Although aimed at ‘young adults’ the subject matter of the plot – resisting authoritarian surveillance – along with its pace and ability to demystify technological details makes Cory Doctorow’s book appeal to a wider audience. For similar reasons, although published a few years ago it still feels a very contemporary novel.
It’s the story of a group of American high school students who get caught up in a terrorist attack and the resulting crackdown that takes its cue from Big Brother with ever more intensive surveillance. However, the school kids have the technical nouse to keep ahead of the Department of Homeland Security in their struggle to make good triumph.
As this description suggests, the heart of the book is not terribly original – group of kids outsmart authority – but the book turns this into a strength. The very familiarity of some of the basic character types (the smart one, the cool one, the love interest and so on) means that the book can call on our common knowledge of such characters so that very quickly they come through as rounded, detailed characters.
What then keeps this fresh is the pace of the plot and the expert handling of technology. The book being a struggle against surveillance, technology features heavily but it is explained well to the uninitiated with a minimum of jargon and only occasionally does the narrator’s voice explaining technology sound a little forced. Without the book feeling like a textbook, at the end of it the reader has a good overview of issues such as why openness rather than secrecy usually makes for the best security and why data-mining can be such a risky strategy for fighting terrorism.
The book is intended to do more than just amuse and illuminate, with a series of afterwords that call on readers to apply the lessons from the plot to their own lives. In that regard, the book neatly compliments the author’s journalism, in which he often warns of how technology is being used and how surveillance is being imposed.
An enjoyable read, except if you work at Domino’s – whose pizzas get a severe mauling in the text in a form of anti-product placement.
You can buy Little Brother from Amazon here.