Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Little Brother

In the aftermath of a devastating terrorist attack, Marcus and his friends are scooped up by the Department of Homeland Security and reemerge into a world where freedom is a thing of the past. Angry and determined to take back his country, Marcus organizes an underground protest movement with one goal: take down the DHS.

Cory Doctorow is the Ayn Rand of the Creative Commons movement, and if you're interested in arguments about the future of copyright law you should check out his writings. This novel is a thinly veiled attempt to portray Doctorow's idea of a worst-case scenario with an out-of-control American government that trades civil rights and privacy for the illusion of security.

Instead of "going Galt," Doctorow's hero Marcus Yallow "goes M1k3y" and orchestrates a protest movement against the DHS's encroachments on civil liberties using his tech know-how and a group of plugged-in allies. It's a great David verses Goliath setup, and the title refers to Marcus's desire to create plenty of Little Brothers who monitor the government.

The story moves along quickly in the first half and runs out of steam halfway thanks to some heavy-handed moralizing against a few cliched black hats.

My favorite parts came near the beginning, when Marcus explains a "web of trust" and other basics of cryptography. The story touches on Alan Turing, anarchist Emma Goldman, Kerouac's On the Road, Yippies, the Declaration of Independence, the Beats, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (where Doctorow worked for four years), the Pirate Party, TOR, and much more. (There's a great afterward/bibliography written by Doctorow that the curious should check out even if you decide not to read the novel.) I do wonder how relevant this book will be in twenty years, since its tech and cultural references are very au courant.

Final observations:

  • "Don't trust anyone over 25" is a stupid motto.
  • The press: everyone's whipping boy!
  • In light of an entire American city going on lockdown in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing, it seemed like a good time to read this book and think about security and privacy issues.
  • Fans of Ready Player One by Ernest Cline may enjoy this book!

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