Sunday, November 18, 2012

Book Review: Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow (2008, Tor Books)

Recommended for ages 13+

Little Brother provides a look at a brewing dystopia in the wake of a terrorist attack on California. Influenced by post-September 11th events like the Patriot Act and Guantanamo Bay, Doctorow examines what happens when teens find themselves being hauled off for “questioning” and decide to fight back.
Seventeen-year-old Marcus and his friends are avid gamers who cut class one day to play an ARG (alternate reality game) in their San Francisco neighborhood. As they start their search for clues, an explosion rips apart the Golden Gate Bridge. Thousands are killed in the terrorist attack, Marcus’ friend Darryl is stabbed in the fracas, and the group is arrested and taken to an unknown location where they are separated and interrogated as suspected terrorists. Everyone but Darryl is released several days later, after signing documents that exonerate the United States government of any wrong doing; they are told not to speak about what happened, and that they will be watched. Furious, Marcus decides to fight back by creating the Xnet, an undetectable online service, rigged from his  X-Box.
As the Department of Homeland Security turns the U.S. into a police state, Marcus and his friends become a new version of the Merry Prankters, sabotaging the DHS’ monitoring equipment. When he learns that Darryl is still being held in the secret prison that he and his friends were detained in, he turns to his parents and a journalist to help free him and bring down the DHS, even if it means putting himself at risk.
Little Brother moves at a quicker pace than For the Win, but Doctorow’s tendency to preach/lecture still comes through at points. He gives in-depth information in his narrative on how different technology works, and how Marcus is able to hack various networks and cell phones. It’s part novel, part primer. The story moves along at an energetic pace and I liked the character development. Marcus is a sympathetic character: a normal teen thrown into extraordinary circumstances. He decides to fight back against this invasion of his privacy by using what is available to him – his gift with technology. He does not come across as a superhero; rather, he is conflicted and scared throughout the book, but knows he needs to take a stand. Whether readers agree or disagree with how he justifies his actions will provide good discussion.
Little Brother was a Hugo Award finalist for Best Novel; a New York Times bestseller; won a White Pine Award (2009); a Prometheus Award (2009); and a John W. Campbell Memorial Award (2009).
Cory Doctorow is a passionate advocate for open access and the right to privacy. He makes his novels available for free download on his website, along with links to his blog, articles, and podcast. He also writes for the website Boing Boing and is active on Twitter.


Chuck said...

I loved this book. This just made me want to read it again.

Roe said...

Very cool. There is a sequel that should be out in 2013; he was talking about it on his podcast a couple of months ago.