Friday, June 27, 2008
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow - review
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
Marcus is the kind of kid whose best friend gets him a biography of Alan Turing for his fourteenth birthday. A boy who spoofs gait-recognition software by putting gravel in his shoes. He's the kid who hacked the spyware-infested and adware-infested laptops the school system provides. Smart and sneaky, Marcus might as well have been born with a Question Authority bumper sticker slapped across his butt. Not the kind of kid to take five days of detention and questioning (aka imprisonment and browbeating) by the Department of Homeland Security lying down.
Cory Doctorow weaves a lot of interesting set pieces, e-culture references, and technical explanations into this tale of cyber disobedience and the power of ideas. I guarantee that any reader will learn something new. You may know what a Sailor Moon outfit looks like, and you may understand how public keys work and how to make them. You may have read about how to make a video camera sniffer using a toilet paper tube on Instructables (and in fact, that Instructable may have been written by Marcus), but... how's your Bayesian analysis? Did you know that your digital camera "signs" each shot with unique metadata - meaning your every capture can be traced back to your machine? And did you know that Kerouac wrote On the Road on a big long scroll of paper?
Well, ok, everyone knows that last one.
Little Brother is a terrific adventure. Its protagonist is resourceful and brilliant but also thoughtful and real. But what really distinguishes this book is the voice of Cory Doctorow, patiently and passionately explaining why privacy is important, why dissent is crucial to democracy, and what can happen when we forget that. Oh, and he also slags Microsoft without hesitation every chance he gets - giving the book that whiff of honesty that teens crave.
Like Halting State for teens. Like So Yesterday for geeks. Like 1984 for today (and with a happier ending). And when they're finished with this one, start 'em on Gibson and Philip K. Dick.