Thursday, July 03, 2008

New agitprop from Cory Doctorow

Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother is marketed as Young Adult fiction. I suppose that makes sense, since its protagonists are all teenagers. But just as Heinlein’s old “juveniles” and even J. Neil Schulman’s Alongside Night are all “adult-friendly” despite their tilt toward a young market, Little Brother is solid, entertaining, and very scary reading for all ages. And it may be the best “libertarian” science fiction novel since Suprynowicz’s The Black Arrow three years ago.

The story is set in the very, very near-future, when Homeland Security has really gone batshit. Marcus and his three best friends ditch school one day and get horribly caught up in the aftermath of a terrorist attack on San Francisco’s Bay Bridge. DHS carts all three of them off to a secret Gitmo-by-the-Bay, where they’re questioned and tortured, but not necessarily in that order. Eventually released, Marcus determines to save one missing chum and take down DHS in the bargain. What follows is 300 pages of techno-geek, teenage revolution, and it’s all pretty damn cool. I’ve heard a couple reviewers complain that the tale occasionally comes to dead stops for computer info dumps. And that’s true, but it didn’t bother me. I think those few moments are actually needed for a full understanding of the action.

Anyway, Doctorow’s characters are generally well defined and appealing. Even some of the adult characters who can’t understand why anyone would refuse to surrender liberty for security are fully drawn and sympathetic. The story is fast-paced and told with passion. There’s no question that the author believes his novel’s warnings are urgent. Radical libertarians like myself will find naïve his traditionalist notion that solutions still lie in the voting booth. But Doctorow’s heart is in the right place, and there’s no question that he’s one of the Good Guys.

My biggest reservation about Little Brother is this: it’s like a hand-grenade. Its life expectancy is short. It will date quickly, and in just a few years, its message may be too late. So my suggestion is that you pick up a copy right now — don’t wait six months or more for a paperback edition — read it quickly, then start passing it down the chain to your kids, their friends, and their friends’ friends.

Little Brother is a handy tool to add to our agitprop arsenals.

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At 9:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glad you liked it, too. I was at a techie conference and one of my fellow conferees recommended it for my and my daughter.


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