I’ll just start out by saying that the author offers the e-book version of this novel for free on his website: Little Brother
Although if you would like to support the author it is also available on Amazon
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.
This is a book that’s been on my radar for quite some time now for a variety of reasons, the main one being the cover blurb by Neil Gaiman: “I’d recommend Little Brother over pretty much any book I’ve read this year”. That’s quite the endorsement from an incredibly well respected author. I finally got around to reading this book last week and I’m glad I did.
The plot of is fairly straightforward: computer whiz Marcus and his friends fall under suspicion from homeland security following a terrorist attack. The minors are abducted, taken to a facility for questioning and treated quite harshly. What follows is a fun, fast paced ride as Marcus begins to lead a movement against restrictive security measures imposed on citizens of the city by homeland security as they attempt to crack down on said terrorists.
Although this is a young adult novel it deals with some pretty adult issues, the main one being the debate between the right to privacy vs. security. In the world created by Cory Doctorow, Marcus and his fellow students are monitored at all times, their physical location as well as their online activates being tracked “in order to protect them”. It’s actually scary how close to reality this novel is becoming as today in the states we are seeing students forced to carry tracking cards in school and even being expelled for refusing to wear them. The monitoring goes further with the government tracking your use of subway cards for any abnormalities as well as purchases etc. Citizens are frequently told “If you have nothing to hide then you shouldn’t mind us watching you”. Doctorow makes a pretty good case throughout the novel that we all need and deserve our right to privacy both in the real world and online, even if you aren’t doing anything illegal or uncommon.
The author does an admirable job of including a lot of real technology that exists today in this novel and explaining how it works in terms anyone can understand.
Technologies that make an appearance:
I’m sure I’m forgetting some other technologies involved in the story but suffice it to say if you don’t know about a lot of this stuff this book can actually be very educational as well as interesting.
The book isn’t all technology and romance though, it also has the requisite amount of teenage romance, drama and love triangles expected from a YA book. Unlike the recently popular Hunger Games and Divergent trilogies (don’t even get me started on twilight) the teenage romance aspect wasn’t focused on so much that it got on my nerves. I did think that Marcus acted a little bit too adult for his age unfortunately, for example having a 17 year old computer nerd and gamer quote the declaration of independence in an argument seems a little unrealistic to me.
Overall this was a great YA dystopian novel that paints a bleak picture of where government monitoring technology could be headed in the near future. I wish it would gain the sort of popularity achieved by the likes of The Hunger Games and Divergent since is much more realistic as well as educational. That seems unlikely however, with the focus being on technology as opposed to fight scenes and battles to the death it doesn’t have the sort of mass market appeal that those series do.