Little Brother

October 20th, 2008

Cory Doctorow published this book in 2008, both online freely and in dead tree format. It's a (mildly) futuristic story in a time when a lot of privacy battles have already been lost. Security cameras in school tracking people, cameras on the streets, tracking people through rfids in their cars and their mass transit tickets. Then a terrorist attack occurs. National security is elevated immensely.

Doctorow is doing two things. He is setting the stage for a thorough tutorial on how to use anonymizing technologies and he keeps elevating the plot to keep introducing new methods and ideas. As a technologist connoseur he isn't forced to make up things that aren't realistic and embarrass himself. In fact, he doesn't seem tempted to invent anything, which is a bit odd for a futuristic story, he's basing the account on technologies we already know today. (Although tunneling a video stream over DNS is a bit far fetched on our current bandwidth.)

Secondly, he's trying to educate about the threats that we see today and the already existing encroachment on civil liberties. Not in a preachy way, but it's part of the message. He will digress occasionally to tell a story from history. He does well to integrate this into a captivating story.

Although it seems similar at first, it isn't Fleming and it isn't Ludlum, in a high school story. Little Brother is about normal people who face predictable consequences, no miracles included. Doctorow isn't trying to craft characters who seem impossible, he likes it down to earth. I have a hunch that sections of it are auto biographical as well.

In closing, I tip my hat to Jürgen Geuter, who turned me onto Doctorow's other 2008 book Content a few weeks ago, a collection of essays about security, privacy, and freedom.

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