Several years ago I noticed an intriguingly titled book called The Rapture of the Nerds. I thought it was a pretty cool title and I stood in my campus Waterstones and flicked through it. I wasn’t taken enough by Doctorow’s writing to impulse purchase it though.
Doctorow has appeared on my reading radar many times since. It was only recently that I took advantage of his releasing his books for free under a Creative Commons License, and read some of them.
Specifically, I read Little Brother and Homeland.
The titles allude to ideas of surveillance and security, as well as paranoia.
I can’t help but think that the books are dangerous though. Dangerous in that they leave the reader with an introduction to the world of TOR and the Darknet, as well as internet surveillance. I think that would leave the average teenager – average person really – with just enough knowledge to use these tools, but be not completely understand what they are doing and how to use them safely. However, the ideas of cyber security and internet surveillance might pique the interest of teenagers, leading them to read documentation and articles on how to use the services: this is a good thing.
I have another issue with the books. At times Doctorow’s prose breaks down into a mini-tutorial of how to use the above services. I found this irritating as it detracted from the story. Starting every chapter with a dedication to a bookstore, while having good intentions, also detracted from the story, pulling the reader out of the narrative. Perhaps having these in an “Acknowledgements” or “Thanks” section, outside of the main narrative would have made more sense.
As for the actual story?
Little Brother was pretty cool, I’m not going to lie. I enjoyed the story although I found the speed at which the US Government upped the surveillance and tracking of their citizens to be a little unbelievable.
Homeland was pretty cool too. In some ways I enjoyed it more than Little Brother. That might be because I didn’t read it in one marathon sitting.
I’m not going to write too much about the story – that wasn’t why I created this post.
Overall? Doctorow’s books might be dangerous, but they could do a good job in getting teenagers who don’t read, to read.