Reviewed by Jack Stanton
Walkaway is one of the most original, entertaining, and imaginative books I’ve read in ages. Cory’s characters are wild, hilarious, and acerbic, and his prose is effortlessly readable and engaging. I couldn’t stop reading this book until the end. And like all good fiction it gives you an afterglow, where certain ideas and scenes and characters linger long after you’ve shut the back cover.
It’s a piece of speculative fiction that could loosely fall under the category of ‘cli-fi’, a recent genre that prophecies the consequences of climate change, often resulting in some kind of apocalyptic destruction or reshaping of our world. Books such as The Hunger Games Trilogy and writers like Margaret Atwood are fine ambassadors of the genre.
In Walkaway, Hubert, Seth, and Natasha decide to literally ‘walkaway’ from the modern world. Well, not quite our modern world, but theirs. The world has been irrevocably destroyed by climate change. It is owned by the rich, who leave nothing for the poor. Necessities – clothes, food, shelter – can be created and printed instantaneously. But in a world where everything is at your fingertips, is it possible to become bored?
In this imagined future, corporations have stretched their resources so far as to render the concept of ‘working’ obsolete. No one has to work anymore. Although this is a classic notion, it is often negatively charged, suggesting that humanity will whittle away to dust after it loses a sense of meaning and self-worth that derives from a lifetime of work. Cory posits the opposite view. Maybe a world without work is sheer utopia? Maybe the worst thing people will have to overcome is their own boredom.
In Walkaway, everyone is on Hubert’s back because they think he is too old to be part of the Communist party. But poor Hubert is sick of the modern world, and has nowhere else to turn except for a gang of disenchanted youths, who in turn find that they don’t really have anything better to do. The three of them, Hubert, Seth, and Natasha, escape civilised society and become ‘walkaways’.
Beyond the modern oligarchy is a weird, lawless world of walkaways: people who have re-identified themselves and given up the authority of the superrich. It sounds like heaven, and in many ways Hubert, Seth, and Natasha have discovered a utopia of sorts. That is, until they stumble upon a way to champion death – something that the ultra-rich’s money has never been able to buy. And it means war.
There’s true joy in reading Cory’s fiction, essentially because it’s funny and whacky and alive. I seriously recommend it to anyone who admires the power of the imagination to transport the reader elsewhere, to boldly ask ‘what if?’ and display a reality that we may not want to even come true. This book is a big thrill: unputdownable, as they say.
Photo credit: Jonathan Worth
Already some of the biggest names in the speculative fiction world have doused Walkaway with praise, including:
‘A wonderful novel: everything we’ve come to expect from Cory Doctorow and more.’ William Gibson, author of Neuromancer
‘In a world full of easy dystopias, [Cory] writes the hard utopia, and what do you know, his utopia is both more thought-provoking and more fun.’ Kim Stanley Robinson
‘Cory Doctorow has authored the Bhagavad Gita of hacker/maker/burner/open source/git/gnu/wiki/99%/adjunct faculty/Anonymous/shareware/thingiverse /cypherpunk/LGBTQIA*/squatter/upcycling culture and zipped it down into a pretty damned tight techno-thriller with a lot of sex in it.’ Neal Stephenson
About the author
Cory Doctorow is a science-fiction author, activist, journalist, and blogger – the co-editor of Boing Boing and the author of many books, most recently In Real Life, a graphic novel; Information Doesn’t Want to be Free, a book about earning a living in the Internet age, and Homeland, the award-winning best-selling sequel to the 2008 YA novel Little Brother. Cory has been on the frontline of international debates on privacy, copyright and freedom of information for over a decade.