Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Lisa’s Take – Little Brother (Corey Doctorow)

Marcus is a high school senior in San Francisco and an expert in all things technology and security related – he can fry RFIDs, fool his school’s gait recognition software, and don’t even get him started on encryption algorithms. Then one day there’s a terrorist attack on the city and Marcus and his friends are picked up by the department of homeland security, imprisoned, tortured, and thrown back into the world with dire warnings about being on good behavior. San Francisco turns into a police state, and Marcus takes it upon himself to fight back against the tyranny.

Doctorow’s work is usually full of nifty (sometimes silly) ideas and far-fetched scenarios, so Little Brother was a very different experience from the other books of his that I’ve read. It was flat-out believable, realistic, and bleak look at a near-future scenario in which government-run security gets out of hand. The book itself is very absorbing, but when you take a step back and really consider the plausibility, the effect is pretty chilling

As always, Corey nails his characterizations head on. I’m not sure anyone has ever written a more believable 17-year-old boy – a good mix of hormones, smarts, and real emotion make it exceedingly easy to get attached to Marcus. The supporting characters are also strong, the technology is fun, and the story really moves along never getting bogged down (though he does sometimes wank poetic about tech for a little longer than a non-geek might appreciate).

Touching on what is becoming a bit of a theme in this blog - Little Brother is billed as a YA book, but will definitely be readable both by teens and growed-up-types. Corey doesn't pull any punches, and takes a really frank look at teenage life. I appreciate him not talking down in a book that was directed at teens, and the end result is that adults will not feel like they're reading something trite or below their level.

My biggest worry about the book is that the many, many, many pop culture references will be stale in 2 years. For now they make the book hip, up-to-date and very real… but soon a lot of those buzz words are going to fade to obscurity and might make the text seem dated.

Anyway, this review is coming off as stilted (what is it with me lately?) but the bottom line is that this is a great little read. It’s easy to plow through in a few hours, has some cool ideas, and will leave you with a pleasant afterglow as well as some food-for-thought. Hoorah.

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