Review: Little Brother

(sick again…at least I get to catch up on my reading)

Something has always puzzled me: I’ve never solidly connected with a Cory Doctorow story. It’s baffling; we’re practically brothers-in-geekdom. Most every nonfiction thing I read from Cory leaves me nodding in agreement. If we met, we’d have no trouble talking for hours about metacrap, free content licenses, and crypto. But for some reason, Cory’s fiction–short story or freely-downloadable-novel–hasn’t clicked with my peculiar mind.

Until now, that is. I emailed Cory asking him for a prerelease copy of Little Brother, in return for an honest review here. He was happy to oblige. The story pulled me in fast and hard, and by the time it was over, I wished there was more to the tale. I’d call that “solidly connecting”. :-)

The story is aimed at high-school-aged kids, and naturally features a cast of high-school-aged protagonists. This means that I’m quite outside the target audience, so your opinions might vary. Too many reviews fall into plot synopsis mode here, so I’ll try to avoid it. Suffice it to say that the story revolves around a close group of teens who get accused of involvement in a bigger-than-911 plot, and quietly fight back against the resulting oppression.

The tale has a lot of (and AFAIK this is a freshly minted word) techsposition. Like any exposition, it is a risky thing to do as a writer, since it halts the forward momentum of your story. It’s doubly hard to stop to explain technical details. Blocks of techsposition were heavy enough to throw me out of the story a few times. There were cases where the plot wouldn’t have suffered by glossing over some details. On the other hand, these not-quite-asides are about real-world (as opposed to fictional) technology, so definitely have some benefit for readers.

The story has a strong message, but it gets spread a little thick toward the middle. All the clever things the kids think to do happen fairly early in the story, but the plot keeps rolling along. There’s also a few too many instances of the really-smart teen who has outwitted or escaped from the clutches of The Man, just in time to appear in the action.

There’s a number of characters in the story, with complex interactions among them.  The main characters are solid, believable, and fully-realized. In fact, I’d point to the characterization as the main that kept me up late reading.

Little Brother comes out the end of April, both in print and freely downloadable. If you’re allowed to choose your own reading material, you might decide it’s worth a look. -m

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