the Little Red Reviewer

Pirate Cinema, by Cory Doctorow

Posted on: September 19, 2012

Pirate Cinema, by Cory Doctorow

published October, 2012

where I got it: borrowed ARC from a friend









Cory Doctorow is mean. he likes to hit his readers where it hurts, to show us where our world is going if we’re not careful. If China Mieville’s Railsea is a YA retelling of Moby Dick (complete with similar literary mannerisms), then Pirate Cinema is a YA introduction to political manifestos such as Atlas Shrugged (complete with speeches at the end).  This isn’t the first time I’ve compared Doctorow’s fiction to that of Ayn Rand, and if you know my history with Rand’s fiction, you know I mean that comparison as the highest compliment.

The story follows Trent McCauley, a British teen who does all the normal teen things, like hating school, being awkward around girls, and downloading tons and tons of video clips of his favorite actor, and mashing them up into new and funny videos, a la Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, and then uploading his vids for his fans and friends to watch.

Thanks to a new draconian law regarding copyright infringement, Trent’s family loses their internet access for one year due to his constant downloading of films and clips. His little sister can’t do her homework at home anymore and her grades plummet. His mother can’t get her prescriptions refilled online. His father loses his phone-bank job.  Trent’s family is ostracized by their being kicked off internet access. Full of shame, Trent runs away to London.

This may sound like it’s a story for an about people who remix videos and remix music, and if you’re not one of those folks it’s easy to think this politically charged story doesn’t apply to you. Ever recaptioned a photo or submitted something to Lolcats? Ever shared a deviantart image on Facebook simply because you liked it?  ever taken a photo you found online and photoshopped it into something you liked better, if only to show off your photoshop skills? If you’ve ever done any of those things, you’re in the same boat as Trent – you’ve shared someone else’s intellectual property,  changed it, made it into something new, and claimed that new thing as your own unique creation. And you’ve broken the law.  We’re all just as guilty as Trent, we just haven’t been caught yet.

Taken under the wing of a scientifically minded tramp named Jem, Trent is able to rebuild his laptop, squat in an abandoned pub, make new friends, and discover an underground London society of artists and copyfighters.  Thanks to his film mash-up skills, he’s quickly adopted into the higher ranks of the underground pirate cinema community, and through private message  boards and texts, people can find out where to meet to view the fan created mash up movies. Movies that don’t make any money, don’t hurt anyone, are golden PR for the actors involved, yet break every copyright law that ever existed.

The films are fun as hell, but the community has a political arm as well, one that canvasses the populace to visit the offices of their local MPs, make phone calls, write letters, and keep track of frivolous lawsuits brought on by the same corporations who lobbied for these draconian laws in the first place. If you’ve no clue about how British laws come into being, there’s some brilliant scenes in Pirate Cinema explaining the whole process in plain English.

As you may have expected, it’s not long before the Fuzz is on to the underground cinema community. Trent is already in enough trouble, how far is he going to push this? or should I say, how far is Doctorow going to take this?

I felt bad for Trent’s family during most of the book, as while he regains internet access (simply by opening a new account at a different address and under an assumed name), makes a name for himself as a new kind of filmmaker, and meets with local politicians, his family is still living without internet access.  It really had me thinking hard about my personal feelings on corporations being involved in lawmaking,  the punishments for breaking laws and working around those punishments, and how I feel about governmental authority in general.  That’s the point of books like this – to force the reader to use their brain and think about what is going on in the world around them.

Pirate Cinema functions perfectly well for what it is – a call to rise up against corporations who purchase politicians with the intent of getting pro-business laws put into place, a novel about what will really happen if these proposed draconian laws are passed, what copyright and creativity really means,  a how-to on creating Maker workarounds when the laws screw the people, how society is becoming more and more dependent on internet access, and a general listing of Doctorow’s political beliefs, and even a few plugs towards taking the occasional break from the internets we’re all so hopelessly addicted to.

Doctorow writing a politically charged novel about copyright and overbearing corporations  and governments  is nothing new, he did it brilliantly in  Makers and Little Brother.  But as a believable narrative, Pirate Cinema simply didn’t work as well for me as Doctorow’s previous novels. As challenging as Trent’s life was, he seemed to get everything he needed for the plot to continue (electronics, decent clothing, a place to live, food, etc) a little too easily. I had a surprisingly tough time getting into Pirate Cinema, and the heavy amount of British slang (granted, I read an ARC, perhaps some of this slang will be “Americanized” for the US?) had me scratching my head at times and I felt large parts of the middle of the novel dragged. Nearly everyone we meet has a  backstory that’s briefly touched on, which was great, but I was disappointed that we got so little detail on their backstories.   Also, Pirate Cinema failed my personal “Cory Doctorow book love” test – I didn’t cry at the end.  Yes, I know I’m picking nits, but these things bothered me.

I am most interested to see if Pirate Cinema is as successful as Doctorow’s Little Brother, a book that quickly became required reading in many high school government classes.  Like much of his other fiction, Pirate Cinema doesn’t shy away from foul language and adult situations. According to Amazon, this YA book is for teens ages 13 and up, but I’d say wait till your teen is old enough to appreciate a book filled with swearing, stealing, sex, and getting the shit kicked out of them by the system, and then standing tall and fighting back.

2 Responses to "Pirate Cinema, by Cory Doctorow"

Hmmm…this one is on the pile. Your review most definitely intrigues me!


Everything Cory Doctorow writes is covered in awesome sauce.


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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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