Cory Doctow's Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leave's Town

You can download this novel free from Doctorow's site, should you wish to do so. It comes in several formats, there should be one that works good for you.


I think the problem with good books is that when you get done with them, there is this moment where you are left confused. I find myself going back, thumbing through a few points. Then I sit there quiet. Should I move on to another book right away? Should I wait a bit before doing so? It is one of the reason I started writing reviews for books. It gave me something definite to do after reading a good one.

And this is a good book. Not a great one. Effective. Strong. Different. It sits with you, a taste somewhere between Saturday Morning Cartoons, Guilty Pleasures, and that horrible Homesick feeling we all get from time to time.

It is quasi-surrealistic. It is a book that makes sense if you can get past people with wings that can be trimmed off, seers, washing machines giving birth to a mountain's children, the dead coming back for revenge, and russian doll brothers. Beyond these things, and their strange physics, the world is that all too unglamorous world we live in. Or, I should say, Canadians from Toronto live in.

It is also quasi-cyberpunk. The data crunching cowboys are in their thirties, wash ups from a movement that once declared free information for everyone but is now largely taken for granted. There are no cool augmentations. There are no cool fights against authority. The authority is largely made up of people who don't care, want to profit, or were once the data cowboys themselves (often turning their skills to the aforementioned profit). The big stand is not a world plot to "hack the planet", it is a simple method of setting up free internet connection for a section of the city. Small scale.

In the crossroads of these storylines, one being the idea of families that cannot fit inside of society, and the other about hackers who have essentially be assimilated against their will but probably for the betterment of their lives, we have Doctorow's third novel. I can not decide if he is getting better as an author, or if he is moving laterally. This novel strikes me as more ambitious than Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom but it does not hit me as being signficantly better. I was drawn to it and its play on the language more, but I'm not sure if I would say it is greater. It is different. And that is perfectly acceptable to me.

The novel resonates with the ideas of families and social groups, and all their different forms. We have family secrets, childhood crushes, adult love, roommates, cults, workers, outcasts, adoptive parents, social cliques. At its core are five brothers, each named less with a name as a set of names (all the eldest brother's names start with a "A", such as Alvin, Albert, Alan, Adam, etc; the other brothers follow with other letters: B-D with E/F/G being sort of one brother and different at the same time (the Russian dolls). Everyone else in the novel is someone that works with, or near, one of the brothers. The network of contact grows, changes, and gets out of hand but the focus stays with its core.

The naming games continue outside of the brothers. W-names (Waldo being a collective of six anarchists, Wes being a homeless man) seem to refer to utter outcasts who do not even get along with other outcasts. There is Mimi and Marci, love interests for the main character. Link and Leyman are punks who seem to want to grow up and apply themselves. You also have Kurt and Krishna (Kurt is actually my least favorite thing about the novel, the way he is written just seems a little fuzzy or off-rhythm from the others, despite being the kind of character I would normally love). And Natalie (I probably missed the other "N"), making the second rung of characters occupy the name spaces of K, L, M, N as opposed to the brothers A, B, C, D, E/F/G. Oliver and Patricia are a married couple. There are a couple of T's that seem to have no connection, a single S. A lot of unnamed people. It was sort of interesting, while reading the novel, to note the names and to try and work out which names involve what. It is possible that it is all a coincidence, but it hardly seems likely. The only name that doesn't seem to get played with Mr Davenport, the vice-principle to the boys' school, though he IS the only one of two characters in the whole book that I can recall having a last name (neither of these characters have a first).

There is also the relationship between the future, the past, and the present and the way they connect. It has that grand old flavor of everything being tied together, of all three points in time pushing and pulling on the others (contrasted, in some ways, between Alan trying to start a new life, Benny who sees the future, and Danny who can't move beyond the past). There is also a lot of bouncing back and forth between the times. in some places this is obvious. In others, you have to pay close attention to see where on the timeline you are.

It's the kind of book you read to have fun with, and then discuss in a serious tone because it is fun to do so. This book comes recommended. Theodd voice it has might turn some people off and this is one of those you have to make it through the first twenty-fifty pages before it really starts to flow. Get past those first few pages and get used to the logic, and it is one interesting mother.

Written by W Doug Bolden

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