Tuesday, July 1, 2008

You need to read Cory Doctorow's Little Brother

A couple weeks back, my friend Mike Marusin from Naperville updated Twitter that Cory Doctorow would be appearing at Andersen’s Bookstore in my old hometown, Naperville, IL, for a book signing. He’d just published Little Brother, and I was jealous that Mike got to meet Cory. I’ve long been an admirer of Cory’s, and a few days later I stopped by Cory’s site to check it out.

Imagine my shock to find that I could download all of Cory’s books and short stories for free, pre-formatted for ebook readers. That meant I was able to grab a copy and throw it on my Kindle… which I did, but was in the middle of reading White House Ghosts (yes, I’m a junkie) so I forgot about it. I had some time on Sunday afternoon, so I pulled out the Kindle and started Little Brother. I finished it last night, and it was spectacular.

I’ve seen other reviews peg it as a young adult novel, which I think is a load of crap. It’s a good story, pure and simple. That its protagonist happens to be a 17 year-old is immaterial, I think, to the target audience. Anyone who wants to know more about the technology shaping our society should read the book – and Cory does a great job of explaining complex issues (cryptography, hacking, open source software, tunneling, to name a few) in ways that non-techies will be able to appreciate. (I’ve seen a couple reviews knock him for these explications, suggesting it drags the narrative down… I disagree. If you’ve ever hung out with an obsessive, talented geek who is spectacularly good at this stuff, you’ll know they can spend hours explaining what they’re working on. The only difference with Cory is that his explanations often make sense to the uninitiated.)

The book is a fast read, and it’s a great ride. Cory nails the technology, the politics are spot on, and the implications about our growing surveillance society are laid out in an uncomfortable progression that you’ll want to give thought to. I told Robin last night that if I’d read this book as a teenager, it would have changed my life: Marcus (the main character) is a remarkable kid, and I have no doubt that I would have aspired to his blend of political commitment and technical mastery.

If you spend any time thinking about politics and technology (and if you don’t, what in God’s name are you doing hanging out at this blog?!), you’ll want to get yourself a copy of Little Brother.

A postscript: as I noted, Cory gives his books away for free. He’s also a full-time author, leading some to wonder why the hell he encourages people to download his books for free. From his intro:

For me — for pretty much every writer — the big problem isn’t piracy, it’s obscurity (thanks to Tim O’Reilly for this great aphorism). Of all the people who failed to buy this book today, the majority did so because they never heard of it, not because someone gave them a free copy. Mega-hit best-sellers in science fiction sell half a million copies — in a world where 175,000 attend the San Diego Comic Con alone, you’ve got to figure that most of the people who “like science fiction” (and related geeky stuff like comics, games, Linux, and so on) just don’t really buy books. I’m more interested in getting more of that wider audience into the tent than making sure that everyone who’s in the tent bought a ticket to be there.

Ebooks are verbs, not nouns. You copy them, it’s in their nature. And many of those copies have a destination, a person they’re intended for, a hand-wrought transfer from one person to another, embodying a personal recommendation between two people who trust each other enough to share bits. That’s the kind of thing that authors (should) dream of, the proverbial sealing of the deal. By making my books available for free pass-along, I make it easy for people who love them to help other people love them.

Now here’s a particularly cool twist: Cory points out that many readers, after enjoying the free ebook, ask him if they can send him some money. He doesn’t want that – to do would be to encourage people to bypass his publisher, which he doesn’t want. Instead, he keeps a list running of librarians who need copies, and he invites readers to contribute copies to those schools/libraries.

I just bought four and had Amazon send them on their way… now 3 schools and 1 public library will have a copy of a book I think is critical for younger kids to read, and hopefully be inspired by. How cool is that?

I’ll repeat what I said four years ago: Cory Doctorow is a genius.

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1 comment:

  1. A- instead of an A for this book report for the statement that "the politics are spot on". You've got a good attitude though, Rick, and it will take you places!