A Place So Foreign and Eight More (2003)

Doctorow’s fist short story collection. The themes that would later become synonymous with his entire career are only present in a major way in the last story 0wnz0red (though arguably All Day Sucker and To Market, to Market incorporate typical Doctorow interests), which is definitely one of the high points of the entire collection, together with Craphound, the very first.

The rest of the stories cover typical SF territory: time travel, aliens and the likes (only one fantasy story, and this is IMHO the weakest story in the entire collection). Doctorow always manages to give each of the stories a unique spin (e.g. time travel is slowly spreading advanced technology backwards in time), yet all of them sport good plots, often excellent ideas and most of all, well realized characters.

Actually that is one of his strengths as a writer, he starts with building instantly likable and compelling characters, and only along the way explores the setting and the ideas he’s interested in. It’s a good way to hook a reader, but it also demands a certain skill to establish a memorable character with only a few sentences from the get go. Though, sometimes his hooks worked too good. Even after the story was over I wanted to know what happened next and I left the story with the feeling that there was much more to tell.

Overall, this feels like a collection where a writer at the begin of his career is trying out every toy in the toy box, before he has settled on the ones with whom he is really comfortable and before he even starts adding his own toys to the box. Yet even at this journeyman level do Doctorow’s stories show a craftsmanship that was beyond that of most of his peers.