Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow is the 2009 winner of the Prometheus Award, given annually for the best work of libertarian fiction. It is a thriller about Marcus Yallow, a teenager hacker and his friends who are tossed into a secret prison by the Department of Homeland Security after a massive terrorist attack in San Francisco. After their release, the surveillance society in which they live has only expanded. The new security measures seem to have little purpose other than to control citizens, rather than catch terrorists. Marcus and his friends use their technological savvy to disrupt the DHS and call public attention to the overreach of its power.

It is a very political novel, and its skepticism of government competence and trustworthiness, as well as the war against Islamic terrorism, is quite pronounced. Here's a passage from a discussion in his social studies class. His teacher is quite statist:

I was feeling sick. This was not what I'd learned or believed about my country. I put my hand up.

"Yes, Marcus?"

"I don't get it. You're making it sound like the Bill of Rights is optional. It's the Constitution. We're supposed to follow it absolutely."

"That's a common oversimplification," she said, giving me a fake smile. "But the fact of the matter is that the framers of the Constitution intended it to be a living document that was revised over time. They understood that the Republic wouldn't be able to last forever if the government of the day couldn't govern according to the needs of the day. They never intended the Constitution to be looked on like religious doctrine. After all, they came here fleeing religious doctrine."

I shook my head. "What? No. They were merchants and artisans who were loyal to the King until he instituted policies that were against their interests and enforced them brutally. The religious refugees were way earlier."

"Some of the Framers were descended from religious refugees," she said.

"And the Bill of Rights isn't supposed to be something you pick and choose from. What the Framers hated was tyranny. That's that the Bill of Rights is supposed to prevent. They were a revolutionary army and they wanted a set of principles that everyone could agree to. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The right of people to throw off their oppressors."

Little Brother is a good YA novel, a fast read, and would be particularly useful for discussing civil liberties issues with teenagers. Best of all, Doctorow has made it available for free.

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