Describe your latest book.
is my first adult novel since 2009; I call it an "optimistic disaster novel." It's a novel about a society where the super rich and their automation technologies have made the rest of us surplus to requirements, but we stubbornly refuse to disappear. Instead, a group of Promethean refuseniks steal fire from the gods: using stolen code and the waste-stream of mainstream society, they erect self-constructing buildings on toxic brownfield sites and turn them into fancy outposts of a futuristic Fully Automated Leisure Communist society. When the one-percenters who lay claim to the toxic dumps and garbage they're living off of show up and demand their return, the walkaways walk away: the world has an abundance of waste, code, and toxic dumps.
We tend to think of "utopias" as places where the problems have been solved and nothing goes wrong, but even the best organized society is subject to "exogenous shocks" — asshole neighbors, mutant superbugs, stray asteroids, and carbon-driven rising seas.
The thing that makes a society "utopian" isn't what happens when it's working as intended: it's whether it fails gracefully, or degenerates into a Cormac McCarthy
novel the first time someone flips a light-switch and nothing happens.
The walkaways are "living as though it were the first days of a better nation" — not a nation where nothing goes wrong, but one where, when things go wrong, everyone pitches in to help and put the world back to rights again.
What was your favorite book as a child?
I suck at favorites! That's why I've written tens of thousands of blog posts and read thousands (maybe tens of thousands at this point) of books. I was one of those book-a-day kids, and luckily I lived in a city (Toronto) with some amazing used and new bookstores, notably Bakka Books, which I haunted, pestering then-clerk Tanya Huff (now a famous fantasy writer!) for recommendations, which were always right-on (the first book Tanya sold me was H. Beam Piper's Little Fuzzy
, which is a hell of a book).
Great books can make us better people, but a lot of mischief has been done by people who only read one book and took it utterly to heart.
When did you know you were a writer?
I wrote my first story when I was six years old, in 1977, after seeing Star Wars
. I'm not one of those people who thinks of Star Wars
as the greatest movie ever made, but it did blow my mind — because it was the first really complex story I'd ever seen, a far cry from kids' programming on the three channels we got with our rabbit years, stuff like Davey and Goliath
. When I got home from the movies, I started writing out the Star Wars
story as best as I could recall it, using some 8½ x 11 scrap paper folded like a magazine and stapled to make a booklet — it was like a kid practicing scales on a piano. By writing it out over and over, I could start to figure out how the story worked, how the pieces in it came together.
What does your writing workspace look like?
I'm on the road something like half the time, so my "workspace" is a plane seat or hotel room or airport lounge as often as not. But for 10+ years I've kept various offices, and they all look pretty much the same: all my weird crap, and all my books, in a kind of glorious higgedly piggedly with skulls, novelty dice, and fezes:
What do you care about more than most people around you?
Digital rights management technology, beyond a doubt. This dumb dream of the 2000s has turned into a bona fide nightmare; it's now being used to stop farmers from fixing their own tractors, to lock coffee-machine owners into one brand of coffee-pod, to stop you from installing software of your own choosing on your computer, and to force security researchers to get permission from giant corporations before they can disclose that their products are dangerously defective.
Share an interesting experience you've had with one of your readers.
I've enjoyed no end of wonderful experiences thanks to the generosity and kindness of my readers; I suppose the most notable was that the readers I had at Disney Imagineering brought me in for a season as the Artist in Residence for their Blue Sky Group, where I got to help design the future of my favorite theme parks in ways I cannot describe, due to an eye-wateringly comprehensive NDA.
Tell us something you're embarrassed to admit.
The things that embarrass me do so for a good reason, and I'm not minded to disclose any of them; pretty much everything else is a matter of public record.
Introduce one other author you think people should read, and suggest a good book with which to start.
Leonard Richardson's 2013 debut novel Constellation Games
is an underappreciated masterpiece. From my review
Formally, Constellation Games is a just-about-perfect science fiction novel. It's got a great narrator's voice in the form of Ariel, a smartalecky, LiveJournal-trained net.wit who talks like Ready Player One crossed with JPOD. The alien species that Ariel encounters are brilliantly inventive (as are their fossil videogames), each detail more charming than the last. The plot is one of those great caper stories, absurd-with-real-danger, the stuff of books like Buddy Holly Is Alive and Well on Ganymede, and it'll rip you right along through the 360 pages like it was a short story, and leave you wanting more.
Besides your personal library, do you have any beloved collections?
But there are lots of formally excellent science fiction novels. They deserve our kudos and our attention, but they aren't a patch on Constellation Games. Because this book isn't just entertaining and inventive and clever. It's important.
Constellation Games is one of the best political books I've ever read, an account of the poison chalice of societies based on coercion that puts great works of anarchist fiction to shame. As if that wasn't enough, it's also a fantastic story of love and compassion, which will make you realize that, seen in the right light, we're already living as though it was the first days of a better world. Finally, this is a spectacular novel about art, to rival books like My Name Is Asher Lev and The Sun, the Moon and the Stars.
A shocking number of them. I collect all my conference badges in a huge, sagging garland that threatens to pull my bookcase out of the wall; I collect neolithic stone axe-heads; I collect human knucklebones from dismembered Victorian articulated anatomical skeletons; I collect 1970s/'80s merchandise from Disney's Haunted Mansions; I collect (and wear) vintage striped pajamas; I collect tiny service lapel-pins from engineering institutions, fraternal orders, etc; I collect stickers and cover everything I value in multiple layers of them; I collect vintage mechanical watches, skull rings, and fidget toys; I collect swizzle sticks, bourbon and fine bar glassware; I collect interesting tiki vases; and many, many other things.
What's the strangest or most interesting job you've ever had?
I was the night watchman at a pizza parlor/petting zoo in Baja Sur, Mexico; I slept on a mattress on the floor of the pizzeria while the zoo animals wandered in and out. The building had previously been a brothel and sometimes drunks would show up in the middle of the night and I'd have to explain the change of use to them.
What scares you the most as a writer?
Being forgotten by history.
If someone were to write your biography, what would be the title and subtitle?
Privilege: Another White Guy Who Wrote Some Books.
Offer a favorite sentence or passage from another writer.
"Don't let the little fuckers generation-gap you." – Dixie Flatline, Neuromancer
, William Gibson, 1984.
I work this line into a surprising number of books and conversations.
Share a sentence of your own that you're particularly proud of.
“Conversation is king. Content is just something to talk about.”
(I had to google "cory doctorow quotes." I don't really have any sentences I'm very proud of per se; they're all works in progress.)
What's your biggest grammatical pet peeve?
The belief that grammar is prescriptive, rather than descriptive. Grammar exists to help us understand people, not to tell them how to talk.
What's the best advice you’ve ever received?
Write every day. Took me 10-plus years to put it in practice, but it's amazing advice. Anything you do daily becomes a habit, and habits are things you get for free. Pick a modest word count and hit it, every day.
What is the root of all human misery?
Our endless, bottomless capacity for rationalization, individually and in groups.
Five debut novels I'm excited about:
1. Tropic of Kansas
by Chris Brown (July 2017)
Chris Brown — long known as a writer of perfect, jewel-like demented cyberpunk stories — makes his long-overdue novel debut with Tropic of Kansas,
a hilarious, dark, and ultimately hopeful story of a terrible authoritarian president whose project to Make America Great Again has plunged the country into an authoritarian collapse that's all too plausible.
Brown's alternate America diverges from our own with the assassination of Ronald Reagan in 1981, which leads to the ascension of President Haig and the beginning of the end. The Internet is never realized — instead, it's supplanted with a surveillance-friendly, centralized system run by AT&T that quickly becomes an organ of state surveillance.
by Annalee Newitz (September 2017)
Annalee Newitz's debut novel Autonomous
is everything you'd hope for from the co-founder of io9
, a much-respected science communicator with a longstanding sideline in weird sex and gender issues: a robosexual romp through a class war dystopia where biotech patent-enforcement is the only real law remaining, where indentured humans resent the conscious, enslaved robots for making forced labor socially acceptable, and where hackerspaces become biohackerspaces, home to reverse-engineered, open-source pharma and GMOs that might just save the future.
Newitz's tale combines the gonzo, corporatized future of Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash
with the weird sex of Charlie Stross's Saturn's Children
, throws in an action hero that's a biohacker version of Bruce Sterling
's Leggy Starlitz, and then saturates it with decades of deep involvement with free software hackers, pop culture, and the leading edge of human sexuality.
3. Too Like the Lightning
by Ada Palmer
Palmer's 25th century is in the midst of a long and carefully maintained peace, a peace that came only after the Church Wars, when religion nearly destroyed the world. Religions have been abolished; no grouping of more than three people may discuss religious subjects. The advent of ballistic, supersonic flying cars has eliminated space as a constraint on human grouping, all but abolishing nation-states in the process.
Humans belong to post-geographic affinity groups, some very large (Humanists, Utopians, Mitsubishi, Masons, and more), others much finer-grained: fans of a given sports-team, adherents to a philosophy, members of a trade guild or a hobbyist association. Every person is a minority of one, and majority has been abolished, taking with it the oppression of the many over the few. Even gender has ceased to be a meaningful category, though certain perverts insist on the use of gendered pronouns to describe themselves. Families are gone, replaced by group houses called bash'es, where child-rearing and other familial functions are shared by many adults and their children. Also all but gone is the penal system: instead of sending those who steal and murder to prison, they are turned into work-servants, "Servicers," whom any person may command, and who may only eat food given to them in return for their service.
by Nisi Shawl
is a novel that braids the life-stories and ambitions of some of history's bravest heroes and most ignoble villains. It begins in King Leopold II's genocidal Congo Free State, where mercenaries kidnap and maim black Africans to force them to literally work themselves to death harvesting rubber, the original conflict material whose extraction formed a template for the many brutal extractive industries that were later to come.
Shawl imagines that Leopold was enticed to sell some of "his" kingdom to a group of English Fabian socialists — the precursors to the Labour Party — who divert funds that (in our timeline) was used to found the London School of Economics to form a utopian community in company of Black Zionists from America who are led by a black civil war veteran who dreams of a place where black Americans can be free of the legacy of slavery.
5. All the Birds in the Sky
by Charlie Jane Anders
It's odd to call Charlie Jane Anders, editor of io9
and celebrated short-story writer, a "debut novelist," but All the Birds in the Sky
is her first science fiction novel for adults, and it embodies all that's best about debut novels — a lifetime's worth of creativity, frustrations, and inspirations crammed into a single set of covers, bursting with wild promise.
Patricia is a witch. One day while hiding out in the woods from her dysfunctional family — psychotic sister, dead-eyed overachiever parents — she discovers that she can speak to animals, and finds herself in the presence of the Parliament of Birds, who ask her a riddle. She blacks out and awakens in her family house and facing punishment.
Laurence is a geek. He has successfully managed many of the serious challenges to attaining full geekdom — building his own GNU/Linux box and successfully decoding the notoriously cryptic instructions for building a two-second time-machine (you know, one of those watches that makes you jump two seconds into the future). He is the goat of his school and a perennial disappointment to his violently normal parents.
÷ ÷ ÷
is a co-editor of Boing Boing
and a columnist for the Guardian
, Publishers Weekly
, and Locus
. His award-winning novel Little Brother
was a New York Times
bestseller. Born and raised in Canada, he lives in Los Angeles. Walkaway
is his most recent book.