Overclocked: More Stories of the Future Present
© 2016 Cory Doctorow
I’d never heard of Cory Doctorow before this week, but I encountered his name on a list of promising SF authors and looked him up. Amazon obliged my curiosity with a flash sale on one of his collections of short stories, and so I began reading Overclocked. A collection of short pieces ranging from stories to novellas, Overclocked has some fun with SF classics and exploring concepts like intellectual property, 3D printing, robotics, and artificial intelligence. AI is particularly important, with several stories using characters who have duplicated their consciousness and downloaded it into other carriers so they could achieve multiple goals simultaneously. Doctorow freely borrows titles and concepts from other SF works, which is not surprising given that he believes strict legal protections of intellectual property smothers creativity and innovation; this belief finds expression in several stories here, particularly “After the Siege”. I took an immediate liking to these stories, aided in part by the fact that his best-known novel, Little Brother, is a YA man-vs-state scenario.
“I, Robot” has the most fun with SF classics, throwing both Asimov and Orwell in a blender and creating a world where Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia and both have partially roboticized societies….but the societies in question are very different. It features robots, transferable consciousnesses, and a little futuristic law-enforcement.
“When Sys Admins Ruled the Earth”. A bioweapon has been released across the northern hemisphere and the world seems to be ending…but a handful of server admins are keeping the Internet up and the hope of recovery alive — at least as long as the power generators hold out.
“Anda’s Game” : a young teenager who finds meaning by playing in an elite women-only gaming clan is faced with a dilemma when she discovers a community of young Mexican girls online who are forced to play the game all day doing minor tasks to generate in-game gold, which is then sold for real money online. Taking their plight seriously might mean abandoning her friends…
“After the Siege” is easily the longest and darkest, detailing the life of a young woman who is orphaned while her city is besieged by outside powers in retaliation for its open-culture philosophy,The story features an outsider who calls himself a wizard and who — as the fearful and naive girl is turned by the war into a wary, cynical young woman — seems ever more suspicious. This story has the same premise as the short piece which opens the collection, “Printcrime”, but is enormously expanded. In that one, the police destroy and imprison a man who was using a 3D printer to reproduce copyright-protected goods.
“The Man Who Sold the Moon” is a nod to Heinlein, at least in its title. A man forced to look Death in the face encounters a friend who will change his life by dragging him to a Burning Man event, and is enlisted in a project to create a unique robot. When the friend has his own encounter with Death, however, a crowdfunded attempt to realize one of the stricken man’s dreams takes readers to the moon. The technical accomplishment drives the story, but a lot of its heart is the three main characters’ attempts to find meaning in an all-too mortal life now overshadowed by the threat of cancer.
“I, Rowboat”. The most speculative of the stories, this features a sentient rowboat programmed with Asimov’s Laws of Robotics attempting to protect some human shells (rented out to human consciousnesses who like to relive the days of having flesh and such) from a sentient coral reef. There are plentiful Asimov references here, including a robot religion called Asimovism, and a rogue personality which refers to itself as R. Daneel Olivaw. The amount of consciousnesses being uploaded and downloaded from host to host — at one point the boat downloads himself into a human shell — can get confusing, especially when a consciousness has been temporarily cloned. (At one point the rowboat downloads himself into a human shell to effect a rescue, and has a conversation with his rowboat self.)
All in all, I most definitely got my .99 cents worth and hope to try Little Brother at some point.