or in other, weirder avatars, including an AT-ST from the Star Wars universe!). All this week, you can check back with New World Notes, Second Life’s in-game newspaper, for subsequent installments on the transcript:
For those few here (and I hope it’s just a few) who haven’t read Someone Comes to Town yet, why not give us your brief cocktail party pitch for the story?
Cory Doctorow: Hmm– it’s not an easy book to summarize. Alan is a serial entrepreneur who moved to Toronto to get away from his family. His father is a mountain and his mother is a washing machine. He has several brothers, including one who is an island, three who nest like Russian dolls, a precognitive, and a demonic savage. When he was a teenager, he murdered the latter brother, with his other brothers cooperating. And now that brother is back form the dead, stalking them all. Alan has fallen in with a gang of anarcho-info-hippies who are using dumpster-dived hardware to build meshing WiFi repeaters in a mad bid to unwire all of Toronto, or at least the bohemian Kensington Market streets. Meanwhile, his neighbors– a student household– contain a girl with wings and a mean-spirited guitar player/bartender, who, it appears, may be in league with the demonic brother.
So that’s it in a nutshell. A very large and n-dimensional nutshell.
HL: If someone asked me to classify Someone Comes to Town, I’d call it “high-tech magic realism”. (That may be a new genre!) But how’s that hit you?
CD: I think that’s a good classification. I’ve been calling it a techie contemporary fantasy — contemporary fantasy being the label commonly applied to magic realist fiction when written by North American popular authors instead of Marquez and his cohort.
Yesterday’s in-game book-signing in the massively multiplayer online world Second Life went swimmingly. A variety of accounts of it are appearing now, including this liveblog on the Terra Nova blog and this Flickr set of photos from in the game, that includes some of the attendees’ avatars who turned up “dressed” like Mimi, a character from the book. Man, that was cool.