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Little Brother Paperback – 13 Oct 2008
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‘I’d recommend ‘Little Brother’ over pretty much any book I’ve read this year. Because I think it’ll change lives. It’s a wonderful, important book’ Neil Gaiman
‘Cory Doctorow’s novel could hardly be more relevant, scary and eye-opening … seriously entertaining.’ The Times
‘A cracking read’ Guardian
‘A well structured and superbly executed thriller with breakneck pacing and an emotional payoff to boot. Engaging, thought provoking, and at times harrowing.SciFi Now
‘An entertaining thriller and a thoughtful polemic on Internet-era civil rights … a terrific read’ New York Times
‘A compulsive and chillingly credible read … would make a great discussion for any reading group’ New Books
‘A tale of struggle familiar to any teenager, about those moments when you choose what your life is going to mean.’ Steven Gould, author of ‘Jumper’
‘A timely and at times frightening read that is sure to resonate with a generation of computer-savvy teens, but also with those who have never heard of an arphid or re-built a hard drive’ Sun Herald (Australia)
‘Doctorow’s ambitious set-up spawns a fast-paced tale of triumph …rife with snappy dialogue and breathtaking scope … an exceptional, eye-opening novel that everyone should read’ Canberra Times
'It's also a cracking read.'See all Product description
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At the start of Little Brother, San Francisco is hit by a terrorist attack reminiscent of the 9/11 attacks on New York. The novel follows Marcus, a teenager who - along with three friends - is in the wrong place at the wrong time in the aftermath of the attack and is arrested and interrogated by the Department of Homeland Security. On his release he learns that one of his friends has not been set free, and is horrified by the extent to which the DHS has taken control of San Francisco. So begins his rebellion against a surveillance state which has taken anti-terror measures to the point of abusing basic human rights.
Marcus' rebellion is technological. He's already a bit of a whizz-kid, easily tricking the relatively light-weight surveillance systems in place at his school and enjoying the benefits of unsanctioned networks used by teenagers across the city. But in post-attack San Francisco, the playing field has changed and Marcus has to up his game. Refusing to accept that treating every citizen as a potential terrorist is a reasonable response to the attack, Marcus sets up an underground network to communicate with similarly-minded peers and finds himself at the head of an increasingly powerful movement against the DHS and the police state.
What do I like about Little Brother? It's set in an unspecified year in the near-future and it's very, unsettlingly, plausible in its depiction of society. It's not a huge stretch of the imagination to picture a world where the lines between state security and personal freedom or privacy become blurred. And where much recent dystopian fiction brings in elements of fantasy, Little Brother is firmly rooted in reality. I didn't appreciate this whilst reading it, but postscripts at the end explain that all the technology, hacking and cryptography techniques used in the novel are completely authentic and impeccably researched.
I also liked the presentation of the `enemy' - primarily the DHS, but more broadly most of the adult population of San Francisco. Little Brother is told from a teenage perspective, and on the whole the adult villains are a faceless mass, defined by their uniforms and badges - almost caricatures. It seemed to me that this could be a technique designed to encourage any reader (regardless of age) to see things from the point of view of young adults who feel their privacy and freedom are unjustly jeopardised: it reminded me of E.T., in which the faces of adults (particularly the `bad guys') are rarely shown and the filming is done in such a way as to give the viewer the same perspective as Elliott.
What don't I like about Little Brother? I didn't find it an easy read, given it's aimed at the young adult market. Cory Doctorow takes the time to explain each new piece of technology or technique, which meant everything more or less made sense. But I still found the constant references to hacking terminology and so on quite hard-going. And I also didn't particularly like Marcus. I know this is kind of the point: the novel forces you to question Marcus' motives and at what point rebellion against counter-terrorism starts to stray into cyber-terrorism territory. But even aside from this, I found him hard to warm to. I don't think I was every really fully on his side. Then again, maybe this is an age thing - Marcus and his peers are fairly resolute in their belief that anyone over 25 can't understand their position and therefore can't be trusted.
I really found Little Brother interesting and thought-provoking, although I'm not sure I'd read it again. I am, however, going to give it to my own little brother, who's firmly in the target audience and who I think will really enjoy it, and look forward to the conversations it prompts.
I have been reading this book avidly every day, but from the very first page I was totally hooked. I was greatly impressed with this young author's ability to literally 'tell a gripping tale' that actually requires a lot of computechknowhow, and I personally am convinced that Cory is a computer whizzkid. It is not only the intelligence with which the story is told, but also the humour and wit: I was literally chuckling out loud like a cat merry on Whiskas(R) and milk laced with brandy all the the way through.
As if to answer a prediction of Cory's I read elsewhere, I found myself going to Kindle(R) to buy this after first downloading it for free from Books in My Phone, booksinmyphone.com, searching for a good science-fiction book to download onto my mobile phone while at my Mum's. I discovered Cory Doctorow by accident, an author I'd not heard of before, and after reading a small review praising 'Little Brother' downloaded it from that site with a view to just sampling some SF for free; but, as I said before, I was immediately hooked. As soon as I read his Preface and Introduction, I knew I liked this author and was looking forward to starting the novel. I wasn't disappointed. Like an aperitif, I found, in the introduction to the mobile version, his style to be entirely lucid and readable. What's more, I seemed to have fulfilled one of his predictions which said that those who download his books for free due to the Creative Commons DRM-free license agreement between Doctorow and his publishing-house were likely to next go and buy a copy. He mentioned print, but I bought a Kindle copy for only £4 for ease of reading and immediate access. I also didn't want the print copy because I already have too many books on my shelves taking up space, otherwise I would have bought a print copy as suggested. I'm sure I'm doing the author a favour, anyway, by buying on Kindle and plugging its worth here, despite the fact that I disagree that more copies in print will sell if you can download it for free, as we live in a digital age now, and sadly I fear that it may not be a profitable business move on the part of Cory Doctorow and his publishers. On the other hand, his principle is correct that you should be able to give away a copy of a book, or lend it, regardless of whether it is print'n'paper format or electronic. But in the case of digital, you can copy it that way as many times as you like (as in multiple copies), and although it's a weighless economy, it could be like piracy hurting the publishing industry and author to whom the credit in the form of royalties is due. I do agree with Doctorow's take on freedom of speech and assumed innocence/freedom from suspicion where concerns random stop-and-search procedures (in other words, it can be summed up in the term 'rites of passage'); and I also believe in his principle that if you own a book it should be entirely at your disposal as your property and not held by DRM-control, but where concerns the price being nothing under the Creative Commons standard, I really think this book deserves to be downloaded for more than just free. Perhaps if Cory was selling each initial download for a small sum, AND then allowing it to be shared as he believes it should be, it would be fairer on him and his work than if you could initially download it for nothing, but it just exemplifies the generosity of some authors who are happy to see their books - and their message - read and circulated widely.