Young Adult Geared Cyberpunk Series ‘Little Brother’ From Cory Doctorow Gets To Complicated Questions on Tech and Responsibility

His Writing Radicalized Young Hackers. Now He Wants to Redeem Them

Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother series has been a young-adult sci-fi bible for teen hacktivists. But with the latest and darkest book in the trilogy, it’s all grown up.



SET THE FIRST and last books in Cory Doctorow’s epic, three-book Little Brother cypherpunk saga side by side, and they read a bit like a creative writing master class on telling two starkly opposite stories from the same prompt. The common premise: Islamist terrorists bomb the Bay Bridge. Thousands die. The Department of Homeland responds by turning San Francisco into a fascist, total-surveillance police state. The protagonist, a digitally gifted, troublemaking teen, must decide how to respond.

In the first Little Brother installment, which Doctorow published in 2008, the answer seemed righteously inevitable: The hero uses his hacker skills to fight back. Specifically, he and his plucky hacker friends figure out how to jailbreak their Xboxes and channel the video game consoles’ encrypted comms over the Tor network to create Xnet, a cheap, anonymous, surveillance-proof system for organizing protest and foiling the panopticon cops by injecting false data into their totalitarian schemes.

In Doctorow’s third work in the series, publishing this week and titled Attack Surface, the protagonist takes an altogether different path. And while that path threads through the same alternate-world timeline of events, it’s tinted with all the shades of gray that the world has accumulated in the dozen long years since the series’ first, wide-eyed story.

This time the hero—or antihero, more like—instead chooses to go work for the DHS. After all, she’s angry, itching to use her prowess in digital exploitation, and someone needs to help hunt these terrorists who actually knows what she’s doing. To get the job, she breaks into her friends’ Xnet system—it was riddled with hackable bugs, of course—and uses information cascade modeling to identify all of the resistance’s leaders, then serves up the map to the authorities. Not long after, she swaps her DHS job for a contract position in Iraq, where she uses those same tricks to identify insurgent leaders, hack their devices, find them, and target them for killing.

The money is very good, and it keeps getting better. She’s transferred to Mexico City, switches contractors, and becomes accustomed to flying first-class, room service in Japanese-themed hotels, and aged scotch on the corporate account. Eventually she finds her employer is offering her exploitation skills to a kleptocratic Eastern European government that’s using them to suppress a “color revolution”-style movement. To assuage her guilt, she starts helping the dissidents, too, building surveillance systems by day and advising idealistic young rebels on how to defeat them by night—even while knowing that they’re almost certainly doomed, that the technological terrain has put them at an impossible disadvantage.



Radio Drama Style Podcasts To Check Out

I am a regular listener to a lot of old radio drama type shows, with favorites including Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce), CBS Radio Mystery Theater, and classics like The Whistler, The Creaking Door, and others. Last year around Halloween I listened to a much more recent radio drama style podcast titled ‘LIMETOWN’ and it was great! Ever since I’ve been looking for new ones to check out. Right now I’m a few episodes into ‘The Left Right Game’ which is also very entertaining and cool. Spotify is recommending me a few others, so I thought I’d post some of them here. Let me know if you know any others that are worth sharing!

‘Online’ Novels – Lauren Oyler’s Fake Accounts and Patricia Lockwood’s No One Is Talking About This – From Wired Magazine

Two Paths for the Extremely Online Novel

Lauren Oyler’s Fake Accounts and Patricia Lockwood’s No One Is Talking About This ask the same questions about the internet. Their answers sound nothing alike.

“WHY WOULD I want to make my book like Twitter?” the narrator of Lauren Oyler’s new novel, Fake Accounts, wonders. “If I wanted a book that resembled Twitter, I wouldn’t write a book; I would just spend even more time on Twitter. You’d be surprised how much time you can spend on Twitter and still have some left over to write a book.”

Oyler knows about Twitter. She had her first big social media hit when she reviewed Roxane Gay’s best-selling essay collection Bad Feminist for the blog BookSlut in 2014. The review dripped with piss and vinegar; it starts out, “I have always hated Roxane Gay’s writing,” and it doesn’t let up from there. Oyler is a consistently entertaining critic. Even when you don’t agree with or understand her arguments, they’re amusing. Which is to say, she isn’t boring. (That’s the nicest thing anyone should say about criticism, by the way. A critic one agrees with all the time—a critic who makes perfect sense—cannot possibly be interesting.) As Oyler describes herself, she’s an honest skeptic in a blurber’s world, a swashbuckler lunging to pierce marketing hype. Writers worry about getting reviewed by her, and they should worry, which is exciting. High standards are a critic’s gift. Her first novel is surprising, then. It’s a book I’d expect her to flambé, had she not written it.




Bring Me the Head of Quentin Tarantino by Julián Herbert
translated from Spanish by Christina MacSweeney
Graywolf Press, November 2020
Bookshop / Amazon
192 pages – fiction, short story

Review by Felice Arenas

An ode to, inspired by, or Western Unioned from the same morality-subverting center of its namesake’s films, Bring Me the Head of Quentin Tarantino, Julián Herbert’s short-story collection, emerges from magical realism to crash the penumbra of the depraved. A photographer’s most gruesome work might be his unborn son. Smile! There’s a magnum opus in a conceptual artist’s mouth. Impersonate a literary great and make thousands of pesos to score crack. It’s obvious Herbert enjoys examining the corruption of his native land, Mexico—“there’s no human experience beyond the reach of a bribe” and “most Mexicans are genetically incapable of distinguishing between a criminal and a policeman”—and he excels at rendering memorable, oftentimes apologetic characters who dwell in tightly constructed worlds that feel weirdly unobjectionable and totally nuts at once.