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Little Brother, a book review - Peter Hentges

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April 23rd, 2008


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01:25 pm - Little Brother, a book review
Thanks to my dogs deciding that it was a lovely night and no, thank you, they didn't want to come in at 10:00 p.m. or at any point until about 2:30 a.m., I was able to finish Cory Doctorow's new novel, Little Brother last night. I received an advanced reading copy thanks to the fine folks at TOR on the condition that I write about it and I always try to honor my bargains. You can pre-order a copy at Amazon.com if the words that follow should sway you in that direction.

The story is billed a young-adult novel and it is a pretty good tale of a 17-year-old who, through no real fault of his own, ends up taking on the government.

At some point in the near future, terrorists bomb the infrastructure of the SF Bay area, destroying the Bay Bridge and the tunnel under the bay that BART uses. Our hero, Marcus, and three of his friends have the bad luck to be near the scene at the time and the even worse luck to be picked up by the Department of Homeland Security forces responding to the attack. Three of the four are released and Marcus comes away with a desire to bring down the DHS.

Now Marcus has some chops, he's a nerdy kid with some computer skills and, more importantly, a brain that looks at things just a little differently than most. He's already been in trouble at school for getting around the surveillance systems in place there and he's very net.connected and, thus, able to put his hands on all kinds of information and tools. Probably not very unlike any number of teenagers you know.

As we follow Marcus' actions and his attempts to do something right to battle the DHS and to find his missing friend, we get introduced to all kinds of technology. Some or all of it is likely familiar. The one difficulty I had with the book was the propensity for Marcus to explain these technologies to us. We're rolling along, Marcus hits a snag and next thing you know we have a chunk of exposition about public-key encryption, webs of trust and key-signing parties.

That isn't to say that I didn't learn anything or that these explanations weren't good ones. I ended up feeling, however, that they weren't necessary to the story. For example, the character of Marcus' main love interest felt to me to have been a late addition designed to be smart, sexy, funny and just a little bit less informed than Marcus so that he can explain some of the ideas to her and, thereby, us.

That is a minor point, though, and one that probably reflects more of my exposure to the topics covered in the book than a true flaw of the story itself. Marcus' actions are realistic and believable, they have consequences that make sense. The plot unfolds briskly and the technical explanations don't slow that down. It's a good read.

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From:jbru
Date:April 24th, 2008 01:59 pm (UTC)
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The best sf accomplishes the story without needing to explain a lot about its science/technology, IMHO.

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