I. The Official Foliage Review of Cory Doctorow’s Latest Novel, Little Brother
As a disclaimer, let me first inform you of my love for all things containing pirates, video games, cryptography, and spicy food. Little Brother, blogger Cory Doctorow’s latest novel, contains all these elements of a fantastic piece of literature... and more. Doctorow is a co-editor of the blog Boing Boing, a Fellow of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and author of several Creative Commons-licensed books, including the Nebula Award-nominated shortstory, “0wnz0red.”
Little Brother, Doctorow’s latest novel, and his first aimed at teens, is the story of Marcus “w1n5t0n” Yallow, leader of a small group of gamers and hackers. When “the worst terrorist attack since 9/11” hits San Francisco, Marcus’s hometown, Marcus and his friends are caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, hauled off by the Department of Homeland Security, and forced to prove they aren’t terrorists. The teens endure harsh imprisonment, and even treatment that may (or may not, if your American family values level is set to “Severe” today) be called torture. Once released, Marcus sets his sights on the entity that deprived him of his liberty, disappeared his best friend, and turned his city into a police state: the DHS.
One part Bible for the tech-aware teen, and one part gripping dystopian drama, Little Brother manages to found its exciting storyline in more fact than the average work of historical fiction. Filled with detailed descriptions of modern technologies like public-key cryptography, DNS servers, and school security systems, this book shows how fine a line we walk between “safe” and “sheep.” Reading it, I felt by turns inspired, aghast, and paranoid.
Little Brother asks tough questions like “Who are the terrorists? The ones who bomb, or the ones who exploit the fear?” Cory Doctorow has created a work potentially as influential for this generation as Orson Wells’ 1984 or Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, the classic dystopian predictions, were for the last generation. Technology is the next frontier in security and privacy, with implications ranging from the political and social to the religious and cultural. The modern American dystopia this book projects is just one possibility that could be realized in the very near future.
I love and recommend Little Brother, not just because its story was so enthralling that it kept me up until two in the morning, but because it contains very real truths about American society today and where we are headed tomorrow.
Little Brother is available April 29 in bookstores everywhere.
II. A Foliage-Exclusive Interview With Cory Doctorow
Foliage: Tell us a little about yourself.
Cory Doctorow: I’m 36, a Canadian who lives in Britain, and I write novels when I’m not playing with my newborn daughter or blogging.
F: Why did you write Little Brother?
CD: Because we need to start talking, NOW, about how we’re going to keep computers from turning into systems that control us, rather than systems that empower us.
F: What experience do you have in privacy and security matters?
CD: I served as the European Director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties organization devoted to upholding traditional liberties (especially the First, Fourth, and Eighth Amendments) in the online world.
F: How did you ensure that your characters would resemble real modern teens?
CD: Well, I guess I’m a real modern adult, which means I inhabit the same world as the characters in the book, albeit a different strata of it. Teens through the ages have had a lot in common when it comes to their concerns, cadence and voice, so I just winged it!
F: Why should today’s teens care about this?
CD: We’re on the verge of an era when computers no longer help us, but rather serve to control us. When that happens, we’re in big trouble, because we’ll lose the ability to use the Internet to organize movements to challenge authority, and without it, authority will grow and grow.
F: Could the scenario played out in your book every really happen?
CD: Would the US ever treat its own citizens as presumptive criminals and terrorists? Sadly, I think the answer is yes. The DHS and US Attorney’s Office are already treating people like animal rights protestors and others as though they were Jihadis bent on crashing airplanes into buildings, as opposed to legitimate participants in political discourse.
If you would like a pdf of this issue (it includes several pictures and a new, spiffy layout!) then please contact the Foliage General Secretary at firstname.lastname@example.org.