“Little Brother” by Cory Doctorow

Cory Doctorow, a writer for the site Boing Boing, has written a solid young-adult techno-thriller for geeks in Little Brother. If that makes it sound like it’s for a narrow audience, it’s not. Marcus is a teen hacker who lives in San Francisco and likes playing online games with his friends. When SF is hit by terrorists, though, he’s picked up as a suspect by the Department of Homeland Security and bad things happen to him, his family, and the city.

Then the door at the back of the truck opened and there was fresh air–not smoky the way it had been before, but tinged with ozone…The man who came in was wearing a military uniform. A U.S. military uniform. He saluted the people in the truck and they saluted him back and that’s when I knew that I wasn’t a prisoner of some terrorists–I was a prisoner of the United States of America.

Marcus decides to fight, though, which raises the tough question of whether subverting authoritarians makes life more or less safe, in general and from terrorism.

Well paced, with concise and understandable explanations for non-geeks, this is a thoughtful provocative novel about the problems of privacy and free speech. I was strongly reminded of Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon, as well as the work of Bruce Schneier; both are named in the bibliography. Little Brother also reminded me of Godless by Pete Hautman.

It contains a few unsurprising YA tropes, like the geek boy intimidated by the sexually aggressive girl, withholding and later revealing key information to parents, a weaker sidekick/buddy, and a cool, outsider adult who helps. Also, there were were a handful of editing errors that slowed my reading–was his mother’s name Lillian, or Louise? But overall, it’s a rousing story about civil rights and ethics in the internet age.

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