Home Reviews Shorts Search

Cory Doctorow – Little BrotherI picked up Little Brother, Cory Doctorow's 4th fiction novel, as a promotional copy at this year's National UK Science Fiction convention (aka Eastercon). Cory, co-editor of BoingBoing, and ex-EFF employee, is the winner of a Locus Award, plus the Prometheus, Sunburst, and John W Campbell Awards for this book. He also has a number of non-fiction books, and a graphic novel to his name, and his latest book, For the Win, is out this year.
Little Brother tells the story of Marcus Yallow, a student of 17 years, living in San Francisco, in the (very) near future. A San Francisco which has just seen the worst post-911 terrorist attack, having its Bay Bridge blown up, with a loss of thousands of lives.
At the time of the attack we find Marcus out on the street, having evaded school surveillance to play Harajuku Fun Madness, an online/offline game with his team. He, and his 3 friends, are picked up by the DHS (Department of Homeland Security – yes, they're real), and are held without charge or access to a lawyer and questioned for days in a secret prison, under accusation of being in league with the terrorists.
When he is released, forbidden to talk about any of what has happened to him, he find his town under siege from the DHS, the Constitution of the US partially suspended under the Patriot II act; with ubiquitous surveillance and Police harassment. Having been a bit of a digital/ anti-surveillance rebel in his school beforehand he now starts pushing back against the loss of freedom and privacy, which obviously wakes the ire of the DHS.

The book does not make for joyful reading, I sometimes wanted to turn away from the story, close my eyes, and refuse to look at what Cory is pointing out to us. Especially the initial story segment, with Marcus caught up in the shady side of anti-terror, government-sponsored abductions, and prison camps outside of the legal system from the viewpoint of an innocent caught in the wrong place and time, with no recourse, is hard to stomach.

The book is told in the 1st person, from the point of view of Marcus. Despite this the characters didn't fully come to life for me – they somehow remained bound by their 'roles' in this expose, and slightly contradictory in parts I felt.
My feeling in several places was that this was trying to be a 1984 for the digital generation. Don't get me wrong, he's making a great job of it (regardless if that was his intention or not), to me the book really brought home the comment made about Lauren Beukes' Moxyland – that "our very own bright and shiny dystopia is only ever one totalitarian government away".
The book itself is interspersed with explanatory information dumps on topics like Cryptography, Network Security, Bayesian Analysis, the False Positive Paradox (no paradox there IMHO) etc. These break the flow of the story to explain what Marcus et al are doing, or, usually, are going to do. We also get afterwords by Network Security maven Bruce Schneier, and by Andrew 'bunnie' Huang, the original Xbox Hacker. Plus a glowing endorsement by Neil Gaiman, declaring the book an absolute Must Read.
I tend to agree. What the book lacks in story and flow it more than makes up with topics and explanations of things that need to be seen, known, thought through, and avoided. If we look away then this might well be where we will end up at with our own society. Or worse.

Title: Little Brother
Subtitle: Big Brother is watching you. Who is watching back?
Author: Cory Doctorow
Reviewer: Markus
Reviewer URL:
Publisher:  Harper Voyager
Publisher URL:
Publication Date: 2008
Review Date: 100707
ISBN: 9780007288427
Price: UKP 7.99
Pages: 374
Format: Trade Paperback
Topic: SF
Topic: Privacy

More Cory Doctorow

Andy Weir - The Martian


Tricia Sullivan – Occupy Me


Doris Lessing – The Sirian Experiments


Lavie Tidhar - Central Station


Thomas Pynchon – Gravity’s Rainbow


Charles Stross - The Atrocity Archives


Thomas Pynchon - Slow Learner


Liz Williams - Empire of Bones


Somtow Sucharitul – Starship & Haiku


Doris Lessing - Shikasta


Aliette de Bodard – In the Vanishers’ Palace


S.P. Somtow – I Wake from a Dream of a Drowned Star City


Iain Sinclair - Radon Daughters


Ken MacLeod - Cosmonaut Keep


Peter Watts - Blindsight, Powered by Mambo!; free resources by SiteGround