Learning from “Little Brother”

littlebrotherEvery year my son and I go on a “Dad & Son Adventure” and this year was no exception. Though past ones have been in such places as the north shore of Lake Superior; Rapid City, SD; and New York City; for our 9th Annual Dad & Son Adventure this year we headed to Chicago to goof off and see a play.

See a play? What kind of adventure is THAT!?! As it turned out, a fun one.

Science fiction author, BoingBoing contributor and thought leader, Cory Doctorow (http://craphound.com) wrote a book called “Little Brother” which explored what happened to a boy named Marcus and a group of his friends seen as terrorists after an attack in San Francisco. The School Library Journal writes, “…he and his friends are swept up in the extralegal world of the Department of Homeland Security. After questioning that includes physical torture and psychological stress, Marcus is released, a marked man in a much darker San Francisco: a city of constant surveillance and civil-liberty forfeiture. Encouraging hackers from around the city, Marcus fights against the system while falling for one hacker in particular.

During a discussion with my son, Alex, where we talked about internet surveillance and within which I happened to mention public key cryptography — knowing I was about to embark upon a very lengthy explanation of what that was — Alex casually said, “Oh, I know what that is…” and he went on to explain it to me! “How the heck did you learn about that?” I asked. “In Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother,” was his answer (a book which, by the way, he’s now read seven times!).

I found this so fascinating and amusing that I emailed Cory (whom I met casually at O’Reilly’s ETech a couple of years ago) to tell me the story and he emailed back, letting me know what a hoot he and his wife had as he shared the story with her. After Alex found out about our email exchange, he stated he’d email Cory too and did…and Cory emailed him back. More on that in a moment. 

Since Cory releases his stuff in to the Commons for remixing, a Chicago group (Griffin Theater) took the book and made in to a play. It was incredibly well done and, two weeks later, we are still talking about it.

mikeharvey-marcusThe central character, Marcus, was played by Mike Harvey. The acid test for both Alex and I was how faithful to the character he’d be. Alex said he nailed it and I would too. His energy was amazing, the play moved along nicely and the upstairs, tiny theater worked surprisingly well, especially in the way they manipulated the props to give a sense of grander spaces and venues.

Most importantly it engaged not only its core audience (youth 10 to, say, 15 years old) but I found it compelling as well. It’s a challenge to get technical concepts across to a non-geek audience (one reason the Bush Administration was so good at railroading through policies most of the populace found befuddling) but Doctorow did it well and with aplomb.

My son is a voracious reader and consumes 2-3 books per week (though encouraging him to read the classics, like Grapes of Wrath for school, is a challenge). One more thing about his interaction with Cory, seeing the play, and being so connected and feeling encouraged by his interaction with a writer he respects: he’s been talking non-stop about the ideas he’d previously fleshed out for books he intends to write. This isn’t some adolescent fantasy either…he’s really working hard on his ideas, characters and how he’d lay them out. Thanks for reaching out to him Cory!

There are three more days to see Little Brother on stage in Chicago. If you live there or will be visiting soon, get tickets now.

Here’s Alex just before the play starts in the video below:

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