Hubert Vernon Rudolph Clayton Irving Wilson Alva Anton Jeff Harley Timothy Curtis Cleveland Cecil Ollie Edmund Eli Wiley Marvin Ellis Espinoza was too old to be at a Communist party. At twenty-seven, he had seven years on the next oldest partier. He felt the demographic void. He wanted to hide behind one of the enormous filthy machines that dotted the floor of the derelict factory. Anything to escape the frank, flat looks from the beautiful children of every shade and size who couldn't understand why an old man was creepering around (1)
Several characters will leave that party, and walk away into a future we can nearly touch.
Cory Doctorow's 2017 novel concerns the attempts to create a better society—and the forces that impede them. It addresses post-scarcity, climate change, ubiquitous surveillance, revolt against established oligarchies, trans- and post-humanism. Doctorow himself has identified it as a kind of prequel to his first novel, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, and it could be read as a sequel to his YA novels Little Brother (2008) and Homeland (2013).
To The Nearish Future, then, where the wealthy cling to power despite the presence of 3D printing/replicator tech that will render existing economic systems obsolete. Our central characters join the Walkaway movement, an alternative culture which appears to be functioning. Powerful people do not take well to being undermined, and a Walkaway lab raises the stakes when it discovers how to replicate and download human consciousness.
Walkaway is a novel of ideas, but, any time I thought the story might slow down too much, something interesting would happen. An extended section deals with the captivity of one of the major characters, and it proves as suspenseful as any thriller. The second half make some jumps in time, showing us long-term outcomes of earlier events without the novel becoming tedious.
The characters vary in their depth, but they feel plausible. The dialogue, alas, in places, falters. Doctorow writes overtly political books and, while his politics place him light-years away from Robert Heinlein or Ayn Rand, it's hard not to think of those authors now and then while reading Walkaway. We have a few too many improbable dialogues wherein people discuss and espouse political theories in a manner that sounds conspicuously like the author lecturing his readers.
I also find Doctorow's view of essential human nature, untainted by big economic forces, a little bit sunny. Utopias, even utopias in the making, rarely make adequate provision for psychopaths and basic assholes. The ones who appear in this book range from plot devices to people who just need to understand that a better way exists.
In the end, I enjoyed Walkabout. It attempts the blend of technological and social speculation with adventure so typical of classic SF. Doctorow's hipster/burner style proves breezy and readable. As with all aspects of speculative fiction, it likely will sound dated when the future arrives.