31 December 2009

Cory Doctorow, Little Brother, 2008

In the latter days of the Bush presidency Little Brother possessed that aura of a book that needed to be written, and is also Doctorow’s self-confessed “Orwell fan fiction”, involving a small group of tech-savvy teenagers who, after a terrorist attack on San Francisco, fall foul of the Department of Homeland Security in a very bad way. Beyond the pervasive surveillance and counter-hacking it deliberately veers towards a believable extreme – at its most uncomfortable points it involves Americans torturing American children. A country’s government using torture on its own youth in the name of state security isn’t new, and in the light of the US’s recent cultural nadir it’s certainly fair play to line it up alongside countries like Burma, Iran and South Africa, at least in fiction. You also don’t find many new genre books published these days with an Afterword, let alone the two that Little Brother contains, including one from Bruce Schneier. This is pitched perfectly as counterculture teenage fiction, it somehow feels right from cover to cover even though the protagonist Marcus is often talking with the know-it-all hindsight of maturity. Interestingly there is now a project under way with Burmese Americans to get Little Brother translated into four Burmese languages, but there is certainly knowledge here that could be applied by politically active citizens confronting any suppressive government around the world, democratically elected or otherwise. Unreservedly, this is a book to recommend widely.

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