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Little Brother (1)
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You can’t trust Cory Doctorow. He’s 40. What could he know? You just can’t trust him. Of course, you can’t trust me either. I’m over 25. I’m able to run for certain public offices. What could I know?
Nevertheless, whether you can trust Doctorow or me, believe me when I say that his book Little Brother is fantastic. It tells the story of a kid, Marcus, in a not-too-distant post-9-11 future who innovates to overcome the artificial limitations imposed on him by his school and his society. Only, after a bridge blows up, he and his friends are considered “persons of interest” by the DHS.
After this event, like any other event where somebody did something to us we didn’t expect, the people gladly let the government take away their civil liberties until all of the city is one big Airstrip One.
Our protagonist doesn’t like being treated like a criminal without having performed any crimes, so he intelligently (for the most part) fights back using the set of power tools granted to us by the founding fathers in the Bill of Rights.
At times, the story is funny and light hearted. Others, it’s angering and maddening. Still others, it’s almost tear-jerking. I find it a real shame that more books aimed at younger audiences like this don’t exist. I’d love for the youth of our country to be entertained while learning about their so-called unalienable rights, especially since they’re probably only getting one side from their public schools.
If you’re a high school-aged person or are a teacher or parent of such, pick up this book (it’s freely available in e-book format) and give a copy to every teen you know. While you might not agree with every topic covered in this book, it is an excellent primer on basic human freedoms, especially when they’re at odds with an oppressive government, making us take our shoes off at airports and get molested by federal agents “for our safety.”
Today’s children are tomorrows leaders, so let’s give them the whole story before we hand the wheel over to them. That is, if they can still trust us.
| Jun 21, 2012 |
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An excruciating failure of a book, but its heart is in the right place.
| Feb 6, 2014 |
I read this book in two sittings--and would have read it in one if I didn't need to get up and go somewhere the next morning. There isn't a dull moment, and there is hardly a moment that doesn't make me boiling mad at what our country is being turned into by unchecked government power. Little Brother starts with a terrorist attack in San Francisco, in which a group of teenagers is caught up. Swept up by the Department of Homeland Security as suspicious characters, they are whisked away to the middle of San Francisco Bay and treated like terrorists, forced to hand over their cellphone passwords and stripped of their dignity and their rights as American citizens. After Marcus Yallow is released, he watches in horror as San Francisco is rapidly turned into a police state. Citizens movements are tracked through their Fast Passes, their transit cards, and by surveillance cameras everywhere. Marcus has a weapon, however--he is a hacker. And soon he has a band of followers who are successfully throwing monkey wrench after monkey wrench into the DHS's assault on the privacy and freedom of San Franciscans. Can a teenager succeed in his quixotic quest to make people put away their fear of terrorists and realize that the greatest danger to our freedom comes from within? Can he make anyone understand and appreciate the meaning of the Bill of Rights or of the words of the Declaration of Independence? You'll just have to read the book to find out.
Doctorow compares the current security insanity with an autoimmune disease: "Right now, America is going into anaphylactic shock over its own freedoms, and we need to inoculate ourselves against this."
If you have any interest in technology, you will be riveted. Of course, things change quickly, and the recent horrifying revelations of the NSA's illegal spying and their ability to perhaps compromise encryption techniques thought to be secure, makes this book a little dated. Although Doctorow exaggerates a bit to induce in the reader the necessary state of paranoia to understand and embrace the book's message, these recent revelations show that he was definitely on the right track. Every American should read this book and follow in the footsteps of Marcus Yallow. Our freedom is at stake.
| Feb 1, 2014 |
A triumphant story about kids facing down totalitarian impulses of the state. Full of geekery and a pretty scary dystopian "what if" based on post-9/11 law.
| Dec 23, 2013 |
I've been meaning to read Little Brother for a long time, so when it came up for the SF/F course on Coursera, it seemed like it was finally time. Maybe it got built up a bit too much over time, because I found it fairly disappointing. There's something very immature about it -- in some ways, that's part of its charm, because it's enthusiastic and straightforward and the characters/plot are earnest.
But. While I enjoy Cory Doctorow's non-fiction writing (he writes very clearly about copyright, piracy, etc), I haven't enjoyed his fiction nearly as much. He seems to write still partly in a non-fiction mode: we get lectured about the world he's setting up, rather than seeing it in action. It's like a thought experiment, a way of playing out his concerns. There's a place for that, of course, but it's a lot easier to swallow when it's wrapped up in prose like that of Ursula Le Guin. This probably is a fairly direct comparison to books like Charlotte Perkins Gilman's Herland: it's a story born of convictions more than of the urge to tell a story, I think.
For a reader who is used to Cory Doctorow's work and already interested in this kind of thing, the narrator's explanations are unnecessary, and even for those who are not, it's a bit heavy-handed. Doctorow's writing is clear, and he gets his points across... but for me, that was a trade off against flow and interest.
I don't really see why people found this so fascinating and absorbing, I'm afraid.
| Dec 15, 2013 |
Definately entertaining - if not a little hysterical. Post 9/11 security measures were draconian on paper and haphazardly applied in practice - which led to gross injustices in some hands and benign neglect in others. Not to say that we should never be concerned about Big Brother (or in this case Little Brother) - but this novel - of what happens after a 2nd 9/11 in San Francisco seems a tad overblown and reactionary. I'm not sure that I understand why, but I'm fascinated that the author is very interested in the protections that the Constitution gives US citizens not being infringed or trampled. Protections and freedom that were purchased and held at the cost of American lives - but yet he is Canadian - a country that did not have to fight for its rights - and renounced his Canadian citizenship and became a UK citizen - a country that doesn't even *have* a Constitution. Ironic at best - but that aside - it was a good read, clearly a YA novel - but much more real world and plausible than others that could be named.
| Nov 5, 2013 |
I've been meaning to read this for some time now, but when I saw on the cover that it had been blurbed by both Neil Gaiman and Scott Westerfeld, well, I decided I simply could not wait any longer. When San Francisco is attacked by terrorists, Marcus and his friends find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, and immediately detained by the Department of Homeland Security, where they are interrogated and tortured. This terrible and unjust treatment motivates Marcus to try to beat the system, creating a separate and untraceable internet using a fictional XBox network. There's a lot of discussion of how much privacy and freedom one can sacrifice in the name of security, and a lot of questions are raised about how many of these intrusive security measures actually make us any safer. I can see some folks dismissing the whole tale as far too paranoid, but I think it's still an important book to read, if only as a starting point to a conversation about the larger issues of liberty and security and terrorism. I do not have any answers, but I appreciate any book that makes me want to learn more about the world around me.
| Nov 5, 2013 |
Phenomenal representation of the danger of technology while simultaneously promoting the influence of the people. As the title promotes, the novel is another tale revolving around the theme's presented by "1984". Never underestimate the power of the people.
| Nov 4, 2013 |
The main character Marcus is your average high school boy: skipping class to play games, fighting with parents, and making time to make out with his girlfriend. Looking closer, there is so much more to him; he is a leader. He is completely paranoid, which leads him to create the Xnet, which is a way for other disenfranchised people to mobilize and unite to disrupt the surveillance that government instituted because of terrorist attacks. Marcus allows readers and followers to question the world in which we live.
| Oct 23, 2013 |
Long time I wasn't so hooked on a book. A good story for young-adults easy to enjoy at any age. The action happens in San Francisco and the geography (and spirit) of the city is very well described.
It has also an educative part, with some technical explanations that are a pleasure to read, combining easy language with accuracy.
I think my generation (80s) was drawn to computers by movies like Wargames or Tron... I want to think the 2000 generation will be brought into technology by this book.
| Oct 21, 2013 |
Really really enjoyed. I think this is his best book.
| Oct 12, 2013 |
Not too long ago, I ended up with a copy of Little Brother by Cory Doctorow when I bought a set of books in the Humble Ebook Bundle 2. (Btw: Humble bundle is awesome, and does good work. Check them out). I picked it out of my Kindle Book List on a dreary Saturday where I was looking to just relax and escape.
This book doesn’t help one relax or escape, but I was completely unable to put the book down. Sure, I may be a few years late to the party, but I think this book should be required reading for high school students.
I’m a teacher. I work with kids who barely remember the “pre 9/11″ world. They grew up with our nation embroiled in wars, where security threats are an almost daily reality according to the news. They have a school issued laptop that can be remotely accessed, that logs every site they visit, and an email that can be randomly searched by teachers and administrators. This book seems apropos of Wikileaks and Snowden, as if it was predicting the major problems to come. It seems more of a jumping off place for real conversation in the classroom and beyond- does security come at the cost of freedom? Should commoners issue a new Declaration of Independence, and overthrow the current statue quo in Washington?
While it initially brought to mind 1984, it was quite obvious its own book, and much more relevant and relatable. Marcus is your average high school kid, skipping class to play games, fighting with his parents, making out with his girlfriend. But he’s also an accidental leader, his paranoia leading him to create the Xnet, a way for other disenfranchised people to mobilize and unite to disrupt the surveillance state the government instituted in the wake of a terrorist attack. It is something I could see many of my students doing, if given the right motivation….
Doctorow is a skilled author, who takes a reader through a story and leaves them questioning how the government operates…. And what we can do in response.
| Oct 12, 2013 |
This is one of those books that is so good, and hits so perfectly in your brain, you instantly want everyone on the planet to read it. The characters are fairly well fleshed out, the gender ideology is contemporary enough as to not seem fantasy-ish, but also progressive enough to not marginalize the female characters. The only complaint I have is that, in the end, the character is reabsorbed into "regular" society, but this is a fairly typical convention of YA dystopian texts, and so Doctorow can't be faulted too much for it. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
| Oct 10, 2013 |
I was really looking forward to reading this book. I love young adult literature and this looked like a great novel from the reviews I read. However, I was completely disappointed.
First, Marcus was just an unlikable character. He was pompous and rude. It's obvious he was a smart guy but why did he feel the need to flaunt it CONSTANTLY. Also, from the cover and from the start of the book it looked like a story about three friends who suffered together and then worked together to do something positive because of their shared experience. However, as soon as Van and Julu disagreed with Marcus he dropped them completely. I mean just because they didn't agree with him he couldn't even talk to them? I kept hoping they would come back but Marcus became so involved in Ange and Xnet that his friendships with Van, Julu, and even Daryl were dropped for most of the book. That really bothered me. He only went to them when he needed them and had nobody else to turn too. That seems like a bit of a user to me.
Also, I've never read a book that was so black and white. There was not a bit of grey in the whole story. You either despised the government and plot against them (good) or sympathize with the government and do everything in your power to thwart freedom (bad). I definitely lean toward the left politically but I don't think our government and the people who support conservative candidates are evil and dumb. Before people start ranting I KNOW that our country has tortured people, made security check points in airports more extensive, etc... and I might not agree with these decisions, but I also feel that our country has done good things too. Most Americans are considered moderate politically and I just don't feel like this novel speaks to anyone other than extreme liberals that really enjoy ranting about how horrible our country is.
To finish, this storyline intrigued me. That is why I bought the book. I thought it was going to be something like V for Vendetta where each character has flaws and no side is perfect. Every character makes mistakes but in the end the decision for freedom is put into the hands of the people. Nothing in V was black or white and their were so many layers of why events were happening. It was so powerful. However, Little Brother was not that. It was a political rant from a guy that is blind from hate that he spews it throughout the whole book and makes the storyline suffer for it.
| Sep 27, 2013 |
First let me say that Little Brother is the first novel/book that I have read from cover to cover as an ebook. I read it on my ipad and I must say that I found it a rather pleasant experience. Despite this pleasantness I don't see ebooks replacing my beloved print editions anytime soon. Now on to the book. Little Brother is considered a young adult novel but don't let that designation fool you, as it is an excellent read for all ages. Doctorow tells us a tale set in the aftermath of a terrorist attack on San Francisco. Every gadget and bit of technology appearing in the story to either spy on or aid the protagonist seems as though it currently exists and if it not then it will any day now. Doctorow also isn't afraid to tackle controversial topics such as personal freedom in the age of terrorism which is great as it is bound to get people thinking and talking. Despite being written a couple of years ago the novel remains particularly relevant in today's world of backscatter x-ray devices and "enhanced" pat downs. This Orwellian tale (with some clear references to 1984) will leave you thinking about yourself, the nation, and the extent you will go to feel safe. If you get a chance, pick it up and give it a read.
| Sep 22, 2013 |
I had been meaning to read this for years but kept putting it off. After I heard Doctorow speak at a library conference it flew to the top of my to-read list. I have definitely never read a book like this. The plot is good and the action keeps on coming, but Doctorow takes so much time to pause and explain things about technology, security, and privacy and yet he keeps it interesting enough that you don't skim those sections just to get back to the action (or at least I didn't). I had a group of teenage girls read this book and am excited to hear what they thought about it. So far I'm hearing nothing but positive feedback! I'd like to get my hands on the sequel now and see what happens next.
| Sep 14, 2013 |
Only got up to page 123 in this, just like For The Win and Someone Comes to Town ... There's definitely something like a Cory Doctrow effect , where you get to page 123 and the book just flatlines ( beeeep.... ) It's not that the books are bad ; they're just like Captian Kangaroo reads Wired magazine or something ~
| Sep 7, 2013 |
A darn good read, in spite of the long technical asides about subjects such as encryption. The plot is exciting and relevant, and Doctorow has done a great job of capturing an authentic teen voice.
Read my entire review
| Aug 23, 2013 |
Few novels I have read recently have made me stop and think, reexamine my world, quite the same way that Cory Doctorow's
does. Although published five years back when the politics of the Bush Administration and the post-9/11 expansion of government surveillance were still fresh in our minds, I found the novel fresh and relevant.
One part thriller and two parts geek,
opens on a group of high school kids who play hooky from school to participate in a treasure hunt. They are caught up in the aftermath of a massive terrorist attack that kills thousands, literally caught at the wrong place at the wrong time, and end up in a secret prison as suspects.
Also, did I mention that they happen to be more technically inclined than the average student?
Released, they fight back, using hacks and technical resources I didn't know existed, but that Doctorow clearly explains and uses. As an added bonus, Doctorow explains in an addendum where he gets his technical material and what resources a reader could use to replicate what he describes in the book.
It's a fascinating story, for geeks and nongeeks, and the message is still fresh today: how much privacy should we expect, and to what extent are we willing to give up privacy and freedom for security?
The sequel to
and is out now.
| Aug 22, 2013 |
This book was a solid read. If you lived through 9/11, many of the incidents described will be eerily familiar. Those that were too young to really remember the impact of that day will get a good feel for how it felt to be coming into young adulthood at that time. Doctorow mixes classic Orwellian plot with a modern teen's lifestyle. The characters are believable and likable.
| Aug 21, 2013 |
I was cool with this book until the ending. No spoilers here, but I totally couldn't buy the way the book ended. It just wouldn't happen that way.
| Aug 20, 2013 |
Big Brother crosses a line after an act of terrorism in San Francisco. Little Brother finds a way to watch back. Nail-biting!
Marcus Yallow is in the wrong place at the wrong time. He and his friends have skipped school to participate in an on-line scavenger hunt, just when terrorists blow up the Bay Bridge in San Francisco. Agents from the Department of Homeland Security find them out on the streets just minutes after the explosion, and immediately take them into custody. Marcus gets out, but his friend Darryl never does. Marcus vows to take back his Constitutional rights and get Darryl out of "jail", but to do so, he might have to cross a line.
Marcus is intelligent and articulate. I don't know if he's exactly likable, but he is passionate about the ability to communicate without being deemed a criminal. I learned a lot about today's technology and all the ways it is intruding on our lives. When nothing is wrong, it seems to be benign, even convenient. But when it's deemed a matter of "national security", our privacy and freedom of movement can easily be impinged. I learned a lot about hacking and security, which was food for thought.
It was really great to watch Marcus grow. He starts out reacting as many teens do: impulsively and without thought to the lines he's crossing. When he sees the mess he's creating for San Francisco, as well as for himself, he starts to see that his actions were no better than those who falsely imprisoned him and tortured him. The ending might be a little too neat, but Marcus does not exactly get off scott-free. The point is, he learned from what happened to him, and is now using his energy to watch Big Brother back.
Includes an interesting discussion of security and privacy versus secrecy by a security technologist named Bruce Schneier.
| Jul 24, 2013 |
This is not a pleasant book. This is an angry, disturbing, ugly book. It made me feel worried and hopeless the way that reading about politics always does, but at the same time, I couldn't put it down, and when I did I couldn't get it out of my head. It's an important book, and frighteningly realistic. You should read it. You won't enjoy it, but you should read it.
| Jul 9, 2013 |
Little Brother was written for me despite that I'm well out of my teen years. I'm not net savvy enough to logon to the TOR network or build my own computer from the ground-up [if I did the book would be my crying, cutting my hand and cussing a bit as I redid installing my hard drive.] I ran a John Malkovich fansite back in the day which was the extent of my internet prowess.
The politics are what connects me to the hero of this story. Marcus and I are in synch 100% when it comes to civil liberties, privacy and the Bill of Rights. I may not be brave enough to get gassed but the scenes of him sassing up to the teacher reminded me of myself.
Right on, Marcus!
I enjoyed the geeky tidbits of internet information he would explain throughout the story during his cat and mouse games with the HSL.
This novel is an engaging tale in the vein of such classics as the film Hackers and not as cheesy as the equally fun Swordfish.
The book is authentic and no cubes form into larger cubes as Hugh Jackman swivels his butt. That film is a guilty pleasure nonetheless.
Nothing ends the way I predicted but were resolved in a better than you would hope but still depressingly realistic at the same time approach.
My favourite parts of the book were the creepy attempts by HSL to weed out his identity on the XNET chats or the live-journals to get information out of people.
| Jun 22, 2013 |
We all know someone who insists on paying for everything in cash, or who won't bank online, or who is absolutely convinced that big brother is out to get them and everybody else, or at least that big brother is watching. We listen to them and think to ourselves "That's just crazy talk. Can you say Paranoia?". But what if they're right? What if those security cameras are more than just ordinary anti-theft precautions? What if our spending histories are tracked by some entity other than our banks? What if all the electronic devices we've come to rely on so much can be and are monitored to establish our movement patterns and what not? It's not really paranoia if what you're concerned about is really going on. Cory Doctorow examines a world like that, a world where everything is bugged. School books have chips in them, gait recognition cameras are everywhere, credit cards and public transit passes are used to track movement of their holders, and all this feeds into whatever agency is in charge, be that the school board or the Department of Homeland Security. After a terrorist attack the system is thrown into overdrive and Marcus is one of the first victims of the indiscriminate checks performed by the overzealous officials, who seem to be looking for someone, anyone to pin the crime on. At only 17 he's scared but he's not backing down, instead he's fighting the system with its own weapons.
My favorite thing about Marcus is that he is a realistic character in that he is not some superhero devoid of fear, and when he is afraid he is not too proud to admit it. At the end of the day he is just a kid against adults who have all the power, he fights when he can and with the tools he has but he isn't reckless about it because he knows that more than just his freedom is on the line. And when things go as far as they can with the status quo unchanged he recognizes that it's time to take the fight to the next level, time to hand it off to those with more resources and more influence. He is also a 17 year old with a life outside of the fight. He has a girlfriend, he is at odds with his dad, he reads books and does school work, he plays video games and mouths off to his teacher.
Marcus' father is a character who represents the "I'm not doing anything wrong so I don't see what the big deal is, let them check and monitor and catch the bad guys" side of the argument, and I'm glad that Doctorow wrote him this way. I'm also glad that this wasn't his position from the very beginning of the book, it showed that people can and will change their minds under certain circumstances. It also showed that such changes of heart are not seamless or painless.
Marcus' friends and acquaintances cover the remainder of the spectrum, from spirited support of his actions to adamant disapproval. There are also those who are spies out of necessity, recruited by the DHS to infiltrate the underground network. The tensions resulting from these interactions provided the difficulties that made the story more believable, after all life's not all black and white, the gray often dominates the playing field and that's just how it is.
Overall I loved this novel, but what made it a little less enjoyable for me is all the technical talk. Marcus often walks the reader through what the different bugs and gadgets are, how they work, how they can be deactivated or circumvented, and since I'm the kind of person who loves her gadgets but doesn't particularly itch to find out how the software and hardware work it went over my head on occasion. Besides, I figured it was all author's imagination steeped in today's technological reality. But then at the end of the book one of the afterwords is by a security technologist, whose job is basically to figure out how electronic systems can be broken and how to make them more secure, and the other is by a professional hacker. Imagine my surprise and general feeling of unease when these real-life guys started talking about how Doctorow's "inventions" either do exist or aren't that far-fetched. There is also a bibliography with an extensive list of eye-opening titles. I admit, after reading these sections I started to wonder whether I should move my family to a cash-only basis for daily transactions to protect us from the possibility of both big and little brother infiltration (let's face it, if the government has no interest in us there's probably a marcus hacking away within a 2-mile radius from our house). In the end laziness won over that sentiment, but the seed has been sown.
This is a very well-rounded novel that is fast-paced and written in a voice that is casual without being too adult or too adolescent. It poses interesting questions and explores a variety of standpoints that are just as relevant today as they were when the book was published, if not more so. I recommend it without reservation, especially if you are the kind of reader who loves their gadgets, wants to know how they work inside, and wants their privacy to remain their own, regardless of whether there's anything to hide besides grandma's secret pie recipe.
P.S. Those with ereaders, heads up: Doctorow makes the novel available on his website free of charge in a variety of formats under the Creative Common License. Yes, he is that cool.
| May 19, 2013 |
In [b:Little Brother|954674|Little Brother|Cory Doctorow|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1312041581s/954674.jpg|939584] [a:Cory Doctorow|12581|Cory Doctorow|http://photo.goodreads.com/authors/1212526024p2/12581.jpg] paints a not-so-pleasant picture of a future. Where fear from terrorism has disfigured security systems in society.
The role of government is to secure for citizens the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In that order. It's like a filter. If the government wants to do something that makes us a little unhappy, or takes away some of our liberty, it's OK, providing they're doing it to save our lives.
But in the end who do they really control? Ordinary people or terrorists? When is sacrificing liberty to preserve life just too much?
These are just some of the questions that will cross your mind as you read this book.
I have not read the book that more inspired me to think in a couple of years. It forces you to look, really look world around you: cameras beside roads to catch people who ride too quickly, chips implanted into our personal IDs and drivers licences... And ask: are we already on the way?
| Apr 10, 2013 |
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