Five substantial stories plus one short-short, all previously published, all computer-related and bulging with knowing SF references.
“When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth” depicts the heroic struggles of a handful of dedicated system administrators to keep the Internet up and running in the face of an ill-defined, terrorist-related global meltdown. In “Anda’s Game,” the standout entry, child laborers in third-world sweatshops toil to accumulate advantages playing online games on behalf of affluent first-worlders, so that the rich kids can enjoy the games without all the drudgery. The robots of “I, Robot” are at war: One faction is hobbled by Asimov’s famous Three Laws, while the others are free to develop independence and vastly enhanced intelligence (although it’s hard to see what stops the latter from simply taking over, or doing their own thing and ignoring humanity altogether). Elsewhere, godlike humans uploaded into orbiting electronic matrices prod inanimate objects or lowly lifeforms like coral reefs into consciousness. And Doctorow bases another war, this over intellectual-property rights, upon the horrific WWII siege of Leningrad: He doesn’t quite pull it off, but it’s a worthy effort.
The ideas don’t always stand up to a searching examination, but the appealing characters, snappy writing and swift pace will surely tempt the younger and/or geekier sections of the SF audience.