Apr 24, 2009: “Little Brother” is the story of Marcus Yallow, a high school geek who gets caught in the wrong place, at the wrong time. He and his friends skip school to play an Alternate Reality Game but are picked up by Homeland Security in the aftermath of a terrorist attack on San Francisco. When they are finally released, they find their world has changed. Marcus begins a campaign against the restrictions imposed in the name of fighting terrorism.
The first chapter or so seemed like an update of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”. Marcus, aka W1n5t0n (pronounced Winston), convinces his buddy Darryl to skip school, meet up with a girl and go downtown. The machinations involved with skipping school are much more involved since their high school has very sophisticated security devices but, like Ferris, Marcus is up for the challenge. Unlike Ferris’ story, here the girl is just a friend, the teens are off to collect points in a large-scale game, and the game is interrupted by an earthquake. Darryl is hurt in the ensuing panic and confusion. When they flag down a Homeland Security jeep, Marcus‘ attitude lands them in interrogation rooms. Turns out the earthquake was caused by terrorists blowing up a bridge. The devices Marcus used to get out of school make him a person of interest in the investigations.
The story is told by Marcus in first person, past tense. He’s a well-written character: cocky, manipulative and ruthless when it comes to getting what he wants. He’s an uber-hacker, gamer, and high school outsider. His refusal to co-operate with the authorities seems to come as much from a desire to “stick it to the man” as from his indignation over having his Constitutional rights violated. After 40 pages, the other characters aren’t as well developed, although Darryl’s willingness to be led into trouble does remind me of Ferris Bueller’s buddy Cameron.
The premise of the story is interesting and it raises questions about how much people should be willing to give up in order to feel safe. Unfortunately, while the message is important, it was delivered in a rather heavy-handed way that I found off-putting—I prefer my morality plays to be a little more subtle. Also, while the writing is solid, it is prone to technospeak and often slips into long asides explaining the technical terms. Most of the people who would read this probably don’t need the terms explained and it didn’t really add anything to the story. If anything, it distanced the reader from the story and the characters. Despite the desperation of his circumstances, I found it hard to work up much sympathy for Marcus at any point.
“Little Brother” is a well-written story about a teenager who finds his personal rights being taken away after a terrorist attack, and who decides to fight back. The use of government conspiracies, paranoia, and high tech security combine to give a dark, bleak vision of post-crisis America. If you enjoyed "1984" and "Ferris Bueller’s Day Off", give it a try.
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