Monday, March 2, 2009

Little Brother

Doctorow, Cory. Little Brother. New York: A Tor Teen Book, 2008.
[Book cover credit:]

Bookgasm Best Sci-Fi (2008)
Emperor Norton Award (2008)
Locus Recommended Reading, Young Adult (2008)
Nebula Nominee, Novel (2008)
Publisher's Weekly Best Book, Children's Fiction (2008)

Free Download:
Little Brother is available as a free download in various formats through Creative Commons at

Marcus, known online as w1n5t0n, is your average student at Cesar Chavez High School in San Francisco. He's hacked his school-supplied laptop so he can IM his friends in class, outsmarted the gait-recognition system that lets school administrators know who's walking the halls when they should be in class, and he ditches school to run around the city doing some serious ARGing. When the San Francisco Bay Bridge is attacked by terrorists, he and his friends are literally in the wrong place at the wrong time and become suspects.

After another terrorist attack, this time just outside the City by the Bay, the Department of Homeland Security unveils a lot of new ways to monitor San Francisco's residents and, hopefully, separate them from the terrorists that DHS is sure are still in the city. From monitoring every keystroke you make on the internet to logging everytime and everywhere you swipe you muni pass, Big Brother is watching you. But not everyone likes being watched. When a growing group of kids, lead by the online persona M1k3y, set out to hack the DHS's new systems, DHS declares war on them and rolls out more surveillance. Yes, Big Brother is watching you, but Little Brother is watching them.

Total Geek-Out:
Reading this book will make you smarter. Doctorow has a way of explaining technology that is completely understandable (even if you've never so much as changed your own watch battery) without making you feel like you are reading a computer science textbook. By the end of the novel, you will want to run better security on your computer, to say the least, and you will even know which system will give you what you want (it's not Vista). Doctorow's bibliography, as well as the afterwords written by Bruce Schneier and Andrew Huang, will lead you to the resources you need to complete your education and hack your own computer.

The paranoia that runs rampant in this book, though not at all unfounded, is out of control. It is worse than Mel Gibson with a copy of Salinger and beer bottle. If you don't get that reference, run, do not walk, to your nearest library, video store, netflix queue, whatever and borrow Consipracy Theory. It is the 1990's movie version of this book, but with grown-ups instead of teenagers. It's awesome.

If you like what Doctorow had to say about cities, sidewalks and neighborhoods, read up on some Jane Jacobs. Her pièce de résistance, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, or the commonly excerpted essay "The Uses of Sidewalks" (available most recently in The City Reader) are good starters. Look for these books at your local library and change more than your computer habits. "Be like M1k3y: step out the door and dare to be free" (p373).

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