Review published on April 30, 2017.
In Cory Doctorow’s new novel, Walkaway, a society is fractured into haves and have nots. The have nots have chosen that life, and some of them it seems get to live forever. What is a walkaway? In this story, someone who abandons normal society and literally walks away. With nothing. And subsists within a gifting economy – everything freely given and nothing required in return. A utopia where you expect nothing in return for your efforts.
We’re in the near future and the rich are richer and more powerful than ever. Hubert and Seth meet Natalie at a party – where the disaffected young party all night and pour scorn on those they see on the morning commute. Except Natalie is the daughter of the ultra-rich and over-protective Jacob. They decide to walk away, and they meet Limpopo, a natural leader but one who rejects hierarchy. In this future, everything (food, clothes, tools, even medicine) can be 3D printed and society is tolerating these walkaway communities. Just about. Life can exist because everyone acts altruistically, which is anathema to the ultra-rich elite. Jacob wants his daughter back. Meanwhile, at a walkaway university, researchers and mathematicians have been able to download the consciousness of a dead colleague into a computer. Is this immortality in a utopian society?
Cory Doctorow knows what his subject is and who is readership are. The writing is excellent, if occasionally incomprehensible, because he writes in techno-hacker counter-culture lingo, which is fine if you’re aware of the rules of the game. There is plenty of wit and comic satire if you can dig beneath the jargon. There is plenty of humanity’s darkness explored, especially in the relationship between Natalie and her father, but there is always hope that everything will work out.
The story itself is fine, although it is a tad repetitive: sitting around talking about political and ethical philosophy followed by a violent attack, someone dies and is put in the computer, move on, and repeat. The characters are all interesting with multiple motivations. The good guys are all about love and tenderness and equality – there is gender and sexuality fluidity and every leftist and liberal ideology discussed. There is so much detail it almost blows the mind. Meanwhile, the bad guys are shades of grey. Jacob is motivated by both greed and misguided emotions for his daughter.
Proper science fiction this. A warning of our times. An investigation of what it means to be a human today and where the future might take us. What immortality might look like and how it affects the psyche. A look at the science of today and of tomorrow. And in the vein of many a classic science fiction novel, can a utopia ever work? A few tweaks with the plot would have made me happier. Those who follow Doctorow’s sharing/hacking/fluid cultural ideologies will get a great deal from this book. Those not familiar, I imagine, will struggle. Not for everyone, but spot on for the few.
Ian Simpson 3/3
Walkaway by Cory Doctorow
Head of Zeus 9781786693051 hbk Apr 2017