Radicalized, by Cory Doctorow, is a collection of four independent stories set just a moment in the future. If you want four Black Mirror episodes filtered through Boing Boing, you’ll absolutely love Radicalized.
There’s an intensity, a purity in these stories, that really keeps you reading. They are moral, they’re cutting, they’re biting. They’re about otherness and othering. These are stories written by an immigrant, the son of an asylum-seeker, and someone who has spent his life fighting for our digital rights. They’re not going to make you feel good.
The first story, Unauthorized Bread, is about a refugee who gets a spot on one of the “poor floors” of a posh high-rise, living in a Silicon Valley dream Internet of Crap dystopia, who learns to jailbreak her things.
There’s a story, Model Minority, about a Superman-alike who witnesses some senseless police brutality, steps in, and has to deal with the consequences. Superman realizes Black Lives Matter but then struggles because he can’t punch police brutality in the face, and learns how quickly otherness can happen. I loved the interplay between the Superman-alike and the Batman-alike.
The third story, Radicalized, was quite difficult for me to read. It’s about a man who joins an online support group for folks dealing with terminal cancer in their loved ones, and their health insurances refuse to authorize their treatments. The support group becomes more and more extreme, and he just can’t tear himself away. It’s easy, too easy, to dismiss angry alt-right 20 somethings in chat rooms, but what’s it look like when that same rage is focused on health insurers?
The fourth story, Masque of the Red Death, is from the point of view of a rich financial trader, Martin, who has created his own “Fort Doom” and picked thirty lucky folks who will shelter out the apocalypse with him. Doctorow has talked a few times about the choices we have when “it hits the fan”. When your neighbor comes over for help, do you work together, or do you point a gun at him? We’ve seen what working together looks like in Walkaway. Doctorow shows his increasing skill in this story with point of view and word choice. Every moment we see the world from outside of Martin’s POV is simultaneously great and heartbreaking.
I know there will be a lot of people turned off by this book, who will get a whiff of it, feel feelings for things that they don’t want to have, and dismiss it as “propaganda”. Midway through the first story, Unauthorized Bread, I had a different worry—are these all going to be Electronic Frontier Foundation fiction think pieces? I *love* the EFF, don’t get me wrong, but I do not need to read a novel yelling at me about the evils of DMCA and DRM and the Internet of Crap. However, these worries were unfounded. Radicalized quickly digresses into dark glimpses of the world we’re creating for ourselves.
I received this book at no cost from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.