I'm not normally a reader of short story collections but I thought I'd give "Over Clocked" a try. On finishing it, I realized why I don't read short story collections.
The problem is, short story collections inevitably end up being like CD's. Sure, there's one, maybe two great tracks on it, a few mediocre tracks and then some that are positively awful. Over Clocked suffers the same malady.
One of the strongest stories is "When Sysadmins ruled the world." An interesting tale that describes how a technologically dependent world gets brought to its knees by rampant worms and viruses and how the system administrators (Sysadmins of the title) may be the only people skilled and tech-savvy enough to fight humanity's corner.
Equally enjoyable is "I robot." Winner of the 2005 Locus award and a finalist for the Hugo and British Science Fiction award in the same year. You'd expect for it to be a good read with those credentials.
Holding the middle ground for the book is "Anda's game" - which will no doubt be a favorite with the gaming readers - and provides a virtual backdrop for the rich minority vs depressed minority scenario to literally be played out once more.
"After the Siege," where the horrors of future war are exploited for entertainment value, also provides food for thought. Whilst Doctorow preface's the story by suggesting it's a commentary on developed nations using strong arm tactics on underdeveloped counterparts, one can't help but think that this story might not also be a poke in the eye to today's news media, given the current state of world affairs.
I enjoyed all of these stories but then that's where I ran into trouble. Perhaps in no other genre than speculative fiction does the phrase "Suspension of belief," come into its own. Every author asks you to suspend your belief and go along for the ride, and for the majority of Over Clocked I was prepared to do that. Rampant computer viruses I can do. Robots I can do. Future war and gang warfare on the net I'm prepared to go along with. With "I Row-Boat," Doctorow lost me.
Over Clocked's subtitle is "Stories of future present." Most of the stories seemed to be a reasonable extrapolation of science and technology today with a dark, dystopian slant, but I found sentient rowing boats conversing with coral reefs a little beyond what I was prepared to accept. As a result, I just couldn't get past the first five pages of "I Row-Boat."
Similarly, I found the very short, short story (2 pages) "Printcrime," equally hard to swallow.
Overall, I gave Over Clocked a 3 out of 5 rating. Of the six stories contained within, there are a couple of gems, a couple of easy reads and a couple that I would skip if I had a "Next Chapter" button.
Maybe that's a future present.