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Book Review: Cory Doctorow’s Futuristic Tales of the Here and Now

My Reading Ahead Challenge choices so far have at least been set in the real world, but I am also exploring futures that may never be and places that we can’t visit except in fiction, with this anthology of short stories by Cory Doctorow adapted and illustrated as a graphic novel, my third pick for the Reading Ahead Challenge (half-way there!)

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We’ve featured Cory Doctorow before with his excellent Young Adult novel about personal privacy vs. security, Little Brother. Ever since I read Little Brother, I’ve wanted to try other books by the same author, so I was really excited to pick up Cory Doctorow’s Futuristic Tales of the Here and Now. It’s a graphic novel based on several of Doctorow’s short stories, all with a science fiction theme that also relates strongly to questions about modern society.

From an online roleplaying game that has consequences the players can’t begin to imagine, to a buddy story about a human and an alien, to the horrifying tale of a besieged city based on Doctorow’s grandmother’s experiences during the Siege of Leningrad, these stories are powerful and painful. While Doctorow’s stories are always obsessed with technology, especially the ways it is used for restriction and rebellion, they always come down to the people using the technology. In these stories, technology is twisted for selfish purposes but it is also a tool for liberation and communication – and Doctorow makes it clear that even people with good intentions, who are fundamentally moral at heart, can be put in situations where they turn technology to terrible ends.

While the graphic novel was written in 2008 and the stories before that, they are still highly relevant today, with the debates about whether the Internet should be free and accessible to all, and our continuing stories of zombie apocalypses.

For stories that make you think, try Futuristic Tales of the Here and Now.

As with most of Doctorow’s work, you can download a free copy from the Internet Archive (archive.org), a not-for-profit website dedicated to storing millions of books, movies and other works that have fallen out of copyright or are released under Creative Commons licenses. Check out Doctorow’s website, craphound.com, for more of his work and his philosophy on creative commons. If you prefer to read a physical book, you can find it in our Graphic Novels section in Quick Reads at 741.59.

If you want more deep futuristic tales…

Watch Stanley Kubrick’s classic and influential vision of the future in 2001: A Space Odyssey (DVD Lobby 791.43). Two astronauts are on board a ship heading to Jupiter, with three scientists in suspended animation, their ship controlled by an advanced artificial intelligence: HAL 9000. However, when things start going wrong, the characters start to question HAL’s motives. A cult classic partly for its bombastic opening and bizarre ending, 2001 is also a fascinating exploration of the danger and hypocrisy of creating artificial intelligence that is enslaved to human interests.

Tron (DVD Lobby 791.43) is the story of a computer game designer called Flynn in the early 1980’s whose work was stolen by his old colleague. When he tries to hack his former company’s mainframe to prove it, he finds that the artificial intelligence designed to protect it against hackers is developing a power-hungry personality of its own. Flynn is digitised and put into the game, where he meets Tron, Ram and Yori, programs based on his friends who also worked at the company. Together they fight the artificial intelligence who is oppressing the other programs. It’s stylish and still surprisingly good looking 35 years later (though the CGI is very dated in places), but more importantly, Tron is about the bravery of standing up to oppression for the good of all.

For a lighter take on science fiction that still makes you think, try The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (DVD Lobby 791.453617 for the TV show from the 1980’s and 791.43 for the more recent film adaptation). Douglas Adams’ hilarious comedy is about a very ordinary human called Arthur Dent who wakes up one morning to find that his house and then his planet are due for demolition, hitchhikes a ride with the aliens who destroyed Earth and embarks on a wacky adventure across the universe. From Marvin the Paranoid Android to two-headed Zaphod Beeblebrox and his favourite cocktail, the Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is one of the best sci-fi comedies ever made.

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