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Book Review: Pirate Cinema by Cory Doctorow

I’d thought he was angry, and he was, a bit, but when I looked into those eyes, I saw that what I had mistaken for anger was really terror.  He was even more scared that I was.  Scared that without the net, his job was gone.  Scared that without the net, Mum couldn’t sign on every week and get her benefits.  Without the net, my sister Cora wouldn’t be able to do her schoolwork.

“Trent,” he said, his chest heaving.  “Trent, what have you done?”  There were tears in his eyes.
I tried to find the words.  We all do it, I wanted to say.  You do it, I wanted to say.  I had to do it, I wanted to say.  But what came out, when I opened my mouth, was nothing.  Dad’s hands tightened on my arms and for a moment, I was sure he was going to beat the hell out of me, really beat me, like you saw some of the other dads do on the estate.  But then he let go of me and turned round and stormed out of the flat.  Mum stood in the door to my room, sagging hard against the door frame, eyes rimmed with red, mouth pulled down in sorrow and pain.  I opened my mouth again, but again, no words came out.
I was sixteen.  I didn’t have the words to explain why I’d downloaded and kept downloading.  Why making the film that was in my head was such an all-consuming obsession.  I’d read stories of the great directors — Hitchcock, Lucas, Smith — and how they worked their arses off, ruined their health, ruined their family lives, just to get that film out of their head and onto the screen.  In my mind, I was one of them, someone who had to get this bloody film out of my skull, like, I was filled with holy fire and would burn me up if I didn’t send it somewhere.
That had all seemed proper noble and exciting and heroic right up to the point that the fake copper turned up at the flat and took away my family’s Internet and ruined our lives.  After that, it seemed like a stupid, childish, selfish whim.  

Pirate Cinema is set in a futuristic science fiction dystopia that’s coming closer and closer to reality with each passing day, where pirating content off the Internet can get you in serious trouble.  The government is controlled by the large media corporations who keep pushing for tighter and tighter control of their “content” at the expense of creativity, art, and freedom.  Trent, a sixteen year old who HAS to get the movies out of his head, splices together pieces of films of his favorite actor to make mash-ups, and after two warnings gets his family’s Internet cut off for a year.  His dad loses his job, his mother with MS is in danger of losing her medications and benefits, and his brilliant sister will flunk school, because of him. Wracked with guilt, Trent takes off for London, and falls in with a band of his own kind:  artists and techno geeks who are determined to free the Internet for everyone’s use.

The language of the book can definitely take some readers a bit to get used to as it has English slang, but there is more than a passing nod to Oliver Twist in the characters Trent runs into during his first days in London, which is a blast.  There are a lot of current issues and discussion topics to be taken away from the book that would make it ideal for classroom and book club discussions.  I would definitely recommend it for higher level YA readers- I know that some teens would have problems with the language and technical aspects, while others would fall right in and be absorbed immediately.

SPOILERS BE HERE!  You have been warned 🙂

I really loved this book, and got into it completely.  It’s definitely a science fiction dystopia (heavy on the science, not the fantasy) but one that scarily you can see we’re on the road to; that is a hallmark of Doctorow’s books.  If you don’t believe me, check out Makers- 3D printers, anyone?  With the restrictions on library Internet filters, CIPA, the fallout from Napster, the current debates about whether you own ebooks you purchase, and other legislation that is constantly going through revisions and resurrections, I can certainly see a future like the one described in Pirate Cinema.  

Trent and his gang are gripping and realistic, fleshed out with quirks and personalities of their own that I personally want to know more about, and I love the throwbacks to Oliver Twist that are present.  There are twists and highs and lows with Jem and Aziz and the others that pull you from Trent’s story into theirs, but they complement and fill out Trent’s world so that you get a complete picture of what’s going on.  There’s a GLBT relationship (and talks about the abuse that happened to one of the lovers beforehand), the teens end up in jail at one point, and they are squatting and breaking rules and avoiding the law all over the place.

One thing that is of definite interest is that Trent is a little aimless until 26 comes along.  He’s content to float, and try and make more of his movies, but it’s not until 26 that he moves into the political arena.  The love interest between Trent and 26 (yes, her adopted name is 26) pulls Trent into politics and into a way to change things around, and the ending is realistic enough that you know that it’s not all peaches and roses. 
I can only hope that there is actually another book after Pirate Cinema, continuing Trent’s story, that the 1 on the spine is a hint of things to come.  Maybe this is wishful thinking on my part…or maybe not.

The Final Word:

Definitely good for your techie teens, and your higher reader teens- I have teens that I think would love it being that they are into the entire mash-up tech movement, but I don’t know that they would be able to read it for the level of language in it.  It’s definitely a higher Lexile level than some teens might be ready for, which is something to consider when recommending it, even if their interests run parallel with the book.

Karen’s Note: Pirate Cinema is nominated for a 2012 Cybils Award in the Teen Science Fiction/Fantasy category.  I read it this weekend and agree with Christie, it is a good book.  It feels so current day and relevant.  Recommended. 4 out of 5 stars.

Pirate Cinema by Cory Doctorow, published by Tor Teen.  ISBN: 978-0-7653-2908-0