Monday, October 06, 2008

Reader's Diary #400- Cory Doctorow: The Things That Make Me Weak and Strange Get Engineered Away

Short Story Monday

Cory Doctorow (no, it's not Drew Carey, even if Joy Ito's photo might suggest otherwise), is a bit of a techno-philosopher. Judging from his blog, the ethics and morality of Internet piracy and surveillance seem to be two favourite topics. It's the latter of which "The Things That Make Me Weak and Strange Get Engineered Away" seems preoccupied.

I don't read a lot of sci-fi, but when I do, I enjoy the level of trust I have to employ. That these worlds, beings, technologies and cultures have coalesced in the author's mind is a given, and for some reason, these aspects have never been as problematic for me with sci-fi like as they have been from time to time with other genres. Perhaps I approach such books more open-minded than usual.

In this short story, that familiar trusting feeling came back. As it begins, Doctorow is heavy on the computer jargon (logfiles, checksum, bitstream) of which I have only a vague awareness, and he mixes it with other terminology (Reflective Analytics, Securitat) of which I have even less knowledge. What's a Doctorow creation and what's not was hard to say (though if the stereotypes are accurate, I'd say that most of his readers wouldn't have any problems separating fact from fiction). I didn't care though. A lot of sci-fi is like "Jabberwocky" to me.

From what I could understand, it's the story of Lawrence who belongs to an order of monks (though later he clarifies that the religious terminology is only a metaphor-- and just as I was drawing comparisons to the Matrix) that uses biofeedback to get in touch with themselves. Their technology and skills have advanced so greatly that they can also sense anomalies in the world around them, like when someone acts contrary to the norm. Obviously this skill would be of great use to a spy organization, say a government that wishes to keep a tighter control on its people by tracking suspicious behaviour. Lawrence's monastery seems to be contracted out for such work. At least this is my understanding of the premise.

I at least understood enough to know that the familiar "Big Brother" scenario is a theme. But, while I don't think Orwell should have the final say on that topic (with the Internet, Homeland Security, etc I think there's a whole lot more to say), this story's addition to the discourse seems to be an overly simplistic message of a self-fulfilling prophecy: if the government treats the public like criminals (by spying on them), they will act like criminals.

“Everyone was treating me like a criminal—from the minute I stepped out of the Order, you all treated me like a criminal. That made me act like one—everyone has to act like a criminal here. That’s the hypocrisy of the world, that honest people end up acting like crooks because the world treats them like crooks.”

Add to this the unclear ending, and I didn't really enjoy the story. It was an interesting world, without an interesting message.


Anonymous said...

It sounds a bit too simplistic. People do not always act for the better when you treat them better. Some do, of course. But some will take all that they can get and then some.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I'm going to give it a shot, regardless.