“When Sysadmins Ruled The Earth” by Cory Doctorow: A “Rewired” Review

Copyright © 2007 by Tachyon Publications.

My reviews of Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology conclude with “When Sysadmins Ruled The World,” a story by Cory Doctorow that was originally published in Jim Baen’s Universe in 2006.

Felix Tremont is a systems administrator who gets called away at one in the morning to fix a crashed server for a financial company.  However, he and the other sysadmins soon find themselves stuck at the office when a worldwide catastrophe strikes, a combination of bio- and cyberterrorism that wipes out thousands of human lives and crashes most of the civilized world.  With his wife and newborn son gone, Felix is one of the surviving tech geeks responsible for maintaining the Internet–now a vital resource in the post-apocalyptic scenario–though it tasks their survival instincts when supplies starts to run low.  Eventually, after several conflicts on the Web and in the office, Felix and his partner Van set out to see what’s still salvageable in the outdoor world and if they can fix it as well as they’ve tried to fix the Web.

Felix is definitely not a classic cyberpunk hero.  He has a steady job with a wife and a kid.  He doesn’t go after corporations and governments because he has a job to do and they would crash without his expertise anyway.  Another key aspect about his character–about all the sysadmins in this story–is that he has a very deep sense of responsibility as both a proud geek and an admin for the Internet.  This shows up when he runs and gets elected as the first Prime Minister for the “Distributed Republic of Cyberspace,” though he doesn’t get to do much in that role.  Felix and Co. are guys who would rather put society back together because they already come with a sense of society from belonging to mailing lists, newsgroups, and chat rooms.

Since this is my first Cory Doctorow story (and probably not my last), I have to say that this guy isn’t one to skip on his research.  He appreciates how people would react during a terrorist attack, even at a distance, and he gets just how terrifying the prospect of bioterrorism is.  His sysadmin characters also seem like real computer geeks, all wearing t-shirts with messages on them, speaking through code and root passwords, and drowning in pop culture references.  They also worship the Internet because it’s where they live and breathe, as opposed to so many other people who might use such virtual activities as an extension or distraction from their real lives.  But, as Doctorow questions, if the real world has gone to hell, then maybe virtual life doesn’t seem so bad?

In short, this is a very heartfelt and in-depth story about terrorism and Internet culture, both of which are interwoven with twenty-first century life.  Felix and his friends may be geeks, but when the chips fall in the real world, it’s a comfort to know they’ll be around to keep the silicon chips up and running.

This marks my last review for Rewired: The Post Cyberpunk Anthology.  I hope that my readers enjoyed it half as much as I enjoyed writing it, and if you have any recommendations for other anthology or series reviews to do in the future, please be sure to let me know.

Bibliography: Doctorow, Cory.  “When Sysadmins Ruled The Earth.”  Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology.  Ed. James Patrick Kelly, John Kessel.  San Francisco: Tachyon Publications, 2007.


5 thoughts on ““When Sysadmins Ruled The Earth” by Cory Doctorow: A “Rewired” Review

  1. Alex,

    I’ve been following your reviews of REWIRED over the last few weeks and I have been impressed and pleased by your analysis. Nicely done, sir! Here’s hoping you bring your astute commentary to another of our anthologies someday.


    1. Well, thank you for following my reviews! Truth be told, I wasn’t entirely sure how popular my anthology reviews were since they’re not as big-name SF&F like my movie and novel reviews. But it gives me a renewed confidence in my work to know that someone of your caliber is interested. Hopefully I’ll be able to review one of your stories in turn.

      Thanks for the comment, and thanks for reading!


  2. Personally, I have a hard time reviewing short stories (most of the time, I only do anthologies as a whole), but I enjoyed your elaborate thoughts on each story – and it certainly sparked my interest in “Rewired”.
    I already read (and liked) “When Sysadmins Ruled The Earth” in another anthology which I enjoyed quite a lot: “Wastelands” (Ed. John Joseph Adams). This would be my recommendation, if you don’t mind seeing the world come to an end 22 times. ;)


    1. In all of my anthology reviews, I try and see what kind of theme or motif every story shares and what’s different about each, whether it’s the post-cyberpunk genre in Rewired or classic cyberpunk in William Gibson’s Burning Chrome collection. It can be a little frustrating when some stories don’t have a lot to work with.

      Wastelands sounds interesting, though I’m not a huge fan of the post-apocalyptic genre only because we’ve seen it so many times in modern fiction that it’s almost a little boring. But thanks for the recommendation and thanks for reading!


  3. Pingback: A Fame Worse Than Death: Down And Out In The Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow | Mr. Rhapsodist

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