After devouring a few more of Doctorow’s books, he is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. I previously gave a glowing review to Pirate Cinema, and then moved on to Little Brother and Homeland, the original book and sequel about the exploits of Marcus Yallow, otherwise known as M1k3y. The story begins with Marcus hacking his way out of his high school’s security in order to participate in an on line game, but quickly turns into a suspenseful and intriguing tale about terrorism and conspiracy. This is meant to be a YA novel, but the themes are very mature, venturing into civil liberties, social activism, the danger of Homeland Security and the role of torture in stopping terrorism. As I pointed out in my review of Pirate Cinema, it is clearly as Left Wing in its ideology as Flashback is Right Wing. Doctorow makes no bones about slamming governments for disregarding civil liberties and for abuse of power. Some have claimed that the themes are too mature for a YA novel, but I would disagree. People who make such claims are same idiots who are killing young people’s (especially boys’)desire to read by wanting to make everything sanitized and politically correct. The sixteen year old character has to deal with some pretty extreme situations, including an introduction to sexuality. But it’s all, in my opinion, dealt with in a very truthful and authentic manner.
I would give these two books an A+, but read them in order. I also have to say that the second book, while still exciting and a good story, is definitely a little preachy.
Take a look at the letter sent to Cory by a young reader. I quote a small part here, but the entire letter can be found on the craphound .com. This was written by a twelve year old boy.
“Little Brother is one of those drastically important books that deals with real issues affecting everyone. This book was, in my opinion, more than just a book; it was a persuasive, life-changing book, the kind of gem that comes around too infrequently.
Before I read Little Brother I was scared to try something different. I surrounded myself with the same old young-adult novels (you know- goes on a quest, learns many things, big fight with a troll, the end) and never dared to step out of my little box.”
Little Brother alludes to Big Brother, and it’s comparison to Orwell’s classic is notable. While some may say that Doctorow’s portrayal of corruption within Homeland Security and the violence it perpetrates on its own citizens in the novel is farfetched, I would tell them to look carefully at the news. Look at the stories of protestors being kettled in the G12 demonstrations in Toronto. Look at the peaceful Occupy… protestors being attacked with pepper spray. Or look back at the last era where there was effective protest against government dominance and witness the killing of 4 students when the National Guard opened fire on a peaceful demonstration in Ohio, or the clubbing of protestors during the Chicago Democratic Convention in 1968. Doctorow exaggerates, but it is little more than an extrapolation of what we see in the news. That’s what good Science Fiction does. That’s what 1984 did.
Doctorow lives what he preaches. All of his books are available on his website free of charge. His bio is very interesting, and when you read about his parents and his upbringing you quickly understand the roots of his ideology. The video below is pretty long and technical, but watch at least the first few minutes, if you’ve find this at all intriguing. It gets really, really interesting at about the 15 minute mark!!! Also, take a look at his web site. It’s full of amazing things.
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However, in fairness to good reviewing, I have to say that I did not find the most recent Doctorow book, written with the very weird Charlie Stross, “The Rapture of the Nerds”, to be less than optimally readable. I couldn’t get into it. It is a “post-singularity” novel, which is a unique idea. The “singularity” is a future event, popularized by Ray Kurzweil which describes a time when nano-technology, genetics and AIs have transformed us in unimaginable ways. “The Rapture of the Nerds” takes place in such a universe. Many people may enjoy this, but I found it just too far out and had to abandon it after about 50 pages. Maybe others would enjoy it more.