Book Review - Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
Based on a recommendation from a friend, I took the opportunity to read Little Brother by Cory Doctorow. While this is technically categorized as a "young adult" novel, it completely and totally transcends age boundaries. This should be required reading when it comes to thinking about what our "terrorism-adverse" society is coming to. Of course, the government would probably prefer you just ignored the book and trusted them to look out for you.
Marcus Yallow is a teenager who is much more comfortable in front of a computer than in trying to obey the rules of society. He resorts to a few techno-tricks to throw off the school's monitoring system so he and a friend can head off to play a popular online game involving tracking clues and solving puzzles in real life. While he and his three friends are tracking down the latest hint, a bomb explodes on the Bay Bridge in San Francisco (where the novel takes place). Marcus flags down a military vehicle to get help for his injured friend, but this simple act throws him into a Department of Homeland Security Gitmo-like prison where he is grilled as a possible terrorist involved in the bombing. He's eventually let go after four days (with threats of harm should he tell anyone), but his injured friend has completely disappeared. With each passing day, more and more "security measures" are put in place to track all the citizens and find patterns that would indicate criminal activities. While some consider this government action necessary for public safety (like Marcus's parents), Marcus sees this as a complete destruction of the rights he is supposed to have as an American citizen. He helps organize a large encrypted network called Xnet to spread the truth and counter the government and media distortions. But as the DHS continues to crack down on all sorts of freedoms in the name of fighting terrorism, his anonymity and safety becomes even more tenuous than it already is, and he's in a fight for his life and the lives of his closest friends. He has to figure out whether the fight for truth is worth dying for, or whether he should just acknowledge the fact that he can't fight an entire government and change things.
The action in Little Brother takes place at a time not too much in the future from where we are now. In fact, the time could be here and now, as the technology used in the book is nearly all functional and available. It's utterly impossible to read this book without drawing references and parallels to what America has experienced and implemented since 9/11. Doctorow weaves a story that paints media and government in a very bad light when it comes to motives and truth, but you'd have to be totally naive to think that much of what happens in Little Brother isn't possible (or in some cases isn't already happening). The stated "young adult" audience will identify with the characters, while being forced to think about their rights and freedoms that are increasingly being destroyed. Adults, especially ones with a techno-bent, will have to question some foundational beliefs in the integrity and the role of government that no longer hold true.
Doctorow also has a very different view on copyright material, and his beliefs make this book available to anyone at no cost. You can go to his website and download the book in various electronic formats for no charge. He practices what he preaches when it comes to the Creative Commons license structure. I read Little Brother as a combination of text emails from a service called DailyLit, as well as from the PDF when I wanted to read some longer passages. It made for a unique reading experience, and one that was seemingly appropriate given the subject matter.
I would strongly recommend this book to anyone who is concerned about where we are going as a society. And if you're not concerned, then you need to read this book even more...