One of the gems of his father’s museum/city is the Carousel of Progress, a six-scene robotic stage-play that was built by Walt Disney for General Electric to feature during the New York World’s Fair in 1964. The restored carousel, ironically, heralds humankind’s big bright future: “At every turn in our history there was always someone saying ‘Turn back. Turn back.’ But there is no turning back. Not for us. Not for our carousel. The challenge always lies ahead. And as long as man dreams and works and builds together, these years too can be the best time of your life.”
But when Detroit is attacked by a contingent of mechas driven by a faction who want to level the city and, via reclamation drones, turn the cement wasteland into farmable acreage, the perpetually 11-year old Yensid barely escapes his with his life and eventually flees in a zeppelin (with the Carousel of Progress in tow) to North Carolina where he falls in with a cult of wireheads, who are all empathically in tune with one another.
As Yensid searches for some kind of meaning in his seemingly pointless immortality, he contemplates the significance of the message behind Disney’s grand creation…
“We’d outgrown progress. What we had was change. Things changed whenever anyone wanted to change them: design and launch a fleet of wumpuses, or figure out a way to put an emotional antenna in your head, or create a fleet of killer robots, or invent immortality, or gengineer your goats to give silk. Just do it. It’ll catch on, or it won’t. Maybe it’ll catch itself on. Then the world is... different. Then someone else changes it.”
For me, at least, Doctorow’s latest was about finding happiness. Even at the end of the world, tomorrow can be big and beautiful... it's all about what you do with the hand you're dealt.
Although all the stories in the collection are fascinating in their own right, easily the most memorable is “Craphound,” a work destined to be a classic that has already been included in several international anthologies. Jerry Abington is a collector of junk. His weekly routine includes religiously visiting yard sales, auctions and thrift shops in search of the discarded objects that could potentially turn into collectibles when someone offers to pay big bucks for them. Together with Craphound (an alien that shares his addiction to junk), they travel around Canada in search of the big score.
Comparable to popular science fiction satirists like Steve Aylett, Paul Di Filippo and Allen M. Steele, Doctorow’s collection of nine short works is as entertaining as it is thought provoking. Sometimes hilarious, sometimes disturbing, this collection showcases Doctorow’s wicked sense of humor and genius wit. – Paul Goat Allen
Art Berry is an agent provocateur in the Eastern Standard Tribe (a secret society bound together by similar sleep schedules) working undercover as a management consultant in England trying to mire the Greenwich Mean Time tribalists in consumer-unfriendly bureaucracy. Everything is going as planned for Art until he accidentally hits a pedestrian while driving in London. The jaywalker turns out to be a brash American woman from Los Angeles named Linda. After both are treated for minor injuries, they begin an unlikely romance. But when Art comes up with a potentially billion-dollar idea that could mean huge gains for the Eastern Standard Tribe, Linda and one of Art’s coworkers steal his idea, institutionalize him under false pretenses and sell the design to the highest bidder. Stuck in a sanitarium to “be observed,” Art ponders the age-old question: whether he would rather be smart or happy…
Like Doctorow’s debut novel Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, Eastern Standard Tribe is pure literary genius: an irreverent, disturbing and uproarious glimpse into the future of the global society. Dedicated tribalists can experience more of Doctorow’s twisted wit in A Place So Foreign and Eight More, a recently released collection of his best short stories. – Paul Goat Allen
Alan is a seemingly middle-aged entrepreneur who has just moved into a bohemian section of Toronto with the dream of writing. He is good-hearted, outgoing and, unbeknownst to most, totally inhuman. With a family that is “uncatalogued and unclassified in human knowledge” – his father is a gigantic heap of dirt, his mother is an appliance and his brothers include Russian nesting dolls, an island and a sadistic zombie – Alan has his fair share of secrets. But so too does his neighbor. An enigmatic young woman with wings growing out of her back, she gets drawn into Alan’s search for his vengeance-obsessed brother as Alan becomes involved in her plight to somehow remove her wings permanently and escape the clutches of an abusive boyfriend.
To read Doctorow is to love Doctorow. From his classic short story “Craphound,” about a junk collector and his alien sidekick, to Eastern Standard Tribe, a novel about an agent provocateur in a secret society who may or may not be nuts, every story he writes is practically guaranteed to be witty, irreverent, challenging and completely outrageous. Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town is no different – archetypal Doctorow. – Paul Goat Allen
Paul Goat Allen has been a full-time book reviewer specializing in genre fiction for the last two decades and has written thousands of reviews for companies like Publishers Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, Kirkus Reviews, and BarnesandNoble.com. He is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.
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