Cory Doctorow
Tor, New York, USA, 2020 (2019)
304 pages
ISBN: 978-1-250-22925-0

Radicalized is a collection of four novellas written by Cory Doctorow. It explores a few issues that are quite relevant to contemporary life, such as digital rights management, police brutality, extremism facilitated by social media, and survivalism. Overall, the atmosphere is that of a dystopic world. As it tends to happen with books that collect short stories, the overall quality of each one of them is uneven. Personally, I found the second story, Model Minority, to be the weakest of them all. But perhaps that is due to the fact that I never especially cared for superheroes. I've always find them unrealistic, and stories based on superheroes just don't speak to me. As a matter of fact, the more perfect the superhero is (e.g., Superman), the less believable I find it, and the less I like it.

The first story, Unauthorized Bread, tells us the story of Salima, a refugee who signs up for an apartment at a housing project that hosts appliances controlled by a proprietary software that limits the tenants' freedom. It's a world dominated by digital right managements taken to its extreme. The world that people like Richard Stallman have been warning us about for decades. As such, it's quite believable, and even possible in the near future. Along the way, we learn a few fundamental concepts and ideas on the topic. Overall, I liked it.

Model Minority, the second story, follows American Eagle, a superhero resembling Superman who tries to take on racial profiling in the American police system. As I said above, to me it's the weakest of all four stories. But then, that could be due to the fact that I'm not African-American. Or, as mentioned above, it could be due to the fact that I've never been a big fan of superhero stories to begin with (and, in particular, the Superman archetype). Nevertheless, it may be a good introduction to the topic.

The third story, Radicalized, which gives title to the book, is about a man who, after his wife's cancer coverage was declined by a health insurer, becomes entangled in a discussion board with other people who suffered the same fate and, eventually, derives into a terrorist plot to target insurance companies and the politicians and lobbyists who support them.

Finally, Masque of the Red Death is about a wealthy financier who builds a bunker to survive societal collapse. The collapse does occur but, in spite of all his efforts, things don't go as planned. The lesson of the story, I think, is that while prepping for the collapse might be useful, the key is to rely on others and build strong social networks.

Unauthorized Bread

It was too crowded for much Q&A, but Abdirahim put his hand up anyway. She called on him: "Auntie, there's one thing I can't figure out."

"Only one?" She smiled and he smiled back.

"For now. When I bring a notepad to school, I can write anything I want on it. I don't ned to ask the company that made the pen or the store that sold me the notebook how I can use it. I can tear out the pages and make paper airplanes, or doodle, or copy down what the teacher says. When I put on a pair of shows, I can wear any socks I want. I can walk anywhere I want to go on my shoes. I can wipe myself with any sort of toilet paper—" That got a lauch. "But I can't toast any bread I want in my toaster."

She waited. He was struggling to find the words. "What's the question, Abdirahim?"

He shook his head, shrugged. "I guess I don't know. I just want to understand, how can it be against the law to choose your bread but not your socks? What makes a toaster different from shoes?"

(Cory Doctorow: Radicalized, pp. 52-53)

"A long time ago, in the last century, they made it a crime to" —he scrunched up his face as he struggled with an awkward, memorized phrase— "to 'circumvent an effective means of access control.' If there's a copyrighted thing, you know, a movie or whatever, and there's something else that controls access to it, you can't remove that control or do anything with it. Not even for a good reason. They can send you to jail for doing it, five years and a $500,000 fine! For a first offense!"

(Cory Doctorow: Radicalized, pp. 62-63)

"Look. I wanted to meet with you because there's something happening at Boulangism I thought you'd be interested in, but you can't talk about it because I'm not supposed to be telling anyone without a nondisclosure first. Is that OK? I mean, can I tell you and you'll keep it a secret?"

She nodded. "Of course."

"So, we were almost ready to relaunch and then the new owners bought two more of our competitors and folded us all together into a single platform. Now we're a lot bigger and they have all these plans, like, letting people buy jailbreaks by the day or the week, so they can cook anything they want. They've been watching the darknet boards, they know that everyone's been figuring out how to jailbreak their shit while we've been getting restarted, and they figure all those people could be customers, but instead of paying for food we sell them, they'd pay us to use food someone else sold them."

Salima almost laughed. It was a crime if she did it, a product if they sold it to her. Everything could be a product.

(Cory Doctorow: Radicalized, pp. 82-83)

She didn't say that she hadn't asked them to come over. "I just don't feel right about it. I understand your idea here, that you're selling us more freedom. But that's only because our appliances take away so much freedom to begin with, and then sell it bacl."

"But no one forced you to choose Boulangism. You chose a product that came with restrictions, and in return, you got a deal on your rent."

"Do you have a Boulangism toaster?"

"No, I don't."

"Why not?"

"It's not the choice we've made," the white guy said. "We chose a different deal. That's the great thin about freedom. We all get to choose the proposition that suits us best."

Salima managed a tight smile. "You keep talking about choosing. This is the only place I could get into, and it took months. How is that a choice?"

(Cory Doctorow: Radicalized, p. 95)

Model Minority

The American Eagle had sen a lot of man's inhumanity to man in various zones across the decades, had even had to clean up after one of the "good guys" had lost his shit and did something not so good. But this affected him differently. This hadn't happened on a battefield in the fog of war, this had happened in a little private parking lot in Staten Island in broad daylight, committed by a group of guys who could have stopped each other, but instead shouted "stop resisting" for the benefit of one another's body cams.

(Cory Doctorow: Radicalized, p. 121)

She smiled. "Well, that's the thing: predictive policing is why those cops beat the shit out of Wilbur Robinson. Companies are selling police forces software, 'artificial intelligence' that crunches through all the arrest data to the beginning of time and makes predictions about where crime is going to be. The argument is that the math doesn't lie and math isn't racist. Its recommendations are supposed to be empirical, neutral."

"Sounds like you don't believe that."

"No one with half a brain should believe it. All you have to do is think about it for ten seconds. All the data they feed this system to predict crimes comes from the cops, who are assumed to have some kind of bias, first because they're human and all humans have bias, and second because NYPD has a long history of getting caught in racial discrimination, which is why they're buying this stuff in the first place.

"Because cops only find crime where they look for it. If you make every Black person you see turn out their pockets, you will find every knife and every dime-baggie that any Black person carries, but that doesn't tell you anything about whether Black people are especially prone to carrying knives or drugs, especially when cops make quota by carrying around a little something to plant if need be.

"What's more, we know that Black people are more likely to be arrested for stuff that white people get a pass on, like 'blocking public sidewalks.' White guys who stop outside their buildings to have a smoke or just think about their workdays don't get told to move along, or get ticketed, or get searched. Black guys do. So any neighborhood with Black guys in it will look like it's got an epidemic of sidewalk-blocking, but it really has an epidemic of overpolicing.

"But now you take all those tickets and busts and you turn them into 'data,' which is treated as equivalent to 'crime statistics.' If the data says that an address in front of a housing project has an epidemic of 'blocking public sidewalks' and the same address has an epidemic of drug possession, these are proof that this is a crime hotspot, not proof that every Black guy who stops to wait for an Uber or chat with a neighbor gets stop-and-frisked, and then busted for petty weed possession because as soon as he is ordered to empty his pockets, his joint is in 'plain sight' and the cops can ticket him for it.

"Tell the computer to take all the data at face value and then ask it to predict where the crime is going to be and, no surprise, it will deduce with astounding machine insight that the cops will find weed if they ask everyone going in and out of that building to empty their pockets. Never mind that you'd find as much or more weed if you subjected everyone entering Trump Tower to the same treatment, because you don't have 'evidence' of the drug problem at Trump Tower —because heads would roll if chatting with your Fifth Avenue doorman about the ballgame got you ticketed and searched— and you have computer-verified proof that there's a drug problem south of the Mason-Dixon line.

(Cory Doctorow: Radicalized, pp. 142-144)


"Someone in that building made the decision to kill my little girl, and everyone else in that building went along with it. Not one of them is innocent, and not one of them is afraid. They're going to be afraid, after this. After today, every one of those people is going to spend the rest of their lives looking over their shoulders for a man like me. Ordinary looking. Harmless. A little sad, maybe.

"Because they must know in their hearts. Them, their lobbyists, the men in Congress who enabled them. They're parents. They know. Anyone who hurt their precious children, they'd hunt that person down like a dog. The only amazing thing about any of this is that no one has done it yet.

"I'm going to make a prediction right now, that even though I'm the first, I sure as hell will not be the last. There's more to come. To those fathers and husbands, mothers and wives, grandparents and lovers, the ones who'll come after me, I want to salute you. We are going to scare them, we're going to make them so scared that they will never get a night's sleep again. They will right this wrong, this stain on our country, not because they love your kids as much as you love your kids, but because we will scare them into it."

(Cory Doctorow: Radicalized, p. 207)

The Masque of the Red Death

It was just "gentrifying" but on a grand scale. Fuzzy-headed crybaby lefties thought that gentrifying was some kind of conspiracy to screw poor people, but it was just the market again. Location is an asset: if you happened to luck into a house that was a short drive from some place really important, a financial center, say, or a beautiful view, and all you did with that location was build a shitty little house you couldn't afford to maintain on that plot of land, then the market would solve the problem, and it would hook you up with someone smarter and better than you with the capital to pay you more for the house than you thought it was worth, and then they'd do something with it that made it worth even more. Lots more. That's what markets did: they moved fallow, underutilized assets out of the hands of the incompetent and moved them into the hands of their betters, who put those assets to work. Like a Monopoly player who couldn't figure out how to corner suited properties and build houses and hotels, the semi-employed, semi-employable dimbulbs who lucked into a prime piece of location would soon find themselves gently ushered to a place that was better matched with their worth to society and the human race.

(Cory Doctorow: Radicalized, pp. 250-251)

Entertainment: 6/10
Content: 6/10