Home > Books > Cory Doctorow – Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town

Cory Doctorow – Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town

"My dad was a mountain. My mom, a washing machine. My little brother, the one I killed and buried in my third brother, keeps trying to kill me. My third brother’s an island. The little ones are a set of nesting Russian dolls. And my second brother can see the future."
It didn’t quite appear that way in the book. But you get an inkling of the wierdness that permeates it. The book revolves around Alan / Alain / Andy, the protagonist who answers to any name beginning with ‘A’. Alvin is an uber-helpful, successful semi-human who tries to hook up an entire area with a wireless network to promote communication which would remain in people’s hands (a more democractic solution as opposed to monopolies by lumbering telcos).
Along the way, he hooks up with a girl with wings, a 30-year old techno-punk, a surly bartender and dodges his brother’s finger-dropping attempts on his life. In between descriptions of Alvin’s project are backstories of his life in the mountain (his dad), school, his first love and death as well as murdering Daniel – a murderous psychopath. 
The entire book flip-flops between these two narratives: Alvin in his youth and Alvin as he tries to hook up the area with a wireless network.
I loved the first narrative; it was kooky, absorbing and ‘human’ – despite it being mostly about non-humans. Kudos to Doctorow who kept the strangeness low-key and matter-of-fact. It was easy to grow, cry, love and hate with Alvin as he ‘fathers’, ‘brothers’ and ‘mothers’ his siblings in-lieu of his fecund but immobile parents. It had danger, passion and change – all the things that made for great stories.
It’s a damn shame about the second narrative. Dull and insipid; like reading a textbook.
That’s not to say it wasn’t well-written. It was. Doctorow has a knack for making the most technical, most bewildering technology easy to understand and, most of all, engaging. But that’s the problem. The second narrative, after a while, focused too much on technology (meshing wireless networks) and ‘forgot’ about Alvin’s problems with Davey (Alvin’s murderous brother) and his missing brothers.
At every line of hyped up geek-speak, I kept thinking to myself, "Aren’t techonolgy columns a better place for all this propoganda about the democracy of wireless communications?" It’s a damn shame that it had to appear in a fiction novel. But like other fiction novels, the networks served a plot purpose. Their other purpose (apart from propogranda) was to moonlight as accidental radars. And that’s how Alvin and gang found Davey – that tiny, finger-breaking, bone-munching midget of a psychopath.
There was no gratification at the end. The ending had a slap-dash feel to it ala bad Hong Kong movies which needed to wrap things up in the last 10 minutes. I’ve always wondered what happened to Davey after he rolled into the bushes with Bryan (the second brother). What’s the point of talking so much about wireless networks? What’s the point of the book? I’m gave up trying to find answers for these questions.
Pick up this book if you’re interested in well-written wierdness; that is, if you don’t mind the mini-lecture on wireless networks and rather disconnected narratives.
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