When Tor offered to send us an advance reading copy of Cory Doctorow's
latest novel, "Little Brother," I was both excited and a little
nervous. So many of the books that MITSFS receives fail to live up to
their promise, and I've been severely underwhelmed in the past. My
feelings were, shall we say, "cautiously optimistic."
This book blew my expectations completely out of the water. It was
the first novel that I've read since Stross' "Accelerando" that caused
me to have to stand up and walk around a bit just to wrap my head
around what I just read. Going in, I was expecting a novel of
teenagers using technology to "stick it to the man." While that is
essentially the case, it in no way captures what makes "Little
Brother" different from any young-adult book I have ever read.
At first, the book seemed to be following the traditional
teen-awesome-hacker "War Games"-ish track that so many young-adult
novels have taken in the past. Then Doctorow hit me with both
barrels. Mea culpa, Cory, I'm sorry for having doubted you.
The descriptions of high-school kids being rounded up, hooded, and
transported to secret prisons in the wake of a terrorist attack are
all the more frightening for how plausible Doctorow makes them sound.
If you're someone who's either worried about the direction American
civil liberties are going or who thinks "it can't happen here," I'd
strongly encourage you to read this book. This book does an excellent
job of debunking the all-to-prevalent notion of "If you're not doing
anything wrong, you have nothing to hide." Like Neil Gaiman's cover
quote says, I hope this book gets into the hands of as many smart
young people as possible.
Doctorow's latest novel resembles what you would get if you threw a
coming-of-age novel into a blender along with Orwell's "1984," Neal
Stephenson's "Cryptonomicon," the Bill of Rights, and a copy of the
9/11 Commission Report, then seasoned it with references to the
civil-rights and anti-war movements of the 60s and 70s and with a
hearty dose of Californian life.
I'll freely admit that as a relatively young, D&D-playing,
video-gaming, LARPing, science-fiction-obsessed computer-science
major/political science minor, I may not be representative of the
average audience for this book. For me, though, this book hit all the
right buttons, and while I enjoyed it immensely, this is the sort of
book that I would have absolutely loved as a high-schooler. As it is,
this book was at times exciting, funny, touching, thought-provoking,
and more than a little frightening; and really, what more can you ask?
In conclusion, Doctorow's latest novel is one of the best new books
I've read in a long time. Unless you have a strong allergy to Young
Adult books, go out and pick up a copy. Even though Doctorow is
releasing the book for free on his website (craphound.com) under a
Creative Commons license, I know I'll be buying my own.