With this post we conclude our online book club‘s reading of Cory Doctorow’s science fiction novel Walkaway.
In this post I’ll begin with a quick plot summary (which contains spoilers) of chapters 5 (“Transitional Phase”), 6 (“The Next Days of a Better Nation”), 7 (“Prisoner’s Dilemma”), and the epilogue (“Even Better Nation”), followed by some reflections and discussion questions.
But first, what have online readers thought since last time?
The book club reads
I too am finding walkaway culture very appealing — in some ways as though I have been participating in it for years unawares. Recommending to local community organizers/development types. If that only confirms their worst suspicions about me ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Scott Butki offered related applause from a different angle:
I really like this idea of a walkaway culture. Sometimes in sci fi it’s just too fantastical, i just can’t see the future turning out this way
But this, the concept that activists will get off the grid, step away from the regular world (default) and create their own cultures I can totally see that happening. And as with the social justice groups I work with that all have different styles and strategies that sometimes overlap and sometimes conflict. I can totally see walkaway culture varying greatly from group to group.
On Twitter, Liz Stevenson expressed ambivalence:
I firmly believe post-scarcity is going to happen, and seceding is also going to happen. But ain't nobody downloading a brain, ever.
— Liz Stevenson (@tamgoddess) April 24, 2018
Beyond book club readers, you can find more reflections and commentary on the web. Here’s Doctorow urging us to rethink technology for social and political liberation. I’d also like to add this video discussion about Walkaway between Doctorow and Edward Snowden (!).
The plot so far
Iceweasel escapes from her family. Several more characters get uploaded, their minds copied into digital form.
We then race ahead decades. Characters have aged, gotten married, had children. The previous chapters now are understood to have taken place around the time of “World War Default and the Walkaway Decade” (“which was a dumb name everyone hated, but at least it had a built-in expiry date”). ( 7355). Meanwhile, the walkaway revolution grows and the default world, decaying, reacts violently. A climax occurs in and around a prison, with jailed characters, family members, troops, and uploads converging.
The epilogue takes place even further in the future. People (walkaways?) have figured out how to grow human bodies, into which they can download uploaded minds. There are rebirths and reunions.
Education continues as a theme. We learn, for example, that today’s testing obsession helped drive walkaway culture:
There were always parents who found the risk of taking their kids out of default was less than the risk of leaving them in. The ‘accountability’ stuff in schools accelerated it—once they started paying teachers based on test scores, parents saw their kids getting crammed relentlessly by the system, no room for helping them with their problems or passions. (7401)
There is also a picture of an antiauthoritarian school, which arises in the ruins of a Flint-like poisoned-water city:
“Kids did the school.”
“Cool.” Tam enjoyed the girl’s obvious pride. “You go to classes in there?”
The girl grinned. “Don’t believe in ’em. We do peer workshops. I’m a calculus freak of nature, got a group of freaklings I’m turning into my botnet.”
Tam nodded. “Never got calculus. That lady over there with the little boy under each arm is a hero of mathematics.” (7760)
(That should please fans of one of our other readings)
The walkaway revolution proceeds through certain developments. Suburbs of a sort emerge as barriers or interzones between walkaway and default cultures (7044). And default collapse breeds new walkaways:
The jails had ruptured. Ruptured was the word they were using for government institutions that fell apart, turned into walkaway-style co-ops that gave away office supplies and opened up the databases for anyone who wanted a crack. She’d heard of ruptured hospitals, police departments, public housing—but jails were a new one. A big one. (7480)
Technologies: some haven’t advanced so much as gotten easier to use, and used more quickly. For example,
The feeds zoomed in on one of the front-liners, a man, whose shoulders shook. This had to be Gordy. The crowd had identified him through gait analysis, doxxed him, walked his social graph, found a hit in a walkaway town in Wyoming, gotten Tracey out of bed, recorded the message. (8319)
In terms of references and politics, the book’s anarchist comes out more openly with passages like this:
She read books, walkaway classics, Bakunin and Illich and Luxemburg, old dead anarchists. She’d read Homage to Catalonia and felt she finally understood Orwell—the seeds of Nineteen Eighty-Four were in the betrayals and the manipulation. (6927).
But don’t miss the following lines.
- What do you think of the walkaway criticism of “snowflakes”?
- What do you make of the plot concerning two mercenaries captured and forcibly uploaded by Walkaway U?
- How do you think the walkaway revolution turned out?
- Do you see walkaway education as working in our reality?
And that concludes our reading! Many thanks to our thoughtful readers for their contributions.
Next Wednesday, May 16th, author Cory Doctorow will join the Future Trends Forum to discuss the novel, our reading, and the future of education. Please join us.
If you’d like to look back at previous posts about this reading, they’re all right here.