Slow start, but overall a worthy read
Star Dragon tells the tale of a mission to discover an extraordinary life form, caught momentarily on film. The idea of a colossal "Star Dragon" has the crew seeking to discover more about an improbable creature in an inhospitable environment. And that part of the story is done rather well.
What is done less well is the futuristic vision of a world where genetic engineering is done as routinely as having your haircut, and where even basic furnishings are genetically modified creatures allowing personalised environment. It added an unnecessarily grotesqueness that detracted from the rest of the story. One could suspend disbelief in the case of the existence of Star Dragons, but I couldn't stretch it to near instantaneous genetic modification and sympathetic sofas.
It took me a while to get into this book. I think the whole "genetic modification at will for fashionable purposes" had something to do with it. But I'm glad I persevered.
This story of 4 space travellers with telekinetic abilities is underwhelming. Probably partly due to being a very dated look at the future, it hasn't aged as well as some contemporaries managed.
The 4 travellers - Clee, Belle, James and Lola are sent spaceward in an experimental spaceship that seemly materialises randomly at a destination. They bounce from destination to destination meeting humans at just about every stop, but also meeting guardians of the human race whose role it is to ensure breeding compatibility.
Eventually they realise they can control the space craft (telekinetically) and return to their home galaxy, where they decide that as psychically advanced beings they should give something back to the galaxy.
The characters are abominably two dimensional, and the plot simply wretched. The psychic abilities essentially give them a get out of jail free card at every juncture, thus removing any potential for tension.
It ends up like a handful of possibly reasonable plotlines tossed together and brewed in the worst possible way.
Imagine a world where government and society as we know it has gone. A place where money no longer exists - instead people trade in kudos, the amount of kudos someone has determining their status and influence. Imagine the dreams of open source communities and community driven projects (such as Mozilla or Wikipedia) stretching across society - where even businesses like Disney are taken over by adhoc communities running the park for the love of it (and the whuffie.) Where death is curable by simple backup.
Cory Doctorow invites the reader to explore such a world. Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is such a story. And as surreal as it may sound, he draws you in. Murder, revenge, underhanded deeds and tiredness with the world dominate this story.
It is at the same time lighthearted and a somewhat dark reflection on life and the human condition. Take the chance and read it, you might be surprised.
Look beyond the dates
This is a book set around the Y2k bug - which automatically dates it and makes it feel a tad embarrassing. But if you're able to look beyond that into a "what might have been" scenario there is a not too bad story underneath. Furthermore, although Y2k provides the setting, the real theme of the story (more about economics) is still relevant.
Macdonald writes well, able to draw the reader into the story as it unfolds. Worth a look.
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