An Introduction to Cory Doctorow by Jo Walton
I’ve been asked to introduce you to your guest of honour, Cory Doctorow. It’s difficult introducing someone so well known, someone who’s not just written science fiction but lived it, someone who wrote one of the web’s most important blogs for 19 years, before reinventing the form with a new solo project last January.. He’s someone who fights for internet freedom and against censorship, in addition to being an excellent and award winning author. So I’m going to say a few things about him that are perhaps less well known.
You’re lucky to have Cory as a guest of honour. He’s a consistently interesting person with nifty ideas about all kinds of different things. He’s one of those people where if you toss any interesting concept in his direction he’ll pick it up and transform it into something shinier and more unexpected. Catch all his panels, whatever subject, and if you have the chance to engage him in conversation you won’t be disappointed, so don’t only talk to him about the things where he’s an expert. He’s a great person to talk to. He’s also consistently interested, he listens when other people are talking, a thing that’s rarer than it should be.
And personally he’s kind, smart, thoughtful, and optimized – by which I mean that he’s spent a long time tuning his life to make the best use of his time, to be productive and have fun. He’s thought about this more than most people. He’s from Canada, he’s lived in London, England and now lives in California, so he has an fairly broad worldwide perspective. When I was watching the series of videos (available online) on the History of Censorship he did for the University of Chicago with Ada Palmer, I noticed that all the men except Cory were dressed in “guy uniform” and almost all the women were wearing clothes that demonstrated they’d put some thought into how they’d appear. Cory had also put that kind of thought into his outfits, and that’s neat and unusual. Nobody should have to do this if they don’t want to, but women tend to get pressurized if they don’t, and it’s a really nice change to see a man pay attention to this.
But Cory is more than an internet personality, or even a human being. He’s also a science fiction writer who has for the whole length of the twenty-first century so far been producing some of the most consistently interesting positive SF around. These days It’s much easier to be taken seriously as a writer if you write dark dystopian fiction than if you try to write about positive futures we could get to from here. It’s hard to be positive about the world sometimes – indeed, it’s much easier to be negative and cynical, but it’s essential to realize that the trend isn’t always inevitable downbeat. Cory’s been writing what I call grounded hopeful futures all through his career, from his early short work and Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom (2003) through the multi-award winning Little Brother (2008) right up to the novel he just wrote during lockdown. (Who else wrote a book during lockdown? Who else could even write sentences?) His new book Attack Surface is due out this October, it’s set in the Little Brother universe. Cory knows tech and the internet, he works with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, he isn’t a hippie dreamer, he’s writing solid science fiction, looking at the world of today and projecting forward interesting speculations leading to better tomorrows. His books make it feel like it might be possible to build a better world if we work together, if we make good choices, if we embrace the possibilities and open things up instead of closing them down. In addition to being positive futures, they’re also all full of thought-provoking ideas and great characters – he’s an immensely readable writer. If this is your lucky day and you haven’t read him yet, I’d recommend starting with either Little Brother or last year’s collection Radicalized.