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A Place So Foreign
Cory Doctorow
Four Walls Eight Windows, 250 pages

A Place So Foreign
Cory Doctorow
Cory Doctorow was born in Toronto, in 1971. He has sold fiction since the age of 17. His story, "Craphound," was published in Science Fiction Age. Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom was his first novel.

Cory Doctorow Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Down And Out In The Magic Kingdom

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Peter D. Tillman

This is newish writer Cory Doctorow's first collection, and it's a nice one. You can easily judge this for yourself, as he's put up six of the nine stories in the book for free download, along with Bruce Sterling's perceptive introduction.

Still, I'm supposed to provide guidance here, right? OK: the newest and hottest story here is "0wnz0red." But why listen to me? Here's Chairman Bruce's opinion:

"There has been a chunk of science fiction influenced by Silicon Valley, but "0wnz0red" captures the disturbed inner world of the technically sociopathic... This story is fully realized, and it is sarcastic, abrasive, and mind- boggling in a truly novel way. Like Beat writing in its early period, "0wnz0red" has the dual virtues of being both really offensive and genuinely hard for normal people to understand. This work is therefore truly advanced."
Well, um, AOL. "If your nerd quotient is high enough, ["0wnz0red"] will blow you away" -- Jeff Bezos, founder.

My favorite Doctorow story so far, the gonzo "Jury Service," isn't here -- maybe because it's a collaboration with Charlie Stross? -- but it's just a click away.

"Welcome to the fractured future, at the dusk of the twenty-first century.

Earth has a population of roughly a billion hominids. For the most part, they are happy with their lot, living in a preserve at the bottom of a gravity well. Those who are unhappy have emigrated, joining one or another of the swarming densethinker clades that fog the inner solar system with a dust of molecular machinery so thick that it obscures the sun. Except for the solitary lighthouse beam that perpetually tracks the Earth in its orbit, the system from outside resembles a spherical fogbank radiating in the infrared spectrum; a matrioshka brain, nested Dyson orbitals built from the dismantled bones of moons and planets..."

Not to be missed. See my (and others) comments on "Jury Service."

My third favorite Doctorow isn't here either -- who's picking these, anyway? -- "I Love Paree," another collaboration, this time with Michael Skeet. Here's a teaser, with more compliments from perceptive critics Rich Horton and Nick Gevers. Ah, it was recently reprinted in another 4w8w anthology, Witpunk "Full-metal baguette." All right!

OK, back to what is in the book. "Craphound", the lead-off story, was Doctorow's first published story, about an alien who likes thrift shops. Good weird stuff, and online, too.

"A Place So Foreign", an 18,000 word novella (also online) about time travel from 1898 to 1975, is a fresh take on an old theme, and well-worth reading, though not quite to my taste.

"All Day Sucker" is a neat, clever short-short original. "To Market, To Market: The Rebranding of Billy Bailey", personal brand-management at Pepsi Elementary, is crackerjack, my second-favorite in the collection (and overall). Neither is online.

"Return to Pleasure Island" is sort of a Disney satire and didn't do much for me. And "Shadow of the Mothaship", a weird Scientology/alien invasion tale, went completely by me, though it's a favorite of the author. Go figure. Both are online, so you can judge for yourself (and calibrate your taste against mine). "Home Again, Home Again", an alien nuthouse tale, and "The Super Man and the Bugout", adventures of a Jewish-Canadian superhero, are good stories that share the "Mothaship" background. Both are online.

So that's it. A good collection, from a hot new writer -- but they left out two of his four strongest stories!

Copyright © 2004 Peter D. Tillman

Pete Tillman has been reading SF for better than 40 years now. He reviews SF -- and other books -- for Usenet, "Under the Covers", Infinity-Plus, Dark Planet, and SF Site. He's a mineral exploration geologist based in Arizona. More of his reviews are posted at .

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