Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother is the single worst piece of SF I’ve ever read. Arguably, it may be the single worst book I’ve ever read, taking the hotly contested lead from Shadowdale, a piece of D&D fiction written by a literal committee of RPG designers. But whether or not it wins that competition, there’s no way around the inarguable fact that it is a terrible, awful, no-good book. You should not read it, under any circumstances.
“But Mike,” you might protest, “it’s chock full of laudatory dustjacket quotes from all sorts of famous people whose books I like! Can they really be that wrong?” Yes, it turns out. Yes, they can. I trusted those people, too, but I was let down by all of them. And I think I’ve figured out why those people gave such horribly mistaken endorsements.
Because, see, the single worst feature of Little Brother is that it is unrelentingly didactic. It is lecture after goddamn lecture. Social networking! Public key crypto! Why hippies were good people! Why you can’t trust the government’s security measures! Why open source is good! And all in the anvilicious tone you’d expect from a Chick tract, with cartoonish bad characters there to serve as a foil for the main character’s awesome righteousness.
So let’s say you are an aging liberal, maybe a hippie yourself, or someone who wishes they’d been old enough to be a hippie. You are strongly in favor of all this stuff that Doctorow is preaching. You are, in fact, the choir. If the book were just aimed at you, you’d maybe applaud it, but sort of reluctantly admit that it’s actually a bit horrid. But it’s not aimed at you. Doctorow cleverly put a YA label on this thing, so it is aimed at kids.
Well, kids. Now that’s different. You figure that kids are none too bright, and they need this sort of unsubtle, over-obvious pounding in of messages. So it’s good broccoli for them. Of course, you don’t think it’s broccoli, you think that this message of subversion and hipster-techno-hippie attitude is going to be fun and cool for them. But whatever, you figure it’s something they need to read, so you give it a blurb so that libraries will dutifully stock it as a worthy piece of fiction for yutes. (Who will not read it, because this book has nothing in it to appeal to anyone of any age, and kids are not really attracted to adult glorification of youthful rebellion, particularly when the youths in this book ring so very, very false.)
Yes, my theory here involves everyone who praised this book having nothing but contempt or condescension for its audience. This is the most charitable reading I can come up with, because the alternative is simply that the people who praised it have inexplicably terrible taste in at least this instance, and actually liked this steaming shitpile of a book.
So anyway, if you’re a fan of Doctorow’s standard SFnal setting of “Slashdot, circa 1998”, enjoy heavy-handed preaching, really want to picture Cory Doctorow writing a scene about pawing a teenage girl’s breasts, and/or have been waiting for fiction that will talk at some length about vampire LARPing, well, this is the book for you!
If, however, you are sane, you should stay far, far away. Do not be swayed by the disingenuous praise for this book, because it is all lies. Do not be swayed by the fact that it’s been nominated for a Hugo, because that did not actually happen, I choose to believe. Just do not read this book.
And now, just in case you’re thinking of reading it anyway, I will present you with the opening, as a final warning:
I’m a senior at Cesar Chavez High in San Francisco’s sunny Mission district, and that makes me one of the most surveilled people in the world. My name is Marcus Yallow, but back when this story starts, I was going by w1n5t0n. Pronounced “Winston.”
Not pronounced “Double-you-one-enn-five-tee-zero-enn”. unless you’re a clueless disciplinary officer who’s far enough behind the curve that you still call the Internet “the information superhighway.”
And it gets worse. Much, much worse.