Escapist Fiction Swallows June: Cory Doctorow and Emma Bull

Cover illustration for Little Brother by Cory DoctorowIn Little Brother, Cory Doctorow tells the story of Marcus, a 17-year-old San Franciscan computer wiz caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. In the wake of a terrorist attack on San Francisco’s Bay Bridge, Marcus and his friends are picked up by Homeland Security and imprisoned, interrogated and terrorized for several days. After his release, Marcus sets out to take down the agency, protect the city’s rights of free speech, assembly, and privacy, and save his friend Darryl, missing since their arrest.

Little Brother is the first technophile novel I’ve actually semi-enjoyed (i.e. finished). It’s long-winded and a bit preachy and it seems to draw an inordinate amount of inspiration from Hackers and Season 2 of Jericho. And, like all techie writers, Doctorow spends easily half his word count explaining what things are and how they work, which, for the plot enthusiasts among his readers, isn’t exactly the best use of time and descriptive prowess.

Little Brother is, however, a fast, entertaining read, a great resource for reluctant readers, especially boys, and (within the limited world of YA fiction) it offers a valuable alternative perspective. Still, I’m left wondering–is there anything Neil Gainman won’t endorse these days?

Cover illustration for Bone Dance by Emma BullI’ve loved Emma Bull since I first moved to Berkeley and the fabulous gentleman in The Other Change of Hobbit recommended War for the Oaks, a book I have pressed on pretty much everyone I know who’s likely to enjoy a modern urban fantasy featuring a hot guy who dresses like Prince and long descriptions of the main’s character’s band. So, I’ve been slowly acquiring her books for a few years as they come in and out of print and show up from time to time in the Green Apple annex.

Bone Dance is, like most of Bull’s work, well written and skillfully developed, structurally complex, and completely, fascinatingly bizarre, but (alas!) secondary to her one book that’s actually famous. (Isn’t it usually the opposite?)

Set in a post-apocalyptic, post-climate change version of Minneapolis, Bone Dance is told from the perspective of Sparrow, a genderless media enthusiast and technologist with mysterious origins. Our hero makes a living hawking classic films to wealthy collectors and mixing for a local nightclub. The rest of the time, Sparrow just tries to act normal and keep acquaintances at as much distance as possible. But lately Sparrow has started loosing time–waking up in the middle of nowhere with no memory of the night before, running into strangers who seem to have a bone to pick, and getting truly creepy tarrot readings from the friendly neighborhood Vodou priestess. The whole thing is very mysterious, but it just may have something to do with the Horsemen–psychic warriors capable of possessing, or “riding,” other people (like a horse, get it?).

Bull doesn’t hold her readers’ hands. There’s not a single pronoun relating to Sparrow in the first 3/4 of the novel (this could not have been written in the third person); she throws slang around, names people and places without explaining who or what they are, and expects us to catch on. After a while, we do, becoming acclimated to the unusual linguistic structure and the odd mix of eclectic classic movie quotes, noir references, vodou magic, and body-snatcher-style possession.

Incidentally, this one also features an endorsement from Neil Gainman (yep, he’s a whore…)

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