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4.2 out of 5 stars
Little Brother
Format: Paperback|Change
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on 8 April 2017
Reading this book within the context of the overt manipulation of alt-facts and the utter disregard of hard won freedoms was a scary experience. The ease with which Marcus and his friends were removed and subjected to imprisonment and torture - in the middle of San Francisco - was a chilling reminder of how fragile freedom is in 2017 USA. No less so in Europe, where lies become the norm and those in politics don't even bother to excuse them any more. A really brilliant novel that everyone should read.
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on 28 December 2013
I have to confess that I've never read Nineteen Eighty-Four - though I obviously recognised the allusion to it in the title of Little Brother - and most of my expectations come from the other dystopian novels for young adults that I've read recently. I don't think I was quite as taken by this one as I have been by some of the others, but it's an interesting book I'd definitely recommend to the right audience.

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.
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on 19 December 2016
This book hits just about every note of concern you can have once you start thinking about the repercussions of modern surveillance states, combining it with little intros on the techniques and technologies being used so you don't get lost in the terminology.

It's fast paced, chilling, with dramatic ups and downs - and it's scarily believable.

If you've ever struggled with "I've nothing to hide; why should I worry?" when pervasive surveillance discussions come up, read this.
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on 23 June 2013
About Cory Doctorow's 'Little Bro.', his prose is intelligent, and his style is suave. He tells in witty, conversational tones a technically astute tale of one man's, Marcus Yallow the main prot., and his few friends', virtual battle against the powers-that-be, including his school headmaster Mr. Benson, and in particular the DHS (Department of Homeland Security) who are running his area of California, San Francisco (Frisco), like it's a police state. The catalyst for this battle is an arrest and kidnapping by some members of the DHS, which are like a military division of the American state police force, and the ensuing revenge and retribution upon his release and upon learning that they have since the terrorist bombing for which Marcus and his friends were wrongfully arrested now stepped up security and are watching his every move. Armed with only an Xbox, computer hardware, some technical knowledge that only top hackers seem to possess, and a handful of friends, particularly his newfound love Ange, Marcus embarks upon a crusading counterintelligence project against the powers-that-invade-our-privacy using a sophisticated clandestine network of fellow believers known simply as Xnet, which inevitably is discovered as active in the community and consequently becomes newsfodder, affording its users the press-opportunity they both fear and need. The story goes on to describe how he and his loyal supporters attempt, through passive-aggressive exposure on Xnet of the DHS's activities, to discredit the DHS as a viable institution for the defence of American values. The story also concentrates on Marcus's relationships with his schoolteachers, his parents and various other people around town such as the Turkish cafe-owner, some of whom sympathise with his plight, some who don't. His relationships and dialogue are all encapsulated within the context of his propounding his point of view about freedom from authoritarian tyranny as well as from terrorism, and there being a balance. The author states both sides of the argument succintly here, while obviously siding with the main prot used as his mouthpiece.
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.
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on 9 December 2012
Okay, I have to fess up and admit that I didn't realise this was written for a late teen audience, and that sadly I no longer fall into this target age range (I picked it up it simply because I'd been meaning to read a Doctorow novel for some time). So I can only express my views as an older reader.

For the most part I agree with the sentiments expressed in this novel. I'm also something of a geek so the technology referenced in the text is familiar to me. I'm not sure, however, that I recognise the young adults who feature in the book. They're all a little too sassy and cool to ring true. I also had some difficulty believing their actions. But maybe these observations are age-related. Perhaps younger readers will connect with these kids. The story just about keeps the pages turning but it's all a bit underwhelming, and the technological explanations serve only to interrupt the narrative flow (but then again, maybe the didactic tone is commonplace in teen novels). There's nothing terribly wrong with this book but there's nothing exceptional about it either. All-in-all it's a solid but unremarkable read.
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on 14 April 2014
The message is right on - the tension between security and comfort is as much a part of the war on terror as it is a part of the whole internet experience, or paying for goods, or just getting through your own front door. There comes a point where increasing security - to preserve your freedom - you actually relinquish your freedom, and you become worse than the threat you feared.

Little Brother takes the reader through that dilemma, in a well thought out way. Sadly the technology is complex, as are some of the concepts of security (both physical and cyber) and we end up with a few too many infodumps along the way.

The tension builds nicely through the book, but you do wonder how the protagonist is going to triumph over the villains, even with his greater understanding of cyberspace - and that's a good thing. A good novel should never look like a cakewalk for the protag. Unfortunately the poor protag falls into the villains' clutches a second time, and it really does look to be all over, until the cavalry ride over the hill. Then it's celebration and fireworks, yet somehow the villains escape justice, setting up for a sequel. It all happens a bit too quickly, and feels rushed, else I'd have happily given 5 stars. After all, I don't mind pat endings - they're what this genre is all about - it's just that I was disappointed that the ending was so patently "and they all lived happily ever after - until the next crisis". I did see the protag grow and change through the book, but in real life, there so often a price to pay, and the protag didn't pay it. The cost was entirely borne by the minor characters.
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on 25 July 2014
I never write reviews, but with this book - I just had to do it.

“Little Brother”, on the surface, seems to be an enjoyable read about of a teenager living in today’s world of ubiquitous surveillance. Marcus tries to live a normal life, with his friends, family and a girlfriend. Then comes the twist - he gets caught in the aftermath of a terror attack. The young American is not arrested - as you would expect in sunny San Francisco, California. He is detained.

That’s where the real story unfolds. From that moment on, you can’t stop reading and you can’t stop wondering. Why this fiction (about home) is so similar to reality (abroad)? Why is it so scary? Is it really that easy to change the land of freedom into a land of terror?

This is a great book. If you have never been interested in civil liberties, didn't care about Guantanamo, secret prisons or torture – this book is precisely for you. It won’t bore you. The life of a young man with impressive computer skills is entertaining enough. But really, it’s a very important warning how fragile are liberties are. In unassuming, even light style, the story unfolds to shows surprisingly accurate parallels between fiction in the book and the real events we hear about, no so far from home.

Someone said “if you’re going to read one book this year – this is the one”. I couldn't agree more.
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on 30 May 2015
Did not think this kind of book would grab me, but it kept me gripped and intrigued the whole way through. What if, became an unnerving sense of I bet we are not far away from this scenario. Read at a time when the US were found tapping the phones of international leaders and stating that Countries like Germany are not their friends lead me to question a lot. If that is the case why do US have nuclear weapons and so many troops in Germany? They don't trust any of the Europeans and mask it behind Russia being the big bear. What if our Kids could set up a more libertarian future? There has got to be brighter days away from the darkness that, in part, is due to American and British foreign policy at the moment. Highly recommend this as a thought-provoking novel that never feels that far away from the truth.
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on 23 June 2013
A brilliant read, particularly relevant in view of the Snowden issue. I liked the conversations with the teacher and the boys father that challenge assumptions about privacy and security and should make you question your own attitudes. The story was interesting, the characters convincing and the message frightening.
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on 25 August 2014
this has been on my to read list for ages but kept putting it off mainly because of it being a kids book. Anyway finally got round to reading it. the story pulled me in. The characters were easy to identify with and feel empathy for. It was also informative although imagine much of the techy stuff has moved on a lot since it was written.
A great book would recommend it to any age group and imagine it would make a dam good film.
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