That was a relatively quick read and some fun but it also had a tedious side. Maybe I’m just too old to read books featuring (sometimes horny) teenagers who think they can change the world… Marcus, a 17-year-old high school student from San Francisco interested in computers and other gizmos, is in the wrong place at the wrong time on the day when a terrorist group decides to bomb the Bay Bridge and the BART tunnel. He gets arrested and is jailed by Homeland Security. He is released on the condition that he reveals no information about what he has seen and returns home after a few days. In spite of the explicit threats made by his jailors before his release, he tries to make a difference by creating ways for young people to circumvent surveillance and creates an alternate computer network where encoded information can be exchanged. This works for a little while, until the network is infiltrated and Marcus gets arrested again and is submitted to torture. In the end, the Governor of California throws out Homeland Security operatives and re-establishes the normal workings of the law.
As a piece of speculative fiction, it proposes an interesting thought experiment of what could logically follow from the state having too much control. Because it is set in either the “now” timeframe or in the near future and because the technology looks believable (based on my own limited knowledge of information and security technology), the events that Doctorow describes look like they could really take place.
As I was reading this book, I was reminded of Cliff Stoll’s The Cuckoo’s Egg that I read some twenty years ago. While this book was not a novel, but an account of tracking a hacker through computer networks (academic, commercial and military), it has a similar portrayal of how permeable computer networks could be for those with the right knowledge and tools.
Doctorow’s message to young people (to whom he apparently directs his message) seems to be not to take for granted the ubiquity and apparent benignity of computer technology.
Doctorow, Cory. Little Brother. 2008. Source: http://craphound.com/littlebrother
Stoll, Cliff. The Cuckoo’s Egg. Pocket Books, New York, NY: 1989.