Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town
by Cory Doctorow
Review by Christine Fisher
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 0765312786
Date: 01 July, 2005 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
In Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town, Cory Doctorow weaves a thread of cyberpunk into an urban fantasy yarn.
Alan, ex-resale-and-antique-shop owner and son of a mountain and a washing machine, has just completed renovating his newly bought house in present-time Toronto. While arranging his computer room and vast unread book collection ("What's the point of a houseful of books you've already read?") in preparation for writing a book, his careful integration into normal human society is disturbed when some of his next-door neighbors prove similarly "other". Recollections of his family's past oddities and tragedies mingle with the frantically delivered news that one of his brothers, who include a set of Russian dolls, an island, a seer, and a dead boy, are missing. Further delaying Alan's initial plan to write, a chance coffee shop meeting with a disestablishmentarian punk dumpster-diver involves him in an attempt to provide free internet access to the Toronto Market neighborhood using hardware scooped from garbage and retooled.
Alan's interesting family history, told in a series of flashbacks, merits its own story. The plot to provide free internet service to the Toronto Market area, and ultimately the entire Toronto Metropolitan area, seems only loosely integrated with the more engaging plotlines. Non-cyber-culture readers don't have to understand the few technical explanations (more analogies, really) in order to follow the story, but cyber-culture fans might be disappointed if they're expecting lots of jargon or tense hacking scenes. No real antagonist emerges for the cyber plotline by the end of the book, part of Doctorow's overall philosophical viewpoint that will be familiar to modern cyberpunk fans but will most likely irritate golden age science fiction fans.
The plotlines are introduced in stages and develop slowly, with most of the reading time spent on daily matters rather than advancing the plot. The childhood flashbacks are a notable exception, although the intervening spaces provide mood and internal musings. Doctorow also employs several stylistic devices that could have added to the Sandman-like ambiance if they had been used consistently. For example, the main character is referred to by many different names starting with the letter "A" in both the narrative and the dialog. This could have been interesting, but its sudden reoccurrence after long gaps breaks the reader out of story. Personally, I found it confusing in conversations between Alan and unnamed characters. His brothers' names follow a similar convention.
Ultimately, Doctorow builds an interesting world whose characters deserved a more cohesive plot to support their charm.