Posted by: GravatarWon'tDeleteMyAccount | August 6, 2008

Cory Doctorow short story: “The Things that Make Me Weak and Strange Get Engineered Away”

I was going to post up a review of Kelly Link’s short story collection, Stranger Things Happen this coming Sunday, but that’s going to have to wait until next week. Instead, I’m posting up a review of just one story, and not one by Kelly Link. Not that I have a problem with her — I’m actually rather enjoying her book. However, my nym is involved in a community theatre production of Richard III this weekend (as opposed to my pseudonym — you won’t find the name Thom Eaves on any posters), so when I saw that had published online its first Creative-Commons licensed story, well. I had to, didn’t I?

So this blog, such as it is, is temporarily becoming a love-in for Cory Doctorow. And science fiction. Next week, I promise: no Doctorow, no sci-fi. Really.

So today: “The Things that Make Me Weak and Strange Get Engineered Away,” a short story by Cory Doctorow, in honour of the speedy progress of and reduced workloads for me during stressful times. Did I mention I’m the one playing Richard III? Right.




With his new short story “The Things that Make Me Weak and Strange Get Engineered Away,” Cory Doctorow is certainly on form again. While taking place in a creepily plausible “future” North American security state, where misfit geniuses end up in monasteries to crunch data all the way to enlightenment, the story is primarily about a man trying to fit into the world.

Having spent sixteen years cloistered in his ever-watchful community, the protagonist, Lawrence, has learned to quantify and analyze every single thing he and his fellow monks do: from eating to reading to sleeping. He’s learned to use the same scrutiny which, as a teen, he used to deride others, on himself, and by the act has found a kind of peace.

Lawrence, however much he has grown as a person, is unprepared for the world outside, and finds himself in no short order stumbling through a world in which, because of the lack of privacy and one-way flow of information (toward the ‘Securitat,’ never away) everyone is a criminal. I don’t want to give too much away, but suffice it to say that the reader follows along with Lawrence as he tries to surmount the ever-steeper learning curve without falling into (V for Vendetta reference) one of creepy Creedy’s black bags.

It’s social commentary along the lines that Doctorow has proven himself adept at following (drawing himself?), but it’s also a story about personal growth in and around the machines that change (and are changing) our world.

As a side note, one of my favourite moments in the story — I like the little details — is when Doctorow harkens back to Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town in the description he gives of Lawrence’s work at refinishing a set of stairs:

Once, he’d had the work-detail of re-staining those stairs, stripping the ancient wood, sanding it baby-skin smooth, applying ten coats of varnish, polishing it to a high gloss. The work had been incredible, painful and rewarding, and seeing the stairs still shining gave him a tangible sense of satisfaction.

Adam/Alan/Alvin/etc. goes through a similar process in Someone Comes to Town, and it makes me wonder if Doctorow finds some personal solace of his own in woodworking. But anyway.

Read the story; it’s up online now at It’s protected by, and shared under, a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 license.

Sunday August 17: Kelly Link: Stranger Things Happen

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