Cory & Stewart Brand, moments before returning to the mothership

Last night I went to hear Cory Doctorow lecture on “The Coming Civil War Over General-Purpose Computing,”  for Stewart Brand’s The Long Now Foundation in San Francisco. I met Cory in 2010 at World Science Fiction Convention in Montreal, and I just wanted to box him up and take him home. We were on a panel together, and I found Cory intimidatingly knowledgeable and articulate.

I was familiar with Cory’s work on issues of intellectual property, privacy, and individual rights in the 21st Century. I’d been thinking along similar lines for a few years, and when I ran across Cory and Lawrence Lessig I saw that here were people who had not only cogently articulated ideas I’d been messing with, they had become movers & shakers in those areas.

I hadn’t read any of Cory’s fiction, and after meeting him I read a bunch.  I’ve found it as engaging as Cory himself. His wonderfully subversive YA novel Little Brother is an Anarchist Cookbook for young teens.

The big surprise for me was Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town. It’s a flat-out, unapologetic magical-realist techno-activist science-fiction fantasy. (Whew.) It’s dark, and it’s loaded with exactly the kind of urban grit detail a book like this needs to stay grounded. It’s also the most lyrically written thing I’ve read by Cory, with a sustained mood and poetic tone that make it one of my favorite novels I’ve read in the last few years.

I’m pretty sure it’s also Cory’s least commercially successful novel. It doesn’t explain itself, it demands that you accept some baldly stated impossibilities, and it can’t possibly be catering to the nuts & bolts technophile audience who usually gobble Cory’s work like crack-filled bonbons. But for me it has the urgent immediacy of a book its author simply had to write, a “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” insistence.

I tend to like artists’ “B” sides. Chances they take, things they knock out with no notion where they’re going or if they’ll even sell, much less make money. You can just feel the artist not playing it safe. (Gene Wolfe’s Latro books are like that for me — I’d bet they are among his least-selling novels, but they’re by far is most evocative and interesting. For me, anyhow.)

I was surprised to learn that last year was Cory’s first time at Burning Man. I was not surprised to learn that he is going again this year. And I’m delighted to learn that by doing so, he will be blowing off WorldCon for the first time in 18 years. The Playa will do that to you. And while I think Cory has a lot to offer WorldCon, I think Burning Man has a lot to offer Cory.

I would never say this to Cory directly, for fear of looking like a squeeing fanboy, but he is one of my heroes. His stances on the sham that is current intellectual property law, the fundamental humanism that makes him a revolutionary at heart, and his unwavering dedication to telling the world when the emperor has no digital clothes — they’re all traits of someone fighting the Good Fight.

2 Replies to “Corybantic”

  1. I just read an advance copy of Pirate Cinema, Doctrow’s new YA title which has a lot to do with internet piracy laws and corporate copywrite infringement. I hope it inspires a lot of younger people to wake up and pay attention because what happens with these laws is absolutely going to affect their lives in the next decades. It was a really good read- entertaining and engaging, but also informative and thought provoking. I would love to hear Cory Doctrow speak in person- you’re so lucky!

    1. I’m very much looking forward to reading Pirate Cinema and Homeland. Cory is definitely my kind of subversion.

      I’ve met Cory three or four times — we’ve been on panels, had dinner & breakfast at cons — and he’s as fast and articulate socially as he is behind a podium. At the risk of patting myself on the back by proxy, he’s one of the few public speakers I find intimidating. I’m no slouch at doing my thing in front of a group, but Cory is astonishingly articulate and broadly knowledgeable while being funny, interesting, and visionary. I first met him on a panel where I was between him and Neil Gaiman. I decided maybe I shouldn’t talk as much as I usually do.

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