Books·My Life in Books

7 books Cory Doctorow loves

The author shares 7 books that shaped their life and work.
Cory Doctorow is a journalist and science fiction author. (Paula Mariel Salischiker)

In his latest novel, Walkaway, Cory Doctorow imagines a future where the necessities of life are so easily manufactured that people are able to leave laws and jobs behind. Doctorow is one of Canada's most celebrated sci-fi novelists and author of the bestselling book Little Brother.

Below, Doctorow shares some of the best books he's read recently — with a bonus title from his childhood.

Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi

John Scalzi is an American sci-fi author and the former president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. (Steve Jennings for Getty Images/Tom Doherty Associates)

"Collapsing Empire is an ambitious space opera. The premise is that there's this galactic empire that is cynically engineered so that no one planet can sustain itself. The wormholes, by which people go faster than light, all traverse the one system that the ruling family controls. They have high customs and an excise regime that allows them to skim off everyone else and consolidate their power. The book is set on the eve of the discovery that these these flow lines that allow people to move around the galaxy are about to collapse. Everyone's going to starve to death because no one system is sustainable on its own. It's a really fun and very snarky look at cynical powerful people at a moment of environmental catastrophe that they're all denying. John says that he didn't intend it to be a parable about climate change, but holy moly does it ever read as a good parable about climate change."

Pacific Edge by Kim Stanley Robinson

Kim Stanley Robinson is an American sci-fi writer best known for his Mars trilogy. (Andrew Liptak/Tom Doherty Associates)

"There is a Kim Stanley Robinson book that I read whenever I'm depressed and that's a book called Pacific Edge. It's part of the Three Californias Trilogy, where he describes the same setting and time but with three different futures. Pacific Edge is the utopian one. It describes a world where our problems have been plausibly solved by technology, although it leaves enough problems intact to give you an exciting plot. Every time I read it, I feel like we can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and that the same technologies that allow us to magnify our foolishness can also magnify our nobility. It's a profoundly optimistic book that's not about whether humans can be foolish, but about whether or not that foolishness can be countered."

Saga by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples

Brian K. Vaughan was entered into the Comic Book Hall of Fame by the Eisner Awards in 2015. (Ethan Miller for Getty Images/Image Comics)

"Saga is a space opera and it's kind of blatantly surreal and really fun. It's excellent in every way. Staples' illustrations are so remarkably weird and wonderful. It reminds me of the first time I saw Star Wars and we got to the Mos Eisley Cantina and you saw those wonderful different alien races. Staples and Vaughan have built up this wonderful story about a permanent war driven by xenophobia. The protagonists are people from either side of the warring sides who fall in love and have an illegal, unimaginable child of mixed heritage. The combination of trenchant political commentary, intense romance, satire and lots of weird sex makes for absolutely compelling cocktail."

Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty

Mur Lafferty is an American podcaster and sci-fi writer. (J.R. Blackwell/Orbit)

"Mur Lafferty is a self-publishing and podcasting pioneer. She had a couple of fun, rompy supernatural books that did well, but I think Six Wakes is her breakout book. It's a locked-room science-fiction murder mystery with a twist. It's set on a generation ship where there is suspended animation and cloning and people periodically have all their memories backed up. If they ever die on the ship, they can have this clone that's growing in a vat and their memories as the last backup put back in the clone. The story opens when all six of the people on the ship are being brought back to life inside their cloned bodies, surrounded by the recently murdered bodies of who they were right up to the moment that they were all killed. All of their backups, except for the one made when the ship took off, had been destroyed. They have no memories of what happened after the ship took off and they have to figure out which one of them was the murder. It's a great set up with lots of twists and turns."

Everfair by Nisi Shawl

Everfair is Nisi Shawl's debut novel. (Caren Corley/Tom Doherty Associates)

"Shawl has a longstanding reputation in the sci-fi field as a short story writer and as someone who specializes in teaching writers to write diverse characters. She and another writer in Seattle, Cynthia Ward, lead workshops called 'Writing the Other.' They wrote a popular pamphlet on how to write diverse characters without without missteps and how to be how to be smarter about it.

"Everfair is an alternate history of the black Zionist movement, in which African Americans tried to raise money to move to Africa and found a free state. It takes that as a starting point and sends them to the Congo, where King Leopold of Belgium is engaged in a genocidal war. It turns into this meditation on race and inequality, combined with some of the original sins of the founding of American and British colonial societies. It's also a story about about science and is kind of a steampunk novel where the metallurgists and other technicians create this technological revolution in Africa that becomes the nexus of war against the Belgians and against white supremacy. It's a war novel filled with with swashbuckling Zeppelin battles and a slavery narrative and some smart, complicated, chewy things about race and privilege. It all comes together in a cracking adventure story. It's not something that clubs you over the head with its political themes, but rather sneaks them in around the edges of a fun adventure story."

Pirate Utopia by Bruce Sterling

Bruce Sterling is an American sci-fi author who's work helped establish the cyberpunk genre. (Evgeny Gurko for Getty Images/Tachyon Publications)

"The novella Pirate Utopia is a zippy, quick read by Bruce Sterling, who is my mentor and a wonderful cyberpunk writer. Bruce set out to write an alternate history of the Free State of Fiume (now part of Croatia), which was this island off the coast of Italy. Between 1920 and 1924, Fiume was this weird futuristic home of all of these strange movements that came together. They built a factory that made torpedoes, so they were arms dealers to the world.

"Bruce imagines continuity for Fiume, in which it continues into the Second World War. His protagonist is this guy who goes by the moniker the Pirate Engineer, whose surrounded by a cast of characters including the Prophet, the Art Witch and the Ace of Hearts. It's a story about weird extreme politics, which makes it a contemporary novel, despite the fact that it's set in this odd moment. It's about the twin excitement and shabbiness of futurism and fascism. It's a wonderful book that will leave you scratching your head and laughing aloud and marvelling at some of the verbal pyrotechnics of someone who is steeped in technology, design, history and politics."

Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars by Daniel M. Pinkwater

Daniel M. Pinkwater is an American author of children's books and YA fiction. (Kathy McLaughlin/Bantam Books)

"A book that absolutely changed my life was Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars by Daniel Pinkwater. Pinkwater is a prolific writer, who does everything from picture books to YA to chapter books to middle grade readers and the occasional book for adults. His books are always about misfits and weirdos, who go on to tweak authority figures and have adventures that are always a bit meandering and picturesque, but always really funny and little naughty. Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars is about a kid called Leonard Knievel who goes to a new school called Heinrich Himmler High where he is mercilessly bullied until an even weirder kid shows up called Alan Mendelsohn. He walks around introducing himself saying, 'Hi, I'm Alan Mendelsohn and I just moved here. My family is from Mars.' It turns out that Alan Mendelsohn might, in fact, be from Mars. The two boys start sneaking out of school and taking the bus to the old part of town where the weird used bookstores are that sell mystical books about UFOs. Just reading this book about about how you can embrace your weirdness, rather than trying to trying to hide it under a bushel, and how you can get thoroughly into it and come out the other side made me rethink my own relationship to it."


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