Wednesday, June 11, 2008


Apparently with Cory Doctorow, you either love him or you hate him.

Or maybe you don't know who he is (raise your hands out there). If you don't read Boing Boing, one of the biggest multi-author blogs on the web, or if you don't follow science fiction, you may never have run across him.

But for those who do, he inspires wildly disparate reactions. Mention him on the internet in a positive light, and watch the vitriol come out of the woodwork. Whole blogs are powered by animus toward his love of Disneyana, his dedicated self-promotion, his steampunk obsession, his copyfighting free-information advocacy. My good friend Adam Villani, on the whole a positive, easy-going guy, has been known to devote posts to how mad Cory makes him.

Today the A.V. Club ran Tasha's long interview with Doctorow (not related to E.L. Doctorow as far as the Ragtime author knows, by the way), and in an effort to pre-emptively calm the storm, Tasha posted about how pleasant and knowledgable he was, and how much she liked his latest book Little Brother (although she's been lukewarm on some of his past novels). Her comment probably deflected some of the more hateful insults, but nevertheless the discussion became a referendum on Cory's "internet persona" and writing talent (or lack thereof).

For the record, while I find Doctorow's particular hobbyhorses occasionally tiresome, I share his optimism about technology sparking creativity and revitalizing traditional media, and his dread of government and corporate co-option of technology for surveillance and unreasonable search-and-seizure. I'm not a Disney or steampunk fanatic, but I enjoy some of the links he highlights on Boing Boing related to those topics -- and those I don't are easily skipped over.

Likewise, Boing Boing helpfully thumbtacks the cover art to Cory's books onto every post he makes about his readings or con appearances or the like, and I skim right by them in Google Reader with hardly a break in my consumption of Boing Boing's other "wonderful things."

I understand why he rubs a lot of people the wrong way, I think. He's an enthusiast and he's highly visible, and unlike his fellow Boing Boingers he seems to encase every link he throws up in a Jello mold of his own personality. That kind of idiosyncratic filter can make him come off as a person who is mystified by other interests and dissenting views. But he's never bothered me. And after reading his interview -- which probably represents him better than the brief screenbytes in which his "internet persona" is commonly displayed -- I find him a far more congenial thinker than I had previously imagined, even with all our shared perspectives. It certainly makes me want to read Little Brother.

1 comment:

Adam Villani said...

You can actually see more anti-Doctorow posts on my website if you do a search on "Doctorow" on my blog. A few points on Cory:

1. He seems much less annoying in the interview than he does in blogs.

2. My caveat with Cory is that I greatly admire the work he's done on freedom-of-speech and privacy issues.

3. That being said, his posts on Boing Boing are just super-annoying. He seems to never be mildly amused by anything; it's always OMG THIS IS THE MOST MIND-BLOWING AMAZING THING EVER! He's like the boy who cried wolf. And he posts so much about his personal obsessions -- Disney, steampunk, Katamari Damacy, anybody who ever customized anything anywhere, that it seems less like he's employing any kind of discernment or taste, and more like he's just a person with easy buttons to press. You don't have to come up with something really original that's steampunk; it just seems that *anything* steampunk will make it onto the blog. Plus, he reminds me of all the worst elements of geekiness that I remember from college... the obsession with a limited number of subjects and a dismissal of anything outside those interests.