Sunday, May 11, 2008

Night Reader*

I've done a lot of reading this weekend. I just finished Little Brother by Cory Doctorow. This is not only an excellent and entertaining book, it feels like a very important one to me.

If you haven't heard about the book--and it only came out about a week ago--let me very briefly explain what it's about. Marcus is a geeky high school senior in a five-minutes-into-the-future San Francisco, with nothing much more on his mind than outwitting his hated school vice principal. But when he and three of his friends ditch school to hunt down a clue in an ARG, they're caught in a terrorist attack and arrested as possible suspects. They're jailed in a secret detainment center for days, questioned, and finally released--but one of their friends just disappears. San Francisco is essentially locked down by the Dept. of Homeland Security. Marcus's efforts to bring down the DHS are realistic and scary, and have realistic and scary consequences. This is much more than a "hacker kidz outwit stupid adults" story.

Like Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four that inspired its title, Little Brother is remorseless in its portrayal of a government out of control. I read Nineteen Eighty-Four when I was in ninth grade, because that happened to be the year 1984 and I thought I ought to read the book. I haven't read it since, but I remember it far more clearly than any book I read for class in ninth grade (or tenth, or eleventh, or twelfth). If you haven't read Orwell, you really ought to. And you ought to read Little Brother too (it's shelved in YA, incidentally). It's uncomfortably realistic, and it makes you think.

There's been an upwelling of the theme of fighting against unjust government decisions lately. Think of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (book and movie), think of V for Vendetta (the movie that came out in 2006, based on the graphic novel). I'm sure you can come up with half a dozen more without even thinking hard. Of course that's a reaction to current events, but unjust government is nothing new.

Last night I stayed up till 3am reading Bill Bryson's book The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid. It's a very funny and charming memoir, but Bryson does something admirable in the middle of the book. In between hysterically funny memories of growing up happy and middle class in Des Moines in the 1950s, he includes a chapter about wider events in the world. He talks about McCarthyism and institutionalized racism, for instance, in ways that had me shaking with helpless rage. And now, after reading Little Brother, I realize that we've hardly come any distance at all socially in the last half-century. Our special effects are just better now.

I think that's partly why I was (and am) so excited about the Anonymous attacks on the Church of Scientology. They held another protest yesterday, incidentally. It's the sort of thing that Marcus of Little Brother might admire: the exercise of Constitutional rights blended with clever use of technology to draw attention to a social wrong.

I don't really have a point in all this--it's almost 2am now and I only got five hours sleep last night, so I'm doing pretty good to even write coherent sentences. I just wanted to share some thoughts and urge you to read Little Brother. Oh, and if you're my brother Richard, I'm sending you a copy for your birthday present. I think you'll like it.

*my wit slays me. I am thinking of the song "Michael (Jumpin)" by No More Kings at the moment, an excellent song I've been listening to all week but which I only realized yesterday must be about the old TV show Knight Rider. Well, I never watched that show. Everything connects to everything, you know--I bet the band No More Kings takes their name from the Schoolhouse Rock short about the Declaration of Independence. And the song ends with the lines: "It's not like you to turn your back and let the dark side win / So come on, Michael, open the door and jump in."

No comments: