Some brothers are more equal than others

Little Brother cover XFor the tenth and final week of my online class, Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World, the reading assignment was Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother.

It was the only book in this class which had officially been published in the category “Young Adults”, or YA (like The Hunger Games or Harry Potter, if you are not familiar with the label.)  However, most of the SF/F mega-genre has at time considered to be merely for youthful and immature readers…

Little Brother reads as if Alan Moore had written a sequel to Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series for the universe of V for Vendetta, and published it in Linux Magazine.  It makes a lot of references, both open and oblique, to George Orwell’s 1984; the defence against Big Brother, it suggests, is a lot of Little Brothers and Sisters.

Anyhow, here is the last of my 300-word essays for this class. 


Community in the 21st Century

Little Brother illustrates the idea that it’s not technology alone, but technology at the hands of a vibrant community, that offers an answer to the dangers offered by our new capabilities.

Throughout his class, Dr. Rabkin has selected readings that showed individuals who pursue knowledge and power with insane intensity, and cut themselves off from their community with terrible results [1, 2, 3, 4].  The protagonists who reach a harmonious resolution are those who learn to create bonds with others, who build communities [5, 6, 7, 8].  As a final reading, Little Brother drives home the point.

The technological threat, again associated with an excess of knowledge as in several previous readings [1, 2, 3, 9], damages communities by instilling fear and suspicion, symbolized by the rift which develops between Marcus Yallow and his father [10].  When the Department of Homeland Security uses information technology at the expense of civil liberties, Marcus and other ordinary people find themselves under surveillance, even imprisoned and dehumanized.

While the novel first appears as a David-and-Goliath struggle, it is not one lone individual who will make the difference but the creation of a network of dedicated people.  Marcus can only succeed in his fight by relying on and expanding his community, both virtual and personal, including extending trust to adults in his life: parents, teacher, a friend’s father, a homeless man, a journalist.  But he must also use discrimination about who will be part of this community; the “Web of trust” relies on the strength of its connections [10].

We have bitten into the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, and the technology is with us to stay; but Little Brother makes the statement that the safeguard against misuse depends on an aware and active community with access to this same technology.

Works Cited

[1] Mary Shelley, 1818, Frankenstein or, The New Prometheus.

[2] H.G. Wells, 1896, The Island of Doctor Moreau.

[3] H. G. Wells, 1897, The Invisible Man.

[4] Bram Stoker, 1897, Dracula.

[5] Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1912, A Princess of Mars.

[6] Charlotte Perkins Gilman, 1915, Herland.

[7] Ray Bradbury, 1950, The Martian Chronicles.

[8] Ursula K. Le Guin, 1969, The Left Hand of Darkness.

[9] Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1846, “The Birthmark” and “Rappaccini’s Daughter”, Mosses from an Old Manse.

[10] Cory Doctorow, 2007, Little Brother.

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4 thoughts on “Some brothers are more equal than others

  1. Another essay which got very positive comments and grades from the peer reviewers. It may not make as much sense for an outside readers, but I was pleased that I had finished the class by tying together several themes we had discussed over the course of 10 weeks.

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