Friday, May 18, 2018

Review of Walkway

One of the more interesting books that I've read in a while, though I can't say for sure that it was one of the best. It's a sort of novelisation of some of the techno-utopian ideas expressed by, among others, Toni Negri and Kevin Carson. I was really surprised that neither of them got a name-check in the acknowledgements at the end of the book, because it seems to me to align quite well with their ideas and I find it hard to believe that Cory Doctorow has read widely in this domain and yet not come across them. On the other hand, it's a hell of a lot easier to read than actual Negri, which I find almost impenetrable.

It depicts an anarchist utopia in the not too distant future, existing in the instersices left by the mainstream world - 'default', in the novel. The future utopians just walk away from their militarised, impoverished, impossible lives in default, to take up a place in a technology-enabled cornucopia with few rules and no government.

As one expects from utopian novels, there's a lot of explaining, with plenty of conversations about how it all works that wouldn't happen in real life. I didn't much mind that. I didn't mind the need to provide some elements of drama and narrative by having the world of default strike out at the utopians, so that there was some actual tension that's hard to account for in a utopia. There's a sub-plot in that one of the utopians is a daughter of one of the patricians (zottas, from 'zotta-rich'), and is kidnapped by mercenaries hired by her father to deprogram her; that was fine too, and it let Doctorow discuss the contradictions of a society dominated by an ever-decreasing number of super-rich.

I was a bit more bothered by the other thread, though - the anarchists manage to scan 'minds' so that people can be backed up as software, so that no-one ever needs to die. I think this is an interesting thing to explore, but I felt it was too much going on in this book. I wished he'd saved it for a different one.

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