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Little Brother [Paperback]

Cory Doctorow
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (383 customer reviews)

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Starred Review. Grade 10 Up—When he ditches school one Friday morning, 17-year-old Marcus is hoping to get a head start on the Harajuku Fun Madness clue. But after a terrorist attack in San Francisco, he and his friends are swept up in the extralegal world of the Department of Homeland Security. After questioning that includes physical torture and psychological stress, Marcus is released, a marked man in a much darker San Francisco: a city of constant surveillance and civil-liberty forfeiture. Encouraging hackers from around the city, Marcus fights against the system while falling for one hacker in particular. Doctorow rapidly confronts issues, from civil liberties to cryptology to social justice. While his political bias is obvious, he does try to depict opposing viewpoints fairly. Those who have embraced the legislative developments since 9/11 may be horrified by his harsh take on Homeland Security, Guantánamo Bay, and the PATRIOT Act. Politics aside, Marcus is a wonderfully developed character: hyperaware of his surroundings, trying to redress past wrongs, and rebelling against authority. Teen espionage fans will appreciate the numerous gadgets made from everyday materials. One afterword by a noted cryptologist and another from an infamous hacker further reflect Doctorow's principles, and a bibliography has resources for teens interested in intellectual freedom, information access, and technology enhancements. Curious readers will also be able to visit BoingBoing, an eclectic group blog that Doctorow coedits. Raising pertinent questions and fostering discussion, this techno-thriller is an outstanding first purchase.—Chris Shoemaker, New York Public Library
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Seventeen-year-old techno-geek “w1n5t0n” (aka Marcus) bypasses the school’s gait-recognition system by placing pebbles in his shoes, chats secretly with friends on his IMParanoid messaging program, and routinely evades school security with his laptop, cell, WifFnder, and ingenuity. While skipping school, Markus is caught near the site of a terrorist attack on San Francisco and held by the Department of Homeland Security for six days of intensive interrogation. After his release, he vows to use his skills to fight back against an increasingly frightening system of surveillance. Set in the near future, Doctorow’s novel blurs the lines between current and potential technologies, and readers will delight in the details of how Markus attempts to stage a techno-revolution. Obvious parallels to Orwellian warnings and post-9/11 policies, such as the Patriot Act, will provide opportunity for classroom discussion and raise questions about our enthusiasm for technology, who monitors our school library collections, and how we contribute to our own lack of privacy. An extensive Web and print bibliography will build knowledge and make adults nervous. Buy multiple copies; this book will be h4wt (that’s “hot,” for the nonhackers). Grades 8-12. --Cindy Dobrez --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

“A wonderful, important book…I’d recommend Little Brother over pretty much any book I’ve read this year, and I’d want to get it into the hands of as many smart thirteen-year-olds, male and female, as I can. Because I think it’ll change lives. Because some kids, maybe just a few, won’t be the same after they’ve read it. Maybe they’ll change politically, maybe technologically. Maybe it’ll just be the first book they loved or that spoke to their inner geek. Maybe they’ll want to argue about it and disagree with it. Maybe they’ll want to open their computer and see what’s in there. I don’t know. It made me want to be thirteen again right now, and reading it for the first time.” —Neil Gaiman, author of Sandman and American Gods on Little Brother

“A rousing tale of techno-geek rebellion.” --Scott Westerfeld, author of Uglies, Pretties, and Specials, on Little Brother

“A worthy younger sibling to Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother is lively, precocious, and most importantly, a little scary.” --Brian K. Vaughan, author of the graphic novel Y: The Last Man on Little Brother

“A tale of struggle familiar to any teenager, about those moments when you choose what your life is going to mean.” —Steven Gould, author of Jumper, on Little Brother

“A believable and frightening tale of a near-future San Francisco … Filled with sharp dialogue and detailed descriptions… within a tautly crafted fictional framework.” -Publishers Weekly starred review on Little Brother (Featured in PW Children’s e-newsletter)

“Readers will delight in the details of how Marcus attempts to stage a techno-revolution … Buy multiple copies; this book will be h4wt (that’s ‘hot,’ for the nonhackers).” -Booklist starred review on Little Brother (Selected as a Booklist “Review of the Day”)

“Marcus is a wonderfully developed character: hyperaware of his surroundings, trying to redress past wrongs, and rebelling against authority … Raising pertinent questions and fostering discussion, this techno-thriller is an outstanding first purchase.” -School Library Journal starred review on Little Brother

"Little Brother is generally awesome in the more vernacular sense: It's pretty freaking cool ... a fluid, instantly ingratiating fiction writer ... he's also terrific at finding the human aura shimmering around technology." -The Los Angeles Times on Little Brother

"Scarily realistic…Action-packed with tales of courage, technology, and demonstrations of digital disobedience as the technophile's civil protest." --Andrew “bunnie” Huang, author of Hacking the Xbox, on Little Brother

"The right book at the right time from the right author--and, not entirely coincidentally, Cory Doctorow's best novel yet." --John Scalzi, bestselling author of Old Man’s War, on Little Brother

“I was completely hooked in the first few minutes. Great work.” --Mitch Kapor, inventor of Lotus 1-2-3 and co-founder of the EFF, on Little Brother

“Little Brother is a brilliant novel with a bold argument: hackers and gamers might just be our country's best hope for the future.” --Jane McGonigal, designer of the alternate-reality game I Love Bees on Little Brother

Little Brother sounds an optimistic warning. It extrapolates from current events to remind us of the ever-growing threats to liberty. But it also notes that liberty ultimately resides in our individual attitudes and actions. In our increasingly authoritarian world, I especially hope that teenagers and young adults will read it—and then persuade their peers, parents and teachers to follow suit.” —Dan Gillmor, technology journalist, author of We the Media on Little Brother

“It’s about growing up in the near future where things have kept going on the way they’ve been going, and it’s about hacking as a habit of mind, but mostly it’s about growing up and changing and looking at the world and asking what you can do about that. The teenage voice is pitch-perfect. I couldn’t put it down, and I loved it.” —Jo Walton, author of Farthing on Little Brother

“Read this book. You’ll learn a great deal about computer security, surveillance and how to counter it, and the risk of trading off freedom for ‘security.’ And you’ll have fun doing it.” —Tim O’Reilly, founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media on Little Brother

“I know many science fiction writers engaged in the cyber-world, but Cory Doctorow is a native…We should all hope and trust that our culture has the guts and moxie to follow this guy. He’s got a lot to tell us.” --Bruce Sterling

“Cory Doctorow doesn't just write about the future--I think he lives there.” --Kelly Link, author of Stranger Things Happen

“Doctorow throws off cool ideas the way champagne generates bubbles...[he] definitely has the goods.” --San Francisco Chronicle

“Doctorow is one of sci-fi's most exciting young writers.” --Cargo Magazine

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Canadian-born Cory Doctorow is the co-editor of the popular blog BoingBoing. He is the author of the young adult novel For the Win, and his adult science fiction novels and short stories have won him three Locus Awards and the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. He has been named one of the Web’s twenty-five “influencers” by Forbes Magazine and a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter 1

I’m a senior at Cesar Chavez, High in San Francisco’s sunny Mission district, and that makes me one of the most surveilled people in the world. My name is Marcus Yallow, but back when this story starts, I was going by w1n5t0n. Pronounced "Winston."

Not pronounced "Double-you-one-enn-five-tee-zero-enn"— unless you’re a clueless disciplinary officer who’s far enough behind the curve that you still call the Internet "the information superhighway."

I know just such a clueless person, and his name is Fred Benson, one of three vice-principals at Cesar Chavez. He’s a sucking chest wound of a human being. But if you’re going to have a jailer, better a clueless one than one who’s really on the ball.

"Marcus Yallow," he said over the PA one Friday morning. The PA isn’t very good to begin with, and when you combine that with Benson’s habitual mumble, you get something that sounds more like someone struggling to digest a bad burrito than a school announcement. But human beings are good at picking their names out of audio confusion—it’s a survival trait.

I grabbed my bag and folded my laptop three-quarters shut—I didn’t want to blow my downloads—and got ready for

the inevitable.

"Report to the administration office immediately."

My social studies teacher, Ms. Galvez, rolled her eyes at me and I rolled my eyes back at her. The Man was always coming down on me, just because I go through school firewalls like wet kleenex, spoof the gait-recognition software, and nuke the snitch chips they track us with. Galvez is a good type, anyway, never holds that against me (especially when I’m helping get with her webmail so she can talk to her brother who’s stationed in Iraq).

My boy Darryl gave me a smack on the ass as I walked past. I’ve known Darryl since we were still in diapers and escaping from play-school, and I’ve been getting him into and out of trouble the whole time. I raised my arms over my head like a prizefighter and made my exit from Social Studies and began the perp-walk to the office.

I was halfway there when my phone went. That was another no-no—phones are muy prohibido at Chavez High—but why should that stop me? I ducked into the toilet and shut myself in the middle stall (the farthest stall is always grossest because so many people head straight for it, hoping to escape the smell and the squick—the smart money and good hygiene is down the middle). I checked the phone—my home PC had sent it an email to tell it that there was something new up on Harajuku Fun Madness, which happens to be the best game ever invented.

I grinned. Spending Fridays at school was teh suck anyway, and I was glad of the excuse to make my escape.

I ambled the rest of the way to Benson’s office and tossed him a wave as I sailed through the door.

"If it isn’t Double-you-one-enn-five-tee-zero-enn," he said. Fredrick Benson—Social Security number 545–03–2343, date of birth August 15 1962, mother’s maiden name Di Bona, hometown Petaluma—is a lot taller than me. I’m a runty 5'8", while he stands 6'7", and his college basketball days are far enough behind him that his chest muscles have turned into saggy man-boobs that were painfully obvious through his freebie dot-com polo shirts. He always looks like he’s about to slam-dunk your ass, and he’s really into raising his voice for dramatic effect. Both these start to lose their efficacy with repeated application.

"Sorry, nope," I said. "I never heard of this R2D2 character of yours."

"W1n5t0n," he said, spelling it out again. He gave me a hairy eyeball and waited for me to wilt. Of course it was my handle, and had been for years. It was the identity I used when I was posting on message boards where I was making my contributions to the field of applied security research. You know, like sneaking out of school and disabling the minder-tracer on my phone. But he didn’t know that this was my handle. Only a small number of people did, and I trusted them all to the end of the earth.

"Um, not ringing any bells," I said. I’d done some pretty cool stuff around school using that handle—I was very proud of my work on snitch-tag killers—and if he could link the two identities, I’d be in trouble. No one at school ever called me w1n5t0n or even Winston. Not even my pals. It was Marcus or nothing.

Benson settled down behind his desk and tapped his class ring nervously on his blotter. He did this whenever things started to go bad for him. Poker players call stuff like this a "tell"— something that lets you know what’s going on in the other guy’s head. I knew Benson’s tells backwards and forwards.

"Marcus, I hope you realize how serious this is."

"I will just as soon as you explain what this is, sir." I always say "sir" to authority figures when I’m messing with them. It’s my own tell.

He shook his head at me and looked down, another tell. Any second now, he was going to start shouting at me. "Listen, kiddo! It’s time you came to grips with the fact that we know about what you’ve been doing, and that we’re not going to be lenient about it. You’re going to be lucky if you’re not expelled before this meeting is through. Do you want to graduate?"

"Mr. Benson, you still haven’t explained what the problem is—"

He slammed his hand down on the desk and then pointed his finger at me. "The problem, Mr. Yallow, is that you’ve been engaged in criminal conspiracy to subvert this school’s security system, and you have supplied security countermeasures to your fellow students. You know that we expelled Graciella Uriarte last week for using one of your devices." Uriarte had gotten a bad rap. She’d bought a radio-jammer from a head shop near the 16th Street BART station and it had set off the countermeasures in the school hallway. Not my doing, but I felt for her.

"And you think I’m involved in that?"

"We have reliable intelligence indicating that you are w1n5t0n"—again, he spelled it out, and I began to wonder if he hadn’t figured out that the 1 was an I and the 5 was an S. "We know that this w1n5t0n character is responsible for the theft of last year’s standardized tests." That actually hadn’t been me, but it was a sweet hack, and it was kind of flattering to hear it attributed to me. "And therefore liable for several years in prison unless you cooperate with me."

"You have ‘reliable intelligence’? I’d like to see it."

He glowered at me. "Your attitude isn’t going to help you."

"If there’s evidence, sir, I think you should call the police and turn it over to them. It sounds like this is a very serious matter, and I wouldn’t want to stand in the way of a proper investigation by the duly constituted authorities."

"You want me to call the police."

"And my parents, I think. That would be for the best."

We stared at each other across the desk. He’d clearly expected me to fold the second he dropped the bomb on me. I don’t fold. I have a trick for staring down people like Benson. I look slightly to the left of their heads, and think about the lyrics to old Irish folk songs, the kind with three hundred verses. It makes me look perfectly composed and unworried.

And the wing was on the bird and the bird was on the egg and the egg was in the nest and the nest was on the leaf and the leaf was on the twig and the twig was on the branch and the branch was on the limb and the limb was in the tree and the tree was in the bog—the bog down in the valley-oh! High-ho the rattlin’ bog, the bog down in the valley-oh—

"You can return to class now," he said. "I’ll call on you once the police are ready to speak to you."

"Are you going to call them now?"

"The procedure for calling in the police is complicated. I’d hoped that we could settle this fairly and quickly, but since you insist—"

"I can wait while you call them is all," I said. "I don’t mind."

He tapped his ring again and I braced for the blast.

"Go!" he yelled. "Get the hell out of my office, you miserable little—"I got out, keeping my expression neutral. He wasn’t going to call the cops. If he’d had enough evidence to go to the police with, he would have called them in the first place. He hated my guts. I figured he’d heard some unverified gossip and hoped to spook me into confirming it.

I moved down the corridor lightly and sprightly, keeping my gait even and measured for the gait-recognition cameras. These had been installed only a year before, and I loved them for their sheer idiocy. Beforehand, we’d had face-recognition cameras covering nearly every public space in school, but a court ruled that was unconstitutional. So Benson and a lot of other paranoid school administrators had spent our textbook dollars on these idiot cameras that were supposed to be able to tell one person’s walk from another. Yeah, right.

I got back to class and sat down again, Ms. Galvez warmly welcoming me back. I unpacked the school’s standard-issue machine and got back into classroom mode. The SchoolBooks were the snitchiest technology of them all, logging every keystroke, watching all the network traffic for suspicious keywords, counting every click, keeping track of every fleeting thought you put out over the net. We’d gotten them in my junior year, and it only took a couple months for the shininess to wear off. Once people figured out that these "free" laptops worked for the man—and showed a never-ending parade of obnoxious ads to boot—they suddenly started to feel very heavy and burdensome.

Cracking my SchoolBook had been easy. The crack was online within a month o...
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