18. Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town by Cory Doctorow
Author: Cory Doctorow
Publication Year: 2005
Price: $17.25 CAD, $14.95 USD, £10.33 GBP. Or, if you don't mind e-books, you can read this for free on the book's website
TBR Status: one down. Horray!
The Book's Website
Alan's mother is a washing machine and his father is a mountain. And no, that's not some strange insult: they really are a washing machine and a mountain. His brothers are a clairvoyant, an island, a corpse and set of three nesting dolls. Avi himself is just generally weird, but he does his best to fit in. He starts businesses, buys houses, fills his shelves with books he hasn't read. ("What's the point of a bunch of books you've already read?") His latest project is a big house on the corner of Wales Avenue, smack-dab in the middle of Toronto's Kensington Market. His new neighbors include a man who can see strangeness, a girl with wings, and an anarchist intent on blanketing Toronto with free wireless internet. As Art's world becomes increasingly tangled with theirs, he finds himself smack-dab in the middle of a web of secrets and lies - a web with intimate connections to his own strange past.
I wasn't too sure what to expect, going in. I'd heard that Doctorow's work was very, very strange, and this is true. I've been trying to think of a more politically correct way to say it, but I've failed: this is some weird-ass shit. But it's good weird-ass shit; it's weird-ass shit with a lot of heart. Argus and his family are inhuman in body, but they're very human in soul.
(Their names also change by the minute. It's the first letter that's important here, not the stuff that comes after it. Alan becomes Art becomes Avi becomes Allen, and so on and so forth).
But - and there's always a but, isn't there? - oddly enough, I didn't get quite so much out of the human elements, (which were all bizarrely fantastical and fantastically bizarre), as the technostuff. Don't get me wrong, Alan and his family are beautifully rendered, and their strange interactions make for some compelling reading, but the science fictiony portions of the novel were the most fun. Art and his friend Kurt are determined to change the fact of interpersonal communication, and I loved watching them work it all out. I initially found it a little confusing, (non-scientist, me), but I quickly caught on. I really looked forward to these scenes; they were by far my favourites.
That's not to say that Alan's personal struggles aren't compelling. They certainly are. He tries so, so hard to be normal, but he can never quite manage it. He wakes his young neighbors up at eight in the morning. He covers the walls of his home with bookcases - even the stairwells, the bathroom and the kitchen aren't immune. He turns his observations of human nature into long, rambling lectures on business and technology and moral responsibility. He's downright weird. And yet, it's difficult not to like him. You want him to succeed; you want him to figure it out, at long last. And you always, always want to learn more about him and his strange, unconventional family.
All in all, this was a very good book. I had a great time with it, and it's given me a lot to mull over. But - again with the buts - I feel absolutely no desire to read it again. It was a great one-night stand, and I do wish I'd read it in a class so I could discuss some of the themes at greater length, but I don't want to get involved with it on a long-term basis. I feel all right about passing my copy on to someone else.
When I was seventeen, I toddled off to Toronto with my improv troupe. We studied at Second City during the day and wandered the streets at night. One day, our SC instructor took us on a field trip to Kensington Market for lunch. It was love at first sight. I drank the place in: the Victorian houses with their wild paint jobs, the little cafes, the bakeries and thrift shops. We all bought bread and buns from one place; my friend Dave and I searched the shops for cheap vegan fare and meringues. When we'd each found what we needed, we converged on a particular cafe to chow down and talk shop. We bounced various ideas off of each other, and I ended up writing a one-act play called "Sex With Ivan" as a result of our conversations.
This book brought it all back.
The Sci Fi Experience - so to recap, that's a classic, some literary sci fi, some short sci fi, short steampunk, long steampunk, and some weird-ass shit.
999 Challenge - this was one of my Miscellaneous Fiction picks.
This Writing Life
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