Author: Cory Doctorow
Published: TOR, 2008
Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction
I'm going to start out by saving you some time. You've probably just finished reading ZoeB's review, and if that convinced you to read the book, you should go and read it. I am not going to trash the book, I just think it deserves at least one more person saying how great it is.
Cory Doctorow has written a number of other SF books, generally for adults, and some short stories. If you have read these, you may have some preconceived notions as to what to expect from a YA novel written by him. While many of his short stories are rather unpolished, Little Brother is not; it is on par with Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, perhaps even a little better, as far as writing style goes. His stories also tend to involve extreme (and extremely interesting) advances in technology; this book is different. This story takes place a mere decade or so in the future, and if anything Doctorow underestimates the technology level we might expect to find by then. (He does this for good reason, as the book is supposed to make the future seem assessable to today's youth.)
The story centers on a group of young hackers who live in a semi-dystopian future -- or to be more exact, a semi-dystopian high school. While life in general is quite shiny, their school-provided laptops track and censor everything they do. Cameras monitor all students' movements, and if you manage to avoid them you still have to avoid the tracking devices in the library books, snitches amongst your classmates, and vindictive administrators. The smarter (and more adventurous) students have any number of tricks to get around these measures, from dual booting secret operating systems on the laptops to building faraday cages into their backpacks. The story really starts, however, when the students discover that certain agencies within their own government (the American government, BTW) are set up very much like their high school.
The meat of the novel involves the students starting an underground movement to fight back against powerful oppressors that most people don't even realize exist. This is the perfect dystopia for today's computer geeks; it involves a familiar but excitingly advanced technology that is assessable in a way that most science fiction is not. Much of the technology described in the book is likely to come about soon (and should really be here already), and many of Doctorow's readers are capable of programming and building much of it now. The governmental threats are quite believable, and the underground's response equally so. ZoeB's reference to Nineteen Eighty-Four is extremely appropriate, although Little Brother is much more hopeful and exciting.
I always make it a point to pick at a book's flaws, particularly books that I like. So here goes: Cory Doctorow's idea of What A Teenager Wants To Read About involves a bit more making out than I really appreciate, and some of the attempts to add in trendy (sorry, cool) elements into the story seem a bit silly. I must be getting old. And there are some definite instances of deus ex machina, which, while not unbelievable, did tend to lessen the impact of the book. IMHO, of course.
Overall, a great read for anyone who is interested in computers or dystopias. I highly recommend it. I am hoping for a sequel, although that doesn't seem to be Doctorow's style. One can hope.
The book is available for free at Goodreads or at Cory Doctorow's site.