Sunday, June 29, 2008

 

Little Brother

For Christmas 1983, I got a copy of George Orwell's 1984. Part of me was terrified that I'd wake up the next week and discover that I existed in that horrible totalitarian world. It was, after all, when the Cold War was at a very high point, and I was just waking up to the realization of the all the horrors of the world of that time.

You get elements of that when reading Little Brother -- set, presumably, in 2010. If I had gotten this at that age, it'd even be more clear than 1984, which was, after all, not a horror story of 1984, but of 1948, just still relevant.

In Little Brother, you've got something that's a clear political tale. It's not a book that you'd describe as subtle -- the political message is clear -- but the world is described exactly as you'd imagine it.

It is the San Francisco that I recognize from my trips there gone horribly wrong -- not an idealized city by any means, where the city changes radically just by moving one block from tourist land to a more unsavory world.

And just like that two block trip -- the world that Doctorow describes is one that's just a little bit farther away from the one that we are today, where the terrors of Abu Ghraib get set up shop in San Francisco.

It's impressive because it also teaches you a lot about technological history -- and how technology mixes with politics.

There are some books that if I was growing up today, and read them now, they'd have a huge impact -- the saddest thing, for example, about reading Harry Potter as an adult is, well, you're reading it as an adult. Reading Little Brother is a bit like that.

And one of the things that I like the book is that it is very tempting for people to get so worried about the application of technology that they become techno-phobic -- where this is absolutely not. It's a tool -- and the tools can be used for as much good to make it a better place than it is to make it a worse one. At the end of the day, this is still a work by someone that believes that tech can make the world *better* -- and not just worse.

It's a book to read, think about, and discuss. You might disagree with it in places -- but that's the best part, really, that you can disagree. And in whatever way you can, try to figure out ways so we don't fall into a world where things really do get that bad.

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