Sunday, April 26, 2009

Funny how books just show up

I'm currently experiencing a mild change of brain.

Went to the library yesterday. Couldn't find much worth taking out. I wanted Breaking Lorca by Giles Blunt: the computers said it was "being shelved", the librarian said it had been shelved, and if so it wasn't shelved where it was supposed to be. Eva picked up her customary eleventy-dozen novels, leaving entire sections of shelving experiencing a breeze they hadn't felt in years. One last gambol through the New Fiction rack yielded Infected, by Scott Sigler, which is supposed to be terrifying. The very last book I laid eyes on (and it looked funny, with a pair of eyes laying on it) was Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow. I seemed to recall hearing this was one of those "Ought To Read" books for people like me who like sf, and so I crammed it into the bag.

Boy, am I glad I did.

Little Brother is a Young Adult novel, but don't let that put you fact, the "young adult" characters in this book are a good argument for older adults to read it: you'll remember what it is to be young again, misunderstood, distrusting authority. And Doctorow's message is subversive enough that this novel will probably end up banned in some places. Put simply, authority can't always be trusted, because sometimes...maybe most of the doesn't have your best interests in mind.
The book is full of Crichtonesque infodumps that somehow don't slow down the plot overmuch. Perhaps that's because they're so fascinating, and relevant. There are tips in here on how to defeat many so-called "security" systems (so-called because most of them don't do much for security); the novel has a decidedly anarchist bent to it that will piss off conservatives to no end. And  boy, is it ever timely, as Obama's debating whether or not to try members of the last administration for crimes similar to those depicted in this book.

I've always been a staunch believer in "if you've got nothing to hide, you've got nothing to worry about". Doctorow turns my thinking on its ear, making me realize how naively Canadian it is. Most of us up here in Canuckistan have a decidedly different view of government than most Americans. Our parties, in Peter C. Newman's words, aren't much different:

 Studying the trio's campaign platforms, I concocted a simplistic formula to define their degree of separation: The Tories promised they would do everything for everybody from birth to death; the Liberals, from womb to tomb; and the ever-generous socialists, from erection to resurrection.

And all but the most conservative of us, in our turn, look upon our government as a sort of parental figure. We trust them.

Little Brother is a case study of what happens when they don't trust us...when "freedom to" is sacrificed, supposedly in favour of "freedom from". In the past, I've said I'd gladly take "freedom from" if given the option. The trouble is that we can easily sacrifice freedom to until we have none, and still have no freedom from. 

It's a rip-roaring read. You'll follow the adventures of Marcus Yallow, aka W1n5ton, as he deals with the frighteningly realistic aftermath of a terrorist attack on San Francisco. Suffice it to say the Department of Homeland Security cracks down hard on SF, touching off a war between the security forces of authority and a group of young freedom fighters. Doctorow's politics are very much on display--he tries his best to give the authority figures a fair hearing, but his disdain for their reasoning shines through in every word. Still, you'll find yourself thinking about this book long after you close it. And that's all you can ask from good sf.

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