Actual rating 3-3.5 stars, +0.5 Doctorow fangirl bonus added
Having re-read Little Brother a few months before starting Pirate Cinema and finding it just as enticing and engrossing as the first time around, this book had its competition cut out for it. I already felt sorry for the poor book!
It took me quite a while to get into this. Up until around page 150 I was undecided whether to read on at all, which was mostly due to the fact that I kept comparing >Pirate Cinema with Little Brother. All the similarities between the two novels notwithstanding, Pirate Cinema’s main protagonist, Trent McCauley (alias Cecil B. DeVil), is no Marcus Yallow. Marcus is a real, if reluctant, hero, someone who already knows a shitload of stuff and is able to forma coherent plan to act against those who are trying to oppress him and his peers. Much the same as Marcus, Trent is forced into an adventure by means of a faulty legislature, if not to say a corrupt government, that supports the rich and powerful with no regard for the effects the laws they’re passing will have on the majority of the people. Unlike Marcus, Trent is not a strong character at first. He runs away to avoid the consequences of his actions, which were simply thoughtless but considered criminal larceny by the law, even though he tries to justify his leaving as an attempt to protect his family from further recriminations.
Anyway, once the story’s pace increased, I enjoyed it immensely. I still had my qualms about Trent as the unlikely hero when every single one of the supporting characters seemed to be better prepared for the role, but as a coming-of-age story Pirate Cinema works quite well. The story is set in a very near, frighteningly real future London. The technical lingo is easy to follow even for someone like me who doesn’t know the first thing about video editing. I was never quite sure about the slang Doctorow uses here. It didn’t seem to come naturally, but I cannot possibly be a judge of that. It felt a bit forced, but the stiltedness was part of the alter egos Trent and his fellow squatters assumed, so what? It’s quite possible that I was supremely prejudiced and tried to find fault with Trent. Since he’s pretending to be someone else, this might have been intentional after all. I liked how he tried to become politically involved and empathised with his frustration as politics’ inner machinations revealed themselves.
I was again confronted with my distrustful nature. All the time I expected someone from the gang to betray the others for fear or profit or whatever, (view spoiler).
The question of what is art and whether or not legal boundaries apply to the creation of it is repeated almost ad nauseam. I do, of course, agree that there is no way to create someone truly original, because everything has already been done in one way or another, but that creatively recycling and rearranging ideas and concepts is just as worthwhile and can be considered art in its own right. Just look at all the memes that float around the internet. They mostly have no connection to the original films or videos they were taken from, or even reveal their meaning in juxtaposition to the original oeuvre and they are bloody brilliant. Is it art? Is it copyright infringement?
So, while not as mind-blowing and heart-stopping as Little Brother, I still believe that Pirate Cinema is worth a recommendation to those who like their own paranoia increased by being shown what Doctorow imagines the future will have in store for us. :)