5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: Little Brother (Paperback)
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I wouldn't quite go as far as Neil Gaiman, but I would certainly recommend Little Brother to anyone interested in civil liberties, dystopia fiction or hacking. In writing this novel Cory Doctorow deservedly joins the company of a long line of dystopic writers like Jack London, Yevgeny Zamyatin, Aldous Huxley and George Orwell. His intertextual link with Orwell warrants particular mention; Little Brother doesn't just allude to Nineteen Eighty Four, it seems to consciously set out to expand on it. And although Nineteen Eighty Four is a superior novel, Doctorow has definitely succeeded in contemporising the central point.
Doctorow sets out to bombard his readers with information in a way vaguely reminiscent of Manuel Puig's footnotes in Kiss of the Spider Woman - this is a polemic with a narrative with a hundred articles on youth culture, political history, the beats, human rights, counter-terrorism and so on and so forth all in one book. It is openly didactic and angrily political and if you agree with its social commentary (as I do) it is quite an experience.
Little Brother is also an instruction manual on how to think about security - from mundane security to draconian security to security against draconian security; Doctorow aims to show how security can work for you and against you and how security without privacy is ineffective and harmful. In addition Little Brother is a homage to hackers (like Andrew "bunnie" Huang), defenders of freedom (like Emma Goldman) and writers (like George Orwell).
The novels style is fast, meandering, idiomatic (in a middle class geeky way) and realist. Doctorow is not above using thriller devices like chapter cliff-hangers and foreshadowing nor will he be gentle. He is, however, honest, even about being polemical and didactic, which I guess is what stops this book from becoming sheer propaganda. Doctorow uses cultural references well to ground his novel and maintains the strong atmosphere of his San Francisco setting replete with anarchist bookstores, coffee shops and iconoclasts.
This book does have limitations. To maintain the flow of information Doctorow had to weaken the narrative by inserting endless descriptions. Because of this you sometimes feel like you are reading an interesting collection of political essays rather than a novel. The villains are caricatures, which is admittedly hard to avoid. And lastly, Little Brother can become annoyingly sentimental in a way Orwell would never even contemplate allowing. However, these problems don't significantly detract from the works value and the real deciding factor when it comes to enjoying this book is going to be, as with all instrumental novels, do you agree with its argument?