Den Of Geek Book Club: Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother

This month's fiction book club choice is Cory Doctorow's politically themed Little Brother. Here's what Kaci made of it...

It’s taken me a long time to write this review. In a way, I think this is the most difficult book I’ve reviewed yet. I find that particularly ironic, given that the book is written in undeniably immature prose, and yet the things it’s talking about are incredibly mature.

I really want to hear from you all this month, because I believe that the perspective of non-Americans is going to be really interesting.

Security theatre has been a huge issue here in America since 9/11. I was 14 when it happened, and I’m 27 now. I’ve lived in a post-9/11 world for nearly half my life. I’ve never gotten on an airplane without a full-body scan or while carrying more than 3 ounces of liquid. It’s hard for me to even remember a time when the NSA wasn’t spying on my emails. I’m writing this very post in Google Docs, and frankly it wouldn’t surprise me if they were reading it as I go.

I don’t know how it is in other countries. I can only speak to what it’s been like here, how I’ve felt about learning how my elected representatives are acting on my behalf, how they spend the tax money I send them every year in good faith. I related a lot to what Marcus has to say in this novel, because they’ve been my frustrations, too. I can relate on a personal level, actually, because fun fact about your friendly neighborhood book club host: I have a metal plate in my right leg from a severe break when I was 10. I’ve never walked into a government building or gotten on an airplane without what I’ve come to call the Special Snowflake Treatment. It’s not even like it’s not obvious; I have very visible scars from the operation and a quick wave of a hand-held wand over my bare skin can attest that I’m telling the truth. But security theatre presses on.

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But on the flip side, I guess the Xnetters were also right: never trust anyone over 25, because a lot of the book left me frustrated with Marcus and his compatriots. So much of what they do isn’t just to demonstrate the flaws in security theatre. So much of what they do is designed to do it in the most annoying, frustrating, smug-little-a-holes way they possibly can. I might grant that Marcus has a right to be as annoying as he can be, after what happened to him when he was detained, but most of those kids have never faced consequences like that. They’re really just doing it because when you’re 15 you don’t think about how your actions might affect other people. (Example: the concert. It doesn’t just make your point to the feds. It keeps people in the surrounding homes awake and disturbs their peace. You can make your point without blaring music at all hours of the night. Do I sound like an old lady? Probably. Never trust anyone over 25.)

So I guess it’s a mixed bag for me, as far as the politics of the books go. I do agree with their underlying message about security theatre. I just feel like there are better ways to go about changing it that are less harmful to average citizens. Then again, maybe I’m wrong. It’s been 13 years since 9/11 and the TSA keeps instituting more and more ridiculous policies and invasive scanning no matter how much we complain. Maybe more radical tactics are needed.

As far as the writing itself goes, I’m torn between finding the tone and word choices perfect for a teenage boy and also being annoyed by it. The topic feels too… important, I guess, to be told through the immature prose Cory Doctorow treats us to. I guess maybe that’s my old-ladiness coming back again, complaining as I am about teenage whippersnappers on my lawn and in my mature topics.

I also wish certain characters had been written with a more sympathetic hand. Jolu, for instance, presents a really good argument about why he’s backing down, and Marcus gets angry at him — understandable, given the circumstances — but then he’s barely mentioned again for the rest of the book. He exits on Marcus’ anger and so that’s the readers’ lasting impression of him: that he’s not as brave as Our Hero and therefore no longer worthy of even a mention. Van gets similar treatment, which comes off as worse since Our Hero rejects Cowardly Van in place of Heroine Ange. What I’m saying is… under the circumstances, Jolu and Van had very good reasons to be afraid, even more so than Marcus did (Jolu was 100% right about people of color faring worse in the American judicial system than white people do) and I wish the author hadn’t used them as pawns and treated them so unsympathetically.

I really am torn about this book. There are parts of it that I love, parts even that I vocally cheered about as I read it. But there were parts that made me groan under the weight of the cliches and trope-y writing. I wish I loved it as much as I want to, but the truth is, I don’t. I don’t hate it, either. It’s a book I think I am ultimately glad that I read, but a book that I think creates discussions more interesting than the book itself.

I really want to hear from you guys about how this book made you feel or what parts of your mindset it challenged. All I ask is that, due to the nature of this story, we keep it civil in the comments. Den of Geek is, rightfully, proud to be a place free of immature name-calling and harassment in the comments, and I want us to keep it that way. Let’s not be Charleses, okay? Nobody likes a Charles.

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Aliya will return on Tuesday the 21st of October with Garth Nix’s Clariel, then on the 1st of November with the book Final Cut: Dreams And Disaster In The Making Of Heaven’s Gate by Steven Bach. Until then, I’ll see you in the comments!

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