Completed 10/10/2018, Reviewed 10/10/2018
The only Doctorow I read before this book was Little Brother. It was a fast paced, easy read that drew me in quickly. Granted, it was considered YA, but I really enjoyed it. This book, his first “adult novel” in eight years, was a slog to get through. With not much plot, it was a jargon-filled, idea-driven novel that regularly lost me throughout the book. At times, it was like reading non-fiction in dialogue form. Sprinkled in were heavy battle scenes with acronyms and futuristic tech. By reading other reviews, I found out that a lot of the jargon and acronyms came from video games. Even having finished the book, I still don’t know what pnwing means. And he used it a lot. I guess I wasn’t Doctorow’s target audience.
The plot is basically simple. Three people decide to “walkaway”, that it, basically drop out of society. This is easy to do because in the near future, everything can be had with 3D printers: food, clothing, shelter, medication, etc. They go to live in communes with other walkaways. These people aren’t completely off the grid, they still have some electricity, some form of computers and are on the net. In their communes, they have found a way to upload human consciousness onto the net. It’s not perfect, but it’s getting there. The whole walkaway paradigm and specifically, the upload ability freaks out mainstream society, called the default, because basically, they can live without consumerism and capitalism, and not fear death. The corporations and governments led by zottas, the uber-rich, declare war on the walkaways, causing them to regularly scatter and regroup.
The idea of the walkaway is noble and of course has profound effects on society, especially in a near future which basically has no jobs and no hope for the non-rich. It’s pretty much an extrapolation of the where society has been going, taken up a few notches, though not much. When one of the walkaways is an heiress to a powerful zotta, the tension escalates as he tries to get back his daughter. Of course, she has found the joys of being a walkaway and doesn’t want to be found. He goes after her by force, attacking their settlements, killing and scattering her friends.
I guess because I’m not a video game player, I had no hope of understanding all the jargon Doctorow used. I’m just not plugged in enough. It made what could easily have been a fast-paced novel a slow slog. For only 384 pages, I spent hours and hours trying to get through it.
The other big downfall to the book was the sermonizing of the characters. They had lengthy discourse on the evils of the zottas and society and the benefits of walking away. I was very repetitive. Yeah, I get that they’re angry, but after a while, I found myself skimming through it because it became boring. Nothing new was being said.
I actually liked most of the characters. Most of them were relatable. They all had chosen names, like Etcetera and Iceweasel, which sounded stupid in the beginning, but grew to be endearing after a while. They ran the gamut of races, nationalities, and sexualities, which was applaudable. Their only problem was that they were too verbose.
I give this book two stars out of five because I did not enjoy it. I trudged through it, mainly because I have a hard time not finishing a book. In reflecting on the book, I think it probably deserves a higher rating for the ideas presented. I think Doctorow has a faith in people that is profound. I just got too bogged down by all the language I didn’t understand.