Review: Little Brother

cory-doctorow-little-brotherI’m a little late to the party on this one and really given the long list of distinguished readers* singing the praises of Cory Doctorow‘s Little Brother you don’t need little old me to tell you it’s good. Only I’m going to. And here’s why:

Thursday morning I was rooting around the shelves for something to read on the train into work (I can’t use the bike at the moment as I can’t get it through the house as we still have boxes everywhere). Anyway, I picked up Little Brother having ordered it some time ago and have been slightly embarrassed that I hadn’t read it yet. I started on the train on the way in, continued on my lunch break (I never do this normally) and continued on the way home, reading as I walked from the station to the house and finished up around about midnight having pretty much inhaled the whole book.

It’s that good.

Marcus is smart, Marcus is a hacker, Marcus is a teenager, Marcus is a gamer and Marcus is about to land himself in a whole pile of trouble when he plays truant for a game- inadvertently placing himself in the middle of a terror attack on San Francisco. Held prisoner by the Department of Homeland Security Marcus finds himself treated as a potential terrorist before being released back into a city that has been transformed into a Police state. Angry, alienated and fearful for the future of his country Marcus decides there is only one thing for it, to take down the Department of Homeland Security. Calling on all his technology skills Marcus goes to war with the Department of Homeland Security, a war he can’t possibly win – after all, a seventeen year old kid can’t defeat his government, can he?

It would be easy to wax lyrical about how topical this book is or how well researched or how it’s pretty much a handbook for how to manage your data in a world where before long even your toaster will be online. And all this is true. I mean: it’s Cory – did you really expect anything less? Yet, I feel this misses the true success of the novel and that is the quality of the writing. Not the story – which is great riff on 1984 – but the actual technical process of how the words have been put down on the page to provoke a particular emotional reaction from the reader, the nuts and bolts of the book. Artfully constructed – like a Swiss watch – Doctorow plays the reader like a fiddle carrying this one from laughter to fascination to outrage to horror to celebration and back to outrage, all the while peppering the tale with real world information.

Although relying on the Internet quite heavily for the story you really don’t need to be a geek to enjoy this story and, in all likelihood, you may get more out of it if you’re not. For those who do – like me – spend large amounts of time online through work or whatever, you’ll see some really elegant explanations for things you see day in, day out and probably learn some stuff you should have known already, I know I did.

I don’t want to give the impression the book doesn’t have its weaker points. Some of Marcus’s first person narration isn’t entirely authentic as a seventeen year old – at least to my ears – but this could be down to the culture differences between the US (where the book is set) and the UK (where I am) or the generation difference**. The peppering of information also gets a little OTT in places and skirts the white line of info-dumping but as someone who really enjoys Neal Stephenson’s work I feel churlish pointing this out because Cory is nowhere near as prone to this as Stephenson. The novel’s faults, such as they are, do not clunk or throw the reader out of the story.

I found Little Brother to be a gripping, page turner that I really couldn’t put down. I would happily recommend this to any reader, old or young, SF fan or mainstream junkie. This is an important book, it won’t just entertain you, it will give you pause and change the way you think about the world you live in now as well as the one you’ll be living in tomorrow, all the while entertaining your socks off. You can’t ask more of SF than that.

Read it, read it now.

* Neil Gaiman, Wil Wheaton, Eric Brown, Farah Mendlesohn, StrugglingWriter and too many more to go on listing.
** Though it pains me to admit it.

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