Wednesday, April 23, 2008

L1ttle Br0th3r is watching

Geeks rule, Homeland Security drools!

Okay, so this book is a little more sophisticated than that.

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow is the story of Marcus, aka w1n5t0n, who's more or less your average high school geek. He lives in a slightly futuristic San Francisco and loves RPGs, history, hacking his school-issued laptop, and subverting his high school's surveillance systems. His hacking is all in good fun until the day the Bay Bridge is bombed and thousands of people are killed. While trying to flag down some help for his friend Darryl, who is stabbed in the melee that follows the bombing, Marcus is taken into custody and treated as a terrorist. He is released after a few days, but he has no idea what's happened to Darryl. His experience with Homeland Security leads him to put his hacking skills to work on the XNet, an underground network of progressive-thinking geeks who use their modified XBoxes to communicate out of the reach of Homeland Security. San Francisco is now a police state, and Marcus won't stand for it. Working with his fellow hackers (and a cute girl), he is determined to fight for citizens' freedom and find Darryl. With increased paranoia, scary reports on the TV, and a new history teacher who believes in suspending the Bill of Rights, Marcus knows he has to put his net popularity and technical skills towards promoting freedom and liberty for all. Too bad Homeland Security sees him as a threat.

I enjoyed this book, but I didn't love love it. First, the good. Marcus is a great character, full of passion, style and smarts. He's got a great voice, both self-assured and vulnerable that way teens can be. Marcus never makes apologies for being smart and always does what he believe will do the most good, even if he can't see the long-term consequences. The reader gets a strong sense of the setting and also the sense that Doctorow really loves San Francisco. The ending is tied up nicely but doesn't feel rushed or contrived. There's a ton of food for thought regarding security, terrorism, and civil liberties, and it's clear what side Doctorow falls on, but I didn't feel bashed over the head with messages, either.

What I thought needed work was the pacing. There's lots of action and adventure, sure to appeal to the more grown up Alex Rider fan. The problem was that the book can alternately move much too fast or much too slow. Marcus often stops to explain complicated math and technology to the reader. Doctorow does a great job of breaking this down. Believe me, I can barely add and subtract so I'm always appreciative of well-explained complex mathematics. The explanations are necessary; I know I'd have no clue regarding any of it if I hadn't just finished The Numbers Behind Numb3rs: Solving Crime With Mathematics by Keith Devlin and Gary Lorden. (But, having read it, I can say, I KNOW ABOUT THE LARGE PRIME NUMBERS AND ENCRYPTION! THE RIEMANN HYPOTHESIS! I AM SO SMART!). Problem is, there's really no way to get them in without disrupting the story. So, great story overall, just needed some editing.

No comments: