This review was originally posted at Goodreads and imported here later with next to no spell/grammar checking.
I really like everything Cory has written and Radicalized is no exception.
It’s a collection of four novellas that are clearly a reflection of what’s been bothering the author in the last couple of years. They touch refugees, racism, terrorism and organisations.
The first story is a classic Doctorow with an aspect of technology (always-on DRM) extrapolated into a sinister dimension with a plucky hero using their ingenuity to get ahead of the bad guys.
Except the hero in this case is not a white geeky guy who’s been tinkering with computers before he could read. It is an Arabic woman, a war refugee whose parents died on their way to the US. And who had to learn tech because the company making her toaster went under and with it the server that authorised every piece of bread and the toasting itself.
The characters in this story are absolutely fantastic and feel like an evolution of Cory’s writing — the stakes are higher, the cast more diverse, facing issues not commonly described in the science-fiction genre.
It describes the joys and absolute frustrations of technology in a way only Cory can, but also it provides extremely biting conversations of these refugees when they meet privileged techies. And how the social dynamic of that situation completely changes when you’re not a young white nerd man, but a brown woman.
It is sharp, smart, harsh and absolutely brilliant.
The second story is about the Superman in all but name — the all-powerful alien hero is called American Eagle. Who one day realised that maybe, just maybe, he should fight racial prejudice and police brutality as well.
And how quickly can a national superhero turn into an incredibly dangerous alien with unclear intentions once he turns on the police.
Oh and the little that’s shown of "Lois Lane" in this story is absolutely brilliant.
The third one is really painful. A wife and a mother has a cancer and is denied the insurance coverage (all of these stories are set in the US) for the only treatment that has a decent chance to cure her.
The husband & father seeks support on an online forum for men who have lost their loved ones in the same way. And witnesses a new rise of terrorism — by middcle-class white dudes, aimed at the insurance companies responsible for (potentially) preventable deaths.
It is not a nice world. Not a nice story. It pits these horrific acts against the fact that these people are the only ones doing anything at all to effect change.
The fourth one is a post-apocalyptic story. Or I guess an apocalyptic one. A stock broker builds a well-stocked-up hide-out and invites some thirty acquaintances (including single attractive women because of course) to weather the collapse of the civilisation in a seemingly Randian paradise ("seemingly" because all my knowledge of Ayn Rand’s philosophy is second and third-hand). Ready to emerge victorious once the schmucks who did not have the foresight to hide in their fortresses rebuild.
It… does not go according to the plan.
This last story was the hardest one to read, because I strongly disliked all of the characters. I believe that was the intention, but it made it difficult for me to care. And I could not cheer at the foul fates that befell them because… I don’t really wish ill on anyone?
But all of these stories are strong and difficult. They needed to be told and ought to be heard. But still, while the first two are a bit lighter (number three and four are proper dark), they all put people in horrible situations and there is no happy ending. Not really. Because not even Superman will end police brutality and racism.
My one issue is that none of these stories had satisfactory endings. I suppose that’s part of the narrative here. But these are stories after all and even a bad or neutral ending can be given its proper time or be rushed. All the endings here seemed quite abrupt.
But let that not detract you from the excellent stories and one where you get to see rich arseholes suffer (if that’s your jam).