Someone Comes To Town, Someone Leaves Town
Book by Cory Doctorow
In the old stories, the ones that weren’t written down, the ones that existed before Disney had a chance to capture them and clean them up, magic just was; there was no disbelief to suspend. There was magic because the world was just a magical place.
But time has passed. Life has changed. It takes a long time to put aside the cynicism modern man must develop to survive. But if you can manage to do so, get back into that head-space for Cory Doctorow’s most recent novel,
Someone Comes To Town. It begins with Alan (also called Augustus, Adam or Andrew) refurbishing his house, in which he will write his story. Alan is the son of a mountain and a washing machine. “He kept a roof over our heads and she kept our clothes clean,” he explains to a friend early on. His brothers are Billy (Benny, Bobby, Brian-as long as each brother’s name begins with the same letter, the other details aren’t too important), the oracle, Craig (Caleb, ect) the island, Davey who deserved it when his brothers murdered him, and Edward, Frankie and Georgie, the triplets who live inside each other, like Russian nesting dolls.
There is no punch line, no explanation, no metaphor. This is just what is. Alan passes as (sort of) normal, while spending every day of his life trying to learn what the hell he is, and how he can really fit in with other people. Unfortunately, his evil brother Davey has crawled out of the place in Craig they buried him and has begun fucking with his brothers. While all this is going on, Alan manages to find time to help a local techno-anarchist named Kurt set up a free city-wide networks made of dumpster dived computer parts called ParasiteNet.
The modern Toronto they live in isn’t hard to believe, nor are the characters. The genuine air of even the most surreal moments make origin of the protagonist fairly irrelevant. I found myself deeply invested in the strange crew of characters (who all come in fairly alphabetical order, for some reason.) Herein lies the strength of the novel: after a fashion, the story becomes too strange to ever expect an explanation, nothing could live up. A less skilled writer could have made the world absurd, but Doctorow manages to impart it with enough humanness to maintain a delightful equilibrium. Your browser may not support display of this image. Someone Comes to Town is a fantastic example of a fairy tale for grownups, a weird and wonderful piece of 21st century fantasy. Between goblins and golems Alan and Kurt battle Big Business for the right to maintain and develop ParaisteNet.
I don’t know about you, but occasionally I find myself sitting back, the realization that I just sent an instantaneous message to my mother on a wireless hand-held communicator slowly dawning on me. Sure, text messaging usually seems only a fairly neat modern convenience, but you should see my grandmother’s face with I show her my phone. The future is now and it’s positively fucking magical. Or haven’t you seen those multi-input touch screen computers ?
Modern life is incredible and scary and fantastic. Living in general is incredible and scary and fantastic. Doctorow believes this, most of all about technology (I can only imagine his reaction to those screens) and humanity. We have grown jaded to the wonder of science and living, but when you put zombies and winged girls up next to dumpster diving and pirate Internet with no disparity between these things, it becomes easier to see our technology in a new light. We take it for granted, but there was a time when 8-bit was the height of graphic art. I certainly remember being overwhelmed by the possibilities of the Oregon Trail. Who knew what could be waiting over that river we were fording? Was it cholera? Indians? More bison? Now, I can’t even get excited about the new expansions to WoW. We expect, perhaps even demand a supernatural level of technological growth at every turn, and that’s perfectly acceptable: that’s how technology improves. There’s everything from virtual space flight to online poker to finding old classmates on-line. But finding joy in science and wonder in technology; that’s a part of it too. The wonder of a club-hopping girl with four-foot-tall bat wings and instantaneous, wireless communication that is free and accessible to every single person on the planet are one in the same, and though I only happen to have absolutely proof that one of them is real (for the moment), that’s still pretty cool.