Kirsten Reviews: Pirate Cinema by Cory Doctorow

, by Kt Clapsadl

Pirate Cinema by Cory Doctorow

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 too happen. Except it does, and it nearly destroys his family. Shamed and shattered, Trent runs away to London, where he slowly he 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 stroke.

Things look bad. Parliament is in power 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…

Anybody who has been to the movies might have ideas about how they could make it a little better. Trent McCauley, the protagonist of Pirate Cinema by Cory Doctorow takes it one step further. He’s become an expert at making his own movies by splicing together footage of his favorite actor. There’s a catch though, the film is copyrighted, and that makes his hobby illegal.

Trent could have gone on this way for a long time, but then it comes down on him, and the police inform his family that due to his illegal activities, they will lose their internet access for an entire year.

This has an immediate effect on his family; Trent’s sister can’t do research for school, his mother doesn’t have access to health care benefits, and his father can’t do his telecommuting for his job. Trent’s little hobby has made it difficult for the rest of his loved ones.

Instead of doing something conventional to fix the problem, Trent responds in a very adolescent way, and runs away from home. Instead of finding himself in a bad situation on the streets, for Trent, the streets of London are a bit of a Neverland. After only one night of roughing it on his own, he finds himself falling in with a bunch of fun, street smart, and snarky street people. Thanks to them, Trent is soon eating good food, living in an old pub, and are even careful about their drug use. To say this is an idealized image of homelessness is an understatement. The realities of living on the streets never intrudes in any way that would make Trent unhappy, and young readers will be left with the impression that if they can only run away from home, their lives will be similarly idyllic.

While Trent is learning to survive without his parents; one wonders why he would ever go back home if he has this sort of life to enjoy, the British government continues to enact increasingly strict copyright legislation. After all, that’s the point of this book, and the villain of this book is the restriction of information and copyright laws.

Trent’s girlfriend is well-written enough that it would be nice to see her in her own book, without her boyfriend tagging along, and hopefully the author writes some worthwhile adventure for her.

It’s clear, that the author frames the message he wants to communicate within a YA plot in order to engage younger readers, and motivate them to act. It would be more powerful if there were discussion about both sides of the issue, instead of presenting all people who break copyright law as artists, the lack of opposing perspective weakens the argument that all laws are evil.

For anyone not familiar with British slang, the language may take a little bit of time to get used to, but is a necessary aspect of setting the scene correctly. The problems I had with the story were the unbelievability of Trent’s street life, the fact that he and his friends are able to get away with things with virtually no consequences, and the inability of the author to trust that readers will understand the conflicts of copyright law. All of that aside, this is a story that may get people thinking about these issues in more detail. Hopefully the author will improve on the weaker elements in future books, making the world all the more interesting, and the stakes higher.

(Received a copy from the publisher)


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