Day 6

Cory Doctorow and Tim Maughan imagine dystopian futures that don't feel so futuristic

In their new books, Radicalized and Infinite Detail, they have created near-future dystopias full of controlling technologies, social division and rebellions against elevators, toasters and the internet.

They have created near-future dystopias full of controlling technologies and social division

Cory Doctorow, left, and Tim Maughan spoke with Day 6 host Brent Bambury about the close relationship between science fiction and reality. (Jason Vermes/CBC)
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It's been said before, but science fiction can be eerily close to reality — and in Cory Doctorow and Tim Maughan's new books, it feels like society is quickly closing the gap.

In Radicalized, Doctorow explores the control that proprietary technologies have over our lives through four novellas.

Maughan, in his new book Infinite Detail, examines what the world would look like if the internet were to disappear.

The two authors spoke with Day 6host Brent Bambury about how the dystopian worlds they create in their books reflect the world in which they live.

Here are excerpts from their conversation.

On projecting the future

It's often said that sci-fi's role is to project the future, but Doctorow is skeptical of that perspective.

"What we're doing is kidding ourselves that we're projecting a future; I think that at best, we're reflecting the present," he told Bambury.

"As an activist, I have to think that the future is not predictable. Otherwise, there'd be no reason to get out of bed. The future changes based on what we do."

Cory Doctorow is a novelist, blogger and technology activist. (Jason Vermes/CBC)

It's a sentiment that Maughan, who balks at suggestions that his work is dystopian, agrees with.

"There's a quite a strong thread of hope through most of my stuff. There are dystopian scenarios, but there's also always someone kicking back against that," Maughan said.

"Weirdly, this is my most hopeful piece that I've written so far even though it seems to be set in a kind of nearly ... post-apocalyptic world."

On controlling appliances

Doctorow, who is known for pushing against copyright law and proprietary technology, worries that as more high-tech devices are introduced into our homes, a few big companies will decide exactly what we can and can't do with those devices.

In Unauthorized Bread, a story featured in Radicalized, two refugees find themselves in a home filled with basic appliances that force their users to only use certain types of products.  

"Their toaster won't toast unauthorized bread. The dishwasher will only wash authorized dishes," he said.

When the systems later fail due to a company's bankruptcy, the two refugees hack them — an illegal action.

"When the companies come back out of bankruptcy, now these people in the refugee housing are at risk of being discovered through the automated telemetry and since they're committing felonies they face deportation back to countries they fled in fear of their lives."

While it seems far-fetched, Doctorow likens it to medical devices that use proprietary medication cartridges, such as insulin distribution systems.

Tim Maughan is an author and journalist exploring cities, class, culture, technology, and the future. (Jason Vermes/CBC)

On cancelling the internet

When Maughan first began writing Infinite Detail in 2012, many questioned why he would choose to a write a book where the internet no longer exists.

Today, people have a different perspective.

"[Now,] they're like, 'Great. Right on,'" he said with a laugh.

"I think people's attitude towards the internet has changed quite a lot and with everything from Trump to Facebook revelations to Brexit to the horrific events in New Zealand, I think everybody started to feel this pressure from the internet."


To hear the full interview with Cory Doctorow and Tim Maughan, download our podcast or click 'Listen' at the top of this page.

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