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I, Row-Boat by Cory Doctorow

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“I, Row-Boat” is a 2006 science fiction novelette by Cory Doctorow. It is about a sentient row-boat who becomes involved in an uplifted reef’s grudge war against humanity.

Non-Spoiler Summary In A Nutshell:

Great Barrier Reef, AustraliaRobbie the row-boat leads quite a serene life. Pretty much all he does is transport scuba divers to their diving destination in the Coral Sea off the coast of Australia. These are no ordinary humans, though – they are just shells used to embody the downloaded consciousness of other humans and AIs. Consequently Robbie has a lot of time on his hands (or oars – as the case may be) so he periodically surfs the net to keep himself up to date. He is also a devout practitioner of an AI religion known as Asimovism – which strictly adheres to the Three Laws of Robotics – so he is a bit surprised when one of his regular diving haunts, a huge coral reef, is suddenly uplifted to consciousness and deeply resents the intrusion of divers in its space. No problem, Robbie just takes the divers elsewhere – that is until an ancient woman downloads herself into one of the divers and attracts enough attention (and problems) that Robbie is forced to take extremely drastic measures to save her!

The reef wasn’t having any of it. “Are you deaf? This is sovereign territory now. You’re already trespassing. Return to your ship, release your moorings and push off.” The reef had a strong Australian accent, which was only natural, given the influences it would have had. Robbie remembered the Australians fondly – they’d always been kind to him, called him “mate,” and asked him “How ya goin’?” in cheerful tones once they’d clambered in after their dives.

“Don’t drop those meat puppets in our waters,” the reef warned.

My Two Cents:

• The good:

  • There are loads of fun references to Isaac Asimov – some subtle, some not. If you are familiar with Asimov’s writings (especially the Three Laws of Robotics) then you will enjoy finding all these gems in the story.
  • If you are a fan of Cory Doctorow’s style – things like downloaded consciousness, making back-up copies of oneself and existing solely in the net – then you will like “I, Row-Boat”. Many of the science fictional elements in this story reminded me of his very cool novel Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom .
  • The coral reef was a totally interesting character! I enjoyed reading about its abrasive personality and the tricks it employed in its personal war against humans.

• The bad:

  • There are several instances of strong and adult oriented language. Probably not a good story for kids.
  • There is also a lot of computer related terminology in “I, Row-Boat”. I quite enjoyed it, but not everyone will.

Fact Sheet:
• Page Count: 30
• Word Count: 13,955
“I, Row-Boat” garnered the following awards:

  • It placed third in the best novelette category of the 2007 Locus awards.

Where you can find “I, Row-Boat”:

  • This novelette first appeared in the Fall 2006 issue (#1) of Flurb: A Webzine of Astonishing Tales.
  • “I, Row-Boat” is included in Cory Doctorow’s great collection of short stories Overclocked: Stories of the Future Present .
  • You can read a great free version of this story at the Flurb website.

Some Interesting Links:

  • Did you know that Cory Doctorow worked for the Electronic Frontier Foundation? Yep. You can learn more about this science fiction author at Wikipedia.

Craving More Stories?
If you enjoyed this story then you might also like Oceanic, about an ocean dwelling man living on the planet Covenant, and how the events of his life take him from religious zealot to non-believing academic, by Greg Egan.

5 thoughts to “I, Row-Boat by Cory Doctorow”

  1. I was about to post that Overclocked, the collection that this appears in is in my pile of books to read. Then I read your review and realized that I already read it! Great story.

  2. Thanks Omphalos,

    I have read a few of the stories from Overclocked, and liked them all. The more Cory Doctorow stories I read the more I like his work – I totally enjoyed this story!

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