NESFA Members' Reviews

Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town

by Cory Doctorow

Tor, 2005, ISBN 0-765-31278-5

A book review by Elisabeth Carey

Even after my disappointment with Eastern Standard Tribe, this still looked really interesting, and this time I wasn't disappointed.

Alan (Andy, Adrian) is the son of a mountain and a washing machine, and he has seven brothers. Alan (Alex, Andreas) is the oldest, and also the one who can pass for human the most easily and comfortably. In fact, only gradually do we learn that there's anything unusual about him at all, except for his parentage and his casual attitude about what name he gives people—as long as it starts with "A". Billy (Bob, Ben) can see the future, Carlo is an island, Doug (Danny,) was a perfectly human-appearing monster until his brothers killed him (which hasn't slowed down his career much), and Ed, Fred, and George are nesting dolls. Alan got his early-childhood care and education from the golems provided by his father, the mountain, and then discovered school and the library. After a childhood attempting to raise his brothers (except for Carlo) with decent educations and the ability to blend in to human society, and after a truly horrific experience ending in the death of Doug, Alan takes off on his own. When we meet him, he's a middle-aged, semi-retired entrepreneur living in Toronto, renovating the house he just bought and getting acquainted with the college-age neighbors next door.

His illusions of normality are about to take a nasty hit.

On the one hand, he's getting sucked into a new project, making free wireless internet access available to the neighborhood, the city, and eventually the world. On the other hand, his brothers, Ed, Fred, and George come to visit, with the news that Doug, whom they thought was safely dead, is back and coming after them. And on the third hand, the kids next door aren't as normal as they look, either. As his brothers start dying and Doug starts collecting allies, Alan clings to his version of normality and pitches free wireless internet access to Bell Canada and tiny city merchants and anarchist bookstore operators, and tries to convince the girl next door that wings aren't a handicap. (Silly Alan; Mimi wants to be normal, too!)

All of this could be a recipe for a disaster of a book, and occasionally it does seem to almost spin out of Doctorow's control—but not quite. Somehow it all gels. These characters are fleshed out and interesting, and the story, alternating in time between Alan's strange childhood and his not-quite-normal middle age, is fully developed and absorbing. I'm never going to be Cory Doctorow's biggest fan, but I recommend this one to anyone who enjoys quirky fantasy.

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