Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Review: Overclocked: More Stories of the Future Present

Overclocked: More Stories of the Future Present Overclocked: More Stories of the Future Present by Cory Doctorow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cory Doctorow has this thing he does. Reading a number of his stories in a collection together makes it more obvious than reading one here and another there, with long gaps between, so let's see if I can articulate what that thing is.

Firstly, he takes a big, unlikely premise based on exaggerating present technopolitical conflicts.

Then he pushes it all the way over the top, and takes it to an unrealistically dystopian place with no apparent way out.

Meanwhile, he distracts you with fireworks: bold characters being awesome (actually, his characters are all pretty much the same character, and I suspect that character is an idealized version of himself); big ideas that other writers might build a whole story around, thrown about like confetti as offhand mentions and background; highly condensed technopolitical arguments that sound convincing, but are so compressed, and so full of references, that you'd need to be deeply immersed in the same ideas and conversations as Doctorow himself in order to fully understand them, let alone engage with them.

And finally, he takes that unrealistically dystopian story and (madly gesturing and setting off geek-culture flares to distract the reader from the improbability of everything) turns it around, ending with a clear note of hope and techno-optimism.

He does this with great verve, relentless pace, and usually not much in the way of actual plot.

I don't think anyone else could do it. William Gibson lacks the optimism, and Bruce Sterling the panache; Neal Stephenson lacks the pacing, and Rudy Rucker the discipline. Charles Stross perhaps comes closest to the blend of gonzo imagination and storytelling chops, but his work seems more considered and less showy, and his overall tone less hopeful.

It's an entertaining show to watch, even if I'm not always in the mood for it and can find plenty in it to criticize.

I did skip a couple of stories in this book; one, based on the Siege of Leningrad, because the introduction seemed to be warning of a darker story than I wanted to read, and one, "The Man Who Sold the Moon," because I'd read it before, relatively recently, and didn't love it so much that I wanted to read it again. It has what I sometimes describe as "not a lot of plot per thousand words".

View all my reviews

No comments: