After a terrorist attack on the Bay Area, teen hacker, security expert, and true American patriot Marcus and his geek chic pals are held by evil government forces. When the evil government forces take over America even more than they already have… well, I’m not sure exactly what happens, since that’s the point where I gave up. I assume Marcus and his friends, joined by the power of all freethinking folk on the internet, hack America to freedom. I mean with computers. Though I probably would have liked the book more if, like Lizzie Borden, they did it with an axe.
I can’t judge the entire book, because I couldn’t get through the entire book. I can, however, judge the first 100 pages, which I did read. I HATED them.
I have nothing against Cory Doctorow, and some very smart people I know adored this book. That being said, here’s my dissenting view – again, just of the first 100 pages, but you would have to pay me to make me read more.
Tone and voice are very important to me. I’ll forgive all sorts of other flaws in a book if I love the voice. This book has a very distinctive voice, which I HATED. It is the voice of a middle-aged man sweating bullets to impersonate the voice of a cool modern teenager (who is incredibly smug about being smarter than you, which was probably not intended), and simultaneously attempting to be educational about everything in the world, and to send Very Important Messages about the perils of conformity, the importance of privacy, and the folly and immorality of the modern American security state. And also to be totally accessible to any readers who might not know about certain things that most American teenagers probably do know.
The attempts to be educational and accessible, while admirable, are quite jarring. His first person narrator, supposedly a hip Bay Area teenage geek, carefully defines many words that are completely ordinary to him, like manga (manga!), the Yakuza, doujinshi, uni, Harajuku, Turkish coffee, LARPing, ARGs, carnitas, horchata, and churros. And by define, I don’t mean “slip in a definition in a natural manner," like (fake quote): I took a bite of my carnitas burrito. A few shreds of pork fell out.
I mean (real quote): I stepped to the nearest burrito joint and ordered one with carnitas—shredded pork—and extra salsa.
Or this:Like all Harajuku Fun Madness clues, it had a physical, online and mental component. The online component was a puzzle you had to solve, one that required you to research the answers to a bunch of obscure questions. This batch included a bunch of questions on the plots in doujinshi. Those are comic books drawn by fans of manga, Japanese comics. They can be as big as the official comics that inspire them, but they’re a lot weirder, with crossover storylines and sometimes really silly songs and action. Lots of love stories, of course. Everyone loves to see their favorite toons hook up.
1. Seriously, you need to define manga
2. A modern doujinshi-knowledgeable teenager would not say “toon.”
3. If you MUST have expository lumps every few paragraphs, at least get them right. Doujinshi are not necessarily weirder than the originals, though they’re often more sexually explicit. Nor are they always crossovers – in fact, crossovers are rare in my experience. Not sure what he means by songs, which are not a common feature of any sort of comic book. I’ve never heard of a doujinshi, which is inherently a limited edition, selling more than the original official release. Maybe he means something like “there can be as much of a fanbase for the doujinshi as for the original,” which would make more sense. And why leave out the rather significant fact that they’re often gay porn?
3. The whole first 100 pages
reads like that.
Maybe later there’s some in-story explanation of the book being written for use as an international manual on hacking the system, hence all the “milk is a nutritious liquid squeezed from cows” stuff in case some revolutionary in Latvia or somewhere doesn’t know what manga is and can’t be bothered to look it up on the oft-mentioned Wikipedia.
Digs at Windows Vista and Internet Explorer (only used by idiots, fascists, and people over 40) and American teenage geeks rushing to buy Astro Boy
memorabilia in Japan where it is actually called Atom Boy
as all the hip, with-it people know, along with many other missteps, add to the impression of a middle-aged computer geek in a teenage computer geek’s ill-fitting shoes. (And give the book the shelf life of milk.) In the already-dated near-future the book is set in, I doubt that anyone still cares about IE vs. Firefox. As for Astro Boy/Atom Boy
, it’s a bit like, “I and all my teen chums are fond of the popular show My Mother, the Car.
In addition to dropping about two to four info-dumps per page, the book is preachy and self-satisfied, and the three educational afterwords urging readers to check Wikipedia talk pages and buck the system do nothing to reverse the impression that this is a Very (Self)-Important Book. And like all earnest attempts to get down with the younger generation, it’s profoundly uncool.
Though like I said, lots of smart adults loved it. You might be one! But I have to ask… does anyone know any teenagers who read it? What did they think? Likewise, did any teenagers here read it? What did you think? Read the first chapter here.
ETA: Punctuation munged on the site's excerpt, sorry. That is not a feature of the actual book.
Check it out on Amazon: Little Brother