Friday, May 30, 2008

Little Brother

Little Brother

May 29th, 2008

Little Brother. by Cory Doctorow. New York: Tor Books, 2008.

Review by John Stone

Summary: A high-school senior in San Francisco happens to be near the site of a catastrophic bombing that appears to be the work of terrorists. The Department of Homeland Security arrests, interrogates, imprisons, and mistreats him and several of his friends. After most of them are released, they become underground activists for civil rights, organizing various kinds of demonstrations and protests over an ad hoc pirate network of repurposed Xboxes. Their loose-knit organization becomes powerful enough to prompt a renewed attack by the DHS, which underestimates the resourcefulness of teenagers and, in particular, their ability to use modern communications technology effectively.

The author intended this novel for “young adults,” a category that in this case seems to run from precocious eleven-year-olds to recent high-school graduates. It is set in a dystopian near future in which the consequences of Americans’ willingness to trade liberty for security pervade society. For instance, the protagonist’s high school has security cameras everywhere, running gait-recognition software in a particularly inept attempt to track the movements of students and visitors to the school. DHS officials are portrayed frankly as villains — goonish, occasionally sadistic bureaucrats.

Doctorow uses this somewhat melodramatic coming-of-age plot as a framework into which he can pack quite a bit of information about how to resist and circumvent governments’ attempts to intrude on citizens’ privacy and violate our civil rights. This is less didactic than it sounds. Doctorow establishes the protagonist from the first page as someone who comfortably inhabits a high-tech world and has spent most of his childhood figuring out ways of breaking the ridiculous rules that authorities try to impose, so instead of a lecturer’s drone we hear the voice of a teenage enthusiast explaining to his friends how to beat the system.

The full text of the book is available for free download in many formats at author’s Web site. It’s under a Creative Commons license (Attribution-Noncommercial-ShareAlike 3.0)

This review was previously published on John Stone's Web log, _The free thinker_ ( It is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License, and is reprinted here, with the permission of the author, under the same license.

1 comment:

Walter Giersbach said...

Thanks for hipping me to the Creative Commons license--and Doctorow's book. Maybe this is how I should get me collection of stories out.