Unauthorized Bread, Cory Doctorow; Lameece Issaq, narrator (Macmillan Audio 978-1-25022316-6, $10.99, digital download, 3 hr., unabridged) April 2019.
Selima, a Libyan immigrant, is grateful to leave the refugee shelter in Arizona for a subsidized, fully furnished studio apartment in Boston’s Dorchester Towers, even if she is only allowed to use the elevator when the building’s market-value tenants don’t require it. Then the company supplying her internet-equipped appliances – which only accept branded products (bread, dishes, and so on) from which the building’s landlords take a cut – goes bankrupt, leaving her appliances non-functional. A frustrated Selina browses the dark web and discovers a whole subculture devoted to hacking appliances, and getting them online again and receptive to handling non-licensed products. Flushed with success, she teaches the kids on the subsidized floors how to hack their appliances, too, and everything is great until Selima learns two things: 1) a corporation has bought up the assets of the bankrupt company and is planning on getting those appliances back online again, which will reveal her fraud and 2) the penalties for violating intellectual property law are really, really severe. Can Selima and her neighbors continue to beat the system and avoid getting evicted?
That’s the premise of “Unauthorized Bread”, one of the four novellas comprising Cory Doctorow’s Radicalized, each of which is offered separately as a DRM-free (natch) audio production as well as a complete set. Lameece Issaq handles the immigrants’ various accents beautifully, to this ear. She also has a pragmatic voice with a certain sense of authority. You trust her to actually understand what she’s saying when Doctorow launches into a technical explanation. (This is important because I’m still scarred from the production of Doctorow’s novel Makers several years ago, in which the narrator managed to mispronounce Linux as “line-ux.” Ow.) Naturally, these explanations occur quite often, because Doctorow has a fairly wide didactic streak. However, I’d argue he’s smoother at putting his arguments and points of information across than those other prominent SF pedants, Neal Stephenson and Kim Stanley Robinson, which makes him a lot easier to listen to at these moments. Yes, “Unauthorized Bread” is a screed, but it’s an incredibly persuasive and entertaining one, taking a penetrating look at such relevant contemporary issues as “poor doors,” the balance between market value and affordable housing, the implications of the Internet of Things, and the racism infusing the immigration debate.
I do wonder what Doctorow is implying by giving the unusual name “Wyoming” to the programmer who secretly helps Selima stay one step ahead of the corporation. Presumably this is a nod to Wyoming Knott, one of the rebels appearing in Robert Heinlein’s classic The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. An encouragement to fight authority? A reminder that even when a deal seems attractive, There Ain’t No Such Thing as a Free Lunch? Probably both, as well as several other things.
This review and more like it in the July 2019 issue of Locus.
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