LITTLE BROTHER

Cory Doctorow

 Marcus, a.k.a “w1n5t0n,” is only seventeen years old, but he figures he already knows how the system works–and how to work the system. Smart, fast, and wise to the ways of the networked world, he has no trouble outwitting his high school’s intrusive but clumsy surveillance systems.

But his whole world changes when he and his friends find themselves caught in the aftermath of a major terrorist attack on San Francisco. In the wrong place at the wrong time, Marcus and his crew are apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security and whisked away to a secret prison where they’re mercilessly interrogated for days.

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 Marcus, a.k.a “w1n5t0n,” is only seventeen years old, but he figures he already knows how the system works–and how to work the system. Smart, fast, and wise to the ways of the networked world, he has no trouble outwitting his high school’s intrusive but clumsy surveillance systems.

But his whole world changes when he and his friends find themselves caught in the aftermath of a major terrorist attack on San Francisco. In the wrong place at the wrong time, Marcus and his crew are apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security and whisked away to a secret prison where they’re mercilessly interrogated for days.

When the DHS finally releases them, Marcus discovers that his city has become a police state where every citizen is treated like a potential terrorist. He knows that no one will believe his story, which leaves him only one option: to take down the DHS himself.

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  • Tor
  • Hardcover
  • May 2008
  • 384 Pages
  • 9780765319852

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About Cory Doctorow

 Cory Doctorow is a coeditor of BoingBoing and the former European director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. He writes columns for Make, Information Week, the Guardian online, and Locus. He has won the Locus Award three times, been nominated for the Hugo and the Nebula, won the Campbell Award, and was named one of the Web’s twenty-five influencers by Forbes magazine and a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. He hopes you’ll use technology to change the world.

Praise

Little Brother is generally awesome in the more vernacular sense: It’s pretty freaking cool … a fluid, instantly ingratiating fiction writer … he’s also terrific at finding the human aura shimmering around technology.” —The Los Angeles Times

“Readers will delight in the details of how Marcus attempts to stage a techno-revolution … Buy multiple copies; this book will be h4wt (that’s ‘hot,’ for the nonhackers).” —Booklist starred review

“Marcus is a wonderfully developed character: hyperaware of his surroundings, trying to redress past wrongs, and rebelling against authority … Raising pertinent questions and fostering discussion, this techno-thriller is an outstanding first purchase.” —School Library Journal starred review

“A rousing tale of techno-geek rebellion.” —Scott Westerfeld, author of Uglies, Pretties, and Specials

Discussion Questions

How does Marcus’s comment that he’s “one of the most surveyed people in the world” set the tone for the novel? Is the statement true? Compare the school Marcus describes in the opening chapters to your own in terms of surveillance, discipline, and student-administrator relationships.

In what year or decade do you think Little Brother takes place? Cite passages from the novel to support your answer. Do you think the story could happen today? Why or why not?

Is Marcus a good kid or a bad kid? Can he be defined by either of those terms? How might Marcus describe his code of ethics regarding being “surveyed” and his right to circumvent the efforts of the surveyors? How might you define the “moral dilemma” of reprogramming RFIDs, as explained in the novel?

Describe Marcus’s capture and imprisonment. What happens to Darryl? What conclusions does Marcus reach about his government and his community as a result of his imprisonment?

What does Marcus’s refusal to give passwords to and answer questions from government interrogators reveal about his character? How are passwords a recurring motif in the novel?

How does the author use Marcus’s mother and father to represent different points of view about government oversight of individuals? Which parent best represents your perspective?

Does the media overemphasize identity theft and internet predators while underplaying the danger of being “watched” by legal government and corporate agencies through credit card use, transportation monitoring, etc.? How has this imbalance occurred and is surveillance the greater danger?

“Don’t Trust Anyone Over 25” becomes an XNet motto and then a merchandized slogan. How does today’s internet quicken public adoption of new ideas? Is this a good thing, a dangerous thing, or both?

How does Marcus’s physical relationship with Ange affect his actions and attitudes? Is the absence of physical contact an important consideration when studying the internet? Do people treat others the same way in internet conversations as they do face-to-face? If not, what are the differences?

Is widely disseminated information always less lethal than a carefully kept secret (e.g., a how-to on weapons building or an encryption method)? Is this a great paradox of the information age?

Are government attempts to “protect” citizens through surveillance ridiculous to anyone with an understanding of security technology? Would America be safer if all of its citizens learned more about the computers upon which they rely? How else could/should America be made safe? By whom? From whom?

What is Marcus’s job at the end of the novel? What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages, satisfactions and frustrations of this job? Is it important to have people like Marcus on the internet? Why or why not?

How do the afterwords affect your reading of Little Brother? Has the experience of reading this book changed your understanding of—or your standards for—security, privacy, and freedom? If so, how?