Cory Doctorow is very worried about the future. So is Jimmy Yensid. Doctorow is worried about the ways in which copyright laws are not only changing our personal freedoms as consumers and creators, but also our political ethics and our technological development. Jimmy is worried because his father re-engineered him as an immortal post-human biologically paused at the cusp of puberty, and if he can’t find a way to reverse the process he’ll never be able to grow up and have sex.
In “The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” a new novella from PM Press’ Outspoken Authors series, Doctorow’s fiction and nonfiction come together in a thought-provoking package. Jimmy’s world is one where multi-tendriled mechanisms called wumpuses roam around consuming matter—from buildings to garbage to people—and disassembling them at the molecular level. In his efforts to escape them and find a cure for his condition—eternal life at the cost of growth and change—he roams the remains of a perpetually apocalyptic future America. Far from the bland grit of Cormac McCarthy’s own dabbling in sci-fi, Doctorow’s is one that retains the weirdness of modern living, and it ties back in subtle ways to his own ideas about creative property and intellectual freedom.
In the accompanying essay and interview, readers get a ground-level introduction to Doctorow’s line of thinking on matters ranging from copyright, to DRM, to Creative Commons licenses. Doctorow addresses not only what they do but what they mean. Some of Doctorow’s ideas, like the perspective that DRM and anti-piracy technologies do less to stop violators and more to treat legal consumers like criminals, find themselves reflected concretely in his spunky piece of fiction. In that sense, “Tomorrow” could be considered a piece of political sci-fi. Blissfully though, the narrative, told from the point of view of Jimmy, avoids descending into heavy-handed proselytizing. In fact, without reading the extra material and having no prior knowledge of Doctorow’s work on the subject, it’s possible to read “Tomorrow” as just a straight-up, madcap, techno-romp. Which, on one level, it certainly is; and it does very well on that level. Jimmy’s adventure reads like a light-speed Tom Sawyer remixed and shot back through time to our present day. Doctorow’s essay and interview are likely to provide a response of either “I completely agree with you, but…” or “You’re entirely wrong, except for…” but either way it’s not possible to read this book and come away philosophically complacent. (Greg Baldino)
“The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow”
By Cory Doctorow
PM Press, 136 pages, $12