Pluralistic: Serializing the opening of "The Lost Cause" (06 Oct 2023)

Today's links

A mockup of the hardcover for the Tor books edition of The Lost Cause.

Serializing the opening of "The Lost Cause" (permalink)

My next novel is The Lost Cause, a hopeful tale of the climate emergency, which comes out on November 14. Kim Stanley Robinson called it "an unforgettable vision of what could be":

I'm currently running a Kickstarter campaign to pre-sell the audiobook, which I produced and narrated myself (for complex and awful reasons, Amazon won't carry my audiobooks – see the Kickstarter campaign page for details). You can also pre-order the ebook and hardcovers, including signed and personalized copies:

For the next week or so, I'm going to be serializing the prologue of the book, which gets it off to quite a spicy start. Here's part one!

* * *

I thought that I was being so smart I signed up for the overnight pager duty for the solar array at Burroughs High. Solar arrays don’t do anything at night. Because it’s dark. They’re not lunar arrays.

Turns out I outsmarted myself.

My pager app went off at 1:58 a.m., making a sound that I hadn’t heard since the training session, GNAAP GNAAP GNAAP, with those low notes that loosened your bowels offset by high notes that tightened your sphincter. I slapped around my bed for my screen and found the lights and found my underwear and a tee and then the cargo pants I wore on work duty and blinked hard and rubbed my eyes until I could think clearly enough to confirm that I was dressed, had everything that I needed, and then double-­checked the pager app to make sure that I really, actually needed to go do something about the school’s solar array at, I checked, 2:07 a.m.

2:07 a.m.! Brooks, you really outsmarted yourself.

Gramps’s house had started out as a two bed/one bath, like most of the houses in Burbank, but it had been expanded with a weird addition at the back—­again, like most of the houses in Burbank—­giving it a third bedroom and a second bath. That was my room, and it had its own sliding door to the backyard, so I let myself out without waking Gramps.

It was warm enough that I didn’t need a jacket, which was good because I’d forgotten to put one on. Still, there was just enough of a nip in the air that I jogged a little to get my blood going. Burbank was quiet, just the sound of the wind in the big, mature trees that lined Fairview Street, a distant freight train whistle, a car zooming down Verdugo. My breath was louder than any of them. A dog barked at me and startled me as I turned onto Verdugo, streetlit and wide and empty, too.

Two minutes later, I was at Burroughs, using my student app to buzz myself into the school’s gate, then the side entrance, then the utility stairs, and then I jogged up the stairs. I was only supposed to get paged if the solar array had an error it couldn’t diagnose for itself, and that the manufacturer’s techs couldn’t diagnose from its camera feeds and other telemetry. Basically, never. Not at 2:00 a.m. 2:17 a.m. now. I wondered what the hell it could be. I opened the roof access door just in time to hear a glassy crashing sound, like a window breaking, and I froze.

Someone was on the roof with me. A person, glimpsed in the corner of my eye and then lost in the darkness. Too big to be a raccoon. A person. On the roof.

“Hello?” Gramps’s friends sometimes made fun of my voice. I’d hated how high-­pitched it was when I was a freshman and had dreamed of it getting deeper someday, but now I was a senior, weeks away from graduation, and I still got mistaken for a girl on gamer voice-­chats. I’d made my peace with it, except that I hadn’t entirely because I was not happy at all with how it squeaked out over that roof. “Hello?” I tried for deeper. “Someone there?” No one answered, so I took a step out onto the roof. Glass crunched under my feet. It was dark and it stayed dark when I slapped at the work-­lights switch next to the door—­they should have been tripped by the motion anyway. I found my flashlight and twisted it to wide beam and checked my feet. Smashed glass, all right, and when I swung the light around to the nearest solar bank, I saw that each panel had been methodically shattered. I took a step back toward the door, and the light beam swung up and caught the man.

He was wearing a head-­to-­toe suit—­a ghillie suit, Gramps’s friends called them—­and holding a short four-­pound sledgehammer with a handle and head painted in nonreflective black that swallowed my light beam. He was coming toward me. I reflexively hit the bodycam 911 emergency switch on my screen and it sounded its “Warning, bodycam recording” alert in a warm woman’s voice that I’d chosen for its nonthreatening tone. Mostly I bodycammed when I was having an argument with someone and the calm voice was a good balance between cooling things out and satisfying California’s two-­party consent rules for recording.

As he raised the hammer, I wished that I’d chosen the cop voice instead.

“Wait,” I said, taking a step back. The roof access door had closed behind me. “Please.”

“Shit,” the man said. He was using a voice-­shifter, either a separate unit or part of the ghillie suit. His voice was deep as a diesel engine. “Dammit, you’re just a kid.” He used the hand that wasn’t holding the hammer to flip up his nightscope goggles and peer at me. His eyes, visible in the ghillie suit’s slit, were bloodshot and wrinkled and blue. He squinted at my light and brandished the hammer. “Shit,” he said again. “Get that out of my eyes, dammit.”

“Sorry,” I squeaked, and lowered the beam, casting it around.

It seemed like 80 percent of the panels were ruined. Why had I said sorry? Force of habit. “Shit.” If he could say it, I could too.

“Shit. What the hell are you doing, man?”

“You’re recording this, kid?”

“Yes. Livestreaming.”

“Good, then I’ll explain. You just stay there and we won’t have a problem. I was gonna have to make a video when this was done, you’re just saving me the trouble.” He lowered the hammer and let it dangle. I thought about rushing him, but I’m not a fighter, and he was still holding the hammer. Same for turning and trying to get out the door before he could catch up with me.

“Kay, listen up. This world we’re in, it’s debased. America’s been rotted from the inside. First it was immigrants. You might think I’m a racist, but I’m not. It’s not immigrants I object to. It’s illegals. You want to come to America, you come in the front door, on the terms your gracious hosts here are offering. You don’t skip the line or break in through the window. That’s what a criminal does. You let in a criminal, let ’em become citizens, soon enough they’re voting for other criminals.

“You know just what I’m talking about, don’t kid yourself. The money we’re spending now? This Green New Deal? This Jobs Guarantee? These fuckin’ solar panels? Bill’s gonna come due on this. There’s no such thing as a free lunch. Chinese hoaxed us into believing in this climate garbage, then they got us to go into hock to them up to our eyeballs to buy their shiny crap, and then they’re gonna charge us interest, and our kids, and their kids, and their kids. Mortgaging their future? Shit, what future? They’re headed for debt bondage for eternity. Biblical. It’s Biblical.

“All this mumbo jumbo about ‘money users’ and ‘money creators’—­it’s just word games. There’s two kinds of people in this world, and it’s not ‘money users’ and ‘money creators’—­it’s ‘makers’ and ‘takers.’ The makers create all the wealth, the takers elect politicians who confiscate it and redistribute it.” “Redistribute” came out like another f-­bomb.

This was crazy, but it wasn’t unfamiliar. I’d heard versions of this conversation around Gramps’s place ever since I came to live with him, back when I was eight. More, I’d heard these specific words before. I pressed my recollections, tried to put a face to the words. All the faces in Gramps’s living room had a sameness, a whiteness, matching haircuts and the same Maga hats, faded and frayed. Who had said those words? I could bring the face to mind now, the rest of the face that went with those blue watery eyes peering out of the ghillie suit.

Now, the name. Mark. Not Mark. Mike. Mike! Mike, uh.

“Mike Kennedy?”

Hey look at this (permalink)

A Wayback Machine banner.

This day in history (permalink)

#20yrsago FCC releases number-portability guidelines

#15yrsago US Customs: Sketching an SUV makes you a copyright infringer

#15yrsago Canadian Conservative Party pledge to reintroduce the DMCA if elected

#15yrsago Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China — amazing memoir by American-born Chinese journalist

#10yrsago NSA freedom of information requests up 1000% post-Snowden

#10yrsago Harvard Business Review to universities: your subscription doesn’t include classroom use

#5yrsago Using “forensic architecture” to punch Greek Nazis…in court

#5yrsago Texas cops seize lawn-sign depicting GOP elephant as sexual predator

#1yrago "Don't spy on a privacy lab" (and other career advice for university provosts)

Colophon (permalink)

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Currently writing:

  • A Little Brother short story about DIY insulin PLANNING

  • Picks and Shovels, a Martin Hench noir thriller about the heroic era of the PC. FORTHCOMING TOR BOOKS JAN 2025

  • The Bezzle, a Martin Hench noir thriller novel about the prison-tech industry. FORTHCOMING TOR BOOKS FEB 2024

  • Vigilant, Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. FORTHCOMING ON TOR.COM

  • Moral Hazard, a short story for MIT Tech Review's 12 Tomorrows. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, ACCEPTED FOR PUBLICATION

  • Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. FORTHCOMING ON TOR.COM

Latest podcast: How To Think About Scraping
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Latest books:

Upcoming books:

  • The Lost Cause: a post-Green New Deal eco-topian novel about truth and reconciliation with white nationalist militias, Tor Books, November 2023

  • The Bezzle: a sequel to "Red Team Blues," about prison-tech and other grifts, Tor Books, February 2024

  • Picks and Shovels: a sequel to "Red Team Blues," about the heroic era of the PC, Tor Books, February 2025

  • Unauthorized Bread: a graphic novel adapted from my novella about refugees, toasters and DRM, FirstSecond, 2025

This work – excluding any serialized fiction – is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. That means you can use it any way you like, including commercially, provided that you attribute it to me, Cory Doctorow, and include a link to

Quotations and images are not included in this license; they are included either under a limitation or exception to copyright, or on the basis of a separate license. Please exercise caution.

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