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4.1 out of 5 stars
4.1 out of 5 stars
Little Brother
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 19 October 2008
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I loved this book! Topical, impassioned, energetic and angry, Cory Doctorow doesn't so much insert himself into the debate over civil liberties and anti-terrorism laws as smash the door down with his bare knuckles.

Marcus is a 17-year old high-school student in San Francisco caught up with his friends in a terrorist bombing of the Bay Bridge. Rounded up as terrorist subjects just because they are on the scene, they are whisked off-shore by the Department for Homeland Security and held for interrogation for days while their parents think they are dead. Three of the four are released but are warned that they will be under continual surveillance and if they tell anyone what happened they will disappear for ever...

But Marcus, terrified and ashamed of his humiliation, refuses to accept that the American Constitution can be broken in this way, and starts to fight back. Creating an online community through hacked Xboxes that operate beneath the surveillance radar, he galvanises a rebellion against the police state which has taken over San Francisco.

Doctorow's love of technology shines through this book, and the in-depth way in which Marcus and his friends subvert the very tools which the government has exploited to curb their freedom is brilliant.

This is polemical and unsubtle: the goodies are all really, really good (despite being teenagers they're all well-spoken, polite, don't like alcohol, and the protagonist even at 17 has only ever kissed three girls and only has sex when he's falling in love...), and the baddies are really, really bad. But Doctorow is no political radical: he's definitely on the side of the angels, but uses the simple but telling metaphor of the American political body infected with an autoimmune disease: where the very defensive mechanisms which are supposed to keep it safe, actually turn against it and start to destroy it from the inside.

This is also brilliantly written with a verve and energy that is fresh, and dynamic. This dropped a star from me because even though it kept me up all night I wouldn't read it again. So, not a `keeper' but certainly a book that I will be recommending to everyone I know.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 23 November 2008
I picked up 'Little Brother' on the back of one or two interesting reviews, and it's fair to say it didn't disappoint. Both exciting and provocative, I expect it to become one of the most talked about novels of 2008.

With a title like 'Little Brother', Cory Doctorow's novel is bound to draw comparison with 1984, although the two are only superficially similar. To me choice of title feels as though it was made in the hope of catching some reflected glory from Orwell's masterpiece, which is shame; though not destined for 1984's greatness amongst the literary canon, I think 'Little Brother' may, in future, be seen as a seminal piece of counter-cultural fiction.

But what do I know? I'm over 25, which Doctorow goes some to lengths to point out, means that it's best not to listen to me. Little Brother, is very much a novel for the young and although I enjoyed it, I'm sure I missed some of the nuances of an IT savvy lifestyle and the general state of oppression that most teenagers (feel they) live under. I found 'Little Brother' very reminiscent of Scott Westerfeld's novels, which I have also enjoyed and at the end of the novel, Doctorow acknowledges Westerfeld's influence.

Little Brother breaks down into two major themes; the use of technology and the abuse of power. The sections that detail using an Xbox to create an underground internet and outline the various cryptographic measures taken by the characters, reek of authenticty and form a solid framework upon which the novel is built. For me though, the strength of the novel lies in its assessment of the abuse of our basic human rights through anti-terror legislation.

The near-future, pictured by Doctorow is entirely plausible and therefore all the more
terrifying. His arguments are a little one-sided; not all anti-terror measures are about controlling the population (but perhaps I think that because I'm over 25) and certain sections of the novel feel contrived; shoe-horned in to allow the author to make a certain political point. The teenage whinging of the protagonist is also sometimes a little hard to bear and occasionally gives the book a somewhat juvenile tone (again this may be an age thing).

Nevertheless, 'Little Brother' is an excellent and deeply affecting read. A wide ranging polemic on the abuse of power and people's contentment to let it happen, as long it doesn't affect them, or helps them feel safer at a minority's expense. Anybody who thinks identity cards are a good thing, or that you have nothing to worry about if you've done nothing wrong should read 'Little Brother'; it will open your eyes. The final pages brought a tear to my eye and left me wondering, just how much I am manipulated by the government and a reactionary media. Little Brother is the most important novel I have read in months, and I urge you to do the same.
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on 19 February 2009
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The book starts off in a slightly altered near-future San Francisco where students activities on-line are monitored by the government. The story moves quickly to an event which begins a change in the way the government use the information they have about the public and the consequences of how the main character and his friends deal with this.

The book mixes a gripping action story with discussions of technologies and theories of how online and off-line activities could be monitored and how those systems could also be subverted. Although this is a work of fiction most of the technical details are theoretically plausible.

The book makes interesting reading.. It takes the view in a very pro 'freedom of expression' point of view while also putting forward alternative views in a more negative light, but in either case it could be considered essential reading for anyone who hasn't quite figured out how far we've come since the early days of the internet, the advent of the threat of terrorism and our own rights.
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VINE VOICEon 23 October 2008
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Little Brother is a timely thriller about our increasingly surveillance-mad, security obsessed world. Aimed at a YA market, this book should be essential reading for everyone with even a passing interest in how much interest the government(s) are taking in the everyday goings-on of their citizens.

The story fairly rockets along, and Cory manages to find enough space to explain the central concepts of the post 9-11 surveillance society in amongst the all-too-realistic plot goings on. There's a lot of information in here about people being tracked, cryptography and so on, but it's presented in such a way that you don't feel you're being lectured at. The tech is there, but it's all there to advance the story and explained extremely well.

Buy this book. Buy copies for your friends. You'll never look at a 'security' camera the same way again.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 25 June 2009
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I really wanted to like this book more than I actually did - but as with many of Cory Doctorow's books, it has a tremendously interesting idea at the core but lacks the execution to really make it shine. I very much enjoy the writings of Cory Doctorow online, but I can't help but feel that his talent fails to shine in the novel form.

There is a good deal of none-too-subtle evangalising about civil liberties in the book - it's hard to feel that you're not being preached at from a lectern. Some of this is impossible to avoid due to the theme of the book, but a lot of it is just lazy moralising.

It's definitely worth checking out, though.
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on 24 September 2010
Calling your novel "Little Brother" is not really leaving much to the reader's imagination. There really are no subtleties at all in this novel about the abuse of individual rights, the attack on people's privacy and the blatant assault on the Constitution of the USA in the name of `national security' in the digital age.

The book starts with Marcus Yallow, aka w1n5t0n (later M1k3y), and his friends Darryl, Van and Jolu in the aftermath of a terrorist attack on San Francisco (not coincidentally also the birthplace of a lot of the digital age tycoons as well as the traditional epicenter of liberalism in the US). After the Bay Bridge is attacked, they find themselves arrested and `questioned' by agents of the Department of Homeland Security. Three of the boys are eventually released (but are terrified into not letting anyone know what happened to them, or else...) but Darryl's fate seems uncertain: dead, locked up someplace else,...

This experience, as well as seeing how his home city has turned into a police state, leads Marcus to set up his own version of a `safe and untraceable' network of his own, the Xnet, which starts to lead a life of his own in this teen version of a techno-revolution. What follows is a whirlwind of technical tidbits, (semi-)mathematical explanations about the ifs and hows of some of the Internet and the Xnet's security issues and a race against time to bring down the DHS to save individual liberties and obtain justice for all...

Yes, those are the stakes that Marcus is up against. The themes and references in this book are very much in your face, but you keep reading because you want to know if - and especially of course how - Marcus succeeds in destroying this oppressive DHS-tyranny. At times the book is really quite enjoyable, but as many times, the writing style of this book bothered me with its amateurism and shallowness. Nevertheless, Little Brother is an interesting and enjoyable read for all you compu-geeks out there. You might get a tech-buzz out of all the references. Of course, the themes are what they are, and of course, one shouldn't ridicule any attack on a person's civil liberties, just don't expect a stylized novel with carefully chosen language or you will be in for a disappointment.
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VINE VOICEon 21 December 2008
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Technically I suppose this book is aimed at teenagers, but that's not really important, because it's great fiction, whatever age the reader.

Little Brother is set in near future America, in San Francisco. The central character, Marcus, is a high school computer geek of above average intelligence. Doctorow portrays an America that has become so paranoid about terrorism that they have restricted the civil liberties of the population to a frightening extent. What's frightening is that all the technologies described here already exist - only their prevalence and the way they are used has changed. Every move Marcus makes is monitored through a combination of electronic tags in his property that give off radio signals (RFIDs), CCTV cameras, motion sensors, use of passes on public transport etc. Even his presence in the virtual world is tracked as his internet usage is monitored and his laptop key presses are recorded.

When a terrorist bomb goes off and destroys the Bay Bridge, Marcus and his friends are in the wrong place at the wrong time, and get picked up by the Department of Homeland Security and interrogated. The result is that Marcus's life is changed forever, as he sets out to get his revenge on those who have hurt him, and disrupt their plans.

Doctorow clearly has an agenda in writing the book - his advocacy of civil liberties shows through very clearly. But it's still a great plot, and a fascinating exploration of how this technology COULD be used (and in some cases, already is being used). There are some passages where "Marcus" has to explain the technology, which slows the pace of the book down, and distracts the reader in a rather irritating way. Having said that, most of the technology described was already familiar to me. I can imagine that for a reader who wasn't familiar with it, these descriptions would be necessary, and probably not as intrusive as a result. Also, I have to give the author credit for explaining some complex technologies in a very clever and very simple way.

Overall it's an original read, and a very informative one, even if you're already technology literate. It's a book to think about, as it raises controversial issues you might find yourself discussing with friends - it would make an excellent choice for a reading group. It would also be a good book to buy to encourage a teenager to read who normally prefers their computer to a book!
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VINE VOICEon 6 November 2008
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Everyone, please, read this book! (I'm even using exclamation marks here)
This might not be a book that wins many literary prizes. But I have no hesitation to give it full marks, because it is so important. Everyone who values freedom, civil liberties, democracy, should really read this book. It should be compulsory reading in schools. Everyone in education and in politics should definitely read it.
The main issue is the fight against terrorism and increased governmental control and restriction of personal rights and freedom because of it. The book contains lots of information and good explanations about data security, encryption, electronic media and personal freedom, surveillance by governments and companies, how to keep data safe, the impact of the internet and the online and computer games on society, culture, the youngsters growing up with it, and so on.
And all of it embedded in a good story which frightens you (because it so could happen), makes you laugh, makes you cry, makes you identify with and feel for the characters.
And mostly, it made me much more aware about the issues and determined to stand up for freedom and against the erosion of civil liberties. Count me in in the fight against bureaucratic control and a big brother state.
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VINE VOICEon 13 November 2008
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is close to being one of the 'great' modern books of our time. It deals with important issues such as civil rights, the power of the state and the privacy of the individual in an exciting and entertaining way.

In the foreword, Doctorow states that his inspiration for the book was his horror that people are so willing to face the certain and widespread horror of having their privacy taken away, in order to avoid the very unlikely threat of terrorist attacks. He certainly manages to put this point of view across very well in the book, and it's thought-provoking to say the least. Set only a few years in the future, it's easy to imagine how the sort of police state described here could become a reality even within the west, and it's a scary thing to contemplate.

However, Doctorow shoots himself in the foot a bit by leaving his book a little one-sided. There are no really credible characters who support the opposing views, and it reads more like a polemic rather than a considered, two-sided story that would allow you to make up your own mind. Plus, the ending is disappointingly twee.

Nevertheless, this is a good book which is worth reading, and I imagine that as well as the target audience (I'm guessing around 15-21), many adults will enjoy this too. It falls just short of being a classic though.
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on 12 November 2008
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
'Little Brother' can easily be summed up as a poor man's '1984', but is that true? It tackles similar issues as Orwell's classic, but puts them in a more modern context and makes them far easier to digest. Having read '1984' in my teens I found it hard going, but the ideas fascinating, here is a book that combines the idea and the access that '1984' cannot provide for younger readers who do not have great reading skills.

Personally I think that Doctorow should be commended for tackling the issue of state intrusion in an intelligent and understandable way. There are certainly faults with the book; the main character is meant to be cool but is actually a geek (may put of younger readers), too sexy at times, and some naivety in the writing. Another issue I had with the book was that I am not sure Doctorow is actually talking to the generation he is hoping for. The technology he describes is pretty much up to date, but his cultural references were slightly dated imo and these are the details that can make the difference between an indifferent teen finishing a book or not.

Despite its flaws I still really enjoyed the book as a great introduction for mature 11-14 year olds on concepts that will hold them in good stead. This is a book that should trigger ideas and conversation amongst kids and adults. Packaging the idea of state intervention into an intelligent and enjoyable novel for teens is a welcome thing. Add to this some interesting after words and bibliography and you have a book that both entertains and educates.
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