You can’t get anything done by doing nothing. It’s our country. They’ve taken it from us. The terrorists who attack us are still free—but we’re not. I can’t go underground for a year, ten years, my whole life, waiting for freedom to be handed to me. Freedom is something you have to take for yourself.
–Little Brother, Cory Doctorow
Cory Doctorow, where have you been all of my life? I know, I know. You’ve been publishing the shit out of a bunch of books, doing tech activism, loving on creative commons, giving away ebooks, running Boing Boing, and saying important things about technology, copyright, privacy, security, and surveillance. Tor published Little Brother in 2008, which means I have spent at least five years of my life with no idea that an author with potential to become a favorite was waiting just off my radar. It took an interview on the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy Podcast (best sci fi podcast ever, fyi) to get me to sit up and download some of his books already.
As far as I can tell, Doctorow is a kind of superhero in the tech activism world, and his school of thought is a really good reminder about the positive side of technology. Technology can be awesome. Yup. Nikki-who-dabbles-in-Ludditery just said that. The narrator in Little Brother puts it like this after pulling another badass move using modern tech: “The best part of all this is how it made me feel: in control. My technology was working for me, serving me, protecting me. It wasn’t spying on me. This is why I loved technology: if you used it right, it could give you power and privacy.”
Oh yeah, technology is only fucked when, for example, the government insists on using it to monitor people, when it becomes a tool of surveillance and control. It is a reminder I need to hear, often. I mean, I actually really like a lot of technology, and I have a hard time reconciling those feelings with the worry that the stuff simultaneously plants in the pit of my stomach. It is the “dystopian” (haha, I mean real life) shit that governments do with it that scares me. (As well as the dependence it creates on finite resources, but that is another issue. We don’t need to have that conversation every single paragraph.)
But back to Little Brother. The premise is this: a high school kid who is really good with technology is in the wrong place at the wrong time, and gets taken in by a fictional version of Homeland Security for a bombing in San Francisco. Bad things happen. He is released. He fights back against what is becoming a very totalitarian state of affairs. Besides being an engaging, page-turning story, Doctorow peppers the plot with information about how you can make technology work for you, how you can hide what you’re doing on the internet, how to do a number of small but neat hacks, where you can learn more, and why a deep understanding of the tech you use can work for you and help keep tech positive rather than scary. I immediately added it to my mental list of “books to get for every young adult I ever need to buy a birthday present for” list (see also, Earthsea). This is the kind of stuff that makes me wish I had a parallel life in which I could have become a programmer. It is that engaging.
Doctorow’s perspective on copyright is intriguing as well. And I quote (from my totally free, totally legally downloaded e-book file introduction):
The Creative Commons license at the top of this file probably tipped you off to the fact that I’ve got some pretty unorthodox ideas about copyright. Here’s what I think of it, in a nutshell: A little goes a long way, and more than that is too much.
I like the fact that copyright lets me sell rights to my publishers and film studios and so on. It’s nice that they can’t just take my stuff without permission and get rich on it without cutting me in for a piece of the action. I’m in a pretty good position when it comes to negotiating with these companies: I’ve got a great agent and a decade’s experience with copyright law and licensing…
I hate the fact that fans who want to do what readers have always done are expected to play in the same system as all these hotshot agents and lawyers. It’s just stupid to say that an elementary school classroom should have to talk to a lawyer at a giant global publisher before they put on a play based on one of my books. It is ridiculous to say that people who want to “loan” their electronic copy of my book to a friend need to get a license to do so. Loaning books has been around longer than any publisher on Earth, and it’s a fine thing.
His argument goes on for pages and pages, and it compelling, but I won’t quote any more of it at you here. (Like I said, you can just download the book with the intro here for free, and read it yourself. Even if you don’t have an ereader you can download a program like Calibre for free and read it on the computer that you must be reading this on right now. And even if you don’t want to read the book, download it for the introduction, and the copyright argument.) Doctorow’s views on copyright just make me want to go out and spend money on all his books. I mean, this guy deserves to have my money. I want him to have it. I want to financially support the man who is going out there and writing this kind of book and promoting this kind of thinking. And that is exactly his point, when it comes to copyright and using Creative Commons, and giving your fans a little credit. I can’t wait to read more of his work.
Have you read any Doctorow? What do you think about his views on copyright?