SOMEONE COMES TO TOWN, SOMEONE LEAVES TOWN by Cory Doctorow (Tor/H.B. Fenn), 320 pages, $34.95 cloth. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Cyber-sensitive Cory Doctorow is back with another intense, intelligent and strange novel, part fantasy, part reality check.
Alan is a clever entrepreneur who's just renovated his Kensington Market Victorian next door to a bunch of 20-somethings who don't do much of anything.
One of them, Mimi, has a secret - she has wings - and a way of sniffing out anybody else who has something to hide, like Alan. His father is a mountain, his mother is a washing machine, and he has four brothers, three of whom live as nesting dolls and a fourth who is - well, we're not sure, but it's definitely not good.
Alan connects with brilliant techie geek Luke, and together they decide to blanket the city - Toronto, the first time Doctorow has concentrated on his one-time hometown - with free Internet service.
When Doctorow deals with these kinds of issues (the Web as an exercise in democracy, the meaning of freedom of speech in cyberspace), the ideas fly. Not surprising, as he has a day job defending unlimited access to the World Wide Web.
The fantasy elements don't work quite as well. There's nothing sci-fi about them - we don't ever find out how Mimi got wings, for instance - and though they do give Doctorow the chance to comment on the lives of outsiders who inhabit the margins (echoes of John Wyndham's The Chrysalids), they seem almost silly, as if he wants to yank our chain.
But the guy has the potential to be a major literary talent. His prose is powered by a rush of imagery and metaphor, some of it laced with pop culture references, some of it refreshingly earthy, all of it deeply human.