LITTLE BROTHER by Cory Doctorow (Tor), 384 pages. $19.95 cloth. Rating: NNNN
Boing Boing co-editor Cory Doctorow’s fiction used to read more like the accretion of ideas than novels, technological longings steps ahead of their time, whose narratives were an afterthought.
Well, no longer. In Little Brother, his first young adult book, Doctorow busts loose with a propulsive story of teenage rebellion, and in the process frames his ideas in their most accessible incarnation yet.
Teenaged hacker Marcus Yallow uses his knowledge of his school’s security to skip class and run around San Francisco with his friends, chasing after clues in an alternate reality game. When their game places them at the site of a terrorist attack, they’re picked up by the Department of Homeland Security as suspects. One of his friends is left behind when they’re released, which prompts Marcus to launch a counterattack on those responsible: the government itself.
Along the way, Marcus knocks up against family, friends and an entire city caught up in Patriot Act-style security gone wild.
You don’t need to be a technology geek to read Little Brother – and that’s part of the point. The key is Marcus’s narration, which in easily digestible terms offers a how-to guide on everything from cryptography to 60s counterculture.
Marcus’s story is guaranteed to make you think about privacy and security, the true meaning of freedom and what any one person can do about it. Better still, it gives you the tools to do it.
The novel directly confronts some of our worst fears and realities head on, with the optimism and ingenuity of the most determined teenaged gamer.
Give this book to smart teenagers and they will change the world.
Doctorow reads at the Lillian Smith Library today (Thursday, May 1). See Readings