Little Brother by Cory Doctorow (Book Review)

This part is spoiler free. I was with Adrian at Barnes & Nobles a few weeks ago while he looked for a copy of the new Vladimir Tod novel, when I saw a book sitting there. I wasn’t going to pick it up because it just didn’t seem interesting. But, on the cover was a very large blurb by Neil Gaiman. Now, if he says he’d recommend it over anything else he’s read this year (which he did), then I am obligated to look at it. I needed a “plane book” so I bought it for my trip to the National Hardware Show in Las Vegas (see next blog post for that write-up).

The book in question is “Little Brother” by Cory Doctorow. I read it, and I recommend this book to anyone with the mind to grasp it. It’s a very interesting book set in approximately present-day San Francisco. The story revolves around W1n5t0n a cyber-hacker who happens to be a teenager in a local high school. It’s tech-heavy; so, although you probably don’t need to understand too much to enjoy the book, it certainly would help. It doesn’t drift far-off reality and it’s not really even science-fiction except for the detail that it isn’t a true story. It’s frighteningly close to reality and there’s not much separating it from truth. It’s hard to pinpoint it to a specific genre — though the Tor imprint pretty much implies sci-fi.

Before I get to the review with spoilers, I must say this book is FANTASTIC. And it’s IMPORTANT. You need to read this book. Seriously. It blurs the line between fiction and reality so strongly, you’ll begin to wonder. Forget the conspiracy nuts, this book will actually make you wonder how nuts those theorists really are.

Mr. Doctorow is a former director of the EFF, so his facts are tight. Apart from an unhealthy love of the evil X-box, he’s blown me away with Little Brother. And if the recommendation by Neil Gaiman isn’t enough, how about Mitch Kapor, Ray Ozzie, or Tim O’Reilly? This book is amazing. And the even the giants of technology agree — the list of kudos is impressive.

The book is a quick read, tightly packed, well edited (I only found two typos), and fascinatingly entrapping. A good mental exercise and a release at the same time. Buy it. Read it. Then tell your friends. This book should go viral.

This italicized part is NOT spoiler free.
Specifically, Marcus (W1n5t0n) lives his life as a cyber-geek and cyber-genius. Unrelated to that, a terrorist attack hits San Francisco. This is the story of Marcus and his girlfriend in their quest to reclaim San Francisco when the Department of Homeland Security takes over. They turn San Francisco into a mini-Gitmo and while they never impose martial law, rights are slowly taken away just like is happening in real life. Alone that would make the book possibly interesting. But that’s not all.

The book explains, in detail, why all those little RFID devices everyone carries aren’t such a good idea. RFID? They’re in your SunPass (toll booth transponder), Passport, and so forth. They couple that with data in the traffic camera, and data mined from government records. All of a sudden, they know more about you than you’d care to think. Might sound like science fiction but it isn’t. This part is all current, working, installed technology.

W1n5t0n goes into hiding and his ultimate goal is to survive his imprisonment, torture (yes), and take back what is slowly being taken away. He could be a hero if he can only succeed. Nothing I write here will do this book justice. You need to read this book. If you think you’re living in a free America, you probably should read this work of fiction. Because although it’s fiction, that story is delivering a message. Freedom is not free. What would you pay for yours?

Please buy this book. I really can’t reiterate this enough: buy this book. BUY IT NOW.

As for my friends: you’re all getting this for Christmas unless you write me and tell me you’ve read it before then. You don’t want to wait. Trust me. You’re going to have thoughts after you read this book. Be afraid. Very afraid.

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