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 …

Noumenon Ultra by Marina J. Lostetter

Well, it’s taken a while, but I’ve finished the Noumenon Trilogy, and it really has been an epic journey (for me, as well as the writer).

The story of the explorers continues where Noumenon Infinity left us: the explorers and their sentient computer have settled on Noumenon, where they discover an entirely new native species has begun to evolve. Together, they continue the work of the original designers of the alien megastructures, even if they’re not entirely sure the effect they will have on the galaxy when they’re switched on.

Noumenon Ultra
Noumenon Ultra

As it turns out, the true purpose of the megastructure machine is bigger than any of them imagined, and will, eventually, lead mankind to its ultimate exploration mission.

And that’s all I’m going to say; anything more would spoil it for you.

What I will say is this: Noumenon Ultra is the most complicated book in the deepest, most highly structured trilogy I’ve ever read. Now that I’ve reached the end, I can look back and really appreciate what Lostetter has crafted here: the sense of place; the depth of characterisation; the sheer number of characters and the time and care allotted to each of them.

And yes, there were places where I got lost in the prose – though this was probably due to my lack of attention rather than any shortcomings in the writing.

But the ending! Good grief, the ending …! Perfect! Stunning! Literally, brought a tear to the eye.

I get that with all the distractions we’re facing these days, folk feel they don’t have the time to invest in a good science-fiction epic. Well … invest in this one – but don’t attempt to read all three back to back; allow time for your brain to cool down between each book.

Verdict: Epic!