Review: Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

Little Brother Cover

Little Brother is Cory Doctorow‘s first YA novel and it’s been nominated for the Hugo. He’s written numerous other more adult targeted and you can download them all for free on his website, named after a delightful short story. I like the EscapePod recording of Craphound. At the end of this review you’ll find a slew of links which I culled from the bibliography at the end of Little Brother.

Little Brother opens with and later explains the paradox of the false positive. (search the text) After a terrorist incident in San Francisco (in the vaguely near future) the net is thrown rather wide to try and catch those responsible and/or future terrorists. What they catch and secretly jail is a young man, raised by former activist parents and a healthy curiosity for how computers and technology in general works. As he sees his liberties erode around him he fights back in numerous interesting ways.

Doctorow re-envisions Orwell’s 1984 as a hacker manual/coming of age story, and it works well on both counts. After a few nudges in the text I suspect that many people reading will read with google and wikipedia at the ready. Adolescent romance, parties, concerts, computers, ARG’s, LARPing and fast food balance out the heavier topics of Privacy vs Security, Profiling, Patriotism, and the uses/abuses of authority. (it’s better than that sounds) Doctorow captures San Francisco well. He captures teenage insecurity. He captures the spirit of the Hacker. He captures the very real dangers that we face because of the Patriot Act.

While Little Brother is not my favorite Cory Doctorow novel, it is a good example of this writing and easily the most accessible. I suspect readers will get hooked and either check out more Doctorow or go build something.


Largely for my reference, links to everything from the bibliography in the back of Little Brother:

  • Andrew “Bunnie” Huang’s Hacking the Xbox, (No Starch Press, 2003)
  • Bruce Schneier’s Secrets and Lies (Wiley, 2000), Beyond Fear (Copernicus, 2003), and Applied Cryptography (Wiley, 1995)
  • 2600: The Hacker Quarterly
  • O’Reilly’s MAKE
  • Ed Felten and Alex J Halderman’s Freedom to Tinker
  • Natalie Jeremijenko’s Feral Robotics
  • Dan Kaminsky, on tunneling
  • Dan Gillmor’s We, the Media (O’Reilly, 2004)
  • Annalee Newitz’s Wired Magazine article The RFID Hacking Underground
  • Adam Greenfield’s Everyware (New Riders Press, 2006)
  • Neal Gershenfeld’s Fab Lab at MIT is documented in Fab (Basic Books, 2005).
  • Bruce Sterling’s Shaping Things (MIT Press, 2005) and The Hacker Crackdown (Bantam, 1993) — free online
  • The Electronic Frontier Foundation
  • American Civil Liberties Union
  • Public Knowledge
  • FreeCulture
  • Creative Commons
  • Slashdot, “News for Nerds, Stuff That Matters”
  • Wikipedia
  • Cryptome
  • Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon (Avon, 2002)
  • The Pirate Party
  • Abbie Hoffman’s Steal This Book, is back in print (Four Walls Eight Windows, 2002) and online as a collaborative wiki.
  • Hoffman’s autobiography, Soon to Be a Major Motion Picture (Four Walls Eight Windows)
  • Larry Sloman’s Steal This Dream (Doubleday, 1998)
  • Jack Kerouac’s On the Road
  • Allan Ginsberg’s “HOWL” is online in many places, and you can hear him read it if you search for the MP3 at archive.org.
  • “Tenderness Junction” by the Fugs, which includes the audio of Allan Ginsberg and Abbie Hoffman’s levitation ceremony at the Pentagon.
  • George Orwell’s 1984
  • Daniel Pinkwater’s towering comic masterpiece, Alan Mendelsohn: The Boy From Mars (presently in print as part of the omnibus 5 Novels, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1997)
  • Scott Westerfeld’s So Yesterday (Razorbill, 2004)
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    ~ by mentatjack on March 24, 2009.

3 Responses to “Review: Little Brother by Cory Doctorow”

  1. […] reading Little Brother, I’ve been thinking a bit about Alternate Reality Games (ARG). Turns out J.C. Hutchins, of […]

  2. […] online. I read or listened to all the short stories and some of the books (Zoe’s Tale and Little Brother). I got to know the style of the nominated artists. I submitted my Locus Poll for the first […]

  3. […] The only other novel I could find with such a section was Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, with a GREAT reading list about hacking and related […]

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