Set in the mid-21st century, when anyone can 3-D print pretty much whatever they need in terms of food, shelter and clothes, the novel follows a trio in their 20s — Hubert, Seth and Natalie — as they abandon the world of corrupt plutocrats and leave behind their possessions, debts, jobs and dysfunctional families.
[Walkaway] is remarkable. It's one of those books that I don't want to describe at all, because doing so would ruin the new car smell of stepping into a fresh-off-the-lot universe. It would sour the joy of getting face-punched over and over again by the utopian/dystopian ideas, theories, arguments and philosophies that Doctorow lays down. It would, in short, wreck the fun ... And yes, it sometimes reads like a series of philosophical set-pieces stitched together with drone fights and lots of sex. Like a Michael Bay movie if all the explosions were emotional. But the philosophy is fascinating and, somehow, rarely dull ... It's all about the deep, disturbing, recognizable weirdness of the future that must come from the present we have already made for ourselves, trying to figure out what went wrong and what comes next.
Doctorow has given a lot of thought to the practical and political underpinnings of his fictional world, and he mostly assumes his readers will be able to keep up with him ... That’s a lot of technical jargon to unpack, and some potential readers might not have the patience for it. Those who persevere, however, will be rewarded by Doctorow’s deft plotting, his fondness for geeky humor and his knack for creating idiosyncratic, whip-smart characters.
For all the disasters it details, Walkaway imparts a genuine conviction that the world can be a better place, if only we would work to make it so. This big, expansive book’s utopian bent is earned, rather than merely asserted, and readers eager for some encouraging words in times of trouble will not be disappointed.
Mr. Doctorow’s philosophy is passionately argued, like his earlier anthems to communal action in Homeland and Little Brother. Provocative ideas keep popping up, such as his explanation of World War I: It was caused by primogeniture. Once the second sons of aristocratic Europe ran out of places in Asia and Africa and Oceania to take over and be governors of, they turned on one another. So the thinking is lively, but the characters? What they are is basically trustafarians, faux-hemians, kids in designer jeans. The trouble with those people, some would say, is, sure, they walk away. But they know they can always walk back. Is that a good basis for a stable new world?