Cory Doctorow wearing his freshly acquired Sunburst Award last night at Lillian H. Smith public library. Photo by Steve Kupferman/Torontoist.
Cory Doctorow possesses a strange kind of celebrity. He’s famous, but not so famous that you could offhandedly mention him to a stranger on the street and reasonably expect the person to be familiar with Doctorow’s life and work. For other notable people, this situation might connote a kind of ignominious C- or D-List celebrity, but not for Doctorow. In his case, it might be more accurate to say that he is extremely, A-List famous, but only among the subset of the population that uses and understands the internet. This would explain why he was able, last night, to pack the third floor of the Lillian H. Smith public library tighter than a college bar. That’s right. Cory Doctorow: as appealing to nerdy people as beer is to students.
Doctorow was in town promoting his new novel, Makers, which is about a journalist, living in an economically depressed near-future, who takes an assignment that entails embedding herself with DIY entrepreneurs who are using the junk and detritus left over from the world’s economic failure to build ingenious devices and make money. He read an excerpt.
The book, like all of Doctorow’s work, is available free, online, under a creative commons license. Doctorow objects to restrictive copyright protection—and in any case, in his view, you could just type it all out, if you wanted to. “If you’re going to spend eighty hours promoting my work, I might as well start you off with a good digital copy,” he said, to laughter and applause. So go get it. It’s really, really good.
After the reading, during the Q and A, Doctorow wasn’t able to speak much about Makers. The audience was mostly interested in his wisdom. They asked about copyright, and his views on the controversial Google Books settlement. They asked him about film adaptations of his work (there haven’t been any, yet), and he cracked a joke about the infamous cyberpunk cinematic flop, Johnny Mnemonic, to huge laughter—possibly the only positive crowd reaction Johnny Mnemonic has ever received, in any context. The glasses/no glasses ratio in the room was roughly one to one. An audience member referred to chamber music as “the punk music of the seventeenth century” and was not contradicted. Doctorow revealed that he uses a custom-built Python script to perform version control on all his writing, and everyone knew what version control was, and was impressed.
In that sweltering room, it was clear that Cory Doctorow is one of the internet’s reigning high priests. Someone needs to get to work on a steampunk reliquary for his glasses, because if, in the future, the world economy ever does truly fail, we might need their power to cure the plague.