The National-Security State and government repression: An Appreciation of Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother, the 2009 Prometheus Award winner for Best Novel

Introduction: To highlight the four-decade history of the Prometheus Awards,  and make clear what libertarian futurists saw and see in each of our past winners that make them deserve recognition as pro-freedom sci-fi/fantasy, we’re continuing our series of weekly Appreciations of past Prometheus Award-winners, starting with our original category for Best Novel.

Here’s the latest Appreciation for Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother, the 2009 Prometheus Award winner for Best Novel:

In Little Brother, Cory Doctorow offers a powerful cautionary tale about threats to liberty from the National Security State.

His bestselling 2008 novel, now widely considered a modern classic in the coming-of-age and dystopian genres, revolves around a high-school student and his techno-geek friends who are rounded up in the hysteria following a terrorist attack.

Doctorow focuses on the consequences and costs of the repression by government agencies in the aftermath of the attack as teen Marcus Yallow and four techno-geek friends are forced to defend themselves against the Department of Homeland Security’s attacks on the Bill of Rights when they’re in the wrong place at the wrong time as San Francisco is targeted for a terrorist attack.

Rounded up and imprisoned in a general sweep, Marcus attempts to assert his rights but his efforts earn him harsh treatment. After being released, he works to undermine the terrorist state and build tools that make it possible for private citizens to communicate privately and to organize out of the government’s sight. The emphasis is on how people find the courage to respond to oppression.

Paying tribute to another Prometheus-winning dystopian classic about a mass-surveillance police state, Doctorow based his title on Big Brother and lets Marcus name his online self after Winston, the central character in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four.

With an eye on the past and the future, Doctorow highlights the perils of government abuse of technology and its potential to safeguard liberty.

Note: Doctorow has won two other Prometheus Awards for Best Novel, including Pirate Cinema in 2013 and Homeland in 2014.

Cory Doctorow (Creative Commons license)

Doctorow, a Canadian sf writer, also was nominated for Prometheus Awards for Best Novel for Makers (2010), For the Win (2011) and Walkaway (2018).

* Coming up soon on the Prometheus Blog: A 40th Anniversary Celebration and appreciation of the next novel to be recognized with a Prometheus Award: Dani and Eytan Kollin’s The Unincorporated Man, the 2010 winner for Best Novel.

* See related introductory essay about the LFS’ 40th anniversary retrospective series of Appreciations of past Prometheus Awards winners, with an overview of the awards’ four-decade history.

* Other Prometheus winners: For a full list of winners – for the annual Best Novel and Best Classic Fiction (Hall of Fame) categories and occasional Special Awards – visit the recently updated and enhanced Prometheus Awards page on the LFS website.

* Join us! To help sustain the Prometheus Awards, join the Libertarian Futurist Society (LFS), a non-profit volunteer association of libertarian sf/fantasy fans and freedom-lovers.
Libertarian futurists believe cultural change is as vital as political change in achieving universal individual rights and a better world (perhaps eventually, worlds) for all.

Published by

Mike Grossberg

Michael Grossberg, who founded the LFS in 1982 to help sustain the Prometheus Awards, has been a writer, arts critic, speaker and award-winning journalist for five decades. Most recently, Michael won the 2019 Ohio SPJ awards for Best Critic in Ohio (for theater reviews) and Best Arts Reporting (which he’s won seven times). He's written for Reason and Libertarian Review magazines, was a regional columnist for years for Backstage weekly, helped lead the American Theatre Critics Association for two decades and has contributed to six books, including critical essays for the annual Best Plays Theatre Yearbook and an afterword/essay for the first paperback edition of J. Neil Schulman's novel The Rainbow Cadenza. Among the books he recommends to inform a libertarian-futurist perspective: Matt Ridley's The Rational Optimist, David Boaz's The Libertarian Mind and Steven Pinker's Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress.

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