Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town is, well, it's interesting. Not just because the main character is the offspring of a mountain and a washing machine. Not just because it's a blend of modern fantasy and cyberpunk. Because it's written by Cory Doctorow, and the man cannot help but be interesting.

Names Schmames

Doctorow's main character and his family members all have a rather peculiar naming convention: they are simply alphabetized and will respond to any name that begins with their letter. In order, they are: the protagonist (usually referred to as Alan), who possesses extraordinary self-regeneration powers; a prophet; an island; an undead (usually referred to as Dave or Davey); and three nesting dolls. Needless to say, they had a complicated childhood.

Other groups of characters follow alphabetical naming patterns (but none of them have indeterminate names), such as Alan's four neighbors: Krishna, Link, Mimi, and Natalie.

The Cyberpunk

Alan moves to Toronto, and meets a dumpster-diving punk named Kurt, who is trying to fight the man by spreading free WiFi access across the entire city. Alan assists him, but then seeks out the help of the largish ISP that serves the area, which agrees to work with them on the project.

There ends the traditional cyberpunk of this novel. Technology might be changing things, but the social order isn't one of them this time. The big corporations aren't the enemy, and the government isn't out to steal your brains. On the other hand, the presence of technology in the story is not something to be completely overlooked, but it is just not given center stage.

The Fantasy

Now, this is where Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town really shines. Alan's got two problems on his plate: his brother Davey has shown up, trying to torture him over things in his past and one of his neighbors has wings. Alan's choices to resolve both of these situations really show his true character, but I don't want to make them clear as it would give away the ending.

What I can say is this: Doctorow has managed to create a modern fantasy world that could easily exist right now, and he's managed to do it without squirreling it away in the mountains like Rowling did with Harry Potter. Also, by not filling in the edges of his fantasy world completely, he leaves the reader with a nice impression of an unfinished world. Unfinished in this sense is in no way negative, rather, it offers up the continual yearning for more about the world to exist.


Overall, Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town deserves a nice happy space on the bookshelf (or the hard drive1). It is well-written, holds your attention, and provokes some great thought.