Life through my myopic eyes.

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow: The Future is Now


I haven’t read a book that scared me this badly since I first picked up Pet Sematary by Stephen King.

You might well ask what it was about this 2008 book that scared me. A book that tells about a world where ‘Big Brother’ has gone crazy. Well, buckle your seatbelts friends and neighbours because I’m going to tell you.

In little brother we meet Marcus Yallow he is a senior at Chavez High School in the San Francisco Mission district. He is seventeen and he has three friends. Daryl, who is his best friend; Van, the only girl in the group and Jolu.

Marcus and his friends are hackers. Not by choice but by necessity.

The world has turned into a police state. CCTV (closed circuit television) cameras are everywhere. Chavez High School has cameras in the hallways that recognise each student’s gait. The students books have tracking devices in them so the school can monitor their movements. The laptops they are required to use are monitored and censored by the school as well.

These are just three of the many government approved tracking systems used not only on students but the whole country’s population.

Marcus and his friends play an on-line Japanese ARG (Alternate Reality Game) called Harajuku Fun Madness. A combination of computer play and ‘real life’ exercises, these games are wildly popular. Marcus talks his friends into ditching school to get a head start on the real life portion of the game. They can ditch school because they have ‘hacked’ the school security system and can ‘fool’ it.

They all meet at ‘the tenderloin’ a rough section of San Francisco.  Using wifinders they have tracked down their clue and it’s in an Asian Massage Parlour. Marcus and his friends bump into another group of ARG players and are in the middle of an argument  about who was there first, when an explosion rocks the tenderloin area.

The city emergency sirens go off and the populace are told to take shelter in the BART stations. *BART  (Bay Area Rapid Transit) is a public transport system like the underground (UK) or subway (US)*

As Marcus and his friends get just inside the BART, they decide to take their chances up ‘top-side’ because of the sheer numbers of people in the shelter already. They fight their way back up to the street level only to find that Daryl has been stabbed.

Marcus waves down a passing government vehicle and he and his friends are arrested and taken into custody, not by the police, but by Homeland Security. They have bags put over their heads and are handcuffed. Taken to an undisclosed area, they are tortured and interrogated. Homeland Security wants them to confess to being the terrorists who planted the bombs.

Marcus and his friends are held and ‘interrogated’ for six days. All of them are released except for Daryl. Marcus is told that if he ever tells anyone about what was done to him and his friends  he will disappear forever.

Once Marcus gets over the initial terror of his captivity and interrogation he gets angry. He is certain that Daryl is dead or worse. He decides to start a war with Homeland Security and enlists the aid of other students. Soon they have formed a ‘revolutionary’ group  known as the XNETTERS by the underground and Cal Queda by the press.

In an instant, the government starts taking away people’s rights and freedoms in the name of protecting the country from terrorism. The agents of Homeland Security are now in charge of teaching the youth of the country and the first thing they teach is that the constitution is not really a Bill of Rights at all. They maintain that the rights are more  suggestive in nature and open to interpretation and removal at the government’s discretion.

This book grabbed hold of me before I had gotten through the first chapter. I stopped and put it down and thought about all the CCTV’s there were in the world. I then thought about the information that anyone can glean from your credit card usage.

I could go on, but, I’m sure you get the point. Everything we do now is computerised and easily monitored. In the book, when government security pump up their surveillance on everyone in the San Francisco area and use the BART passes to monitor everyone’s movements, the vast majority of the population are okay with it.

Exactly how it would be in real life and almost was earlier this year. In the book, the government immediately start a rigid cyber-security program that mimics China and Syria. Sound familiar?

Does the name SOPA mean anything to you? How about PIPA? Use the acronym of your choice, but they all mean the same thing…Cyber-security. The government has been, and still is, desperate to control the internet. Not just in the U S borders, but across the world.

The last presidential administration ruled by fear. It appears that our current administration has learned a thing or two from the last president elect. Get the people worried enough about terrorist threats within the country’s borders and you can write your own ticket.

Luckily, we, the people, won the SOPA fight, but the powers that be still want that cyber-control. The current administration is still waving the cyber-terrorism flag around like nobody’s business.

If you want to see what living in the United States would be like under a government that controls everyone and takes away rights and freedom. Read this book.

Or you could just read the newspaper or magazine of your choice. You could read a few internet blogs, magazines and newspapers, but you’d better hurry.  If the government have their way, that kind of internet won’t be around much longer.

And that is what scared me about the book. In Doctorow’s world the technology is a little more advanced, but not a lot. What is exactly the same though, in both his world and our real one, is the government’s answer to the terrorist problem. The taking away of rights and freedom in the name of national security.

It all sounds a little too real to me.

Tagged as: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Categorised in: Book Review, Drama, Political, Thriller

6 Responses »

  1. Thanks for the recommendation, Mike. My friends and I are always talking about this topic. It’s scary to think how many things have changed here, just in my lifetime. Or how many things have changed since you moved to the UK for that matter. I could go on all day about this, really. I’ll avoid that though! Lol Thanks again, Mike! :)

    • No problem. I first started reading this book two years ago! Things were different even as recently as that. The escalation of the government wanting to reduce the freedom and the rights of the American people has reached a very scary speed. I don’t know how much longer petitions and lobbying groups can hold em off. :-(

  2. I think so much of the problem lies in the fact that the American people- average Americans, that is – are so disinterested in a lot of this, or are simply uncertain of how to act, and so they don’t. If it conflicts with their daily lives or habits and causes inconvenience, well then forget it. We’re so drugged on entertainment, reality TV, and other endless distractions that we often keep our eyes averted from the newspapers and don’t bother stopping by the voting booths. This is particularly true, and frighteningly so, for my generation…

    • Unfortunately, like the song says, “You don’t find out what you’ve lost till it’s gone.” I’m afraid that by the time Mr and Mrs Average wake up, it will be too late. I hate to think that one day, I’ll be telling my grand (or God forbid) , my great grand kids about when the internet was really uncensored and free from control.

      • I’m completely with you on this. When my father and I get talking about this topic, he says the exact same thing. What’s scarier still is that my generation is the last one to know what life was like before the internet. Everything, and everyone, relies on it so heavily today, including today’s youth. I don’t know, but it’s scary stuff.

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