Pirate Cinema. Book Review

PCPIRATE CINEMA by Cory Doctorow

Titan, p/b, 384pp, £7.99

Reviewed by Martin Willoughby

This is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. Very well paced, excellent characterisation, and a near future world that’s built so beautifully you don’t even realise it.

Pirate Cinema is set in London at some point in the near future, a time when the internet is so ubiquitous you can’t do anything without it. One result of which is that being cut off from it causes the kind of hardship associated with poverty. Added into this mix are the large entertainment corporations who bribe, cajole and donate their way to influence over the government so they can get their way when it comes to copyright law. This is the background and the world.

What I found most enjoyable is that London I know hasn’t been changed beyond recognition, which is a fault that many writers make when writing about the near future. A Londoner myself, there’s nothing here that jarred or made me wince. I recognised the people, the places and the history of the place. Inertia is part of the human condition, you only have to look at any city to see how little actually changes over the course of a few decades to realise this. In short, it’s an excellent piece of world building as it’s the culture of government that’s changed from our time rather than the buildings or the people themselves.

The main character is a spotty, geeky nerd called Trent who loves to download films then play around with them, turning some turgid movies into comedy classics appreciated by other techy geeks. Then, due to his downloading, his family gets cut off from the internet for a year, his father loses his internet based job, his mother has to walk into the job centre and his sister falls behind with her schoolwork.

Trent runs away to London from his home in Bradford.

The story that follows shows Trent as he grows up into a spotty 17 year old, who becomes one of the main forces behind a group that seeks to change the law so that children aren’t given criminal records in order that a few rich men can get richer.

There is a political undertow to this book against the big entertainment companies, but it’s not so ham-fisted that it’s thrust into the reader’s face. It forms part of the background to the real story which is about Trent.

In London he meets another runaway called Jem who teaches him how to beg, help the homeless people who are mentally ill, scrounge from supermarket skips full of edible food, hunt out a good squat (An abandoned pub in London’s East End). He shows him how to survive on the edge of polite society without breaking the law…too much.

Although politicians don’t come out of this book too well (no surprise there), it’s not all black and white. As with all groups there are good people and bad people, and there is one politician who Trent and his new girlfriend deal with while they try to get the bad law removed. A well-rounded character, with faults and good points, but who’s part of the party machine.

For the techy types there’s Aziz, a man who knows his way around hardware and shows Trent how to circumvent the locks and blocks on anything. A spiv by leaning, the scenes with Aziz are a joy for all the tech-heads.

It’s rare that I come across a book I can wholeheartedly recommend, but this is one of them.