I just finished reading Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, which was the book I had to read for my book group this fortnight. I’d actually read it before, but that was about five years ago, so I didn’t have much recollection of it other than that I’d liked it at the time.
The book is about high school student Marcus, who lives in San Francisco. In the aftermath of a terrorist attack he is held captive and interrogated by the government, and when released he vows to fight against them and the over-the-top measures that they’re using to control the citizens of the city.
While I recall that I’d liked the book a lot the first time I read it, this time around my feelings were a bit more mixed. On the plus side, it was a good quick read, the plot was gripping and all too plausible. However, while I do have an interest in the technological and political topics covered by the book, at times it felt too much like the story was just a soapbox for the author’s own views. Even when I agreed with him, there were times when I felt too much like I was just being preached to. Another thing I disliked was the main character, Marcus, who came across as far too smug and impressed by his own cleverness (something I’ve found with characters in other Doctorow books). Also the Californian teenage slang was a bit much at times, although I feel like a grumpy old person for saying so, but I was definitely rolling my eyes at the language in places.
In fact I do wonder if my changed reaction to the book this time around is due partly to my age. It’s a YA book, and while some YA books I’ve read don’t necessarily feel like YA books and appeal to me as an adult, this one struck me as being a bit more squarely aimed at the teenage audience. One of the political slogans the characters in the book use is ‘don’t trust anyone over 25’ - well I’m about to turn 26 in a few weeks time, whereas when I first read the book previously, I was probably 19 or 20. I think I can see why it appealed more to me at that age than it does now.
I don’t want to over-emphasise those criticisms of it though, because I did still enjoy reading it overall. Certainly as a way of introducing topics such as cryptography, and as a way of promoting thought and discussion of issues such as surveillance and terrorism, it is a very good book. I just didn’t like it as much as I remembered from my previous reading of it, and so I wanted to think about why that is. So while it’s not necessarily one of my favourite Cory Doctorow novels any more, it’s not like I wouldn’t recommend it either.
For The Win by Cory Doctorow is a YA science fiction novel set in the near future focusing on online gaming, gold farming and economics. The book features many characters who are gold farmers and other game players from around China and India. These characters make their living playing games but are exploited for their labour and so they form a union which could bring could the economy of the games and have a big impact in the real world.
I have a mixed history with Cory Doctorow. Having read this one I have now read all of his novels. I thought his earlier books were okay, then I absolutely loved Little Brother, his previous YA book, and then absolutely hated Makers, his last novel before this one.
I liked this one. I thought it got the balance right between presenting interesting ideas and having a good plot and characters. I actually wish I had read it last year around the same time I read Neal Stephenson’s Reamde, as I felt they had some ideas in common and this one, which is fast paced and enjoyable, would have been a good counterpoint to that massively bloated book.
Overall I enjoyed it and I would recommend checking it out if you are interested in that kind of near-future SF. You can actually get it for free as an ebook from Doctorow’s website; indeed all of his books are available as free downloads, which makes it nice and easy to check it out and see if you like his writing (although this one did have some ‘adverts’ for book shops in it that were written by Doctorow, which annoyed me a bit).
The first book I read this year, Makers by Cory Doctorow, was hugely disappointing. I love the short story collections that I’ve read by the same author, and his other novels are quite good too, but this was just awful. By the end I was actually annoyed by how bad it was and I just wanted it to be over as soon as possible. The plot just never went anywhere, the characters were one dimensional and not developed at all, and were all irritating (especially the ones that were obviously supposed to be the good guys who were in the right), and the whole book felt more like an excuse for the author to forward his ideas and opinions rather than a novel (presenting new ideas in fiction is good when done well, but this was not done well at all). So overall, disappointing because I hate reading bad books and because I was looking forward to reading this and I’d expected much better from this author.