Cory Doctorow’s books for teens always seem to be walking a thin line between anarchist handbook and dystopian adventure.
In 2008′s Little Brother, a young adult updating of Orwell, readers can learn how to disable the RTFD tags used to track merchandise and devices — and, in the novel, unruly citizens as well.
For the Win travels from the US to Asia as it uncovers the business behind MMO games, and shows how underground movements can hide their online tracks as they plan rebellion and liberation of oppressed digital workers.
His most recent YA novel, Pirate Cinema, follows a boy from the north of England who runs away to London when his family loses their internet access because of his illegal downloading of copyrighted videos, which he uses to create his own films. In this world, which is not that different from our own, life without the internet is almost impossible. News, official forms, school research, and telecommuting — all require the ability to get online.
As in the earlier novels, Pirate Cinema devotes a lot of time to opening the eyes of young readers to government and corporate control of society today. It is clear that Doctorow, the co-editor of Boing Boing, former European director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and co-founder of the UK Open Rights Group (and author of a slew of fiction and nonfictions books for adults), is basing this sci-fi setting on actual laws and technology. We learn about junkyards full of computers whose only flaw is that someone has figured out to hack them, how to turn an abandoned building into a livable squat, how to make a gourmet meal from dumpster pickings, and the workings of British Parliament.
We also discover the (sometimes literally) underground video scene, which makes and shares movies using copyrighted footage both online and sometimes in real life. The “let’s put on a show (in a sewer)” aspect is fascinating.
If the book has a fault, it is that the story does not hold up to the fact. Doctorow’s characters are never his big selling point, but his Oliver Twist-like hero Trent McCauley, Trent’s guide Jem Dodger, his girlfriend 26, and their various friends and family seem even more two-dimensional than usual. All the conflict in the book is between the characters and the establishment; there’s a noticeable lack of dramatic tension between any of the characters themselves. Parents and their children may not be demonstrative but never have serious arguments; all the females in Trent’s life are smart, beautiful, and without flaws.
As vehicles for Doctorow‘s message, they serve their purpose nicely, but as a story Pirate Cinema falls short. However, that doesn’t mean I’m not looking forward to his next book, Homeland, the sequel to Little Brother, coming out in February 2013. Despite their shortcomings, Doctorow’s books are just too enlightening to miss.
I received a copy of the book for review purposes.