Essays

Weekly E-book: Context

contextcoverbigIt’s probably not much of a secret how much we at the Star admire Cory Doctorow. It’s a little more of a secret that we tend to dislike most things written about his work, or his allegedly controversial opinions on technology, copyright, young adult fiction et al. Most people opining about Mr. Doctorow or his work tend to miss the point, or they simply reveal their own vested interest in not being challenged to think about anything he says.

One example is in one of the early essays from his book, Context, which is today’s free ebook of the week. In it he discusses his novel Little Brother. For those who haven’t read it, Little Brother features various instructional guides within it, on how to defeat biometric scans, how to break the censor controls on the school network, how to disable the radio frequency ID tags in your enhanced driver’s license, and a host of other things. The entire novel is about teen transgression in the name of personal liberty and is a master class in embedding politics within a young adult novel.

So when people wrote to Mr. Doctorow to complain about the novel, he expected them to complain about the politics and technological themes in the book. Yet few people did. What most of the complaints were about instead was that the 17-year-old protagonist of the book loses his virginity about two-thirds of the way through the book. Mind you, this scene is far from lurid. Marcus and his girlfriend are alone in her room after a frightening episode in the novel. In the heat of the moment, they feel safe with each other. They begin to kiss. Then she hands him a condom. End scene. In the next chapter, life goes on.

This tells a reader all one needs to know about American and British priorities.

There are many essays like this in Context: short, crisp, and not what one might expect. For Mr. Doctorow, all things coincide. His crusade for more sensible copyright and the removal of locks on what should be public knowledge are vital to him and others but they are vital because those issues are embedded in other matters where people fail to see them. Thus the book contains essays about parenting, how to make sure your loved ones can break your password when you die, manufacturing processes in China, and yes, essays on copyright, net neutrality, and writing science fiction.

None of this would be apparent from the book’s blurb, which I repeat below for your delectation. Enjoy.

One of the internet’s most celebrated hi-tech culture mavens returns with this second collection of essays and polemics. Discussing complex topics in an accessible manner, Cory Doctorow’s visions of a future where artists have full freedom of expression is tempered with his understanding that creators need to benefit from their own creations. From extolling the Etsy makerverse to excoriating Apple for dumbing-down technology while creating an information monopoly, each unique piece is brief, witty, and at the cutting edge of tech. Now a stay-at-home dad as well as an international activist, Doctorow writes as eloquently about creating internet, real-time theater with his daughter as he does in lambasting the corporations that want to limit and profit from inherent intellectual freedoms.