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Literature / Little Brother

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Little Brother, and its sequels Homeland and Lawful Interception, are Post Cyber Punk novels by Cory Doctorow. They follow the story of Marcus Yallow, a high school student who forms a movement against the San Francisco Department of Homeland Security for kidnapping his best friend.

Little Brother can be downloaded or read online here, Homeland can be downloaded or read online here. Lawful Interception can be read online here.

A spin-off novel set in the same universe, Attack Surface, was released in 2020.

Not to be confused with the Alternative Rap group of the same name.

This novel provides examples of:

  • 20 Minutes into the Future:
    • Though never explicitly stated, Little Brother is supposed to take place a few years into the future (as of 2008, when it was published). As the author noted in an interview, 95% of the technology in the book already exists, and the other 5% could be developed within five years.
    • Homeland makes reference to issues very relevant as of its release (early 2013), with political commentary that tends to be critical of a "progressive" president who allows torture and unlawful imprisonment.
  • Adults Are Useless:
    • Invoked: "DON'T TRUST ANYONE OVER 25". This is actually a Shout-Out to a hippie slogan, which was discussed within the novel.
    • Ultimately subverted, after Marcus finally tells everything, Barbara solves the plot in a matter of days.
    • Also in Real Life there are shitloads of people over 25 who would have heard of that, for the simple fact that they go on the same sites and feel the same way.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Marcus gets away with lots of terrorism-related charges at the end of Little Brother, but gets sentenced for stealing a mobile phone. From the woman who kidnapped and tortured him. Repeatedly.
  • Author Appeal:
    • To the point of anvilice. Lampshaded in the introduction.
    • Homeland, which is the sequel to Little Brother, devotes plenty of space to cold-brewed coffee.
  • Big Bad:
    • Little Brother has the entirety of the DHS, or more specifically, Carrie Johnstone.
    • Homeland has the return of Carrie Johnstone, this time working for shadowy Private Military Contractors Zyz.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Barbara saves Marcus at the last minute in the end of Little Brother.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Homeland ends up taking this path. Marcus gets "fired" from his job with idealistic "perfect senator" Joseph Noss and gives up on "his little fantasy of democratic change" and on trying to work within the system altogether. It is unknown whether Joe Noss won the election in the end, and he gets dumped by Ange (although they re-unite and get back together in the Epilogue).
  • Blonde Republican Sex Kitten: The replacement Social Studies teacher, Mrs. Andersen, is described like this in Little Brother.
  • Broken Aesop: So, in order to combat the government invading people's privacy, Marcus uses hacking, a skill-set that's primarily used for... privacy invasion.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The photo of Marcus and his friends cutting class.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Masha, the girl with the pink hair from the beginning of Little Brother.
  • Coming of Age Story: Little Brother.
  • Conversational Troping:
    • The social studies class is basically this.
    • Actually a monologue, but Marcus researching Jack Kerouac's biography can also count.
  • Crapsack World: A pretty realistic one, at that.
  • Demoted to Extra: Van and Darryl arguably take on much less important roles in Homeland. Former minor characters like Masha play a bigger role in the story in the second book.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Angel Island, another island in the San Francisco Bay, served as detention center for Asian immigrants. Immigrants were usually jailed for years. In the book, it is implied that Marcus is the only Caucasian detained by DHS.
  • Eiffel Tower Effect: Averted as it is the Bay Bridge that gets blown up by terrorists, instead of the Golden Gate; the narrator lampshades this; the Golden Gate is for tourists, people actually living in San Francisco use the Bay Bridge.
  • Enhanced Interrogation Techniques: Several, including waterboarding and Lying to the Perp, are used by the Department of Homeland Security.
  • Expospeak: Doctorow seems to love stopping the action to put a few paragraphs here and there. To be fair, some of them are not-so-widely-known Truth in Television:
  • Everything Is Online: The ubiquitous RFID tags, used to track books and supplies in the school, and later vehicles all over the city.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble:
    • Sanguine: Vanessa.
    • Choleric: Marcus.
    • Melancholic: Jolu.
    • Phlegmatic: Darryl.
  • Graffiti of the Resistance: This is done particularly in the Mission, with the "Don't Trust Anyone Over 25" slogan.
  • Happy Ending: Little Brother. The police arrive and arrest Carrie Johnstone and the rest of the DHS personnel running the Hellhole Prison on Treasure Island at the very last minute. Marcus is implied to end up living a happy life with Ange. Until the sequel, of course...
  • The Hero: Marcus, in his ARG team.
  • Hollywood Hacking: Thoroughly averted. The fact that the author clearly has in-depth knowledge of and experience with technology and hacking really helps things.
  • Karma Houdini:
    • Most of the people behind or involved in the detentions.
    • Carrie Johnstone (known for most of Little Brother as "severe haircut lady") essentially is exposed as this in Little Brother and even further becomes this once Marcus decides to not release Johnstone's d0x to the internet at the end of Homeland.
  • Last-Minute Hookup: The last few pages of Little Brother imply both Darryl/Van and Masha/Zeb.
  • Leet Lingo: Both of Marcus' nicknames (w1n5t0n and m1k3y).
  • Lewd Lust, Chaste Sex: The most explicit actions get the least explicit descriptions in both books.
  • Love Triangle: Marcus/Vanessa/Darryl and Vanessa/Marcus/Angela in Little Brother.
  • Madness Mantra: Darryl takes to muttering "I'm sorry" repeatedly after being held in Gitmo-by-the-bay throughout Little Brother.
  • Mood Whiplash: Done masterfully with the first few chapters of Little Brother. When it begins, it's all about Marcus, the smart kid surrounded by stupid adults and teachers who has the system around his fingertip, and his small band of cool, funny friends and their Alternate Reality Games and their geeky hobbies. Then, just when you start seriously wondering if you might have accidentally picked up one of those young adult books, in a few terrifying and confusing paragraphs everything changes and suddenly Marcus is in prison and his friend is gone and his parents are alienated and the world is changed. Essentially, the reader experiences the same Mood Whiplash Marcus does.
  • Next Sunday A.D.: The 17-year-old Marcus mentions being into Dreamcast games when he was 7. To be fair, he doesn't say the Dreamcast was new at the time, but the Xbox Universal and Paranoid Linux are the only blatantly futuristic elements.
  • No Communities Were Harmed:
    • The Xnet seems to be based on Tor.
    • Interestingly, Tor itself takes on a larger role in Homeland.
  • No Name Given: Severe Haircut Woman. Actually subverted, as it is revealed in the epilogue of Little Brother that her name is Carrie Johnstone.
  • Non-Indicative Name: Homeland has very little to do with the Department of Homeland Security, considering they were dissolved in the end of the previous book.
  • Oblivious to Love: Marcus to Van in Little Brother.
  • Politically Motivated Teacher: Two social studies teachers, on very opposite sides of the political spectrum.
  • Pre-Climax Climax: Subverted in Little Brother.
  • Product Placement: Entire chapters are dedicated to (mostly publishing) companies.
    • The freely available online copies of the sequel, Homeland, is littered with Doctorow's own advertisements for various publishing companies and bookstores.
  • Quote Mine
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Villified
  • Satellite Love Interest: Ange exists pretty much so that Marcus would be able to have some booty after Van left him. She falls madly in love with him at first sight, never disagrees with him on anything, is pretty, smart, and sleeps with him after knowing him for about two weeks.
  • Shameless Self-Promotion: Marcus drops a few times into short monologues about the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Cory Doctorow was a high ranking manager of said foundation.
  • Shout-Out: the title, to the Big Brother of Orwell, of course. Marcus' former alias "w1n5t0n" is an another one.
    • There are also mentions of things like LARP, doujinshi, gothic lolita, Harajuku Bridge, meido, etc...
    • Homeland devotes several paragraphs to cold-brewed coffee, and the first few entire chapters centre around the Burning Man Festival.
  • Shown Their Work: Both in the text and in the afterwords.
  • Sinister Surveillance
  • The Smart Girl: Vanessa for the Harajuku Fun Madness game, according to Jolu.
  • Strawman: Pretty much every adult other than Marcus's Mother, Ms. Galvez, and Trudy Doo and eventually Marcus's Father and Barbara Stratford in Little Brother.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: This is how Vanessa and Marcus' friendship ends in Little Brother, for a while.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Carrie Johnstone and her coworkers are perfectly fine with waterboarding a minor in the climax of Little Brother.
  • Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters
  • Your Radio Hates You
    Tonight I couldn't laugh. Most of the callers wanted to ask what to do about the fact that they were having a hard time getting busy with their partners ever since the attack. Even on sex-talk radio, I couldn't get away from the topic.