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Little Brother Paperback – April 13, 2010
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Audio CD, Audiobook, Unabridged
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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 the Audio CD edition.
*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 the Audio CD edition.
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This, we soon learn, was all a big mistake. DHS has taken on the wrong 15-year-old.
Using his advanced programming skills and intimate knowledge of online security and encryption, Marcus sets out to organize a teenage rebellion to take back the city. Drawing his friends into his net, along with their friends and their friends' friends, Marcus soon becomes the coordinator of hundreds of teenagers. This is a force that proves formidable even against the massed might of the Department of Homeland Security—and the resources of the White House, which unsurprisingly has instigated the DHS coup. With civil liberties suspended and the government's goons acting more and more brutally as resistance mounts, the rebellion predictably spreads to the more thoughtful adults in the city. We can all guess where things are going—but we'll still be surprised by the ending.
Cory Doctorow is widely viewed as one of the leading lights of the new generation of science fiction writers. As of mid-2017, he has written ten novels and at least seven works of nonfiction. He's also a prolific blogger on copyright law, digital rights management, file-sharing, and post-scarcity economics. Little Brother was Doctorow's fourth novel.
In his review for the New York Times Sunday Book Review, Austin Grossman treated Little Brother as a young adult novel—a natural instinct given the teenage protagonist and the peripheral roles of adults. Like so many contemporary YA novels, however, Little Brother can be rewarding for readers of any age. Grossman wrote, "An entertaining thriller and a thoughtful polemic on Internet-era civil rights, “Little Brother” is also a practical handbook of digital self-defense. Marcus’s guided tour through RFID cloners, cryptography and Bayesian math is one of the book’s principal delights. . . . This is territory the author knows well . . . His grasp of the implications of present-day information technology is authoritative. . ."
The premise is all too believable: a "terrorist attack" sets the stage for a plethora of Alphabet Soup Agencies (ASAs) to turn San Francisco into a statist's surveillance state utopia "for security". That this surveillance state utopia is virtually indistinguishable from a gulag mashed up with East Germany BEFORE the wall fell, and that silly old Constitution and outmoded concepts like 'rights' and 'privacy' get fed into the wood chipper…well, it's to "keep you safe", "for security", "to catch terrorists", "for the children", etc. etc. etc. When a group of tech savvy high school kids in the wrong place at the wrong time get caught up in the Federal grist mill, some of them object to this--creatively, with smarts and tech savvy that confounds and infuriates the ASA minions.
In the guise of a ripping adventure story, Doctorow's characters point out the many false assumptions and downright stupidity of the things we've all been subjected to since 9/11 was the casus belli for the "War on Terror" and modern police state. Particularly insightful is his brief, easy to understand explanation of the "false positive paradox"; which basically means that if you start making haystacks, you find lots of needles. When this is done with massive data accumulation and mining (like the NSA does), far more innocent people will be 'flagged' than bad guys. If you don't mind destroying 10,000 innocent lives to catch 1 terrorist, you won't mind this…unless, of course, you happen to be one of the 10,000.
I can see why a high school principle--no doubt a loyal minion of the Deparkmant of Edumakation--banned this book for providing an example of young people questioning and resisting authority. It certainly does that, not only in a gripping and entertaining read, but also with oodles of disturbing facts about the modern police/surveillance state scattered about. As a number of people have pointed out, by any objective standard, the 9/11 hijackers succeeded beyond their wildest dreams: the backlash against the war on terror has almost certainly created more enemies for America than we had before, while destroying American's freedoms on a massive scale. This book begins with a similar act, and then plays out the consequences of said act in a horrifyingly believable fashion.
I cannot recommend this book more highly; and the sequel, Homeland, as well. If nothing else, when Police State Amerika descends on you, having read this book you'll be able to shake your head and tell yourself "well, it's not like Cory Doctorow didn't see it coming". Of course, this review will almost certainly get me on (another) List…and by reading it, you've probably joined me! Don't you feel special? I'll save you a place by me on the dirt in our pen at the "processing facility"….
Appropriate for high schoolers and possibly some mature 8th graders. Does have swearing and some sexual content, so keep that in mind.