Q&A: Cory Doctorow on Sci-Fi, #Resistance, & Douglas Adams

Three-time Prometheus Award-winner Cory Doctorow visited Politics and Prose on May 2nd. Prior to his book talk we had a chance to ask him some questions about his new novel, Walkaway.

1. Despite depicting a damaged, unequal, and dangerous world,Walkaway also reveals how catastrophe can lead to utopia. Given actual political developments here and overseas, coupled with #Resistance, do you write in the explicit hope that people will apply lessons from Walkaway to their interactions with our world?

Walkaway was completed long before the election, but yes, it did refer
to the kinds of resistance we saw to Erdogan, Orban, and other dictators
(including Assad, for that matter). The internet has given us the power
to coordinate ourselves in ways that are frankly so amazing we can
barely comprehend them, and it has given rise to a new form of networked
politics that allows for alliances and collaboration beyond the wildest
dreams of yesterday’s revolutionary tacticians — but at the cost of
giving the forces of reaction their own coordinating superpowers.

2. A number of your previous novels, including For the Win and Homeland which has an e-book chapter dedicated to P&P!), are YA, and they don’t shy away from unpacking sophisticated concepts. What’s different in your approach when conceptualizing and writing adult science fiction?

It’s actually pretty simple: a YA novel is “a book a library could give
to a kid, without knowing anything about that kid, without fear of
getting fired.” Adults might enjoy any YA novel, but there are plenty of
kids who aren’t necessarily ready for all the material in an “adult” book.

3. Central to the premise of Walkaway is the ultimate potential of tech to beat death. With recent news such as Elon Musk’s Neuralink announcement, which looks to develop computer chips implanted in human brains, can sci-fi still remain ahead of the relentless pace of change?

The uploading minds stuff in Walkaway is firmly metaphorical and lacking
in any technological rigor! People who predict that stuff are, to my
mind, smoking their own product (including/especially Musk).

I think the apposite rule here is Douglas Adams’s:

1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary
and is just a natural part of the way the world works.

2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five
is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career
in it.

3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural
order of things.