Neil Gaiman on Cory Doctorow's "Little Brother"

Cory Doctorow just sent out the following note:

Neil Gaiman gave me an unexpected Christmas present this year — a
stellar review
of my forthcoming novel Little Brother (a YA novel that
pits hacker kids in San Francisco against the DHS in a bid to restore
the Bill of Rights to America) on his blog. He has a few quibbles with
some of the plot elements, but closes with this:

    “I’d recommend Little Brother over pretty much any book I’ve read this year, and I’d want to get it into the hands of as many smart 13 year olds, male and female, as I can.”

    “Because I think it’ll change lives. Because some kids, maybe just a few, won’t be the same after they’ve read it. Maybe they’ll change politically, maybe technologically. Maybe it’ll just be the first book they loved or that spoke to their inner geek. Maybe they’ll want to argue about it and disagree with it. Maybe they’ll want to open their computer and see what’s in there. I don’t know. It made me want to be 13 again right now and reading it for the first time, and then go out and make the world better or stranger or odder. It’s a wonderful, important book, in a way that renders its flaws pretty much meaningless.

I agree. I read a draft of Little Brother earlier this year and loved it. The title, in case it’s not obvious, is a takeoff on George Orwell’s “Big Brother” from 1984. The novel highlights the dangers of the surveillance society we’re now living in when it is kicked into high gear by threats of terrorism. It’s a lovely book, a good story, but also profoundly educational.

When I read this book, I couldn’t help but think of a now mostly-forgotten Victorian novelist, Captain Marryat, a former British Navy officer during the Napoleonic wars. (He made captain just as peace broke out.) Marryat wrote a number of young adult novels. One of these, Masterman Ready, could be characterized as the complete moral and practical guide to surviving a shipwreck. As much a tutorial as a novel, it gives practical advice on how to build shelters and a fish pond, as well as how to take adversity in stride.

Like young victorians preparing for an imagined shipwreck under the tutelage of Masterman Ready, Little Brother provides all the practical advice you’d need if you were a hacker teen faced with one of your buddies being hauled off to jail by over-zealous homeland security. Maybe it won’t actually happen that way, but learning how to think your way through the problem in an imagined crisis is a fabulous way to learn. Even if you’re not a young adult.

As Neil Gaiman also wrote in his review:

Cory is one of the Explainers. The people who see what’s going on, or what they perceive to be going on, and then turn around and tell everyone else, and once you’ve heard it their way you can’t ever see it the old way again.

Read this book. You’ll learn a great deal about computer security, surveillance and how to counter it, and the risk of trading off freedom for “security.” And you’ll have fun doing it.