Sunday, February 10, 2013

Quickie Book Review: Little Brother

by Cory Doctorow

I'm trying to branch out into other reading genres. Sometimes I think I've painted myself into a corner, focusing mostly on lgbt and horror (though I do throw quite a bit of world lit into the mix). Last year, I managed two -- count 'em two -- non-fiction titles, and with Little Brother, I'm dipping my toes into cyberpunk. Or at least, what I think of as cyberpunk.

In Little Brother, Marcus' life is turned upside down when his hometown of San Francisco suffers an unprecedented terrorist attack. In the aftermath of the explosion that devastated much of the city, Marcus and his friends are picked up by the Department of Homeland Security, thrown into the back of a truck filled with other citizens, and then have sacks pulled over their heads as they're transported to an undisclosed facility. At the facility, he and his friends are separated, locked into prison cells and then questioned one by one about what their involvement was with the attack. When asked to hand over the password to his phone, he refuses. You see, Marcus is somewhat of a technical genius; he easily hacked into his school's security system, messing with the cameras as well as the school-provided laptops -- not to mention his online persona "w1n5t0n" who is well known in the cyber world. His phone carries too much dangerous information to give just anyone access, so his refusal seems standard enough. That doesn't quite sit well with his interrogator. In fact, it only fans the flames of her belief that Marcus had something to do with the attack, working on the inside as a terrorist. But he and two of his friends are eventually released with a warning that they will be closely watched.

San Francisco, however, is no longer the beautiful city it once was. People's every steps are being monitored. No one talks freely in cafes as they once did, fearing that someone might be listening in on their conversation. Unmarked vans patrol suburban streets at night searching for any signs of terrorist movement. And Marcus can no longer stand to see his city suffer at the hands of the DHS, so he decides to take them on himself using his cyberskills to beat them at their own game.

You don't need to be a techie to get into the story. In fact, I felt that my IQ went up a few tens of points while I was reading the way Marcus explained how everything worked and then watching it in action. Plus, Marcus and his friends are likeable, which helps immensely. (If I like the characters, I'm going to connect with them and feel as though I'm experiencing the story rather than reading it.) Even the DHS baddies work because it's exciting to watch them get thwarted at almost every turn. And thankfully, they never become the clichéd government (or military) villains that I've come across many time in movies and books.

I could go on about how the novel is about not letting our fears get the better of us and to not allow someone to foment that fear to twist us into blind submission, but I don't want to bore you. And this isn't supposed to be an in-depth review of the book, the characters, and it's impact on society as a whole. Simply put, Little Brother is a fun, fast-paced ride that is most definitely worthy of a read.

Little Brother
by Cory Doctorow
Tor/A Tom Doherty Associates Book
trade paperback, 382 pgs

Image from somnoliento's Flickr photostream. Creative Common License CC BY-SA 2.0.

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