Read an excerpt from Canada Reads finalist Radicalized by Cory Doctorow
Radicalized is a collection of four novellas that explore the quandaries — social, economic and technological — of contemporary America. Doctorow's characters deal with issues around immigration, corrupt police forces, dark web uprisings and more.
Read an excerpt from Radicalized below. This excerpt has strong language.
The way Salima found out that Boulangism had gone bankrupt: her toaster wouldn't accept her bread. She held the slice in front of it and waited for the screen to show her a thumbs-up emoji, but instead, it showed her the head-scratching face and made a soft brrt. She waved the bread again. Brrt.
"Come on." Brrt.
She turned the toaster off and on. Then she unplugged it, counted to ten, and plugged it in. Then she menued through the screens until she found RESET TO FACTORY DEFAULT, waited three minutes, and punched her Wi-Fi password in again.
Long before she got to that point, she'd grown certain that it was a lost cause. But these were the steps that you took when the electronics stopped working, so you could call the 800 number and say, "I've turned it off and on, I've unplugged it, I've reset it to factory defaults and…"
The way Salima found out that Boulangism had gone bankrupt: her toaster wouldn't accept her bread.
There was a touchscreen option on the toaster to call support, but that wasn't working, so she used the fridge to look up the number and call it. It rang seventeen times and disconnected. She heaved a sigh. Another one bites the dust.
The toaster wasn't the first appliance to go (that honor went to the dishwasher, which stopped being able to validate third-party dishes the week before when Disher went under), but it was the last straw. She could wash dishes in the sink but how the hell was she supposed to make toast — over a candle?
Just to be sure, she asked the fridge for headlines about Boulangism, and there it was, their cloud had burst in the night. Socials crawling with people furious about their daily bread. She prodded a headline and learned that Boulangism had been a ghost ship for at least six months because that's how long security researchers had been contacting the company to tell it that all its user data — passwords, log-ins, ordering and billing details — had been hanging out there on the public internet with no password or encryption. There were ransom notes in the database, records inserted by hackers demanding cryptocurrency payouts in exchange for keeping the dirty secret of Boulangism's shitty data handling. No one had even seen them.
- Cory Doctorow on Radicalized, the problem with superheroes and writing speculative fiction in a jaded world
Boulangism's share price had declined by 98 percent over the past year. There might not even be a Boulangism anymore. When Salima had pictured Boulangism, she'd imagined the French bakery that was on the toaster's idle-screen, dusted with flour, woodblock tables with serried ranks of crusty loaves. She'd pictured a rickety staircase leading up from the bakery to a suite of cramped offices overlooking a cobbled road. She'd pictured gas lamps.
The article had a street-view shot of Boulangism's headquarters, a four-story office block in Pune, near Mumbai, walled in with an unattended guard booth at the street entrance.
The Boulangism cloud had burst and that meant that there was no one answering Salima's toaster when it asked if the bread she was about to toast had come from an authorized Boulangism baker, which it had. In the absence of a reply, the paranoid little gadget would assume that Salima was in that class of nefarious fraudsters who bought a discounted Boulangism toaster and then tried to renege on her end of the bargain by inserting unauthorized bread, which had consequences ranging from kitchen fires to suboptimal toast (Boulangism was able to adjust its toasting routine in realtime to adjust for relative kitchen humidity and the age of the bread, and of course it would refuse to toast bread that had become unsalvageably stale), to say nothing of the loss of profits for the company and its shareholders. Without those profits, there'd be no surplus capital to divert to R&D, creating the continuous improvement that meant that hardly a day went by without Salima and millions of other Boulangism stakeholders (never just "customers") waking up with exciting new firmware for their beloved toasters.
And what of the Boulangism baker-partners? They'd done the right thing, signing up for a Boulangism license, subjecting their process to inspections and quality assurance that meant that their bread had exactly the right composition to toast perfectly in Boulangism's precision-engineered appliances, with crumb and porosity in perfect balance to absorb butter and other spreads. These valued partners deserved to have their commitment to excellence honored, not cast aside by bargain-hunting cheaters who wanted to recklessly toast any old bread.
Salima knew perfectly well that there was a whole underground economy devoted to unauthorized bread.
Salima knew these arguments, even before her stupid toaster played her the video explaining them, which it did after three unsuccessful bread-authorization attempts, playing without a pause or mute button as a combination of punishment and reeducation campaign.
She tried to search her fridge for "boulangism hacks" and "boulangism unlock codes" but appliances stuck together. KitchenAid's network filters gobbled up her queries and spat back snarky "no results" screens even though Salima knew perfectly well that there was a whole underground economy devoted to unauthorized bread.
This excerpt is taken from Unauthorized Bread from Radicalized, copyright © 2019 by Cory Doctorow. Reproduced with permission from Tor Books.
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