Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town
|1 July 2005|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback) & e-book|
|Pages||320 pp (Hardback edition) & 320 pp (Paperback edition)|
|ISBN||ISBN 0-7653-1278-6 (Hardback edition) & ISBN 0-7653-1280-8 (Paperback edition)|
|LC Class||PS3604.O27 S67 2005|
Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town is a contemporary fantasy novel by Canadian author Cory Doctorow. It was published in June 2005, concurrently released on the Internet under a Creative Commons license, free for download in several formats including ASCII and PDF. It is Doctorow's third novel.
The novel was chosen to launch the Sci Fi Channel's book club, Sci Fi Essentials (now defunct).
The story mainly takes place in two Ontario locales. In flashbacks, the main character, usually but not always called Alan (he appears to have been alphabetized rather than named, and will answer to any masculine name beginning with A), and his brothers (also alphabetized) grow up outside of the remote town of Kapuskasing. The novel opens with Alan's purchase of a home in the Kensington Market neighborhood of modern-day Toronto.
There are two main plotlines. Alan befriends Kurt, a thirtysomething punk who operates a dumpster-diving operation. Kurt uses computer components that he retrieves from the trash and turns them into functioning Wi-Fi access points. Kurt's goal is to blanket the entire neighborhood with free and secure Internet access by attaching his access points to buildings with the permission of their owners. Kurt's plan doesn't really get off the ground until he forms a partnership with Alan, who puts a more professional face on the operation and sweet-talks many local owners into allowing the access points to use their space and a small amount of their electricity.
The second plotline features fantasy elements. Unbeknownst to most of the other characters, Alan and his brothers are not quite human. Their father is a mountain and their mother is a washing machine. Alan's eldest brother can see the future, his second-eldest is an island, his younger brother is undead, and his three youngest brothers are a set of Russian nesting dolls. Alan is the most normal-seeming of his family. Outwardly, he looks human, but he heals at an incredible rate, and if part of him is cut off, it will grow back, and the cut off part can be made to form a new copy of him, much like an earthworm does.
Another plot strand concerns Alan's neighbors, a household of students and artists which includes Mimi, a troubled young woman who like Alan is not quite human. Born with wings on her back and no family history, she lives with her abusive boyfriend Krishna, a musician/bartender who can spot beings like Alan and his family, and hates them. Krishna amputates Mimi's wings every three months; she stays with him because she believes he's the only one willing and able to make her "normal."
Alan, the main character, is called by several names that start with "A", such as Adam and Abby. His brothers' names follow the same pattern, from "B" through "G" for the seventh and youngest brother. No name is given for their parents other than "mother" and "father". Alan is largely known as "Alan" in the narrator's voice, though rarely in any character's voice. Only in a few places does the narrator call Alan by another name.
Alan's neighbors' first names also follow an alphabetic sequence: Krishna, Link, Mimi, and Natalie. Mimi is merely a name that she is called, described as being "as good as any other". There are repeat uses of some of these letters, namely Kurt, Lyman, and Marci. (An O and a P name are also briefly mentioned).
There are also six anarchists collectively known as Waldo.
Almost everyone is known by their first name only. A good number of people are nameless, described by some physical characteristic instead. This could be an indication of the relative namelessness found in modern communication, or it could be an indication of how flimsy one's identity really is in society. Few people respond to the shifting names in any way, indicative that it is not abnormal for the world in which the novel is set. Thus it is much less the name, but the characteristics of a person that is being referred to in the novel.
Literary significance and criticism
This novel reverses many of the conventions of the cyberpunk genre. With the exception of a brief story written by the main character, it takes place wholly in a "real" world (albeit a strange one) instead of involving a complex digital simulation. The characters that would be most associated with the "punks" are older guys who are well aware of their age and show a strong emotional side instead of being younger, detached, and augmented. (It stands to note that the "standard" mohawk does appear on at least one character's head.) Some of the ones closest to the "hacking scheme" are even part of the iconic big business that would normally be a threat in a similar setting. Rather than hacking tons of code in elaborate, secretive plans, the characters use dumpster diving to piece together technology that is free to all. They are open about what they are doing, actively seeking assistance from whatever source. The rebellious youth of the novel often scorn computer technology or work on the project without knowing what they are doing. Anarchists shun helping Alan and Kurt, while big business delights in it.
The novel An Evil Guest by Gene Wolfe makes reference to Alan's father (the mountain). From the chapter titled The Magic Mountain and Beyond: "It is alive and sentient. It can speak, though it rarely does. It has a wife who lives in one of its many caves. She is – a laundress." In Wolfe's story the mountain imbues one of the characters, a struggling actress, with intangible star quality.
- Gene Wolfe, An Evil Guest, 2008, A Tom Doherty Associates Book.
- Official Site for the novel, on Doctorow's site