Review: Pirate Cinema by Cory Doctorow

13539171Title: Pirate Cinema

Author: Cory Doctorow

Rating: 4 star

Publisher: Tor Teen

Format: Hardcover


I have been meaning to read a book by Cory Doctorow and after catching him on a recent podcast episode of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy, I decided to give Pirate Cinema a try.

Doctorow is outspoken in liberalizing copyright laws and this novel gets right to the heart of this matter. It features a sixteen-year-old named Trent McCauley, living in Britain, who breaks anti-piracy laws by downloading movie clips to his computer hard drive. His hobby is to splice these clips together to make a mishmash movie of doctored Hollywood movies and show them on YouTube-like channels.

His punishment for his crime is that his family’s internet is revoked for one year. This has terrible consequences for his family — his father no longer can work, his mother no longer can get the medical treatment she needs, and his scholarly sister begins to fail her classes. Humiliated for destroying his family’s posterity, Trent runs away to London.

In London, he befriends another homeless boy named Pip, who teaches him how to get food and find shelter. This friendship leads Trent into an underground society where purveying mishmash films is commonplace. He finds himself at home, creating videos for the pirate cinema with a grand vision of toppling the oppressive laws. Can he stop the law before the law stops him?

When I first picked this novel up, I had no idea it was written for the YA market. YA is not really my thing and I typically only read the mega-popular books (e.g. Twilight, The Hunger Games) or authors that pique my interest (e.g. Paulo Bacigalupi’s Ship Breaker). I will say that reading through Pirate Cinema works on an adult fiction level just as well as YA.

One can’t help but be reminded of authors like Ayn Rand, who use fiction as a vehicle to distribute their ideas. For some, this may be a turn-off, but I actually enjoyed reading Ayn Rand’s fiction (The Fountainhead, in particular). Likewise, while Pirate Cinema may be a bit preachy on the surface, the story and characters are compelling enough that it often goes unnoticed.

What worked well in the novel was Doctorow’s unveiling of a previously unknown niche of society to me — patrons of the pirate cinema. I wasn’t familiar with such a hobby and it was interesting to be drawn into a world of people demonstrating so much passion for their art. Trent (who later calls himself Cecil B. DeMille) rises from sleeping in a homeless shelter to stardom and is the target of police raids while winning the affections of an attractive teen named 26 (she goes by Twenty for short — something I suppose a teen would think is pretty clever).

Yes, a lot of the consequences suffered in the novel seem a bit severe (such as the calamities his family suffers without the — *gasp* — internet at home or Trent’s happenstance falling into a group of like-minded individuals in urban London). Regardless, it still is a fun romp through the sewers and abandoned houses of the city.

Pirate Cinema is a good read with likable characters. The plot is a bit contrived and teeters at the edge of the suspension of disbelief, but it still makes for an interesting, quickly-moving story.

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