I got an advance copy of Cory Doctorow’s new book Little Brother last week from a coworker at ACLU. I happened to be taking care of my disabled father that night, so I read it all in one night. Then I took it home and read it out loud to my partner. Now it’s being passed between my friends and office-mates.
It’s strange to read a book about people like myself, my “tribe”. There are some things in the book (like the shock at getting paid to write code for the first time), that my friends and I have all experienced, but reading them in a novel is a bit surreal. In that sense, the novel does speak for my generation. Although I’m certain that not everyone in my generation would agree with the values or morals promoted in Little Brother, the book does accurately capture our culture and our communication style, as The Catcher in the Rye and Ulysses did for previous generations.
The message in the book is a hugely important one. Although it’s theoretically set in the near future, since I’ve read it, I’ve noticed pieces of the surveillance society in the book coming true in real life currently. I worry a bit that when the book comes out in April, it will be closer to current events than futuristic possibilities.
The book is very readable for young adults, and still layered and engaging for old adults. I’m not sure a lay-person could grock dual-key encryption from Cory’s explanation, but it’s not an easy concept to communicate, especially in a young adult text. Overall, I think it’s an essential book for young adults to read. I especially liked the bibliography, which efficiently brings together several different books and blogs that together give a decent picture of our tribe’s culture and beliefs.
I think that current young adults will engage with and be inspired by this book because it speaks to them and their lives. Whether the book will hold up over time is another question, as many of the technologies in the book will become antiquated and obscure. Watching the characters interact with technology was half the fun for me (but my passion connecting people with technology to accomplish a greater good, so maybe I’m not the best judge). I wonder whether that piece will be lost on future generations.
The book has a clear unapologetic theme of civil disobedience which resonates with me as a hacker and a young person. Civil disobedience is critically important in this society where the traditional reigns of power are held by an increasingly small segment of our country. My generation sees technology as an extension of ourselves, and many of us feel that it is our duty to use technology to wrest power from that minority and give it back to the people. Cory’s book tells a passionate story about a member of our tribe doing just that.
Cross-posted to my personal blog – Civil Disobedient