Little Brother Review

3 03 2008

Cory Doctorow is one of the nicest people I’ve ever had the chance to interact with. Twenty minutes after publishing my review of Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom (2003), Cory e-mailed me. During our brief chat, I mentioned to him that I was excited for his upcoming book, Little Brother, in which a group of kids engage in counter-counter-terrorism against an oppressive Department of Homeland Security.

Cory sent me an advance copy of his manuscript. The only appropriate thing to do was get a review up online as soon as possible. Later, I will post about my senior thesis project that I am putting off for more important pursuits.

Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow, is an important book—maybe the most important book I’ve read in a long time. I’m not the first to say this, either.

Set in a not-implausable near future, Little Brother is a story of Marcus Yallow, a San Francisco high school senior, and his fight against the Department of Homeland Security as they cut away civil liberties after a terrorist attack. Marcus’ struggle is fraught with danger, revolution, hacking security systems, and enough bravery to inspire anyone. It’s inspiring not only because Marcus makes all the decisions we hope we will be able to make when the time is right, but because Doctorow provides understandable explanations of real-world security systems as well, providing instructions on how to keep them from controlling you. It’s certainly some of the most educational fiction I’ve read since Neil Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon. It’s a guide for youth, showing them how to gain a bit more freedom in a society that doesn’t want youth to be free. The education is important because of how close to home the book hits.

In Little Brother the mixture of current day mundane and cutting edge technologies and vaguely plausible futuristic technologies are believable. Security cameras, RFID tags, data mining—these are all real. Doctorow reminds us of how easily we can be tracked and recorded if we are unaware of how the world works, and of what can be done with that information. What’s worse, Doctorow puts these technologies in a very familiar setting. The high school scenes gave me flashbacks, post-traumatic stress, and pre-traumatic stress for more heavily surveilled times yet to come. For some, Little Brother will be a technological thriller.

However, it is one of the few pieces of science fiction—no, one of the few books I’ve ever read—that instills me with a sense of purpose and duty. Especially worth the read are the essays at the end by securities expert Bruce Schneier and X-Box hacker Andrew “bunny” Huang.

Little Brother can (hopefully) be avoided if we make the right choices leading up to election day. It reminds me, though in a different way, of what Jon Stewart pleaded in 2004: “Please, make my job harder.” Though still an avoidable future, Little Brother will likely never be outdated. While Orwell’s 1984 seemed vaguely far-fetched and grim when I read it in 2004, we very nearly have the technology to make Little Brother a reality. This book is not a prediction of a society we could become, but a warning that we stand overlooking a dangerous precipice.

This is a book that reminds me how important it is to be free.

When Little Brother comes out, I am going to buy three copies. One, I will keep for myself, one I will donate to the most important youth empowerment group in my life at that time, and one I will give to my little brother.

If you are a teacher, Tor Books has a teaching/reading guide for Little Brother. Please use it. This is an important book to share with young and old.

Check out other books in the Science Fiction Book Challenge!

[12:09pm] There are some minor edits on this since my 6AM version.

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6 responses

3 03 2008
Dan

Sounds incredible! I can’t wait to read it.

This reminds me of Bruce Schneier’s book which isn’t sci-fi or even fiction but is important, called “Beyond Fear.” I see it as fundamentally hopeful, because it reminds us that though technology may escalate, the principles of security remain the same and if we are empowered and think logically about security we can make good choices.

Anyway, I hope teachers embrace this book.

4 03 2008
lia

Definitely well-written. I overcomed post traumatic stress (finally!) last year. I seeked help from internet webbies, like http://www.howtorelievestress.org which offers plenty of tips about post traumatic stress. Eversince then, I can see an improvement in my condition.You should try it too.

4 03 2008
siegem

It seems to be awesome! I didn’t read something like this but reminds me the movie “Minority Report”.
I do not read as much as I would like (the Neuromancer on my desk doesn’t make me lie, it’s been 2 months and I didn’t touch it), but this one I would make some effort to take some time.
April 29, here we go!! :)

5 03 2008
Jacob

siegem: I hadn’t thought about “Minority Report.” It might be close to that. What’s scarier is that LB is closer to reality than ‘Minority Report’. Neuromancer though, that’s a good book. I couldn’t get through it when I was in my early teens because it was over my head in some ways, but in the first year of college I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Dan: Do you have Schneier’s book? I’d love to read it.

5 03 2008
Spherical Time

Thanks for the link, Jacob.

20 08 2008
A Little Brother review of sorts… « Conventioneers!

[…] know Jacob already wrote on this book several months ago, but it was so good, I couldn’t resist talking about it again. It’s […]

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