I have read prose by Cory Doctorow before. I find his writing for the guardian and BoingBoing to be, by enlarge, compelling, persuasive and thought provoking. I would recommend his articles whole heartedly even to those likely to disagree with him so when I got Pirate Cinema in the humble ebook bundle I was excited to finally try his fiction.
Unfortunately Pirate Cinema did not live up to my expectations.
The plot of Pirate Cinema, such as it is, follows Trent, or Cecil B DeVil as he will come to be known, as he runs away from home after his internet is cut off for illegal downloading and he finds himself homeless in London.
That seemed to have potential but here is where the problems begin. Everything from here on out is sanitised to the point that being homeless in London becomes a utopian dream world. There are no sexual predators, limited mental illness or violence and even the drug dealers are friendly. Trent/Cecil leads a charmed life that makes even the most potentially interesting exploits boring.
In London, Trent meets a man who teaches him the ways of squatting, dumpster diving and begging. His luck briefly runs out when the police bang on his door but before he’s had time to do more than wallow he meets cool friends who love his video remixes of fictional star Scott Colford. Then he gets a cool, clever girlfriend called 26, and he takes an interest in politics – mostly to get into her pants. Despite his apparently sophmoric understanding of the issues, the sheer stupendousness of his remixed videos propels him, above more qualified characters, including 26, to the position of leader of a campaign to repeal the “Theft of Intellectual Property” act. This act has given the government powers to lock up illegal downloaders all of whom are teenagers and none of whom are in the least bit nefarious. He is reunited with his incredibly intelligent sister who now looks up to him, is reconciled with his parents who finally understand the importance of what he’s doing and becomes friends with the granddaughter of Scott Colford. He is briefly arrested and put on trial but even this is of only limited inconvenience. In the end he even manages to get TIP overthrown with the power of his amazing Scott Colford remix and doesn’t seem too upset when his girlfriend announces her intention to move to Edinburgh.
Through out the book Trent/Cecil is relentlessly two dimensional and lacking in depth. Even the long copyright speeches he is forced to make sound contrived. Where ever he goes and whatever he does everyone he meets loves, admires and respects him but at no point could I understand why. The boy is not very bright, he’s self-centered, constantly whiny, obnoxiously hipster and has everything ridiculously easy. I now suspect that the reason he was so well loved is simple: he is the author-avatar. Though he spent a lot of the book moping or in some kind of turmoil, the challenges he faced were overcome far too easily and usually with no sacrifice or effort on his part. He can’t even think or feel for himself and relies constantly on characters around him that fed him their knowledge, convictions, passions, tolerance etc… without getting any recognition for their efforts. He doesn’t even have to spend time in jail when his whole movement is arrested.
The problem with Pirate Cinema is that it the whole thing is merely a flimsy front for a polemic. The plot is incidental and merely carries the semi-anarchist, anti-copyright, anti-corporate diatribe that addresses none of the subtleties or potential counter arguments. From his other writing I guess Cory Doctorow to be a man of deep conviction who is nevertheless intelligent enough to grasp the intricacies of the copyright debate so why is it that none of it shows up in his book? Instead we have endless pages of sainted artists who only want to violate copyright to create and make no money because they are living the utopian dream vs the evil corporate copyright holders who want to hold the country to ransom for a fortune. It is unforgivably naive even in a book aimed at Young Adults. When the politics are portrayed as so black and white it’s no wonder perhaps that both plot and characters are so two dimensional that they function as little more than threadbare mouth pieces for Doctorow’s proselytizing.
The result is simplistic, preachy, shallow and painfully naive without even enough character or plot to rescue it.
Finishing this little book was such wretchedly hard work. I know I get no extra credit for making it to the end. No one will reward me for the effort. Life is too short for terrible books you may cry and you’d be right but my deep and almost instant dislike compelled me to keep reading. I felt like I had to give it a chance but I don’t think I have ever had to try so hard to finish a book in my life (excepting one or two particularly uninspired history text books). Being able to start my reread of A Dance with Dragons on the tube this morning was a blessed relief.