Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Little Brother #1

Little Brother

Rate this book
Marcus aka “w1n5t0n,” is only seventeen years old, but he figures he already knows how the system works–and how to work the system. Smart, fast, and wise to the ways of the networked world, he has no trouble outwitting his high school’s intrusive but clumsy surveillance systems.

But his whole world changes when he and his friends find themselves caught in the aftermath of a major terrorist attack on San Francisco. In the wrong place at the wrong time, Marcus and his crew are apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security and whisked away to a secret prison where they’re mercilessly interrogated for days.

When the DHS finally releases them, his injured best friend Darryl does not come out. The city has become a police state where every citizen is treated like a potential terrorist. He knows that no one will believe his story, which leaves him only one option: "M1k3y" will take down the DHS himself.

382 pages, Hardcover

First published April 29, 2008

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Cory Doctorow

243 books4,925 followers
Cory Doctorow is a science fiction author, activist, journalist and blogger — the co-editor of Boing Boing and the author of the YA graphic novel In Real Life, the nonfiction business book Information Doesn’t Want To Be Free, and young adult novels like Homeland, Pirate Cinema, and Little Brother and novels for adults like Rapture Of The Nerds and Makers. He is a Fellow for the Electronic Frontier Foundation and co-founded the UK Open Rights Group. Born in Toronto, Canada, he now lives in Los Angeles.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
16,353 (32%)
4 stars
19,659 (38%)
3 stars
10,257 (20%)
2 stars
2,966 (5%)
1 star
1,266 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 5,834 reviews
Profile Image for Sandi.
510 reviews279 followers
June 23, 2008
There is a reason why totalitarian governments ban books. The reason is that books can change the world. "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and Frederick Douglass' autobiography opened people's eyes to the evils of slavery; Anne Frank's Diary taught us that genocide kills innocent young girls; "To Kill a Mockingbird" showed us that justice isn't always just and that people should be judged by their character rather than the color of their skin; "The Grapes of Wrath" opened our eyes to the plight of migrant farm workers; "1984" warned us about the perils of a nanny state. Now, in 2008, a new book of power has emerged. "Little Brother" is "1984" for the 21st century, but with more impact.

I don't recall that the book ever states what the year is. It really doesn't matter. It takes place post 9/11. Terrorists blow up San Francisco's Bay Bridge and everyone's constitutional rights get trampled in the aftermath. This book is aimed at teens, but every American adult should read it too. Parents should read it with their teens and discuss it with them. (There are a few scenes of teenage drinking and sex, but the overwhelming message of this book is so strong that even this conservative mother is willing to overlook it.)

My daughter was 18 on 9/11. My son is only 4 years away from being the same age as the protagonist. I remember how idealistic I was a teen. I read this book with all that in my experience. I read it as a mother; I read it as an idealistic teen; and I read it as a true believer in our rights as American citizens. I read thI didn't is book with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat. At 47, I thought I was past the age when a book would have the power to move me and change me as profoundly as "Little Brother." I've read thousands of books in my lifetime. I have very fond memories of so many of them. But, when it comes to real power, "Little Brother" is right up there next to "To Kill a Mockingbird." I'd give it 6 stars if I could. It is that good.


I do have to add that I gave this to my son to read before I read it. He is almost 13. He loved this book. He wants to read more books like it. I'm going to have to tell him that it's just a unique book. And, he did ask me why I didn't tell him it had "adult situations." I had to tell him that I didn't know. I really recommend that you let your teens read it before you do. They'll be less embarrassed that way. You can use the "adult situations" as a tool to talk about those touchy subjects of sex, drugs and alcohol.
Profile Image for Mario the lone bookwolf.
805 reviews3,846 followers
June 14, 2020
A softened, critical YA work in the tradition of Huxley, Orwell, and Capek, using a modern setting to show the dangers of a surveillance state, misuse of technology, political backlashes, and demagogy.

It´s a bit unrealistic that teams of teens should stand a chance against the government of a leading state , although it would have been too politically incorrect to use any of the states that come to mind when thinking about notorious incompetence and it sells, of course, better if most readers can associate themselves with it. The soft and friendly torturing to avoid physical evidence although is the same everywhere, if it´s not too expensive or outsourced in a public private partnership and a friendly conglomerate giving free samples of torturing and brainwashing equipment.

Critics may sure use Doctorow´s progressive political agenda to accuse him of agitation and writing a biased work, but most of what he uses as an exaggerated setting is just an extrapolated and in many states, if they can or could afford or self produce sufficient enough technology, very possible or already current situation. It´s so sexy for everyone, no matter if it´s to protect democracy, dictatorship, or one of the many fancy hybrid forms or wannabes, there is something in the special black ops Cassandra´s box that immediately after it´s initiation unexplainably and not scrutinized becomes essential for protecting the legal or illegal rights of the government. Although it didn´t exist until a day ago, now the state would of course collapse without it.

Sigh, if Doctorow was a writer in the adult genre, I would possibly read more of his works, not a great fan of YA that I am, and most of his other books also seem to be stable close 4 star ratings although I am not sure if this is because of the quality of his writing or because many dislike how he instrumentalizes the topics to show grievances and dangers of neoconservatism, his liberal neo economic fellow, the evilest colonizing neo, and the manipulation of patriotism to construct a bizarre golem of a beforehand already sick democracy that is not ultra zombie with a little box in the head for instructions by naughty shadow forces. Insert favorite conspiracy theory here if you like and are into that stuff to keep you going, I certainly am in the more realistic ones, so please don´t believe my agitative troublemaker drivel.

It could happen that I try the second part, homeland
or the novel circulating around the meanwhile well known trope of the dangers of everything online
or his possibly best idea, the quartet in

It speaks for itself that Doctorow, Colfer, and, well, unknown (also to me, pls tell me if you know one), and dead authors like Dahl seem to be the only ones that dare to write critical, though provoking, inconvenient works that don´t just let young people question, what might happen to underestimated ugly duck elf queen XY on her heroine quest to fight antagonist YZ and finally become happy with the first rude, meanwhile prude, finally screwed paladin ZY, but what´s going on in the real world their sleepwalking parents are wanting to haunt them by leaving this mess as a bequest.

It´s funny that it would be impossible to write a pro evil propaganda YA novel, letting all these important topics seem positive, because the opponents are in a such weak, defensive position that their only option is ignoring, throwing smoke grenades, and avoiding a large, public, emancipated debate about the topics at any cost. It could possibly be something like a stereotypical deterrent informing campaign with little Timmy trying to convince his leftist friend of the advantages of free market capitalism and necessary, well meaning surveillance, to help him avoid getting lost in a friendly black prison for positive psychology inspired brainwashing by well intentioned secret
door breaks, reviewer screams, crackling of taser, body dragged across the floor.

Review soon to be exchanged with a version proofread and approved by the ministry of truth.

Tropes show how literature is conceptualized and created and which mixture of elements makes works and genres unique:
Profile Image for Nataliya.
781 reviews12.4k followers
April 27, 2023
“It's not about doing something shameful. It's about doing something private. It's about your life belonging to you.”
What do you value more - privacy or security? What if the endless security measures lull you into thinking you're safe but are in fact little but an excuse for a tight grip on your, ahem, 'unmentionables' in order to keep you meek and docile?

Billed as a young adult book, Cory Doctorow's Little Brother, despite its decidedly young voice and a few overexplanations aimed at chronologically underchallenged, is strikingly mature.

* It's about encouraging the young minds to be subversive instead of meek.
* It's about the dangers of fear-mongering and paranoia.
* It's about the principles of civil liberties and social activism.
* It's about the principles of human rights including the right to question authority.
* It's serious about the idea of actually holding the government responsible.

Our world has gone through a lot of changes in the name of that nebulous idea of safety and security. We learned to take things and make them the new normal. Of course you cannot carry certain things on the airplane. Of course you will get a full body scan and a full grope patdown in addition to that (I'm 30 but look 16, I was told - an innocent-looking baby-faced and harmless-appearing young woman - and I keep getting randomly swabbed for gunpowder and extra-patted down whenever I try to board a plane - must be that inner subversiveness shining through). Of course the government can easily read your emails and listen to your phone - but insists on keeping its secrets as it's reading yours. Of course your Internet search is monitored for the tell-tale trigger words. Of course your whereabouts are tracked and your GPS - and who else by extension? - always knows where the hell you are.

Little Brother a novel of the aftermath of a terrorist attack on San Francisco, when in the wave of seemingly well-intentional (but who are we kidding, inevitably political) paranoia the surveillance state tightens its 'anti-terrorism' grip, and caught in the safety-security-quasi patriotism grip are, of course, not only the 'false-positive' terrorist suspects but the rest of the quasi-free society.

The Orwellian Big Brother here is DHS, the Department of Homeland Security, turning San Francisco into basically a surveillance state by playing on the usual human fears and desires to be safe and protected.
“I thought I lived in a country where I had rights. You’re talking about defending my freedom by tearing up the Bill of Rights.”
But for every Big Brother there is a Little Brother, and here this role is taken on by a 17-year-old technology-savvy young man Marcus Yallow, whose natural incline towards questioning authority (by, really, quoting the Declaration of Independence) and accepting freedom of speech as the undeniable right, combined with the poor luck of ending up in the wrong place at the wrong time make him a target and a victim of those in power - and make him a thorn in their side that they cannot get rid of. Instead of obediently accepting the new reality of 'anti-terrorism' leading to curbing of rights and freedoms, Marcus rallies the young into a cyber war against the Big Brother.
“I couldn't believe it, but there was no other explanation. It had been sheer vindictiveness. My mind reeled at the thought. They had done all that as a mere punishment for defying their authority.
I had been scared. Now I was angry. "Those bastards," I said, softly. "They did it to get back at me for mouthing off."[...]
"I'm going to get them," I whispered, staring at my soda. "I'm going to get them."
Jolu shook his head. "You can't, you know. You can't fight back against that.”
What follows is Cory Doctorow's treatise (disguised as a smart and witty novel) on why your freedom and privacy is important and how you can fight back and ask inconvenient questions. Do we have the right to privacy? The right not to succumb to fear-mongering? The right to liberty? The right to freedom and justice for all?

Read this book. Ask the questions. Be a little subversive - it may just pay off in the long run.

4.5 stars.

You can read it legally - and free - from Cory Doctorow's own website: http://craphound.com/category/littleb...
Profile Image for Krystyn.
31 reviews16 followers
June 28, 2008
Just finished reading the free .pdf version of Cory Doctorow's Little Brother.

The writing is not the tightest I have ever read, nor does it even begin to exude elegance, but it does a decent job of keeping you reading.

I was incredibly put off by the chapter-start bookstore dedications. It felt like a weird meta sort of pandering. This is what you do when you are relentlessly self-promotional. You tell people you like them, and tell everyone in the world their name and where they "live." The obligation to the return the favor feels like less of an obligation, so now Doctorow's cultivated a network of bookshops who are probably going to be more amenable to keeping his stuff in stock, perhaps waiting for the day he strolls in (to the brick and mortar businesses, anyway) to sign whatever they've got of his on-hand. I was never allowed to read the book purely for the first several chapters, as I was worried that I might be missing some plot-related element if I skipped the bookstore plugs. After a few chapters, it became obvious that I did not need to read them at all, and became pretty adept at skipping the italicized bits before reading on. The narrative also started to become more relaxed, so it felt easier to read once the main pin of the plot started to act as its hinge.

This novel is pretty heavy-handed. I was cool with the concepts of security theatre and freedoms being slowly, subtly, and needlessly stripped from citizens volunteering them up in the name of 'Freedom,' but I was absolutely NOT down with the 2-dimensional and laughable caricatures painting Rooney and Perfect Haircut and Charles. I don't actually care how 'real' those depictions might actually be, weirdly enough. It was a cheap narrative element, and drew me out of the story so much that I actually began to resent the narrator and the hubris layered over him by the author like thick, crusty calcium deposits. The martyrdom of Marcus is all well and good as a plot device, but other than the concert event and the flash mob, there was never any real sense of the scope of what was happening in the world of the book. It isn't until much later that you actually get some mortality numbers from the book's pivotal event, and honestly, that would've been good to know much, much earlier. It's as if none of this actually occurred to Marcus until he was forced to look at it. He was clueless about the DHS people he encountered, and it only took a few minutes of television-watching to clue him in. It was also frustrating to have him be so careful about getting off the grid when the vans came by, and to make such a huge point of it, but then, when it mattered the most (after he escaped from Masha in the moving truck), when he was keeping the evidence he most needed alive and accessible (Masha's phone), he didn't seem to care much at all about being detected.

I dunno. It's a decent read, but it felt sort of hacked together, more than a little holier-than-thou. Appropriating the "Don't trust anyone over 30" slogan and re-tooling it to "25" thoroughly pissed me off, for obvious reasons. I am not the enemy, and I do not come from a generation that defines the habit of voluntarily giving up one's freedoms. I became a teenager during the Cold War, and I remember what it was like to constantly fear nuclear fallout from an attack, of Ronnie accidentally pushing the wrong button. Maybe that's something Doctorow felt necessary to put into a Young Adult book, but as a teenager, I would've found that a little insulting, especially since Marcus shows plenty of trust in his History teacher and later on, the journalist. It's ridiculous that they are painted as the exception to the rule. What a grim message to send to teenagers, who already might feel disenfranchised by simply being teenagers.

Anyway, I read it. It was intriguing initially because the kids were playing a game they called an ARG (I would have liked to have heard even more about it, but whatever), but the rest of it was, strangely enough, a lot of fear mongering, grandstanding, and a coupla sex scenes. Oh, and I was pretty irritated that Darryl became a footnote, collateral damage, unexplored. What happened to him was pretty interesting, and would have given much more gravitas to the themes of the book, but it was more important to have Marcus and Ange close out the book by sweatily groping each other in a little tiny office with their shiny new hip revolution. Sigh.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Brendan.
Author 20 books171 followers
June 9, 2008
What sounds from the description like a fun techno-thriller tinged with lefty politics is instead a didactic bore of a blog entry masquerading as a novel. I agree with the politics of the book; it's the bad writing I have a problem with. It seems Doctorow was so concerned with conveying his Important Message that he forgot that long lectures tend to kill plot momentum. (He also forgot about credible characters and dialogue that sounds like a real human being would actually say it.) A colossal disappointment, and I downloaded it for free.
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,882 reviews16.6k followers
December 26, 2019
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow hits some sensitive themes over and over in a narrative of the sooner rather than later dystopian problems following a post 9/11 terrorist attack on America, this time in San Francisco.

Making an obvious tip of the cap to George Orwell, Doctorow begins his story in 2015 with hip, techie teenager Marcus and his exploits trying to avoid problems with his assistant principal. Geeky adolescent shenanigans are quickly interrupted by the attack and the subsequent martial law that comes down in the form of a Department of Homeland Security squad of jack booted thugs led by a “severe haircut lady” who would be at home in Orwell’s Thought Police or the Gestapo. Our protagonist’s world is changed forever after his arrest and Doctorow uses Marcus’ declared war on the DHS as a means to discuss topics of law, freedom, Constitution and the nature of our precarious balancing test of safety versus personal freedom and privacy.

Marcus’ techno-revolution will undoubtedly strike a filial chord with many young adults, presumably the intended audience for this novel, and his fear and paranoia surrounding the hard times of the DHS crack down is a clear and intentional throw back to the counter culture, social activism of the 60s and Doctorow’s setting in San Francisco is no accident.

This book will raise divergent discussions about the nature of security and the foundations of our Bill of Rights in light of very real threats from abroad and from within. While Doctorow is not shy about standing on a soapbox, his writing falls short of being preachy and for the most part he simply spins a good story.

Heavily one sided, though, the author steers clear of objective descriptions of the attack and responsible parties, focusing instead on the safety versus privacy issues. While this focus provides a linear narrative and a theme centered storyline, the book may have been made better with a more balanced discussion of all the issues surrounding a terrorist attack.

Still, prophetic warnings of our Department of Homeland Security turning into above the law secret police hits home and Doctorow effectively creates a healthy environment for cautious activism as our society continues to struggle with how to be safe while maintaining our identity as a free nation.

[image error]
Profile Image for Michael.
1,231 reviews115 followers
August 28, 2008
In an attempt to win over a new generation of sci-fi readers, Cory Doctorow's "Little Brother" is marketed as a young adult book. However, adult readers shouldn't worry that Doctorow's book will leave them behind or have them feeling juvenile for reading it.

"Little Brother" is a mature, contemporary novel that looks at the issue of security in a near-future that doesn't seem too far from today. When San Francisco is attacked by terrorists, seventeen-year-old hacker Marcus and his friends are out playing the latest mission of the most popular game of the day. Because of their proximity to the attack and their background as hackers, Marcus and his friends are detained and questioned by the Department of Homeland Security. Stripped of his rights, Marcus is eventually set free, but finds that new restrictions placed on the Internet and the world under the banner of making his country more safe are having the opposite effect. Marcus sets out to restore his true freedom and take out the oppressive regime of the Homeland Security Officers.

"Little Brother" doesn't shy away from the big questions. While this novel is set in a non-defined near future, Doctorow is clearly commenting on the ways and means used today to keep our country and world "safe" from the next attack. At one point does it go from keeping us safe to denying us our freedoms and is that tradeoff worth it in the long run? Doctorow's story of Marcus and his fight against the larger Big Brother is fascinating and terrifying all at the same time. As you read the story, you may realize just how much of our basic, assumed freedoms have been abridged all in the name of security and safety.

Doctorow also takes this opportunity to provide readers an education of security systems and computer programming. In what easily could have been some of the driest portions of the novel, Doctorow is able to give the reader some insight and knowledge, which may leave you curious to pursue more information on the inventors and security methods.

Doctorow is something of an Internet celebrity, having revolutionized the marketing of his novels through taking advantage of on-line distribution. He's grown as a writer since his debut in "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom" and with "Little Brother," while he's writing for a young adult audience, he's found a new level of mature and assured writing that makes "Little Brother" one of the more remarkable and haunting books I've read this year.
Profile Image for Monica Edinger.
Author 6 books338 followers
July 2, 2008
I'm feeling totally weird about feeling so unenthusiastic about this book as everyone I know who has read it seems to have loved it. (Just see that it got another star, this one from the Horn Book.) Seems like I'm the only person on earth who didn't. Ah well. (Cory, if you are reading this stop --- I'm clearly alone in my feelings here. Go read all the reviews of people who like it. Forget about mine.)

So anyway, I read it on the plane to ALA and had to really push to finish it. Some of the writing drove me nuts. I mean, how many times did Marcus have to "piss like a racehorse"? (Two for sure.) The sex scenes made me cringe. I found way too much telling. Telling about hacking, telling about programming, telling about the 60s, telling about the Yippies, et al. I don't have the book at hand to give specific examples, but I just felt too lectured at too often.

I really disliked the setup with the nasty boy. (Chuck was his name, I think?) The one who argued with the teacher about Vietnam and was horrible? I felt he was such a straw man (and I'm a pacifist, was very into anti-Vietman demos back in the day, and a hippie wannabee.)

I had trouble suspending disbelief that he would never have gone to see Daryl's father till his parents take him there weeks (months?) after his supposed death. I mean, weren't they really close friends? He thought about Daryl, but never about any of Daryl's family.

I understand the appeal, the call to arms, and all, but I stand alone I guess in my lack of enthusiasm for this title.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Wil Wheaton.
Author 89 books204k followers
May 21, 2009
More polemic than novel, Little Brother is the kind of book I would have devoured when I was a teenager. I gave it to my teenage son, and he went nuts for it (he isn't a reader) and was inspired by the various suggestions in the text to learn more about RFID, surveillance, privacy, EFF, Linux, and other technologies Doctorow explores or mentions in the text.

The story and characters aren't as complex as they could have been, but I didn't mind. Cory wrote this for teenagers, and he was clearly more interested in getting them worked up than doing a character study.

I enjoyed it. I wanted to see what happened when a bunch of kids did in fiction what a lot of us adults wanted to do in real life during the Bush years, and I wasn't disappointed.
2 reviews2 followers
August 21, 2018
So I was required to read this entire book. Over the summer. For a computer science class. And I don't want to be melodramatic, but my enjoyment of that task was on par with Marcus' enjoyment of being waterboarded by the DHS. After suffering through nearly 400 poorly-edited pages, I now understand why people ban books.

Pretty much everything I wanted to say about this book has been said before by people more eloquent than I, so I thought I'd let "Little Brother" speak for itself.
Here are some passages taken straight from the page.
Read at your own risk.

"Spending Fridays at school was teh suck anyway,"

"Darryl had fallen in love with her mind. Sad, really."

"She was totally h4wt - that is to say, hot."

"She was pretty, in a weird, horsey way,"

"I was pulled in right close to her, close enough to smell her perfume, which smelled like new cars. I love that smell."

"She wasn't h4wt in the traditional sense,"

"A new IM window popped up.
> herro!"

"She took the book and read the passage again for herself. 'Wow, dingledodies! I love it!"

"...melt into a puddle of horniness."

"Marcus, you are about to get laid for the firstest time EVAR,"

If I could meet one person and ask them one question, I'd meet Cory Doctorow and ask him if he's ever interacted with a human girl in his entire life.

My overarching issue with this piece of literature is that, for all of Mr. Doctorow's waffling on about revolution and anti-establishment and other leftist ideas, he's completely forgotten the human element to the ideology he's trying to promote. Homophobic and transphobic slurs are needlessly thrown around when describing various characters, the underage teenage girls (!!!) are all objectified and grossly sexualized, and characters of color are used for a plot point and one line of meaningful dialogue and then discarded for the rest of the narrative.

What good is a page-long speech about giving power to the people when the narrative dehumanizes those very people that are supposed to be uplifted?

The only salvageable part of this entire book was this piece of wisdom imparted by Jolu (who introduced our dear Marcus to his perfect little manic pixie dream girl and then was tragically never heard from again).

"I hate to say it, but you're white. I'm not. White people get caught with cocaine and do a little rehab time. Brown people get caught with crack and go to prison for twenty years. White people see cops on the street and feel safer. Brown people see cops on the street and wonder if they're about to get searched. The way the DHS is treating you? The law in this country has always been like that for us."

Cory Doctorow clearly has at least a basic understanding of how deeply racism is entrenched into our government, and this could have led to a much more profound story, with a truly revolutionary message. Unfortunately, this sharp analysis of the US justice system is promptly discarded for Ange and Cory's - I mean Marcus' - horny teenage shenanigans.

But hey, I guess even a broken clock is right two times a day.
Profile Image for Jim.
Author 7 books2,041 followers
October 3, 2017
Yes, I put a book that was published 8 years ago on my 'Classics' & 'Historical' shelves. It's NOT on my 'Science Fiction' shelf. I read a fair amount of history & SF. This book is very important historically & will be acknowledged as a classic. I've been fiddling with computers since before the Internet was public & have been administering networks for 20 years now. There's nothing in this book that takes the science into the realm of SF.

One of my basic duties is dealing with security against both internal & external threats, along with some basic database & other programming skills. What I can know about my users just by running a few quick routines against the Internet traffic is scary. (Thankfully my current job doesn't require me to monitor Internet usage like my last one did. I don't want to know that much about my coworkers.) When put together with even a cursory knowledge of their personal life it's far, far worse. I don't really want to know & yet I do, sometimes just because I've had to look up something else. I try hard not to see & forget quickly. What if I didn't?

What Doctorow has written is real, folks. Unfortunately, instead of a big blow up, it's happening in little, almost unnoticeable stages with a facile logic to them. A bit of privacy loss here & there taken away in the name of safety. ('Safety' is becoming a curse word to me.) News dumbed down, skewed by special interests, lost in all the babble, &/or spun out into a fantasy & another law gets passed, so there is one more way the authorities can look at us. And, just like Doctorow said, few norms understand it. Most people don't understand the paradox of the false positive & just how badly it impacts our society & security.
(If you missed that reference, read it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_po...)

Read this as a cautionary tale. Read the afterwords. They're very good. Even the bibliography is of great interest & pretty good. I will add Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution by Steven Levy to the reading list. This book focuses on the early hackers that started in the 1960's at MIT in the Train Club & continues to follow the history of hacking for a couple of decades. Yes, it's a lot more primitive in some ways, but it shows the growth of the system, the mindset of hackers, & will make a great deal more sense to older norms. Imagine making free phone calls using a whistle from a box of Captain Crunch, an iconic hack by John Draper.
(Read more here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Draper)

Obviously, I think it's a great book. Supposedly it's YA, but don't let that throw you. Yes, there's a simplistic bad guy (Probably the only thing I didn't care for much. He was too simple & bad.) & some romantic stuff, but it's not a huge part. It's also FREE. Yes, Doctorow is giving it away. One version I have seems to be a shorter version, but that's OK. Get it here: http://craphound.com/littlebrother/do...

It was really interesting listening to this in the middle of The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara, a classic account of the Battle of Gettysburg. As General Longstreet noted, war had changed. It has again &, like during the Civil War, the issues & the enemy are complicated. Far more complicated now, I think.

Update 3Oct2017: Some more reading. Has Big Data Made Anonymity Impossible? Well, yes, it has, but that's not the biggest danger to democracy. Try to ignore politics & focus on what Cambridge Analytica is doing in this article (They're mentioned about 1/4 of the way through. Long article.) It's plain scary.
Profile Image for Jeffrey Keeten.
Author 3 books248k followers
June 27, 2015
”Governments are instituted among men, deriving their powers from the consent of the governed, that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”

Marcus Yallow may not be a typical 17 year old kid, but he is fairly harmless. He might hack a secured website once in a while or figure out a way to circumnavigate the school security system, but only to insure himself a few moments of elicit freedom. He has been in trouble enough times to be the prime suspect when anything involving a technology hack becomes known, even when he didn’t do it. ”Never underestimated the determination of a kid who is time-rich and cash-poor.” His life is changed forever when he decides to bust out of school for a few hours to play a Japanese scavenger hunt game. His best friends come with him because they work well as a team.

And then someone blew up the Bay Bridge.

Needless to say all hell broke loose, and in the melee Marcus and his friends are detained by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). This turns out to be the ultimate in being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The scavenger hunt game looked to DHS more like a game to plant bombs. After several days of humiliation, threats, and mild but unsettling forms of torture, Marcus does something he never thought he would do...he gave them what they wanted.

The passwords to all his devices satisfy them for now. They cut him loose. The embarrassment of giving in to them leaves a festering wound in his guts and makes him want to do something to fight back. He is further motivated by the fact that his friend Darryl has disappeared, and DHS denies ever having him in their possession. The Bay Bridge terrorist act gives the government cover to make people disappear that they think should disappear. Those missing agitators just died in the attack, and their bodies are unrecoverable.

Easier to do than you would think.

DHS keeps implementing more and more control over the city of San Francisco. The rest of the country doesn’t care after all: ”The nation does not love that city. As far as they’re concerned, it is a Sodom and Gomorrah of fags and atheists who deserve to rot in hell.” Marcus gets stopped within a few days of his release for having a NONSTANDARD RIDE PATTERN on BART. DHS is tracking everything. Cameras at school have been installed that measure the distinctive walking patterns of students to determine who they are. Marcus combats this by putting pebbles in his shoes.

Marcus’s parents were radicals in the 1960s, protesting anything and everything, but now that they are older, they have turned from radical anarchists into scared conservatives. They want the government protecting them and are willing to sacrifice their own civil liberties to feel safer.

Land of the FREE and the Home of the BRAVE.

”Don’t trust anyone over 25.”

The adults have turned to the dark side, so if there are any hopes of pushing back against the thuggish tactics of DHS, it is going to have to be from the kids, and as it happens Marcus/Win5t0n/M1k3y becomes their leader. Through the XNET on XBOX he is able to recruit an army of teenagers who need directions on how to best combat the “security measures” that have been put in place by the government. Marcus is scared and worried about the news circulating that the people they really want gone are being shipped to Syria. As he grows this revolution, he also begins to feel responsible for all the people he is encouraging to put themselves in harm's way.

He checks out On the Road from the library to look for inspiration. In the ”rhythm to the words, it was luscious.” His new girlfriend Ange, a tech head like him with the added bonus of being as horny or hornier than he is, also enjoys his choice in books. They read passages to one another.

”They danced down the streets like dingledodies, and I shambled after as I’ve been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes Awww!”

That Jack Kerouac could bring it! He does make me want to hop in a car with no clear destination to meet new people, see new places, and leave the old in the dust cloud behind me.

I first became aware of this series when I was watching the movie Citizenfour about Edward Snowden. During the filming of the movie he was reading the second book in this series called Homeland. I decided to pick up the first book in the series and see if Cory Doctorow could further stiffen my spine about reigning in our government. After all I am 48 years old, way too old to be trusted.

I have been all over the map about what I wanted our government to do for us. I too was willing to give up some of my rights to keep all of us safer. Unfortunately, we opened up a door that never closed. The government kept taking more and more control of our lives. I’ve seen reviewers who have said that if you aren’t doing anything wrong then you have nothing to fear. Not true. A perfect example of this is when Marcus is stopped for a Nonstandard Ride Pattern. Anything out of the ordinary can be interpreted as suspicious.

We do have the right to privacy.

I know that people give that up daily on Facebook, telling the world about their private life, but that is their choice. In emails to my friends, I expect that the only eyes that will see my words are those that I intended to see them. My phone calls should be between me and one other person. There should not be a third set of ears in the equation. I should be able to travel around my country without someone tracking my every move. I should be able to check books out of the library or buy books over the internet without the government logging my ownership. When we take away our liberties, then the terrorists win. When we live in fear, the terrorists win. The terrorists would love nothing more than to turn the United States of America into a mirror of their own repressed societies (or with our homegrown terrorists their own hellish vision of what a country should be). I guess we have to hope that there is a Little Brother out there capable of standing up to Big Brother. I hope I am strong enough to offer my own voice, my own hands, and my own words to the fray.

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
I also have a Facebook blogger page at: https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten
Profile Image for Wendy.
951 reviews136 followers
January 19, 2009
Torn between two and three stars. I enjoyed reading this; the plot was interesting, and all the informative parts were pretty accessible (well, the computer/crypto stuff was done much, much better than the history). But I thought the writing was pretty bad--it got increasingly melodramatic as the book went along. I kept waiting for Marcus to say to one of his friends "But down here, it's our time! It's our time down here!". I never bought his voice as that of an American kid--there were Britishisms that I don't think could come entirely from having a British mother--but that's probably more due to sadly sloppy copy-editing than anything else. Phrases were repeated all over the place (Marcus told us twice that the best role-playing games were at "the Scout camps out of town", for instance), the text said "Van" when it should have been "Ange" at least once, Marcus's mother was referred to as both Louisa and Lillian on the same page... Overall, the book is a vehicle for the author, not an organic story.

I can see that this is an important and thought-provoking book that a lot of kids will enjoy, but for the love of god, please don't give it the Printz.
Profile Image for Claude's Bookzone.
1,535 reviews216 followers
April 11, 2021
2.5 Stars

Well that had a whole lot of 'splaining throughout which, whilst necessary, made for some long dull moments in this YA dystopia.

I know this has been very popular but I honestly feel like it hasn't aged well. The main character makes lots of pervy comments about girls and says he can't hug his kidnapped, injured and traumatised male friend because guys don't hug each other. I think we have moved past that mentality as a society right? On the positive side, I really liked the way the dystopic elements developed and how things became quite brutal quite quickly. Just okay for me.
Profile Image for Chloe.
350 reviews552 followers
July 6, 2008
One of the things that I love most about science fiction is its ability to look at trends in contemporary society, extrapolate them to their most extreme ends, and then use those extremes to reveal a fantastic analysis of our world and the directions that we are heading down. Good science fiction is the type that makes you step back when you finish and take a closer look at our own lives. With Little Brother, Cory Doctorow has crafted just such a novel. The fact that this is a book whose intended audience is young adults makes it all the more powerful.

The story focuses on Marcus Yallow, a technically gifted teenager who, in between rounds of an alternate reality game he plays, finds new and interesting ways of harnessing technology to his needs. At the start of the book this is mostly by getting around the surveillance that his high school has in place for tracking students, ostensibly for their safety. All that changes once terrorists destroy the Bay Bridge and Marcus finds himself captive of the Department of Homeland Security. Tortured and interrogated for the small infraction of demanding a lawyer, Marcus is eventually released and sent home.

The home he returns to bares little resemblance to the one he had initially left. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is busy installing more and more RFID sensors, monitoring the internet, and surveilling everyone that falls outside their very thin definition of normal behavior. Outraged at his treatment at the hands of DHS, Marcus begins throwing monkey wrenches into the system in an attempt to point out to all the ludicrous nature of the surveillance state and its complete ineptness at tracking or catching any real terrorists.

The writing is clear and simple, particularly in the sections where Doctorow is explaining the technical ins and outs of a particular tool that Marcus is using. He offers up some of the most easily understandable descriptions of cryptography and Linux operating systems that I have come across, and does so in a way that makes what could be a dreadfully boring description very interesting and informative.

What really pushed this book over the cusp, for me, is that all of the applications that Marcus and the DHS use in their war against one another already exist. Anyone with some basic knowledge and tools could build a hidden camera locater. Anyone who wanted to could download and install the Linux build that Marcus employs throughout the book. Doctorow makes it even easier by including a Further Reading section at the end of the book where he points readers toward resources they could use to delve further into the worlds opened up in the book.

This is a book with everything. A fun and fast-paced story, realistic teenage characters, technology that piques the reader's interest, and a political message that desperately needs to be imparted to younger generations. The state of American democracy is in their hands and depends very strongly on the lessons that they receive. Unfortunately, I'm not sure whether schools are as dedicated as they should be toward creating free thinking pupils who value the intent of the Constitution over blind dedication to the flag and whoever the current occupant of the White House may be.

Finally, best of all for me, Doctorow is a proponent of Creative Commons copyright. This form of copyrighting has allowed him to make available the text of this book on his website so that anyone who wishes to may download it to read, alter or remix it. So, if you're leery of putting down the cold hard cash for the hardcover edition, you can download it from Doctorow's website to see if it's something you think you may want to read. You can find the link to the download here:

Do yourself a favor and read this book post haste.
Profile Image for Becky.
1,378 reviews1,651 followers
December 16, 2015
I have to admit that the first couple pages or so had me rolling my eyes and wondering if I would be able to actually finish this book. There's so much technoslang that it seemed to me to be trying too hard, even though it is a book about hackers and technokids... Like, "Spending Fridays at school was teh suck anyway, and I was glad of an excuse to make my escape." Teh suck? Really. Ugh. (Although, to be fair, at least he spelled out "suck" and didn't write "teh sux" or something. I probably would have just had to close the book right then and there. *shudder*) Another example is using "vibe" rather than "vibration" when talking about receiving a text message, or "h4wt" for "hot", which doesn't make sense to me anyway, because it's longer and more cumbersome to type "h4wt" than it is to type "hot". But then later, the full and unabbreviated word "tarpaulin" is used rather than just "tarp", which felt out of place considering the shortening/slang usage of other stuff. I don't understand the stupidifying slang netspeak anyway, but then I'm older than 25, so I'm probably a lost cause.

Add to that that there is a lot of hacker exposition and explanation that I didn't really think was necessary, and you have the only two reasons that I couldn't give this 5 stars. I appreciate the author/narrator explaining the technical aspects of the story for those of us who aren't technologically super-savvy like the characters in the book, but it seemed like there was a lot that could have been contextualized (like gait-cams) rather than explained for pages.

But these are small nit-picks. Other than these two things, the book was brilliant, relevant and prophetic. I want to buy copies and hand them out at schools. I want my library to pick up 10 more copies and I want them to just magically appear in people's check-out stacks. I want people to read this book. I want people to learn from it and take away the knowledge that our freedom is more likely to be taken from us by Americans than by anyone else, and to fight against it when it happens.

This book is set in the not-very-distant-at-all future, after a "terrorist" attack in San Francisco, which essentially results in SF being turned into a vicious data-mining police state... Now with even more "With us or against us" mentality per square mile! *Used car salesman smile* It's frightening, because it's already happening right now. Innocent people are being held without trial, without representation, without anything, in the name of "security". This terrifies me more than anything, because there's no limit, no boundary. When there's a nameless, faceless, general "threat", "security" must by necessity become ever more pervasive and intrusive in our lives to find it. And the only people who suffer are us.

Benjamin Franklin said "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." The characters in this book understand this concept and they go about fighting for their freedom and their rights as American citizens even when the people they are fighting are the very people who are supposed to defend their rights as American citizens. Color me proud. Considering that this book is told from the point of view of a 17 year old, I can only hope that REAL 17 year olds think about this stuff, like prejudice and fear-mongering and overzealous uniformed officials, among others...

Anyway, I loved Marcus's character. Most of the time, probably because of the technoslang and the gaming, he felt younger to me than 17. More like 15. But in a way, that only made him more impressive to me. I loved that he was smart, and willing to stand up for himself and do the right thing, and learn from the world around him and from his own mistakes. When I have kids, I hope that they are something like Marcus... only minus the skipping school to play games stuff. Marcus carried the book well, and was believable as both a smart, mostly responsible teen, and a freedom fighter. I liked his honesty, and how he was unsure of himself but didn't let that stop him.

I expected certain things to happen as the story progressed, and I was right about many of them. The escalation of the security/police-state, the defenders of the security measures, the dissidents, etc. (They were done in a more high-tech way than we have now, but they aren't far off. RFIDs are already gaining popularity and there are 2 cameras that I can see from my house without leaving my porch.) But I was wrong about some predictions and suspicions that I had as well, which always makes me happy, because I really hate knowing where a story's twists will be.

This book should be a must read for everyone, right along with Nineteen Eighty-Four. Go read it. Look past the slang, and the technical explanations, and read this for the snapshot of our future if we aren't wary and vigilant with this so called "War on Terror". See you on Treasure Island... ;)
Profile Image for Mohamed Elashri.
874 reviews1,060 followers
February 4, 2019

احذر الأخ الأكبر يراقبك دائماٌ
لكن عليك أن تحذر أيضاٌ فالأخ الأصغر دائماٌ ما ينتصر

الرواية نسخة مستقبلية من رواية 1984 تلك الرائعة الكلاسيكية التي تتحدث عن سيطرة الدولة علي شعوبها وطغيان النخب الحاكمة ومراقبتهم لخصوصية وكل همسات الشعوب واختراق الشعوب والعقول والسيطرة بهاجس الامن والامان والوحدة والعدو الخارجي

خلق العدو الوهمي ومن ثم محاربة الجميع وقمع الحريات والأشخاص والفكر من أجل هذه المعركة الوهمية تلك التي تجيدها الانظمة الحاكمة
وزارة الامن الوطني هي التي تمثل الانظمة الحاكمة المتعددة التي تمارس سلطتها بناءاٌ علي قوتها القمعية والعسكرية التي لا تتواني فى استخدام أبرز الاكتشافات وأخر التكنولوجيا فى القمع وكبت الحريات وحماية أنظمتها وتحقيق مصالحها

ماركوس هذا المراهق الصغير مع فريقه من المراهقين الذي تضعه الظروف والأقدار فى مواجهة مباشرة مع الالة القمعية هو الذي يمثل الجيل الشاب الذي لن يأبي ابداٌ الذل ولا الهوان
هو معبر عن مشكلة البشر عندما يكبرون هي أنهم يصبحون أكثر جبناٌ وأكثر تقبلاٌ للذل اما الشباب فليس عليهم ان يتحملوا تلك الأمور
يتم ترويض الانسان كلما استمر طويلاٌ فى تلك الحياة
تروضه الحياة نفسها

ان كل مواجهة مع السلطة هي مواجهة حميدة يا بني

1 review
August 22, 2014
Honestly, this book was awful. I had so many problems with it. First of all, it's extremely preachy. This could go both ways. If you agree with Cory Doctorow you would like it, however if your political views do not match up with Cory's you will find yourself angry and annoyed at the preachiness.

The book is also very condescending. Reading it is just like having a friend who keeps assuming you don't know what things mean and stops to explain every other word to you. The book explains EVERYTHING to you, and not in a good way. This takes up pages and pages and distracts from the plot. Again, this could go both ways. If you only eat at McDonald's and also love technology, you would love the explanations. However, if you're cultured and have eaten food from other cultures before, and aren't that interested in tech, this can be very grating on the nerves. Yes, Cory, I know what a churro is, I've been to amusement parks before. I know what carnitas are, I've been to Chipotle before. If I didn't know what something was I would google it.
Marcus will go on three or more page long rants, which are just annoying. Sometimes it's just repeating the same fact over and over again in different ways.

Marcus is a very "Gary Stu" character. Marcus is just a version of what Cory wishes he was like at 17. Marcus has no flaws, is limitlessly intelligent, popular, and apparently every girl is in love with him. But judging from the character description (loves LARPing, spends most of his time building computers from scratch, plays a game called Harajuku Fun Madness, is politically radical), a teen like that would not be popular. Also, he is extremely immature for a 17 year old. If he never mentioned his age I would have assumed he was 14 or 15.

The book is also extremely one sided. Almost all of the characters share Cory's... I mean Marcus' political views. The ones who don't are portrayed as dumb. The other side is never even addressed, only made to look like fools or people who are just shocked and afraid. Marcus's dad disagreed with him, but it turns out he only disagreed because he thought Marcus died in the attack... WHAT?

The slang in the book is used incorrectly or outdated. Cory also refers to the HIV virus as "AIDS" and even uses "Super-AIDS" as an example to explain something, completely ignoring the fact that the virus that affects you is Human Immunodeficiency Virus, NOT AIDS. AIDS is when you're immune system becomes too weak, it is the end stage of HIV infection. You do not "get" AIDS (As he put it). You get HIV.

I was also really disappointed with the descriptions of the ethnicities of the characters as well. I guess Cory Doctorow assumed that if a character is white you don't have to say so. I guess I should always assume the characters are white by default. But if you aren't white, you are "other," so you should always have your race mentioned, even if it isn't relevant. I thought I was reading a book that finally, white wasn't the default. I assumed Marcus and Darryl were black because of their names, and as a black person I was excited to be reading a book that had a black main character and the book wasn't about slavery or racism. Marcus and Darryl are popular names for black males. I was very unpleasantly surprised when Darryl was described as "pink" and Marcus' mother was described as "pale." That's what really set the book off to a bad start for me. That the "ethnic" characters were described as Korean and Mexican, but he didn't think to say that Marcus and Darryl were white.

Also, Marcus was very hateful towards homeless people, transgender people (calling them "trannies" which is a slur), people addicted to drugs, women, etc.
So, basically, I hated this book.
Profile Image for midnightfaerie.
1,982 reviews121 followers
August 18, 2023
Little Brother was not at all what I expected. When it was described to me, I was thinking that it would be something similar to Ready Player One, a fast-paced, high-action adventure about technology. While it was still quite a bit about technology (which is why I still gave it a higher rating), it was more of a political statement about privacy than anything else. I tend to be on the fence where privacy laws are concerned, thinking like a parent, "Well, if you're not guilty, what does it matter if you're searched?" And then fluctuate between the whole "We have a right to keep some things to ourselves." However, this book makes it sound like it's completely one-sided and the grown-ups (people over 25) are something akin to dictator's in their quest for control. I don't believe that's always the case. And even though they present some good facts which are mostly true, such as the percentage's in the algorithms used to find terrorists/bad people, sometimes, even though that gives you a big pool of mostly honest people to look into, sometimes it's the only lead there is, and following hundreds of dead leads is what a determined official might be good at. It might actually lead to us catching a terrorist. Now, how these leads are followed up on is also something that can be discussed. The methods the people in the book used were a bit extreme, and I don't feel I have the experience to say exactly where we should draw the line, but there should be one. I believe some methods, with discernment, could potentially be beneficial, especially since we might catch a terrorist that could take out thousands of people with one bomb. But I also believe other methods, like all these security cameras and protocols they've put in schools, doesn't do a damn thing besides maybe make the parents feel better and make it look like the school board is taking action against the shooters. So, for this political statement, I don't really know where I stand, and although it's a popular theme when it comes to hackers and technology, I think Doctorow might have overdid it a little.

Now, that being said, I absolutely loved the technology aspect of it. I've been a developer/programmer for over twenty years, recently having left the profession to be a stay at home mom. Back when I was younger, I dabbled a little in hacking, going so far as to making a few "righteous" hacks before abandoning the hobby and getting caught. And no, some of the things I did, are still unknown to the general public, so I won't go into detail. But I will admit, rather embarrassingly, that the whole reason I got into the past time was because I saw the movie Hackers. And yes, I realize it's one of the cheeziest movies ever, and real hackers aren't like that in the least. It was detested so much by real Hackers, that they hacked the website and, well, defaced it. But I love cheeze in movies. And I was determined to learn enough about hacking as to make a "righteous" hack and also to learn how to rollerblade because of this movie. The scene where the girl does a cart wheel on blades was very cool to me at the time. And although I succeeding in my hacking goals and my blading goals, even learning how to street blade, I never did manage the cart wheel on or off blades. My point being, that much of what was said in the book about technology was true. And I say mostly because the other stuff, I just wasn't familiar with, but from what I hear, it's very accurate. To me, a lot of it isn't necessarily hacking information, but just general knowledge about encrypting and protocols. And even though I don't miss the stress or deadlines, sometimes I do miss coding. And this book brought it all back for me.

The book also felt a little choppy to me. Leaving off one scene and jumping to another, and then seeming to go back and just fill in the blanks where there might be holes. It's almost as if Doctorow was so focused on the computer aspect he just brushed over the relationships part. For example, we saw his parents very upset by his disappearance when he got home, but no mention of them before then. Then, although we saw a tender moment between mom and son, he doesn't even give them a second thought when planning his escape. It happened enough to bother me and take me out of the story.

Overall it was a solid storyline that kept me interested until the end. The technology made me feel like a nerd again, and I loved hearing about the LARG groups and activities, having friends who are into that and because I love playing RPG (Board) games myself for the same reasons. Stop laughing. They are way cool.

Profile Image for Tatiana.
1,404 reviews11.7k followers
June 29, 2009
The book raises several interesting issues: how much freedom are you willing to sacrifice for the sake of your security? when does civil discontent become terrorism? what if department of national security is more dangerous than any terrorist group? These are very important questions for young adults to ask themselves. The subject matter definitely makes this book a very compelling read.

There are many things I like about this book. Cory Doctorow creates a very convincing atmosphere of fear and hysteria in near future San Francisco after a terrorist attack. The journey into the world of techno-geek teenagers filled with computer games, role-playing, and hacking, is a fascinating one. The book is action-packed and never boring.

On a negative side, my major complaint is about the quality of writing. I think it is a bit too simplistic and lacks depth. All characters are rather superficial and poorly developed. At the end of the day, I don't really think I know any of them well enough to care about them. This includes Marcus.

Nevertheless, it is an important book and I would recommend it to anyone interested in technology and domestic terrorism policies.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,113 followers
December 7, 2012
Blissfully geeky, great capture of intelligent teenagers in San Francisco, and a very realistic, believable story about what a short distance we are from a complete and utter police state. *grin*

Do you trade privacy for security?

ETA (1/21/12, just re-read this and did a podcast discussion with SFF Audio)

It was harder to read Little Brother the second time around. Not because the book is hard to read, it is the opposite. But because of everything we've just been through in the USA with SOPA and PIPA. Cory Doctorow has been incredibly outspoken against both of these things, in conjunction with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. As Little Brother demonstrated, the best thing we can do is use the power we have through the internet. And we did. And they were shelved by congress. It was awesome. Keep leading the way, Mr. Doctorow.

Profile Image for Michael.
1,094 reviews1,536 followers
December 18, 2016
Hacker teens fight back when Homeland Security clamps down excessively on human rights after a terrorist bombing of a bridge in San Francisco. Brilliant in conception, but it’s kind of painful to immerse yourself in the plot and characters with all the didactic content. The impetus to move toward a policy state in the name of security is an ongoing issue well covered in this young adult morality tale. How these kids go about foiling the restrictions of our government with their own secure network was heroic and fun. I’m glad I read this “classic” published in 2008. Doctorow deserves respect for his work with the Electronic Frontier Foundation and for making the book free at Tor Books.
Profile Image for Oleksandr Zholud.
1,115 reviews112 followers
November 16, 2020
This is a strange mix: an alt-current SF (as alt-history, but divergence is not in the past but in the present) and a cook book about a digital security and ways to evade the surveillance state. The title alludes to the Big Brother from 1984, who watched over everyone. The book was nominated for both Hugo and Nebula in 2009.

This is a story of 17 years old Marcus Yallow, a.k.a “w1n5t0n” from San Francisco, who is a geek – he knows how to protect his data, has different DIY projects on tech side, LARPer and ARGer. When he skips school to get to a local game, there is a terrorist (?) attack, which destroys one of the bridges and causes a general panic. Trying to help one of their group, Marcus ends up in a Department of Homeland Security (DHS)’s prison and his attempts to protect privacy of his data are viewed as a proof of guilt in the attack. After getting out he sets as his goal to proof that the DHS is wrong, not only in his case, but in terrorizing Americans with their facetious war on terror.

This is a great story and even better – it is a preaching book about how to protect our privacy in times of surveillance and data mining. It actually spells a great number of ways, which were available at the time of writing and are available now (e.g. Tor Browser), or were predicted (e.g. in the novel there is a secure operating system called "Paranoid Linux" and now there is a real world equivalent Tails ). Also book raises themes quite actual in 2020, e.g. the BLM movement or the need to vote.

The story has a romantic line and while I usually don’t care about romance in my SF books, this one touched me quite deeply.

A great example of edu-tainment (education entertainment), which teaches readers quite a bit, highly recommended. The author is one of the activists fighting against the current straightjacket of copyright laws and makes this and his other books available online on his site.
Profile Image for Ashley.
2,767 reviews1,767 followers
March 6, 2015
I think I might be too stupid to write this review.

Long story short: This book was a hell of a ride. It was slightly problematic as a novel, but damn if it wasn’t powerful anyway. It should probably be required reading. Long story long? Weeeeeellll. That’s when my brain starts to make whirring and booping noises and then I want to put my laptop away and go to sleep. Or eat a milkshake. Either one of those things, really.

Marcus Yallow is a seventeen year old in near-future San Francisco. When a terrorist attack hits the city, he and three of his friends are detained by the Department of Homeland Security. When Marcus doesn’t comply with their illegal interrogation tactics, they treat him even more harshly than they do his friends. When they are released, only three make it out. No one knows where Marcus’s friend Darryl is, if he’s even still alive. They are released back into the city, warned to tell no one of their experiences, and soon learn they’re not the only ones who are being closely monitored by the DHS. San Francisco has become a security state. Its citizens, terrified by the attack on their city, have given over most of their privacy in exchange for what they see as security from terrorists. But Marcus, with his firsthand experience of the effectiveness and illegality of the DHS’s tactics, knows there is more at stake than preventing terrorist attacks.

At first I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about this book. The beginning is a very uncomfortable experience, to say the least. In parts, it actually made me so angry I could physically feel my blood pressure rising and had to stop listening for a while to calm down. But as soon as Marcus accidentally becomes the leader of an underground youth cyperpunk revolution intent on jamming the illegal activities of the DHS and upholding the Constitution and Bill of Rights, I was totally riveted. It was like the parts of Ready Player One where Wade is trying to take down the evil corporation, mixed with the parts of 1984 where Winston has his life ruined by a paranoid government with no regard for his humanity or individulaity, except worse because in this book we’re watching Marcus’s freedom slip away. We watch as the USA slips and slides down a path to becoming that government from 1984.

The problematic stuff comes when the desire to tell a story is overwhelmed by Doctorow’s need to pontificate about the dangers of sacrificing privacy and true freedom in the name of security. It’s a great message, and for the most part he integrates it organically into the story. But there are definitely spots where the message takes over and becomes the main point. I didn’t mind because I think, especially as denizens of the internet, the issues he dwells on are ones that are extremely relevant to all of us, no matter where on the political spectrum your beliefs lie. Plus, the fact that he uses a young narrator lends a really energetic, nerdy, techie vibe to the whole thing.

I’m really glad I read this book, and it’s definitely one I’ll be going back to in the future, once I can get myself a copy. Doctorow actually offers free copies of all his books on his website in many different forms, if you’re interested. I listened to the audiobook, which was great if you’re into that sort of thing.
Profile Image for Jason.
Author 30 books45 followers
March 28, 2008
I'm reading an ARC of Cory Doctorow's new book and it is predictably well written and surprisingly infuriating. It's like a sub rosa training manual for pro-tech pro-civil liberty pro-privacy activists of tomorrow. He extrapolates into the future the tiniest amount but today's greasy fingerprints are all over the dystopic picture he paints of individual freedom. I'm finding myself enraged page after page, which is the whole point, and Doctorow's casual references to easily-kitbashed technology like LED pinhole camera locators and onion routing will hopefully inspire a generation of smart kids to get Googlin'. The breezy, clueful, authoritative first person narrative reminds me of Heinlein's YA books in the best way.
Profile Image for Sarah.
219 reviews
May 26, 2008
okay. so this book rocked pretty hard. if i could write a blurb for the back of the book it would say "cory doctorow: i didn't finish your book because i was too pumped up and freaked out to keep reading so i went out and overthrew the government and incited mass rebellion in the middle of the night."

of course i did finish the book though. it was awesome in a lot of ways. read this book. then give it to everyone you know. i haven't quite worked out how to give it to everyone at the same time yet, but Cory Doctorow has it for free download on his website so that should help.

here's the thing though. the book fails the bechdel test abysmally. (for those that don't know, the Bechdel Test measures how women are treated in a particular piece of media. it deliberately sets a really low bar in order for the work to pass the test. all that's necessary is for the work to have 1. two female characters with names 2. who talk to each other 3. about something other than a man. Easy, right? The horrifying thing is that most movies/books/etc fail the Bechdel test. Not only do they fail, they also pass the anti-Bechdel test with flying colors. That means that the proportion of books/movies/whatever that feature men talking to each other about things other than women is WAY out of proportion to the number of books that feature women talking about things other than men). So the book sends awesome messages about not sacrificing your personal freedoms for the sake of security, not letting the government cease to represent you, and defending yourself by refusing to be silent. However, it sends this message in a vehicle that ultimately recreates the same power structures that oppress people who struggle against the same sort of tyrannical governmental policies.


BrownBetty hit it right on when she said that Marcus's success depends on his access to upperclass white privilege. There are few women or people of color in the book. Doctorow clearly has good intentions, but it is not enough to simply have a strong female main character (Ange), it's not enough to have an of-color sidekick who helps critically (Jolu). Imagine the power of a book like this which, instead of being written about a white upperclass boy, was written about a couple of chicana lesbians, or a group of workingclass black people.

Doctorow sort of addresses this issue with Jolu. He says "I hate to say it, but you're white. I'm not. ...White people see cops on the street and feel safer. Brown people see cops on the street and wonder if they're about to get searched. They way the DHS is treating you? The law in this county has always been like that for us" (160). Maybe that's the point. To say to the upperclasswhiteboy, hey this can happen to you too. Not just to brown people who have the "wrong" religion or the wrong "ethnic" name. But the portrayal of women (or rather lack thereof) still makes me uneasy. For a book that's all about challenging authority and social norms, it could push a little harder in challenging the norms in the way it's written.

Maybe this book will have wider appeal because it's protagonist is your typical whiteuppermiddleclassmale. Maybe people wouldn't read the same book if it was about a group of girls, or gay people, or people of color. Am i willing to overlook that for the sake of the overall theme/message of the book? i'm not sure. MLK Jr said "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere," I'm not sure that I want to sacrifice some of my views to help spread other of my values. I don't think we really want to get into playing a game of whose issue is "more important."

Damnnit Cory Doctorow. Help me out a little here. Your book rocks hard, really it does, but THINK BIGGER!
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Jackie "the Librarian".
882 reviews269 followers
December 19, 2008
A worst-case scenario teen thriller of what could happen if our war on terror gave Homeland Security an excuse to wield absolute power and new surveillance technology over our lives to track our every move. Countering this is a teen who knows all about computer systems, security, and various role-playing games. It's an homage to 1984, Little Brother, as opposed to Big Brother, and it reminded me of Harry Harrison's The Stainless Steel Rat. It was all a bit preposterous and over the top, but that made it fun.

Marcus is out on the streets with his friends playing a kind of computer scavenger hunt game, when terrorists attack his city, San Francisco. In the confusion, one of his friends, Darryl, gets stabbed, and when Marcus tries to flag down help, he comes to the attention of Homeland Security, who arrest them all.

Marcus doesn't want to unlock his phone for them, or answer questions without an attorney, but Homeland Security isn't playing by the rules, and soon he gives them what they want, and is released with a warning not to tell anyone, or else. But they don't release Darryl, and Marcus decides to fight back.

The whole city is put under stricter and stricter surveillance, and anyone "acting suspiciously" is being brought in for questioning. Marcus uses technology and his web of friends using hacked Xboxes to form a network outside internet surveillance, to scramble the data, but he knows they will track him down eventually. He also gets a girlfriend, roams around town with infinite time and resources while somehow still attending school, and best of all gets about 500 kids to play a LARP (Live Action Role-Playing game) dressed up as vampires at 7 in the morning in front of city hall! Bite bite bite bite bite!!! Hahahahahahaha!!!!!

It becomes a race to the finish as to whether Marcus will be able to get enough information out there to bring down Homeland Security, before he gets caught as the mastermind behind all the scrambling.

Additional material at the end of the book encourages readers to learn more about security, our government, and technology, and I think that's not a bad idea.
National Book Award finalist, teen division.
Profile Image for Chad.
413 reviews22 followers
June 30, 2008
I really wanted to like this book, but am a bit baffled at all the acclaim it's getting. I can see what Doctorow is trying to do, but he gets too preachy far too often and that kills any point he was trying to make for me. Marcus is too talented, too perfect at everything that needs to be done to be a legitimate portrayal of a teenager. I've seen other reviews say that he reads like Doctorow created a version of what he wished he was like at that age, and I agree completely. Throw in the most one dimensional villains I've seen in a long time (they stop just short of rubbing their hands and cackling gleefully over their schemes), leave the interesting subplots with almost no resolution, and the sum is not a compelling read.

It's a shame, there really is a good book in here trying to get out. I was tempted to give it one star, but I threw in a bonus one just for the fact that Doctorow got his tech right and uses it realistically. I'm a sucker for that kind of thing.
Profile Image for Stephen.
1,516 reviews11.2k followers
January 21, 2010
5.0 stars. This book has it all. A compelling, relevant story, good characters and excellent, fast-paced writing. The Bay Bridge is blown up by terrorists and the DHS (Department of Homeland Security) turns San Francisco into a police state. A young hacker, caught up in the aftermath is arrested, tortured and when he is released vows to fight back. Think 1984 for the 21st century (hence the title of the book). Highly recommended!!

Nominee: Hugo Award Best Science Fiction Novel (2009)
Winner: Prometheus Award Best Science Fiction Novel (2009)
Winner: John W. Campbell Best Science Fiction Novel (2009)
Nominee: Nebula Best Science Fiction Novel (2009)
Nominee: Locus Award Best YA Novel (2009)
Winner: White Pine Award (Canadian YA Award) (2009)
Profile Image for David.
Author 18 books348 followers
November 13, 2010
At first I was wary of this book. It's YA, and Cory Doctorow is a technologist with very strong anarcho-libertarian-leaning views on privacy, piracy, and intellectual property rights. I happen to (mostly) agree with his views, but not without a few misgivings, and anyway, a preachy book that's a vehicle for an agenda will turn me off even if I agree with the agenda.

Despite a few spots where I think Doctorow simplified the issues too much, this is in fact a great book (taking into account that the target audience is young people, which is why there is so much spelling out of the ideas and history behind the arguments Doctorow is making). It's a great book because the story is compelling and the characters make you care about them, independently of the ideological background.

The story in a nutshell: terrorists blow up the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, provoking a hysterical reaction even more extreme than post-9/11. The Department of Homeland Security turns into a virtual occupying army, and Marcus, the main character, because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time (and because he's a hacker) finds himself imprisoned, interrogated, and classified as a terrorist himself.

From there the novel proceeds in a sort of stripped-down and more optimistic version of 1984, one in which the "underground" actually exists and actually has a chance of winning. Doctorow deliberately exaggerates the security apparatus and the anti-terrorism hysteria of the U.S., but only a little. The story is also a light primer on hacking, jamming, and generally screwing with security systems.

Marcus is a real teenager, and manages to have real teenager parent and girl issues, despite being pursued by an increasingly zealous police state. All of the secondary characters are equally real, and quite reflective of the real Bay Area. Since again, this is a YA novel, it can perhaps be forgiven for making it just a little too easy for a bunch of teenagers to take on DHS, but I do think Doctorow punted by making all the bad guys (i.e., anyone supporting the government/anti-terrorist position) purely stupid and/or evil.

Nonetheless, it's still a great story, and it should be enjoyable (though perhaps a bit vexing) even to those who actually think the Patriot Act is a good idea. (Hopefully it will make you reconsider...)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 5,834 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.