Sunday, September 21, 2008

Oh, Brother

Just finished Cory Doctorow's Little Brother. It's definitely going to end up on the "re-read frequently" shelf of one of my bookcases, once I get a hard copy and once I get organized enough to have a shelf like that. Yes, once I get a hard copy -- Doctorow makes his novels available free in electronic form. You can download Little Brother here, or buy it here from Laissez Faire Books at 1-800-326-0996 and get a free DVD to boot (as I intend to do Real Soon Now).

I'm not going to try to tell you too much about the book. "Cryptonomicon meets Alongside Night" is, I think, a fair one-phrase ballpark assessment (not to mention a convenient excuse for opportunistic Amazon link goodness).

Like Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon, Little Brother is punctuated by the occasional techno-didactic digression. As a matter of fact, both books include non-fiction addenda by Security God Bruce Schneier. I think that kind of stuff is cool. Others don't. To each their own, and you can skip past that stuff, you know.

Unlike Cryptonomicon, even a hard copy of Little Brother, which comes to only 155 pages in my PDF reader, won't be fit for double duty as a doorstop.

Like J. Neil Schulman's Alongside Night, Little Brother is a near-future romp pitting an adolescent protagonist and his friends against government gone wild. Similar First Love angles also feature prominently in both books' plots.

Unlike Alongside Night, Little Brother is not explicitly anarchist. Ideologically it instead spins out elements of (at various times) Declarationism, Constitutionalism, Good Governmentalism and Get Out and Votism.

One interesting point of intersection, though, is the role of the inherently anarchic underground in all three books. It's not anything like a stretch to point out that the Revolutionary Agorist Cadre of Alongside Night was part of the inspirational feedstock for the real-life cypherpunks of the 1990s; or that the shadows of those real-life cypherpunks loom over the fictional Secret Admirers of Cryptonomicon and Xnetters of Little Brother.

There's a verisimilitude in Doctorow's and Stephenson's versions that's lacking in Alongside Night, of course, but then what do you expect? Schulman was writing at a time when the idea of a computer on every desktop, let alone a phone on every belt and near-universal access to a worldwide data network, didn't sound at all like "near future." Schulman had to invent sealed transports, spoken phone codes, and literally, physically underground marketplaces to make things happen that the cypherpunks then made possible (or at least proved possible in principle) electronically, and that we (and the Secret Admirers, and the Xnetters) can (or could) therefore do by pointing and clicking these days.

Anyway, good stuff. Like I said, I don't feel like synopsizing much here. If the combination of my recommendation and a free download won't get you to at least dip into Little Brother to see if it's your kind of thing, neither would additional teasing.

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