Book review: Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow.

A friend recommended this book to me, but with reservation, because he said it was preachy. I read it, and throughout my reading, I kept asking him what he meant by preachy. He could never quite explain himself. I don’t think it’s preachy.


Hell, maybe I’m preachy. Anyway, I read the book in two sittings.


Cory Doctorow is some kind of author, let me tell you. He breaks all the rules of writing in this book, inserting multi-page monologues on how information works in the real meat world, but it’s all so relevant and informed that I often had to recall what was happening with the story as I got caught up in memories of laughing at “security” systems, or considering cool hacks from the book. From the day a kind gentleman at DefCon showed me a key combination to access the maintenance menu on a specific brand of ATM, I was fascinated by hackers.


Not hacking myself, no, I was much too law-abiding for that, didn’t trust myself with math because of my awful high school geometry teacher who used geometry class to preach to us about Mormonism, rather than to teach us proofs. To get back at her, I started a public access program on public television in Pocatello, ID talking about the fallacies of Mormonism and the benefits of alternative views, like Shamanistic traditions and atheism.

“I believe, that ancient Jews built boats and sailed to America..!”


Hey, you get ostracized by the 80% dominant religion in your home town and come away without at least gently ribbing them. Anyway, they’re having a schism now, they have bigger things to worry about. And they’re friendlier than Scientology.


Random factoid: There are no intelligible Google results for “people who read suck” on the first page.

</nerdiness> <nerdiness>

I used to read Discworld, I am very sad about Sir Terry Pratchett. He is dying of a particular kind of Alzheimer’s, and supports the right to die, so my dream of getting a book of mine in his hand before he dies is basically never going to happen. He could pop off at any moment now, and I would not blame him. Still, he got knighted for writing funny fantasy for a reason: it’s Harry Potter quality with tons of historical references and research and sarcasm and wit, tons of it. His character Sam Vimes will inspire gentle police officers for generations to come, if they read him. Little Brother also deals with police brutality and torture. And well.

He is a living legend. His books have changed me, man.


Kind of like Doctorow’s! So this was about Little Brother.


Little Brother is chock full of practical information on how to be a well-informed citizen in a society which contains a government that tracks its citizenry’s every move. It extends even further, today, because now not only the government is tracking people, but private companies as well. As they say, social networks have turned their users into the product.


It’s also got California culture down. This place is a different country than living in other parts of the States, folks. I’ve been to most of the United States, and lived in a fifth of them, and let me tell you, California is different, and this book captures some of it. You really can trust the California Highway Patrol to not be inordinate dicks most of the time, for instance. He gets California interdependence and feistyness right. And a great California romance. This is not just a great Young Adult novel, it’s a great book.


I made the decision a long time ago to make my writing open-source. This means that, to avoid trouble, I censor an awful lot of what I would otherwise talk about. I am whimsical in nature, which can be seen in my writing, and often say things that, if captured in public, might be legally actionable. I did not realize the need for self-censorship until I saw that people were being SWATted by local authorities to get revenge for political speech.

Guess who else gets SWATted: celebrities!


The problem with the systems going in place pursuant to the Patriot Act and other similar legislation, Little Brother points out, is not necessarily the government existing – it doesn’t go that far, he avoids anarchism. It’s the idea of security that is flawed, the thought that with enough manpower, control, oversight, we can have a perfectly safe panopticon where an outsider or wrongdoer is obvious and dealt with on sight. Maybe this idea is appealing for some people, but not those who align with the protagonist, Marcus Yallow, who struck me as just a little bit wise for a 17 year old, but hell, it happens. It’s part of Doctorow’s ability to explain technology, with a little work by the reader, such that an almost working knowledge is imparted.

George Orwell’s 1984 discusses the real-life implementation of a sort of cultural panopticon. Everyone should read it.


The adventure in the story never stops. Never even slows down. It had me turning pages and avoiding work at work in the library. I put it down feeling like there were some good guys in our world, and they had worked on this book. I remembered seeing Bruce Schneier at DefCon and wondering what the big deal was. Then, years later, I heard him pointing out in the news that none of the security actually made us any more secure. That was a big deal to me, I despise airline security, the War on Drugs, and the general police state, which he criticizes expertly by putting the reader in it. And now our police are getting military equipment, which he also brings to light.


That’s the thing about Little Brother. It was a big deal to me. I haven’t made a big deal about a book in ages, not since Good Omens.


I think everyone should read it. It’s a fun primer on how to be a digitally autonomous citizen, which takes a little work, but worthy work.


Oh, and true to form, it’s free on his website.


3 thoughts on “Book review: Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow.

  1. Goood day! I could have sworn I’ve been to this blog before but after checking through some of the post I realized
    it’s new to me. Anyways, I’m definitely gld I found
    it and I’ll be book-marking and checking back frequently!


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s