Tag Archives: Cory Doctorow

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Attack Surface by Cory Doctorow #Brainfluffbookreview #AttackSurfacebookreview

Standard

I enjoy Doctorow’s writing – see my reviews of Makers and Down and Out in the Magical Kingdom – so I was delighted to be approved for this Netgalley arc. Would I enjoy Doctorow’s latest offering?

BLURB: Cory Doctorow’s Attack Surface is a standalone novel set in the world of New York Times bestsellers Little Brother and Homeland.
Most days, Masha Maximow was sure she’d chosen the winning side. In her day job as a counterterrorism wizard for an transnational cybersecurity firm, she made the hacks that allowed repressive regimes to spy on dissidents, and manipulate their every move. The perks were fantastic, and the pay was obscene.

Just for fun, and to piss off her masters, Masha sometimes used her mad skills to help those same troublemakers evade detection, if their cause was just. It was a dangerous game and a hell of a rush. But seriously self-destructive. And unsustainable. When her targets were strangers in faraway police states, it was easy to compartmentalize, to ignore the collateral damage of murder, rape, and torture. But when it hits close to home, and the hacks and exploits she’s devised are directed at her friends and family–including boy wonder Marcus Yallow, her old crush and archrival, and his entourage of naïve idealists–Masha realizes she has to choose. And whatever choice she makes, someone is going to get hurt.

REVIEW: I haven’t read Little Brother and Homeland – though given they are set in the same world and Marcus Yallow makes more than a walk-on appearance in this story, I’m going to track them down. But that didn’t prevent me from thoroughly enjoying this thought-provoking read about some of the consequences caused by our love of social media and mobile technology. And exactly how repressive regimes can use this technology to keep their population under their boots…

Masha is a smart, edgy protagonist whose brilliance has led her into working for some murky organisations. I love the fact that she isn’t presented as some helpless, bewildered victim who has been coerced into making her dodgy decisions, but realises all too well that what she is doing has bad consequences. I also enjoyed her pride in the money she’s making and the status she’s accrued – after all that is the American dream, right? Her mother struggled all her life to provide sufficient money to educate her clever daughter, so it’s not surprising Masha highly values her wealth and the ability to buy the best. It makes her struggles with her conscience more plausible and visceral – and snagged my sympathy far more effectively than if she’d somehow been bamboozled into putting her brilliance to work for people who are now not on the side of the angels. Though given that this is aimed at the YA market, I’m intrigued to see how this plays out with that age-group, given that teens tend to see things as more black and white.

As for the technology – inevitably there needs to be a fair amount of explanation about what some of the programs Masha is dealing with can do. I’m guessing that youngsters probably won’t have to flog their brains into following said explanations as hard as I did, because they’ve been born into this world. However, I didn’t find it unduly hard to follow what was going on and neither was it a problem – because it was far too chillingly plausible and made for instructive reading.

Science fiction can provide the escapist fun of the far future, but it can also sound warnings about where we’re headed and provide scenarios to show the consequences of what will happen if we don’t change our ways. Cli-fi has been doing this for years. This is another of those books that shows how technology designed for our convenience and ease of communication can be put to far darker use. More imaginatively though, Doctorow also provides a solution to the problems he raises and this book ends on an inspirational, upbeat note that left me feeling empowered and slightly buzzed. This would be an excellent book to be studied in schools, as it raises all sorts of issues our youngsters will be grappling with for years to come – as well as suggesting how they should be dealt with.

Highly recommended for fans of thought-provoking, near future sci fi – though do be aware that Doctorow’s politics and views won’t be for everyone. While I obtained an arc of Attack Surface from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

Sunday Post – 20th September, 2020 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

Standard

This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

It’s been a quiet week. I had a minor sniffle and sore throat. Nothing remotely COVID, but it still seems very anti-social to start spreading whatever-it-is around, so I stayed at home. My youngest grandson, after three days at school, has had to quarantine for a fortnight as a child in his yeargroup cluster was discovered to have COVID-19. I’ve been busy catching up with my blog, and harvesting my fennel seeds, while still slightly buzzy about last week’s holiday.

The photos are from last week’s visit to Batemans, home of Rudyard Kipling for the last years of his life. Although the house was closed, we had a lovely time wandering through the gardens and along the small river running along the end of the property. The weather was absolutely fantastic, though it has continued to be dry and warm throughout this week, too. Long may it continue, if it keeps Winter at bay.


Last week I read:

Attack Surface – Book 3 of the Little Brother series by Cory Doctorow
Most days, Masha Maximow was sure she’d chosen the winning side. In her day job as a counterterrorism wizard for an transnational cybersecurity firm, she made the hacks that allowed repressive regimes to spy on dissidents, and manipulate their every move. The perks were fantastic, and the pay was obscene.

Just for fun, and to piss off her masters, Masha sometimes used her mad skills to help those same troublemakers evade detection, if their cause was just. It was a dangerous game and a hell of a rush. But seriously self-destructive. And unsustainable.

When her targets were strangers in faraway police states, it was easy to compartmentalize, to ignore the collateral damage of murder, rape, and torture. But when it hits close to home, and the hacks and exploits she’s devised are directed at her friends and family–including boy wonder Marcus Yallow, her old crush and archrival, and his entourage of naïve idealists–Masha realizes she has to choose. And whatever choice she makes, someone is going to get hurt.
I was blissfully unaware that this is a spinoff from a series – but it really doesn’t matter. Although another of the main characters features in the previous stories, this is essentially a standalone, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Review to follow.


Dead Man in a Ditch – Book 2 of the Fetch Phillips Archives by Luke Arnold
The name’s Fetch Phillips — what do you need? Cover a Gnome with a crossbow while he does a dodgy deal? Sure.

Find out who killed Lance Niles, the big-shot businessman who just arrived in town? I’ll give it shot.

Help an old-lady Elf track down her husband’s murderer? That’s right up my alley.

What I don’t do, because it’s impossible, is search for a way to bring the goddamn magic back.

Rumors got out about what happened with the Professor, so now people keep asking me to fix the world. But there’s no magic in this story. Just dead friends, twisted miracles, and a secret machine made to deliver a single shot of murder.
I’d enjoyed the first book, but I had a few issues with this one. Review to follow.

AUDIOBOOK Finder – Book 1 of the Finder Chronicles by Suzanne Palmer
Fergus Ferguson has been called a lot of names: thief, con artist, repo man. He prefers the term finder.

His latest job should be simple. Find the spacecraft Venetia’s Sword and steal it back from Arum Gilger, ex-nobleman turned power-hungry trade boss. He’ll slip in, decode the ship’s compromised AI security, and get out of town, Sword in hand.

Fergus locates both Gilger and the ship in the farthest corner of human-inhabited space, a gas-giant-harvesting colony called Cernee. But Fergus’ arrival at the colony is anything but simple. A cable car explosion launches Cernee into civil war, and Fergus must ally with Gilger’s enemies to navigate a field of space mines and a small army of hostile mercenaries. What was supposed to be a routine job evolves into negotiating a power struggle between factions. Even worse, Fergus has become increasingly–and inconveniently–invested in the lives of the locals.
Well, this is fun! Lots of mayhem, well narrated and plenty of surprises and plot twists until the climax – and the good news is that it is the beginning of a series. Review to follow.


My posts last week:

Castellan the Black and His Wise Draconic Tips on Childcare

Review of The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

Déjà vu review of Earth Girl – Book 1 of the Earth Girl series by Janet Edwards

Friday Faceoff featuring The Hound of the Baskervilles – Book 5 of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries by Arthur Conan Doyle

Cover Love featuring the covers of Janet Edwards

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Trials of Koli – Book 2 of The Rampart trilogy by M.R. Carey

Can’t-Wait-Wednesday featuring The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton

Reblog of interview with S.J. Higbee by Jean Lee

Tuesday Treasures – 13

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Earth Prime – Book 1 of The Earth Girl Aftermath stories by Janet Edwards

Sunday Post – 13th September 2020

To my shame, I haven’t visited many blogs or interacted on Twitter all that much this week – so I don’t have anything to share ☹.

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you and yours have a peaceful, healthy week. Take care.

Review of Makers by Cory Doctorow

Standard

This interesting, near-future technology-based novel initially came out in 2009 in serial form as an ebook, before being released by Voyager as a printed version. I’ve been interested to read a variety of responses to the book, many of them hostile…

Perry and Lester invent things. All sorts of things. Seashell robots that can make toast, Boogie Woogie Elmo dolls that drive cars. They makersalso invent an entirely new economic system. ‘New Work’ is a New Deal for the technological era, and together Perry and Lester transform the country, with journalist Suzanne Church there to document their progress.

For the record, that’s half the blurb published (which I hadn’t read before embarking on the book) on the inside of the cover – and the reason why I’m not continuing any further, is that the next paragraph proceeds to give away at least half the major plot points of the book. Which is the reason, I reckon, that one of the recurring complaints I’ve encountered about this book is that the story is slow and predictable. If those reviewers knew in advance what was coming up, no wonder they felt the book dragged. That’s the only explanation I can come up with – because although it’s a long book, at no time did I find my attention wandering. Doctorow’s gleeful enthusiasm for the new toys he’s envisioned for the near future didn’t stop him paying attention to providing an entertaining storyline and likeable, interesting characters. I was also impressed at the clarity of the writing – at no point was I scratching my head or having to backtrack and reread any sections in order to understand exactly what all these cool, techie gismos did. And while I enjoy browsing through the New Scientist, I’m no science specialist.

I have a suspicion that many of the poor reviews about Makers are aimed at the high profile author who makes no secret of his beliefs, many of which are somewhat controversial. One complaint was grumbling about the fact that Doctorow chose Duracell as a struggling company of the future… while another targeted the fact that Lester and Perry spent a lot of time making kitch dross, rather than worthy, planet-saving inventions. There were several scathing comments along the line that despite Doctorow’s dislike of large profit-hugging corporations, such as Disney, his maverick inventors still ended up working in a system that made money.

Well – duh… I would suggest that while it’s a no-brainer that Capitalism is a toxic system, criminally wasteful of the resources and humanity that get ground up underfoot – so far, thanks to the crash of Communism and the current woes of Socialist governments across the globe it’s the system we’re stuck with. And if Doctorow had managed to come up with a credible alternative system in his novel, he’d probably be Out There, earning himself a Nobel Peace prize and becoming the first President of Earth, rather than critiquing the current sorry mess as a writer.

I think it’s a shame that Makers has drawn down so much unfriendly criticism due to Doctorow’s political stance, because while at times the prose is a little rough around the edges, I’ve read an awful lot of science fiction novels   where the pacing, characterisation and plotting was a great deal worse, yet garnered far more favourable reviews. Doctorow has all sorts of interesting observations to make in this thoughtful look at the near future and how technology may shape the outlook for sections of American society. I also thoroughly enjoyed the story of Lester, Perry and Suzanne and am not sure how anyone could have thought the poignant epilogue was predictable.

If you are genuinely interested in what one person has to say about how new technology might impact the near future – and won’t throw up your hands in horror if said person chooses not to address the issues of resources or climate change – then I strongly recommend this novel.
9/10

Review of Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow

Standard

This fascinating little book was Doctorow’s first novel, which he released under a Creative Commons non-commercial licence that allowed anyone to download and read the book for free, alongside its release by Tor.

DownandoutJules is a young man barely a century old. He’s lived long enough to see the cure for death and the end of scarcity, to learn ten languages and compose three symphonies… and to realise his boyhood dream of taking up residence in Disney World.
Disney World! The greatest artistic achievement of the long-ago twentieth century. Now in the care of a network of ‘ad-hocs’, who keep the classic attractions running as they always have, enhanced with only the smallest high-tech touches.

But the ad-hocs are under attack. A new group has taken over the Hall of the Presidents, and is replacing its venerable audioanimatronics with new, immersive direct-to-brain interfaces that give the guests the illusion of being Washington, Lincoln, and all the others. For Jules, this is an attack on the artistic purity of Disney World itself. Worse: it appears that this new group has had Jules killed. This upsets him. (It’s only his fourth death and revival, after all.)  Now it’s war…

I generally find it difficult to really get enthusiastic about books featuring post/transhuman characters – for the simple reason that they are so different, I don’t feel any emotional bond with them. Not poor old Jules, though… despite his technological advantages, he is very humanly flawed and believable, driving the tempo and tone of the story forward as it teeters between farce and tragedy without losing our interest. The whole world works really well – although I have to say that the term ‘whuffie’ scraped across my synapses, rather. And for those of you scratching your heads over that one, in a society where food and shelter are freely available and money is obsolete, your reputation/standing or whuffie, is what people work towards boosting. Those with high whuffie gain admiration and respect, if not outright fame from everyone else. However, it has to be constantly worked at and it is all too easy for those with a high whuffie rating to lose it by making a series of bad decisions. I hasten to add, that it isn’t the concept that bothers me – I happen to think that it’s a smart, slick idea with plenty of purchase – it’s the word. ‘Whuffie’ puts me in mind of a small terrier breed of dog with a bristled coat and uncertain temper… However, I’ll freely admit that it is a very picky point, and not one that merits knocking off any points as it didn’t dent my enjoyment too much.

I can understand why this slim volume created such a stir, in addition to receiving a nomination for the 2004 Nebula Award.  The plot drives forward with plenty of twists that provide real pageturner appeal, which doesn’t prevent Doctorow from making some nicely pertinent points about his society.  The fact that the battle plays out for Disney World – a prepackaged shot of nostalgia that never existed in the first place – creates a sense of wierd hilarity, while becoming a symbol for something that transhumanity has lost.   There are a number of books who have attempted to describe a transhuman society, where technology has shifted Man’s perspective so far away from our current concerns, that sociological and personal goals are completely different. Mostly, they fail. Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is among the select handful I’ve read that actually have succeeded in creating a plausible scenario where transhumankind live and breathe – and I care that they do so…
10/10