Audio Book Review: Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
From the back cover:
Marcus, a.k.a “w1n5t0n,” is only seventeen years old, but he figures he already knows how the system works–and how to work the system. Smart, fast, and wise to the ways of the networked world, he has no trouble outwitting his high school’s intrusive but clumsy surveillance systems.
But his whole world changes when he and his friends find themselves caught in the aftermath of a major terrorist attack on San Francisco. In the wrong place at the wrong time, Marcus and his crew are apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security and whisked away to a secret prison where they’re mercilessly interrogated for days.
When the DHS finally releases them, Marcus discovers that his city has become a police state where every citizen is treated like a potential terrorist. He knows that no one will believe his story, which leaves him only one option: to take down the DHS himself.
I was surprised how much I enjoyed this book. @fyrefly98 recommended it to me, and I generally trust her taste in books. Her blog, Fyrefly’s Book Blog, is one that I never “mark all as read” because I believe she and I have very similar tastes in books.
But this isn’t a review of @fyrefly98, so let’s get down to business. Cory Doctorow is a writer I’ve heard many good things about but never got around to reading. That may have been a huge mistake on my part. Little Brother is a story set in the not too distant future where the department of homeland security starts spying on people, installing cameras, checking their e-mail and tracking their movements all in the name of freedom. Little Brother is the story of Marcus, a high school student well versed in technology, who gets caught up in the chaos after a terrorist attack on San Francisco. He and his three friends get taken in to custody and harshly questioned by the DHS. After a couple of days, Marcus and two of his friends get out, but the fourth member of their group is still missing and the DHS wont answer any questions. What’s more, the DHS tells his that if he ever tells anybody what happened to him while he was being detained, they will throw him back in a prison and throw away the key. As with most teenagers who get told what to do, Marcus gets angry, and he starts to rebel against the DHS. Using an online alias, Marcus plants the seeds of rebellion against the DHS, and they in turn try to track down the mysterious online persona who is freely using the internet as a way to circumvent the restrictions placed upon people by the DHS in the name of freedom.
One of the things I really liked about this book was the use of technology and youth culture. In the beginning of the book Marcus and his friends play an ARG (alternate reality game) which is something I don’t think many adults would be familiar with. Luckily, Doctorow does a fairly good job at explaining all the technical bits for the readers who may not be familiar with computers, programing, etc. However, these parts do slow down the progression of the story. Who wants to read a page of programing code (or listen to it being read as in the case for the audiobook)?
Speaking of the pacing, I found it hard to stop listening to this book. I normally reserve audiobooks for long drives, but I was caught up in what was happening that I needed to find out what happens next. I was listening to this during the short drive to the grocery store and wherever. I was just too eager to see what happens next. There was also a love story aspect that felt tacked on, and I generally didn’t care for. It slowed down the pacing half-way through the book. Thrilling things still happen, it’s just now Marcus has this girl who tags along and doesn’t add anything, I felt, to the overall plot.
At times this book does come off as preachy, warning about how easy it is for a government to take over and invade a person’s privacy and freedom. There were times were I was rolling my eyes at the ideas this book presented. However, it was never laid on thick enough to detract from my enjoyment of the book.
Closing Thoughts: Aside from the occasionally preachiness about freedoms being taken away by the government and the tacked on love story, Little Brother is a captivating story that left me eager to find out what happens next.
Question: You can download most (all?) of Cory Doctorow’s books for free from his website because most (all?) of them are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-ShareAlike license which lets you share, remix and share you remix as long as you don’t sell your remix. This is an interesting idea to me. My question is, what if all books were released under this license? Obviously publishers are still OK to some extent with Doctorow giving his books away for free because there are still people paying for hardcopies.