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A Place So Foreign: nerds, aliens, time travel, and so much more
I think all good authors have one or two things that they are exceptionally good at--knacks that define their writing style. Some are good at creating unique or deep worlds, some are good at dynamic and interesting characters, and some are great at stories that take surprising twists and turns.
Cory Doctorow is great at taking off-the-wall insanity and somehow making it seem utterly natural and normal. This short story collection includes garage-sale hunting aliens, ambassadors to different time-periods, a Canadian leftist Superman, golem-like creatures working at a Disneyland-like theme park, and computer hackers who figure out how to hack their own bodies. And yet, within the context of their various stories, all of these elements don't seem all that strange. As such, pretty much all of these stories but the last one, "0wnz0rd," are pretty approachable, and "0wnz0red" is only difficult because it features a lot of computer jargon that is not strictly speaking necessary to understand in order to enjoy the story.
This book is made up of 9 stories, 3 of which are set in the same universe at various times during the process of Earth's induction into a galactic confederacy. The other six are all set in their own individual universes, and span speculative fiction subgenres including time travel, urban fantasy, cyberpunk, and the like. Even as his settings shift, Doctorow has similar goals in mind, including critiques (but not unaffectionate ones) of modern consumerist society and copyright protection and a sense of admiration for those who are resourceful, clever, and committed.
As well as being great at normalizing the bizarre and showing his passion about the themes of his stories, Doctorow is just a great writer. His stories are fast-paced and read incredibly quickly, while his plots take unexpected although believable twists and turns. All of his characters are interesting, and it's usually easy to understand who they are and why they do what they do (even in cases, such as "To Market, To Market," when the protagonist is not a good person).
All in all, you should check out this collection or other works by Doctorow if you're looking for thought-provoking and well-crafted speculative fiction. He is a master at his craft.