Interview with Cory Doctorow on Utopias by Adam Ford
00:11 Kim Stanley Robinson is absolutely my favorite utopian because he depicts in his utopias not worlds where all problems have been solved, but worlds in which the collective and action problem – of how we get along while we solve problems – has been in large part solved. He writes worlds in not where there has been no disaster, but in which disaster has been attended by kindness, conscientiousness and a sense of shared human destiny as opposed to greed and fear and a sense of individual destiny – that kind of Mad Max future where the only way to survive is at the expense of everyone else. And that to me is the genuinely optimistic prediction – because we live in a dynamic universe right? Whatever works today will no longer work tomorrow because something will have changed by tomorrow – and so the important thing isn’t whether all the circumstances are good – the important thing is what happens when the circumstances are poor – it’s not how well the system works, it’s what happens when it fails that distinguishes a utopia from a dystopia.
01:21 So you take Stan Robinson and a book like 2312 – that’s a book that has futures that are every bit as grim as ‘The Road’ by Cormac McCarthy – but the reason that Stan’s book is a utopia and McCarthy’s book is a dystopia is that McCarthy visits upon the human race the slander that when the lights go out people go over to their neighbours house and kill them and eat them – literally in the case of McCarthy – and Robinson aspires to a future that when the lights go out people go over to their neighbours housea and see how they can help – you know – that when the power fails people open their freezers and barbecue everything inside them – because it’s going to thore out anyways – and share it with their neighbours.
02:06 And you know, books like ‘Paradise Made in Hell’ by Rebecca Solnit document systematically how in times of disaster we have a narrative – especially those of us at a distance – that is both racialized and tinged with class anxiety about poor people acting in a barbaric way and visiting upon the rich, you know, a kind of vengeance for inequality – but that when you actually look upon the ground, that apart from elites who are gripped in a panic of their own making about this coming vengeance – this sense, I guess, of a kind of retributive guilt, you know, they having lived so high off the hog for so many years in the midst of people with nothing, that surely vengeance must be soon. But actual normal people just kind of help each other out – and that where you see horrific violence, it is almost always the fault of an anticipatory pre-emptive violence against everyday people on the grounds that they must be on the verge of breaking loose into barbarism – the pre-emptive shooting of looters, that sort of thing.
03:26 Looting in times of existential disaster is really just liberating of supplies. And literally in the case of Hurricane Katrina CNN aired footage of white people breaking into chemist shops and taking medicine, water and food – and describing it as ‘commandeering’ – and black people doing the same things and describing it as ‘looting’. So that elite panic is one of the most horrific narratives we have, and is itself a source of unimaginable suffering in times of crisis. And so utopianism is not just important as a way of thinking about the human race but as countervailing force to that narrative as a way of keeping people from assuming that their neighbours are going to come over and eat them so going over and preemptively shooting their neighbours before it happens.
– Thanks to Andrew Dun who helped film
Cory Doctorow wrote an interesting review that is very relevant to this interview: ‘Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312: a novel that hints at what we might someday have (and lose)‘
Cory Efram Doctorow is a Canadian-British blogger, journalist, and science fiction author who serves as co-editor of the weblog Boing Boing. He is an activist in favour of liberalising copyright laws and a proponent of the Creative Commons organization, using some of their licenses for his books. Some common themes of his work include digital rights management, file sharing, and post-scarcity economics.
Doctorow began selling fiction when he was 17 years old and sold several stories followed by publication of his story “Craphound” in 1998.
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, Doctorow’s first novel, was published in January 2003, and was the first novel released under one of the Creative Commons licences, allowing readers to circulate the electronic edition as long as they neither made money from it nor used it to create derived works. The electronic edition was released simultaneously with the print edition. In March 2003, it was re-released with a different Creative Commons licence that allowed derivative works such as fan fiction, but still prohibited commercial usage. It was nominated for a Nebula Award, and won the Locus Award for Best First Novel in 2004. A semi-sequel short story named Truncat was published on Salon.com in August 2003.
Doctorow’s other novels have been released with Creative Commons licences that allow derived works and prohibit commercial usage, and he has used the model of making digital versions available, without charge, at the same time that print versions are published.
His Sunburst Award-winning short story collection A Place So Foreign and Eight More was also published in 2004: “0wnz0red” from this collection was nominated for the 2004 Nebula Award for Best Novelette.
Doctorow released the bestselling novel Little Brother in 2008 with a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-ShareAlike licence. It was nominated for a 2009 Hugo Award, and won the 2009 Prometheus Award, Sunburst Award, and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award.
His novel Makers was released in October 2009, and was serialized for free on the Tor Books website.
Doctorow released another young adult novel, For The Win, in May 2010. The novel is available free on the author’s website as a Creative Commons download, and is also published in traditional paper format by Tor Books. The book concerns massively multiplayer online role-playing games.
Doctorow’s short story collection “With a Little Help” was released in printed format on May 3, 2011. It is a project to demonstrate the profitability of Doctorow’s method of releasing his books in print and subsequently for free under Creative Commons.
In September 2012, Doctorow released The Rapture of the Nerds, a novel written in collaboration with Charles Stross. In February 2013, Doctorow released Homeland, the sequel to his novel Little Brother.
Doctorow’s young adult novel, Pirate Cinema, was released in October 2012, and won the 2013 Prometheus Award.