From the New York Times bestselling author of Little Brother Cory Doctorow comes Pirate Cinema, a new tale of a brilliant hacker runaway who finds himself standing up to tyranny.
Trent McCauley is sixteen, brilliant, and obsessed with one thing: making movies on his computer by reassembling footage from popular films he downloads from the Net. In the dystopian near-future Britain where Trent is growing up, this is more illegal than ever; the punishment for being caught three times is that your entire household's access to the Internet is cut off for a year, with no appeal.
Trent's too clever for that to happen. Except it does, and it nearly destroys his family. Shamed and shattered, Trent runs away to London, where he slowly learns the ways of staying alive on the streets. This brings him in touch with a demimonde of artists and activists who are trying to fight a new bill that will criminalize even more harmless internet creativity, making felons of millions of British citizens at a single stroke.
Things look bad. Parliament is subject to the demands of a few wealthy media conglomerates. But the powers-that-be haven't entirely reckoned with the power of a gripping movie to change people's minds....
About the Author
Cory Doctorow is a co-editor of Boing Boing and a columnist for multiple publications including the Guardian, Locus, and Publishers Weekly. He was named one of the Web's twenty-five influencers by Forbes magazine and a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. His award-winning YA novel Little Brother was a New York Times bestseller. Born and raised in Canada, he currently lives in London.
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By Cory Doctorow, Patrick Nielsen Hayden
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2012 Cory Doctorow
All rights reserved.
ALONE NO MORE/THE JAMMIE DODGERS/POSH DIGS/ABSTRACTION OF ELECTRICITY
My "adventure" wasn't much fun after that. I was smart enough to find a shelter for runaways run by a church in Shoreditch, and I checked myself in that night, lying and saying I was eighteen. I was worried that they'd send me home if I said I was sixteen. I'm pretty sure the old dear behind the counter knew that I was lying, but she didn't seem to mind. She had a strong Yorkshire accent that managed to be stern and affectionate at the same time.
My bedfellows in the shelter — all boys, girls were kept in a separate place — ranged from terrifying to terrified. Some were proper hard men, all gangster talk about knives and beatings and that. Some were even younger looking than me, with haunted eyes and quick flinches whenever anyone spoke too loud. We slept eight to a room, in bunk beds that were barely wide enough to contain my skinny shoulders, and the next day, another old dear let me pick out some clothes and a backpack from mountains of donated stuff. The clothes were actually pretty good. Better, in fact, than the clothes I'd arrived in London wearing; Bradford was a good five years behind the bleeding edge of fashion you saw on the streets of Shoreditch, so these last-year's castoffs were smarter than anything I'd ever owned.
They fed me a tasteless but filling breakfast of oatmeal and greasy bacon that sat in my stomach like a rock after they kicked me out into the streets. It was 8:00 A.M. and everyone was marching for the tube to go to work, or queuing up for the buses, and it seemed like I was the only one with nowhere to go. I still had about forty pounds in my pocket, but that wouldn't go very far in the posh coffee bars of Shoreditch, where even a black coffee cost three quid. And I didn't have a laptop anymore (every time I thought of my lost video, never to be uploaded to a YouTube, gone forever, my heart cramped up in my chest).
I watched the people streaming down into Old Street Station, clattering down the stairs, dodging the men trying to hand them free newspapers (I got one of each to read later), and stepping around the tramps who rattled their cups at them, striving to puncture the goggled, headphoned solitude and impinge upon their consciousness. They were largely unsuccessful.
I thought dismally that I would probably have to join them soon. I had never had a real job and I didn't think the nice people with the posh film companies in Soho were looking to hire a plucky, underage video editor with a thick northern accent and someone else's clothes on his back. How the bloody hell did all those tramps earn a living? Hundreds of people had gone by and not a one of them had given a penny, as far as I could tell.
Then, without warning, they scattered, melting into the crowds and vanishing into the streets. A moment later, a flock of Community Support Police Officers in bright yellow high-visibility vests swaggered out of each of the station's exits, each swiveling slowly so that the cameras around their bodies got a good look at the street.
I sighed and slumped. Begging was hard enough to contemplate. But begging and being on the run from the cops all the time? It was too miserable to even think about.
The PCSOs disappeared into the distance, ducking into the Starbucks or getting on buses, and the tramps trickled back from their hidey holes. A new lad stationed himself at the bottom of the stairwell where I was standing, a huge grin plastered on his face, framed by a three-day beard that was somehow rakish instead of sad. He had a sign drawn on a large sheet of white cardboard, with several things glued or duct-taped to it: a box of Kleenex, a pump-handled hand-sanitizer, a tray of breath-mints with a little single-serving lever that dropped one into your hand. Above them was written, in big, friendly graffiti letters, FREE TISSUE/SANITIZER/MINTS — HELP THE HOMELESS — FANKS, GUV!, and next to that, a cup that rattled from all the pound coins in it.
As commuters pelted out of the station and headed for the stairs, they'd stop and read his sign, laugh, drop a pound in his cup, take a squirt of sanitizer or a Kleenex or a mint (he'd urge them to do it; it seemed they were in danger of passing by without helping themselves), laugh again, and head upstairs.
I thought I was being subtle and nearly invisible, skulking at the top of the stairwell and watching, but at the next break in the commuter traffic, he looked square at me and gave me a "Come here" gesture. Caught, I made my way to him. He stuck his hand out.
"Jem Dodger," he said. "Gentleman of leisure and lover of fine food and laughter. Pleased to make your acquaintance, guv." He said it in a broad, comic cockney accent and even tugged at an invisible cap brim as he said it. I laughed.
"Trent McCauley," I said. I tried to think of something as cool as "gentleman of leisure" to add, but all I came up with was "Cinema aficionado and inveterate pirate," which sounded a lot better in my head than it did in the London air, but he smiled back at me.
"Trent," he said. "Saw you at the shelter last night. Let me guess. First night, yeah?"
"In the shelter? Yeah."
"In the world, son. Forgive me for saying so, but you have the look of someone who's just got off a bus from the arse-end of East Shitshire with a hat full of dreams, a pocketful of hope, and a head full of grape jelly. Have I got that right?"
I felt a little jet of resentment, but I had to concede the point. "Technically I've been here for two days," I said. "Last night was my first night in the shelter."
He winked. "Spent the first night wandering the glittering streets of London, didn't ya?"
I shook my head. "You certainly seem to know a lot about me."
"Mate," he said, and he lost the cockney accent and came across pure north, like he'd been raised on the next estate. "I am you. I was you, anyway. A few years ago. Now I'm the Jammie Dodger, Prince of the London Byways, Count of the Canalsides, Squire of the Squat, and so on and so on."
Another train had come in, and more people were coming out of the station. He shooed me off to one side and began his smiling come-ons to the new arrivals. A minute later, he'd collected another twelve quid and he waved me back over.
"Now, Master McCauley, you may be wondering why I called you over here."
I found his chirpy mode of speech impossible to resist, so I went with it. "Indeed I am, Mr. Dodger. Wondering that very thing, I was."
He nodded encouragement, pleased that I was going along with the wheeze. "Right. Well, you saw all the other sorry sods holding up signs in this station, I take it?"
"None of 'em is making a penny. None of 'em know how to make a penny. That's cos most of the people who end up here get here because something awful's gone wrong with them and they don't have the cunning and fortitude to roll with it. Mostly, people end up holding a sign and shaking a cup because someone's done them over terribly — raped them, beat them up, given them awful head-drugs — and they don't have the education, skills or sanity to work out how to do any better.
"Now, me, I'm here because I am a gentleman of leisure, as I believe I have informed you already. Whatever happened in my past, I was clever and quick and tricksy enough to deal with it. So when I landed up holding a sign in a tube station hoping for the average Londoner to open his wallet and his heart to buy me supper, I didn't just find any old sheet of brown cardboard box, scrawl a pathetic message on it, and hope for the best.
"No. I went out and bought all different kinds of cards — bright yellow, pink, blue, plain white — and tested each one. See?" He reached into the back pocket of his jeans and drew out a small, worn notebook. He opened it to the first page and stuck it under my nose. It was headed "Colors: (HELP THE HOMELESS)" and there were two columns running its length, one listing different colored cardboards, the other showing different amounts.
"Look at that, would you? See how poorly brown performs? It's the bottom of the barrel. People just don't want to open their wallets to a man holding a sign that looks like it was made out of an old cardboard box. You'd think they would, right? Appearance of deserving thrift an' all? But they don't. They like practically any color except brown. And the best one, well, it's good old white." He rattled his sign. "Lots of contrast, looks clean. I buy a new one every day down at the art supply shop in Shoreditch High Street. The punters like a man what takes pride in his sign."
Another tubeload of passengers came up, and he shooed me off again, making another twentysome pounds in just a few minutes. "Now, as to wording, just have a look." He showed me the subsequent pages of his book. Each had a different header: HOMELESS — HELP. HUNGRY — HELP. HELP THE HUNGRY. HELP THE HOMELESS. DESPERATE. DESPERATE — HELP. "What I noticed was, people really respond to a call for action. It's not enough to say, 'homeless, miserable, starving' and so on. You need to cap it off with a request of some kind, so they know what you're after. 'Help the Homeless' outperforms everything else I've tried. Simple, to the point."
He flipped more pages, and now I was looking at charts showing all the different things he'd given away with his signboard, and the combinations he'd tried. "You gave away liverwurst?" I stared at the page.
"Well, no," he said. "But I tried. Turns out no one wants to accept a cracker and liver-paste from a tramp in a tube station." He shrugged. "It wasn't a great idea. I ended up eating liverwurst for three days. But it didn't cost me much to try and fail. If you want to double your success rate, triple your failure rate. That's what I always say. And sometimes, you've just got to be crazy about it. Every time I go into a shop, I'm on the lookout for something else I can do. See this?" He held up a tiny screwdriver. "Eyeglass tightener. You wait until sunglasses season, I'm going to be minted. 'Free DIY Spectacle Repair. Help the Homeless.'"
"Why are you telling me all this?"
He shrugged again. "I tell anyone who'll listen, to be honest. Breaks my heart to see those poor sods going hungry. And you seemed like you were fresh off the boat, like you probably needed a little help."
"So you think I should go make a sign like yours?"
He nodded. "Why not? But this is just a way to get a little ready cash when I need it." He carefully rolled up the signboard, emptying his cup into his front pocket, which bulged from the serious weight of an unthinkable quantity of pound and two-pound coins. "Come on, I'll buy you a coffee."
He walked us past the Starbucks and up Old Street to Shoreditch High Street, then down a small alley, to a tiny espresso stand set in the doorway of an office building. The man who ran it was ancient, with arthritic, knobby fingers and knuckles like walnuts. He accepted two pound coins from Jem and set about making us two lattes, pulling the espresso shots from a tarnished machine that looked even older than he did. The espresso ran out of the basket and into the paper cup in a golden stream, and he frothed the milk with a kind of even, unconscious swirling gesture, then combined the two with a steady hand. He handed them to us, wordlessly, then shooed us off.
"Fyodor makes the best espresso in east London," Jem said, as he brought his cup to his lips and sipped. He closed his eyes for a second, then swallowed and opened them, wiping at the foam on his lip with the back of his hand. "Had his own shop years ago, went into retirement, got bored, set up that stand. Likes to keep his hand in. Practically no one knows about him. He's kind of a secret. So don't go telling all your mates, all right? Once Vice gets wind of that place, it'll be mobbed with awful Shoreditch fashion victims. I've seen it happen. Fyodor wouldn't be able to take it. It'd kill him. Promise me."
"I promise." I was really starting to enjoy his overblown, dramatic way of speaking. "On my life I doth swear it," I said. I didn't mention that the only coffee I'd ever drunk was Nescafé.
"You're overdoing it," he said. "You were doing okay until you got to 'doth.'"
"Noted," I said. Personally, I liked "doth."
"Here's the thing," he said. "Most of the poor bastards who end up on the street never really think it through. It's not a surprise, really. Like I said, people usually get here as the result of some awful trauma, and once they're on the road, it's hard to catch your breath and get some perspective. So nothing against them, but there's a smart way to be homeless and a dumb way. Do you want to learn about the smart way?"
I had a pang of suspicion just then. I didn't know this person. I hadn't even noticed him in the shelter (but then, I'd spent my time there trying not to inadvertently provoke any of the boys with eye contact, especially the ones talking about their knives and fights). Everything I knew about being homeless I'd learned from lurid Daily Mail cover stories about poor tramps and runaway kids who'd been cut up, fouled, and left in pieces in rubbish bins all over England.
One word kept going round my head: "Groomer." Supposedly, there was an army of groomers out there, men and women and even kids who tried to get vulnerable teens (like me, I suppose) to involve themselves with some dirty, ghastly pedophile scheme. These, too, featured prominently in the screaming headlines of the Daily Mail and the Sun, and we had an annual mandatory lecture on "network safety" that was all about these characters. I didn't really believe in them, of course. Trying to find random kids to abuse on the net made about as much sense as calling random phone numbers until you got a child of your preferred age and sex and asking if she or he wanted to come over and touch your monkey.
I'd pointed this out once in class, right after the teacher finished showing us a slide that showed that practically every kid that was abused was abused by a family member, a teacher or some other trusted adult. "Doesn't that slide mean that we should be spending all our time worrying about you, not some stranger on the net?" I'd got a week's detention.
But it's one thing to be brave and sensible in class; another thing to be ever-so-smart and brave as you're standing on a London street with less than thirty quid to your name, a runaway in a strange city with some smart-arse offering to show you the ropes.
"You're not going to cut me up and leave me in a lot of rubbish bins all over England are you?" I said.
He shook his head. "No, too messy. I'm more the cement-block-around-the-ankles-heave-ho-into-the-Thames sort. The eels'll skeltonize you inside of a month. I'll take your teeth so they can't do the dental records thing."
"I confess that I don't know what to say to that."
He slapped me on the shoulder. "Don't be daft, son. Look, I promise I won't take you inside any secluded potential murder sites. This is the Jammie Dodger's tour of London, admission free. It's better than the Ripper tour, better than one of them blue disk walking tours, better than a pub crawl. When you're done with the Jammie Dodger tour, you've got knowledge you can use. What say you, stout fellow?"
"You're overdoing it," I said. "You were doing okay until you got to 'stout fellow.'"
"It's a fair cop," he said. "Come on."
* * *
Our first stop was a Waitrose grocery store in the Barbican. It was a huge place, oozing poshness out into the street. Mums with high-tech push-chairs and well-preserved oldies cruised in and out, along with the occasional sharp-dressed man in a suit. Jem led me through the front door and told me to get a shopping cart. I did, noting that it had a working checkout screen on it — all the ones back home were perpetually broken.
As I pushed it over to him in the produce section, one of the security guards — cheap suit, bad hair, conspicuous earphone — detached himself from the wall and drifted over to us. He hung back short of actually approaching us, but made no secret of the fact that he was watching us. Jem didn't seem to mind. He walked us straight into the fruit section, where there were ranks of carefully groomed berries and succulent delights from around the world, the packages cleverly displaying each to its best effect. I'd never seen fruit like this: it was like hyper-fruit, like the fruit from films. The carton of blackberries didn't have a single squashed or otherwise odd-shaped one. The strawberries were so perfect they looked like they'd been cast from PVC.
Excerpted from Pirate Cinema by Cory Doctorow, Patrick Nielsen Hayden. Copyright © 2012 Cory Doctorow. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Reading Group Guide
ABOUT PIRATE CINEMA
Trent McCauley is sixteen, brilliant, and obsessed with one thing: making movies on his computer by reassembling footage from popular films he downloads from the net. In the dystopian near-future Britain where Trent is growing up, this is more illegal than ever; the punishment for being caught three times is that your entire household's access to the internet is cut off for a year, with no appeal.
Trent's too clever for that to happen. Except it does, and it nearly destroys his family. Shamed and shattered, Trent runs away to London, where he slowly learns how to stay alive on the streets. This brings him in touch with a demimonde of artists and activists who are trying to fight a new bill that will criminalize even more harmless internet creativity, making felons of millions of British citizens at a stroke.
Things look bad. Parliament is controlled by a few wealthy media conglomerates. But the powers-that-be haven't entirely reckoned with the power of a gripping movie to change people's minds....
ABOUT THIS GUIDE
The information, activities, and discussion questions which follow are intended to enhance your reading of Pirate Cinema. Please feel free to adapt these materials to suit your needs and interests.
Three topics frame the writing and research activities for this novel. It may be useful to explore some of the discussion questions before embarking on these projects.
I. LITERATURE AND LAW
A. From his descriptive chapter headings to his use of the name "Dodger," Doctorow's story pays homage to the nineteenth-century novel Oliver Twist and other works by Charles Dickens. Read the opening pages of Oliver Twist. Make a list of the ways in which Pirate Cinema evokes Dickensian images and themes. If you have read other Dickens works or additional chapters of Oliver Twist, feel free to reference them as well in your list.
B. Cory Doctorow is in favor of liberalized copyright laws and Creative Commons licensing. Go to the library or online to learn more about the Creative Commons organization. Write a 1-2 page outline describing the policies and programs of Creative Commons.
C. In the novel, Doctorow makes reference to a cheesy film franchise of which D'Artagnan's Blood Oath is the latest installment. Research a one-page essay answer to the question: Why might the author have chosen to reference the name D'Artagnan in this fictional film title?
D. As a writer, Cory Doctorow could be considered a 21st-century "muckraker." Research the history of the term and learn about another muckraker, such as Studs Terkel, Rachel Carson, Upton Sinclair, Ida Tarbell, or the team of Woodward and Bernstein. Create an informative poster about one of these writers. If desired, arrange several posters into a classroom display. Discuss how you see Doctorow fitting into this historical line of literary muckrakers.
II. "IT'S EVERYONE'S CULTURE" (PIRATE CINEMA, page 118)
A. In Chapter 3 of Pirate Cinema, 26 discusses the common ownership of culture. But what is "culture"? Write a one-paragraph definition of "culture" as you understand the word. Then find a dictionary definition and etymological history of the term. With classmates or friends, create a giant brainstorm list of words and ideas related to the concept of culture.
B. On page 161 of Pirate Cinema, Trent/Cecil describes one portion of his film as a "blur of actors" explaining that "Originality is just combining things that no one ever thought to combine before." (p. 161) Do you agree or disagree? Do you think there should be any details or caveats added to the sentence? Write a short essay answer or, better still, create a film, song, sculpture, or other creative work that represents your position on this statement.
C. On several occasions, Trent/Cecil acknowledges that input from others has improved his films or perhaps to put it another way, he cannot take complete credit for the works he creates. If creativity is simply "recombination" and originality is "new recombination," then can anyone credit himself or herself for creating a film, novel, or other artwork? Do artists have a right to make a living from their work--to charge those who use it in recombinations or reproductions? With friends or classmates, form a committee to write an Internet Usage and/or Copyright Law that you think would be best for your country. Use internet research, quotations from Pirate Cinema or other novels, legal books or other materials to support your project.
III. CREATIVITY AND COMPUTERS
A. When he begins his new life in London, Trent chooses a new name: Cecil B. DeVil. Go to the library or online to learn about the film director, Cecil B. DeMille, whose name is evoked in Trent's new one. In the character of Trent, write a journal entry describing how you came to choose this new name, what you know about the real artist who partly inspired it, what other associations you intended with the name, and what you hope people will remember about Cecil B. DeVil.
B. The squat in which Trent/Cecil and his friends live is named the Zeroday. Learn more about the technological term "zero-day attack." Then, in the character of Jem, Rabid Dog, or Chester, write a short monologue explaining why you are satisfied with the name Zeroday for your home.
C. In his Chapter 11 speech, Trent/Cecil says, "I think a law that protects creativity should protect all creativity, not just the kind of creativity that was successful fifty years ago." (p. 293) Do you think there is a difference in creativity between traditional films and Trent/Cecil's films, between musicians and deejays, between books and movies? Do you agree with Cora's statement that, online, "... copying is a feature, not a bug"? Discuss these questions with friends or classmates. Then, write your own speech about creative freedom to present to your class or community. In your speech, feel free to reference your family, friends, creative interests, and other personal experiences you have had.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. In what year or century do you envision Pirate Cinema taking place? Do you think people are as tied to the internet today as they are in Trent's era?
2. How does Trent meet Jem Dodger? What are some of the first lessons Jem teaches Trent about living in London? How does Trent feel about Jem's lifestyle?
3. Who is the second "Dodger" Trent meets? How does he help improve the squat? What is the significance of the squat's name? What contribution does Aziz make to Trent's new life?
4. What is Cynical April? What happens after Trent/Cecil's film is shown in the graveyard?
5. On page 110, 26 takes Jem to a meeting with "The sort of people who're worried that they'll get done over by the Theft of Intellectual property bill." Trent/Cecil observes that, "She said this as though I should know what it was, and I was too cool to admit that I had no idea, so I nodded my head sagely and made enthusiastic noises." Explain the bill 26 is working to defeat. Who are her compatriots? Is it important that, up until this point, Trent/Cecil was unaware of the political machinations that partly motivated his run to London? Why or why not?
6. Who encourages Trent/Cecil to call to his family? What realizations does Trent/Cecil have after talking to Cora? Compare Trent/Cecil's relationship to his family with 26's relationship to her mother, stepdad, and father, in terms of values, level of education, dreams, and politics.
7. How do 26, Cecil, Annika, and other characters react to the passage of the Theft of Intellectual Property Bill? What connection do they draw between the film industry and the passage of the bill? Who is Jimmy Preston and what is the significance of his arrest?
8. What is D'Artagnan's Blood Oath? Can you think of any real-life movie franchises that are similar to Trent/Cecil's discussion of Milady de Winter films? How does this new film opening inspire Trent/Cecil's first high-tech protest plan? Does the plan succeed or fail, and how?
9. What is "Sewer Cinema?" Compare it to several other large gatherings described in Pirate Cinema. Would you call these events primarily protests or creative celebrations, or might you suggest another descriptive term or phrase? Explain your answer.
10. On page 206, Trent/Cecil tells Jem, "... it's easy to define creativity: it's doing something that isn't obvious." Do you think this is a good definition? Why or why not? Later, Cora points out that it is sometimes difficult to be certain whom to credit with the invention of an art or genre, such as the mystery novel or motion picture. How might this observation affect your understanding of creativity?
11. After Trent/Cecil, too nervous to speak to the crowd, runs out of Annika's meeting at the Turkish diner, he discovers his friends have been arrested. What chain of events is set off by the arrests? What concerns does Trent/Cecil have about his absence from the event?
12. On how many counts are Trent/Cecil indicted? What instructions does Trent/Cecil's lawyer give him while he awaits his hearing? Is he able to comply with his lawyer's instructions?
13. Who is Katarina McGregor-Colford? What information does she share with Cecil? How does this motivate him?
14. What is Parliament Cinema? In what ways does this represent the climax of the novel and the protest? What is the outcome of Tip-Ex? How does the story end for Trent/Cecil? In what way is this ending a beginning?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I had great difficulty putting it down. I would describe the book a little but its so much greater than the sum of its parts. I would not do to it justice. Give it a shot.
At Cory Doctorow's website. Google it if you don't believe me.