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Little Brother by Cory Doctorow


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.

Note: Little Brother contains some graphic violence and harsh language.

A complete novel

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Listed: Feb 2, 2009


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Editorial Reviews

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Homeland Security and Terrorism

By Linda Schoales, editor

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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Most Helpful Member Reviews

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This will be the next book I buy

By Lilred, member

Feb 4, 2009: I’d been hearing about this one for months now. But I only started it yesterday – on my screen – and I am so hooked that I must now own Little Brother printed on dead trees, even if I make it to the end before I get around to buying it.

Here’s the thing. Cory Doctorow is a web geek. He’s also a web geek who knows how to tell a good story. Neither the political implications (and these are scary) [more . . .]

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This one speaks to me.

By BFuniv, member

Jan 16, 2010: This book is about young hackers fighting when tyranny passes the tipping point in their neighborhood.

What is striking is what Stephen King in his book On Writing refers to as the most important part of fiction – the truth. These characters are real, their situations ring with historicity and valid experience. I don’t need to suspend disbelief, I can believe.

I programed using punchcards in college, on mainframes that took up [more . . .]

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