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Cory Doctorow: Everywhere, All at the Same Time January 2005

Cory Doctorow attended alternative schools in Toronto and worked at SF specialty store Bakka Books, then dropped out of high school at 17 and briefly moved to Mexico to write. He dropped out of four universities in two years, and worked as a CD-ROM programmer, website designer, volunteer in Central America, CIO for a film company and an ad agency, founder of a software company, and finally began working for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil rights organization with an emphasis on technology.

Doctorow made his first semi-pro sale at age 17, and his first professional story, "Craphound", appeared in
Science Fiction Age in 1998. He attended Clarion in 1992, and has been invited to teach the
Photo by Beth Gwinn

Official website:
workshop in 2005. He won the Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 1999, and novelette "0wnz0red" was nominated for a Nebula in 2004. With Karl Schroeder he wrote non-fiction The Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Science Fiction (2000). His first collection, A Place So Foreign and Eight More (2003), won the Sunburst award in 2004. First novel Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom (2003) won the Locus Award, and was followed by Eastern Standard Tribe (2004) and urban fantasy Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town, due May 2005, while SF /usr/bin/god is in progress.

He has collaborated with Charles Stross on several stories, including "Unwirer" (written publicly on a weblog), "Flowers from Al", and "Jury Service" and its sequel "Appeals Court" (published together as "The Rapture of the Nerds").

He now lives in London, but spends three weeks a month traveling in his capacity as European Affairs Coordinator for the EFF.

Excerpts from the interview:

“My dad is a mathematician and teacher and my mom is a teacher, and I grew up in a political household: my folks are Trotskyists. My dad used to change 'Conan' stories into socialist parables. He would change Conan into this gender- and racially-balanced threesome called Harry, Larry, and Mary, and on long car trips he would retell these half-remembered 'Conan' stories but they would all turn into the proletariat casting off their shackles, killing the king, and forming soviets! These days, I like to think that I haven't moved to the right but at right angles to left-wing politics. But listening to his stories probably had something to do with my becoming a speculative fiction writer.

“The world changes completely every five or six years, but most people don't notice. A lot of things that look like fringe activity, in hindsight will look like mainstream or the precursor to mainstream activity. While we weren't looking, e-books have become the dominant form of text on the planet. What we haven't done is create a class of writers who identify what they're doing when they produce the text as book writing. How do we create a class of well-paid, professional Web writers? Even if we can't, there may be a way to create hobby income and continue this really amazing Cambrian Explosion of new documents, information, articles, and stories that are published on the Web.

“People today spend as much time as they can possibly drag themselves away from the real world to sit in front of the screen reading text, and I would argue that the text they are reading, the thing they are treating like a book, is a book. Our definition of the term has gone through radical shifts over the years. Dickens's were originally newspaper serials, thousand-word chunks. There were 8˝" x 11" pulps that today we would treat as a book. And it's not just a thing between covers -- it's still a book if it's a scroll, if it's a file, whatever. Ultimately, a book is a literary, economic, and social practice: a bunch of things that people do with a text. And I'd say that e-books are already a sterling success, probably responsible for more economic activity than all of the traditional print books in publishing.”


“I gave up short story writing for a while when I started writing novels (which I think every writer does), but I've started doing it again. What spurred me to it was Bradbury going crazy about Fahrenheit 9/11, saying Michael Moore was a crook for having stolen his title. For a champion of free expression, in the original Fahrenheit 451, to assert that the person who comes up with the meme has the right to control the condition as to who can riff on that meme is not just ironic, it's ludicrous! So I started writing a whole batch of new stories that had the same titles as famous science fiction. I've finished an 'Anda's Game' and an 'I, Robot' and my next one might be a 'Jeffty Is Five'. Ellison's original 'Jeffty' is an anti-technological story -- Harlan's an antitechnological guy. He told us at Clarion that we should get offline and stop screwing around (the best advice I ever ignored). I'm just going to play with that for a while and see how it goes. Let a thousand 'Nightfall's bloom!”


“My next book, Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town, will be out in May. It's a big urban fantasy, about 110,000 words -- as long as the other two books put together. (I have a really short attention span, so for me to have committed 110,000 consecutive words on any one volume is quite heroic!) It's about groups of hackers in Toronto who are building a community open wireless network that will allow anyone to communicate anonymously and at zero incremental expense. But embroiled in this is a guy whose father is a mountain and whose mother is a washing machine; his brothers are variously a trio of nesting Russian dolls, a precognitive, and an island. And there's a corpse they killed when he was quite small, who has come back from the dead and is hunting them. So it's a kind of family revenge/wireless networking/urban fantasy novel, heavily influenced by the 'Borderlands' books and a few other things. I'm really happy with how it came out, and Tor got me a beautiful Dave McKean cover.”


“I've moved so much and to so many places, I don't have paper archives any more. I keep paper archives for receipts for the tax man, and the Merril Collection archives has my papers; that's basically all the paper ephemera I keep these days. My books are in storage in Toronto and San Francisco and I've got a little storage in a million places, but they're not accessible to me. I've got a thousand CDs, but what the hell am I going to do with a thousand CDs? They're all on my PowerBook. I have all my music and hundreds of books, plus all my correspondence and everything I've written, on the PowerBook. I get a new one every eight or ten months, keep my last one, and keep them in synch with each other and a little hard drive I travel with. Once a month I package up all my financials and my prose, compress and encrypt it, and put it on a server in Australia. Why Australia? If a hemisphere-killing meteor struck, my prose would survive -- if I were lucky enough to be somewhere else when it happened!”

The full interview, with biographical profile, is published in the January 2005 issue of Locus Magazine.

You may purchase this issue for $7.95 by sending a check to Locus, PO Box 13305, Oakland CA 94661; or via credit card submitted by mail, e-mail, or phone at (510) 339-9198. (Or, Subscribe.)


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