Cory Doctorow’s Take on the Next Century
There are many questions, ideas and theories as to where we are headed in the next hundred years, speaking of humanity as a whole collective. Pretty much everyone has some kind of opinion on the subject, with a few thinkers striving to go deeper and create some sort of foundation for their hypothesis. The good news is that not only will we be able to stop guessing one day (after all, the next century will pass by fairly quickly), but that we have authors capable of creating entire visions of the future and exploring all the directions we couldn’t really think of. Cory Doctorow definitely belongs to that group of people and in his latest acclaimed novel, Walkaway, we are presented with a fascinating view of what the next century could hold in store for us.
The story in this novel is quite expansive so I will try to remain brief and concise. We are in the near future where 3d printing has become extremely commonplace and can be used to create virtually any kind of resource, with plans being widely available to download on the internet. We follow two people, Hubert and Natalie, who decide they’ve had enough of this society and abandon it without pretense, fully capable of making it on their own despite the dangers of a world with harsher and more ravaged environments than hours. Pretty soon many others decide to follow suit and join the ranks of the “walkaways”, trying to conquer the inhospitable world by their own devices. While a number of them die, there are always many more willing to give the experience a shot, and pretty soon they find a way to record a person’s consciousness and store it on a server, effectively making immortality possible. However, the rich one-percenters sitting at the top aren’t happy about this turn of events… after all, how can they claim superiority if everyone walks away from formal society and turns into an immortal?
A Tale with Many Heads
As you might expect, Walkaway is a rather complex story with great ambitions and many different facets that deserve to be explored. As such, we ought to start with the simplest things, in this case that would be the quality of the writing itself. Doctorow has won many awards over the last two decades, and judging from his penmanship he was definitely deserving of them. Years upon years of editing and writing experience shine bright in his text, chiseled to perfection in every corner possible. The sentences, paragraphs and chapters flow together so nicely that they all seem to blend into one another, making for one continuous thread that seems to have no need for breaks or pauses. The descriptions are always precise and you never feel confused by the language; you never need to re-read the text to understand who is talking to whom about what.
From an entertainment perspective (meaning if we set all the philosophical and thought-provoking elements aside), the plot itself is actually quite simple and straightforward, with a few plot twists thrown in and a convenient wrap-up at the end. The characters aren’t very easy to relate to as they have some real flaws and issues to work over, but if you can find a way to do so caring for their fates will feel like second-nature. While there is certainly enough substance to recommend this novel for the amusement factor alone, that’s not where its strengths lie.
A Somber Future Awaits
The real power and interest in this novel comes from its exploration of a post-scarcity dystopia and the attempted formation of a utopia with communist ideals. In this story, the 1% living at the peak of the pyramid create the illusion of scarcity for the rest of the world so that they keep on subduing themselves through work and servitude… when in fact a proper distribution of resources would eliminate the need for anyone to struggle for survival. Observing the development and trying to understand the mindset of the walkaways who leave formal society at their own great perils is an interesting exercise that will undoubtedly lead people different and personal conclusions.
Now, it is worth mentioning that in some instances, Doctorow’s characters seem to possess an unrealistic human nature, in the sense many of them are, for lack of a better word, flawless communists who can adhere to their ideals to the letter. It’s almost as if the author is trying to convey his idea that given the chance, people will collectively come to logical agreements and do what’s right when necessary. There is a certain idealism to the presentation of this society, and so it should all be taken with some grains of salt and more as an exploration of a hypothetical scenario rather than some kind of manifesto.
Needless to say, even though Doctorow looks on to the future in this novel he doesn’t restrain himself from making comments and criticisms about modern society, the growing gap between the rich and the poor, the inequitable distribution of our resources, and all the pitfalls our technological development will drive us towards. His look at our prospective future is quite sobering and no matter your thoughts on where we’re headed in the next hundred years, you’ll have something to think about.
The Final Verdict
To bring this review to its finale, Walkaway is a strong novel by Doctorow that does a fine job at exploring the potential future of mankind through an original story set in a world that could one day mirror our own in more ways than we would care to admit. While there is certainly entertainment to be found here, in my opinion this book was made for science-fiction readers who like to ponder on philosophical matters, taking their time to analyze the implications of the story. If you identify yourself as such a person, then I highly recommend you give this book a shot.
Cory Doctorow is a Canadian-British author, journalist, and co-editor of the blog Boing Boing. He is the recipient of numerous awards since 2000 when he was awarded the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, winning the 2009, 2013 and 2014 Prometheus Awards as well as the 2006 and 2007 Locus Awards for Best Novelette, amongst many others. Some of his more celebrated works include Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom and Homeland.