Monday, October 6, 2008

Review of Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

This unnerving tale takes place in the very near future but could conceivably happen now - all the technology is in place and so this quite a plausible premise. Even before the terrorist attack that blows up San Francisco's Bay Bridge, Marcus's high school is practically a police state, with RFIDs tracking library books, gait recognition technology tracking every student's whereabouts, and school laptops logging students' every keystroke. Marcus is rather an anomaly - not only a hacker/gamer/geek of major proportions but also apparently Mr. Cool as well. Anyway, when he and his friends are rounded up by the Department of Homeland Security, his hacking abilities arouse plenty of suspicion, and they are all detained secretly for quite a few days. When he is finally released, his world has changed - paranoia in the name of "security" reigns supreme and the DHS is soon tracking everyone's movements through RFIDs on passes, credit/debit cards, and much more. Marcus uses his quite extensive knowledge of cryptology to create an underground movement, made up mainly of young geeks, who electronically subvert the system. Getting caught could mean disappearing forever.

This is a truly unsettling book - although over-the-top, the premise feels very possible in these troubled times, and this sense of constant paranoia is the main strength of the book. My main problem with the book is the character of teenaged Marcus, who is simply way too crazy-smart and crazy-knowledgeable to possess even a modicum of the social finesse and street smarts that he exhibits. Sure, the dude has teen hormones and occasionally makes decisions that backfire wildly - but he's too mature and often comes across as the mouthpiece of the author. The stuff about cryptology, gaming, and rest is interesting (talk about "revenge of the nerds!") but often the reader is being taught and lectured to at great length; this feels like a tract rather than a fast-paced action adventure much of the time. My other objection has to do with the writing, which is workmanlike. Faces stream with tears all too often; Marcus has to "piss like a racehorse" at least twice.
Still, any book in which crazed teen gamers and hackers fight the good fight against The Man is okay with me. Plus, this will be a fun and easy hand-sell, which is always a fine thing.


  1. Just discovered your blog (via Nina's) and have to laugh because I too quoted that racehorse line in my pan of this title! I'm just so happy to see that I'm not alone in my feelings about it.

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  3. Some phrases are just too jarring to use twice! I love your blog Educating Alice, by the way...

  4. Hey Eva,

    I haven't quite gotten to any race-horse pissing but I'm looking forward to it! I'd love to hear any input you can add to the discussion at the Urban Monarch book club.