Monday, December 15, 2003

Books Worth a Look XX

While watching the final installment of Angels in America on HBO last night, I finished reading Cory Doctorow's new collection of short stories, A Place So Foreign. Published in September by Four Walls Eight Windows, it collects nine stories originally published in magazines such as Science Fiction Age and On Spec between 1998 and 2002. In the interest of full disclosure, at one time, I'd hoped to acquire the collection for Highwater Books, but it didn't come together; I think Cory found a better home.

Some of the book I'd read before -- "Craphound" and "The Super Man and the Bugout" -- but a lot of the stories were new to me and a wonderful corollary to Cory's novel Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. My favorites? "Craphound" because it held up over the course of five years and for its interstellar love of thrift sales and flea markets turned tale of true friendship. "All Day Sucker" for its new -- and perhaps more realistic -- take on computer-assisted memory and intelligence. "To Market, to Market: The Rebranding of Billy Bailey," a delightfully snarky approach to sales and marketing, shades of Tom Peters' Brand Called You and Naomi Klein's No Logo. And the closer, "The Super Man and the Bugout," for its lefty redux of the superhero icon.

While the stories are what shine here, two other aspects come into play. One is how Cory's personality and interests emerge through the text -- he knows of which he writes, and his interest is that of a true fan and geek. The other is the value of his introductory snippets. I haven't read a book in quite awhile in which the author's notes explain where a story came from -- and further explain who the author is by way of the stories. We get a lot of solid, edge-riding science fiction in this collection, but we also get a lot of Cory: the collecting bug, his reading history, knapsack theory, his voracious appetite for information, Disney, his writing process, his parents political history, and his own activist politics.

All that said, the story that hit me the weakest is also the most recent and political in the volume. Admittedly the first short story he wrote himself since he started work for the EFF, it's not as polemical as his current in-process work, Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town -- which just hit a somewhat strident stride in recent email previews -- but occasionally, the social and political theory and practice underlying his thinking overshadows the narrative. I would encourage Cory not to drop the political and social messages, but perhaps to better weave them into his stories so they're more transparent -- and perhaps digestible. If recent segments of Someone Comes to Town are any indication, his future work may get bogged down in political exposition. In this collection, however, that is not the case.

Get this book. Put it in your knapsack. Read it on the train.

No comments: