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September 7th, 2008

back to school

Tomorrow, I head back to school. It was very nice having the past week off for the term break, and I ordered and received a new black MacBook (which is being partially subsidized by Hwa Chong, since I'm using it as my school computer) and an iPod Touch (which is also mostly being covered by Apple's education rebate); I wouldn't have ordered either otherwise. I've been playing with both all week, and they're both shiny.

I also started and got halfway through The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (on loan from one of my English colleagues), and man oh man, is it one amazing book so far. Though I'm probably the last person in the world to come to this realization (since eleventy billion people have apparently already read it).

I was hoping to get more writing done last week, but I'm not going to feel guilty about it. It was my week to unwind from the stresses of Term 3, so that is what I did.

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In today's Singapore Straits Times (i.e. The Sunday Times), my review of Cory Doctorow's Little Brother was printed in the Lifestyle section as part of September's Sizzling Reads. I was extremely jazzed to see a review of mine appear in a national newspaper, and hopefully it'll lead to more work with the ST.

I was restricted to 250 words, and it looks as if it was edited down further because of space issues. This truncated version of the review is also slightly less understandable than it would have been, and more choppy because of the many paragraph breaks. I'm not going to get in a snit about it, since I get paid either way, although it would have been nice to have been consulted. The online version is locked behind a pay wall, but I asked Janet to kindly scan it for me, and the results are here. I've also been told that it's okay for me to post it on the blog.

So here's my original uncut review of Little Brother:

LITTLE BROTHER
By Cory Doctorow
Tor Books / Hardcover / 384 pages / S$37.40 (with GST)

Review by Jason Erik Lundberg

Several short years in the future, San Francisco's Bay Bridge is bombed by terrorists, and teen technogeek Marcus is picked up by the Department of Homeland Security, as well as anyone else out in the open after the attacks occur. Following detention, interrogation, and humiliation by the DHS, Marcus is freed but threatened with constant surveillance and recapture if he tells anyone the truth. Using pirate software to link together a group of hacked Xboxes, Marcus decides to fight the DHS's fascistic rights-eroding security countermeasures. He assembles a loose aggregation of like-minded young people to scramble RFID card information, gather in flashmobs that perplex the authorities, cryptographically establish a communications network that can't be wiretapped, and further rebel against the Orwellian dictates of the DHS in order to reclaim their city.

Peppered throughout with informative how-to's on how anyone can use technology to safeguard their privacy, Little Brother is a fast-paced examination of security and safety in an age of terror. Marketed as young adult science fiction, but with themes appropriate for teens and adults alike, the novel is a wake-up call to avoid the advent of Orwell's Big Brother, and of totalitarian governmental control. Presented in the format of a fun and entertaining thriller, with a clear love of San Francisco and the counter-cultural activities that have always sprung up there, the book brazenly critiques the Bush administration's current policies toward security theatre and civil liberties, but also provides hope that change can occur even in the most unlikely hands.

You might also like: Uglies by Scott Westerfeld (2005, S$17.07 with GST). Near-future YA SF about mandatory plastic surgery at age 16, and the youths who decide to buck the system.

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