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Saturday, December 26, 2009

The BLTN Series, 2: {The Hugo Finalists, Part 5 - The Novels: Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow}


Cory Doctorow is what we could call a "comfortable cyberpunk" (does that sound an oxymoron to you?): he is pretty much knowledgeable about the major tropes of cyberpunk, and he uses them as easily as someone who was born right in the beginning of the cybernetic revolution and came of age a few years before the advent of the Web. Co-editor of Boing Boing, Doctorow is also a major activist of Open Rights (he´s the former European director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and co-founded the UK Open Rights Group), and he was the first SF writer (maybe the first writer everywhere in any genre) to give ALL his novels for free in his website.

His novels display a freshness similar of William Gibson´s. Where Gibson is influenced by noir fiction, in its literary and cinematic form, however, Doctorow´s approach happens more via comics and games. The result is also great: from Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, an approximately-near-future look at utopian communities (talk about Disneyfication of society!), through Eastern Standard Tribe and smart mobs, to the recently published Makers, which explores, in Doctorow´s own words, "people who hack hardware, business-models, and living arrangements to discover ways of staying alive and happy even when the economy is falling down the toilet." (Just downloaded it, expect a review early next year.)

(Some scholars can argue that what he does is in fact post-cyber fiction, or post-cyber SF; but it doesn´t really matter, except academically, does it?)

In Little Brother´s case, that experience begins in a far too obvious manner, by an appropriation of George Orwell´s 1984 and his protagonist, Winston Smith - Doctorow´s protagonist, Marcus Yallow, goes by the typically hacker handle "w1n5t0n". Also like in 1984, this Winston becomes an enemy of the State - but this is an entirely different State, surrounded by very different circunstances. This is not Orwell´s socialist Eurasia, but all-capitalist America in the early 21st Century, an America frightened by terrorism, an America that will do everything in its power to fight this threat to society - even terrorizing its own people, among which Marcus and his high-school friends. Marcus is only 17 years old, and after a terrorist attack he will be arrested because of his proficiency with computers and instant messaging systems. He will suffer - and, if he wasn´t a terrorist before, then he may seriously consider the possibility of becoming one. But his holy war won´t be religious - it will be for freedom.

Is all of this justifiable? Doctorow manages a very hard, accurate criticism of how far a state can go in its search for terrorists. The political and military doctrine which justifies this "search and destroy" approach (and maybe it´s why 24 has become a so successful series in and out the US) has also been criticized - by America and the Americans before the 9/11. When it happens in your own backyard, however, the matter is quite different. Or is it?

One of the things I like the most about the recent wave of so-called YA novels (Patrick Ness´s The Knife of Never Letting Go is another brilliant example - see my review here) is that they are everything but infantile - they are really novels for everyone to read, for they are well steeped in the tradition of the German Bildungsroman - the coming-of-age novel. And there is no coming of age without pain.

This novel was a finalist for the Hugo Award 2009 - and, with Neal Stephenson´s Anathem (to be reviewed in the next few days), it was my best bet for winning the award. Unfortunately, none of the two did - more on that later.


UPDATE 12/15

Two months ago, I was in Rio for a series of speeches on games and technology. I was having dinner in a restaurant, and I got an email on my iPhone. it was Editora Record, one of the biggest publishing houses in Brazil. They were asking if I was interested in translating Little Brother to Brazilian Portuguese. How could I say no to such an offer? I´m already on it. Reading for the third time and loving it. It´s a pleasure and an honor to translate Cory Doctorow.

(Published originally in Post-Weird Thoughts)

1 comments:

Albarus Andreos said...

Hi Fabio. Good to see this post here, made by one of the actually great brazilian writers of fantasy and SF. I need a sugestion of a translator Portuguese-English. Can you contact me?

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