Thursday, July 28, 2005


Continued from yesterday-- Doctorow on names, friends, and endings...

Hamlet Linden: [Book club member] Ronin Arnaz asks, "Why did Cory make the characters's names so ambiguous? Was it related to the geek trait of being bad at remembering names? And did the selection of when to use each name have anything to do with the character's state?"

Cory Doctorow: Well, there were a few reasons:

1. In science fiction/fantasy there's a tendency to make up awful, impossible-to-remember names, which means that readers shorthand for the names by remembering the first letter.
2. By establishing that their names were fluid and unfixed, it made it seem that they were not of this world, that the names were a badly-fitting garment donned solely to satisfy the needs of the rest of the world. The names' individual state were not really related to the emotional states of the characters.

HL: Related to that question, [Club member] Kurtz Lawson says: "I noticed that [the names are] in Alpha order. I wonder why he chose the particular letter groups."

CD: Well, that was at least a convenient way to keep them straight in my head. Plus I figured that it was the kind of utilitarian convention that a family that odd might employ. And it gave me the opportunity to play with things like naming Kurt and Krishna with the same initial letter, setting them up like rooks to the Kings.

HL: There's a point in the book where the family drama just sort of stops cold, and we spend all our time on this plan to cover Toronto in wireless Internet. Which is interesting in itself, but I remember sort of thinking, "Dude, what about the family crisis you were just having?!"

CD: Well, sure -- but that's the whole strategy of a braided story: take the reader to a point of tension and leave off, writing another thread to high tension, and leave off, taking another thread to high tension. The tension-- if this works-- becomes cumulative, and then the reader comes apart in pieces from the tension... If the writer is successful, the reader just might!

HL: I also read it as the hero's way of avoiding this family drama by throwing himself into his adopted family and their project, this high-tech project, which I think a lot of us in the Net world do.

CD: Well sure, that too-- plus he's really weird and his whole raison d'etre is being less weird, fitting in with the real world. It's why he left town in the first place.

HL: In this book and your last one, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, I'm struck by the earnest intimate quality of the male friendship, between the protagonist and his best friend. They're a lot more openly emotional than how they're usually portrayed.

CD: Huh -- well, I've been in some pretty intense emotional settings with my pals, I suppose. I started a company with two friends. I went to Costa Rica and lived in the jungle with a group of eleven other people, building schoolhouses, and we were very tight (they also saved my ass when I got typhus). And of course, with EFF, I have co-workers who are also comrades in a really serious, no-fooling struggle that involves a lot of Machiavellian shenanigans and high stakes.

HL: Having finished the novel, Ronin Arnaz wonders, "What happened to Davey and Brent?" (And avert your eyes, anyone, who doesn't want to know that part of the ending!)

CD: What happened to Davey and Brent is that Alan got away from them. For now.

HL: Does that suggest a sequel?

CD: Hmmm. It's always possible but so far I feel like there are so any worlds to invent and stories to tell that i'm not all that interested in returning to the old ones.

[Ronin Arnaz, from the audience: Part 2: The Mountain's REVENGE.]

CD: I'm working on two novels right now that are totally different and Charlie Stross and I have a gentlenerds' agreement to write a book and also finish the cycle of novellas we've been banging on. I'm retiring [from staff duties at EFF] to write full-time in March '06, so I might have more time then... Maybe I'll think about sequels.

Continued tomorrow...

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