Title: Little Brother
Author: Cory Doctorow
Genre: Political Fiction, Young Adult
Marcus aka “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, his injured best friend Darryl does not come out. The 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: “M1k3y” will take down the DHS himself.
When we first meet Marcus Yallow, he’s kind of a punk. He prides himself on undermining his school (which has, in his defense, implemented some sketchy tracking software to watch its students) through his manipulation of his school-provided laptop and sneaky ways of ditching to go play a scavenger hunt. When bombs blow up a nearby bridge, he and his friends flee and end up in the wrong place at the wrong time. That unlucky happenstance ends up getting Marcus and friends sent to a secret jail run by the Department of Homeland Security, interrogated, and psychologically tortured. Marcus and a couple others are released under the promise that they will be watched and are not allowed to breathe a word of what happened to them. Marcus, scared out of his mind, is almost ready to comply, but when he reaches the real world again and realizes that the DHS kept his best friend imprisoned, Marcus swears that he will fight ’til his last breath.
The old adage of “show, don’t tell” doesn’t apply to this book, at least not when it comes explaining the technology. Pages of text are dedicated to explaining how different things work — encryption, arphids, stuff you’ve never heard of. Unfortunately, these pages are needed. If I hadn’t had most of the stuff explained to me, I would have had no idea what Marcus was using in order to fight the DHS. So, yes, telling is strongly needed, but it doesn’t always work, either. There were passages where, even if I read them two or three times, I couldn’t quite grasp, and I had to just trust Doctorow knew what he was doing. This made keeping up with some of the plot elements difficult.
On the flip-side, it’s just this attention to detail that got it an extra star. Doctorow knows his stuff. His afterword is full of resources, and you can tell that he absolutely knows what he’s doing. The more I read, the more I was impressed at all the research that had to go into this thing, and for that, it gets an extra star.
However, the story isn’t that great. It’s not bad, but it’s predictable. It follows the beats that you would expect this story to go. There’s never a huge surprise. So while there isn’t anything wrong with it, it never really hooks you. The characters, on the other hand, need a lot of work. With the exception of Marcus and Ange, the characters are rather one-dimensional. This is especially true when it comes to the characters who work against Marcus. These characters are never presented as people, but practically as monsters. They have no sympathy, no good qualities, and definitely no valid points. They are punching bags for Marcus and Doctorow to show how superior their views are. Don’t get me wrong; I agree with these views. However, seeing these opposing characters presented as inhuman villains is lazy writing and does nothing for anyone’s argument.
The book was fine to read, though. Like I said, it was very interesting to learn all the stuff about technology used to track you and technology you can use to avoid being tracked. The story was decent, as well. However, that’s about all it’s got going for it. It does have a blatantly diverse cast, race-wise, which I appreciated, though Marcus throws around transphobic slurs a few times. If it didn’t have the technology, it’d be an okay book.The tech — real tech, that actually gets used — makes it a decent one. If you’re looking for a quick read or something politically relevant, I’d pick this book up, but otherwise you might want to give it a pass.