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Book Review

Book Cover

Pirate Cinema


Author: Cory Doctorow
Publisher: Titan Books
RRP: £7.99, US $9.99
ISBN: 978 1 781167 465
Publication Date: 14 June 2013

Trent McCauley was having an average day, pirating film clips to make his masterpiece, when the police turn up and cut off the family’s internet. No internet means no benefit payments, no work and no study. With the weight of his families guilt on his back Trent flees to London, where the streets are certainly not paved with gold. Having most of his belongings stolen within a day Trent has the good fortune to meet Jem, who teaches him the art of living on the mean streets...

Pirate Cinema is a dystopian novel by Cory Doctorow. The book is named after the movement which has sprung up, recently, in over a dozen cities, involving squatting and the illegal showing of movies, breaking copyright laws. It is appropriate then that Doctorow has taken this as his theme, most of his books have been interested in technology in one way or another.

Pirate Cinema does ask the reader to take a leap of faith; Trent seems to find it ridiculously easy to meet the right people who will not only help him survive on the streets, but also to thrive, as he continues his quest to finish his film.

The first person he meets is a latter-day Artful Dodger, who even has a hint of the Dodger's speech patterns. Through Jem, Trent is introduced to a whole world hidden beneath London. Not that London is doing well, the street are full of the disposed, either economically or through mental health. Also through Jem, Trent acquires a squat, although this doesn’t last long as eventually the police raid the place, landing Trent straight back to the start of his journey, but this time with the skills to rebuild.

The characters that Trent meets are so engaging and smart that I honestly was waiting for the jolly musical number to start, with urchins swirling through the street bemoaning their lot, with mile wide smiles. He never really meets a threat on the street, everyone appears to share his outlook on life, and even the drug dealers turn out to be a friendly bunch. Trent as a character is an odd combination of driven video editor; desperate to finish his latest work, but without the moral centre to admit to himself that he is doing it off the backs of other artists by stealing their work.

The moral of the book appears to be that all copyright is an abomination and that content is controlled by big companies and governments, purely for the sake of repressing their populations. It may seem to be an odd way of thinking for an author, dependant of people not stealing his work to make a living. But then Doctorow is as good as his word and you don’t actually have to purchase this book to read the story, he has posted the whole thing on line, a man of principle indeed.

Whilst I enjoyed the story, the characters remained the weak element, with the technical elements of the story being much the stronger of the two. The issues around copyright are distinctly one sided, which is odd in an age where there are those who feel that everything should be free and available, a grand old idea, but if we all steal content and no one pays for it where is the money going to come from for more content.

In the end it felt like the novel was a political statement wrapped in a slightly unbelievable story.


Charles Packer

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