Radicalized by Cory Doctorow

This bloke is rapidly turning into one of favourite storytellers. There was the weirdly excellent Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, and the strangely optimistic (depending on your politics) The Lost Cause.

Radicalized is a collection of four short stories, all based around an individual who falls foul of a malevolent “system” in present day America:


Unauthorized Bread – a refugee learns how to hack her toaster so she use it to make toast with unapproved (i.e cheaper) bread. Harmless enough? The toaster’s manufacturer doesn’t think so …

Model Minority – a superhero tries to help the black victim of a police assault (STOP RESISTING! STOP RESISTING!), and soon finds that trying to fight systemic racism means you’re not a superhero anymore; you’re an enemy of the state.

Radicalized – tired of being denied treatment for their cancer-stricken relatives, an online community extract murderous retribution from their health insurers.

The Masque of the Red Death – a multimillionaire tries to see out an economic apocalypse inside a fort, along with thirty or so “like-minded” people.

Yup, four short-stories, each one a treat, even if your politics don’t necessarily line up with the author’s. Having said that though, I think it’s fair to say that it would probably appeal more to those who lean slightly to the left.

Each story is well-crafted, thought-provoking, and edged with a thin layer of dark humour. The author occasionally jumps ahead and gives the reader a heads-up on an event yet to come, which isn’t a favourite literary trick of mine. Still, it doesn’t happen too often, so I’m not going to harp on about it.

Of the four stories, I think Radicalized, really got me thinking: you really can push people too far …

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

This one is from the same writer who penned the outstanding Station Eleven, and so unsurprisingly, it has a slow, but very lyrical beginning.

Actually the whole book is a masterclass in literary fiction: absorbing prose that takes the time to build a host complex characters with equally complex motivations based around a number of time-switching story arcs based around a single event that everyone knows something about – a financial Ponzi scheme that’s about to collapse.

I think you’re either a fan of the time-switch story line, or you’re not. personally, I think you have to be either enormously confident or enormously talented to write a book you tell your reader the outcome in the first fifty pages. Now you have to keep them interested for the next four hundred. Fortunately, St. John Mandel falls into the “enormously talented” category .

So, the Ponzi scheme collapses and were treated to the before and after from the perspective of the people affected; how those involved justified themselves, and how their victims tried to rebuild their lives afterwards.

The book is probably the best thing I’ve read this year. Beautifully put together, poetic, and with just the right amount of technical detail to keep it absorbing, without becoming overwhelming. It’s hard to lock it down to any particular genre. It’s definitely not a romance, and it’s not a thriller either. It does have a sort of magical element to it I suppose, but really, it’s a story about ordinary people told in an extraordinary way.