Living in the Future – The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow by Cory Doctorow

This is the first book I have read in the PM Press ‘Outspoken Authors’ series of novellas.  The list of authors contains some greats of science fiction, young and old, including Kim Stanley Robinson, Michael Moorcock, and of course Cory Doctorow.  It is a great testament to the British library system, that I stumbled across this book in my local library.  I have never heard anything about this series before, yet here one was sitting prominently on the shelf in my smallish local library.  One in the eye for the cut-seekers.

So what’s the book like then?  Well, it’s split into three sections.  The first, and by far the biggest, is the title novella.  There then follows a transcript of Doctorow’s speech to the 2010 World SF Convention ‘Copyright Vs Creativity’ and finally an interview with Doctorow in which he discusses writing and his ‘inner nerd’.  I am a huge fan of Doctorow’s ‘Little Brother‘, an incandescent novel that asks important questions about our surveillance society.  The other two Doctorow novels I have read, though masterly in their vision, lacked the punch of his breakthrough.

The strength of Doctorow’s fiction lies in the depth of his knowledge of modern computing and our interconnected world.  This, coupled with his ability to extrapolate how technology might grow, allows him to build plausible and credible visions of the near-future.  Building on some of the (many) ideas he outlined in ‘Makers’, ‘The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow’ is set after the ‘Mecha Wars’ a post-apocalyptic Earth, where self-replicating computers and nano-technology have helped mankind destroy the planet.  Jimmy, the novel’s narrator, is immortal.  Created by his father, who manipulated his genome, Jimmy never grows old.  In world that is failing this is a curse rather than a blessing.

Because this is a story of only 100 pages, it has none of the flab around it that spoiled ‘Makers‘ and ‘For the Win‘.  It’s all story.  A good story with some food for thought for the future – most notably that just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.  There are some interesting observations on what might happen when computers become more human, and humans more computerised, and a side story of what the father-son bond might be like, if you are going to live forever.  Disney also makes an appearance; old habits clearly die-hard.

The Speech ‘Copyright Vs Creativity’ is a controversial appraisal of DRM and how it stifles creativity.  I must confess that I’m not familiar enough with the subject matter to fully understand what Doctorow was driving at nor do I feel qualified to give it an objective appraisal, but it was interesting essay and a counter-intuitive argument well explained.  Finally the interview gives us a glimpse of the man behind the legend (for Doctorow is legendary in many circles.) He comes across very well, and a capable defender of our digital rights.  He also offers some great tips on writing, which all budding Doctorows would do well to read and heed.

All in all this is a small but well put together book.  PM Press have done themselves proud, and right now, I’m off to the library to see if I can find some more from the series… (that’s a lie it’s 22:30 and pouring with rain)


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