Long Names And Free Beer At A Communist Party
In this excerpt from Cory Doctorw’s novel ‘Walkaways,’ young adults talk about life in a post-privacy future at a (literal) Communist party.
The following is an excerpt from Walkaway: A Novel by Cory Doctorow.
Hubert Vernon Rudolph Clayton Irving Wilson Alva Anton Jeff Harley Timothy Curtis Cleveland Cecil Ollie Edmund Eli Wiley Marvin Ellis Espinoza was too old to be at a Communist party. At twenty-seven, he had seven years on the next oldest partier. He felt the demographic void. He wanted to hide behind one of the enormous filthy machines that dotted the floor of the derelict factory. Anything to escape the frank, flat looks from the beautiful children of every shade and size who couldn’t understand why an old man was creepering around.
“Let’s go,” he said to Seth, who’d dragged him to the party. Seth was terrified of aging out of the beautiful children demographic and entering the world of non work. He had an instinct for finding the most outré, cutting-edge, transgressive goings-on among the children who’d been receding in their rearview mirrors. Hubert, Etc, Espinoza only hung out with Seth because part of his thing about not letting go of his childhood was also not letting go of childhood friends. He was insistent on the subject, and Hubert, Etc was a pushover.
“This is about to get real,” Seth said. “Why don’t you get us beers?”
That was exactly what Hubert, Etc didn’t want to do. The beer was where the most insouciant adolescents congregated, merry and weird as tropical fishes. Each more elfin and tragic than the last. Hubert, Etc remembered that age, the certainty that the world was so broken that only an idiot would deign to acknowledge it or its inevitability. Hubert, Etc often confronted his reflection in his bathroom screen, stared into his eyes in their nest of bruisey bags, and remembered being someone who spent every minute denying the world’s legitimacy, and now he was enmeshed in it. Hubert, Etc couldn’t self delude the knowledge away. Anyone under twenty would spot it in a second.
“Go on, man, come on. I got you into this party. Least you can do.”
Walkaway: A Novel
Hubert, Etc didn’t say any obvious things about not wanting to come in the first place and not wanting beer in the second place. There were lots of pointless places an argument with Seth could go. He had his Peter Pan face on, prepared to be ha ha only serious until you wore down, and Hubert, Etc started the night worn.
“I don’t have any money,” Hubert, Etc said.
Seth gave him a look.
“Oh, yeah,” Hubert, Etc said. “Communist party.”
Seth passed him two red party cups, their color surely no accident.
As Hubert, Etc drew up to the taps—spoodged onto a vertical piece of structural steel that shot out of the floor and up to the rafters, skinned with checkered safety yellow bar codes and smudges of entropy and dancing lights of the DJ—and tried to figure out which of the beautiful children was bartender, factum factotum, or commissar. No one moved to help him or block him as he edged closer, though three of the children stopped to watch with intense expressions.
All three wore Marx glasses with the huge, bushy beards hanging, like in the vocoder videos, full of surreal menace. These ones were dyed bright colors, and one had something in it—memory wire?—that made it crawl like tentacles.
Hubert, Etc clumsily filled a cup, and the girl held it while he filled the other. The beer was incandescent, or bioluminescent, and Hubert, Etc worried about what might be in the transgenic jesus microbes that could turn water into beer, but the girl was looking at him from behind those glasses, her eyes unreadable in the flickering dance lights. He drank.
“Not bad.” He burped, burped again. “Fizzy, though?”
“Because it’s fast acting. It was ditch water an hour ago. We sieved it, brought it up to room temp, dumped in the culture. It’s live, too—add some precursor, it’ll come back. Survives in your urine. Just save some, you want to make more.”
“Communist beer?” Hubert, Etc said. The best bon mot he could scrounge.
He was better when he had time to think.
“Nazdarovya.” She clicked her cup against his and drained it, loosing a bone rattling belch when she finished. She gave her chest a thump and scared out smaller burps, refilled the glass.
“If it comes out in pee,” Hubert, Etc said, “what happens if someone adds the precursor to the sewers? Will it turn to beer?”
She gave him a look of adolescent scorn. “That would be stupid. Once it’s diluted it can’t metabolize precursor. Flush and it’s just pee. The critters die in an hour or two, so a latrine won’t turn into a reservoir of long lived existential threats to the water supply. It’s just beer.” Burp. “Fizzy beer.”
Hubert, Etc sipped. It was really good. Didn’t taste like piss at all. “All beer is rented, right?” he said.
“Most beer is rented. This is free. You know: ‘free as in free beer.’” She drank half the cup, spilling into her beard. It beaded on the crinkly refugee stuff. “You don’t come to a lot of Communist parties.”
Hubert, Etc shrugged. “I don’t,” he said. “I’m old and boring. Eight years ago, we weren’t doing this.”
“What were you doing, Gramps?” Not in a mean way, but her two friends—a girl the same shade as Seth and a guy with beautiful cat eyes—sniggered.
“Hoping to get jobs on the zeppelins!” Seth said, slinging an arm around Hubert, Etc’s neck. “I’m Seth, by the way. This is Hubert, Etc.”
“Etcetera?” the girl said. Just a little smile. Hubert, Etc liked her. He thought that she was probably secretly nice, probably didn’t think he was a dork just because he was a few years older, and hadn’t heard of her favorite kind of synthetic beer. He recognized this belief was driven by a theory of humanity that most people were good, but also by a horrible, oppressive loneliness and nonspecific horniness. Hubert, Etc was bright, which wasn’t always easy, and had a moderate handle on his psyche that made it hard to bullshit himself.
“Tell her, dude,” Seth said. “Come on, it’s a great story.”
“It’s not a great story,” Hubert, Etc said. “My parents gave me a lot of middle names is all.”
“How many is a lot?”
“Twenty,” he said. “The top twenty names from the 1890 census.”
“That’s only nineteen,” she said, quickly. “And one first name.”
Seth laughed like this was the funniest thing he’d ever heard. Even Hubert, Etc smiled. “Most people don’t get that. Technically, I have nineteen middle names and one first name.”
“Why did your parents give you nineteen middle names and one first name?” she asked. “And are you sure it’s nineteen middle names? Maybe you have ten first names and ten middle names.”
“I think that it’s hard to claim to have more than one first name, because first has a specificity that middle lacks. Notwithstanding your Mary Anns and Jean Marcs and such, which are hyphenated by convention.”
“Fair point,” she said. “Though, come on, if Mary Ann is a first name, why isn’t Mary Ann Tanya Jessie Banana Pants Monkey Vomit etc?”
“My parents would agree. They were making a statement about names, after Anonymous brought in its Real Name Policy. They’d both been active, worked to make it a political party, so they were really fucked off. Thought it was obvious that if you were ‘Anonymous’ you couldn’t have a ‘Real Name Policy.’ They decided to give their kid a unique name that never fit into any database and would give him the right to legally use a whole bunch of sub names.
“By the time I got all this, I was used to ‘Hubert,’ and I stuck to it.”
Excerpted from Walkaway: A Novel by Cory Doctorow. © 2017 by Craphound, LLC. Reprinted with permission from Tor Books.