Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Audiobook Review: Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

I realized recently that it's been quite a while since I wrote a negative book review.  Which is good, on one hand, because it means I've been reading lots of really good books.  However, I think negative reviews are often more interesting to read, inspire more discussion, and require more thoughfulness and contemplation from me.  So all of that to say, I'm really excited to be writing this review about why I absolutely hated Little Brother. 

Little Brother is about Marcus, a seventeen year old hacker, who just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time during a terrorist attack on San Francisco.  He and his friends are gathered up and interrogated by DHS.  Marcus is eventually released, but his friend Darryl has disappeared.  The only recourse Marcus has is to use his online name M1k3y and his hacking skills to take down the DHS.

Unimpressive.  There was nothing seriously terrible abour the writing, other than the author's tendency to use his characters to soapbox political opinions in unbelievably stilted internal dialogue.  I found the technical descriptions of Marcus's hacking and computer use throughout the book interesting, but I suspect many readers will not.  If you aren't interested in detailed descriptions of computer hacks, you're going to be disappointed because that makes up a large portion of the book.  I found this to be the most entertaining part, however, because the characters in the book were just so terrible. 

It's obvious from the beginning that Doctorow has a political statement to make, and I don't begrudge him that.  Many amazing novels were written to make political statements.  I also appreciate the idea of using a novel to get young adults interested in a topic that they need to be educated about as they will be making the policies regarding Homeland Security in coming years.  My problem was that Doctorow so blatantly used his characters as vehicles of conveying his political ideals that they lost all believability.  They are stock - plain and simple - and there is no other way to describe them.  We have a heroic young activist, who tells us exactly what we ought to believe regarding the intrusions into our privacy that are being made in the name of security, and an evil villain who happens to run DHS and is determined to exact revenge on teenagers who made her look foolish at any cost. 

Entertainment Value
For me, there was little to be had in way of entertainment, mostly because I disliked Marcus/M1k3y so very much.  His main motivation seems to vary between getting revenge on DHS for the indignities he suffered while in their custody and saving his friend Darryl.  To accomplish these two things, he goes about the city, a city just ravaged by a savage terrorist attack, causing problems for security forces.  I appreciated Doctorow's depiction of a potential police state resulting from a terrorist attack, but I don't think teenagers screwing with security is the answer. 

Maybe this is my old lady grouch coming out, but I was seriously annoyed that Marcus was so entertained by basically making life more difficult for everyone in the city.  As a teenager, I think the "rebellion" would have appealed to me, but as an adult, I found it obnoxious.  I couldn't help but see things from an adult point of view - I'd be seriously upset if I found out that after a dangerous attack on our city some teenager had increased risk AND added time to my commute, work day, computer access, etc with his hacking.  So basically, I found Marcus's "rebellions" to be stupid, immature, and unhelpful to the city as a whole.  I also found his motivation for the rebellion to be ill-defined and childish.

I also found the depiction of adults in the book to be totally unbelievable.  The idea that a DHS head would become so obsessed with getting revenge on a teenager that she would put an entire city's safety into jeapordy was ludicrous.  I don't purport to defend everything DHS does.  There are tactics that our country has used or has the potential for using that I find deplorable.  BUT, I don't think they are motivated by revenge on a teenager who wouldn't give a cell phone password.  I mean, first of all, I don't think they need a teenager's cell phone password.  But secondly, I just find it unbelievable that someone who has worked her way up to being head of DHS would be as stupid and immature as our antagonist is portrayed to be.

Finally, there was so much telling in this book.  So very much telling.  We are constantly lectured with what is very clearly the author's views on security, internet monitoring, DHS, the 60's, Vietnam, civil protest, etc.  Rather than having the characters show why these things matter or developing the characters to a point where the reader would understand their motivations, the characters are simply used as puppets who constantly tell us what is good and bad, but who lack any depth. 

Oh man.  Not only was the book awful, but the narration made me want to scream.  Rather than reading Marcus's screen name as "Mikey", the narrator referred to him as "M-1-K-3-Y", which was grating.  That's really my only complaint with the narration, but since it happened constantly throughout the book it was pretty obnoxious.

Obviously, this is not a book I recommend.  I probably would have given up had I not really wanted to review it.  I think it does serve as a great example of some serious mistakes that authors can make in telling rather than showing, using stock characters who have no dimension, and focusing too much on the "message" of the story.  I do applaud the author's attempt to raise awareness on a subject that is highly important to American youth and hope that it will inspire students who read it to look into current legislation and form some ideas about what is working and what isn't.  But I also hope that American youth will not read this and take to heart the "Don't trust anyone over 25" slogan.  I don't think I need to explain why that's the dumbest thing I've ever heard.

1 comment:

  1. Your review was very well written! I agree that the books that hit you over the head with their messages are annoying.