Corey Doctorow’s 2017 novel takes place in a future we can almost touch, and follows the attempts to found a better society—and the forces that impede it. It concerns post-scarcity, climate change, ubiquitous surveillance, revolt against established oligarchies, trans- and post-humanism—and Doctorow has identified it as a kind of prequel to his debut novel, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom.
One could even imagine these events happening a decade after Little Brother.
Author: Corey Doctorow
First published April 25, 2017
In a near future where the wealthy cling to power despite the presence of 3-D printing/replicator tech that is rendering existing economic systems obsolete, some young people join the Walkaway movement, an alternative to the existing culture. Powerful people do not take well to being undermined, and a Walkaway lab raises the stakes when it discovers how to replicate and download human consciousness.
Doctorow throws quite a number of ideas at the reader, but he always (eventually) remembers that he’s telling a story about human beings. The characters vary in their depth, but they feel plausible.
Doctorow writes overtly political books and, while his politics place him light-years away from Heinlein or Rand, it’s hard not to think of them now and then while reading Walkaway. I get that the ideas matter here. Speculative fiction is about ideas. We have a few too many improbable dialogues, however, wherein people discuss and espouse political theories in a way that sounds conspicuously like the author lecturing his readers.
Originality: 3/6 We’ve seen most of these elements in SF before, but not always together, and not blended as they are here.
Imagery: 5/6 Key moments have been effectively rendered. The novel begins with:
Hubert Vernon Rudolph Clayton Irving Wilson Alva Anton Jeff Harley Timothy Curtis Cleveland Cecil Ollie Edmund Eli Wiley Marvin Ellis Espinoza was too old to be at a Communist party. At twenty-seven, he had seven years on the next oldest partier. He felt the demographic void. He wanted to hide behind one of the enormous filthy machines that dotted the floor of the derelict factory. Anything to escape the frank, flat looks from the beautiful children of every shade and size who couldn’t understand why an old man was creepering around (1)
And takes us into the party and its life-changing outcome.
Story: 5/6 Any time I thought the story might slow down too much, we get a genuinely interesting plot development. An extended section deals with the incarceration of one of the major characters. Other developments occur during one of the novel’s jumps in time.
Characterization: 4/6 I believed in the individual characters. For all of Walkaway‘s dark humour, however, I find Doctorow’s view of essential human nature, untainted by big economic forces, a tad twee and sunny. Utopias, even utopias in the making, rarely make adequate provision for psychopaths and basic assholes. Such villains who appear in this book range from plot devices to people who just need to understand that a better way exists.
Emotional Response: 4/6 I’m curious how other readers feel about the sex scenes. I’m not opposed to sex in novels, but I find they gravitate towards the gratuitous.
Editing: 4/6 Doctorow’s open source/blog/burner –influenced writing proves breezy, boingy, and readable, but I suspect it may sound dated when the future arrives: even more so than most SF.
Overall score: 5/6 I want to assign a quantum score that fluctuates between 4 and 5, but I’ll err on the higher value, because Doctorow poses important questions, contemplates the effects of hypothetical technology, and challenges our complacency. I don’t know what kind of future we’ll build, but we have to imagine and explore the possibilities.
We all, far too easily, become complicit in limiting humanity’s potential.
In total, Walkaway receives 30/42