October 2003
2003 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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A Place So Foreign and Eight More by Cory Doctorow
Four Walls Eight Windows Trade: ISBN 1568582862 PubDate: 10/06/03
Review by Ernest Lilley

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Cory is one cool Canadian nerdboy, and this is one killer collection of nerdfic.

I'm glad it's gotten cool to be a Canuck after all these years, as folks north of US have been getting steadily hipper, while we (US types) have been vainly trying to pretend we weren't really from around here...knowing that the interesting people all came from somewhere else. I think that Canadians are what we might be if we didn't have the Religious Right and a legacy of slavery, which both twist our moral perspectives into Gordian knots. Now, you can argue that Canada can afford to be cool because we're out there being Parents-To-The-World...and there's most likely some truth in that. Maybe we shouldn't be as cool as they are, but hey, I'm glad somebody is.

If you can get hold of a copy of APSFA8M, you'll see what I mean.

I find it reassuring that it took Cory 17 years to sell (professionally) his first story, also the first story in this collection: "Craphound". I find it daunting that his first pro-story is so damn engaging. At the start of things he was writing like Bisson, or sure, Sterling (but with a more Bissonesque sense of humor). And it's about junk and aliens. Both of which I'm fond of.

The title track, as it were, "A Place So Foreign", is about that undiscovered country, the future, but it's about how time travel affects both past and present, or it's about alternate worlds, or it's just a darn good yarn, or more likely all and none of the above. The author uses hopping back and forth as a great platform from which to gain perspective about where we've been and how we got there.

Let there be no doubt, these are stories Cory writes for himself about himself, which makes them heartfelt and grabbing for all us nerd boys and girls who have a gram of whatever it is that drives Doctorow. Stories like "All Day Sucker" about ability and compulsion, "To Market, To Market: The Rebranding of Billy Bailey" a schoolyard tale of marketing that makes looking back in anger at our own nerd blackened childhoods a wistful glance...I wish I could have rebranded myself too. "Return to Pleasure Island" is just plain weird stuff, but good weird and it gives the collection some range. "Shadow of the Mothaship", "Home Again, Home Again" and "The Super Man and the Bugout" are all part of the only story cycle Cory's recycled so far, where Aliens arrive, tell humanity it's not all that, and fix the broken parts of our lives like really good social workers. Which is painful, but we wind up a lot more mellow, not through alien brain surgery, but from growing up into something more...Canadian. And "0wnz0red", despite (or perhaps because of) Corey's insistence that only the truly hardcore nerd could love it, he's thinking of calling it NerdCore, is a fine piece of hard-sf-on-the-preachy-side, showing that our boy has spent a lot of time working/worrying about intellectual property issues and stuff and how it gets in the way of saving the world, or at least letting us save ourselves.

Doctorow is an idea factory. He's not alone in the world, and many of you may consider yourselves kin with justification. He is, however an idea factory on a roll, having fun bouncing around the globe thinking cool thoughts and hooking up with other folks to do stuff. And the best part for Cory, the world at large, and his readers in specific is that he's just getting started, and he's doing it at a time when the stuff his dreams are made of is stuff that's becoming real. Will the future arrive as he imagines it? Sure, because, like Walt Whitman, he is large...he contains multitudes.

The past and present wilt--I have fill'd them, emptied them,
And proceed to fill my next fold of the future. - Walt Whitman

 

2003 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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