Review: Little Brother by Cory Doctorow [3/5]

Little-Brother“I can’t go underground for a year, ten years, my whole life, waiting for freedom to be handed to me. Freedom is something you have to take for yourself.”

Title: Little Brother

Author: Cory Doctorow

Genre: Political Fiction, Young Adult

Rating: 3/5

Blurb:

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.

Death Defiant – Available Now

Bright light filled her vision. Dying had never felt like this. It dimmed after a moment, and she looked over. Bel stood over the man, who cowered with his broken arm—sharp turns, shattered, bent at more than one unnatural angle—tight against his chest. Only, Bel was glowing. Her flesh filled with white light, casting her body in shades of pink and red. It was as if a sun had formed inside her and was trying to burn its way out.

Let go.

“Let go.”

The words came from everywhere, and Cheri was sure time must have frozen, because nobody moved. To disrupt the stillness would mean death, but then the woman released Cheri from her grip.

Move.

“Move.”

The woman, shaking, scrambled to the man’s side, never daring to rise to her full height. She stayed crouched, staring at the ethereal form as it approached the one they hunted.

Hold on…

“…tight.”

Bel’s light faded, and she reached down to loop an arm around Cheri. Just like that, the world around them rushed past in a blur of light and sound.

My debut novel, Death Defiant, is finally released! Above I’ve provided an excerpt from the novel for you guys.

What’s that? You want to see a main character that is:

  • Bisexual?
  • A well-developed female?
  • A woman of color?

Then you should check out my book! It’s a full-length fantasy novel all about Cherifa’s attempts at preventing interdimensional war and a half-demon uprising. Enjoy!

Looking for Beta Readers

Last night, I finally finished rereading through all of Death Defiant and editing it. All that’s left now is to put the edits onto the computer (I did everything by hand) and then get it out to beta readers.

Which brings me to you.

I need beta readers! And if you’re the kind of person who is interested in new takes on demons and angels and queer characters, you should keep reading and see if you’d be interested.

Death Defiant Blurb:

Cherifa has spent the last twenty years living safely in New York City, but when she gets hit by a car trying to save a stranger, she reveals her secret to the entire world: she can’t die.

Now the half-demons of her past have revealed themselves to the entire world, and they’ve put a price on Cheri’s head. Together with the woman she saved, Cheri will have to go on the run from humans and half-demons alike. However, the only safe place to go is down, straight into Hell.

If this sounds like something you might be willing to beta read, then here’s what I’m looking for. Be aware: you don’t need to fulfill all of these. However, if you think you’d be a good fit, then you should definitely let me know.

What I’m looking for:

  • Attention to plot and character
  • Someone either from the Middle East or familiar with Saudi Arabian culture
  • Encouraging, but also critical
  • Lover of fantasy
  • Queer readers or readers interested in queer fiction
  • Able to get the beta read MS back to me within 4 weeks

If this sounds like something you’d be interested in, please send me an email at reiring.2 at osu dot edu. I’ll send you the first three chapters for you to do a test read on, and if we mesh, I’ll provide you a copy of the entire manuscript.

I’m very excited about my first novel, and I hope you are, too! Thanks to anyone who offers to help.

Saving People is a Stupid Thing to Do

This is a snippet from the first chapter of my upcoming novel, DEATH DEFIANT. I hope you enjoy it.

 

The woman crossing the street stared at her magazine, and the car speeding towards her paid no attention. Cheri froze for a brief moment, taking in the situation as Tyler tugged her arm to get her attention. If she ever dared to count the stupid things she had done in her life, it would be a very long, embarrassing list, but as she ran forward and shoved the woman out of the sports car’s path, she realized this would definitely be the number one Stupid Thing Ever Done.

The car hit Cheri’s knees. Her eyes locked with the driver’s for a split second as her tibia shattered. The driver stood on his brakes as she crashed into the windshield and rolled over top the rest of the car before hitting the pavement. A sick, wet thud cracked the air when her head took the brunt of the fall and her body crumpled around her broken neck.

Blood flecked the blacktop and the saved woman’s pant legs, her scraped palms nothing compared to the way Cheri’s limbs twisted at impossible angles. As he ran to her, Tyler’s eyes grew wide with terror. His huge hands tried to set her body up right, as if that would somehow fix her. Pedestrians on the sidewalk stopped, as did oncoming traffic, everyone staring at the broken body of the girl in the road.

The saved woman stood. Walking past her discarded issue of Vogue, she stumbled towards her savior’s body.

“Somebody call an ambulance!” Tyler said, trying to stop tears from crawling down his cheeks. He supported Cheri’s head and shook her, trying to wake her up. He looked around at the crowd gathered on the sidewalk. Many people had taken their cell phones out, but few looked to be using it to call anyone. Some focused their cameras on the two, and that only put Tyler into a rage.

He stood, entire body shaking. Just a few feet away, some teenager’s camera phone focused on Cheri’s body. Tyler stalked towards him with his fists clenched at his sides. Before he could get there, though, the driver’s side door of the sports car opened, and a man – a kid, really, who couldn’t have gotten his license more than a few months ago – stepped out.

Tyler turned on him, shouting, spit flying from his mouth as his hands balled up in the driver’s blazer, slamming him back into the car. The saved woman looked on, but then her gaze shifted to Cheri’s body. She knelt next to her and reached out…

Then she stopped, eyes transfixed as the body twitched. Limbs moved, realigning themselves. Blood splattered on the pavement dissolved into red smoke, and Cheri’s head twisted itself to a more natural position with a sick crunch.

Tyler stopped and turned to look at his friend’s body, just in time to see the worst of it: the curling, ice blue horns that grew just above her ears; the smaller ones pushing from her knees and elbows, ripping through her docent’s jacket and best pair of black slacks; the inch-long ones jutting from each of her knuckles, from discolored spots she’d always told her friends were old scars.

Bloodless and unharmed, she blinked, sat up, and the first person started screaming.

2193

From his bedroom, Vincent heard the  front door open. His heart surged, and he stood, knocking over empty bottles of alcohol as he stumbled out towards the living room. A huge grin came over his face, and he didn’t care if he looked like a kid or an idiot or whatever, because Mom was –

His neck nearly snapped from how hard he stopped, toes never crossing the threshold into the kitchen. A man stood there, sifting through a huge pack on the table. He looked up. Crow’s feet stretched from the corners of his eyes and mouth, but otherwise his age didn’t show. Vincent thought his dad looked younger every time he returned home.

“The house is a mess,” said Dad, gesturing with one hand to the kitchen while the other continued to dig countless books out of the bag. Mud stained the off-white floors, and the dishes piled high in the sink, surrounded by several large, empty bottles and mysterious remnants of what might have once been food. “Did your Mom have to go off for work, too? She’s not going to be happy if she finds out you threw a party.”

Vincent stared at him, saying nothing. He couldn’t get anything past his throat. His stomach curled at the mention of her, and his eyes grew hot, but he didn’t say anything. Dad looked back at him and narrowed his eyes, then set the last book down on the table before stepping towards his son.

“What’s wrong?” he asked, then smiled slightly. “Look, I know she’s scary, but I won’t tell-”

“Mom’s dead.”

The smile dropped immediately. Dad stared at him, body tense, but he never asked for Vincent to repeat it. He never asked if it was true. He only asked –

“Why?”

“She got-” Vincent stopped, throat closing up around the words. His body couldn’t bear to let them out, to say it truthfully to another human being. This was his father, and he couldn’t brush it off with “She was old, anyway”s or “Early inheritance to me, then, eh?”s. Being a shit kid wasn’t going to help now, not with enough liquor in his system that he might get sick enough to follow his mother into the grave.

He tried to say it again, but instead he choked on tears. He ducked his head. Body curling forward in pain, his hands covered his face. He didn’t notice when his father came and embraced him, started to cry himself. For the first time in a very, very long time, Vincent didn’t try to push him away, either. He let his dad be his dad for once, and they stood beneath the doorway and cried.

Several minutes later, Vincent collected himself, taking a step away from his father so he could dry his eyes with his palms. His father did the same. Without a word, they went to the living room. Dad brushed crumbs from the couch before he sat.

“Are all these bottles yours?” he asked.

Vincent shook his head.

“That’s good.” He cleared his throat and stared at his hands. “How long has she…?”

“About a week,” Vince managed after clearing his throat. “I thought having a party might make it easier.”

His father didn’t need to ask if it had worked.

“I saw some antanamae on this last expedition,” Dad said after awhile. “I managed to get some pictures, too.”

Admittedly, it piqued Vincent’s interest. The idea of seeing an actual photograph delighted him, but then he thought about them – green, mutated, cannibals. Some said the antanamae were aliens, others said they were mutated humans. There were a lot of people who claimed they were he dead risen. So he shook his head and chuckled, rubbing at his eyes.

“Shit, Dad. You’re worse at this grieving thing than I am.”

“I wasn’t the one who threw a rager, was I?”

“God, you’re so old. ‘Rager’? Seriously?”

They both laughed, the kind of sad, aching laugh you make when you can’t find anything funny anymore, that died off slowly because you tried to cling to it for as long as possible, because if the laughter stopped, the real world would rush right back in.

Dad said, “I’m sorry I wasn’t here.”

Vincent shrugged. “It’s not like I expected more from you.”

“I’m going to try to be a better father. I haven’t been great in the past, and I know it. I’m gone all the time and-”

“Father, stop.” Vince looked up, eyes hardened slightly. The usual hard lines of his mouth and brow, reserved specifically for his father, returned. “You’re sick with grief, and you’re saying stuff that you don’t mean. Don’t say something if you’re not going to keep your word. I’m done with that shit.”

Dad opened his mouth, ready to argue, then shut it. He hung his head.

“I miss your mom,” he murmured.

Vincent stood, scoffing. Every moment of his father’s absence, every argument, every glare, every broken promise flashed through his head. He walked past his father to his bedroom. Let him pick up all this trash. He lay down on his bed and dug around the sides, searching for just a little more liquor among the dirty bottles, food wrappers, and used condoms. When he came up empty-handed, he lay back down and threw his arm over his eyes, wondering if he could fall asleep again.

I miss her, too.

Tuesday Tropes: Red Shirts (or “Nameless Good Guys Who Die”)

A shirt that I, admittedly, bought for my best friend.

A shirt that I, admittedly, bought for my best friend.

We all know the stupid Team Rocket grunts and the hapless Stormtroopers who rush in against the protagonist only to be slaughtered. However, it’s not just the bad guys who have these dumb, mindless, nameless lackeys who end up dying for the cause. Heroes have them, too.

I know I’ve been picking on Star Trek a lot, but this is something that everybody picks on Star Trek for – the inevitable death of the Red Shirts. You could also describe this as being the first five minutes of an episode of Supernatural. These character deaths are typically used to introduce us to the new monster, and because it leads to the death of a minor character, it allows just enough angst to get the protagonist riled up, but not enough to do them serious emotional damage. After the episode or chapter, the dead Red Shirt is typically forgotten, never to be mentioned or mourned again.

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Quick and Dirty World-Building

Probably the hardest thing for any fiction writer is creating a well-developed, rich setting. When you’re taking on a fictional world, you, as the writer, have to know every nuance of it, from the languages to the first person to domesticate the wild zigglesnorts. And if you’re anything like me, it’s hard to feel comfortable writing your story before you feel you have a strong grasp on the world your characters live in. While epic fantasies have a tendency for incredibly detailed world-building, I’m going to give you tips on how to get your world on its feet so that you can get just get going for now; save the details for later.

Your world won't be nearly as detailed as Middle Earth - not right away, at least. So don't sweat it.

Your world won’t be nearly as detailed as Middle Earth – not right away, at least. So don’t sweat it.

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