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A Place So Foreign and Eight More Paperback – September 8, 2003
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Wunderkind Cory Doctrow continues to display his orientation skills at the intersection of Humanity and Technology with the collection of short stories A Place So Foreign and 8 More. In the collection's titular tale, "A Place So Foreign," a 19th-century boy travels with his father, the Ambassador to 1975. But when Pa meets with an accident, young James becomes a living anachronism in 1898. Doctrow twists the time travel tale into a parable of data mining, as mysterious forces work to plunder the past for corporate gain. In one of several stories about a mysterious alien race who offers to give Earthers a hand up, he documents the adolescent rage of those left behind when the "mothaship" takes the anointed few into the brave new world. Finally, in "0wnz0red", Doctrow explores the dark side of Silicon Valley's connection to the military industrial complex by posing the question: What happens when hackers learn to hack the human body?
Doctrow is a new breed in an increasingly literate and valid subgenre of science fiction. He uses the traditional allegories of the form to explore more human and fragile connections. As the 21st century rockets ahead, he examines the consequences of our frenzy to embrace technology and predicts outcomes that are both charmingly optimistic and bleakly hollow. --Jeremy Pugh
From Publishers Weekly
Postcyberpunk Doctorow, a rising Canadian SF star, follows his Orwellian Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom (2003) with nine too-near-future tales of aliens and the human alienated-and it's often hard to tell the difference. In "Craphound," the author posits an Earth taken over by "bugouts," aliens obsessed with trading technological expertise for human junk, the ephemera that momentarily defines a society and then becomes silly or naive when some new and more soul-destroying technological amusement arrives. That Faustian central metaphor of the thirst for technology as the ultimate source of spiritual corruption almost guarantees Doctorow's other absorption, his vision of Disneyland in "Return to Pleasure Island," a horrifying sidewise glimpse of the children's entertainment industry. Since the short story form seems somewhat restrictive for him, his best pieces, like his achingly funny reflections on adolescence ("The Year of the Hormone") and a Jewish superman in the era of the Pax Aliena ("The Super Man and the Bugout"), need at least novella-size room. His closing story, "OwnzOred," a shockingly original glimpse of 21st-century mankind tottering at the brink of a mortally steep cliff, is a polemic on fair-use freedom. By relentlessly exposing disenchanted Silicon Valley dwellers caught in a military-industrial web of khaki money, Congress-critters and babykiller projects, Doctorow explores the intersection of social concern and technology-Never-Never land, or 2084?
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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If you're interested in reading imaginative science fiction, then this is the anthology for you. It is one of the most interesting works I've read in years.
***UPDATE 4/18: driving in to work I started randomly thinking about the story "craphound" from this collection...so I guess you could say Doctorow has stay-time, considering it's been a year since I read it and it still occasionally bounces around my brain.
"0wnz0red" made quite a stir back in 2002. Also online, see 1st comment.
Here's Bruce Sterling's opinion:
[quote]There has been a chunk of science fiction influenced by Silicon Valley, but "0wnz0red" captures the disturbed inner world of the technically sociopathic... This story is fully realized, and it is sarcastic, abrasive, and mind-boggling in a truly novel way. Like Beat writing in its early period, "0wnz0red" has the dual virtues of being both really offensive and genuinely hard for normal people to understand. This work is therefore truly advanced.[end quote]
"Craphound", the leadoff story, was Doctorow's first published story, about an alien who likes thrift shops. Good weird stuff, and online, too.
"A Place So Foreign", an 18,000 word novella (also online) about time-travel from 1898 to 1975, is a fresh take on an old theme, and well-worth reading, though not quite to my taste.
"All Day Sucker" is a neat, clever short-short original. "To Market, To Market: The Rebranding of Billy Bailey", personal brand-management at Pepsi Elementary, is crackerjack, my second-favorite in the collection (and overall). Neither is online.
"Return to Pleasure Island" is sort of a Disney satire and didn't do much for me. And "Shadow of the Mothaship", a weird scientology/alien invasion tale, went completely by me, though it's a favorite of the author. Go figure. Both are online, so you can judge for yourself (and calibrate your taste against mine). "Home Again, Home Again", an alien nuthouse tale, and "The Super Man and the Bugout", adventures of a Jewish-Canadian superhero, are good stories that share the "Mothaship" background. Both are online.
So that's it. A good collection, from a fine writer, early in his career.
Peter D. Tillman
Review first published at SF Site, 2004
Each story is preceded by author notes. The information given is historical, humorous, or biographical. And he talks about issues important to him such electronic rights and 'sampling'. Some of these subjects need more than just a paragraph. On the issue of sampling he asserts that writers should be able to 'lift' pieces of other authors stories; backdrops, character sketches et cetera. Other authors simply claim to have been inspired by books they have read, Doctorow takes this idea a step further. In 'A place so foreign' he admits to having read Fitzgerald's 'The Great Brain' children's books and copies the entire setting of Mormon Utah in the 1860s. Also in 'The Superman and the Bugout' he copies the comic hero Superman; right down to the tights, trunks and cape. These stories are yawnfests. When he uses his own ideas the stories are MUCH better, memorable even. '0wnz0red' is a great story about programming, bio-technology, and pushing the limits of human physiology, the characters and tension are believable.
Doctorow sells himself, and the reader, short by not examining the ideas in each story. He certainly has the talent to do so, but never closes the deal. Only two selections can be considered complete short stores. The rest are slice-of-life, literary snapshots, that are amusing in their telling but lack a equally weighty denouement. I look forward to what he may write the year he turns forty.