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I don’t think I really need to introduce Cory Doctorow - ? Canadian blogger living in London, SF writer, BoingBoing co-editor, and one of Forbes’ Top 25 Influencers on the Internet - ? Ring a bell - ?
Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town is, at least for me, reading into Cory’s back-catalogue, as I only really became aware of him in 2008 when Little Brother (the book he published after the one at hand) went supernova. This book here is less social criticism, and more magic realism. With some added geekery, of course.

But let’s start at the beginning - the book begins with Alan (or Adam. Or Andy. Or…), through whose eyes the story is told, doing up a new place on Wales Av, Toronto, in a very OCD way, and then moving into it. We watch him meet his neighbours, the siblings Natalie and Link, and the couple Krishna and “Mimi” (we never learn her real name). Mimi has wings, which Krishna regularly cuts off so she can pass as human. Alan himself is not really human. Not human. His father is a mountain, and his mother a washing machine (no, not kidding). We learn he has several brothers - first there is Billy (or Bob, Brad, Benny…), who can see into the future. Then Charlie (Clem, Carlos, Cory…), who is an island. Doug (Dan, David, Dearbone…  I’m sure you get the picture. The names are used interchangeably, only the first letter matters).  D is the family black sheep, and has been killed by his brothers once before. And then there are E, F, and G, who fit into each other like a Matryoshka Doll, and can only eat in that configuration (talk about interdependency!).

You see, this is about a dysfunctional family, really. And, as you can gather from above, too, not a very ‘normal’ or human-normal family, either. The story really kicks into gear when E&F come to A because G is gone (he wanted to talk to their father the mountain, and never returned), and they will die without him. And the suspicion is that D has killed him, in retribution to his own killing, years ago. The brothers, we learn, have generally an exceedingly violent relationship and way of dealing with each other.


The dynamics in the family, both in the present of the story and in the past (as told in separate chapters) is extraordinary, and decidedly non-human. We never really learn what their family/tribe/kind is, only that there are a good number of ‘them’ who live amongst the humans, passing for human most of the time. We also learn that they have a tendency to stand out, of not really belonging anywhere, even if they are not recognised as non-human by nearly everyone.
Having extraordinary creatures and events going on under and amongst the mundane has, of course, been done ever so many times before. Still - there are elements here reminiscent of Charlie Human’s writing (which is much more recent, of course), whilst the setting more than a little resembles Neil Gaiman’s magnificent American Gods. At its best it is as immersive and compelling as that high water mark, but Cory’s story doesn’t always come together organically. There are other parts which feel patched together, unconvincing, and disjointed. The story strands are sometimes hard to place and keep in line (that could just be my attention span, of course).
This  supernatural/urban fantasy adventure story is interspersed with technical exposes and general geekery (dumpster diving, mesh networking, technical anarchism in reaction to the phone and internet companies) - for me this was both very Cory Doctorow, and something which could mostly have been cut from the story without losing much of relevance.
Overall I found this entertaining, in part even a must-read. A definite recommendation for fans of Urban Fantasy stories, despite some weaknesses.

More Cory Doctorow

Title: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town
Author: Cory Doctorow
Reviewer: Markus
Reviewer URL: http://thierstein.net
Publisher: Tor
Publisher URL: http://www.tor.com
Publication Date: 2005
Review Date: 150426
ISBN:0765312808
Price: USD 14.95
Pages: 315
Format: Large Format Paperback
Topic: Urban Fantasy
Topic: Sibling Rivalry

 

 

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