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May 6, 2008

Thoroughly spoiled Little Brother
Posted by Teresa at 08:37 AM * 173 comments

Discuss it here. Keep the rest of the threads safe for people who haven’t read it yet.

Comments on Thoroughly spoiled Little Brother:
#1 ::: GoodnightJulia ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2008, 08:53 AM:

Responding to Lindra in the previous thread:

Actually I agree with much of what you said, even though I liked the book. Like what DavidS (@ 14 in the previous thread) said about propaganda -- I'm also curious how this reads to somebody who's not already of that mindset. Possibly it does sound fanatical and unrealistic; it's hard for me to tell.

He gives advice on how to start learning and gives out springboards to start from on various topics but we don't see him learning anything himself other than getting a few 'oops, I overlooked that' moments (which aren't even internally consistent).

This is also a good point. I vaguely remember reading how-to-write advice that said the hero should start out completely unprepared for the world he was venturing into, and have to learn its ways, etc. But eventually I began to suspect and avoid most how-to-write advice because it interfered with my instincts, and now I'm not so sure it's as simple as that. Maybe it depends on personal preference and what's best for the story. Thinking about it in this case, I wonder if Marcus was allowed to start out with all the answers (tech-wise) so the reader could take on the learning role. Or something. I bailed out of my English major, so literary criticism may not be my thing.

#2 ::: Emily H. ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2008, 09:04 AM:

If Marcus starts out with none of the answers, the story doesn't even happen, does it? He doesn't skip school to play the ARG, doesn't get caught up in the attack - and even if he does, he doesn't become a suspect because he doesn't have the locked-down phone, etc.

You could probably write around that problem, but I'm not sure I could believe a 17-year-old boy gaining enough 1337 hacker skills to go up against Homeland Security from scratch, in a matter of months.

Marcus is definitely an arrogant, cocky, know-it-all, and that can be annoying. Much like many 17-year-old boys of my acquaintance.

#3 ::: GoodnightJulia ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2008, 09:17 AM:

Emily @ 2: If Marcus starts out with none of the answers, the story doesn't even happen, does it?

You're probably absolutely right, and I didn't even THINK of that. This is why I can't lit-crit (and also probably why I can't lit-write).

I was a relatively low-level geek in high school, but if there had been ARGs and I'd known about them, I think I would've skipped school to play. And been caught.

#4 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2008, 09:29 AM:

I think Little Brother was great, and easily Cory's best book (so far). I didn't mind most of the infodumps - Cory's an especially good expository writer, and it's clear that he (and Marcus) have a huge enthusiasm for these things. Reading about topics about which the writer is that enthusiastic is always enjoyable. I think there was only one, near the end, that felt like it broke the pacing of the book. Things were coming up to a big climax and suddenly we're learning about LARP protocols or something, and I was impatient to get that part over with to find out what happened.

The one hugely missing piece for me was that for an intensely political book, there was almost no politics. The San Francisco school board didn't have anything to say about the new curriculum? The Mayor or City Council didn't have any complaints about Federal takeover? It's not at all beyond belief that Marcus wouldn't think of those things, but they would happen. In this sense I think the book buys into the Silicon Valley view that politics is essentially irrelevant. But I don't think Cory believes this, and it nagged at me that politics was so completely absent.

But that shouldn't at all take away from the sheer can't-put-it-downness of it, or Marcus's hugely appealing voice. I think YA is a good match for Cory's style and interests, and I hope the book does well.

#5 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2008, 09:33 AM:

One of the most appealing things about the book is Marcus' continuing recognition that this time, he's done something which could get kids disappeared, and his struggle with pushing forward anyway.

#6 ::: Lindra ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2008, 09:43 AM:

Goodnight Julia @ 1:

I'm not sure it's a learning role - it's more like a listening role. It occurred to me a few minutes ago that part of why Marcus is such an uncomfortable character for me is that he alternates between the hero (explodes things!) and the sage (knows things!) and the teacher (tells things!), and the shifting combinations between the beginning (the sage and the teacher) the interrogation scene (the hero and the sage) through to the end (hero and teacher and sage) come off as unbalanced.

It's not transition or development from one role to the other so much as what's most convenient when the action (explodes things!) can't quite be set aside for explanation (tells things!) or setting up further action (knows things!) so it gets slurried together and comes up as infodump and knowing-all, especially when placed against the parts where he does handle Marcus' double- or triple-duty well.

Emily H. @ 2:

I make distinctions between no answers/completely unprepared for the world the hero (explodes things!*) is entering, as per Julia's comment at #1, and competence. It's possible to be perfectly competent and know your stuff while making actual mistakes because you're guessing at the things you don't know but have stuff in related fields that you can cobble together to get pretty good estimates of what works and what doesn't.

There's a lot of planning in Marcus' internal narrative, but not a lot of conjecture, and when there's little conjecture and a whole lot of confidence (overconfidence at times) because the character just knows that much, it tips over into unrealistic.

*I just like typing 'explodes things!'

#7 ::: Scott Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2008, 09:46 AM:

Emily H @ 2 -
You could probably write around that problem, but I'm not sure I could believe a 17-year-old boy gaining enough 1337 hacker skills to go up against Homeland Security from scratch, in a matter of months.

This is the more important part.

If, somehow Marcus had gotten caught up in a DHS dragnet, and things largely went the same way (somehow), and he did not have at least a baseline set of 1337 skillz to fall back on, he would have been clotheslined by DHS the first time he tried acquiring them (through his keylogged laptop), without some sort of Jedi mentor to take the young Padawan under his wing and teach him the black hat ropes, or he was really, really lucky.

(As it is, he does learn some new things - or needs to be reminded of them (public keys and setting up known circles, for instance), and he does get lucky a couple of times - like when he notices that his frankenzilla laptop is not exactly the way he left it).

One criticism that I saw that has a little validity is that the DHS folks are, to a degree, strawmen - but this can be excused, I think, due to the fact that, well, we're looking through the eyes of an angry (and scared - and angrier because he's scared) 17 year old - he's not inclined to be charitable to these people who scare the feces out of him. And we do see police/figures of authority behaving well - the two cops who let a bunch of jammers go, the SWAT and CHP officers that eventually break things down at little gitmo, etc.

#8 ::: Robotech_Master ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2008, 09:48 AM:

Here's the brief review of the book I posted to my LJ yesterday:

I thought it was an interesting piece of writing, with young adult characters who are reasonably believable in the choices and mistakes they make. There's some interesting technological gimmickery in it, too, much of which is not too far from reality. Also, an interesting history lesson about the Yippie counterculture of the '60s and '70s.

Its one big flaw is the flaw common to much libertarian political SF: the bad guys (Homeland Security) are painted as universally, almost cartoonishly eeevil ratbastards rather than the ordinary folks with feet of clay they (probably) are in real life. It feels like the book is knocking down straw men in the service of its political thesis, especially since the DHS villains take some measures in the book that they have not (yet) done in real life. But I suppose you could say Doctorow is advising people on what to do when and if they do take those measures.

Anyway, I read it for free and don't feel like I got short-changed. So I guess that's something.

#9 ::: JDC ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2008, 09:52 AM:

I burned through the HTML version last night. (And sent Cory a typo note which he responded to immediately; he should get away from the machine! But then, so should I.) The first few infodumps annoyed me a bit because I already knew much of the geekness. But I'm a 40yo nerd who once had dinner with Phil Zimmerman and a bunch of other crypto guys and heard the infamous lap dancing story. I quickly realised the exposition was very deft. It doesn't derail the story but provides more than enough information to allow anyone interested to start googling and learning. The only thing I found jarring was the Wolfenstein reference. Surely that is way too old for a 17 year old even one today?

I agree that the book doesn't isn't "about" politics. But it is politicsing. Maybe even radicalising for a few. I predict many banings!

Also, while I don't think it was at all cynical (really!), IF it was, dedicating each chapter to a *different* bookstore was brilliant marketing!

All in all, very good. I'm sendin one as a gift to a 13 year old niece. Who knows?

#10 ::: Jenett ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2008, 09:52 AM:

Alex @ 3: Re: the politics bit, my brain appears to have filed it as "any data about that from mainstream media would be entirely unreliable" - that's certainly the way a lot of the teens I work with (independent private school) tend to look at it, even without a crisis of that kind. I also wonder how much of it was just in abeyance, due to the DHS taking over. (Could just be my brain filling in the details.)

In general: it's a fantastic book, and I have been pushing it at people (both staff and students.)

The voice, to pick up on comments in the open thread, read to me the same way a lot of YA books do: this is not quite the voice of the kids I work with. There's more narrative coherence, for one thing (not a bad thing in a book, though.)

But if you took Marcus and dropped him into the school I'm in? He'd fit right in, and I can see exactly which groups he'd start hanging out with, even with some dialect and focus variances. That's a level of reality I don't always see in YA books. Yes, he's arrogant, and yes, there's stuff he utterly misses. But I've not only known people who sounded just like that, but been there myself.

#11 ::: Paul ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2008, 10:35 AM:

One criticism I had with the book is that I thought the confrontations between DHS and Marcus' "movement" is that they are too bloodless.

I am too young to remember Kent State--but I can't help feeling that the tactics of Marcus (and those who emulate him) would lead to bloodshed. Of course, i think that would have led to a very different book--one where the DHS wins, and their boot stamps on the face of San Francisco forever.

#12 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2008, 10:35 AM:

I got the impression that DHS wasn't so much into 'finding terrorists' as into 'making an example out of a city', so people won't argue with them when they say that they need more powers. They might not have given the school board or the county supervisors any choices, either, just 'do this or you'll be locked up, too'.

#13 ::: Paul ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2008, 10:43 AM:

RE JDC #9:
"The first few infodumps annoyed me a bit because I already knew much of the geekness."

Yes...there did seem to be a bit of "As you know Bob" as Marcus discusses technology a lot in the early going. I don't think it kills the momentum, at least it didn't kill my reading pleasure any.

#14 ::: Malthus ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2008, 10:45 AM:

This past Sunday, I sat down in a bookstore, read Little Brother cover-to-cover, and bought a copy. And then I immediately turned over my copy to my mother, a once-and-possibly-future grade school teacher.

I didn't find Marcus' voice jarring, at least no more so than many of the Heinlein juvies, or many of the other books I read and enjoyed as a YA. Yes, he's got a bit of Stereotypical SFnal Hero's Disease (super-competent, didactic, lantern-jawed... you know). But again, that's pretty common in this sort of literature.

As to the characterization of the DHS people -- I found it fairly believable. It could be my sense of paranoia, but I could easily buy a top-level discussion like the one in the DHS video Marcus gets from Masha.

Speaking of Masha: I like the way Cory played up the fact that the only difference between Masha and Marcus is that she's a little more self-centered, slightly more amoral. And made one bad decision, under extreme stress.

#15 ::: DavidS ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2008, 11:09 AM:

Regarding the question of whether Marcus is a plausible teenager: when I was 16 (I am now 27), I shared his interest in learning about technology and how to circumvent restrictions, but I had much more respect for existing authorities and was much more cautious. I had friends at my (very snooty) high school who did act like Marcus and, while I was eager to learn technical skills from them, I thought they were being somewhat immature and silly. There is probably some wish fulfillment in reading a character who shares my interests but not my restraint; I might not have liked it as much if I were still Marcus' age and hanging out with people like him.

This morning I was thinking about the racial and class politics of Little Brother. It seems to me that the most rebellious kids are from white upper middle class liberal families. (If I recall correctly, Marcus' mom is an ACLU member of unspecified profession and his Dad is a professor/consultant; Marcus lives in the East Bay but goes to school in SF, which I assume means he is at some sort of magnet school; and both his and Ange's parents permit their children to explore the city and date freely and, in his case, hang out at cons.) His non-white friends are much more aware of the risks they are taking, and object to his pranksterism. The only working class person we see in a resistance role, the Turkish coffeeman, resists in a nearly invisible manner and is reluctant to explain his actions to others. On the other hand, when we see the prisoners freed at the end of the novel, they are almost all minorities.

I think that is basically accurate. Our society codes white kids breaking rules as mischief and, while we monitor and restrict them, we almost never treat them as actual criminals. For this reason, white kids (including my younger self) get a lot more upset at the restrictions placed on us and feel a lot freer to try to circumvent them.

#16 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2008, 11:21 AM:

Was anyone else thinking of Heinlein's Between Planets while reading LB? But I guess that dates me ...

#17 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2008, 11:33 AM:

Who here is working on an annotated edition? Is someone is, and has a chunk of it to work through, I'd be happy to pitch in.

Davis @ #15 - This morning I was thinking about the racial and class politics of Little Brother. It seems to me that the most rebellious kids are from white upper middle class liberal families.

Cory took a stab at addressing the race and class issues. I think he did a good job of it overall, while writing a protagonist what didn't have him appropriating a culture for Marcus that wasn't his.

#18 ::: Mikael Vejdemo Johansson ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2008, 11:53 AM:

GoodnightJulia @ 1: The only other book I can remember actually had me noticing a propagandistic tone in the writing is Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. And the prose in Atlas Shrugged did make me wince at times, and did make me utterly believe that I was reading a prolonged strawman attack.

This didn't give me that feeling.

Alex @ 4: One thing that impressed me about Little Brother was the sanity of the info dumps. It discusses many themes I am more or less familiar with (as I'm sure is the case with quite a few of the early readers), and it Didn't Make Me Wince. It really didn't!

DavidS @ 15: Marcus' mother is a Relocation Consultant, and while I didn't use a map while reading, and my SF/Bay area geography-fu is weak to say the least, I got the impression repeatedly that Marcus views East Bay as "over there", and hence the impression that he lives on the SF peninsula.

#19 ::: DavidS ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2008, 12:03 PM:

Huh, really? I'm too lazy to search right now, but when Marcus was lying to his parents about what happened after the bombing, I thought he said something about having to take some sort of ferry home. I also thought there was something about not being able to get into the city by BART because the tunnel was bombed.

#20 ::: Shay ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2008, 12:40 PM:

Marcus's explanations didn't read like infodumps to me. They were entertaining for the most part, and I think I might finally get the dual-key crypto, thanks to him.

One of the few things that bugged me was Van being secretly in love with Marcus. It wasn't really necessary to the plot. I would rather have seen some proof that guys and girls can just be good friends without it being romantic.

I did like Ange, though, and how very strong and funky she was. It was cool that she got to be M1k3y sometimes, too, even if she didn't get the credit for it.

... My attempts at con-crit keep devolving into squee. Fortunately, this hasn't scared off the coworkers I've thrust the book upon.

#21 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2008, 12:42 PM:

It's pretty clear in there that Marcus lives in SF proper, though his Dad works on the other side, and $love_interests go to school/live over there as well.

#22 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2008, 12:45 PM:

Shay 20: I finally got dual-key crypto from this book too. I was completely confused by it before.

Not that I understand the MATH, mind you, but even the CONCEPT was stopping me dead before.

#23 ::: Shawn M Bilodeau ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2008, 12:46 PM:

DavidS @ #19: I thought he said something about having to take some sort of ferry home.

You're right, he did. But he preceded that by saying that he and his friends were (if I recall properly -- I started reading the book around midnight, and finished it at 5:00 am the same "evening") in the East Bay area on some type of school field trip, thus requiring the ferry to get back home (to the SF area, rather than taking the ferry from SF to the East Bay.)

#24 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2008, 12:47 PM:

One thing that I liked about the tech was that, for the most part, nothing was really secure. Xnet had moles and people who could backtrace mikey from pretty much the initial drop of the disks.

I'm starting to get disturbed by Marcus holding the massive larp to get out, knowing that it was going to bring DHS down on many of the participants. It doesn't seem to match with the standing down of the arphid jamming.

#25 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2008, 12:52 PM:

Paul @ 11: Agreed, at least in part.

I've been in demonstrations much like the ones Marcus described, shut down in much the same manner as in the book. What Marcus tells about the results of police violence is accurate but undetailed and bloodless. On the other hand, dwelling on that possibility is part of why there aren't many demonstrations these days. I get the need for balance, but this was a bit off the mark.

DavidS @ 19: I believe he claimed to have been in the East Bay (class project? I think) and unable to get back. You are spot on about the BART tunnel being bombed.

A personal note: I flew out to the Bay Area in late September of 2001 (cheap flights! Yay! Um, wait...) and had Dylan's masterpiece Love and Theft playing in my rental car a lot.

(I bought it the day it came out, 9/11, and that's another story.)

Every time I drove across the Bay Bridge and "Mississippi" came on, as Dylan sang, "Things should start to get interesting right about now", I visualized the bridge collapsing under me. It continued, "My clothes are wet, tight on my skin, Not as tight as the corner that I painted myself in." I still get that flash every now and then.

#26 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2008, 12:56 PM:

I read one of the ARCs, and my complete reaction was "Well, that was worth about what I paid for it."

I like Heinlein juveniles, I love the Young Wizards series, there was a time when I read almost nothing but YA stuff because it could be guaranteed to have plot. LB, however, left me cold.

I kept wanting to smack Marcus for being a frigging idiot. He was so smart he outsmarted himself, on numerous occasions, most notably in his obstinate refusal to figure out when the authority figures had stopped playing by the rules (something every teenager I've ever encountered is quite good at). He was simultaneously way too savvy and way too naive. I can totally sympathize with the desire to be able to get places people don't want you to be--I learned to pick locks in college--but that doesn't make me like him...

Infodumps. Oh, dear heaven the infodumps. Every couple of paragraphs, information I don't want yet can't proceed without reading and processing. If you want to write a treatise on stupid security theater and how to circumvent it, just do that! Or put it in an appendix or something.

Two words: sex scene. Why? (I feel much the same way about gratuitous sex in adult novels, I note.)

The whole book was preaching at me. It was slightly more elegant than Atlas Shrugged, I guess.

Perhaps the problem is that I am not the target audience?

#27 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2008, 01:07 PM:

Wow, I completely didn't get any AYKB feeling from the "infodumps" at all. They read, to me, like Marcus was just explaining something you needed to know to understand the next bit of his story.

And I'm not the target market either, being Ancient of Days.

#28 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2008, 01:10 PM:

One of the things I really appreciated about this book is that the San Francisco color read pretty accurately, although I would have staged the concert in Golden Gate park, not Dolores Park because it's too small. (It is, however, a gem, and fits with the long-walking-distance to Potrero bit.)

As far as the expository sections went, I read them at speed.

#29 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2008, 01:10 PM:

What Carrie said.

I'll have to add to that the ending: the Good Adults come in and make everything right. I didn't believe it and Doctorow didn't convince me that he believed it.

#30 ::: Lindra ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2008, 01:19 PM:

I think, now that I've calmed down from my initial sarcastic reaction and resolved to keep reading, I'm somewhere between Carrie S. and Shay.

I keep thinking up ways it could have been brilliant, and ways it's already disappointed me, and how it contradicted itself, and how it didn't, and Marcus being so irritating and informative and just a little robotic in his information-information-emotion tiem naow-information-information thinking, for all that his voice was on the bombastic side. It's not particularly awesome writing, and it's not a particularly awesome plot, but it could've been good, dangnabbit.

#31 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2008, 01:19 PM:

Jon 29: The Good Adults come in and TRY to make everything right, but as usual, they fail. They stop the worst abuses in the short term, yeah, but the monster goes free to terrorize innocents again. Unless they sent her to Fallujah, which would be fair. And Marcus points out their failure, and goes on from there.

I, of course, wanted the monster to die horribly, and preferably slowly, but that would have been unrealistic. Cory could have had the President give her a medal, and that would be perfectly in line with what we've seen happen in the past 7+ years.

#32 ::: Shay ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2008, 01:31 PM:

Tangential to Larry@28 - I was surprised by how local Marcus's online friends seemed to be. Especially after he went missing, I would have expected him to have a bunch of email from friends all over the world asking about what happened (not just to him but to the city).

Maybe that's just because most of the people I've connected with online are not local.

#33 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2008, 01:35 PM:

Very accurate descriptions of the initial arrest/stress position/interrogation episode. Brrr.

#34 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2008, 04:18 PM:

I'll agree completely that Marcus was arrogant, bombastic, and very pleased with his own abilities. And that's what made his character believable to me. Revolutionaries, especially partially-successful revolutionaries, have to be supremely confident in their ability to win the day; much less confidence than that and they won't take action at all, knowing the cost of failing; a little less and they won't succeed because their strategies will be too careful.

Of course, this means that they need a lot of luck to succeed. And sure enough, the road to revolution is piled high with the corpses of supremely confident young people whose luck ran out. That doesn't make success unbelievable, just unlikely. And unlikely heroes are common in fiction.

#35 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2008, 04:43 PM:

One point that the infodumps made clear was that Marcus wasn't inventing his hacks on the spot, or pulling bold new technology out of his ass.* He was standing on the shoulders of giants, as we all do. And Cory made the same point about political movements, which delighted me. This is not the first time in the history of the US, let alone the world, that we the people have been faced with a government and power structure that wants us to shut up and go away while they destroy our freedom and rip off our livelihood. The only thing he didn't mention about the last time was that we** didn't finish the job, and the rot has come back even worse this time.

I've read some really skanky political propaganda masquerading as fiction: Communist, Socialist, Cold War Reactionary, and Libertarian. Little Brother was quite readable compared to almost all of that; in fact I found it quite readable in general. It was interesting though, to compare it to Matter, Iain M. Bank's new Culture novel, which I was finishing when my copy of Little Brother arrived.† Matter is a very well-written book by a writer who has as deep a concern about the morality and ethics of government as Cory does, but who chooses to express it more indirectly, and, in some senses, more generically. I won't try to compare the books point by point; I don't think that would be fair to either, but I will say that there is something to interest and excite me in both.

I don't think it's possible to judge a book like Little Brother outside the context of politics and revolutionary zeal that's brought so much attention to it. That's part of what it is. So while the characterization is not as deep or quite as realistic as it might be, because there are things that Cory needs Marcus to say, that's not the drawback it might be in a book that wasn't trying to promote a political viewpoint. But, as I said, compared to a lot of such books, Little Brother holds up pretty well, IMO.

* How many sf novels have ended with the hero reaching around and pulling out some überweapon based on brand-new physics and no engineering work at all, implemented with a bobby-pin (I can hear the chorus now, "What's a bobby pin?") and 20 cm of duct tape?

** I include myself in the 'we'; I was there and part of the movement, and I backed off for awhile to have kids and a life, and turned around to find we'd been suckered by a bunch of bozos who'd learned from what we did and were going to make damn sure it didn't work the next time.

† I missed out on the ARCs by not even noticing the thread for 12 hours or so; I ordered a copy from Amazon in part because I've been thinking about how to bring down DHS as an exercise, and was curious to see how Cory's techniques, which got reviewed early by experts like Bruce Schnier, related to my ideas. Turns out I'm much more indirect; my ideas don't involve sticking my finger in their eyes so much as breaking in and publishing incriminating memos.

#36 ::: Emily H. ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2008, 04:52 PM:

I think there's something interesting about the way LB-as-fiction and LB-as-propaganda work at cross-purposes to each other. There are lots of points where I thought, "This is what we're supposed to listen to and learn from," and other points where I thought, "This is Marcus being a dumb kid, and we're not supposed to think he's right." And there are points where it could be either one.

That's not a bad thing, mind you! I think, without that tension, it wouldn't have worked for me.

#37 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2008, 04:55 PM:

Alex #4, Litter Brother seemed to me to be full of politics, just the parts of politics that exist outside of the formal democratic process.

#38 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2008, 06:03 PM:

Avram #37 Litter Brother?

#39 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2008, 06:08 PM:

Of course, Fragano. Litter Brother is Cory's new book about a kitteh who is savagely taken to the vet after fleas infest his peaceful yard, and fights back against his oppressors by peeing in their shoes.

#40 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2008, 07:31 PM:

Xopher #39: Of course. I was wrong to think that it might be on an entirely different thems and have a sequel entitled Palanquin Sister.

#41 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2008, 08:06 PM:

I'm notoriously bad at reading anything critically the first time. I have passionate, torrid affairs with new books and they can do no wrong until the second or third reading, unless they're really egregiously terrible. This is one of the ones that can do no wrong right now.

That said. I'm 25, which means you can trust me for a couple more months. The only instance of language use/character voice that tripped me was "dating or whatever we're doing now." I'd say that, but I was in probably the last cohort that didn't use "hooking up" as a catch-all for that weird early stage of getting together with a romantic partner. Otherwise, Marcus talks a lot like the kids I hung out with in high school.

Infodumps didn't lose me except for the Internet protocol one. I had no idea what was being said there.

But yeah. Right now, I love the hell out of this book.

I even felt like the sex scenes totally captured that teenage feeling, the one where you're realizing that yes, you can affect the world, you are an agent, and sex is part of that because you can see and feel how what you're doing is affecting someone else -- and you realize it's the same for them.

#42 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2008, 08:08 PM:

Bruce Cohen @ 34: You have pegged it exactly.

#43 ::: JimR ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2008, 08:38 PM:

I have to come down a little more on Lindra's side, the more I think about it.
The voice, Marcus's voice, did not at all strike me as a HS kid--like I said in my review, it struck me as Cory Doctorow. It didn't help that the infodumps* were mostly related to things that the author very frequently discusses on BoingBoing. They often struck me as incoherent; as Lindra said in another thread, this Marcus was a vehicle for information that Doctorow wanted to give, and all too often the story and character suffered for that goal.

More and more, Little Brother feels like a textbook and not a story.


*And Xopher, #27-"Wow, I completely didn't get any AYKB feeling from the "infodumps" at all. They read, to me, like Marcus was just explaining something you needed to know to understand the next bit of his story." Isn't that EXACTLY what AYKB moments are, i.e. Ways of giving you necessary information without actually working them into the story?

#44 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2008, 08:55 PM:

JimR @ 43: I hear what you're saying, but I could also say it about pretty much every major Heinlein work from, oh, somewhere in the fifties on to the end, including the juveniles.

(Godwin 2.0: Get another point of reference besides Heinlein for these discussions.)

#45 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2008, 09:37 PM:

Right after I read LB (which I loved, by the way, infodumps and all), I read another book called After with a very similar setup. After has a much less interesting protagonist, a much less plausible plot, and no useful real-life information whatsoever. It also has the usual YA problem of no competent adults who aren't villains. As a result, I may be inclined to overpraise Little Brother, because, damn it, Doctorow got SO MANY THINGS RIGHT.

#46 ::: Doctor Science ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2008, 09:56 PM:

John #44: (Godwin 2.0: Get another point of reference besides Heinlein for these discussions.)

Not necessarily. The bedtime reading going on downstairs as I type is "Farmer in the Sky". The target is a 12-y.o. girl who likes Heinlein quite a bit -- though I believe he has a rather antique flair, what with the slide rules and all.

#47 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2008, 10:40 PM:

Xopher @ 39: I'm sure the vet was just following orders, and in real life is a very nice person. It was those nasty public health officials who made the vet do all those awful things.

#48 ::: Jeremy Lassen ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2008, 11:50 PM:

I read an ARC so maybe this was addressed in the final book. The terrorist attack is described as having taken out both the bay bridge and the BART transbay tunnel.

Later in the book, there is repeated talk of people using BART to get to the east bay, and the protagonist actually goes to the east bay using BART with no explanation of how the transbay tunnel is back up and running.

Did anybody else notice this? Was this seeming discrepancy explained in the finished book?

#49 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2008, 11:56 PM:

Lila #45: Francine Prose's After? Huh. I really loved that book. I think that, while it covers similar ground, its goals and methods were very different from Little Brother's. Actually, I think it's a more direct companion piece to 1984, which also doesn't contain any actionable information, but deals more in metaphor and warning.

I love both books, in very, very different ways. One way they're similar, though, is that both are completely unashamed of how transparent their allegory is. I appreciate that.

#50 ::: 'As You Know' Bob ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2008, 12:03 AM:

I just this minute finished the book - and, as it happens, this is the very first book that I've read in its entirety on my computer. (Thanks, Cory!)

(And I feel like I now have a moral obligation to go out and buy a dead-tree copy.)

As I'm still not entirely comfortable with spoilers, so: V pna bayl ubcr gung jr pna ertnva bhe pbagel nf rnfvyl nf Znephf erpynvzf uvf.

#51 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2008, 12:10 AM:

Xopher 31: "The Good Adults come in and TRY to make everything right, but as usual, they fail" Yeah, but I think that even making things all right to the extent that they did is -- sadly -- wildly unrealistic, given the last eight years.

I mean, the Governor of a state overriding DHS and forcing a confrontation with the President on a National Security issue? I can't imagine it. I wish I could -- I'd like that country better -- but I can't.

To make this book realistic, take the first couple hundred pages right up until the torture scene which is interrupted over the Ch 20-21 break. But have the torture continue; have Marcus slowly go mad with pain and fear and isolation and hopelessness; and never have any contact with the outside world again, so that we never find out what happens to any of the dangling threads.

Of course I understand why Cory didn't write that book. And I really enjoyed LB a lot. But I find it hard to imagine any ending even as partially happy as the one we got that doesn't feel like an utterly unrealistic deus ex machina.

So like Jon #29, I didn't believe it; and the partial nature of the rescue, the ultimate failure (which was actually far less of a failure than Xopher portrayed... yeah, the Monster lived, but she got shipped to Iraq, where the odds of her dying rather than torturing someone else are depressingly high; and after all, the Guitmo by the bay was shut down, and the good teacher returned to the classroom, etc, etc.).

I liked the book. It made me hopeful. But I didn't believe it -- particularly the end. Given the Orwell-reference framework, I have to wonder what the dark ending would have looked like. (Although, yeah, it wouldn't help sell the book -- or the important political ideas that the book does, in fact, persuasively convey.)

Or maybe I'm just too bitter. I'm way over 25, so probably not to be trusted.

#52 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2008, 12:14 AM:

JimR #43: "The voice, Marcus's voice, did not at all strike me as a HS kid--like I said in my review, it struck me as Cory Doctorow. It didn't help that the infodumps* were mostly related to things that the author very frequently discusses on BoingBoing"

Yeah, I'd agree with that too. It didn't really bother me -- gripes aside, I really did like the book a lot, couldn't put it down, thought it's politics were both convincing and important, etc. -- but I have to agree that the voice sounded like Cory at BoingBoing, not a high school kid.

(Of course, I'm not in high school, and don't hang with high school kids -- I teach 18-19 yo students, but that year makes a difference, and even if they speak like that they probably wouldn't to me, etc etc.)

#53 ::: Lola Raincoat ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2008, 12:46 AM:

hi, lurker delurking here. I got one of the advance copies (as did at least one other person on my lj friends-list), read it immediately and with a certain amount of enjoyment, and then thought about it a while, and here's what I posted, fwiw and ymmv obviously:

So, I got an advance copy of Cory Doctorow's new novel Little Brother the other day, courtesy of Making Light - as if they didn't do me a big enough favor just by existing, now they're giving away books as well. It's as if Go Fug Yourself was also handing out donuts. Anyway, so, partly because of the publisher's brilliant marketing strategy of just giving it away, I'd been hearing good things about the book, and was all excited to read it, and - meh.

Little Brother definitely has its heart in the right place, being a young adult novel about post-9/11 restrictions on civil liberties and how much that sucks, but the story gets hijacked by gizmo-worship. It's all, hey kids! here's how to build your own surveillence-free internet on your X-Boxes! here's how to subvert the tracking functions on your bus pass! here's how to have fun with a flash mob! So it ends up being, basically, Wired Magazine Escapes from Guantanamo Bay. Also, the characters are pretty much unbelievable, though maybe they're unbelievable in ways that will appeal to teen readers? I mean, I would be delighted to hand this book to a teen reader this year (it's going to be outdated in approximately ten minutes) and I wasn't sorry I read it and I feel like a heel having snarfed the nice free copy and now complaining about it, but there it is.

Reading Little Brother did make me think that I want to read novels about the characters at its margins - the people stuck in off-shore prisons without habeus corpus rights, the teachers unable to figure out what to say to their students about the national-security state, the military recruiters ... I'm just not as interested in the technologically-empowered (white, male, young) activists. Maybe it's just that I feel like I know their story already.

#54 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2008, 01:26 AM:

Xopher #39 -- Mah seekrit XBox crypto network, let me show you it.

#55 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2008, 06:14 AM:

Haven't read it yet, but I was really tempted to buy a fingerprint reader yesterday so I could experiment on it.

#56 ::: Pete Darby ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2008, 07:43 AM:

I'm really not in tune with the complaints that the schools board rolls over when the DHS says play dead, or it's the grups that save the day at the end...

I think we can take it as read that a LOT of politics of all sorts is going on that is completely off Marcus' radar. Same goes for the behaviour of the DHS staff being "strawmen". Are we expecting a re-run of the infamous "Ah, mein freund fritz, vile ve are guarding ze prisoners on ziss verrrrrry qviet nacht, let me show you ein photo of mein sveetheart" scenes.

They may have "world's greatest mom" mugs and have only taken the job to pay for their dying mother's medical treatments, but, as far as Marcus is concerned, they're monsters.

Again on my hobby horse, have a look at www.lucifereffect.org, and how being in that kind of situation, whether it's in the basement of a university or a prison in occupied territory, can turn you into a cliche of authoritarian abuse. It's not unrealistic.

And with the grups save the day... what, are Xnet supposed to? If you're looking for Marcus' "hugging and learning" moment, it's when he realises that, hey, mobilizing the grups will do his cause more good than harm, that "trust no-one over 25" is a counter productive slogan. If he'd trusted his parents earlier, the hole he finds himself in would be a hell of a lot shallower.

I'm making the assumption that everything that happens during the narrative is more than everything that gets into the novel, here.

The book could do with more expansion online than a simple set of HOWTO's: I mean, given all this ,I'm itching to write an interview with Marcus from a source that brings all these niggles into focus ("Marcus, one of the most notorious slogans of Xnet was 'never trust anyone over 25'; yet you were removed from the DHS prison thanks to the efforts of a great number of people, of whom the vast majority were over that age. How do you square that?")

#57 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2008, 08:00 AM:

Jeremy Lassen @ 48: In the final version, Marcus takes a VTA bus (I think I have this right--it's the first leg of a trip I'd planned to take last month) over and connects to local service.

Stephen Frug @ 51:

I mean, the Governor of a state overriding DHS and forcing a confrontation with the President on a National Security issue? I can't imagine it.

I would not believe it of any state but California, the state that legalized medical marijuana and started negotiation of greenhouse gas policies with a foreign country.

That last under the Gropenator, even--put him up in this situation against President Clinton (who finally pushed me into choosing Obama with her "we don't need no steenkin experts" shitdickery this last week) and this is plausible. Add on that the Bay Area is volatile at the best of times--the perfect place to try to make an example if you're playing for all the marbles--and I buy it.

(When I was there last month, I stayed at the home of a friend help overturn and burn a police car during the White Night riots. He's gotten older, but I have no doubts he'd do it again tomorrow.)

If anything, I was surprised that it took Marcus and the XNetters to get things going. Possibly that could be because they came from a less expected angle.

As for the Monster--you know, I thought the only distinctly evil person in the book was the new teacher. Torture ain't nothin' compared to corrupting the youth under color of education. Anyway, she's obviously a valuable asset to DHS. They went to some trouble to preserve her, and I'm quite certain she's happily plying her trade in Abu Gharib 2.0. She's not dead, Jim. sql? kthxbai

#58 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2008, 08:16 AM:

Reaction after reading: Googling 'ParanoidLinux'.

To really understand some of it, you probably have to have lived in the Bay Area for a while. Taking out the Bay Bridge that way hits deep. Taking out BART, too, makes it 'OMGWTFBBQ!'
(I wouldn't put it past some parts of government to do that kind of double-whammy not-really-fake terrorist attack, especially if it's that bridge and that city.)

#59 ::: Pete Darby ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2008, 08:32 AM:

Oh yeah, the terrorist attack: anyone else massively relieved to get to the end of the book without a lame "TEH DHS BLOO UP TEH BRIDGE!!!!" plot line?

#60 ::: Craig ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2008, 09:09 AM:

Xopher@22: Let me know if this helps with the math.

First of all, the specific type of public-key encryption Marcus mentioned in the book (RSA) relies on modular arithmetic, also known in grade school as "clock math" ("What's 8 o'clock plus 5 hours?" "1 o'clock." etc.).

In modular arithmetic, you can add, subtract, and multiply just like you would normally -- but at the end you divide by your "modulus" (12, for clocks) and take the remainder.

There is a major theorem regarding modular arithmetic, called "Fermat's Little Theorem", which says that if your modulus is a prime (P), and you take a number not divisible by the modulus and raise it to the appropriate power (P-1), you get 1.

That is, t^{P-1} = 1 (mod P) for t not divisible by P.

This can be generalized to non-prime moduli. Specifically, if your modulus is the product of two primes (N = P * Q), then you have
t^{(P-1) * (Q-1)} = 1 (mod N)
for t not divisible by P or Q.

Now, this also means that if you have two numbers (d and e), whose product is one more than a multiple of the special exponent above, you can get back to your original text (t), i.e.
if d * e = 1 + k * (P-1) * (Q-1)
then
t^{d * e} (mod N) = t^{1} * (t^{(P-1)*(Q-1)})^k (mod N)
= t * 1^k (mod N) = t (mod N).

This turns this whole arithmetic exercise into a good cryptosystem. Why? Because you pick one of the numbers (d). Since you know your two prime factors (P and Q), you can generate the other number (e). Then your public key is (d,N), your private is e, and to encrypt with your private key you raise your message to the e'th power mod N,
c = t^e (mod N)
and then anyone can verify that the message came from you with the public key:
c^d (mod N) = t^{d*e} (mod N) = t (mod N).

Let me know where you got lost, and I can try to elaborate.

#61 ::: John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2008, 09:22 AM:

I just finished it, and a few quick thoughts before I post a more detailed review on my blog and Amazon.

The 'info-dumps' didn't bug me. While I'm not a coder (beyond tweaking things here and there when I need to in basic 'monkey-see, monkey-do' fashion), I am a video encoder geek, so I loved reading the expositions.

The book also surprised me. For example, I was sure about halfway through, that Darryl was not only alive, but completely turned over to the other side and there was going to be a bloody confrontation at the end. (On the other hand, I was happy in the end he hadn't.)

AnywAY, just a few quick thoughts thus far....

#62 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2008, 09:31 AM:

John Farrell @ 61: I was afraid that Masha was going to turn out to be Darryl. Cory'd set that up by talking about males fronted by female personas, and I wouldn't be shocked if he'd considered the idea.

#63 ::: KP ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2008, 09:54 AM:

It took me a little while to get into it (70-odd pages) -- the Japanese references threw me at first since they weren't always on target. No official game is going to require that you download doujinshi to play (generally speaking, this is against Japanese fan culture) and if you know what a doujinshi is, you probably wouldn't use 'toon' to describe the characters in them. A friend suggested that this might be down to the tight first-person narration and I also considered that this might be due to it being set in the near-future when things have changed. Having said that, I was laughing to myself at the way Japan is a shortcut for cool in this book; I read about "Harajuku Fun Madness" as I was on the train to Harajuku.

A few typos and renaming errors, but I'm one of the lucky readers who got the ARC and it's probably nothing that won't be fixed in the final print run, I'm sure. To be honest, it added to the "I'm reading it FIRST mwahahaha" feeling. *ahem*

Marcus, the main character, was far too cocky at first. I really started to like it once he was not-arrested and he wasn't as smart as he thought he was. Then the book really started to pick up and I fell in love with it. The pacing and voice really come together to really make everything work. Doctorow has a great way of mixing what you know about recent events, retelling them, then throwing a little bit of his own world's history into it to make this near-future come alive. He references real tech and LB tech in the same sentence to great effect.

There are some great pieces of information in this book, and I hope they are true. I want to know if that spy camera detection light actually works and what DOES happen if you put a frozen grape in the microwave. The Google, it does nothing.

One thing I was wondering -- they're all worried about the arphid cards, but aren't their mobiles (cell phones) more traceable?

There are some moments I thought that a teenager would never say. For example, I don't think teens would actually describe what they do "teen culture" and I think there's too much emphaisis on teenagers. I can't believe that some of the events were only attended by teens and under-twenty-fives. I have to confess that it irritated me slightly when he described as LARP as something for teens only -- all the LARPers I know are adults. Perhaps I'm a bitter twenty-something. :)

I wasn't quite sure about one aspect of the ending... Van likes Marcus, but ends up with Daryl just because he liked her? The rest is good -- good doesn't entirely win out over evil and Marcus is still in trouble with the law.

So what does it say about freedom? It doesn't spend much time on 'The current situation is bad', because it assumes you already know this. If you don't, this book will do nothing for you. What it does do, is highlight specific areas of concern and methods of fighting back alongside some cool trivia.I should point out that I tend to pick books apart when I like them -- and I really liked this one.

#64 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2008, 10:39 AM:

Pete @ 59

But he doesn't say they didn't do it, either.

#65 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2008, 10:47 AM:

KP @ #63, try searching youtube.com for "grape microwave".

#66 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2008, 12:00 PM:

Caroline @ 41: "I even felt like the sex scenes totally captured that teenage feeling, the one where you're realizing that yes, you can affect the world, you are an agent, and sex is part of that because you can see and feel how what you're doing is affecting someone else -- and you realize it's the same for them."

I really liked the sex scenes. They were so authentically teenage and awksome*--full of inconvenient interruptions, tentative boundary-testing (it's so weird in novels when people just rip each other's clothes off without so much as flirting beforehand), and genuine excitement. But best of all: a teenage girl who is actively involved in her own sexuality! Squee.

I found the hem of her t-shirt and tugged. She put her hands over her head and pulled back a few inches. I knew that she'd do that. I'd known since the night in the park. Maybe that's why we hadn't gone farther -- I knew I couldn't rely on her to back off, which scared me a little.

Wonderful.

*Awksome (adj) - describing something that is simultaneously awkward and awesome.

II
I also liked the way that Marcus' emotions were so often beyond his control. He wasn't really the fearless bad-ass he thought he was at the beginning. The parts of the book where Marcus gets scared were so raw and humiliating that I got tears in my eyes. It really drives home the point--DHS is trying to control them with fear just as much as the terrorists are. They hack our savannah-monkey brain to control us.

His initial humiliation at the hands of DHS was, I think, also really well done from a plot standpoint. It provides a sort of secret motivation for the rest of his book. It's not really to rescue Darryl, as he admits a couple of times--he mostly just wants revenge.

There it was again. My vow. Not to get Darryl free, but to bring down the entire DHS. That was crazy, even I knew it. But it was what I planned to do. No question about it.

It's also why he doesn't tell his parents--it's too embarassing. It haunts him, forcing him to do a couple of really dumb things, and a couple of brave ones too. If Marcus hadn't been as genuinely terrified as he was, the book would have seemed flat.

III
The very best thing, though, was how Doctorow handled the question of whether to rebel or survive? It's a question that I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about, and I think that he did a really good job of showing the complexities of it. It is something that Marcus waffles on a lot. He comes out of the gate all fiery, but he loses steam a couple of times, seriously doubting whether it's worth it. Everytime someone else gets hurt because of what he told them to do, he hesitates, and almost gives up a couple of times.

The reactions of the other main characters are also really good illustrations of the difficulty of this decision. Out of the three who walk out, Marcus is the only one who sticks with the fight all the way. Everyone else gets scared. Take Jolu:

"I can't do it forever," [Jolu] said at last. "Maybe not even for another month. I think I'm through. It's too much risk. The DHS, you can't go to war on them. It's crazy. Really actually crazy." .... He wanted me to say something. What I wanted to say was, Jesus Jolu, thanks so very much for abandoning me! Do you forget what it was like when they took us away? Do you forget what the country used to be like before they took it over? But that's not what he wanted me to say. What he wanted me to say was: "I understand, Jolu. I respect your choice."

That's it, right there. You can't mandate revolution. It's got to be a choice; no one can fight everything that needs fighting all the time. You burn out--you die. People have to be able to choose. (I also really like the "you can get away with this because you're white" bit right after that.)

If I had to pick one thing to point to to prove Little Brother isn't a polemic, this is it: Doctorow is painfully aware of the capacity of revolution to go haywire. He doesn't paint rebellion as a wonderful and good thing. It's genuinely risky, scary work, that should only be done when absolutely necessary, and only to the extent necessary.

#67 ::: Lindra ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2008, 12:21 PM:

heresiarch @ 229 in OT107:

You're right, both in your responses and in what you said about the mentality I was writing from.

It is much easier to make it seem as though there isn't a choice at all, true, and the question of "this pissed me off, what am I willing to risk to say or do something about it?" keeps me awake every few months thinking on what to do, what could be done and how it could be done, and I have always come down on the side of silence. It's been harder for me to do that lately and Little Brother touched a sore spot at a moment when I was having a particularly frustrating time of it wrangling between what I consider my duty as a citizen of a society with a framework that works against and disadvantages swathes of people within it, being in a position I am coming to realise is in itself powerful, and what I'm willing to put my name to when it comes to attempting change for the better. It's a thorny question and there's never a shortcut, and you're right that Doctorow does handle it well.

I also agree that Doctorow is trying to challenge the idea that not everyone can be a superhero. But this seems to be where we differ, as I don't think he does it effectively. To my mind the mix of superhero and everyman doesn't work in the way it's clearly intended to. I think it's a good attempt, a starter to another subgenre of Information Is Power, one specific to how things are right now and how they might be, which is necessary and important. It's a needed piece of literature in itself, whichever form it takes, and the fact of that brings up further questions: does it work? Does it work well enough to push past the list of but-but-buts? Does it succeed in proving its views such that it can be its own answer to those objections? Does it work well enough that it can challenge the inertia of taking the easy way out and allowing it to be yet another soporific story of an unachievable superhero?

I don't think so.

It tries, with explanations and information and trying to make it seem easy and accessible and give the impression that there is an entire world of awesome at one's fingertips, things with which you can be your own superhero too, and I can see how it's intended to work, how it could be made to succeed. There are places and passages within it where the idea and the character and the method of delivery work together to create a really solid, moving message and it's fantastic.

However, there's also the rest of the book where it doesn't, where for one reason or another Marcus seems unreachable and the technology feels inaccessible and the message feels personally irrelevant, like by dint of its own volume its being directed it over my head at someone else.

It could have been so good! I can see how it could work as something energising and powerful and amazing. I can see how it could be something to tie so many people together, working together and discovering things they didn't know they could do. I'm all for that. I can see its importance, now that I'm no longer working off those but-but-buts and had some time to prod at why I had such a strong negative reaction.

But for me, I think it comes down to that I love the concept, and I think it could be fantastic. In my opinion being fantastic requires careful balancing to make sure that its clear-eyed and clear-headed and truly persuasive, that it doesn't snarl on its own convictions and toss out enough rope to hang itself. Little Brother reads to me more torrential than considered, something inspired by a lot of conviction and belief that needed saying, and that comes across strongly enough that its own bluster drowns itself out. It throws so much rope that it doesn't just hang itself but the gallows-yard as well.

No doubt there will be later pieces of literature written with the same or similar concerns, influenced by Little Brother, that will pick up on the importance of its ideology and synthesise it until - to pick up my metaphor elsewhere - it's tapping on the wall and showing a different configuration, not hammering through it. I think those second and third generation stories will be more readable for my tastes and inertia of already having made the choice to keep my head down more than once and uncertainty of whether speaking is in fact a better choice. They will be books far better at encouragement and motivation, not bludgeoning.

Little Brother is a good forerunner, yes, for (as someone said earlier) finally saying all of this somewhere it can be read and disseminated and acted upon by people who would normally never visit Boing Boing or craphound or ML. As the be-all end-all 'send this to everyone you know'? No. I do think one or several like that will come. They're just not here yet.

#68 ::: Ursula L ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2008, 01:03 PM:

JimR #43: "The voice, Marcus's voice, did not at all strike me as a HS kid--like I said in my review, it struck me as Cory Doctorow. It didn't help that the infodumps* were mostly related to things that the author very frequently discusses on BoingBoing"

Part of the "problem" might be that we know Cory's voice, in a way in which one doesn't typically know the author of the fiction one reads.

Normally, I wouldn't know that someone who wrote the book I was reading was actually used to writing nonfictionally about the subject they are including in their fiction.

Someone who has never read Making Light or BoingBoing wouldn't have this problem.

#69 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2008, 01:24 PM:

Stephen 51: the Monster lived, but she got shipped to Iraq, where the odds of her dying rather than torturing someone else are depressingly high;

Um...depressingly?!?! The only thing I find depressing about her dying is that it would probably be quick!

Avram 54: I iz ded. Ded kittehs don be wotterborded.

Craig 60: I'm at work, where thinking is forbidden, so I'll have to look at it later. Without concentrating too hard, I think I get lost at the non-prime moduli generalization, but I'll try again when I get home.

John 62: She was in Marcus' trust circle. I think that means she'd've had to be at that party, right? So if she'd been Darryl he would've noticed him being there, big time.

#70 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2008, 03:17 PM:

I was just reminded of one of the bits in the novel that got me infuriated on Marcus's behalf, a bit that shows Cory knows what Orwell was saying. It's the bit where the DHS agent tells Marcus she'll let him go if he tells her about the bombs.

She's lying. It's obvious to the reader (who probably isn't as scared and exhausted as Marcus is) that she has to be lying. The only way Marcus could know about the bombs is if he's really a terrorist, and if the DHS becomes convinced that he's really a terrorist they'll never let him go. So she's playing crude head games with him, asserting power for power's sake. She's hoping that Marcus will be so tired and frightened that he'll abandon reason and agree to whatever she wants, just like O'Brien asking Winston Smith what two plus two equals.

#71 ::: David Manheim ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2008, 04:15 PM:

I was lucky enough to get a ARC. I've been promoting the book to everyone I talk to about such matters, and need to buy a copy for one cousin, and direct another cousin t0 the web site.

I'm not sure why, it may have something to do with not being as familiar with Cory's non-fiction, and it definitely has something to do with a fascination with the themes and the fact that I'm still under 25 (for another year, at least,) but I found the tone perfect, and hope that it impacts other people's lives the way I believe it would have impacted mine if I found it 10 years ago.

I laughed at some scenes, I almost cried at others; it was emotionally very powerful, and as someone who hates letting criticism get in the way of enjoying a good book, I didn't think about it in those terms until a week after reading it for the first time, when I re-read it.

And of course, the realism of the characters is beside the point if you are considering impact on adolescents, on some level. They will notice really hokey or inconsistent portrayals, but I don't think that's the problem here. What this will do is instill the level of skepticism and distrust of authority that most of us want children, (and, parenthetically*, adults) to have. It may even get them interested in coding and technology.

Definitely a great book for young adults, I just don't know how many children will read it. Maybe we'll all get lucky and someone in an authority position will decide to ban it. Anyone want to start a campaign using selective quotations from the book asking some schools boards to do so?

* I LOVE writing the word parenthetically in parentheses.

#72 ::: anna ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2008, 04:57 PM:

JimR @ 43-

One of the first things I thought when I started reading Little Brother was "Ohmigod, this kid talks like the boy version of me!" It was really when he said "teh suck" that did it for me; I say that all the time.

I've been out of high school two years. I don't read Boing Boing much, and mostly just read Making Light to internet-stalk my mother (she knows I read her comments here regularly and doesn't mind, so it's not really stalking), so I don't have the problem of knowing Cory's voice. And without that problem, Marcus' voice was fantastic.

#73 ::: Dan Hoey ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2008, 05:16 PM:

I knew I had to read this when Patrick announced the review copies, and I'm glad Cory put up CC versions so I don't have to wait for the bookstore. I thought the book was very good, but maybe not as much of a paradigm shift as Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. I guess you that's the price of present-day relevance.

I can't say DHS got off too hard. They had the politico and haircut woman who were pretty flat evil, but they also had Masha, who at least couldn't rationalize it forever. And you have to expect there were a bunch more who tried to come in from the cold and got caught. I'm more concerned that DHS was shown as too incompetent—I don't think a real-life Marcus could stay free. Realism would come out more like 1984, only with less wiggle room.

The only real groaner typo I saw was "proscribed" for "prescribed", though I might quibble about some of the hyphenated terms.

#74 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2008, 05:38 PM:

I got into this - sufficiently that I got to bed late last night and started work a bit late this morning in order to finish it. There were sections when my heart was thumping, when I felt anxious on behalf of Marcus, when I felt sick about what was being done in the name of "security" (the bit with the new teacher stating how the government should protect life first, and liberty coming a poor second to that certainly hit home to this Brit, with our ghastly new Mayor of London pledging to install airport-style security scanners ar railway stations).

Re. infodumps - if needed (and I think they are, in this), I much prefer having the character plainly talk to the audience (after all, the book is writen in first person, Marcus is the narrator) rather than having a cardboard-clueless character there to be explained to.

Marcus is smart in some ways, amazingly naive in others - not surprising, give his age. Cory lets us know (perhaps a bit later than ideal) that Marcus doesn't watch the news or read newspapers, and given his father's reactions, he can't really discuss what's happening with his parents - so yes, he's seeing what's happening only from his viewpoint. Learning to look at (real, everyday) things from different viewpoints, searching out those viewpoints, is generally a more adult way of doing things.

The range of character reactions - Marcus (with his determination alternating with uncertainties), Jolu, Van, poor Darryl, amoral Masha etc., even the range of reactions from the ordinary adults in the book, was realistic.

Overall: I certainly hope it will make some young (and not-so-young, perhaps) people think about what's going on at present - as well as maybe encouraging some exploration of computer progremming, cryptography etc. I'll certainly be recommending it to some teenagers I know.

#75 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2008, 06:30 PM:

Ursula #68: Part of the "problem" might be that we know Cory's voice, in a way in which one doesn't typically know the author of the fiction one reads.

That might be it. Although I didn't have that problem with Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. But of course that was in a less familiar setting, hence less BoingBoing like. So definitely maybe.

Xopher #69: Um...depressingly?!?! The only thing I find depressing about her dying is that it would probably be quick!

Rather than once again get into the whole should-one-ever-celebrate-a-death thing that erupted after WFB's death, let me just say that I find it depressing that saying that an American soldier is being sent to our current conflict sounds like a death sentence. (Hell, anyone going to Iraq sounds like a death sentence.) So yeah: depressing.

#76 ::: Cynthia Gonsalves ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2008, 06:35 PM:

re: 58

As a fourth generation native of the SF East Bay, this rings true for me. Cory's choice of that bridge and that tunnel is on the money. If terrorists wanted to frak the Bay Area over, that's what to target. The aftermath of Loma Prieta is nothing in comparison.

I don't have my copy at hand, but wasn't there also a nasty vibe about DHS's measures being justified because the Bay Area is somehow un-American?

The end of the book had me dreaming idly of a reborn Bear Flag Republic.

#77 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2008, 08:11 PM:

Stephen 75: Hmm, I see your point. It's depressing that being sent to Iraq is likely to result in death, yes. That the Monster was likely to die, no, not depressing—and she'd probably spend all her time in the Green Zone anyway. Unless...hmm.

It now occurs to me that this may be another way Marcus was naive. Where he perceived her as going unpunished, they were actually dropping the charges so they could send her to Iraq to stage her killing by "insurgents."

After all, she's an embarrassment at this point, and has to be made an example of; not to mention the fact that were she ever brought to trial she might name names, like this lady might have, had she not "committed suicide."

If so, my not noticing that right off was also naive!

#78 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2008, 08:48 PM:

My review. I'll have to come back and read the thread tomorrow.

#79 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2008, 01:19 AM:

I hadn't thought that they were planning to stage a killing, as much as put her in a place where she was likely to die at other's hands.

I suppose it's a plausible reading. But I'm not sure I see an arguments for it over the "just ship her somewhere really dangerous" theory.

#80 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2008, 02:38 AM:

Lindra @ 67: "It is much easier to make it seem as though there isn't a choice at all, true, and the question of "this pissed me off, what am I willing to risk to say or do something about it?" keeps me awake every few months thinking on what to do, what could be done and how it could be done, and I have always come down on the side of silence."

It's a really tough question, and it's hard to create any sort of guidelines. One of the things that I really like about Little Brother is that it shows that sometimes, silence is the right answer.

"I also agree that Doctorow is trying to challenge the idea that not everyone can be a superhero. But this seems to be where we differ, as I don't think he does it effectively. To my mind the mix of superhero and everyman doesn't work in the way it's clearly intended to."

That seems fair--while I think it does a good job, I'm not quite the target audience. I definitely see the dangers of well-meaning adults trying to force this book on unimpressed teens and getting bit of a backlash. We'll have to wait and see, won't we? I can agree to disagree on whether Little Brother accomplishes its goals, but I'm pretty certain that its goals are worth trying for. =)

(You might want to give Un Lun Dun, by China Mieville a try. It hits on some of the same themes, but in a very different way. It starts a bit cliched, but that's just because he's messing with your head.)

Ursula L @ 68: "Part of the "problem" might be that we know Cory's voice, in a way in which one doesn't typically know the author of the fiction one reads."

Knowing the author's natural voice can really ruin a fiction experience, if it is too close to the narrator's voice. I spent several months reading Neil Gaiman's blog before reading Anansi Boys, and it really ruined the first part of the book for me.

F'wudditswirth, the techno-expositive chunks in Little Brother didn't bug me, because that's exactly what geeks are like: they think their area of interest is so absolutely fascinating that everyone will naturally share their enthusiasm. It was completely plausible for Marcus to talk like that about technology, because he was the sort of person who created military-grade crypto with his best friend so they could talk about what to eat for lunch. The expositive chunks worked in character.

#81 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2008, 05:37 AM:

heresiarch @ 80:

F'wudditswirth, the techno-expositive chunks in Little Brother didn't bug me, because that's exactly what geeks are like...The expositive chunks worked in character.

I'm reminded of the long, dull passage, fifty pages or so, late in Anna Karenina describing the governmental meeting (I think--it's been years) many of the male characters attend. I got Tolstoy's point in making that passage a long, dull slog, and he put it late enough in the novel that the reader was invested enough to read, skim, or skip, but still.

Not that Cory's exposition was dull to me, but I'll be curious to see how it works with a general audience. I've already passed the recommendation on to my co-workers.

#82 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2008, 06:00 AM:

I wonder how quickly LB will start showing up on banned books lists?

"Don't Taze Me" -- L'il Bro

Just finished the book a few minutes ago. Sleep is for the weak. heh.

#83 ::: Benedict Leigh ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2008, 06:08 AM:

I've just finished the book, and will be buying a copy for my daughter. I loved it and found the exposition really interesting. I've never really understood how a lot of the privacy technology worked and feel I understand it, although I fear this is an illusion due to evaporate within a week - I had the same feeling about codes after finishing Cryptonomicon).

I'm troubled by the upbeat ending - I guess that it's necessary (polemically) and hopeful. I'd really enjoy* a 1984 ending. Here's hoping for a remix.

*appreciate? / be incredibly depressed by in a good way?

#84 ::: Ursula L ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2008, 07:43 AM:

It now occurs to me that this may be another way Marcus was naive. Where he perceived her as going unpunished, they were actually dropping the charges so they could send her to Iraq to stage her killing by "insurgents."

This reminds me of Americans asking why German guards didn't ask for transfers away from concentration camps, since they weren't "punished."

But the transfer was inevitably to the Russian front, which was considered to be certain death - far more inevitable than even an assignment to Iraq would be for a US soldier. The surprising thing is not that many guards did not ask for transfers, but that many did, knowing they would likely die, and very often getting killed.

I think it may be typical of authoritarian societies, that there are a variety of things that can be done to you that are not officially punishment, and which may not scan as "punishment" to an outside eye, but which are, nevertheless, severe punishment, and used by the authorities to maintain control.

#85 ::: Chris Ashley ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2008, 09:31 AM:

/delurk

While I enjoyed the book very much, reading it while in the middle of Paranoia Agent was unfortunate. I kept picturing Marcus as Shonen Bat.

/relurk

#86 ::: Sian Hogan ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2008, 09:58 AM:

I really enjoyed it. Yes, I felt like it was preachy, in parts, but I also felt that the preachiness came at least as much from Marcus as from Cory Doctorow, and that he (Marcus) had earned the right to preach. It was scary, and almost nightmarish in places. (Wierdly, as well as "Nineteen Eighty-Four", the atmosphere strongly reminded me of "The Man Who Was Thursday", perhaps because of the 'who to trust' issues.) It was swift, and clever and I didn't know how it was going to end. I value that in a book.

And I love cocky main characters, especially if they're teens or children, because I think that one of the slowest parts of growing up is recognising your own limitations. And the more intelligent and pro-active a person is, compared to their local norm, the longer that takes. I also loved Marcus because he began to recognise his personal limitations, the fact that he wasn't the cleverest person in the whole wide world, without falling it to the trap of thinking that therefore his views and actions were irrelevant. That's a powerful, heady and explosive sort of mindset to reach whilst still a teen.

I read it yesterday, all the way through, and will seriously consider investing in a copy (for lending-out purposes) once its out in the UK. Which is high praise, considering that I'm poor. There were plenty of things I didn't like (I'm not a fan of sex scenes generally, and I felt like I needed to know more about WHY the DHS would end up with a policy that meant keeping certain people locked up indefinitely purely out of embarrassment), but it was a book well worth reading, even just as a story.

(BTW, I'm under 25, but not far under.)

PS- It hadn't occurred to me that the posting to Iraq could be a punishment of sorts, what you guys have said about that is really interesting. I guess whether or not you think it IS a punishment depends on whether you think she ever did anything her Big Bosses would think was wrong, or ill-advised, and if so, how rare and valuable her talents seem to them. I'm not sure.

#87 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2008, 10:06 AM:

Lindra @ 67
It is much easier to make it seem as though there isn't a choice at all, true, and the question of "this pissed me off, what am I willing to risk to say or do something about it?" keeps me awake every few months thinking on what to do, what could be done and how it could be done,

One point that Little Brother makes only in passing, and should have made stronger, is that it's easier to rebel if your friends are standing beside you at the barricades. It's much harder for the people who start a movement that those who join it later, once the momentum is going. Even the experience of being gassed or shot at by riot police can create a feeling of solidarity among the demonstrators, as long as there are enough of them, because any sufficiently large group will contain a loudmouth who'll say something defiant before (usually he) thinks through the consequences, and the rest will pick it up. That's just the way we monkeys are, braver in a troop than alone.

Often exactly when you hit a particular part of the growth of self that happens in adolescence determines whether you find a group of people who will egg each other on to action, or remain silent. I, for instance, was lucky, I was 3 or 4 years younger than the people who started what we used to call "The Movement" in the early '60s, and I went to school with some of them, and had been impelled in that direction by all the Socialists and Communists of my parents' generation. If I'd been a couple years older, I might have opted for silence instead, for lack of support of my peers. And as it was, I turned away from it in the seventies, rationalizing that the job had largely been done, the rest was cleanup work. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.

And in real life the consequences of rebellion can be devastating for any given person, especially those who aren't white, male, and come from privileged backgrounds. Think of the Black Panthers, some of them systematically gunned down by police or put away in prison. Or Angela Davis, one of my idols, who cannot ever set foot in the United States again. I said upthread that successful revolutionaries had to be supremely (and unrealistically) confident of their abilities and the outcome; ask the unsuccessful ones (those that are still alive) whether it was worth it, and if they would do it again. Some would and some wouldn't. In that, Little Brother was more silent than I'm quite happy with; I think it would have been both more realistic and more respectful of the intelligence of the audience if Marcus had had to confront Daryl and Jolu at the end, and try, unsuccessfully, to convince them that his defiance had been justified.

#88 ::: Ursula L ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2008, 10:10 AM:

It hadn't occurred to me that the posting to Iraq could be a punishment of sorts, what you guys have said about that is really interesting. I guess whether or not you think it IS a punishment depends on whether you think she ever did anything her Big Bosses would think was wrong, or ill-advised, and if so, how rare and valuable her talents seem to them. I'm not sure.

I doubt the big bosses would think that the things we see her doing wrong were wrong. But she became a public embarrassment to them, one that needed to be made to go away. To them, her crime was not the abuse, but rather, not hiding the abuse well enough. So she is found "not guilty" of abuse - but sent to Iraq as punishment for her indiscretion.

#89 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2008, 10:26 AM:

Bruce Cohen @ 87: "I think it would have been both more realistic and more respectful of the intelligence of the audience if Marcus had had to confront Daryl and Jolu at the end, and try, unsuccessfully, to convince them that his defiance had been justified."

It seemed to me that Jolu, at least, absolutely respected Marcus's decision to fight. He just wasn't willing to risk it himself. Darryl--well, he never really had a choice either way, did he?

Marcus talking with Van, however, might be interesting.

(According to the WP article, Angela Davis currently teaches at UC Santa Cruz. Is that the same person?)

#90 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2008, 10:45 AM:

Benedict Leigh @83: Catharsis is a good word for that "incredibly depressed in a good way" feeling.

#91 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2008, 10:47 AM:

#76

There was the (description of?) video of the DHS people sitting around dissing the area because it's full of people who aren't conservative straight white males (summarizing it, because I'm at work and book isn't to hand).

People outside CA do, some of them, actually think that way. They're surprised when people from California actually are like them.

#92 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2008, 10:52 AM:

heresiarch - yes, I believe it's the same one.

#93 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2008, 10:56 AM:

heresiarch @ 89

(According to the WP article, Angela Davis currently teaches at UC Santa Cruz. Is that the same person?)

Yes, same person. Thanks for catching that. Too early in the morning, not enough coffee, brain wires crossed. I was thinking of someone else who's been exiled to Africa, and now I can't remember who I was thinking of. I'll Google, when I have some time during lunch.

#94 ::: Sian Hogan ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2008, 10:58 AM:

Ursula L @ 88

I absolutely agree that what her Big Bosses might think wrong is not the same as what most readers would think wrong. But I guess what I was groping towards was that where they may have thought she went wrong was not so much in being found out, as in acting in such a way as to be found out: that she was wrong in not going far enough. After all, if she'd never released Marcus, she wouldn't have been found out. And if their problem with her was that she wasn't ruthless enough, the question becomes whether people even more ruthless are in good enough supply that they can afford to waste someone who is nearly there. Or rather, whether she is a valuable enough resource to be redeployed or reinvented. (But this assumes that the Big Bosses are pretty much consciously evil rather than just very stupid indeed.)

But I am now probably over-thinking this all, and should cry "fiction!" to myself.

#95 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2008, 11:06 AM:

Earl Cooley III @ 82 -- I wonder how quickly LB will start showing up on banned books lists?

Did I ever mention here about the school system one county over from where I grew up? A few months ago, they decided to be proactive in preventing lawsuits from angry parents. So, they went to the ALA website, printed off the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books, and used it as a checklist for what to pull off the shelves of the school libraries. (Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's the point of the banned books list, soaring over their heads!)

I saw this in the local paper and immediately called my mother the librarian. She hit the roof. Angry letters were written to the school board and to the ALA.

I never found out the denouement, unfortunately. I hope they were made to put the books back.

But yes. In my household, books on the banned-books list had earned a badge of honor, like the Purple Heart of the book world. If Little Brother makes it onto that list, I will be angry, but I'll also be glad that it's earned enough attention for someone to think it's dangerous. Because it is dangerous -- but in a very, very good way.

#96 ::: Pete Darby ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2008, 11:40 AM:

@64 PJ Evans: I know, but in a bad novel, that would have been the OMG! reveal at the two thirds point... You know, like revealing that Tony Starks trademarked baby killing bombs have been sold to TEH TERRRISTS by teh BAD INDUSTRIALIST, OMG!

#97 ::: Ursula L ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2008, 12:02 PM:

Sian Hogan wrote: I absolutely agree that what her Big Bosses might think wrong is not the same as what most readers would think wrong. But I guess what I was groping towards was that where they may have thought she went wrong was not so much in being found out, as in acting in such a way as to be found out: that she was wrong in not going far enough. After all, if she'd never released Marcus, she wouldn't have been found out. And if their problem with her was that she wasn't ruthless enough, the question becomes whether people even more ruthless are in good enough supply that they can afford to waste someone who is nearly there. Or rather, whether she is a valuable enough resource to be redeployed or reinvented. (But this assumes that the Big Bosses are pretty much consciously evil rather than just very stupid indeed.)

But I am now probably over-thinking this all, and should cry "fiction!" to myself.

Given the current mess we're in, "consciously evil" doesn't seem like over-thinking it by much.

The punishment, in this case, works on several levels.

She's punished for getting caught. Other people see her punishment, and are brought into line (if this is what happens if you merely fail to be perfect in implementing the Evil Overlord's plan, what happens if you actually oppose it?) If she survives, she'll be cowed into being more ruthless out of fear of being sent to worse punishment, if not because she's made into a more ruthless person by nature. And if she's killed, then the message to others about the need to keep in line is all the more effective.

#98 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2008, 12:33 PM:

I saw Angela Davis speak at Brown back in February. She's an amazing speaker, bizarre in a way I'm not sure how to describe, and very effective, and I still think about some of the things she said every day.

#99 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2008, 12:42 PM:

In #53 Lola Raincoat writes:

Little Brother definitely has its heart in the right place, being a young adult novel about post-9/11 restrictions on civil liberties and how much that sucks, but the story gets hijacked by gizmo-worship. It's all, hey kids! here's how to build your own surveillence-free internet on your X-Boxes! here's how to subvert the tracking functions on your bus pass! here's how to have fun with a flash mob! So it ends up being, basically, Wired Magazine Escapes from Guantanamo Bay.

First, I think this is an accurate and eloquent description.

Second, I am a reader who would enjoy reading Wired Magazine Escapes from Guantanamo Bay. I infer that Lola is not.

There is a long tradition of novels for young people that contain an iron fist of instruction within a velvet glove of entertainment.

You can write a book like The Boy Electrician and teach kids how to wind coils. And some kids will read it. And some of those will build some of the experiments.

But you can also write a book where heroes who understand radio and electricity go off and have adventures finding the lost city of gold in the Andes. Where radio saves their bacon, and electrical knowledge allows them to build a gadget that helps catch the villain.

The second kind of book will make some readers want to wind coils.

Such readers will get hold of The Boy Electrician. After more trips to the hardware store, and more trips to the library, they get a ham license, or rig the sound and lighting for the school play.

I recently read Fred Erisman's Boys’ Books, Boys’ Dreams, and the Mystique of Flight, which is all about series aviation novels for U.S. boys, published from around 1910 until around 1960.* They vary a lot, of course, but a common urge found in them is to inspire excitement about aviation and "air-mindedness" in the reader.

Or, in the words of a later era, making aviation seem cool.

One of Hugo Gernsback's goals, in publishing fiction for his audience of electrical hobbyists, and later in creating the first science fiction magazine, was to get readers involved in science and technology by seducing them through entertainment. Another goal was to teach science in the stories themselves, at which he was perhaps less successful.

Nevertheless science fiction became a shared literature of the technoculture, right up through the Internet age. In the early Forties, the Manhattan Project was a dark secret, but the staff at Astounding noticed that they had somehow acquired more subscribers in Oak Ridge, Tennessee than in Boston, Massachusetts.

Poke around in the autobiographies of scientists, engineers, and programmers, and you'll find that a lot of them really did read juvenile gadget fiction, and really did wind the coils.

Tom Swift, the fictional boy inventor, was on Robert Heinlein's mind when he wrote a proposal for a series of juvenile novels in 1946. Series books of that sort, many of them filled with gadgets, were everywhere in Heinlein's youth.

He had just spent a frustrating year writing crusading articles to warn Americans about the dangers of atomic war and the unpleasant alternatives, urging that an international agency be formed to take control of nuclear weapons and technology. He couldn't sell them. He turned to books for kids. He called the series The Young Atomic Engineers, and the first one would involve a group of technically-skillful teenage boys in building and flying a nuclear-powered rocket to the Moon. This became Rocket Ship Galileo.

He gave up the idea of a Tom Swift-style series, but he kept writing for teenagers. His next novel was Space Cadet, about a young man who works for an international agency formed to take control of nuclear weapons...

Again and again in Heinlein's juvenile novels, understanding how stuff works is shown to be admirable and desirable. Circumscribed within the notions editors and teachers and librarians have about books that will sell to kids, Heinlein says: Study your math. Learn about the atom. Here's how relativity works. Smart engineers can improvise a solution. The solar system is your home.

Science fiction offers a huge number of other examples we could point to, but Heinlein is the leader here. He is certainly a role model for Cory Doctorow in writing Little Brother.

Now I could imagine "a young adult novel about post-9/11 restrictions on civil liberties and how much that sucks" which does not descend into "gizmo-worship." But that novel couldn't be written by Cory Doctorow, who is a gadget-happy, let-me-explain-it-to-you kind of guy.

I liked the book very much. I did read with one eye on its didactic purposes and its infodumps. Obviously its success hinges (as with so many other stories aimed at piquing the interest of the techie reader) on how skillfully it balances storytelling with here's-how instruction. It seems to me to work.

I am a guy who has read every single issue of Wired, though. So YMMV.

*It's quite good, but I don't expect very many Making Light readers to be interested in this topic at book length. Also, Erisman limits himself to series novels, so no standalones; U.S. only, so no Biggles; boys only, so none of the relatively few girl-aviatrix series.

#100 ::: Sian Hogan ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2008, 01:43 PM:

Ursula L-

You're probably right, even though it's a depressing comment on the current world. I shall go and be gloomy and despair over the state of the world for a minute. (Actually, I won't, because I just saw a deer trip over a rabbit whilst running away from a calf. And that's comedy gold. - No one was hurt.)

David Manheim @ 71

Don't start a campaign to ban it! Even if it would get more people reading it. It would skew the results of my planned experiment to test how close we've got to the world depicted in "Little Brother" by charting the number and extent of the authorities and organisations that try to ban the book. If people who like it start pitching in, I may begin to believe the world is even worse than it actually is.

#101 ::: Cynthia Gonsalves ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2008, 05:04 PM:

PJ @ 91

Yeah, that was the scene I was thinking of. Sounded like a lot of the California (and most particularly Bay Area) bashing I've heard over the years that assumes our eventual falling into the ocean is a just punishment for our depravity, etc. (insert other similar dreck).

Unfortunately in my most paranoid conspiracy theorist moments, I can well imagine the current DHS not needing much provocation to drop the hammer on us.

#102 ::: Josh Larios ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2008, 08:40 PM:

There was only one moment in any of the infodump sections of the book where I went back and re-read it because I didn't think it was right. From the web of trust section:

But if you want to understand security, you need to consider the most paranoid possibilities. Like, what if I tricked you into thinking that my public key was your boss's public key? You'd encrypt the message with your private key and my public key. I'd decrypt it, read it, re-encrypt it with your boss's real public key and send it on. As far as your boss knows, no one but you could have written the message and no one but him could have read it.
I'm still not sure that's right. That's only a problem if you sign the plaintext first, and then encrypt. If you encrypt to the recipient first and then sign that, the man in the middle can certainly open and read the plaintext, but he can't change who it's encrypted to and then re-send it with your signature. The only way for that attack to work is for both of the correspondents to have the wrong public keys for each other. The web of trust does protect against that, so it still makes sense. But there's a piece missing from the explanation.

Given that the book is full of topics I'm interested in, and I can only think of one case where I feel like I might have spotted a technical flaw, I'm not complaining. I'm used to experiences more like Jurassic Park's ridiculous "it's a unix system--I know this".

I'm going to buy a copy for my less technical, just-turned-25 brother and see what he thinks of it. It pushes all the right buttons for me, but given what it's about, I expected it to.

#103 ::: lightning ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2008, 10:42 PM:

Josh@102:

Yeah, it's a problem keeping all of the back- and- forth stuff straight. This is a problem with any crypto protocol. It's easier with a diagram, but I suspect that this wouldn't go over too well in a novel.

The "man in the middle" attack works if and only if the MitM controls *all* communication between the two parties. The "web of trust" is effectively another communication channel that the MitM can't control.

The "Clipper Chip" proposed by the US Government in 1993 as the standard for "sensitive, unclassified" data was perfectly designed to be vulnerable to a MitM attack. That was far from its only problem; it's an excellent example of What Not To Do and How Not To Do It.

#104 ::: Dan Hoey ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2008, 12:22 AM:

Count me as one who doesn't think the Iraq mission was a punishment in any sense. I read it as relocation of a valuable tool to a position where it couldn't be compromised by subpeona or interrogation or coercion.

I'm concerned that my previous comments were too negative. I personally found too much of my goshwow diluted with stuff I've already done goswow with—public key crypto, man in the middle, RFIDs, hardware tampering, keystroke monitoring, flash crowds, key signing parties, cold boots... I won't say I didn't learn some interesting things. I really wonder how well the doot-doot bugfinder works, and I'm intrigued in imagining the mechanism of the microwave grape plasma (having cracked Swanwick's luminous pickle, I believe). But I hope and suspect this is a concentrated bit of goshwow to people who haven't had quite the exposure. So this may be a very, very important eye-opener to the proto-geeks.

#105 ::: Dan Hoey ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2008, 12:34 AM:

PJ@91—There was the (description of?) video of the DHS people sitting around dissing the [Bay] area.

I recall they weren't so much sincerely dissing as discussing how to use the culture division to drive a wedge between anti-DHS factions and the mainstream.

#106 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2008, 12:49 AM:

Xopher, #77, Palfrey was happy to name names. There were not only ex-pros in court, but some very uncomfortable johns. She wanted to make some money by selling the names of the johns, but she wasn't willing to go back to jail again.

Having been the leader of my high school's group in the march on the Pentagon (and spending hours in a cell without being arrested or charged), it seems unlikely to me that Marcus could get the city back so easily with Barbara. Look at the Weather Underground, SDS, Black Panthers, so many more -- there comes a time when you're irrelevant. When I talk to teens now about the march, they ask if I put flowers in soldiers' rifles. No, that was an actor and he did it for the fame. They never get the motive for the march.

And I'd like to know how DHS had enough skilled employees in SF to immediately start imprisoning people after the bombs when off, if they didn't know the bombs were going to go off. Marcus and friends weren't just a lucky catch, they had lots of people at Treasure Island.

As to we geeky folk expounding details of technical stuff to others, I've gotten better at not doing that unprompted.

#107 ::: Paul ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2008, 05:41 AM:

@106:And I'd like to know how DHS had enough skilled employees in SF to immediately start imprisoning people after the bombs when off, if they didn't know the bombs were going to go off. Marcus and friends weren't just a lucky catch, they had lots of people at Treasure Island.

Yes, clearly DHS had a lot of assets already in place. Is Doctorow implying that DHS had an inkling an attack was coming, and was ready for its aftermath in advance?

#108 ::: lightning ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2008, 11:42 AM:

Paul @107

Is Doctorow implying that DHS had an inkling an attack was coming, and was ready for its aftermath in advance?

Hundreds of trucks materializing in a few days? I'd say so. Also:


  • Terrorism is theater. Terrorists don't go for maximum casualties or disruption; they go for symbolic impact. If *real* terrorists attacked SF, they'd go for the Golden Gate.

  • The charges on the bridge were set by people whp knew exacatly what they were doing. There were a lot of charges; you'd think somebody would notice.

  • Like somebody from a nearby Army base?

#109 ::: lightning ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2008, 11:59 AM:

Dan @105:

I remember hearing that anti- SF rant from some right-wing talking head. I think it was a talk-show type (Scarbourough?) rather than a politico like Karl Rove.

It was almost word- for- word for the rant in the book.

#110 ::: Scott Harris ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2008, 01:28 PM:

My one niggle was at the end, where the journalist says that Marcus and the others can't be released from Gitmo-on-the-Bay until the charges against them are resolved. I completely missed the part where charges or indictments of any kind were actually brought against him in the first place... and would have thought that he would have been released to his parents immediately pending the decision of the local (or federal) prosecutors as to whether to bring any charges at all. It's not as though he was technically under arrest by the DHS - he was just detained.

#111 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2008, 01:55 PM:

Scott @ 110

Cell phone.
He still had Masha's phone; they reduced the charge because he was going to return it as soon as he could. He was living in some kind of work-release program, too.

#112 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2008, 01:59 PM:

Scott 110: Yeah, some of the finer points of US law seem to be wrong here and there. Can a judge impose additional charges on a defendant at arraignment, for example? If they can, then the judge in LB was very clever—he made sure there was a true charge so the gummint could drop all the serious charges without losing face.

#113 ::: Devin L. Ganger ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2008, 04:29 PM:

Being sent to Iraq wasn't punishment. Service in a war zone is a great way to rehabilitate any black marks on a career.

#114 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2008, 05:57 PM:

Devin 113: I'm sure that's just what they told her!

#115 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2008, 06:24 PM:

Xopher @ 114: And it's true. Risk, like fire, is a great refiner.

#116 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2008, 07:29 PM:

P J @111

But he took Masha's phone while escaping from Masha: she'd effectively kidnapped him. He could not have gotten away from her without it, since to get away he used it as a bludgeon. Surely that's an extenuating circumstance. (And golly, your Honor, once he found himself free he did his best to get the phone to a responsible adult. Why, he didn't even let its batteries run down.)

A conviction for theft is a non-trivial matter; I do not find it credible that Marcus and family did not fight that one, despite the plea-bargain offer. The charges that were bargained away were on shaky ground already.

(That's one issue I had with the ending, the arrival of the CHP in the nick of time being the other. That said, I very much enjoyed the book, including the infodumps.)

#117 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2008, 10:14 PM:

With all due respect, I feel that saying that something is "gizmo-worship" is just an uncomplimentary way saying "there's lots of specific detail about particular technology."

I think there's a world of mistaken thinking compressed into that. Technological particulars matter. They matter very much indeed to the whole project of trying to make a more humane world. Dismissing a focus on them as "gizmo-worship" seems to emerge from a worldview in which science and technology are simply big remote forces that spew out "gizmos" the specifics of which aren't important, one gizmo being much like another, after all.

Technological choices aren't, in fact, interchangeable; every one carries with it a whole world of human possibilities opened up, and of human possibilities closed off. If you think discussing that is simply "worship" of "gizmos", I literally don't know how to talk to you.

#118 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2008, 11:11 PM:

John 115: Let's hope she takes more risk than is justified or safe...or survivable.

#119 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2008, 05:08 AM:

Patrick Nielsen Hayden @ 117: "Technological choices aren't, in fact, interchangeable; every one carries with it a whole world of human possibilities opened up, and of human possibilities closed off. If you think discussing that is simply "worship" of "gizmos", I literally don't know how to talk to you."

Thanks for that. I was bothered by those comments too, but wasn't quite able to articulate why. Actually, now that I think about it, challenging the attitude that tech doesn't matter is a pretty major theme in Little Brother, isn't it?

#120 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2008, 10:13 AM:

An interesting remark Claude Lalumiere made about it yesterday was how libertarian it was, for Cory. I hadn't thought about that, but it is.

#121 ::: myrthe ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2008, 10:38 AM:

So is there any code in the allocation of bookstores to chapters? Like what did poor Barnes and Nobles do to deserve the initial torture chapter? What are you saying there Cory, huh? And I haven't checked, who got dedicated the sex scene chapter?

<jk>

I loved it, myself. I'm debating whether to wait for an Australian release or buy many copies now. Meantime, I distract myself by learning Python.

#122 ::: Scott Harris ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2008, 03:08 PM:

PJ @ 111:

I'm not disputing that he may have *committed* certain crimes, such as stealing Masha's phone (although he could have said he simply borrowed it, she not being likely to ever dispute his claim). However, at the time the journo told him he couldn't simply be released, he had neither been charged nor specifically arrested for *any* of them as yet. Seems like he (and the others) should have been released, and then arrested if and only if a prosecutor decided they had done something worth prosecuting. As the judge's adding the charge from the bench shows, nobody was thinking that he was 'in there' for stealing a cell phone, so it's not really relevant to the question of what to do with the prisoners at the point Gitmo-on-the-Bay is liberated.

Now, in a world where DHS has this much power, the gubmint probably has at least as tame a Justice Department as it has now, so I could easily imagine the Feds announcing a slew of specific charges for all the 'inmates' while the CHP was still in the process of getting through all the doors. Of course, in that case... okay, can anybody recall if the judge in the book was presiding over a state or federal court? I don't recall.

#123 ::: Sylvia Li ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2008, 03:29 PM:

I read the HTML version online, and promised myself that the next time I was in a bookstore I'd buy a paper copy. That turned out to be yesterday, at Indigo's flagship store just off Bloor Street in Toronto (chapter 15 dedication: the online press conference that doesn't work out as planned). Rather than search the book out myself, as I usually do, I asked, and used that as a springboard to talk it up to the (quite knowledgeable) woman in the YA dept.

I told her it was about freedom of speech and the right to privacy, and that it had a page-turning plot. I suggested it had the potential to change the life of a thirteen-year-old. As an afterthought, I mentioned that I wouldn't recommend it for younger children... and now I'm not so sure I should have done that.

There are certainly kids younger than 13 with a reading level quite capable of handling Little Brother. I used to think that if a kid was able to read a book, and wanted to read it, he/she should be allowed to read it. Any book.

Maybe I still think that. Mostly. I don't know.

It was the torture scenes that made me warn the clerk, not the sex explorations. Kids too young to be interested in sex tend to skip right over steamy passages -- and if they are old enough to be interested and this happens to be their first encounter with a written sex scene, the stuff in Little Brother is healthy enough to be a lot better introduction than many other things kids are likely to run into these days.

Not so, the torture. Even quite young children understand being hurt well enough to be very frightened by it, and it could happen that they wouldn't know how to look away.

On rereading, I see this is only a confused ramble, not an organized position. But I'm going to post it anyway.

#124 ::: Spherical Time ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2008, 03:36 PM:

Carrie S. back at post 26.

So now that you've read the ARC and hated it, I don't suppose that you'd be willing to send it on to someone that liked it but replied too late to get an ARC copy, namely me?

I'd be perfectly willing to pay postage on it.

If so, email me. sphericaltime at gmail

Thanks.

#125 ::: Lola Raincoat ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2008, 04:24 PM:

Bill Higgins @99, Patrick Neilsen Hayden @117, Heresiarch @119:

My earlier post was a great example of hamfisted use of new(ish) technology - by me, I mean - caused by poor understanding of the social context - my own poor understanding, I mean. Which is to say that I shouldn't have cut-and-pasted my notes on LB straight out of my livejournal entry, because they meant something different there than they meant here. Can I, with apologies, try to write out more clearly and less flippantly what I hoped the people I usually talk with on LJ understood me to mean, the first time around?

Those people know I'm a historian specializing in 20th-century Mexico, and an occasional political activist, and so I am very interested in the causes of abrupt political and social change. (How and why human things change is the central concern of all historians, really.) I'm not especially interested in technological change for its own sake, but I'm not dismissive of it either. Sometimes technological change creates other kinds of change; more often - in my opinion, and some historians disagree - it reflects underlying economic, social, and/or cultural changes. And imo "technological choice" does not ever (well, hardly ever) by itself determine a political outcome.

[Footnote: There's a pretty good article by Jill Lepore on this argument among historians in the latest New Yorker. Or if you wanted specific examples of how cultural change creates or thwarts technological change, look at Jeff Pilcher's book, Que Vivan las Tamales, on the history of Mexican food and in particular the uses of the blender and refrigerator.]

So that background and set of interests, in the context of a long sporadic conversation among my friends-list friends on lj about politics and the national security state, was what prompted my post to lj about LB. When I wrote "gizmo-worship," I did not actually mean that Doctorow does too much info-dumping. I *liked* all the the "specific detail about particular technology." My complaint was that the level of complexity and thought that went into the technological detail was not sustained in showing how the technology related to the creation of a political movement. Does one cause the other? How? Which way do the arrows of causation point?

That aspect of LB reminded me a bit of some thetoric from the last US presidential campaign, in which the interwebs was going to get Dean elected, you remember? As it turned out, yes, new forms of communication did make a huge impact in the US political process - but not in a simple, predictable, or monocausal way. Real life turned out to be a lot more weird and unpredictable the plot of Dean's campaign, or of LB.

So, anyway, I wasn't really complaining about the technology info-dumping at all. I was wishing that everything else in the novel could have been as well-thought-out, well-researched, sophisticated and surprising as the parts about the gizmos.

My apologies for not writing this all out in the first place. I hope this is clearer and less disagreeable. And my thanks, Patrick, for sending out the ARC in the first place. (I passed it on to a college-age friend, and will be interested to see what she makes of it.)

#126 ::: HP ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2008, 10:23 AM:

I believe I am now officially the last person in the world to finish reading Little Brother. I haven't read a YA novel since I was, well, an older child, and most of my observations stem from that. But I want to mention some things that no one else has brought up.

I wasn't bothered by the longer expository bits on technology, but I was a bit confused by the choices regarding appositives to explain "exotic" things. Why did things like uni sushi, horchatas, leetspeak, etc., get the appositive treatment? Is it an assumption about flyover country? Because I can think of a couple places in rural northern Kentucky where you can gorge yourself on unimaki and then drive a couple of miles and wash it down with a horchata if that's what you want to do. And when I talk sushi or real taqueria food with friends, my age cohort acts like I'm some kind of freak, but my younger friends know exactly what I'm talking about. And leetspeak -- is there a thirteen-year-old alive who doesn't know what "h4wt" means?

But at other times, writerly words like caltrops and sere come out of Marcus's mouth without any explanation.

This isn't a criticism, mind you; I'm just curious about the decision-making that occurs when a bunch of adults are deciding what needs explaining to a juvenile audience.

---

No one's mentioned the character of Charles. I really liked the inclusion of the character, because he seemed like a such a throwback to classic Juvenile fiction. He is Bugs Meany to Marcus's Encyclopedia Brown. In a way, it took me out of the story (although we've all known people like Charles), but it was a such a wonderful literary nod that I cheered whenever he showed up.

---

One thing I noticed right away was Cory's use of pop culture references in the same way that a more traditional writer might use Shakespeare or the King James Bible. "When in trouble or in doubt,..." for example, or "are belong to us." It seems like a really natural progression of language. I could've used more of that. And then, after this pattern of pop-culture quotation has been established, when Marcus-as-narrator, strapped to the waterboard, says, "Gitmo-on-the-bay was in the hands of its enemies. I was saved," I cheered, even though I doubt that Marcus-as-character would have read enough Poe to quote him. But hey, Poe. And someday some kid will read Little Brother, and then later read The Pit and the Pendulum, and make a connection. And that warms my heart.

#127 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2008, 10:50 AM:

Lola Raincoat @ 125: "I'm not especially interested in technological change for its own sake, but I'm not dismissive of it either. Sometimes technological change creates other kinds of change; more often - in my opinion, and some historians disagree - it reflects underlying economic, social, and/or cultural changes."

I think you radically underestimate the effects of technology on social and political change. While I don't think technology determines what people will do, it does define the problem space: what sets of solutions are possible. However, I doubt I'll change your mind via a casual internet discussion,* so let's just say I see Doctorow's emphasis on the ways tech effects culture to be a plus, not a minus.

*Okay. I am weak. Take the Industrial Revolution--how can you even talk about the massive shift of humanity to the urban centers without understanding the technological changes in agriculture that made it possible to produce more food with less labor? It was that excess of labor that drove labor costs down and made factory-style production economically competitive, jumpstarting a whole suite of cultural and social changes. It's the biggest social, political, and cultural change in the history of the planet, and it was all due to a technological revolution.

#128 ::: Lola Raincoat ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2008, 12:33 PM:

Heresiarch @127:

Well, you call it weakness, I call it a good time. Casual internet discussion of the big historical questions is a great way to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon. So you said:

how can you even talk about the massive shift of humanity to the urban centers without understanding the technological changes in agriculture that made it possible to produce more food with less labor? It was that excess of labor that drove labor costs down and made factory-style production economically competitive, jumpstarting a whole suite of cultural and social changes. It's the biggest social, political, and cultural change in the history of the planet, and it was all due to a technological revolution.

Okay, so your historical narrative here is

1. Calorie-dense food becomes widely available, which causes

2. The formation of a workforce for factories, which causes

3. urbanization.

That version of the story comes up a lot. But it doesn't fit the facts. Chronology makes the story a whole lot more complex. The major agricultural innovations of which you speak are the invention of manioc, sugar, potatoes, and corn (in diminishing order of importance.) Obviously, this happens well before the minor urbanization of the 18th c. in Europe, the grander urbanization of the 19th c. in North America and western Europe, and then the really impressive urbanization of the 20th c. in Africa, the Americas (except for the anglophone bits) and Asia. And most of those urbanizations preceded the advent of industrialization (if you mean to take large-scale water- or steam-powered factory production of textiles as the marker for industrialization, which most but not all historians do) by decades or centuries. Or in some cases (Nairobi, Mexico City, Rio) they were obviously not caused directly by it.

But let's say you didn't mean the technological innovation of the those calorie-dense, labor-saving (except for sugar) crops. Let's say you meant the technological innovations that made those foods widely available to potential factory workers in the bits of the world that industrialized - and, just as importantly, made them available to the enslaved plantation laborers who produced the raw materials required by the new factories, which is where manioc enters the story. You have a good point - industrialization did depend on a new labor force, who did depend on these "new" foods. But I can't think of what technological change caused those laborers and those foodstuffs to become more widely available. Instead, the key causes were military, political, and economic.

Workers in the British Isles, for example, were pulled into expanding cities of the Atlantic coast because they were pushed out of the countryside by the enclosure of common fields by aristocrats, and the English land grab in Ireland. Switching to a diet based in sugar and potatoes made them less likely to starve or riot, and more available as factory workers when the factories appeared. But that change in diet did not create Manchester in the 19th century, it just made Manchester slightly less awful.

Or take the big Mexican cities - Mexico City above all, but also Los Angeles, Monterrey, Torreon, Chicago. There the population boom happened stunningly fast, but it happened as a consequence of the Mexican revolution. Mexico City, for example, had a fluctuating population throughout the 1880-1910 period, peaking at about 100,000. Then the war came, and the city's population grew to nearly a million by 1930. The destruction of the war in the countryside that pulled people into the cities was made possible by trains, more than any other technology, but then trains were hardly an innovation in 1911, even in Mexico, and trains didn't cause the war itself.

Again, I'm not saying that technology, and the choices people make about what to adopt and adapt in new technology, are irrelevant to history - not at all! But we shouldn't ascribe agency, or causal force, to technological change. Our past, and our present, are more complicated than that.

#129 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2008, 03:45 PM:

Lola Raincoat (128): I interpreted heresiarch's technological changes in agriculture that made it possible to produce more food with less labor to mean things like threshing machines, rather than new foodstuffs like the invention of manioc, sugar, potatoes, and corn. Does that change your argument any?

#130 ::: Lola Raincoat ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2008, 06:28 PM:

Mary Aileen @129

Huh. That would make Heresiarch's argument so much weaker that it didn't occur to me that he might have meant that. Here's why: innovations like hay balers, threshers, barb wire, petroleum-based fertilizers and refrigerated shipping mostly come along well after the urbanization of the North Atlantic world had begun. Plus, they mainly supported food industries unrelated to the foods that fed the plantation slaves and factory workers of the industrial revolution; the technologies for producing, storing and transporting sugar, potatoes, and manioc changed relatively little between 1600 and 1900.

Now, you could make a case for refrigerated shipping calling a whole new political system into being in parts of the Americas - there wouldn't be banana republics without a banana industry, which was impossible with refrigerated shipping - but that's a far more contained example than the sweeping equation that Heresiarch is making, and somewhat more recent as well. Also refrigerated shipping was in my opinion necessary but not sufficient in the formation of the banana republics - US informal and formal imperialism was also part of that story. Still, that's the best case I can think of for changes in agricultural technology creating large-scale social change.

Sorry to go on at such length!

#131 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2008, 06:31 PM:

Lola Raincoat (130): No need for apologies, that's very interesting.

#132 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2008, 11:06 PM:

Are the bookstore dedications online? City Lights is the only bookstore I recall mentioned in the hardcover edition.

#133 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2008, 12:16 AM:

Lola Raincoat @ 128 "Okay, so your historical narrative here is 1. Calorie-dense food becomes widely available, which causes 2. The formation of a workforce for factories, which causes 3. urbanization."

Almost, but not quite. 1. in my account is the Agricultural Revolution, which was a whole set of technological advances, including some mechanization, the widespread use of nitrogen-fixing crops to improve land-productivity, and some incumbent social changes (Enclosure, etc.) It wasn't the introduction of new crops per se--it was being able to grow the old crops much more efficiently. It took fewer people to grow the same amount of food, and they could do it on less land. This meant that a) a smaller percentage of the population was needed to produce food for the whole and b) the same amount of arable land (i.e. England) could feed more people. This produced an excess of humanity who used to work the land, but were no longer needed.

The Agricultural Revolution in Britain proved to be a major turning point in history. The population in 1750 reached the level of 5.7 million. This had happened before: in around 1300 and again in 1650. Each time, the appropriate agricultural infrastructure to support a population this high was not present, and the population fell. However, by 1750, when the population reached this level again, an onset in agricultural technology and new methodology allowed the population growth to be sustained.

For centuries, the population had been capped by the available technology. With the technology they had had, they simply couldn't support a large non-farming population. It was only when the more efficient farming methods were invented that industrialization--dependent on a large non-farming population--was made possible.

#134 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2008, 05:48 AM:

But at other times, writerly words like caltrops and sere come out of Marcus's mouth without any explanation.

"Caltrop", like "falchion", "vambrace", "austringer", "barbican", "avatar", "baldric" and "destrier", is not a writerly word so much as a everyday one for those of use who spent too much time in our teens playing RPGs.

#135 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2008, 07:23 AM:

Lola Raincoat #128: By 'war' do you mean the Mexican Revolution?

The great British industrial cities of Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, and Birmingham, not to mention London, the biggest of them all, are not situated on the Atlantic coast.

#136 ::: Craig ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2008, 09:41 AM:

Xopher@69: Let me just do a simple example.

Suppose N = 15 (P, Q = 3,5).
Take a number t, not divisible by P or Q. Say, 7.

The t^{(3-1) * (5-1)} = t^8 = 5764801.

t^8 = 384320 * 15 + 1 = 1 (mod 15).

Does this help?

#137 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2008, 10:40 AM:

Fragano # 135
Canals.

Okay, they aren't the same, but they did move a lot of stuff that way.

#138 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2008, 10:56 AM:

Craig 136: Yes, it helps in understanding the mathematical law in question. Could you use the values in this example to do an encryption example? I don't mean the actual numbers, but just which of those things becomes the public key and which the private key, etc.? (I know that these primes are too small to be useful for real-world encryption, but if you explain with this example I'll be able to extrapolate.)

#139 ::: Skwid ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2008, 12:23 PM:

JDC @ #9, I assumed he was referring to Return to Castle Wolfenstein, which is certainly old, but not inconcievably old.

I picked up a copy of LB on Saturday and read it in one sitting on Sunday, and immediately wrote my review, something that basically never happens anymore (my current booklog backlog is over a year behind...I find that I have to reread a book to review it, more often than not). So, kudos to Cory on writing something this gripping and motivating.

#140 ::: Skwid ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2008, 04:01 PM:

Wow, talk about contextual relevance...I just saw this on /.:

To Curb Truancy, Dallas Tries Electronic Monitoring
The New York Times is reporting that a school district in Texas is trying a new angle in combating truancy. Instead of punishing students with detention they are tagging them with electronic monitoring devices.

For added impact, I live in the Dallas suburbs. I love this city, but sometimes I hate its citizens.

#141 ::: Lola Raincoat ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2008, 08:08 PM:

Heresiarch@133:

Thank you for the clarification. I still think that your narrative has two serious flaws.

First, you have the causation back-to-front at one point at least: enclosure and related "social changes" were not "incumbent upon" technological developments, but created the need for them. Enclosure was political, part of a long-term struggle by a small group of people to get and keep power. The Wikipedia article you cite obscures this through the use of the passive voice, but enclosure (and other political methods of emptying out land) didn't just happen, nor were these changes determined by the arrival of new technology. Rather, some people caused these transformations in living patterns to happen as part of a strategy to get control over British rural land and rural people. Once they had control of the land, they had to figure out what to do with it, which is where agricultural innovation came in. And of course the story is infinitely more complicated than that, but the basic outline there is just ... backward.

Second, if you look at what those early factory workers and their families actually ate - and this is true pretty much across the nineteenth century, across the industrialized world, and well into the twentieth in some places - most of their calories did not come from newly efficient versions of old crops, but from potatoes and sugar. And if you look at the major calorie sources of the people producing the sugar, and the people producing the cotton which the factories required, that's manioc (and a whole bunch of other stuff, because of the geographic range of plantation slavery, but manioc everywhere.) The story as you tell it here confuses correlation with causation, partly because it assumes static demography, economy, and level of engagement with global markets in the places in the world that did not urbanize and industrialize. Which is a whole other kettle of historiographic fish.

Frangano@135:

Yes, by "war" there I was referring to the Mexican Revolution.

And you're right, "coast" was the wrong word. I should have written "Atlantic world" but hesitated to use historians' jargon. Anyway, my intention was to include the cities in the eastern half of North America and in the British Isles that boomed in the initial decades of the industrial revolution - not just Liverpool etc. but also Pittsburgh and Toronto and so on.

#142 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2008, 08:19 PM:

ISTM that Little Brother is also part of the subgenre of YA lit dealing with the problem of How Do We Get Boys to Read.

#143 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2008, 08:29 PM:

Lola @ 141: Have you read John Barnes' essay "Two Cheers for Ned Ludd"?

If so, what did you think of it?

#144 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2008, 09:11 PM:

P.J. Evans #137: So they did.

#145 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2008, 09:25 PM:

Lola Raincoat #141: Presuming that by 'Frangano' you mean me, thanks for clearing things up. I was wondering what war other than the Revolution had broken out in early twentieth-century Mexico.

I think 'Atlantic world' has travelled far enough beyond the historians not to count as jargon any more (and Peter Smith tells me I've moved on to bigger and better things). I don't think Paul Gilroy would object much.

The people producing sugar on the plantations of the Caribbean and northeastern Brazil were eating a lot more than cassava, though that was certainly a staple. They were also eating breadfruit, dasheen, yams (dioscorea), sweet potatoes, white potatoes, ackee, mangoes, sapodilla, salt cod, salt beef, corn, and custard apples. Breadfruit, for example,was introduced as a staple in the late 18th century. Yams were brought from Africa. Sweet potatoes were a staple along with cassava throughout the American sugar growing region.

Come to think of it, apart from the salt cod, I've worked to raise almost all of those myself.

#146 ::: Lola Raincoat ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2008, 09:41 PM:

John A Arkansawyer@143: Nope, haven't even heard of it. What do you think of it?

Fragano Ledgister@145: Sorry about the misspelling.

I might, just possibly, have been referring to the Cristero War of the 1920s in Mexico - but that conflict was a lot shorter, somewhat more geographically limited, and less destructive than the Revolution.

And yes, most plantation slaves had a somewhat more varied diet than just manioc, depending on where and when we're looking at. On smaller Caribbean islands at points when the value of sugar was high and the value of slaves was relatively low, planters didn't see much economic advantage in allowing enslaved people to use up land on kitchen gardens. This changed as slaves became more expensive, after the British starting shutting down the slave trade ... but I'm guessing you know some of this. And have you really raised all those fruits and vegetables? Wow.

#147 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2008, 02:00 AM:

Lola Raincoat

You make some very interesting points! First, something I missed the last time around:

@ 128: "Obviously, this happens well before the minor urbanization of the 18th c. in Europe, the grander urbanization of the 19th c. in North America and western Europe.... And most of those urbanizations preceded the advent of industrialization (...) by decades or centuries."

I'm not sure how this is supposed to be an argument against their importance to subsequent developments. What I said @ 127 was that technology doesn't determine what people do, but it does determine the shape of the problem space--what solutions are possible? Increased agricultural production (however it happened) didn't cause urbanization, and urbanization didn't cause industrialization, but they each made the latter possible. Without more efficient agriculture, urbanization simply wasn't even an option, and without urbanization, neither was industrialization. They set the necessary preconditions.

@ 141: "Enclosure was political, part of a long-term struggle by a small group of people to get and keep power."

Doesn't this equally well describe all of history? I don't deny the political motivations behind Enclosure, but it had been an issue in England for centuries. Suddenly, in the late 18th century, it went from a subject of fierce debate (with many power-holders fighting against it) to the status quo. What changed? Not the political motivations behind consolidating power.

What changed, I think, was the benefits of enclosure. Previously, enclosing a piece of land didn't improve its production--it only directed the profits to one person. With the advent of more sophisticated, capital-intensive farming methods, enclosing didn't just increase control, it actually increased profits. This made enclosure an exponentially accelerating process--enclosing one field generated enough excess wealth to buy another field ans so on, which together generated enough wealth to buy an Act of Parliament. Technological advances, which could be best practiced in enclosed fields, gave enclosure a competitive advantage vis a vis commons.

(IANAEconomicHistorian, so if all this sounds like nonsense to you, well, you're probably right. However, I enjoy my delusions =))

#148 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2008, 06:56 AM:

Lola @ 146: It's an essay written for a general audience inclined to feel unkindly toward the Luddites, and with the intent to soften that inclination, with an eye toward the present.

It argues (working from memory here) that the Luddites were not anti-technology per se, but were resisting a technology imposed on them against their interests. It also argues that while the long term benefits of that technology were to the common good, the short term effects were destructive and that the resistance of the Luddites (in a lost cause) lessened those effects.

I found it convincing and well-suited to its purpose (assuming I understand the author's intent). I recommend it often to its target audience and others.

#149 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2008, 11:34 AM:

Lola Raincoat #146: The Cristero War was localised enough and brief enough to have an impact on only one part of Mexico, after all, as opposed to the whole country.

Aside from a couple of islands such Antigua and Barbados, where pretty much all arable land was in sugar, there was always some part of the Caribbean during slavery where slaves could cultivate their own kitchen gardens. Plus, planters raised cattle mostly for motive power, so there was always a small amount of fresh beef around (even if the planters seem to have eaten most of it). A lot depended, of course, on the island (or mainland colony). Colonies with high risk of marronage, such as Dominica, or Saint Domingue/Santo Domingo, or Jamaica, or Surinam, also had notable levels of of kitchen gardening (often because planters would give marginal land to slaves to cultivate for themselves).

As part of my moderately checkered life, I spent seven years on a medium-sized mixed farm in Jamaica. Part of the farmhouse dated back to the 18th century. We raised cattle, goats, sheep, pigs, and chickens. We had breadfruit, ackee, citrus, coffee, sweetsop, soursop, june plum, starapple, alligator pear, mango, pimento, and acerola trees. And we raised yams, sweet potatoes, cassava, white potatoes, gungo, red beans, corn, chocho, taro, amaranth, and sugar cane. We had very little that wouldn't have been familiar to a slave (or a planter) in the 18th century.


#150 ::: Craig ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2008, 12:21 PM:

Xopher@138:

Okay. So your modulus is N = 15 (which we know, in secret = 3*5).

Your text, which you wish to encrypt, is t = 7.

Pick an exponent e as your private key. It should be relatively prime to the special exponent which gets you back to 1 (in this case, (3-1)*(5-1) = 8).

Let's pick e = 3. Then d, your public key, is a number such that
d * e = 1 (mod 8).
Well, d = 3 works. So your public key is 3.

To encrypt your text, you take
c = t^e (mod N) = 7^3 (mod 15) = 343 (mod 15) = 13.

So your ciphertext is c = 13.

To decrypt, someone else uses your public key, and takes
c^d (mod N) = 13^3 (mod 15) = 2197 (mod 15) = 7.

They now have the plaintext, t, as expected.

#151 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2008, 01:07 PM:

Fragano @ 149: When I lived on St. Kitts, my backyard had mango, banana, key lime, papaya and something else that might have been soursop (can't remember any more). That was the only good thing about living there: plenty of fresh produce. Also, plenty of fresh Giardia for that special GI sensation.

#152 ::: Sarah ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2008, 02:03 PM:

I just finished rereading Little Brother (the PDF version). I liked it quite a bit... the "Wired Magazine Escapes from Guantanamo Bay" aspect was probably my favorite part, to be honest.

After my first readthrough, I was talking to my friend about public-key encryption, and he said that encrypting an e-mail might only draw attention to it and encourage unfriendly people to try to hack into it, whereas unencrypted e-mail is just one more needle in the haystack. So, is it even remotely possible to decode an encrypted message without having the private key? And if so, does decoding a single message enable one to decode any other message encrypted in the same way?

#153 ::: Craig ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2008, 02:53 PM:

Sarah@152:

At present, it is believed that RSA is largely secure. That is, so long as you don't do something stupid in terms of picking your modulus or public/private keys (where stupid is defined by certain mathematical tests), the only way to crack your message is by factoring the modulus. Which is believed to be very difficult.

If they do crack one msg, there are two possibilities: First, they did so by obtaining your private key (which means they have the factorization of the modulus). Second, they did so by some side-channel attack (like a keylogger on your machine) which doesn't involve breaking the factorization. In the first case, your future msgs are insecure if you use the same modulus. Using a different modulus might provide better security. In the second case, your computer is insecure, and it doesn't matter what encryption you use, so long as you're using that computer.

#154 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2008, 03:01 PM:

Craig, thanks. I think I get it. I think.

#155 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2008, 03:16 PM:

This reminds me of the discussion when the people from No Such Agency were pushing the Data Encryption Standard. There seemed, at the time, to be a consensus that they probably had a back door into the algorithm, by which they could read the encrypted messages without needing the users' keys. (I could be misremembering this, but that was what I got from it.)

#156 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2008, 07:03 PM:

I think that faith in the security of public key encryption is going to bite people in the butt at some point; I think it's likely that quantum computing-driven cryptanalysis (which has the potential of breaking such crypto in polynomial time) is orders of magnitude more advanced than is publicly acknowledged, and that government efforts to suppress hard crypto is mainly a matter of convenience for them, and not necessity.

#157 ::: John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2008, 09:18 AM:

Hi folks, for what it's worth, my blog review is here.

Cheers!

#158 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2008, 06:11 PM:

One thing that you might want to know with public-key; not all schemes are amenable to signature-and-encryption in the way RSA is. It's only because it's a symmetric algorithm (it doesn't matter which one is the public and which the private key, (X^A)^B mod Y == (X^B)^A mod Y under the appropriate conditions) that you can sign with your private key, in a way that proves you wrote it to anyone with access to your public key, while also encrypting a message so that only your intended recipient can read it. And this is a good thing!

The problem is (as is mentioned in the book) that once you crack your way into the web of trust, either by compromising one of the trusted members or by getting them to "trust" you when they shouldn't, that not only can I now read what's being said to that compromised person, but I have the same proof of the writer of the message that everyone else in that web of trust has.

There are other public-key communication systems, for instance the IM Protocol OTR (off-the-record), where while it is certain (after verification) that the person you're messaging is who you think it is, it is explicitly impossible to prove after the fact that what was written was written by that person (or more correctly, it is impossible to prove that a message was not forged to look like it came from me, therefore I can deny that I ever wrote anything and it was all forged in my name, and can't be disproven). This is called deniability, and is often just as useful as undeniable digital signatures.

#159 ::: Craig ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2008, 02:11 PM:

Earl@156: Well, quantum computing will let you crack RSA in polynomial time. It is by no means proven that it will do so with all public-key cryptosystems.

And it is commonly believed that BQP Earl@156: Well, quantum computing will let you crack RSA in polynomial time. It is by no means proven that it will do so with all public-key cryptosystems.

And it is commonly believed that BQP does not contain NP, so that quantum computers will not be able to solve NP-complete problems in polynomial time (although this is a matter of some debate).

#160 ::: cofax ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2008, 07:56 PM:

Lightning @ 108:
Long after the fact, but I had to point out that contrary to your assertion, Treasure Island has not been a military base for a long time. When it was a military base, it was a Navy base, not an Army base. But it's been closed as part of the dozens of base closures in California in the last few decades, and has been or is in the process of being handed over to the City of San Francisco.

There is still a Coast Guard facility on Yerba Buena Island, immediately adjacent to Treasure Island, and the USCG is part of DHS, for what it's worth. It's not very large, though.

I had some plot-logic issues with the novel, and stumbled on some of the infodumps and the pacing. But I read the entire thing in about 4 hours, and enjoyed it a great deal. Whether it would mean anything to my non-geeky highly-social nieces is another question altogether. I suspect not: it's a very boy kind of book. By which I mean, it's written to appeal to boys, and if it also appeals to some girls, that's fine. But it does not feel as though they are the target audience.

#161 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2008, 12:59 AM:

We discussed The Day of the Triffids at bookgroup Saturday and we usually have a bit of time at the beginning to talk about book/fannish/personal things. I talked about Little Brother and when I asked about PGP and arphid and so forth, the two teens in the room didn't know about them (even though one was in the team that won second in the state electronics contest) and all of the guys and I did know it. So maybe I'm wrong about teens knowing this stuff.

#162 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2008, 01:08 PM:

And here I am, a week late and probably several dollars short. Damn my real (and internet) life, getting in the way of my reading schedule!

I finally finished Little Brother this morning, and as usual I got caught up in Cory's enthusiasm, and was goshwow'd by his tech. I was also made extremely uncomfortable by the passages with DHS abuse, but in a 'good' way. The scariest possible thing for me has always been "the evil guys are part of conventional authority, and no one will believe you" (See Umbridge in HP5 and Cooney's The Fog for other examples of passages that have made me uncomfortable in this way. It's a strong point in Cory's favor that I was sometimes stymied for DAYS by those parts of other books, but I could never put LB down for more than an hour or so.)

I have to say that criticisms of Marcus's voice don't ring true with me, and I'm ankle deep in tech-and-gaming-boys age 15 to 35. Hell, I've spent the last three years... uh... let's call it "performing an immersive cultural study of them in their home environment*."

In that time I've had hackers/technies of various ages** try to describe things about tech to me, and the only thing LB got 'wrong' was actually simplifying things adequately enough that I understood them first pass, and didn't have to prod for additional clarification***, which I think is generally a good thing in a book. If people think it sounds like Cory and not like a teen hacker, they may not realize that Cory often does sound like a teen hacker, albeit an exceptionally well-spoken one.

Marcus's character rang true for me. One of my close friends is an angry hacker who dropped out of college when he was 18 because his professors knew less about computers than he did, and spent the next year or so living homeless around the country as a punk rock kid. He's out of the 'under 25 block' now and works very firmly for 'the man,' but compared to the anger and cockiness inherent in the stories of his youth, Marcus seemed downright subtle.

*That sounds so much better than "Playing too much World of Warcraft."

**Ok, most of the people describing hacking and tech to me were age 20-31ish, so none of them were actually teens, afaik. But I've had a few 17 year olds describe new cultural things to me (even if they weren't hacking-related), and I had a trusted online friend who no one realized was 15 for the longest time. "Late-teen guy on the internet" can manifest a huge range of voices.

***No no, imagine I don't know what SSH is. Ok, what is DNS? What is the Hosts file?

#163 ::: Sylvia ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2008, 06:45 AM:

I loved the idea of being able to offer this to my son (13, in boarding school) to read on his laptop at school - so I sent him the link on craphound.com. He phoned me two days later to ask if I'd read it yet. I had to admit I hadn't - he was already halfway through. He grumbled and told me to please catch up so he could talk to me about it.

We did a lot of talking once we both finished it - he definitely found it thought-provoking! We discussed terrorism and how it has been used. About Marcus and Ange and their relationship and that Marcus seemed young to be having sex but then again he was 17 so not so young (I see this as a good sign that my son identified with him) and a lot of long talks about about authority and security and the balancing act of government. At 13, he really does want security ("Shouldn't that be illegal" is a frequent refrain that makes me want to scream) and I've been trying to help him to understand the importance of personal responsibility.

The info-dumps were needed for him to be able to keep up and it was also an important part of him keeping faith with the author as understanding kids, rather than pretending to have a grasp of the culture. Doctorow did well at this, although my son did mightily object to the usage of h4wt which he said was too nerdy for the people using it.

The British mother and London references was great from my point of view, avoiding the "crazy Americans" as being an isolated example. My son has a US passport but identifies as British (and we live in Spain - it's confusing) so this was an important twist.

At 13, he's in a similar position of knowing the tech better than most at the school although he did struggle with some of the concepts (as did I, tbh - my head hurts trying to understand how the DNS servers are sending image parts) but that was good, it meant he looked up to the MC as doing the kind of thing he wanted to do.

Personally, I enjoyed it and found it a good fast read and I was happy with it as a thriller that would broaden my son's horizons. I found myself having a mommy-moment that there wasn't some discussion of the difference between reaasonable actions against authority instead of just trouble-making, but I got over it pretty quickly.

There were some minor logic issues that slowed me down a bit. The main one was the importance of the camera phone ... showing a photograph with some kids in it. This is really not proof that Darren was hurt and kidnapped that day. But nothing show-shopping really. I half-thought Ange was going to turn out to mess things up for him somehow - the gun on the wall that never did go off. I suppose I just expected her to be a bit more crucial in some way. And does anyone under 25 really use Livejournal?


I'm trying to get my son to write up his thoughts which will probably be a lot more interesting than mine :)

#164 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2008, 09:01 AM:

Sylvia #163: And does anyone under 25 really use Livejournal?

It's not so much "Livejournal" (or even "LiveJournal") as "livejournal", a synecdoche, like "kleenex" instead of "Kleenex facial tissue".

#165 ::: Sarah ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2008, 11:28 AM:

Sylvia #163: I'm under 25 and I have a LiveJournal (with the capital el and jay, no less) and so do most of my other under-25 friends who blog regularly. Of course, my other, "serious" blog is somewhere completely different, but LJ works really well for personal use. Fortunately I got my account before they nixed the basic option, so I don't have to choose between hosting ads and giving them money.

#166 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2008, 12:26 PM:

I'm twenty-six and the only people I know IRL who use LJ are younger than me by a few years. I've no idea if that's representative.

#167 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2008, 01:30 PM:

I think I win the prize for last person to finish LB, just finished it about 2 hours ago. Comments later.

ethan @166: there are a huge number of older than 25 people on LJ, many of us fans and writers. It's just that there are also a lot of younger people. I have no idea of the stats.

#168 ::: sherrold ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2008, 01:40 PM:

I suspect this thread is dead, but I only got my copy from the library yesterday, so I'm all filled with that just-read-it, must-post enthusiasm.

I enjoyed it deeply, and found myself only barely short of tears at the very end. (Though I agree with many that the cell-phone theft thing was lame -- that's why we have things like lawyers and extenuating circumstances.)

The only 'flaw' that made me laugh out loud was his implication that the New York Times is known for its fact checkers. Don't we wish.

I took the 'gravel in the shoes' in the first chapter as an homage to Double Star, and was surprised not to see a mention of Heinlein in the endnotes.

And now that I've read it from the library, I'm going to buy actual copies for all of my teenaged nephlings and friends. Go Cory.

#169 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2008, 02:50 PM:

The cell phone thing worked with me. It's consistent with the usual modus operandi these days. How many people have been arrested for hyperinflated terrorist offenses and then convicted of something else, like immigration violations or sales tax fiddling?

The feds don't like to look foolish, and complete acquittals make them look foolish. Conviction on a minor charge is the best you can get from these grubby people who used to serve us.

Reads about right to me, in other words.

#170 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2008, 03:47 PM:

abi 169: Indeed, and in my opinion the judge added that charge to the list for just that reason (I'm not sure judges actually have that power, but never mind).

#171 ::: marian ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 10:32 PM:

Hurricane Gustav gave me a chance to read this finally. I loved it. The infodumps did not bother me since the frame of the story indicated that the protagonist was telling the story to people--probably adults--who did not understand the technology that they used everyday. And some of the dumps I skipped, especially those on gaming.

At times, the absence of violence in the story was surprising. I had to keep reminding myself that (a) this was a young adult novel, and (b) "Mikey" is white. In the end, I accepted the fact that Marcus was not beat to a pulp right off. But I continued to think that his friend would be found dead. That would have been too depressing for a YA novel however.

I wish that I knew someone that I could hand this off to. The guys that I work with are geeks, but they are so conservative that they would be appalled at Marcus' actions in the book. The people that I know who would approve--hate technology.

#172 ::: Kevin Phomsoukha ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2018, 05:06 AM:

Nice read, I just passed this onto a colleague who was doing some research on that. And he actually bought me lunch since I found it for him smile Thus let me rephrase that: Thank you for lunch! "A thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it." by Oscar Fingall O'Flahertie Wills Wilde.

#173 ::: Buddha Buck sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2018, 06:09 AM:

I see spam

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