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Walkaway by Cory Doctorow
Hey all. Just wanted to bring attention to a recent book by Cory Doctorow. For those of you that haven't heard of him Doctorow is an author, popular blogger and activist who often writes about anarchism and the role of technology in society.

This latest book came out last week, I finished it a couple of days ago and wanted to share my thoughts. The book is set in an unspecified time in the not-too-distant-future. Technology has progressed, particularly robotics with mostly-automated factories, drones and intelligent software all regular parts of everyday life. Society is resistant to adapting to this change however and as a result wealth inequality has skyrocketed. The majority of people do not have a stable job (and find the idea of a "career" laughably quaint), instead they flit from temp-job to temp-job earning what they can. By contrast a new class of global ultra-rich has formed, akin to the present day 1% these precious few own huge chunks of the global economy. Nicknamed "zottarich" (I think as an allusion to big metric prefixes) they are increasingly open about being plutocrats. Near the beginning of the book there's a scene where a zotta justifies the state of affairs in a way that is frustrating and familiar to rhetoric today around poverty and inequality.

However, there is a growing movement that is sick of the status quo. Across the world a growing number of people are just...walking away. These people pack light, some of them leaving with nothing but the clothes on their back, and head to remote areas of countryside to live in anarchic communes. Whilst low tech and poor compared to the rest of the world they are pretty advanced from a modern perspective, though not crazily so. Fab labs and culture vats of GMOs provide most material needs such as clothing, drugs, electronics, renewable energy sources, communication systems, drones etc. When a new walkaway group starts other communes from across the world will send them supplies and tech to get set up and get self-sufficient. There are some really clever ideas in the book beyond just raw manufacturing; such as repurposed UN refugee camp software that uses drones to flag scrap in the environment, figure out how to build a shelter for it and create work plans for builders.

There are several characters in the book, starting with a small number and growing. Our primary protagonists are two poor late 20's guys and one ultra-rich girl who are all sick of society. They decide to walkaway (though they aren't really sure) and from that we get introduced to the world as well as the walkaway characters. There are some great scenes, ideas and people in the book and it's well worth a read if you're into automation, post-scarcity and anarchist philosophy. With regard to OA I think we could potentially use ideas from it to flesh out the Backyarders in the early setting (who I've always felt were a little problematic in terms of their ability; perhaps reworking them to be off-the-grid types as in Walkaway and then later becoming small private space colonists would be good).

I have a few criticisms of the book. There are a few jarring time-skips between chapters that could have been handled a bit better. Also for all the characters we barely get any insight into what life is like in "default" (the walkaway word for the rest of the world) other than the evil machinations of the Zottas. Finally I feel that Doctorow is a bit fluffy on some of the potential issues of life in a commune. There certainly are moments of struggle but there are also plenty of points where "people are naturally good" is relied upon as an excuse for why things turned out OK. IMO Kim Stanley Robinson did a better job in the Mars Trilogy with in depth political involvement being a core reason why the anarchists succeeded.

Anyho Smile go pick it up. Doctorow releases his books for free if you don't want to pay for them, alternatively the kindle version isn't very expensive.
OA Wish list:
  1. DNI
  2. Internal medical system
  3. A dormbot, because domestic chores suck!
Here's Cory Doctorow talking about Orion's Arm, back when it was still CC-Licenced

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