“Radicalized” by Cory Doctorow

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.

“The Library at Mount Char” by Scott Hawkins

Wow.

The Library at Mount Char

I read quite a bit–about 100 novels a year, now that I have a toddler. I read “The Library at Mount Char” a few weeks ago, and I keep thinking about it. It’s engrossing, and dark, and pretty disturbing. It’s definitely not for kids.

The main character is the adopted daughter of … a God, basically? He’s probably the third God, and he’s been God for something like 60,000 years. He “adopted” a handful of children during the Carter administration (kinda), and has been training them in a particular school–like medicine, or languages, or war. Time is weird, but a little before the start of the book, he goes missing. His now adult children come together–a little–to find out what happened.

I weaselworded that quite a bit, as the book is pretty twisty and turny. I wouldn’t say it’s confusing, but it isn’t completely straightforward.

Anyway, 5/5, even if it is a little darker than I usually read.

Pump Six and Other Stories by Paolo Bacigalupi

Pump Six and Other StoriesPaolo Bacigalupi; Night Shade Books 2008WorldCatLibraryThingGoogle BooksBookFinder 

Pump Six and Other Stories is a short story collection. The stories have collectively won about a billion awards. Most of the stories take the crap parts of today, and magnify and extrapolate them. I thought every story in the collection was well done, but more than one of them bummed me out.

“Yellow Card Man” is a story from the “Windup Girl” universe.

The story from the title, “Pump Six” is in a similar vein to “The Locusts” by Niven and Barnes, which was previously the most haunting short piece I had ever read.

4/5

Toast by Charles Stross

Toast Toast: And Other Rusted FuturesCharles Stross; Cosmos Books (NJ) 2002WorldCatLibraryThingGoogle BooksBookFinder 

Toast is a collection of older short stories by Charles Stross. When it got really hard to find, he released Toast for free as a Creative Commons thing.

I was pointed to Toast by Ron Hale-Evans, who mentioned that he preferred older Stross to his newer stuff. I see where he’s coming from, but I’m not necessarily sure if the axis is older/newer or shorter/longer. The older and shorter works are definitely harder to digest. When they unwrap in your brain few days after you’ve finished, it’s quite a delight. On the other hand, I think his newer work sells better. I was going to try to pick a favorite story, but that’s pretty hard. Big Brother Iron is set in the 1984 universe, and the main character is a sysadmins.

4/5.

The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway

The gone-away world The gone-away worldNick Harkaway; Alfred A. Knopf 2008WorldCatRead OnlineLibraryThingGoogle BooksBookFinder 

The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway starts in the middle of the action–you’ve got a world that isn’t like ours, but it isn’t entirely clear on how it isn’t, and there’s a Very Important Pipeline that’s on fire. The narrator is part of an independent disaster recovery team, and they’re going to go put it out with huge bombs. End of chapter one.

The next 50% of the book are a linear retelling of the narrator’s life, until we catch back up with the first chapter. Heavy on the description, meandering diversions, and humor, it made me actually laugh out loud.

The bulk of the work is a coming-of-age story wrapped up in an action story, with major speculative fiction elements. I absolutely loved it. Without spoiling anything, there’s a few interesting insights on megacorporations and the people inside of them.

6/5 stars.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

The Magicians The Magicians: A NovelLev Grossman; Plume 2010WorldCatRead OnlineLibraryThingGoogle BooksBookFinder 

What a spectacular book! It’s not a children’s book, by any means, but it plays off both Harry Potter and Narnia. It feels quite a bit more literary than most books I read, and multiple times while reading I stopped to think, “That feels really True.” Grossman did a really good job with his characters. He really captures the teenage experience.

There’s a sequel coming out in 2011.

Iron Council by China Miéville

Iron Council Iron CouncilChina Miéville; Del Rey/Ballantine Books 2004WorldCatRead OnlineLibraryThingGoogle BooksBookFinder 

This is the third Bas Lag book. It doesn’t really have any characters in common with any of the other two, but the completely awesome world is the same. The book originally starts as two stories, and they intertwine and meet at the end. It’s a little more political than the previous two, but if you love the Bas Lag setting, you should love this book.