Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

After spending time incarcerated in a secret prison after a terrorist attack, a computer-savvy teen decides to fight back in the name of the Constitution.

I am so not cool enough for Little Brother. I’ve never hacked, coded, partitioned or flashmobbed. I don’t understand crypto and I’ve never touched an Xbox. I did learn BASIC programming when I was in elementary school, and one time I spent half a day typing in commands that I got from Mad Magazine, promising to render a picture of Alfred E. Newman right there on my Apple II+. When I hit RUN, imagine how disillusioned my 9-year-old self was to see my screen fill up with green, save for one blank dot right in the middle. Oh, Mad. You so crazy. I decided to stick with reading and counted cross stitch.

Little Brother follows a technologically adept teenager who builds an underground computer network in order to get around the Department of Homeland Security’s stranglehold on civil rights. Marcus is way smart, yet he keeps on underestimating the power that he has to sway the masses. Time and again, he sees that his flash mobs are no better than the terrorists that DHS purports to fight. Yet he keeps persevering, trying to find his righteousness, continually returning to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution to remind him what the fight is all about.

There’s a love story, too, and a coming of age story featuring parents who just don’t understand. And just as Moby-Dick interspersed Captain Ahab’s metaphysical quest with the minutiae of whaling (whale-penis costume, anyone?), Little Brother digresses into discourses on the history of the internet, the logistics of cryptography, and the addictive power of writing code. Somehow author Cory Doctorow manages to keep it all from feeling pedantic, mainly because he obviously shares Marcus’s passion and exuberance.

The book suffers a bit from too much speechifying, and there’s not much depth in the character development. However, it’s a fun, breezy read with a worthwhile lesson about civil liberties and the importance of freedom.

4 thoughts on “Little Brother by Cory Doctorow”

  1. Your review could almost apply to a short story I read by Doctorow back in October (“The Things That Make Me Weak and Strange Get Engineered Away”), though you seem more forgiving of the speechifying and lessons that I was. Perhaps this Doctorow is a one trick pony?

    I can’t believe I actually remember the MAD Magazine program you’re talking about. Oh, I was such a fan.

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