Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Overclocked: Stories Of The Future Present

I decided to give Cory Doctorow's volume of short stories called Overclocked: Stories Of The Future Present a chance next. I went through and downloaded the audio versions that I could find of all the stories in this collection. Cory Doctorow is one of those author's that has a conduit into my brain. It almost seems like when he goes to write something, he rubs his lamp, out pops a genie, and he says, "Give me an idea that would really interest Big Anklevich." Then he's off to make something that really appeals to me. I mentioned when I talked about Little Brother just how addicting that novel was. Most anything he's done is the same way for me. Sure there's the few odd ones I don't like--I wasn't a fan of True Names, the story he did with Benjamin Rosenbaum, so I guess he doesn't really ask a genie what I'd like--but they're hard to come by.

Printcrime: This one was done as a flash story on Escape Pod a few years back. I heard it then, and of course am now hearing it again. It's not my favorite Doctorow, it's not bad; I enjoyed it, but it's too short to get too invested in.

Doctorow always hammers on the idea of the government or corporations or the like trying to control what you do, and this is another story in that vein. It centers on the idea of 3D printers being illegal, because people could use them to print things like Gucci handbags and Prada shoes or something. So governments won't allow people to use them. Well, it wouldn't be a story if the hero went along with that now would it?

Before this story, I'd never even heard of 3D printers. This one and Boyfriend by Madeline Ashby (which was on Escape Pod back in September) led me to investigate this whole concept. It wasn't easy to find out what they exactly were. You search printers online and you don't get 3D printers right off, that's for sure.

When Sysadmins Ruled The Earth: I first heard this one on a Podiobooks anthology of stories called Voices: New Media Fiction. This collection brought together stories by authors who were podcasting their own stories. Doctorow started doing his own podcast way back in 2005 or 2006, so he was a pioneer of sorts. I came to the story podcast fold by listening to Escape Pod, which is a very well produced show. Very seldom does a reader screw up on a sentence, and then forget to get that edited out. Doctorow does his podcast in a completely different way. While it's recorded, it's done as if it were live. If he screws up, he goes back and rereads it, but there is no editing involved. After all, editing is very time consuming. I suppose treating it this way is wise for a very busy author like him, but it took me a while to come to terms with it. I was usually pretty irritated, after all I work in the field, and to me it was just monstrously unprofessional. Which makes sense, of course because he is not a professional like I am. I've learned how to forgive and accept it for what it is, after all, I did get it for free, I can't really expect it to sound like things I pay money for.

Anyway, enough about Doctorow's podcast. Let's talk about the story. When Sysadmins Ruled The Earth is about a sysadmin who survives a world ending holocaust by hiding out in his server room with other sysadmins. All the climate control and particulate filtering has made his workplace into the perfect place to ride out a bioagent attack. With the world ended, the sysadmins hiding out in similar places like the one our main character is hiding in decide to elect a prime minister of cyberspace, and write up a constitution that will help the world avoid ever arriving at a juncture like this one in the future.

It doesn't sound all that interesting from my description of it, but believe me it's a really cool story. You'd enjoy reading it or listening to it.

Anda's Game: This is another one that I heard on the Podiobooks collection. It's read by a famous gamer of some sort or other. Not being a gamer, her name means nothing to me, but she does a great job with the story, and that does matter.

Just the other day, we ran the story, Playable Character by Eric Juneau. Anda's Game is very similar to that story to Playable Character in that it's set in a World Of Warcraft style video game, only Anda's Game is much more socially conscious. In a near future, a British school girl learns to see the importance of doing good to others, instead of always satisfying her own selfish urges. It helps her improve her life in more ways than one. Really good story. Very fun and interesting.

I, Robot: This story, Doctorow said, tries to address a flaw in Isaac Asimov's robot mythology. For some reason, there never were competing companies that created robots. It was always U.S. Robots and Mechanical Men. In this story, there's competing entities. There's also giant conglomerate countries with names drawn from Orwell's 1984. And of course there's government agencies run amuck, stealing liberties away from its citizens. In this story, a cop learns just exactly what his country is up to. Again, I enjoyed this story a lot. It's very similar to Little Brother in many ways, so it was guaranteed to be interesting to me.

I, Row-Boat:
Is a story about a sentient rowboat. It's set in a very far future, where human beings are no longer anchored to their bodies, but can upload their consciousnesses to wherever they want. Our rowboat hero, Robbie, takes people who have downloaded into bodies provided for them to experience what it was like to be a human scuba diving. Robbie develops romantic feelings for a human that has come diving. And then, some benevolent human consciousness decides to uplift the coral reef that Robbie's divers are exploring. The coral reef is confrontational and angry, and it attacks Robbie's divers. What will Robbie do?

It's a good story. Similar in ways the the aforementioned True Names that Doctorow wrote with Benjamin Rosenbaum. It's a little more accessible, though, I think.

After The Siege: Last story in the bunch. This one was really interesting. It's based on the siege of Leningrad, from World War II. It's set in the future, however, and involves 3D printers again. The people in the city where the story takes place are forced to live through some serious degradations and shortages. It really brings home what war can be like, and how it's always the hardest on those least responsible for it, the weakest and meekest always pay the biggest price.

So, overall, I think this is a great book, and I would recommend you pick it up and check it out. I love short stories (maybe that's why I produce a short story podcast), and these are some top quality short stories.

Up next, I'm taking another detour from my list of classic sci-fi literature, to read Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan. It's that dreaded sub-genre of Steampunk. Can't wait to see what's in store for me.

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