Little Brother

The latest book from one of my favorite authors – Cory Doctorow – is an experience that shouldn’t be missed. Read on for my review, with only vaguely related pictures. 🙂

Rating: 12/12 – Books like these make me proud to say I read science fiction

Cory has Creative Commons the book so he’s posted the entire novel online for free – read it here (in pdf form – check the website for more versions).

Science fiction’s ability to predict the future is actually spotty – Arthur C. Clarke thought up the concept of geostationary communications satellites in 1945 but thought by 2001 we’d have large space stations with space tourism being a common occurrence. So SF could be forgiven if it didn’t predict a society where the government spies on its law abiding citizens and this society is a “free” society not like the one in 1984. It was only after 9/11 that this possible scenario – “free society” with oppressive government – becomes apparent and we start seeing it in SF stories.

So nowadays it doesn’t take a huge leap of faith to think Little Brother could possibly come true but I’m getting ahead of myself – a quick summary of the plot is in order.

Little Brother is about what happens when a group of high school kids happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time and overzealous agents of the government are in charge of the country’s security.

They ditch school to play an online game that asks it’s users to scavenge things in the real-world as part of the game (sounds fun actually) but happen to be near where someone blows up the Bay Bridge in San Francisco. The one student Darryl becomes injured while everyone is rushing to the underground shelters so the group decides to stay above ground and try to find help. Homeland Security nabs them and they end up in some sort of facility.

One member of this group, Marcus, once in the captivity of our government makes the mistake of trying to use his constitutional rights. After six days of torturous behavior they allow him to leave if he signs that he was voluntarily held for questioning and promises never to tell what has happened. He gladly does and once out he realizes that Homeland Security is keeping his friend, Darryl, hostage.

Marcus makes a vow to get Darryl back and sets about going after the Department of Homeland Security.In the wake of the bombing, security is tightened and things that would never be allowed (mandatory cameras in the classroom – how will that stop terrorists?) are quickly rushed into place in the name of security. The DHS starts to profile everyone that ride the subway based on where and when they use their swipey cards. They then question anyone that has a “non-standard” ride pattern.

Marcus, along with the help of many other talented people that still believe America should be free, fight the DHS. He causes all manner of trouble for the DHS but they slowly close in on him. Before they get him though he finally tells his parents what’s been going on and they decide to go to the press. The reporter takes the little evidence of the government’s conduct that Marcus has and upon verifying it – causes a sensation that rocks the country.

In the end the governor of California kicks out the DHS, Daryl is returned – broken by the government, and Marcus goes on to work so more citizens would care about voting.

Message, themes, and predictive abilities aside – this was a good book. I really felt for the characters, I cared about what happened to them and that’s the mark of a good book. I couldn’t help but identify with Marcus – if I was in the same situation I’d probably do the same things he did. It makes me angry to think we are probably only one large scale terrorist attack away from losing the rights that so many good men and women have fought and died to keep for us and the future generations of Americans.

I’d recommend this book to everyone, from the teens that this book is written for to adults that might need a bit of fire in their veins to remember why this country is great.

I’ll leave with a quote from the next book I’m reading ‘Spook Country’ by William Gibson that sums up how I feel about terrorists and how our society is going. The person is speaking to a guy that is presumed to be some sort of government agent: “Are you really so scared of terrorists that you’ll dismantle the structures that made America what it is? If you are, you let the terrorist win. Because that is exactly, specifically, his goal, his only goal: to frighten you into surrendering the rule of law. That’s why they call him ‘terrorist.’ He uses terrifying threats to induce you to degrade your own society.”

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