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Feeding the Paranoia Today
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I finished a book over the weekend by Cory Doctorow, whose writing I was introduced to in his book Down And Out In The Magic Kingdom. This title is Little Brother, and while I wasn't sure exactly what to expect, what I got was a book that I couldn't put down.

I must admit I have a paranoid side. I've read and been entertained by some of Dean Koontz's novels, especially the ones where he was dealing with government and law enforcement gone out of control, running a virtual shadow government. I've also loved the "other" premise of F. Paul Wilson's Repairman Jack novels, that is, that Jack lives his life "off the grid" without a real identity in the eyes of the law, because he doesn't trust anyone.

This is a speculative fiction work in that same mold, if written from it's own angle. It was published in 2008, which means it was written while George Bush was still president. In it, a terrorist attack occurs on San Francisco's BART line, which goes under the Bay Bridge, killing thousands of commuters. The main character is a 17 year old high school student named Marcus, who is ditching school to play a type of cyber-game that plays out with Wi-Fi hot spots and hidden clues in the real world. Marcus and his three friends get swept up in the post attack hysteria by the Department of Homeland Security, and are imprisoned somewhere near San Francisco. They are subjected to mental tortures, especially Marcus when he resists giving up the access codes to his personal phone. But eventually they are released - well, three of them are. The fourth has disappeared into the Homeland Security action.

Because of his treatment, and because of the disappearance of his best friend, Marcus vows to bring them down with the hubris that only a 17 year old hacker could muster. Having been warned against telling anyone the truth of where they were, Marcus convinces his other two friends to keep it a secret from their parents, and he makes it his mission to fight against their surveillance methods with all the resources he can bring to bear - which ends up including a whole mass of young disillusioned hacker types.

I could barely put the book down, but it's hard to call it enjoyable because to tell you the truth, the story sort of scared me. I've been more than a little concerned about the slippery slope that our government has started to descend since the passage of the Patriot Act, and this book sort of brings to a head some of those fears. It almost doesn't seem like fiction; it almost seems like a real occurrence.

Doctorow is tied into this type of sub-culture and describes it vividly, relating it to the things we all know about today like Facebook, the online community building, YouTube, and online gaming and hacking. It's fiction, thankfully.

But if we don't watch ourselves, it might not be.

One of the cover quotes is from Neil Gaiman, who calls it a "wonderful, important book...I'd recommend Little Brother over pretty much any book I've read this year." I don't know if I would go quite that far, but I agree that it's an important cautionary tale and a very good, fast read clocking in at 365 pages.


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