Imagine if Winston Smith from Nineteen Eighty-Four had been a modern-day hacker, as rebellious and defiant as Tyler Durden from Fight Club and V from V for Vendetta, but without the penchant for blowing things up - just a belief in the right to privacy and freedom.

As far as novels go, I'd wholeheartedly recommend Little Brother. Much like Nineteen Eighty-Four, "fun" doesn't seem like the right word to describe the experience of living vicariously through the protagonist's eyes, but "thrilling" is about right. I don't want to spoil too much because I sincerely hope you decide to read it, but it's refreshing to read a story in which the hero is fighting for freedom, yet is hip enough to recommend Wikipedia articles and Google searches to the reader.

This book is more than just a novel, however. It's a warning, and it's a manifesto. It's set in the near future, painting a chilling picture of the direction the Department of Homeland Security would head in given the chance. What makes it so scary is that it's easy to imagine it coming true, given the history of their ADVISE project.

It's important for young readers to realise how much power they have to make the world a better place if they just work together, and this book may just help them do that. Conversely, older readers will understand the politics and hopefully learn a bit more about the hacker mindset.

If you're a hacker, you probably want to explain to your friends and family why you read 2600 Magazine and take things apart to understand how they work, but more than that, you want them to be able to get a sense of the thrill of learning for themselves how things work.

Lending them this book might well be a good place to start. Cory Doctorow clearly understands the political and social importance of modern technology, but unlike far too many hackers, he can also explain the concepts of things like public key cryptography and Bayesian maths simply and clearly - and explain why they're important.

Take blogging, for example. Many people have probably overlooked the importance of decentralised publishing, but it's a truly democratic medium. The author clearly demonstrates why it's harder for bad people to continue doing bad things if anyone passing by can tell the whole world about it.

Don't take my word for it, though. You can download and read as much of the Creative Commons licensed eBook as you like, and make up your own mind whether you want to buy a copy for yourself, or for anyone else for that matter. The author recommends that anyone who enjoyed the eBook but doesn't want to buy themselves the real thing can instead donate a copy of it to a school. In my opinion, this is a much better strategy than suing fans.

So please, download this book, but don't stop there. It's a call to arms. Try out some of the projects mentioned in the novel, and experience for yourself the joy of figuring out how technology works. If we work together, we can make technology continue to work in the interests of the people, not just the governments and corporations.

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.

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