[Review] The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow

22 Jan

Part of writing well is reading, so in an attempt to read — and keep me accountable to it — I am also going to spend some space every week on this blog reviewing books. Which also means more writing practice. Total win! Except that I have to read a book every week, but that’s a good thing. Or something.

Anyways! For this weeks book I cheated a bit. I grabbed a novella. Haven’t read seriously in a while and was worried about my ability to finish a book in a week. Totally unfounded, but it led me to Cory Doctorow and The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow. The book itself is the novella as well as a transcript of a 2010 World SF Convention address “Creativity vs. Copyright” and “Look for the Lake”, an interview with Doctorow.

I am actually going to talk about the novella last, because I think the convention address was the best. It should be mentioned that I am an internet hermit. Until I decided to do this blog and get serious about being part of the writing community, I had done little in the last 10 years. The internet has always been a tool for me, an encyclopedia that I didn’t have to lug around. I never really used it to waste time with cats and forums and the like. So I had never heard of Cory Doctorow or BoingBoing or his ideas on open source before last week. Then it all came together rather quickly. The ever patient Morgan suggested I check out BoingBoing as an acclimation to blogs and the wider world of the internet. I bookmarked it and moved on with my life, heading to the library the next day and seeing this on the shelf. It was short, I was desperate, I grabbed it. Shortly after that the Acts of Whimsy fundraiser for Jay Lake started. Jay Lake had always been someone I admired, spending my Norwescons tracking down his panels because he was quirky with real advice that clicked in my head, so in following his blog I heard about it early on; including Doctorow’s act of whimsy. Somewhere in there it all kind of clicked for me, Doctorow was everywhere in my life. It was an invasion. Then I read the book. Then I read World SF address. Then I skimmed the interview, not really one for interviews – blech. Then I respected him quite a lot.

So, back to the book: In the SF address he talks about how current copyright law has nothing to do with protecting artists (writers, musicians, artist, etc) and everything to do with protecting the interests of the corporations. While I have been an internet hermit for a while, I am still a gamer, reader and listener and copyright issues have not fully escaped my notice. In his address he puts DRM into the clearest terms I’ve heard to date. He describes it as having to keep books from a certain store in a certain type of bookcase, and if you got books from another store you’d have to place them in a different kind of bookcase. Seems pretty silly, huh? Apple vs Kindle is a great example of this. You are locked into a service and if you move services you end up buying everything all over. He also goes on to talk about how difficult sampling is in music because of big corporations controlling those rights leaving indie labels out in the cold. It turns into a catch 22; in order to get sampling rights you need to join a big label, but by doing so you sign over your rights to them. While he doesn’t present any new ideas on how to fix it, Doctorow does a great job of explaining why the current system is so broken. Definitely worth a read if copyrights interest you at all.

Enough rambling about that, onto rambling about the real reason for this post. The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow. This was an amazing story. It focuses on a main character, Jimmy, who you find out very early on is genetically immortal. Split into 4 parts, but reads as 3 with an quick epilogue, it follows Jimmy through some key events in his life with 20+ year gaps between – ah the perks of being immortal. It is set in a far future, with Jimmy living in the ruins of Detroit with his father who has preserved it for a museum, a homage of the olden days. Throughout the story he deals with quite a few heavy topics; besides the obvious moral grounds of being genetically altered, Jimmy has to deal with growing so slowly because of it. For over twenty years Jimmy has to deal with being prepubescent, which becomes very frustrating. Doctorow handles the subject matter cleanly, but does not hide from it, which made it all the more enticing to read. Being so short, it is hard not to give much away, but as good as the story was, the writing itself was better. Doctorow is very talented, be it by nature or nurture I wish I knew so I could steal his superpower. The way his work flows and the style of his descriptions was phenomenal. It made it quite difficult to set the book down at times. Even if you’re not a fan of the genre, I would recommend the book based on the writing alone.

Whether for the novella or the copyright address, I would suggest checking out his work. And in true Doctorow style, he has it online for free here.


In other news, I tend to find writing reviews, papers, essays, etc way easier than I writing fiction. I have to make up less and only worry about the presentation of very simple material – facts or opinions. But I also find my voice to end up wooden because of it. I get lost in the material and find it harder to convey my personal flare. I blame public schools and the lack of creative writing opportunities available there. It is something that I will definitely need to break myself of somehow.