Cory Doctorow's science fiction book Little Brother was pulled as reading material from a Florida school recently because it contained content that questioned government authority. He and his publisher Tor graciously gave 200 copies of the book to the students. You can read the news article here.
To encourage discourse, I will be posting chapters of the story every week. They are provided by Doctorow via a Creative Commons license.
I wrote Little Brother in a white-hot fury between May 7, 2007 and July 2, 2007: exactly eight weeks from the day I thought it up to the day I finished it (Alice, to whom this book is dedicated, had to put up with me clacking out the final chapter at 5AM in our hotel in Rome, where we were celebrating our anniversary). I'd always dreamed of having a book just materialize, fully formed, and come pouring out of my fingertips, no sweat and fuss -- but it wasn't nearly as much fun as I'd thought it would be. There were days when I wrote 10,000 words, hunching over my keyboard in airports, on subways, in taxis -- anywhere I could type. The book was trying to get out of my head, no matter what, and I missed so much sleep and so many meals that friends started to ask if I was unwell.
When my dad was a young university student in the 1960s, he was one of the few "counterculture" people who thought computers were a good thing. For most young people, computers represented the de-humanization of society. University students were reduced to numbers on a punchcard, each bearing the legend "DO NOT BEND, SPINDLE, FOLD OR MUTILATE," prompting some of the students to wear pins that said, "I AM A STUDENT: DO NOT BEND, SPINDLE, FOLD OR MUTILATE ME." Computers were seen as a means to increase the ability of the authorities to regiment people and bend them to their will.
When I was 17, the world seemed like it was just going to get more free. The Berlin Wall was about to come down. Computers -- which had been geeky and weird a few years before -- were everywhere, and the modem I'd used to connect to local bulletin board systems was now connecting me to the entire world through the Internet and commercial online services like GEnie. My lifelong fascination with activist causes went into overdrive as I saw how the main difficulty in activism -- organizing -- was getting easier by leaps and bounds (I still remember the first time I switched from mailing out a newsletter with hand-written addresses to using a database with mail-merge). In the Soviet Union, communications tools were being used to bring information -- and revolution -- to the farthest-flung corners of the largest authoritarian state the Earth had ever seen.
But 17 years later, things are very different. The computers I love are being co-opted, used to spy on us, control us, snitch on us. The National Security Agency has illegally wiretapped the entire USA and gotten away with it. Car rental companies and mass transit and traffic authorities are watching where we go, sending us automated tickets, finking us out to busybodies, cops and bad guys who gain illicit access to their databases. The Transport Security Administration maintains a "no-fly" list of people who'd never been convicted of any crime, but who are nevertheless considered too dangerous to fly. The list's contents are secret. The rule that makes it enforceable is secret. The criteria for being added to the list are secret. It has four-year-olds on it. And US senators. And decorated veterans -- actual war heroes.
The 17 year olds I know understand to a nicety just how dangerous a computer can be. The authoritarian nightmare of the 1960s has come home for them. The seductive little boxes on their desks and in their pockets watch their every move, corral them in, systematically depriving them of those new freedoms I had enjoyed and made such good use of in my young adulthood.
What's more, kids were clearly being used as guinea-pigs for a new kind of technological state that all of us were on our way to, a world where taking a picture was either piracy (in a movie theater or museum or even a Starbucks), or terrorism (in a public place), but where we could be photographed, tracked and logged hundreds of times a day by every tin-pot dictator, cop, bureaucrat and shop-keeper. A world where any measure, including torture, could be justified just by waving your hands and shouting "Terrorism! 9/11! Terrorism!" until all dissent fell silent.
We don't have to go down that road.
If you love freedom, if you think the human condition is dignified by privacy, by the right to be left alone, by the right to explore your weird ideas provided you don't hurt others, then you have common cause with the kids whose web-browsers and cell phones are being used to lock them up and follow them around.
If you believe that the answer to bad speech is more speech -- not censorship -- then you have a dog in the fight.
If you believe in a society of laws, a land where our rulers have to tell us the rules, and have to follow them too, then you're part of the same struggle that kids fight when they argue for the right to live under the same Bill of Rights that adults have.
This book is meant to be part of the conversation about what an information society means: does it mean total control, or unheard-of liberty? It's not just a noun, it's a verb, it's something you do.
For Alice, who makes me whole
A rousing tale of techno-geek rebellion, as necessary and dangerous as file sharing, free speech, and bottled water on a plane.
- Scott Westerfeld, author of UGLIES and EXTRAS
I can talk about Little Brother in terms of its bravura political speculation or its brilliant uses of technology -- each of which make this book a must-read -- but, at the end of it all, I'm haunted by the universality of Marcus's rite-of-passage and struggle, an experience any teen today is going to grasp: the moment when you choose what your life will mean and how to achieve it.
- Steven C Gould, author of JUMPER and REFLEX
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.
- Neil Gaiman, author of ANANSI BOYS
Little Brother is a scarily realistic adventure about how homeland security technology could be abused to wrongfully imprison innocent Americans. A teenage hacker-turned-hero pits himself against the government to fight for his basic freedoms. This book is action-packed with tales of courage, technology, and demonstrations of digital disobedience as the technophile's civil protest."
- Bunnie Huang, author of HACKING THE XBOX
Cory Doctorow is a fast and furious storyteller who gets all the details of alternate reality gaming right, while offering a startling, new vision of how these games might play out in the high-stakes context of a terrorist attack. Little Brother is a brilliant novel with a bold argument: hackers and gamers might just be our country's best hope for the future.
- Jane McGonical, Designer, I Love Bees
The right book at the right time from the right author -- and, not entirely coincidentally, Cory Doctorow's best novel yet.
- John Scalzi, author of OLD MAN'S WAR
It's about growing up in the near future where things have kept going on the way they've been going, and it's about hacking as a habit of mind, but mostly it's about growing up and changing and looking at the world and asking what you can do about that. The teenage voice is pitch-perfect. I couldn't put it down, and I loved it.
- Jo Walton, author of FARTHING
A worthy younger sibling to Orwell's 1984, Cory Doctorow's LITTLE BROTHER is lively, precocious, and most importantly, a little scary.
- Brian K Vaughn, author of Y: THE LAST MAN
"Little Brother" sounds an optimistic warning. It extrapolates from current events to remind us of the ever-growing threats to liberty. But it also notes that liberty ultimately resides in our individual attitudes and actions. In our increasingly authoritarian world, I especially hope that teenagers and young adults will read it -- and then persuade their peers, parents and teachers to follow suit.
- Dan Gillmor, author of WE, THE MEDIA
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License .