Review: Little Brother

This review was written before I started this blog and imported later for posterity.

Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother is about a teenage hacker who runs afoul of the surveillance state that is the United States Twenty Minute into the Future. It’s full of computer hacking, youthful rebellion and sermons about how surveillance is bad.

I’m conflicted about this book.

In one sense, it’s nice to read a story about computers and hacking by someone who knows what the deal is with computers and hacking, seeing as those subjects are constantly getting mangled on television and in film. This book taught me a few things about internet security and the like, for which I’m grateful.

But lines like “Then I opened them in a free image-editor called the GIMP and edited out everything from the photo except the van” and all the other name-dropping of Linux/free software stuff and Jack Kerouac and augmented-reality games and all the rest of it just felt forced. This book spent far too much time trying to convince me it was into the software hippie scene or whatever.

What’s more, Little Brother is incredibly heavy-handed. It’s utterly unsubtle about its personal liberty and privacy messages and even preachy at times. If its message were any less important and relevant, I probably wouldn’t have finished reading it, but I’ll cut it some slack because privacy and personal liberty in the internet age really are a pretty big deal.

There were times when it felt like Little Brother was a teenage hacker wish-fulfillment fantasy story, but to Doctorow’s credit, these times were generally followed by the realistic (i.e. bad) consequences of enacting teenage hacker fantasies. Even the ending is, for the most part, fairly realistic.

The romance subplot was pure Hollywood unnecessary shoehorned romance. I didn’t like it. The writing wasn’t the greatest I’ve ever read, and suffered greatly from the aforementioned heavy-handed references, but it did what it needed to do and kept me engaged.

So it’s a heavy-handed story about an important issue. It’s a fairly fun way to get an overview of some internet security topics, but read Nineteen Eighty-Four instead if you haven’t already.

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