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Review: Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow

When George Orwell wrote 1984, the technology to implement the sort of surveillance state he feared didn’t yet exist. It still didn’t exist when 1984 actually rolled around; a person might be forgiven for having assumed at the time that the relevant tech would stay uninvented for the indefinite future.

Just over two decades later, we have all the technology to implement that exact dystopia, if only social conditions warranted it. Cory Doctorow looked at this fact, and at America’s response to 9/11, and was horrified enough to write this book about why it would be a very bad idea to head in that direction.

It’s written as a young adult novel, which has a few consequences: the protagonist is a teenager, and the writing never gets particularly complex. It’s tempting to write off the bad guys as straw men; they don’t have much depth, being completely and unambiguously evil, and usually stupid. This is an unabashedly partisan book.

However, it’s a fun book. The cause that it trumpets, that liberty is more important than paranoia (and  that surveillance states are unpleasant and ineffective) is easy to agree with. There are a number of what are essentially well-written essays on that topic–as well as introductory ones to subjects like onion routing, cryptography, and webs of trust–snuck fairly well into the narrative.

Overall, it’s a decent way to spend a few hours of reading. Also, as a Creative Commons-licensed work, it’s freely available. Final status: recommended for light reading.

Cory Doctorow, Little Brother (Amazon)

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