Not Enough Fun In Kitchener
A Place So Foreign and Eight More
By Corey Doctorow
Cory Doctorow probably requires no introduction, but a link to his Wikipedia entry seems prudent. Doctorow’s connection to Waterloo Region is, as is so often the case, via education. He attended the University of Waterloo in the 1990s and again in the 2000s.
2003’s A Place So Foreign and Eight More is a collection of Doctorow stories. I seem to have misfiled my copy of this but no worry: large portions of it are available online1.
Introduction: The Kingdom of Magic Junk • (2003) • essay by Bruce Sterling
An enthusiastic introduction of a then-new author by an author so ancient he not only remembers but used typewriters (which were a device that combined hard-to-fix typos with incitement to carpal tunnel syndrome). Many authors, as they slide into their advanced years — Sterling was an unimaginable 49 or 50 when he wrote this — adopt a grumpy, “they are doing it wrong,” attitude towards their younger colleagues. Sterling would be an exception.
“Craphound” • (1998) • short story
A junk picker and his alien friend fall out over a piece both covet. Time may heal all wounds, but the pair has less time than the picker can imagine.
A drawback to reading the online version is that one has to scroll through an increasingly hilarious amount of copyright-related discussion to get to the actual story. Once the reader does reach the story, it’s an effectively told low-key tale whose focus is refreshingly mundane.
A Place So Foreign • (2000) • novella
In a world where embassies link different eras, an orphaned teen struggles to find a place for himself.
The SF underpinning of the story, communication and embassies between different eras, reminds me of a specific golden-age SF author … but do you think I can remember who it was? (Contributions invited from the peanut gallery at Dreamwidth.) The execution of the story itself is rather Heinleinesque, down to the wise mentor figure.
“All Day Sucker” • short story
Not available online.
“To Market, To Market: The Re-Branding of Billy Bailey” • short story
Not available online
Return to Pleasure Island • (2000) • novelette
What of dreams, when family duty calls?
I sense there’s a cultural basis for this, one of which I am ignorant. But the notion of having to set aside personal goals to meet social responsibilities would seem to be universal.
“Shadow of the Mothaship” • (2000) • short story
In a world transformed by first contact, one young man works through his daddy issues by being an annoying, mostly useless git.
One phrase jumped out at me: “Not enough fun in Kitchener.” I may use it as a title.
Home Again, Home Again • (1999) • novelette
A young man searches for a rewarding life in a world quite different from our own. Earth has been contacted, then absorbed by the Galactic Federation.
A key part of the process is a functionary somewhat like a school counsellor, who, despite being much older, more experienced, and incidentally alien, is empathetic and actually helpful. Hmm, that wasn’t my experience. I found school counsellors to be irrelevant obstacles. No hard feelings, I hasten to add. Despite all, I have succeeded in becoming a poverty-stricken book reviewer and theatre staffer. What more could anyone ask?
I notice some reviewers would describe the relationship between Earth and the Galactic Confederation as subjugation rather than absorption. I suppose you could describe it thus. But as subjugation goes, the Earth is getting off lightly. Compared, say, to the experiences of the First Nations in Canada.
“The Super Man and the Bugout” • (2001) • short story
Can even the Super Man’s powers save him from being sidelined by a hostile government?
It’s odd how steadfastly traditional Doctorow’s plot structure is; once the slimy Minister showed up, it was fairly obvious how the rest of the story had to play out.
Computer programmer, program yourself!
This rather Blood Music-esque post-human tale has a certain quaint charm to it. However, I suspect that, in the real world, allowing programmers to hack their own biology would go hilariterriblely sideways almost immediately. I like a good Protean SF story as much as the next person (unless they are someone who likes them more or likes them less than I do) but do consider: the same cohort of programmers that included our protagonist also developed Windows ‘98.
I seriously considered reviewing Doctorow and Stross’ The Rapture of the Nerds on the grounds that I am (or rather my little device) is mentioned in it. Alas, Charles Stross has no connection to Waterloo Region of which I am aware. I reviewed this collection because I thought that it would contain the only story ever written in which a protagonist wanders through my older brother’s old office or rather, the volume it occupies, one universe over2. But such a detail did not show up in any of the stories I reread. Either I have misremembered or it will be found in one of the two stories not online. Bother.
[Light bulb! I bet I gave my copy to my brother!]
It’s interesting to see that even comparatively recent once cutting-edge stories soon develop a faint patina of age. One senses that the ethos of a generation ago has vanished or changed beyond recognition. Nothing ages as quickly as the avant-garde.
These stories have at least retained their charm. It was a pleasure to reread them.
A Place So Foreign and Eight More is available here (Amazon). It does not appear to be available at Chapters-Indigo. This is not the first time I’ve run into that problem with Canadian authors.
1: The book seems to be available in a phone-readable edition, but the process of downloading it was annoying enough that I gave up before succeeding.
2: Yes, I do track mentions of my family in story and song. This, for example, is the only song about a major conflagration in the San Francisco Bay Area that mentions my paternal grandparents. I have no idea why Reynolds thought my grandfather had an accent, raw or otherwise.