He may be one of the most successful science fiction writers of our time, but Cory Doctorow is perhaps better known as an activist for digital rights. He currently sits fifth on Forbes magazine’s list of Web celebrities, a position he earned by being editor of the popular blog about technology, Boing Boing and a fellow of the Electronic Frontiers Foundation, a non-profit group that defends digital rights. As such, he’s probably the best person to write a novel about the Internet, hacking, security and your rights.
Set in the very near future, the book is told through the eyes of Marcus Yallow, a 17-year-old high school student with a passion for gaming, building computers, beating security measures and skipping school. The action begins when terrorists blow up the San Francisco Bay Bridge. Marcus and three friends are playing hooky and happen to be nearby at the time. They’re taken into custody by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and kept in “Gitmo-by-the Bay” for questioning. After a number of days they re-emerge to find that the citizens of San Franscico are now under constant surveillance.
At first, Marcus uses his skill with technology to escape the ubiquitous surveillance, but he soon finds himself as the leader of a new online movement to thwart the government crackdown. It’s a suspenseful and fast-paced game of cat and mouse as the DHS tries to pin Marcus and Marcus tries to outsmart the DHS.
It is reminiscent of the ‘big brother’ surveillance in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, to which the title of the book pays tribute, but there is one important exception: the book describes a plausible modern-day scenario. And it’s terrifying. Apart from a few futuristic devices, all the technology used to collect data and create citizen profiles already exists – in fact, it’s probably within your line of sight as you read this.
I’m not sure you could find a more left-wing book. If you think Guantánamo Bay was a necessary institution and that the U.S. acted reasonably in the wake of September 11, this may not be the book for you; mercilessly attacked are Homeland Security, the Republican party and the United States’ Patriot Act.
The book is classified as young adult literature, but anyone will enjoy it – as long as they have the basic 21st century lingo, including Wikipedia, wi-fi , instant messaging and Xbox.
All Doctorow’s books are available on the Internet under the Creative Commons license, so go download a copy of Little Brother at craphound.com for free.