on March 30, 2011
The unabridged version of this review can be viewed here:
Cory Doctorow is my favorite kind of futurenaut, one who is only a few years ahead of his time. His ideas are easily possible with existing technology, or nearly so. And that is equally wonderful and terrifying.
If you've been following Doctorow on Boingboing, twitter, or his posts on Publishers Weekly, you know he's been experimenting with Self Publishing. Selfpub/epub/newpub is looking more and more to be the way of the future, and what better way to figure out how it all works than to dive in, head first? Alright, maybe not head first, as Doctorow has been publishing his writings under creative commons with everything downloadable on his website for years now.
Some of these stories made me chuckle. Many of them caused my jaw to drop and my eyes to get all big and a thin whisper of "Holy ****" to escape my mouth. All of them made me think. And that, I believe, is the point.
Every entry in With a Little Help is a gem. Here are my thoughts on a few of them:
Epoch - Odell Vyphus is a lowly sysadmin. Maybe not so lowly, as he's in charge of keeping BIGMAC running. The year is 2037 or, and BIGMAC is a burly, 32bit, old school AI with a penchant for Mycroft Holmes and Hal9000 jokes. And he's a dinasour. BIGMAC eats a ton of energy, kicks out too much heat, no one has published a paper on him in years, and grad students are bored with him. Wait, why am I calling BIGMAC a "he"? BIGMAC is a fancy schmancy computer. Definitely an "it", not a "he". Odell also has a bad habit of anthropomorphizing talking computers. And BIGMAC has developed a bad habit of running a killer endgame. How do you kill a computer that doesn't want to die? If it's not alive, are you really killing it? How do you reconcile a very human reaction to an artificial construct that is begging for its life?
Scroogled - plainly put, this story scared the **** of out me. In this near future, Google is completely transparent about the fact that your search histories never die, adwords can be used to predict future behavior, personality profiles can be built via your blogspot connect friends, youtube searches, your picasa uploads and your gmail contact list. The US government could really use a hand with "Doing Search Right", and a deal is brokered. The technology has existed for years for this to be non-fiction. Do you remember everything you've ever googled and every picture you've ever viewed on someone's Picasa or saved in your GoogleDocs? Google does. Think about that for a minute, and realize nothing is stopping the Google Guys from waking up one day and deciding your search history is worth a pretty penny.
on January 17, 2014
I rarely if ever buy books at retail. Used bookstores are my friends. I have no need to buy Doctorow books because I always read his public domain versions. Therefore, this is the 4th or 5th book I've bought at retail. He has a feature where libraries and schools can ask for donations, I've done that a few times. Otherwise I think of someone to send one to. I really respect his "putting his money where his mouth is" with his experiments in how to build a just and workable and free publishing system for this real world. I purchased this particular book especially because it is another experiment and I want to put my money there.
About the book. Doctorow is an excellent writer. Excellent in technical skill and craft. He always has interesting plots, good characters, and important, timely information. I get a lot of my now/near future culture grok from him. I love reading his work.
I picked this book out of my phone's library last night because I don't care as much for short stories, and I thought I'd read one or two and get to sleep at a decent time. I think it was about 4am before I forced myself to put it down. And then finished it today. Always interesting.
on June 28, 2011
By now many people will be familiar with the bestselling co-editor of Boing Boing, Cory Doctorow, after the young adult novel Little Brother, and his great adult book, Makers. Doctorow clearly has a knack for not just being to be able to string a bunch of words together creatively and skillfully, but each and every story is an important "What if?" to tell. Sometimes Doctorow offers dates, sometimes not; but readers can usually guess his stories are set in either the near future or within the next hundred years, involving a possible future that will capture, delight, and sometimes terrify. Doctorow seems to grasp at our idle thoughts of this century and the next, transforming them into a believable possibility that really makes us wonder.
With a Little Help collects thirteen of his short stories that have seen publication in anthologies or magazines or other media over the past few years revealing Doctorow's ability to tell a great, captivating science fiction story not just in long form, but also in short with developed characters you can connect with and a story that will haunt you and stay with you long after you have finished it. Whether it's the Internet, government, politics, or religion, Doctorow seems to have a unique take on it all, presenting a world that we're encroaching upon right now, or will be in the ensuing decades.
The book is also an experiment in itself, only available as a print on demand in printed form, or available free as an ebook, though donations are politely requested through his website. One might think in this day and age of piracy and scouring the Internet for illegal free items, this concept would result in failure, and yet this great collection continues to make money, which Doctorow isn't ashamed to hide with monthly financial reports. Perhaps, then, this is the message he is trying to share in his compelling stories: there is still hope . . .
Originally written on June 7, 2011 ©Alex C. Telander.
on June 25, 2014
I've read all of Cory Doctorow's books. He is a constant source of inspiration, and as I'm an idea person I especially love his new ideas. His writing is, of course, excellent too. I think the epithet "visionary" is highly appropriate, in his case. This book heralds the coming of the age of art as Commons - as community-owned. An application of open source ideas to art and other kinds of idea-materials. We MUST support our artists directly.
After all, think about it - wouldn't you feel BETTER about paying your favorite writers, musicians, sculptors, clothing designers and inventors directly? Knowing that the money you pay them goes directly to showing your appreciation, encouraging the artist and getting more of what you want, instead of paying 90% of the money to support parasites?
The internet is going to give us this option - it is ALREADY giving us this option. And every day, companies like Amazon and Etsy are giving us and our favorite artists the opportunity to participate in this revolution, which is both local and global at once.
Please heed Mr. Doctorow's message, and contribute to this and other open-source driven projects instead of participating in the "old ways" of commerce - the record companies, publishers, and media brokers need to die, for the sake of us artists and lovers of the arts living now, and for all the generations of humanity to come.
on January 6, 2013
I bought this as an e-book to have on my phone to read if I ever got caught with nothing to do. I had not expectations, I didn't know the author... I absolutely loved this book! Nearly ever story raised an interesting idea or made an interesting comment on society and the path we are heading down. I just wanted to keep reading and then talk about the stories with my friends.
Yep, really liked it.
on March 6, 2015
Good news: There's an audiobook of this available for free from Doctorow's website! Though you are HIGHLY encouraged to donate, and it's well worth a little cash Doctorow's way.
I've already reviewed a few stories from this volume that are in Goodreads as their own entries. "The Things that Make Me Weak and Strange Get Engineered Away," "Other People's Money," "Scroogled," and "Chicken Little." Good stories, all, but my FAVORITE in this volume is "Epoch," in which a true self-aware computer program is created, but it can not be replicated, and, as computers become more and more efficient, it becomes obsolete, and is ordered to be shut down. What is our responsibility to artificial life? How do we respond to any dangers it may pose? And What will be our emotional relationship with something completely logical?
I'll definitely be sending a bit of cash in for the audiobook. I enjoyed it, and it's only fair to show my support!
on January 7, 2015
I really enjoyed this collection of stories. The longer ones at the end were even more engrossing since I was better able to live in their world.
The best part may be the origin stories for these tales. It's fascinating to hear where, when and why each story was written. Nothing is created in a vacuum and it was fun to get a glimpse into where each story came from.
on May 30, 2012
I didn't actually realise that you could get this book for free, and got a bit confused when I read the epilogues. Reading more about the book here makes much more sense.
However, the normal bargain hunter that I am, I do not begrudge "accidentally" paying for a free book. Well, at least I hope some of the money that Amazon has charged goes towards the creators and enablers.
I hadn't really come across this genre of "futurenaut" before, having been put off by actual sci fi which takes place in too distant a future so I have quickly devoured his books.
Perhaps one small criticism I have is the negativity and bias towards some topics (Google operating in China for example, it felt quite pointed to use a real life example amongst the rest of his fantastic imagination/foresight). Though it's literature and of course you can use it to voice your opinion. Perhaps I'm just sad that we didn't meet on some points.
Highly recommended, great writer - I had a wonderful time in the book.
on January 23, 2016
Even though I sometimes feel a bit lost with the more technical aspects of his writing, Doctorow always entertains and I thoroughly enjoyed the stories in this book
on November 24, 2013
Great compendium of science fiction works. Intriguing near future and alternative history genre. Doctorow does not disappoint. Worth the read.