(Four Walls Eight Windows, $13.95, 243 pages, trade paperback; published in October 2003.)
In 2000, Canadian expat Cory Doctorow earned the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer on the strength of his early short fiction. A Place So Foreign and 8 More is the post-cyberpunk iconoclast's much anticipated first collection, and it starts with a bang.
"Craphound" is the author's signature piece. It's his most widely anthologized story, and deservedly so. The eponymous character is an extraterrestrial living in Ontario who collects old junk and discarded memorabilia. The story is filled with fascinating social details, and its characters are delightfully eccentric and vividly alive. "Craphound" is a sharply and confidently focused tale -- with a compelling narrative voice -- that sensuously immerses the reader in its world.
Next up is "A Place So Foreign", a beautifully realised time-travel novella set, mostly, in the town of New Jerusalem, Utah, circa 1898-1902. It deftly combines layers of sciencefictional invention with a rewardingly complex emotional palette.
Alas, the next four stories don't measure up to the standards of the first two. They feel too self-satisfied, too enamoured of their own ideas (clever though they may be), and the characters don't rise above being vehicles to move the plots forward.
The situation improves with the book's final three stories.
Although it meanders a bit too much, "Home Again, Home Again" features interestingly complex characters and postulates an intriguing social situation. "0wnz0red" -- a computer-geek take on Norman Spinrad's Journals of the Plague Years -- involves a laboratory-created benign virus. It's not as powerful and evocative as the Spinrad novella, but it's an entertaining read.
One of my favourite pieces in Doctorow's book is "The Super Man and the Bugout", a political satire that reclaims the Jewish and socialist roots of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's Superman, a character who has become so associated with WASPy US capitalism.
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© Claude Lalumière 13 December 2003, 5 March 2004