I just finished Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother and found it a worthy read. The attentive among you will have noticed that I picked this book for my sf class without having read it. For the most recent book in the course I choose the sf title with the highest critical and marketplace impact. Last year the Oprahized The Road was the obvious choice. And while hardback Little Brothers on sale in the local Kroger a full year after pub date with no paperback in sight, might not be Oprah, it’s close enough for sf. That it’s about the War on Terror when the theme of this particular class is war, made it inevitable. Besides, I like Doctorow. He’s smart, important in his own right as a mover and shaker.
I haven’t read the bibliography yet, which gives a hint to one of the problems with the narrative. Forget the Xbox. There’s plenty of soapbox here for anyone, and maybe too much for many. For my purposes, this makes it a perfect ending for a course that begins with Heinlein’s Starship Troopers—originally written as YA also and larded with right-wing lectures. Doctorow’s info-dumps are shameless, but this didn’t bother me so much. He’s always interesting, which James says is the only requirement of a novelist. This isn’t exactly Melville and the whales or even Stephenson in The Diamond Age, but interesting enough and clear. At heart, perhaps, Doctorow is an essayist.
I did find myself longing for some shades of gray in the tale. The only untrustworthy soul under twenty-five is so cartoonishly over the top he’s impossible to take seriously. Surely, there’s one right of center kid in California with more than two brain cells firing. My favorite YA writers like Robert Cormier or Philip Pullman allow for dark ambiguity in the narrative, but here the whole thing’s pretty easy after the nasty torture bits are over. No one betrays our hero except the DHS. Despite all the paranoia, it’s never personal. Lucky fellow. The villain lives to fight another day and that’s supposed to be enough darkness? It all just seemed a little too sunny by the end.
I quibble. Except for a bit of a lull toward the end, the narrative remains interesting and the hero engaging. I agree with his politics, so I’m not the one to ask how effective the book is for those who don’t. I trust some of my students will have something to say on the matter this summer. My favorite fan of The Watch (a thoroughly lefty book) is self-described conservative Lelia Taylor who owns Creatures n Crooks. It makes me proud to have poisoned her mind. Here’s hoping Little Brother charms my class as well.
I’ll be on electronic hiatus for a while. I’ll be back in a couple of weeks. Enjoy the spring.