Little Brother Toronto Book Launch

Cory Doctorowwriter, blogger, and electronic rights activist — launched his latest novel Little Brother to a packed crowd at the Merril Collection in Toronto on the evening of Thursday, 01 May 2008. Conveniently, I was among that crowd, otherwise this would be a very short blog post.

Oddly enough, I first became familiar with Doctorow through a book on writing science fiction that he co-authored with Karl Schroeder nearly ten years ago. (I have a shelf full of writing books — I know they can’t teach me how to write, but I find it interesting to see the process other writers use, and to steal parts of their process to merge into my own. Reading such books also inspires me to get off my ass and write… for a while, at least.) Perhaps odder still, I haven’t actually read any of his novels to date, though I have enjoyed some of his short fiction.

My interest in Doctorow’s work has, to date, been mostly on the political side of things — specifically, his advocacy for electronic freedom. Through his posts on Boing Boing, and articles elsewhere, he put a spotlight on our electronic rights and freedoms, and the significance of that hit me as I worked on my Master’s research in cryptography. All of these things came together and birthed in me the sole political interest I have, in that mishmash of consumer rights, intellectual property, academic freedom, privacy, and electronic rights and freedoms. (I’m not even sure what to call it, as you can tell, but rest assured I’ll be writing more about it in the future.)

So, perhaps it’s fitting that the first Doctorow novel I’ve picked up is Little Brother, which is about many of those things. He described it as “1984 fan fiction” — the premise is that a bunch of teenagers use their technical knowhow to fight back against an oppressive government that goes too far in demonizing its own citizens all in the name of “security”. It’s being marketed as a Young Adult novel, and has some high praise from a lot of prominent authors adorning its cover. Hopefully I’ll get to read it soon myself, and see if all the praise is justified.What I can talk a bit more about now is the launch itself.

As I mentioned, it was rather packed. I arrived just as it was close to starting, and already the seats were mostly filled and people were standing around. The wonderful Bakka-Phoenix Books were there to sell copies, and apparently there were snacks too, though they were lost amid the sea of bodies.

Cory started the event by taking a few questions to warm up and let latecomers trickle in. Perhaps not surprisingly, most of the questions seemed to be focussed on his activism rather than his writing, although for this book they are nearly the same subject. His answers were natural and well-spoken, which I suppose is also unsurprising given that such work had been his job for several years.

He then treated us to a reading of a chapter from the novel. (The same chapter is podcast here.) There were some laughs, some over-the-top deliveries, and enough action to make we want to move this book up in my “To Read” pile. He took some more questions at the end, and then there was signing of books. Having other things to do, I left after getting mine signed, but there was a long line behind me, and lots of people hanging out. By my estimation, it was a very successful launch, and another great event in the series on Foresight: Speculative Fiction in Canada.

Panel on Speculative Fiction in Canada

So, it’s been a while since I’ve blogged. This seems to happen regularly, cycles of on-again, off-again productivity. Fortunately, that means that we’re due for a flurry of activity here. For the next week, expect a new post every day as I catch up on some stuff I’d been meaning to write about. With my discussion of movies, I’ll go in reverse chronological order, so that my most recent experiences might be of some use in deciding what to see.

But, before any of that, some thoughts on an event I attended on Monday night. It was the launch event for the Canada Council Heritage Series entitled Foresight: Speculative Fiction in Canada. It consisted of a panel moderated by Michael Skeet, and featuring James Alan Gardner, Karl Schroeder, and Peter Watts. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to take notes, so I can’t really offer a play-by-play. It was interesting and entertaining, however.

Given that there was some predefined focus on Canadian speculative fiction, most of the questions presented by the moderator were in that vein, covering the role of environment in Canadian SF, the difference between Canadian and American SF, and the like. Skeet ran a smooth panel, with Gardner, Schroeder, and Watts playing off each other’s answers — or occasionally contradicting each other. It must be said, however, that the best sound bite for the evening goes to Peter Watts’ definitive statement, “The environment is our bitch,” referring to how SF writers use the environment to make their point, not just as a setting.

The panel lasted for about 45 minutes, with a 15 minute question period at the end that had some good questions from the audience. One question I remember asked each panelist what current science is most inspiring to them, and surprisingly (given the differences of the authors involved) they were all interested in recent cognitive neuroscience developments, with Watts and Gardner specifically interested in the link between neuroscience and religion. (Caveat: I may be confusing the specific science name with something else, but I basically mean “brain stuff”.)

Much to my wallet’s dismay, Bakka-Phoenix was there selling books, and so I bought the story collection Ten Monkeys, Ten Minutes from Peter Watts and the paperback Vigilant from Gardner. (I didn’t buy anything from Schroeder because I own all of his stuff already.) On the upside, I now have a few additional signed books in my collection.

Anyway, I’m keeping my eye on the schedule for other nearby events in this series from the Toronto Public Library. Naturally, I’ll blog about any other events I take in.