Monday, November 17, 2008

Little Brother

Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow

Marcus is your average seventeen year-old computer savvy gamer living in San Francisco. As the story begins, he and his ARG (Alternate Reality Game) team are living relatively carefree lives, using their hacking skills to sneak out of school in order to play. Marcus's world is turned upside down when there is a terrorist attack on San Francisco, and he finds himself detained by the Department of Homeland Security, all because he happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and happened to be caring a number of his techie tools at the time.

Things in San Francisco go from bad to worse as the Department of Homeland Security use near future technology to track the citizens in an attempt to catch terrorists. In the aftermath of Marcus's treatment under detention, and as he sees the disintegration of personal freedoms of all residents of San Francisco, he realizes that he needs to take a stand.

This is both a gripping adventure story, and a call to arms. It drives the reader to question the nature of personal freedom in a world of digital surveillance. Some of the best moments in the story are when Marcus finds ways to circumvent various digital security measures, and at the end of the book are two essays on security and hacking. It brings up interesting questions about the nature of a technological world, and forces the reader to examine her own relationship with technology.

The title is a play on the Big Brother of 1984 fame, and this book fits nicely into that world of literature. It is very much a distopian tale of an individual building a collective to fight against a power that no longer serves its people. I recommend the book for teens and adults. Some of the writing feels a little clunky when Doctorow breaks into exposition or stilted dialogue that serves more to deliver a message than to advance plot and character. That said, I was completely drawn into the world. It was a very fast read, and entirely gripping.


ru said...

and the BEST thing about it is that you can download the whole damn thing for free from his craphound website. i have it on my USB key as a PDF right now! (haven't read the whole thing yet, though...)

MadJenny said...

oh yes! Thank you! I'd forgotten to mention that. Go creative commons!

False Prophet said...

Big Cory fan, though more for his activism and non-fiction than his fiction (to date, I've only read Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, though I have a copy of Eastern Standard Tribe somewhere). His talk to Microsoft's Research Group is still a favourite of mine. (Summary: Microsoft, please make a VCR for the digital age.)

If you think my LARPing is weird, I've actually met people who do this ARG stuff for real. Who are promoting their ARG businesses.

The fear of a surveillance state is very real (and probably already here), and thus far, the most realistic approach to it has been from David Brin's The Transparent Society. Thesis: Widespread surveillance is inevitable, so let's make sure everyone can take advantage of it, not just the authorities. That way, the authorities are under as much scrutiny as anyone else.