If you’re remotely interested in blogging, science fiction or maybe just the internet in general, then you’re bound to have encountered Cory Doctorow. He’s like a the bespectacled little demi-god of the intertubes; even if you don’t worship him, you know he’s out there, looking down at you from somewhere… preaching knowingly about Creative Commons… linking your blog post from his hugely popular Boing Boing site… or getting blurbed by the omniscient being known as Neil Gaiman:
I’d recommend Little Brother over pretty much any book I’ve read this year, and I’d want to get it into the hands of as many smart teenagers, male and female, as I can.
Because I think it’ll change lives. Because some kids, maybe just a few, won’t be the same after they’ve read it. Maybe they’ll change politically, maybe technologically. Maybe it’ll just be the first book they loved or that spoke to their inner geek. Maybe they’ll want to argue about it and disagree with it. Maybe they’ll want to open their computer and see what’s in there. I don’t know. It made me want to be 13 again right now and reading it for the first time, and then go out and make the world better or stranger or odder. It’s a wonderful, important book, in a way that renders its flaws pretty much meaningless.
– Neil Gaiman, on “Little Brother” by Cory Doctorow
Ever since I read that on Neil Gaiman’s Journal, I’ve been reeling to get my hands on this book, ’cause every book I’ve read that Neil Gaiman has vouched for have been remarkable reading experiences. “The Wizard Knight” by Gene Wolfe has got a Gaiman quote, and I loved it. “Heart-Shaped Box” by Joe Hill got a quote, and he’s now one of my favourite authors out there. So yeah, I was picking this up as soon as possible. And guess what? Neil was right about “Little Brother”, too.
Now there’s a shocker if I ever saw one.
The fact that this is a Young Adult book wasn’t going to stop me. I’ve read enough YA by now to know that the genre holds a lot of good books (“The Inferior” by Peadar Ó Guilín, “Under My Roof” by Nick Mamatas), and I know that Cory Doctorow is never going to write anything that falls short off wickedly smart. He’s just that kind of writer. Besides, when people on the net are going around saying it’s one the most important books of the century, I’m clever enough to sit up and take notice of it.
“Little Brother” is set some time into a future America. Exactly when is not specified, but stuff like 9/11 being fresh on people’s mind and the fact that people are still bitching about how bad the last president was seems to indicate that were not looking too far into the noughties. The story is about a high-school student named Marcus who’s forced to take notice of the way the government is disregarding old, fundamental rights, invading people’s privacy and in general not acting the way it should. All this escalates when terrorists decides to blow up some buildings in his home town, killing thousands upon thousands of Californians while they’re at it. The Department of Homeland Security seizes this opportunity to take away even more of the public’s privileges and practically turning Marcus’ city into a police state. Someone has to do something about this, and it sure as hell isn’t going to be the adults. No, it’s going to have to be Marcus and his friends’s job to take down the DHS, get their freedom back and save the country from destroying itself. No small feat for a guy who doesn’t even get straight A-s.
As far as Doctorow’s technical writing chops go, I gotta say that I’m not exactly impressed or awed in the slightest. His prose flows nicely from beginning to end, and the book is very well paced apart from a some missteps that were probably included to break up the rather heavy subject material into more digestible parts. The characterization isn’t very complicated, either; the bad guys are Bad and the good guys are without failure Good, and since this is Marcus’ show all the way, you end up with a fairly enjoyable, yet ultimately one-dimensional supporting cast.
Now, normally these would be things that took a lot of the fun out of the novel for me, but no so with “Little Brother”. I’m not saying that I totally disregard them either – flaws are flaws no matter how you look at them – but some flaws are easier to forgive then others when you’re given a context to understand them in. Besides, if you’re thinking of reading this book because of its literary qualities, then you’re in the wrong part of the book shop, my friend.
Because “Little Brother” is all about the Messages, and Doctorow is smart enough to go about them in a way that doesn’t feel like he’s hitting you over the head with his Mace o’ Politics. This book is about someone growing up in a world where the authorities lull they’re citizens into not thinking for themselves and taking everything without questioning the content. And that’s why it’s such an important book, because in a world that allows George W. Bush to get elected and prisoners of war to get tortured in Guantanamo, it could serve as a wake-up call to the new generation.
It’s also a really cool book. At least that’s why I thought, but then I’m generally quite interested in hacking, LARPing, ARGing, how to build computers and learning more about my security and how to protect my privacy. “Little Brother” teaches you about all these things and many more, and I felt genuinely enlightened after I put it down. I wanted to sit down next to my lap-top and google every single thing that Doctorow talks about. I wanted to learn how I could detect pin-head cameras by using toilet paper. I wanted to hack an Xbox.
That was the point with this book, and it got it across really well. I don’t normally do this with every good book I read, but I’m going to make sure that all my local librarians gets told of this book (I know three of them personally), and I’m going to make sure that every kid in my area gets the opportunity to read “Little Brother”, and maybe grow up a little smarter for it. If nothing else, it’ll be good for my cosmic karma.
This is not a literary masterpiece, but it’s rich in so many other ways that nothing should stop you from getting a hold of it. Who cares that it’s aimed at someone who’s younger than you? This book is more important that 99 % of the science fiction published this year.
I’m off to the library now.
I hope I’ll see you there.