Reading Response #10

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

I don’t like computers. I’m convinced that little gremlins live inside them, and every so often the gremlins go “nyah nyah we’re not gonna work now”. So it is impressive that Doctorow could make me understand (well, sort-of) how all the technology in the book worked.

You can definitely tell that this book was written after 9/11. But after 10 years of panic and extreme security measures and propaganda from all sides, I don’t find that there’s a lot of difference. A lot of innocent people have been inconvenienced, pissed off, and even been arrested and imprisoned, but how many actual terrorists have been caught or prevented from committing terrorist acts?

When you’re young, your parents can chase the boogeyman out from the closet or under the bed with a flashlight, and you believe them when they say he’s gone. When you’re a grown adult, you know better- even if the boogeyman is there, he’s probably not afraid of a little flashlight. And when the government comes in with a big flashlight, insists on searching not only your closest and under the bed but also your underwear drawer and laptop, and then cuffs you to the bed because you were in the room so naturally you must be a boogeyman (despite protests that it’s your room)…well it just makes you mad and it doesn’t catch the boogeyman, and I think I’ve extended the metaphor as far as it can go.

The ending isn’t much of a happily ever after. Darryl may be alive, but he’s severely traumatized and in for years of therapy. Carrie Johnstone, the severe haircut woman, isn’t punished because she was “just following orders”- an excuse that hasn’t worked since WW2. Marcus is punished for stealing the phone, the pettiest of his crimes, even though he had a really good reason for it. The DHS ends up making a deal to get out of trouble. It’s not very satisfying for people who were raised in a culture of “all problems will be solved within 45 minutes and be completely forgotten by the next week’s episode”. That said, it’s probably more realistic like that. It would be a cop-out to have a fairy-tale ending with everything tied up nicely, and the entire book has been about Marcus fighting for people to think, and to treat other people like rational human beings. Marcus’ fight for freedom isn’t over, and it never will be, but he has allies and has found a constructive way to voice his opinions.

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