Little Brother: A Potential Reality

Cory Doctorow. Little Brother. New York, NY: Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, 2008.

To Marcus Yallow, a senior at Cesar Chavez High in San Francisco, California, and his three best friends, Darryl, Van and Jolu, it’s just another average day in the repetitive and monotonous schools. Known more as the tech-savvy kids, notorious for hacking, the four decide to cut class early in their respective schools and go ARGing. That is, to go play an Alternate Reality Game, in particular their favorite ARG, Harajuku Fun Madness.

And then it happened, “a huge black cloud rising from the northeast, from the direction of the Bay.” (14) It would be known as the biggest terrorist attack since 9/11, but at the time unknown to the four kids. Terror encompasses the city and people run for safety. Military and Department of Homeland Security personal rush into the city for what one would think would be to help its citizens. But the real truth is often hidden behind the scenes.

“Those words, ‘wrong place at the wrong time’, those six words, they were like a lifetime dangling before me…” (21).

The four were swooped up by the DHS and thrown into prison at “Gitmo-by-the-Bay” for their treason. Their treason, you may wonder? Being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Interrogated for hours on hand, tortured and left in inhabitable living conditions in his cell, Marcus loses contact with his friends altogether and is being convicted of being a traitor to his own beloved nation. Marcus quickly learns in order for his survival, to regain his freedom, he must give the DHS everything they want, including the password to his Email and phone. His price of freedom is a paradox. To gain his liberty from this prison, he must lose all of his privacy. Where’s the freedom on that? Upon succumbing to the demands of the DHS, Marcus is released after merely six days in prison. Six days, that to him, seemed to be weeks.

“But from now on, you belong to us. We will be watching you.” (24)

To his horror, the city of San Francisco had turned into a police state since his time in prison. Cameras were set up everywhere, including classrooms, to watch the citizens of San Francisco every waking moment of their lives. Arphids were instated and installed all over the city, including the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), tracking where people traveled. Those with questionable travel history were interrogated. Credit and Debit card transactions were highly monitored and regulated. Would you sacrifice your privacy and your freedom for a little extra safety? Marcus wouldn’t.

A revolution was started.

Marcus started the Xnet so that people who shared his same cause could come together without being caught. The Xnet used the internet in many hacking ways to keep its users private and their messages encrypted. A modern day revolution and hundreds of thousands took to Xnet to fight a political battle. Freedom is not just given; it has to be taken, even if one’s own country is at hand.

Most of us living here in the United States live our lives free without ever noticing it. It comes to us naturally as we’ve never experienced anything else. However, history will repeat itself and Little Brother does a great example of what could be someday. It tries our hearts of being a just, free nation. It shows us that not everything may be as it seems. It reiterates what our beloved country was founded upon and yet again reminds students and its readers the value and worth of freedom and liberty. It shows us the importance of each and every citizen of this free nation and that we control the government; they don’t control us.

Recommendations for Teachers
Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother offers a great opportunity to discuss both the dangers as well as the benefits of technology with your students. The main character of the novel, Marcus Yallow, creates a wireless network for people of his age to communicate privately without being monitored by the government. Teachers can use this novel as a means to communicate with their students about using the internet to communicate with others, and how this means of communication can be dangerous if not used properly. Students can discuss their own personal experiences with technology. You can ask your students the following questions to create a class discussion:

*How do you use technology to communicate with others?

*Do your parents monitor your Internet use? If so, have you ever figured out how to get around this monitoring?

*Do you agree or disagree that the Internet should be censored by the government? Why or why not? (This is a great question for modern students due to the recent news that the government is considering censoring the Internet. Students will have very strong opinions on this topic and this should lead to a lively class discussion, which is always a great way to create enthusiasm for the reading)

This novel also discusses authority and rebellion, as Marcus attempts to fight an unjust government. You can discuss the importance of standing up for yourself and fighting for what’s right with your students. You can ask your students the following discussion questions:
*Have you ever stood up against an authority figure when you felt they were being unjust?

*If you could confront an authority figure (your parents, the president, a teacher), without receiving any punishment, what would you say?

You could have your students write a letter to an organization that they feel is unjust or making a decision that is immoral. You can discuss the difference between safe protest and unruly, physical rebellion. The students could discuss current protests such as Occupy Wall Street.
This novel does contain strong language and also discusses adult topics such as sex, drugs, and alcohol. However, the message of this story and the discussions of technology and standing up for your friends and beliefs are extremely relevant and important for students to discuss. This novel is great for students because it not only deals with current issues relevant to students such as technology use and censorship, but also dealing with friendship issues and standing strong against peer pressure. All of these topics are very important and meaningful to young students.

About Cory Doctorow
Cory Doctorow is a science fiction novelist and blogger who participates in contributions to many newspapers, magazines, and websites. Doctorow was born in 1971 in Ontario, Canada. Cory is the co-editor of a popular blog site called Many of his novels have been translated in different languages then published by Tor Books and HarperCollinsUK while also being released on the web under a Creative Commons license, allowing anyone who wishes to re-use or share the material to do so. Doctorow's young adult novels have been nominated and won numerous awards throughout his writing career. Little Brother has one awards such as the Ontario Library White Pine Award, the Prometheus Award as well as the Indienet Award for bestselling young adult novel in America's top 1000 independent bookstores in 2008.

Doctorow is an activist who is extremely knowledgeable in the field of computers and technology. He believes the Internet should be a place without government interference and he was giving speeches against SOPA back in 2011, before most people even knew the bill existed. He does his best to keep up to date on a technological level, and he also tries to keep the public aware of copyright laws and controversy through speeches and his blog. He blogs on a daily basis, and on January 16, he warned that though SOPA has been slowed "It's evil Senate twin, PIPA, is still steaming forward."

Cory Doctorow has written many science fiction novels such as Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, Eastern Standard Tribe, Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town, Little Brother, Makers, and For The Win.
Doctorow also has numerous collections of short stories such as Ownz0red, Truncat, A Place So Foreign and Eight More, I, Robot, Overclocked: Stories of the Future Present, Scroogled, True Names, There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow / Now is the Best Time of Your Life, and With A Little Help,

Doctorow's Craphound Bio
Doctorow's Wikipedia Bio

Multimedia (Video or Audio)

Cory Doctorow publishes his works under a Creative Commons License because he believes that the internet is for sharing and copying, so he wants all people who would like to read his material to share and reuse it. In this way, Doctorow separates himself from a lot of authors who believe in strict copyright laws and who live under the false pretense that publishing one's work online will have an extremely negative impact upon sales. Doctorow reasons that "Of all the people who failed to buy this book today, the majority did so because they never heard of it, not because someone gave them a free copy." Considering how successfully Little Brother has sold, there is certainly truth to Doctorow's unique view regarding sales and Internet freedom.

The following links lead to his book, Little Brother, in different formats:
Plain text file (Viewed in internet browsers for reading at a computer.)
HTML file (Viewed in internet browsers for reading at a computer.)
PDF file (Can be moved to phones or tablets for mobile reading.)

A little insight into Cory Doctorow's reason for writing Little Brother.

A speech by Cory Doctorow against SOPA.

Cory Doctorow's comparison of Little Brother to 1984.

Cory Doctorow's view on open education, using Creative Commons.

Little Brother has been used by theater companies as a stage play, here is a short example.

Additional Resources - Cory Doctorow is the co-editor of this popular blogging website. - Cory Doctorow's website that he shares information about his works as well as the works for free download using a Creative Commons License.
Article about the NDAA - Forbes discusses the new legislation signed by our present, Barack Obama, called the National Defense Authorization Act that is similar to parts of Little Brother.
Instructables - A website that contains posts related to Little Brother and how to do what Marcus achieves in the book, the posts are created by w1n5t0n himself!
Arphids - Creepy info on arphids, the tracking device discussed in Little Brother.
Police State USA - One man's view of the United States today who believes that America today is a police state. Maybe you might change your opinion too?
Top10 Bills Passed Since 9/11 - Many of the laws passed since 9/11 take place in Little Brother.
DHS - The Department of Homeland Security's home page.
No Trust? - Does the United States Government trust its citizens? One author debates.
Prepare for the Next Attack - A few good ideas to be prepared if and when the next big terrorist attack happens. Don't find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Martial Law Will Replace Constitution After Next Terror Attack - This is what General Tommy Franks believes what would happen after the next big terrorist attack. Let's hope he's wrong.


-Reviewed by:
Todd Bush
Nathon Meulenberg
Tim Simmons
Dann Bell