Cory Doctorow's 'Little Brother' is an evocative sci-fi teen novel that will leave an impression

Cory Doctorow

In Cory Doctorow's 2010 novel, Little Brother, Marcus Yallow, aka w1n4t0n, is just your regular high school kid avoiding his school’s security surveillance system by putting rocks in his shoes to ward off the gait-recognition system and using his hacker skills to pervade his school’s security scrutiny.

One day, when he and his friends decided to play hooky from school in order to play a popular game at the time: Harajuku Fun Madness, an ARG (Alternate Reality Game), which “balanced out running around in the real world, figuring out online puzzles, and strategizing with your team,” Marcus’ world was suddenly turned upside down.

Things all of a sudden became very real.  In a terrorist attack, the likes of 9/11, Marcus and his friends are drawn in the crossfires of a very public battle between the Department of Homeland Security and the War on Terror.

Marcus and his friends are taken to a prison on Treasure Island which later gets dubbed as “Gitmo-by-the-Bay.”  There they are questioned and tortured for information for something they had no part in.

Although the DHS eventually released him, Marcus was a marked man.  They will be monitoring him and if they get a whiff of his indiscretion, they will immediately haul him back to prison.

This doesn’t stop Marcus though when he decided he would wage war against his very prisoners: the DHS.

When he gets to the safety and comfort of his home, Marcus senses something is different.  His heart skips a beat when he realizes that he is not only under surveillance in school but that they were also following him at his home.

When he realized he was under surveillance, he started burning ParnoidXbox discs, eventually creating the Xnet, a safer and more anonymous version of the Internet that can be accessed off the Xbox Universal.

With all his basic hacker know-how, Marcus launches a campaign against the DHS. As the inventor of Xnet, Marcus has started a movement that was unstoppable – a movement that is comprised of ‘Little Brothers’ “who watch back against the Department of Homeland Security’s anti-terrorism measures, documenting the failures and excesses” that proves pivotal in stopping the DHS extremist measures.

For the majority of the book, Little Brother gives Cliff’s Notes version of what could be a long convoluted Wikipedia article, but overall the data crunch can oftentimes can be overwhelming.  The book does go into a lot of detail, explaining and giving background on a lot of the technological terms.  Having already encountered this in the second book, this is like technology overload, with a lot of the descriptions unnecessary rehashing.

This is in no means the fault of the author since I read the books out of order, but having a lot of these terms explained two times can get intense.  But by retracting and going on to read the first book, I was able to get all the information that I missed by reading the second book first and thereby filling a lot of holes that I had encountered in reading Homeland first.

Like Homeland, this was a very dense book filled with terms that a technology non-expert like me might have trouble grasping the first time around.

But overall, this YA novel was very enlightening and puts readers in the mindset of a 17-year-old high school hacker who takes matters into his own hands when he sees DHS turning America into a police state.

A book brimming with questions of security, anti-terrorism, and matters of national security, Marcus is a protagonist that is not one to stand idly away as his constitutional rights are being taken away.  Little Brother shows that in the face of extreme security measures, we can’t let Big Brother call all the shots.  It is our duty to rise against anything impinging on our freedom, and Little Brother is a call to matters addressing our security and privacy concerns.

Filled with riveting details and edge-of-your-seat action, Cory Doctorow's Little Brother is a book to take away with you that will not only leave you thinking it may be even life-changing.

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My Nguyen

My Nguyen is an album reviewer from San Diego, CA. She regularly contributes to Her work has appeared in the following journals: Quietpoly, Community Voices, Espresso 1, The Whistling Fire, The Pedestal Magazine, The Straylight Magazine, Baby Lawn Literature, and Conceit Magazine.

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