I finished Little Brother by Cory Doctorow this weekend.
I cannot recommend this book enough. It is so, so worth braving the Young Adult section of the bookstore or library to get and definitely worth getting for your own young adults. Don’t be put off by the fact that it’s geared toward a younger audience, because there’s actually a bit more sex in it than most science-fiction I’ve read this year! Seriously!
Little Brother, in short, is about the Department of Homeland Security. Not quite the way it is now, but where it might be going if we’re not careful. The story is about a somewhat precoscious teen named Marcus who’s a bit of a geek. He plays live-action role-playing games and works with computers and subverts his school’s security measures to get out of class to play alternate reality games. But, he and several of his friends get caught up in a bad situation while doing this one day. In the story, terrorists blow up the Bay Bridge in San Francisco while Marcus and his friends are skipping school. And, the DHS sweeps them up with other questionable people and interrogates them.
Frankly, the interrogation techniques are probably what you’ve read about already. Simple humiliation by not being allowed to use bathroom facilities, sleep deprivation, isolation, aggressive and extended questioning sessions, you know, the usual. The kinds of things that are used all the time to get information out of alleged terrorists. Only Marcus isn’t a terrorist and he hasn’t even been charged with a crime. The DHS is only questioning him because he seems a little suspicious and out of the ordinary. You know, the usual. The usual nightmare that anyone in the wrong place at the wrong time just being a regular, normal citizen might go through because we’re handing over our freedoms with the idea that we might gain security in exchange.
Well, they release Marcus and two of this three friends. Marcus got the worst of the questioning, but all of them are worried about their missing friend. Only Marcus, he’s gotten angry at how he was treated. Much the way I imagine many otherwise innocent people have gotten angry at how they’ve been treated or “questioned”. So, Marcus decides he’s going to get back at the DHS. And, thanks to his talents as a young computer hacker, he does.
I won’t ruin the story by telling you all that happens, but it is a gripping read, not lessened by the fact that it’s something which could happen right here in our country. In fact, some people feel it is happening. One of the many things I liked about this book was how accurate the computer security was. Doctorow really researched this well and even called in contacts like the infamous Bruce Schneier to help get it right. As a matter of fact, they get it so right that I’d recommend this book to anyone interested in getting the basics of computer security. They explain public key cryptography, protocol tunneling, and several other key concepts in modern computer security that, frankly, are somewhat hard to explain.
If you’re worried about the future of your country, or just the future of your children, I encourage you to read this book. If you want to encourage the next generation to be politically aware and have a good understanding of the issues, buy this book for them.
I may not always agree with Cory Doctorow’s political agenda, but Little Brother is a great book and will provide many topics of discussion for interested classes and families.
Read this book!