Sunday, March 6, 2011

CBR III Book 8: Overclocked: Stories of the Future Present by Cory Doctorow

I almost gave up on this book. It's a collection of short stories by Cory Doctorow, one of the founders of, which is a daily Internet stop for me. I can always find something amusing or fascinating on the website, so I was surprised to find myself so bored with the first few stories in the book. I'm not a gamer, and I'm not a tech geek or web geek or whatever they call themselves, so I suppose it's not really surprising that some of the stories didn't catch my interest.

Overclocked is a compendium of some of Doctorow's best known stories: "When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth," "Anda's Game," and "I, Robot" are the three that I'd heard of before picking up the book. "When Sysadmins..." tells the story of a group of systems administrators who are the survivors of some epic apocalyptic event. On the back of the book, the story's blurb reads "When Sysadmins... tells of the heroic exploits of sysadmins... as they defend the cyber-world, and hence the world at large, from worms and bioweapons." And my GOD, that could not be a more misleading blurb. None of that happens. In fact, NOTHING happens in the story. These sysadmins survive, and decide that they should do something, and after a whole bunch of nothing happens, they decide to create a government made up entirely of elected sysadmins, and then a whole bunch of nothing else happens and the story ends. There wasn't any "defending" going on. As far as apocalyptic stories go, this might be the worst one I've ever read.

"Anda's Game" didn't fair much better, I'm afraid. It's the story of a girl who spends her days making money as a gamer and stumbles onto a virtual sweatshop where teenage girls are working in poor labor conditions for little amounts of money. It was an interesting premise, but the execution was rather dull, the main character was a little twat, to be frank, and it ends just as things start to get interesting and Anda decides to take down those in charge of the sweatshops.

The only story that I truly enjoyed out of the 6 was "I, Robot." Doctorow openly admits in his preface that the story borrows largely from Asimov - from the title itself to the three laws of robotics - and Orwell - he uses the geography of 1984, referring to Oceania and Eurasia in the story - and it's a little disappointing (there's that word again!) that the one story I liked is the one that is basically not his own work. I'm not saying he's not a good writer; I'm saying I apparently don't like his work unless he uses the (more interesting? better thought-out? more creative?) work of others.

Hmmm. When I set out to review this book, I didn't plan on talking so much about how I didn't like it. But the more I think about it, the more I realize just how let down I was. I guess it serves me right for having such lofty expectations for Doctorow's work. In any case, I don't think I'll be picking up any of his other stories or his novels. There's so much science fiction out there to be read, why dwell on the stuff I don't like?

And one last note: "Stories of the Future Present" - really? Really?

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