Little Brother (Little Brother #1) by Cory Doctorow

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I am aware of the issues told through most parts of the book even before I read it. I am familiar with topics of cyber-securities and privacy issues faced by the post-9/11 world and also the fact that Malaysian government are slowly trying to restrict internet freedom in this country that effectively made me positively paranoid as well.

Little Brother was also the last book for the “Fantasy and Science Fiction” Coursera course by Prof Eric Rabkin which I hadn’t read through but finally did. I had the free pdf version as well but unless its an ebook format, it is better to get the actual copy because really, it is a joy to read it. Oh, I said ‘joy’ with a book about teenage kids being forced into forced imprisonment, interrogation and torture and the whole internet paranoia and surveillance. But it is a good book to read if you need basics on some of the cyber issues faced today. It is true. Active surveillance and internet censorship and loss of privacy happen all around us. For most part of the book, it didn’t really tell me much what I didn’t know about most of the things in this book. But Cory Doctorow did write it well enough to make some parts of the book easy to read. Because really, this is a newbie guide on internet freedom.

It is also a tale about a gifted boy who was rebellious and smart, overly paranoid about everything who was at a wrong place at a wrong time. A terrorist cell attacked San Francisco and in the confusion and a stampede, Marcus and his friends was caught by Homeland Security. He was interrogated, starved and basically have the government abuses his right as a citizen under the pretense of anti-terrorism. Days later, broken and forced to sign a nondisclosure and left him out humiliated like a trash, his laptop bugged and basically psychologically raped, that he somehow began an anonymous group via a hacked Xbox now that the government allowed the DHS to transform San Francisco to become a police state.

The issues in Little Brother is real. We have past issue of ISP policing, government blocking websites, SOPA, PIPA, DRMs, Wikileaks, Anonymous, cryptocurrencies. It is easy to draw a lot of real life comparison from this book even if the book was published almost six years ago. Even where I am, Malaysian also have its issues with social media, internet censorship and issues with freedom of speech (apparently, there’s a western version and eastern version of it. Freedom in the western world isn’t our version of freedom. “Clash of culture”, if I want to quote from that child abuse case in Sweden). For some parts, it is fictional and the tech is seemingly too convenient but James Bond’s Skyfall is far more fictitious than an ounce from this book.

One of the things I like about Little Brother was its female character, from Van, Ange, Masha, to the mother and journalist and that evil Cate Blanchett-y character. Each of them was surprisingly memorable and exist beyond just to fill up the characterizations. Each of them exist in the book as a person more than a character who have their own life and decisions beyond Marcus’ world and it is hard to do that in a first POV novel with the story centered around a boy. Because it is more than just a story about a teenage revolution, its about a friendship, love, family and the world. I do think this book scored the Bechdel test well. In fact, I bonded with Ange and Marcus’ mother with our love of scorching hot Scoville scale hot in food and also Ange’s gothic loli getup. I would definitely hand them Sambal Letop as door gift.

Although, Marcus did have some sort of male attractiveness that made girls attracted to him but the quality didn’t really turn him into some kind of unlikable figure many male-centric and male written books tend to embellish. Marcus is still a recognizable awkward, damaged, somehow optimist young teenager with a grudge to the world who was instrumental in something that evolved beyond him. Sort of like teenage John Connor except less action figure and more awkwardly a teenager. It is an easy reading for me and seriously, it is a good book. Some might think it is overrated but if you see beyond the tech stuff (which you all should be aware about for a lot of reason especially being online and exposed) and appreciate the storytelling. It is a great story about a geek trying to change the world. A bit fantasy right there but hey, some of it is true and is happening.


The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks

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Am I the only one classifying this book as YA? Good. It is.

The Wasp Factory isn’t just an ordinary book. Frank Cauldhame isn’t just an ordinary teenager. Living in the outskirts of the suburban Scotland, disfigured as a child and an unregistered citizen, it provided him a level of anonymity to do certain kind depravities, like having hobbies that soothed his sadistic traits and killing his relatives. Oh, that’s just a childhood phase. Unconventional but he couldn’t help it.

Along with the book, I listen to the audiobook narrated by Peter Kenny who is a talented voice-over actor who gave the book a level of realism with a Scottish accent. While originally I rated it 4 but the audiobook bumped it to full five. It was genuinely spectacular story although the content was told in the most morbid way imaginable for a child serial killer to commit heinous acts but get away with it and still think he’s sane. It is a story of teenage psychopath and is a psychological drama around this character and his story and the way he tells it and Kenny did more than just narrate Frank, he became Frank. Also he voiced Erik so convincingly that he is a different person than the narrator and the father character was distinctive. Even his female voice was so realistic. No ordinary narrator can do this okay. He did cleverly use various expressions and varied tone that made the narrative doesn’t sound anywhere near passive.

The only near comparison I had was Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange’s Alex and teenage Micheal C Hall’s Dexter but the character became more than just being evil and sadists for the sake of the story. Frank is an unconventional human who sees things and have urges he can’t understand. Who did sympathise with abused dogs although he is familiar with his animal sacrifices and rituals. The character almost fit to the traditional view of psychopath but although Frank is antisocial, have a degree of narcissism, lack of empathy, often bored and imaginative enough that he did what he thought was necessary and justified and didn’t know what was right and wrong especially about him deciding to kill his relatives just because he get off from it, to him, whatever he did constitute to a balance to his world and it complement his needs. As everything he did was as a child and the story was told retrospectively, he did escape a lot of things easily. Somehow that empowered him in a way that it sustained most of his life with his unconventional family. As the story goes on, he did undergo some change that was so significant it changed his life completely that in a nutshell, it isn’t just a flat-tone story, but the one with many sides of the story.

It is a weird book and not for everyone but if you can stand Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, then it shouldn’t be an issue if the protagonist isn’t a good person. But the book is very well-written for a first Iain Banks novel. Personally, it wasn’t a horror story. Psychological book but not anyway horror. There’s nothing supernatural about an unconventional character. Most of the things he did and that happened to him did carry some bits of realism in it although the author insisted its all his imagination. Well, all great authors do.

Do listen to this afterwards.… Apparently, this isn’t his first story but he did give a good writing advice about brushing the skills up.

War Horse (War Horse, #1) by Michael Morpurgo

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I never knew that it was a book before it was made into a movie. Although I have a primary bias regarding to the story but I enjoyed this book just as well it deserved. War Horse is written in a similar way Black Beauty did by the first person narration. Unlike Black Beauty, War Horse told the story about a half-thoroughbred horse, Joey, and his life at the farm where he grew up with his master, Albert and his fate when he was brought into the army, encountering massive tragedy and fate, had traveled the continent between both sides of the war, befriended with new friends and suffering lost and death at the same time.

The narration proved to be intriguing. In a way, the storytelling is passive because it was being told by a horse. But whatever limitation it have, the story through the observant eyes of Joey was more telling than the characters themselves. In the movie, the story was told around the horse and the characters and the conditions of the war itself but due to the medium, it lack the crucial part of what the book really is, the wisdom within the horse himself. For all its worth, its a hard book to adapt into the movies but they did it well. For most part, I like the movie better in making the plot realistic than what was written in this book.

Even if Joey is passive as a narrating character, he’s clearly an active observant of the people around him. In a way, the author drove a humanizing element into the story in the eyes of a horse. It was an impressive feat on its own to craft a war story around an animal but it did work. I’m not certain if the story was intended to be a children book because its clearly isn’t just as the movie isn’t for me. It is a story about animal but it is a genuine misnomer to assume that all animal anthropomorphism stories belong to children’s fiction. Then again, the idea of a genre is always subjective through the eyes of the readers. In this case, War Horse is a historical novel and a drama around the era where the world is in chaos where the soldiers getting younger and die faster and where people and animals are also suffering in both sides without a choice in this madness.