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Book Notes 3: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town by Cory Doctorow

Cory Doctorow’s third novel is his best so far; and it’s strange. Really, really strange.

It is the story of a man whose father is a mountain and whose mother is a washing machine. These are not metaphors.

Or perhaps they are. If so, though then the whole book is a metaphor, and I’m not entirely sure for what.

Since Alan (or Adam, or Albert, or Aaron) is very different from other people (he doesn’t have a navel, for one very minor thing) it could be seen as about alienation. Alan, however, is not particularly alienated.

His brothers are a different matter, though.

Each of the five is given a name starting with the next letter of the alphabet after the previous brother’s; but they are not called constantly by this name, either by each other or by the narrator. Instead, they are called by a seemingly-randomly-chosen name starting with ‘their’ letter of the alphabet. There seems no real purpose to it. If it is intended to emphasise the brothers’ ‘otherness’, then it does so: but not enough.

As well as that, each brother has a unique characteristic. Billy, Buddy, Bob (etc) can see the future. Charlie is an island. Davey is twisted, damaged and dangerous. And Ed, Fred and George are a sort of composite being, living inside each other like Russian dolls.

Not surprisingly, one of the subplots centres on one of Cory’s real-world interests: building a free, community-supported wireless network across the city (his native Toronto, in this case). In a way, that subplot doesn’t really mesh very well with the fantastical story: but it does provide a backdrop for it, and it shows that Alan has a life outside of his weird family.

And there’s a woman with wings. Read it for yourself. It’s quite amazing, and like his other books, available for free download under a Creative Commons licence.

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