Canadian writer chooses district for tech novel

Cory Doctorow

Cory Doctorow

First published in News Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Photograph of the Author by , Assistant Editor (Content)

A New York Times-bestselling author, who is at the cutting edge of the digital revolution, has had his latest book published... and its hero is from Bradford.

Canadian Cory Doctorow – now a British citizen after living in London for nine years – is the author of the award-winning novels for young adults Little Brother and For the Win, which both deal with near-future situations in which the protagonists are fighting against technological clampdowns on their freedoms.

Little Brother, which has been optioned for a movie, is about a crackdown on civil liberties in the wake of a terrorist attack on San Francisco, while For the Win tackles workers’ rights in the online gaming industry.

But while his latest novel, Pirate Cinema, explores similar ground – it is about what would happen if a law was passed removing internet access from whole families for transgressions such as illegal downloading – he has shifted away from the Stateside focus to set his book in a Bradford in the not-too-distant future.

The main character, Trent McAuley, lives on a council estate in Bradford and has a hobby of downloading clips of movies from the internet and mashing them up to create mini-films for his own enjoyment.

But one day the police knock on his door and inform the family that they are banned from the net for a year.

Mr Doctorow says he didn’t just pluck Bradford out of a hat – he’s visited the city several times and spent some time here in 2009 when the big UK science fiction convention, Eastercon, was held in the city.

Eastercon comes again to Bradford next year, and Doctorow is hoping to attend. But he also decided on Bradford because the city was mentioned in a report written by a web entrepreneur for PriceWaterhouseCoopers in 2009 on digital inclusion, and how some communities – especially in post-industrial northern cities – were at risk from lack of web access.

He said: “The conclusion of the research was about the impact on certain communities in terms of not only their freedom of speech but also employment, education, access to health.

"When I read that I knew I wanted to write about that and that I wanted it to be set in Bradford.”

Doctorow sets Trent off on a journey from Bradford to London where he falls in with a collective of disparate individuals who come together to fight the draconian web access laws. Like the situations in his previous novels, the set-up of Pirate Cinema is frighteningly plausible, but Doctorow insists his books are science fiction.
He said: “They are stories about how technology changes society and the people in it.”

He is hopeful he’s got the dialect and local Bradford slang right – he had help from his British wife Alice Taylor and her Yorkshire-born business partner.

At least one American reviewer scratched his head at some of the phrases (quoting as an example the line “put the kettle on and load up a tray with biccies and cups and that”) so it sounds like he’s hit the right note.

Pirate Cinema has just been published in the US by Tor Books, and while the edition is available here via online retailers and High Street chains, a publication with a UK company is lined up for next year.

EXTRACT FROM PIRATE CINEMA by CORY DOCTOROW (Tor books)

I was sixteen. I didn’t have the words to explain why I’d downloaded and kept downloading. Why making the film that was in my head was such an all-consuming obsession. I’d read stories of the great directors—Hitchcock, Lucas, Smith—and how they worked their arses off, ruined their health, ruined their family lives, just to get that film out of their head and onto the screen. In my mind, I was one of them, someone who had to get this bloody film out of my skull, like, I was filled with holy fire and it would burn me up if I didn’t send it somewhere.

That had all seemed proper noble and exciting and heroic right up to the point that the fake copper turned up at the flat and took away my family’s Internet and ruined our lives. After that, it seemed like a stupid, childish, selfish whim.


I didn’t come home that night. I sulked around the estate, half-hoping that Mum and Dad would come find me, half-hoping they wouldn’t. I couldn’t stand the thought of facing them again. First I went and sat under the slide in the playground, where it was all stubs from spliffs and dried-out, crumbly dog turds. Then it got cold, so I went to the community center and paid my pound to get in and hid out in the back of the room, watching kids play snooker and table tennis with unseeing eyes. When they shut that down for the night, I tried to get into a couple of pubs, the kind of all-night places where they weren’t so picky about checking ID, but they weren’t keen on having obviously underage kids taking up valuable space and not ordering things, and so I ended up wandering the streets of Bradford, the ring-road where the wasted boys and girls howled at one another in a grim parody of merriment, swilling alco-pops and getting into pointless, sloppy fights.

I’d spent my whole life in Bradford, and in broad daylight I felt like the whole city was my manor, no corner of it I didn’t know, but in the yellow streetlight and sickly moonglow, I felt like an utter stranger. A scared and very small and defenseless stranger.

In the end, I curled up on a bench in Peel Park, hidden under a rattly newspaper, and slept for what felt like ten seconds before a PCSO woke me up with a rough shake and a bright light in my eyes and sent me back to wander the streets. It was coming on dawn then, and I had a deep chill in my bones, and a drip of snot that replaced itself on the tip of my nose every time I wiped it off on my sleeve. I felt like a proper ruin and misery-guts when I finally dragged my arse back home, stuck my key in the lock, and waited for the estate’s ancient and cantankerous network to let me into our house.

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