Cory Doctorow

Canadian-British blogger, journalist, and science fiction author

Cory Efram Doctorow (born 17 July 1971) is a Canadian-British blogger, journalist and science fiction author in favor of liberalizing copyright laws.

Of all the people who failed to buy one of my books today, the vast majority did so because they never heard of them, not because they got a free digital copy from the Internet.


Any time someone puts a lock on something you own against your wishes, and doesn't give you the key, they're not doing it for your benefit.
The real damage from terrorist attacks doesn't come from the explosion. The real damage is done after the explosion, by the victims, who repeatedly and determinedly attack themselves, giving over reason in favor of terror.
As someone once said, "Just because you're not interested in politics does not mean that politics won't be interested in you."
  • I'm not a lawyer— I'm a kind of mouthpiece/activist type, though occasionally they shave me and stuff me into my Bar Mitzvah suit and send me to a standards body or the UN to stir up trouble. I spend about three weeks a month on the road doing completely weird stuff like going to Microsoft to talk about DRM.
  • There's something to the idea of the autonomous character. Big chunks of our wetware are devoted to simulating other people, trying to figure out if we are likely to fight or fondle them. It's unsurprising that when you ask your brain to model some other person, it rises to the task. But that's exactly what happens to a reader when you hand your book over to him: he simulates your characters in his head, trying to interpret that character's actions through his own lens.
  • A tablet without software is just an inconveniently fragile and poorly reflective mirror, so the thing I want to be sure of when I buy a device is that I don't have to implicitly trust one corporation's judgment about what software I should and shouldn't be using.
  • As someone once said, "Just because you're not interested in politics does not mean that politics won't be interested in you." And staying away from politics either because you think tech will make laws irrelevant or because there's no good way to influence laws just opens the field for people who don't cherish either of those illusions to make things very bad indeed.
  • Right to repair has no cannier, more dedicated adversary than Apple, a company whose most innovative work is dreaming up new ways to sneakily sabotage electronics repair while claiming to be a caring environmental steward, a lie that covers up the mountains of e-waste that Apple dooms our descendants to wade through.

Short fiction

Novelette which won the 2007 Locus Award. Published in the August 2006 issue of Jim Baen's Universe.
Page number from the reprint in Doctorow's collection Overclocked: Stories of the Future Present, ISBN 1-56025-981-7
  • “It’s logical,” Sario said. “Lots of people don’t like coping with logic when it dictates hard decisions. That’s a problem with people, not logic.”
    • p. 24
Page numbers from Godlike Machines (ed. Jonathan Strahan), published by The Science Fiction Book Club, ISBN 978-1-61664-759-9
  • “How’s your parents?”
    She didn't manage to hide her smile. “Their weirdness is terminal.”
    • p. 172
  • I lived in the future that they were talking about in the ride, but we didn't have “progress” anymore. We’d outgrown progress. What we had was change. Things changed whenever anyone wanted to change them: design and launch a fleet of wumpuses, or figure out a way to put an emotional antenna in your head, or create a fleet of killer robots, or invent immortality, or gengineer your goats to give silk. Just do it. It'll catch on, or it won't. Maybe it'll catch itself on. Then the world is…different. Then someone else changes it.
    The status quo doesn't protect itself, it needs defending if it's going to stay put. The problem is that technology gives more of an advantage to an attacker than to a defender. A defender needs to mount a perfect defense. An attacker needs to find one hole in the defense. So once technology gets going, anything can be knocked down—evil doesn't stand—but nothing much can be erected in its place.
    • p. 194
  • There are lots of things I try not to dwell upon. The fact that this is all my fault is one of those things.
    • p. 246
Novella which won the 2015 Theodore Sturgeon Award. Published in Ed Finn & Kathryn Cramer (eds.) Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future (2014), ISBN 978-0-06-220469-1
  • But she was one of those doctors who hadn’t gotten the memo from the American health-care system that says that you should only listen to a patient for three minutes, tops, before writing him a referral and/or a prescription and firing him out the door just as the next patient was being fired in.
    • p. 98
  • Okay, this is the thing. We spend all our time doing, you know, stuff. Maintenance. Ninety-eight percent of the day, all you’re doing is thinking about what you’re going to be doing to go on doing what you’re doing. Worrying about whether you’ve got enough socked away to see you through your old age without ending up eating cat food. Worrying about whether you’re getting enough fiber or eating too many carbs. It’s being alive, but it’s hardly living.
    • p. 114
  • It turns out that teaching is one of those things like raising a kid or working out—sometimes amazing, often difficult and painful, but, in hindsight, amazing.
    • p. 129
  • “Look, whatever else happiness is, it’s also some kind of chemical reaction. Your body making and experiencing a cocktail of hormones and other molecules in response to stimulus. Brain reward. A thing that feels good when you do it. We’ve had millions of years of evolution that gave a reproductive edge to people who experienced pleasure when something pro-survival happened. Those individuals did more of whatever made them happy, and if what they were doing more of gave them more and hardier offspring, then they passed this on.”
    “Yes,” I said. “Sure. At some level, that’s true of all our emotions, I guess.”
    “I don’t know about that,” she said. “I’m just talking about happiness. The thing is, doing stuff is pro-survival—seeking food, seeking mates protecting children, thinking up better ways to hide from predators...Sitting still and doing nothing is almost never pro-survival, because the rest of the world is running around, coming up with strategies to outbreed you, to outcompete you for food and territory...If you stay still, they’ll race past you.”
    • p. 130
  • Existence proofs always trump theory. That’s engineering.
    • p. 135
  • He was a pushy, self-righteous prig, but that didn’t mean he was wrong. Necessarily.
    • p. 139
  • And don’t talk to me about having a positive attitude. The reason all those who’ve died of cancer croaked is because they had cancer, not because they were too gloomy.
    • p. 144
  • Things are true or they aren’t, no matter how old the person saying them happens to be.
    • p. 147
  • Doesn’t matter how old the speaker is, it’s the words that matter.
    • p. 148
  • “The problem with world hunger is that rich, powerful governments are more than happy to send guns and money to dictators and despots who’ll use food to control their populations and line their pockets. There is no ‘world hunger’ problem. There’s a corruption problem. There’s a greed problem. There’s a gullibility problem....”
    “So there’s a corruption problem,” I said. “Point taken. How about if we make a solution for the corruption problem, then? Maybe we could build some kind of visualizer that shows you if your Congresscritter is taking campaign contributions from companies and then voting for laws that benefit them?”
    “What, you mean like every single one of them?”
    • p. 149 (ellipsis represents a brief elision of text)
  • Greg, what are you talking about? Ending corruption? Like there’s a version of this society that isn’t corrupt? Corruption isn’t the exception, it’s the norm. It’s baked in. The whole idea of using markets to figure out who gets what is predicated on corruption—it’s a way to paper over the fact that some people get a lot, most of us get not much, and so we invent a deus ex machina called market forces that hands out money based on merit. How do we know that the market is giving it to deserving people? Well, look at all the money they have! It’s just circular reasoning.
    • p. 150
  • It’s a bitch when someone reminds you of all the contradictions in your life, I know. Your discomfort doesn’t make what I’m saying any less true, though. Come on, you all know this is true. Late-stage capitalism isn’t reformable. It’s an idea whose time has passed.
    • p. 150
  • They just hated and feared us because our government hated and feared them.
    • p. 154
  • It was nice to think that the key to feeding nine billion people was to measure return on investment by maximizing calories and minimizing misery, instead of minimizing capital investment and maximizing retained earnings to shareholders.
    • p. 166
Page numbers from the reprint in Rich Horton (ed.), The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2015
  • The problem isn’t that the world has the wrong kind of sellers; it’s that it has the wrong kind of buyers. Powerless, diffused, atomized, puny, and insubstantial.
    • p. 313
  • All evil in the world is the result of an imbalance between the people who benefit from shenanigans and the people who get screwed by shenanigans.
    • p. 317
  • Again, I was torn between the impulse to hang up on him and to hear more. Nosiness won (nosiness always wins; bets on nosiness are a sure thing).
    • p. 323
  • There were only two reasons to call me after something like this: to confess his sins or to get revenge. And no one would ever mistake me for a priest.
    • p. 323
  • Beautiful was not the opposite of terrible. The two could easily co-exist.
    • p. 332
  • Maybe it’s just an elaborate game of sound bites and kabuki gestures that are all calibrated to the precise sociopathic degree necessary to convey empathy and ethics without ever descending into either.
    • p. 333
P2P nets kick all kinds of ass. Most of the books, music and movies ever released are not available for sale, anywhere in the world. In the brief time that P2P nets have flourished, the ad-hoc masses of the Internet have managed to put just about everything online. What’s more, they’ve done it far cheaper than any other archiving/revival effort ever.
The universe gets older. So do I.
  • First-time novelists have a tough row to hoe. Our publishers don’t have a lot of promotional budget to throw at unknown factors like us. Mostly, we rise and fall based on word-of-mouth.
    • "A note about this book, January 9, 2003
  • P2P nets kick all kinds of ass. Most of the books, music and movies ever released are not available for sale, anywhere in the world. In the brief time that P2P nets have flourished, the ad-hoc masses of the Internet have managed to put just about everything online. What’s more, they’ve done it far cheaper than any other archiving/revival effort ever.
    Yeah, there are legal problems. Yeah, it’s hard to figure out how people are gonna make money doing it. Yeah, there is a lot of social upheaval and a serious threat to innovation, freedom, business, and whatnot. It’s your basic end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it scenario, and as a science fiction writer, end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it scenaria are my stock-in-trade.
    • "A note about this book, January 9, 2003
  • I released this book a little over a year ago under the terms of a Creative Commons license that allowed my readers to freely redistribute the text without needing any further permission from me. In this fashion, I enlisted my readers in the service of a grand experiment, to see how my book could find its way into cultural relevance and commercial success. The experiment worked out very satisfactorily.
    When I originally licensed the book under the terms set out in the next section, I did so in the most conservative fashion possible, using CC's most restrictive license. I wanted to dip my toe in before taking a plunge. I wanted to see if the sky would fall: you see writers are routinely schooled by their peers that maximal copyright is the only thing that stands between us and penury, and so ingrained was this lesson in me that even though I had the intellectual intuition that a "some rights reserved" regime would serve me well, I still couldn't shake the atavistic fear that I was about to do something very foolish indeed.
    It wasn't foolish.
    • "A note about this book, February 12, 2004"
  • I lived long enough to see the cure for death; to see the rise of the Bitchun Society, to learn ten languages; to compose three symphonies; to realize my boyhood dream of taking up residence in Disney World; to see the death of the workplace and of work.
    • First lines
  • The Bitchun Society has had much experience with restores from backup—in the era of the cure for death, people live pretty recklessly. Some people get refreshed a couple dozen times a year.
  • The Bitchun Society had all but done away with any sort of dull, repetitious labor, and what remained—tending bar, mopping toilets—commanded Whuffie aplenty and a life of leisure in your off-hours.
  • I’d talk to him about the vast carpet of the future unrolling before us, of the certainty that we would encounter alien intelligences some day, of the unimaginable frontiers open to each of us. He’d tell me that deadheading was a strong indicator that one’s personal reservoir of introspection and creativity was dry; and that without struggle, there is no real victory.
    This was a good fight, one we could have a thousand times without resolving. I’d get him to concede that Whuffie recaptured the true essence of money: in the old days, if you were broke but respected, you wouldn’t starve; contrariwise, if you were rich and hated, no sum could buy you security and peace. By measuring the thing that money really represented—your personal capital with your friends and neighbors—you more accurately gauged your success.
  • I think that if I’m still here in ten thousand years, I’m going to be crazy as hell. Ten thousand years, pal! Ten thousand years ago, the state-of-the-art was a goat. You really think you’re going to be anything recognizably human in a hundred centuries?
  • I swore I'd be done, and that would be the end of it. And now I am. There isn't a single place left on-world that isn't part of the Bitchun Society. There isn't a single thing left that I want any part of.
  • Lying on my hotel bed, mesmerized by the lazy turns of the ceiling fan, I pondered the possibility that I was nuts. It wasn’t unheard of, even in the days of the Bitchun Society, and even though there were cures, they weren’t pleasant.
  • I’d seen how Imagineering worked when they were on their own, building prototypes and conceptual mockups—I knew that the real bottleneck was the constant review and revisions, the ever-fluctuating groupmind consensus of the ad-hoc that commissioned their work.
    Suneep looked sheepish. “Well, if all I have to do is satisfy myself that my plans are good and my buildings won’t fall down, I can make it happen very fast. Of course, my plans aren’t perfect. Sometimes, I’ll be halfway through a project when someone suggests a new flourish or approach that makes the whole thing immeasurably better.
  • The universe gets older. So do I. So does my backup, sitting in redundant distributed storage dirtside, ready for the day that space or age or stupidity kills me. It recedes with the years, and I write out my life longhand, a letter to the me that I’ll be when it’s restored into a clone somewhere, somewhen. It’s important that whoever I am then knows about this year, and it’s going to take a lot of tries for me to get it right.
It's not necessarily about what career you pick. It's about how you do what you do.
  • Engineers are all basically high-functioning autistics who have no idea how normal people do stuff.
  • Larry poured himself a coffee. "I hate when they come in here with computers. They sit forever at their tables, and they don't talk to nobody, it's like having a place full of statues or zombies."
  • "Christ, you're dragging me out for that? I can tell you what they'll say. They'll drag out the Four Horsemen of the Infocalypse: kiddie porn, terrorists, pirates, and the mafia. They'll tell us that any tool for communicating that they can't tap, log, and switch off is irresponsible. They'll tell us we're stealing from ISPs. It's what they say every time someone tries this: Philly, New York, London. All around the world same song."
  • All secrets are deep. All secrets become dark. That's in the nature of secrets.
  • No one should do a job he can do in his sleep.
  • It's not necessarily about what career you pick. It's about how you do what you do.
  • Abnormal is so common, it's practically normal.
  • Never underestimate the determination of a kid who is time rich and cash poor.