Little Brother is science fiction author, digital rights activist, and all-around caped-blogging-crusader Cory Doctorow's entry into the literary space of "young adult" (or YA) fiction. But don't let that put you off whether you're buying a copy for the rebellious, tech-savvy 15-year-old in your life . . . or for the rebellious, tech-savvy 15-year-old inside you who never quite grew up nor left home. In addition to being a gripping read, it's a timely, wise, and important modern parable about freedom, privacy, and digital rights in the age of global terrorism and, more saliently, in the age of global wars on terrorism. It's a Nineteen Eighty-Four (a book Doctorow admits to having read as many as 40 times) for 2008. (The original was for 1949. Just to confuse things further.)
Little Brother is the story of an extremely tech-savvy and independent-minded seventeen-year-old named Marcus whose multifold talents include hacking and anonymizing his academic laptop, spoofing his school's biometric sensors, and kicking ass at 'alternate reality games' online and out in the streets. Marcus' two homes are a San Francisco of the near future and of course the more familiar digital realm where he goes by the significant screen name of w1n5t0n (as in Winston Smith, Orwell's L'Homme Revolte of a previously imagined future). When the Bay Area is rocked by the worst terrorist attack in America's history, Marcus and friends are caught up in Department of Homeland Security (DHS) dragnet, and subjected to substantial abuse and intimidation. (One of Marcus's friends doesn't come home at all). When Marcus is finally freed, it is into a city on the verge of totalitarian lockdown. Surveillance, detentions, and other infringements of privacy and civil rights run rampant now, all for the stated cause of preventing future attacks.
However, Marcus perceives a substantial disconnect between the thousands of innocent citizens harassed and electronically spied upon, and the terrorists who still roam free. In response to this hacker crackdown, Marcus manages to create an unsurveillable, alternate e-communications network, based on hacked X-Boxes; and via this medium, helps to launch a campaign of real life protests and acts of high-tech civil disobedience ultimately, and unwittingly, becoming the (pseudononymous) leader of an ad hoc rebellion. As the stakes rise and the story climaxes to a dangerous showdown, Marcus must navigate well-meaning but misguided authority figures; old friends who are unwilling to run the risks he does; a closing net of federal agents; and the hazards of teen sex (tantalizingly delayed, but ultimately consummated and in a conspicuously "safe", not to mention sweet, fashion).
In summary, I'd highly and cheerfully recommend this book especially to anyone interested (as perhaps we all should be) in the gathering storm of conflict between civil rights and civil defence, as immeasurably complexified by the wildly accelerating gallop of technology. (Both the technology that empowers would-be mass killers, and that which perhaps threatens to over-empower the governments we trust to protect us and not to mention the technology that empowers sovereign individuals to make their own decisions and imagine their own realities.) Buy one copy for yourself and as I did another for the young person in your life who will have to live in the future world that we imagine for him or her today.