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on 21 August 2005
Enjoyable, but doesn't quite work. Disparate strands are roped together to make a workmanlike narrative, but the structure strains and leaves gaping holes. It's not properly cooked. It's not properly developed. It has the signature Doctorow themes of craphounds, unexplained freaks passing as human, and dysfunctional but loving families (of freaks). The technology stuff is vaguely cool but very incidental, and I kept wondering how the freaks were getting on.
Bits of it are brilliant. I loved the riff about house-renovation, the girl with wings is a great image (that cover art is fabulous) and other nice images come up. But I wanted to know what Alan/Alvin/Abe looks like. Why are the visuals so patchy? I could see Mimi, I could see Kurt, but the protagonist (whose manifest weirdness we have to take on trust) remains a cipher. I didn't get the feeling of a living, seething world. The illusion kept sputtering and fading and the grid kept showing through.
Worth a read, though. Wait for the paperback, maybe.
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on 3 March 2011
When I first read the plot description for this book, I was immediately interested, but wondered if such an idea would actually be a main theme in the story, or just a sideline to make for an interesting tagline. I was pleasantly surprised, in that the whole 'my father is a mountain, my mother a washing machine, etc' theme is in fact a central tenet of the storyline. Wacky? Definitely. But for those who would immediately consign the idea to the bin for the sheer ludicrousness of it, I ask you this - is it any more impossible than elves, or wizards, or people with wings? For me, this book challenged my preconceptions of Fantasy/SF, in that I didn't realise how 'normalised' or narrow the genre really has become. Doctorow has thrown this bizarre premise into the mix, and I think it works well.

One of the most original things I have read in a long time, and it gets 5 stars for that alone. The writing is fairly consistent, and to a good standard, although I do agree that some of the main characters lack detail. It's a quick read, and I enjoyed it more for its originality than for any sense of epic, thrill or adventure. I would (and do) recommend this to any SF/Fantasy reader who feels bored or jaded by a supposedly avante-garde genre that has failed to innovate for a very long time.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 4 October 2016
This is definitely a book that suffers from a case of not really knowing what it wants to be.

On the one hand, it is a wonderfully written and unapologetically strange tale that was reminiscent of Neil Gaiman's writing at times. On the other, it was a book that pushes the personal agenda of the author in regards to his views on technology and freedom of information. It simultaneously pushes a number of different stories with various tones in many directions, and these stories never seem to blend together nicely but instead clash against each other.

In essence, this is the story of a supernatural man who has managed to live to middle age but is still struggling to not only find his place in the world but also understand exactly who and what he is. He has done this by jumping from business to business, making speedy friendships with different people so that he can analyse them and see what makes them tick.

This is a genuinely interesting premise that led to some wonderful moments in this book. I love that his father is an island and his mother a washing machine. I loved that his brothers were a fortune teller, an island, a group of Russian nesting dolls, and a psychopath. I even liked that because of how they grew up without human interaction, their names were interchangeable. Other than the first letter of their name, they often called each other and referred to themselves by a different name every time. These were wonderfully strange flavours that gave the story its soul.

However, that alone is enough to keep track and make sense of. Throw into that a story told on a broken timeline and things start to get a little stranger. Split that broken timeline up between three different stories being told simultaneously and then insert random snippets of a story that the protagonist is writing in his head, and you start every new chapter/section in a state of confusion. It made the story seem bitty and hard to follow. I listened to this as an audiobook, so maybe it is better when reading it yourself, but I find that a broken timeline only works so long as the reader is instantly aware of which timeline the current story belongs to.

Add on top of all this strangeness a subplot about his brothers going missing, a girl who is dealing with the issues that come with having wings, and a storyline about trying to give free internet access to the world, and you suddenly have a lot going on in a very small amount of space. I'm afraid to say that maybe it was a little too much at times.

I hate having to say that because I love these weird and quirky books. They are original and so different to other books out there that they instantly make me smile and keep me engaged. I so want them to succeed but this time, I didn't quite get there.

I suppose really I have two main flaws that are the reasons for the loss of the stars in this review:

1 - There's too much going on at once and it is all jumbled up. Broken timelines, impossible creatures, strange situations, magic and technology, characters with interchangeable names; these are all issues that can work in novels. However, to use all of them in the same novel runs the risk of making the story seem jumbled and hard to follow, and this is what happened here.

2 - The negativity. This story starts out with a protagonist who is easily one of the most positive and optimistic protagonists I have read about in a long time. He was wondrously chipper, innocent and a joy to read about. Then over the course of the book, that fun, harmless man is torn down over and over until the point where it feels as though you are just reading a book about how to torture a really nice man. It left a sour taste in my mouth and made reading this book a bit of a chore at times.

So overall this is a three-star book that had the potential to be a five. I feel with a bit of working about and some more editing, this book could easily gain one of its stars back. To me, even something as simple as reorganising it to follow a linear timeline would instantly make it easier to follow and therefore more pleasant to read.

However, that isn't the case so we end up with a story that I enjoyed reading and can happily recommend, but sadly have to score a bit lower than I hoped. If you're looking for something a little different from the norm, then definitely give this a try.
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on 19 August 2005
Simply amazing book.
Weird, weird, weird! Hard to put down, you are driven along by the interesting characters and storyline. This story grabs you and forces you to deal with the strangeness (Bizareness even) of the characters.
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on 23 June 2011
Only recently discovered Cory Doctrow, and really liked the first book of his I read - Makers. Tried another and struggled mightily, unfortunately it was this title - the blurb warns you its strange, and it is, but doesn't tell you there isn't much of a story either. A lot of things build within the pot, but then don't go anywhere. Worth reading if you want something different.... not really S.F or fantasy, wouldn't like to say where it fits....
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on 1 February 2014
You really can not pass this up for 99p second hand. But be ready for the weirdest book you have every read! Yet it is really easy to read and enjoy. Yes there are characters like the Mountain and the Washing machine, but it is great fun ride/read. I want more of this style of book.
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on 1 October 2011
very strange book, but after 50 pages you get used to it. The fact that the book has people with wings, are washing machines, mountains and symbiotic people within people sounds very bizarre and it is, but very very readable!
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