Saturday, December 22, 2007

Changing planes.

I wrote this on the plane (it's what happens when you finish a book and you haven't got anyone to talk to about it). And I have wifi until they throw me out of this airport lounge:

Just finished Cory Doctorow's book Little Brother.

I've liked Cory's fiction as long as I've been reading it -- gave him a blurb for his short story collection -- but this made me happy in ways only Cory's non-fiction had made me happy before.

This is because Cory is one of the Explainers. The people who see what's going on, or what they perceive to be going on, and then turn around and tell everyone else, and once you've heard it their way you can't ever see it the old way again.

Douglas Adams was one. Bruce Sterling does it sometimes, and so does Bill Gibson. They all do/did it more in conversation and in non-fiction than in fiction though. Malcolm Gladwell can do it in non-fiction (I've never met him and don't know if he does it in conversation, which is the best way of getting it from Cory or Bruce or Bill). (A favourite recent moment was watching Cory explain to Rob Brydon why YouTube is a dandelion.)

Little Brother is a YA novel, and it reminds me of nothing so much as a Heinlein juvenile (this is a good thing. Heinlein's books for younger readers were mostly terrific, something I mention here because I run into people who either haven't read Heinlein or have only read some of the messier later adult novels, or who disagree with Heinlein politically with or without reading his books, who have no idea how good the juveniles are).

Little Brother is mostly brilliant. It's a political polemic, a tract on privacy and information, on hacking and cracking and politics. It's set in a near-future America in which a bomb has gone off, and it's about a 17 year old kid called Marcus versus a Department of Homeland Security that's out of control.

And Marcus is actually, believably, wonderfully, in there with a chance.

It's about honesty, not-running away, and about smart vs stupid. There were moments in the book where I wanted to cheer, moments I felt were dead on, moments that made me feel really old.

It's not perfect. Cory's baddies are too bad, in some ways. There's a kid called Charles, who is an evil sneak, reprehensible in every way, who also holds political views that are at odds with our hero's, making us cheer Marcus when he starts quoting from the Constitution to defeat evil Charles...and Charles felt like a wet straw man. When things get ideological, I wanted Marcus to have at least one decent argument with someone who disagreed with him but at least seemed to have a point of view. There's a scene where we see a Karl Rove figure telling cronies not to travel before the mid-terms, implying that maybe the Americans are bombing themselves for political advantage... each time something like this happened I felt like Cory was selling himself and the book short, in a way he doesn't when he explains the statistical danger of false positives (something I'd just been reading about in Derren Brown's Tricks of the Mind, oddly enough, although that's only oddly enough if you're either Cory or Derren). It feels like a stronger book whenever Cory gives the impression that the bad guys think -- know -- that they're in the right, that the Bill of Rights and the Constitution are disposable when you come up against Evil Forces Bent on the Destruction Of America. Because you can treat as many people as badly as you need to if you're in the right. Too often, the baddies are bad and the goodies are good. And if I'm going to nitpick there are a couple of plot things that hiccup...

But I'd recommend Little Brother over pretty much any book I've read this year, and I'd want to get it into the hands of as many smart 13 year olds, male and female, as I can.

Because I think it'll change lives. Because some kids, maybe just a few, won't be the same after they've read it. Maybe they'll change politically, maybe technologically. Maybe it'll just be the first book they loved or that spoke to their inner geek. Maybe they'll want to argue about it and disagree with it. Maybe they'll want to open their computer and see what's in there. I don't know. It made me want to be 13 again right now and reading it for the first time, and then go out and make the world better or stranger or odder. It's a wonderful, important book, in a way that renders its flaws pretty much meaningless.


Ten songs that always make me inexplicably happy when I hear them:

Love's a Prima Donna, Cockney Rebel
Cheese and Onions, The Rutles
The Jeep Song, Dresden Dolls
Ever Fallen In Love (most versions, but the Thea Gilmore cover on Loft Music is my favourite)
Tower of Song, Leonard Cohen
The Day We Caught the Big Fish, T. V. Smith
Smells Like Teen Spirit, Tori Amos
Rock & Roll Nigger, Patti Smith
Gin and Juice, The Gourds
Pyrate Love, Jollyship the Whizz-Bang

The first eleven things that turned up when I told the iPod to play 14068 songs randomly:

Heart, Nick Lowe
Coast Starlight, North Atlantic Explorers
We Were Wrong, Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band
Keep Up, Thea Gilmore
Duke of Earl, Frank Black
V-2 Schneider, David Bowie
Fireflies, Patti Smith (From Gone Again. Not sure I've ever heard this track before. Suspect that I put the whole album onto the iPod without ever listening to it.)
Sex Life, Black Box Recorder
All the Time, Tom Waits
Cast of Thousands, The Adverts (also one of my inexplicably happy songs)
Et moi, et moi, et moi, The Snivelling Shits.


Publishers Weekly reviewed the Neverwhere Audio Book. They said,

Neverwhere Neil Gaiman, read by the author. HarperAudio, unabridged, 10 CDs, 12.5hrs., $39.95 ISBN 978-0-06-137387-9

Gaiman assumes the role of narrator for his latest book, offering an intimate reading that steals one's attention almost immediately and keeps the listener involved throughout. As the story is based in the United Kingdom, Gaiman is a quintessential raconteur for the tale, with his charming Scottish brogue instilling life and spirit into the central character of Richard Mayhew. Pitch perfect, with clear pronunciation, Gaiman invites listeners into his living room for a fireside chat, offering a private and personal experience that transcends the limitations of traditional narration. The author knows his story through and through, capturing the desired emotion and audience reaction in each and every scene. His characters are unique, with diverse personalities and narrative approaches, and Gaiman offers a variety of dialects and tones. The reading sounds more like a private conversation among friends with Gaiman providing the convincing and likable performance the writing deserves. A Harper Perennial paperback (Reviews, May 19, 1997). (Nov.)

which is really nice. Well, it is if you're a writer and still a bit nervous of the whole audio book thing.

And I post this -- -- without comment, but with a huge and rather goofy smile.

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