Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

August 11, 2008
By Anonymous

Sometimes you want a sweet little story to warm your heart, to lull you into the sounds of children's laughter and the waves crashing on the sand...but sometimes you want your blood to curdle and your heart to jackhammer through 300 pages of pure adrenaline rush to the final clincher.

Oppression, meet M1k3y.

That's pronounced mikey, of course, and the Department of Home Security is out to silence the body behind the screenname.

A tech-savvy, ARG-playing* seventeen year old student, Marcus Yallow is swept up in the most serious terrorist attack since 9/11 when bombs detonate across San Francisco. Forced onto the streets by crushing mobs, he and his friends end up captured and held prisoner in a Department of Home Security prison. The DHS releases him only when he yields all personal security information and promises to keep quiet about his brutal treatment.

But Marcus can't just resume normal life, when the security level cinches down notch by notch and DHS-minded eyes sprout up on every street corner and blog. He turns instead to cracking down on electronic bar codes and monitored web communication. The underground movement he generates quickly swells into the primary threat facing the DHS. Problem is, the DHS have sent out their arsenal of guards and infilitrators. Now Marcus's campaign for civil liberties is waylaid by his realization of the threat he poses. His plots are landing fellow campaigners in DHS prison; he is involving loved ones with the DHS's Most Wanted. Is he willing to give up his own freedom in a desperate bid for universal rights?

Cory Doctorow engineers a dose of paranoia and protest, laced with some applicable information as well. There are info dumps on modern security technology, including gait recognition and arphids*. How Marcus slips through the system also comes under detail. For the civil liberties angle, Doctorow dips into Abbie Hoffman and the Yippies (Remember Steal This Book?) These inteludes waste some of the book's drive, but most readers will survive with an extra update on the real world.

Doctorow's most obvious reference is to the Big Brother of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. Where that classic's Brother turned its controlling eyes on the public, Doctorow focuses on the eyes looking back. This check on privacy invasion brings up important moral questions, which Doctorow represents fairly on both sides. Value for privacy and security repeatedly conflict in the characters' exchanges, and the DHS's imposures emphasize the danger of excess. The right to challenge existing unfair institutions is also introduced, if overblown. However, Marcus's mangled attempt to stage a fake gas attack in mockery of the police's ruthlessness backfires, leading to mob tramplings and mass arrests. Clearly, excess can swing both ways.

Whatever philosophical debate the novel excites, Doctorow has produced an engaging read that holds to the end. If you emerge with a bad aftertaste, you will at least have something to talk about. The techno-action relates to that of Michael Crichton, and Francine Prose's After provides a more grainy look at dystopic security overload.

*Alternate Reality Game, involving online puzzle solving and real-world scavenger hunts. Marcus plays Harajuku Fun Madness.
*RFIDS, used for tracking

Similar Articles


This article has 0 comments.


MacMillan Books

Aspiring Writer? Take Our Online Course!