Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Cory Doctorow's Little Brother

I read Cory Doctorow's Little Brother novel on my Sony PSP last week.  For more information about I convert books to the PSP, see my article here on Attilan.

Little Brother is a young adult novel (although just as good for adults) about a high school kid named Marcus Yallow (aka w1n5t0n) in San Francisco. San Francisco is attacked by terrorists and the Department of Homeland Security swoops in and starts heavily monitoring all citizens. Marcus fights back against the DHS by hacking his Xbox Universal (the next release after the 360?) with an operating system called "Paranoid Linux" and inspiring a group of young techno-geeks to help him out.

If you're a programmer living in the San Francisco bay area, you might find this novel very appealing.  Marcus Yallow's adventures take him all over the city, from Potrero Hill to North Beach to the Mission district.  Marcus is quite a sophisticated kid when it comes to food, choosing to eat Indian curry after he's released from a brief prison stay.  Marcus' parents keep a drawer full of take-out menus, as most bay area people do, it's usually easier to order food from the many restaurants we have here.  The DHS starts monitoring the travel patterns of all citizens and start tapping into the data collected by FasTrack devices, as well as people taking too many BART trips around SF.

The kids depicted in the novel are all technically competent.  They can hack into the school computer system with little trouble, or use encryption to protect their email.  Paranoid Linux was a really interesting concept, an operating systems that assumes its operator is under assault from the government.  Intended for Chinese or Syrian dissidents, it leeches onto open wifi connections in the local area and sends fake chaff communications while sending/receiving the real data one character at a time.  I actually thought this was real until I looked it up.  Now there is a group of people trying to build Paranoid Linux for real.

Doctorow has a lot to say about freedom in this novel through Marcus and some of the other characters.  It gets a bit preachy at times,but I still enjoyed it.  I constantly questioned whether a kid like Marcus could pull all of this off, and after thinking about several young hackers I've met from Sweden, I decided it was possible for someone that young to be so competent.  I am not sure if there could be an entire group of them living in one area, or that they would become so popular to be treated like a rock star.  Marcus' exploits allow him to have a pretty fantastic girlfriend, who lives in the East Bay.  And this is the most unrealistic thing in the book.  Not for a geek to have a girlfriend, but to give Marcus the ability to travel from the East Bay back to his home in the city after midnight.  Come on, BART stops running trains at that time!  Nuff said.

Link:  Cory Doctorow's Little Brother site

Link:  Cory Doctorow's Little Brother and the Sony PSP as an E-Book Reader

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