Walkaway by Cory Doctorow

I was a quarter of the way through this book when I remembered Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom , and realised that this was (broadly speaking) a prequel.

Down and Out … told the story of a murder in a future utopian society which has effectively solved the problems of scarcity, greed, corruption, multi-billionaires, and death.

Walkaway is the story of how the world got there:

It starts with a small group of people who decide collectively that they’ve had enough of the relatively few holding on to most of the wealth on the planet, and still conspiring and engineering policies to acquire even more.

Walk away

So the relatively many choose to simply – walk away, taking with them the technology to print buildings and consumables from recycled waste, and to upload minds to machines, effectively eradicating death – as long as you don’t mind existing inside a computer and not having an actual body.

But the “haves” are not happy with people who try to drop out and create their own society; why? Well that’s one I can answer, even if I hadn’t read this extraordinary book.

Y’see, the obscenely rich aren’t just content with being obscenely rich; they want – no, they need everyone else to be obscenely poor. I mean, what’s the point of being wealthy, if everyone else is wealthy too?

No, the attraction of capitalism is that it generates a constantly renewing underclass that the people at the top will do anything to avoid becoming a part of.

So the walkways spend years being hunted and burned out by the “ridiculously rich” whom happen to have governments in their pockets, and so can deploy armies against them.

But when the walkaways find themselves under attack, they simply walk away and start again someplace else, taking with them the uploaded minds of any of their geniuses who were killed in the attack.

Again, like many of this author’s books, Walkaway is not so much a novel, but more of a blueprint for a utopian future. The problem with this level of world building is that it often leaves little room for the characters in the story, and I felt this was true with Walkaway; by the time Doctorow was done explaining the whole concept, then there was not much room left to build on the players. I think the characters were realistic, and behaved in a consistent manner, but it was kind of hard to separate one from the other – which wasn’t helped by many of the characters having more than one name (Iceweasel?).

But if you ignore the minor shortcomings, this book is a fascinating study on the unsustainable nature of extreme wealth, and a possible world where the stupidly rich continue to exist, but are pretty much ignored by a new, younger society where abundant resources are available to all, instead of being hoarded by the few.

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