Little Brother is a story of Marcus Yallow, aka W1n5ton, aka M1k3y, who lives in San Francisco in a not too distant future. I was going to say that MaLittle Brother is a story of Marcus Yallow, aka W1n5ton, aka M1k3y, who lives in San Francisco in a not too distant future. I was going to say that Marcus is pretty much your average 17 year old but, on further reflection, I realised I have no idea what an average 17 year old is like these days, let alone what they will be like in a decade or two. I imagine they are not too dissimilar to Marcus. They like computer games, have a bunch of mates, a bit adventurous, a bit horny, a bit rebellious, that sort of thing. But then, in some respects, Marcus did strike me as not very teenager-like at all. Reading Kerouac, his diverse food tastes (he knows all about all these great food joints and just what to order there), love of coffee and hate of Starbucks, his extensive knowledge of San Francisco's history etc. I wouldn't have been surprised if he popped down to a farmer's market at any point (and in fact I think he does mention a fruit market somewhere).
In the world of Little Brother security and surveillance have been taken to the n'th degree and pretty much your every move (both in the real world and on the internet) is recorded, monitored and inspected, so it is, perhaps, no surprise that Marcus is a bit of a hacker and clever with computers, a necessary skill if one is to skip school from time to time to go on Harajuku Fun Madness quests. It is on one of these missions that Marcus and his friends end up in the wrong place at the wrong time and are picked up and detained by Homeland Security after a terrorist attack.
Little Brother is a manifesto as much as it is a story. Now, I'm usually not much into books that beat you over the head with their message but I didn't mind so much here. Partly because I wholeheartedly agree with the author's views and partly because I believe that we are actually not very far off the world described in the book already and it is important for us as a society to consider the issues of freedom and privacy and to what extent these should be sacrificed in the name of security and how our views are affected by the climate of fear and paranoia created by the government and the media in response to terrorism. It does get a little much at times, like the tone gets a bit lecturey and do we really need the same quote from the Declaration of Independence repeated at us three times. But somehow, it didn't bother mee too much.
Welcome to the present.
I live in the UK and don't know much about what it's like in America, but here, we are already very much a surveillance society. The UK supposedly has more CCTV cameras than any other country in the world. According to Wiki, the exact number is not known but one estimate is 1.85 million, which is an average of one camera for every 32 people with an average person making about 70 appearances on CCTV cameras every day. Other estimates are higher. The justification for all these cameras, public and private, is crime prevention. But the same Wiki article states:
"There is little evidence that CCTV deters crime; in fact, there is considerable evidence that it does not. According to a Liberal Democrat analysis, in London "Police are no more likely to catch offenders in areas with hundreds of cameras than in those with hardly any." A 2008 Report by UK. Police Chiefs concluded that only 3% of crimes were solved by CCTV. In London, a Metropolitan Police report showed that in 2008 only one crime was solved per 1000 cameras. There are valid reasons for including CCTV as a component of a physical security program, but deterrence is not one of them."
And CCTV is by far not the only means for Big (or Little) Brother to keep tabs on you. Registration plate recognition cameras, mobile phones, travel cards, credit cards, loyalty cards, medical records, interenet use (social networking sites anyone?), DNA databases… these are all things that can be used to determine what you have been up to at any particular point in time. And it is astounding how many of us are completely oblivious or indifferent to the staggering amount of private information about them that is available to state authorities and, all too often, anyone else who cares to look. Your average Joe Bloggs attitude is still very much "nothing to hide, nothing to fear" and "If it prevents criminal behaviour or improves its detection, I am all for it." (actual quote from a BBC article). Well, the problem is, as mentioned, there is tonnes of evidence that it doesn't and there is lots to fear because, it seems, the government is unable to keep our private info safe (see: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7449927... and this article: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7690005...).
Anti-terrorism legislation in the UK, pushed through parliament in the aftermath of 9/11 attacks and the London bombings in July 2005, allows the police in certain circumstances to stop and search you without any grounds and to detain you for up to 14 days without charge (that period was 28 days until recently) and gives the police and other state authorities very wide powers of surveillance. Not worried because you are not a terrorist? Think again. Instead of using the anti-terrorism powers for, well, dealing with terrorism, there is much evidence to suggest that police use them simply as "an additional tool in their day-to-day policing kit" to stop and search people without reasonable grounds for believing they have done anything wrong, to detain lawful protesters and in other instances that have nothing to do with terrorism (such as walking on a cycle path http://news.sky.com/home/article/1345...). Local councils in the UK are using anti-terrorism legislation to spy on people in connection with horrific offences such littering, putting rubbish in the wrong bins, dog fouling and breaches of school admission regulations.
Online activism is also very much a reality these days. Think operation "Avenge Assage" by Anonymous in support of Wikileaks.
But I am getting carried away here. Back to the book. I loved the questions that it raises and Doctorow's obvious enthusiasm for the subject which pours off every page and is very infectious and I even loved the techie stuff, though I struggled to understand some of it. It is a great social commentary book, bang up to date, on point and relevant, but not without its problems as a work of literature, I think. I had a few issues: the sex stuff really made me cringe, some of the characters weren't very well developed, I struggled with the plot sometimes as it was a bit too convenient (if the Xbox universal was so great and already had all that free stuff and anti-detection software available for it, why wasn't everyone using it already; mum and dad just happen to be great friends with a major investigative journalist; why would an investigative journalist be put in charge of liberating a secret federal security prison, that sort of thing), Marcus was very much a stand in for the author (which is why he didn't really sound like a teenager most of the time, I think) and the whole "don't trust anyone over 25" thing was a bit silly and peed me off, though very teenager-like, I suppose. Overall, however, I enjoyed the book hugely and would highly recommend it to adults and teens alike. ...more
I gave up after about 20 pages or so. The conversation between the parents at the very beginning felt very staged and completely re-defined them as chI gave up after about 20 pages or so. The conversation between the parents at the very beginning felt very staged and completely re-defined them as charaters. Apparently, they knew all along what was going on, loved Ender deeply and just allowed their children to believe that they were blind dumbos, while really subtly manipulating them the whole time. WTF, why on earth would they do that? It then moved on to Valentine's introspections and rationalisations and later to Ender's thoughts on Gruff's trial, lest the reader might actually interpret anything that happened in the first book for themselves. I lost my patience for the whole thing at that point and had no will to go on.
I might pick up the series at some point in the future. Maybe. If I do, I will do so with Speaker for the Dead, which is the second book in order of being written, rather than the order of events in the series....more
This series had such promise. It started off well with a fast paced tale of a necromance on a quest against all odds to complete an assignment for theThis series had such promise. It started off well with a fast paced tale of a necromance on a quest against all odds to complete an assignment for the Devil and avenge her dead friend and, as it turns out in later books, lover. Dante was the kind of no nonsense, tough and practical heroine that, if not necessarily easy to like, at least does not get on your nerves immediately. Japhrimel was the enigmatic and surprisingly likeable (despite his radioactive eyes) demon assigned as Dante's familiar to help her on her task. And the endless repetition was easy to forgive due to the fantastic world-building.
This is a truly fascinating world that Ms Saintcrow has created. One that I have not seen before. Slicboards, hovercraft, plasguns, datbands and other sci-fi attributes here co-exist with shamans, demons, vampires (Nichtvren), werewolves (werecain), gods, magi and so on. It is a futuristic dystopian world that was transformed due to the insurgence (referred to as the Awakening) in the number of people with psionic abilities and the gradual exploration, acceptance (all be it reluctant and grudging) and development of those abilities and there is political social and economic history and theory to underpin this world which is glimpsed as the story unfolds.
I guess my biggest problem with this series is that Saintcrow takes a strong and independent female character and, essentially, destroys her, for no good reason whatsoever. A journey of empowerment and self-discovery this is not. Dante gets attacked, mind-raped, controlled, manipulated, restrained, subdued, eviscerated and so on (she even has a hovercraft smash into her and blow up!) until all that is left is a hollow shell of a person, unable to interpret anything logically or to trust anyone, barely able to function at all amid the nightmares and the shock of her experiences. And there is no bigger message on the nature of war or oppression or anything meaningful to justify this. There is no greater good that is achieved through her suffering. Dante is merely a pawn, of Lucifer, Japhrimel, Eve, basically anyone who has the slightest inclination to try to manipulate her, in a game that is not her own, is barely relevant to her at all bar her relationship with Japhrimel and (view spoiler)[ in the end, it is not even her that strikes the killing blow (don't even get me started on the whole Anubis and Sekhmet inhabiting her body to stop Lucifer killing her, just one massive what. the. fuck. there (hide spoiler)].
Combine that with the problematic nature of the relationship between the two protagonists (much of the manipulation, control and damage that Dante suffers is a result of Japhrimel's actions and, I am sorry, but I will act in what I deem to be your best interests, whether you will or not, while keeping you in the dark about everything that's going on, controlling everything that you do and physically overpowering you whenever I deem necessary and I am justified in doing so because I love you, I protect you and I know best just does not cut it for mes an excuse) and the mind-numbing repetitiveness of the writing and, I'm afraid, the main feeling that I am left with about this series is disappointment. It could have been so much more, but it just wasn't. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
OK, so what can I say about this that I have not said about the previous instalments? Not much, I'm afraid. And that's not a good thing.
Pacing is stiOK, so what can I say about this that I have not said about the previous instalments? Not much, I'm afraid. And that's not a good thing.
Pacing is still good (though action scenes are becoming more and more confusing), world building good, plot ok (while I do have some beef with the whole Gabe and Eddie dying sideline as it seemed completely unnecessary and irrelevant, the overall story arch developed nicely here) but it falls flat on its face in the execution. Japh is still an abusive control freak. Dante is still a whining imbecile. And the repetition. Oh holyjesusmarymotherofgod, the constant repetition.
I have actually done a count for this one so, Ms Saintcrow's editor, please take note:
• in fifth place we have the emerald on Dante's cheek which is mentioned 7 times, with emeralds altogether (there are 3 necromances plus Lucifer and Eve all with emeralds on their faces) being mentioned 18 times;
• in fourth place we have a tie between Dante's molecule-drip nail polish and black-diamond flames of a demon's aura with a respectable 8 mentions each;
• in third place, Dante's rings winking, swirling, sizzling, rolling, spitting and sparking 18 times;
• in second place, things glowing green are mentioned 36 times, mainly Japhrimel's eyes which have turned from radioactive green to laser green.
In case you need an illustration, here's one of the first results that Google image search comes up with for "glowing green eyes".
• And finally, in first place, mentioned a mind boggling 76 times, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the mark. It pulses, it twists, it burns, it flares, it heats, crunches and flushes. 76 times. All I can say is if you are using this book for a drinking game, do not go with the word mark unless you want to end up at the hospital with a serious case of alcohol poisoning. ...more
The Dante Valentine hunting season is open an all bets are off.
Throughout this book I wanted nothing so much as to slap someone upside the head. And lThe Dante Valentine hunting season is open an all bets are off.
Throughout this book I wanted nothing so much as to slap someone upside the head. And let me tell you, there were plenty of candidates needing some serious slapping in this book, including the two main characters and the author. Ranting and spoilers ahead.
After Danny and Japhrimel rode off into the sunset at the end of the previous instalment, I was expecting to see lots of hot sex (they did have several months' worth of catching up to do) but mainly I was expecting Japh to do a lot of explaining about what the fuck he made Dante into. Well, guess what? Not so much of the hot sex (it is referred to but it is all fade to black and here they are laying tangled stroking each other's faces scenes) and Japh says no, he is not comfortable talking about Fallen and hedaira. And Danny just accepts that and attempts to do her own research on the subject instead. Now, any sane person would see that there is some serious slapping required right there. He changed her , modified her genes for Christ's sake, without her informed consent might I add, and now he is not comfortable talking about it? Are you fucking kidding me?
It gets worse, though. As soon as the cheesefest idyll of the first few pages is over, it turns out that while he was stewing in the jar for a few months, Japhrimel has become an abusive, controlling, jealous asshole of epic proportions. Being crispy fried does not appear to have done any good to his character. His actions and motivations in this book basically come down to I am stronger, wiser and older so what I say goes. I don't have to discuss anything with you or tell you anything, I just expect you to trust me blindly and do what I say and, if you don't, I will force you. He dangles her by the scruff like a naughty fucking puppy and tells her to fucking obey. And guess what, she does not cut off his balls and feed them to the fucking hellhounds, she pretty much does as he says and apologises.
This, apparently is Dante Valentine's character development. She carries on loving a man who has made it clear that he most definitely does not consider her an equal, who will treat her as an imbecile child and is prepared to use force on her (other than the dangling episode, he does a lot of dragging and restraining throughout). Most of her internal whining (and it is still as repetitive as ever) comes down to he is not telling me things, he wants to leave me, how will I stand it, my heart is breaking, what am I gonna do. And in the end all is forgiven because he didn't agree to kill her and "Everything's going to be all right. He's here."
Way to go there Lilith. Other than, possibly, Charlaine Harris, I don't think I have ever seen an author fuck up her characters this much. You are not writing "Living with the Devil: a frank and unflinching look at abusive relationships", you are writing "The Devil's Right Hand", an urban fantasy with a strong(ish) romance theme. You romanticising this shit is really not fucking on.
Another candidate for slapping is Lucifer himself. For various reasons but mainly because one would expect the Lord of Hell to fucking man up and stop letting all these demons escape from Hell left right and centre or, if and when they do, to deal with it himself, instead of making stupid fucking bargains.
And it is all such a shame. Because in terms of plot and momentum this was much better than the previous book (which is why I gave it two stars rather than one), interesting new characters are introduced and the world building with its mixture of futuristic sci-fi and magic is still pretty good. We travel from Tuscany* and Venice in the Hegemony to freetowns of Prague and Sarajevo, see more of the Nichtrvren and Werecain and learn about other species (Swanhilds, Kobolds and Anhelikos, the latter being particularly fascinating) that inhabit this world, yet all of this is overshadowed by the abusive relationship between the main characters, the repetitive writing and a certain amount of discontinuity from the previous books (e.g. all of a sudden we find out that Doreen was Dante's lover, not just her friend, which, I am pretty sure, was never mentioned in the first book).
* The names of places and languages that Saintcrow uses are all slightly modified, e.g. American is Merican, Italian is Taliano, Tuscany is Toscano, Venice is Venizia and so on. To be honest, I am a bit ambivalent about this. It seems to be done just for the sake of it and I am not sure that place names/language evolve in this way.
I really enjoyed the first book in the series, the second was frustrating and this one is just infuriating. I'm wondering if I should cut my losses and drop it. I suspect that I probably won't. I'm more than half way through and I do want to see what happens. I dragged myself through worse books before (this attitude of soldiering on to the end no matter what is completely irrational, I know that, but still can't seem to help myself). What I would really like is for Dante to acquire some POWER so that she can show Japh what's what, cut off his balls and make him eat and re-grow them very slowly and very painfully. Or just put him back into the crispy fried jar for a few years to think about his behaviour. I doubt this will happen, though. ...more
Hmmm. This book was frustrating. It was much better than the first in many respects yet much more irritating in others.
The writing seems to have improHmmm. This book was frustrating. It was much better than the first in many respects yet much more irritating in others.
The writing seems to have improved considerably though there is still a lot of repetition. Dante's thought pattern sure is circular. She goes round and round and round with the same old "Japhrimel is dead/I can't love Jace/my hand is cramping/I don't want to think about anything" crap until you almost start feeling dizzy. It gets very tedious.
Being in Dante's head is a bit like riding on one of these:
One of the problems was that this didn't have the break neck speed of the first novel, so you actually got the time along the way to contemplate the characters, their actions and the reasons behind them.
Dante is a frustrating character. She is very self-absorbed, self-deluding and a bit of a coward to boot (despite the showy heroics). She will go out and fight villains and catch criminals but is completely unable to face anything affecting her own life and will bury her head in the sand and avoid facing things for as long as she can. Perhaps, this is understandable given her history (and we do get a lot of back story on her childhood in this book, which was good), but chapter upon chapter of her not doing very much other than going round and round and round in her head with the self-delusional bullshit was frustrating.
I detested the way Dante treated Jace. She was a bit of a prick tease in the first book gallivanting naked around Japhrimel (it's not like he will care, he is a different species from me. is he blushing? nah, must be seeing things again.) but this was much more morally suspect. I suppose this is yet another facet of her inability to face things. She knows that she will never return his feelings, yet she continues to string him along, allows him to move in with her, sleep in the same bed as her, tag along on her bounty hunts. Now, he is a big boy and can choose for himself but I still cannot condone this passive cowardly stance that she has, particularly given that she supposedly cares a lot for him as a friend (view spoiler)[and given that he dies for it (hide spoiler)].
There are also a couple of WTF moments, the biggest one by far being when she "destroys" the urn and torches down her house because (a) it is a very childish, not to mention selfish and irresponsible, action and (b) even an imbecile would realise what is going to happen as soon as she has done it. (view spoiler)[There is no subtlety to the resurrection, it just happens. And that was a huge disappointment. I would have much preferred for her to wrap up her past in this book and spend the time in the next book researching demons, her own nature and trying to resurrect Japh so that it would actually mean something instead of being some half-baked half-assed how fucking stupid are you accident. (hide spoiler)]
The ending made me cringe. They ride off into the sunset in a hover limo. Seriously.
On the plus side, I was still very much impressed with the complexity of the world that Saintcrow created. We get quite a bit more detail in this instalment and it is impeccably thought out. There is a historical, legal and even scientific context which is integrated into the story (although some of it is delivered as part of a couple of "research" essays and a glossary at the end, which some might consider a lazy approach, but I actually quite enjoyed that part, it certainly read very authentic). Nichtvren (vampires) and werecain (werewolves) make an appearance and we get a better understanding of the nature of some of the other types of psionic ability.
Overall, I still think this was a compelling and worthwhile read and am planning to continue on with the series. I am particularly interested to see how things will develop with Lucifer, who remained on the periphery throughout this instalment and how Dante, and her relationship with Japhrimel, will develop. I'm hoping there will be a lot more of her exploring her new half-demon powers and kicking ass, instead of moping about feeling sorry for herself and avoiding thinking about things.
Based on the author's name and the title I was fully expecting a neo-gothic monstrosity of red velvet, dripping blood and undying love. This sort of tBased on the author's name and the title I was fully expecting a neo-gothic monstrosity of red velvet, dripping blood and undying love. This sort of thing:
Ironically, the book does feature some red velvet and lots of blood, yet it was surprisingly good nonetheless.
This is the story of Dante "Danny" Valentine, a talented necromance and ass-kicking bounty hunter, who is hired (read forced) by the Prince of Hell himself, Lucifer (the Devil is dressed in black jeans and t-shirt, is barefoot, androgynously beautiful and has an "amazing corona of golden hair" but his surroundings are, at least, appropriately resplendent in red velvet, crimson, mahogany and leather bound books) to hunt down and kill a rogue demon, Vardimal know in the human world as Santino, and to retrieve a demon artefact, referred to as the Egg, stolen by him. In order to help her accomplish this task, Danny is assigned a demon familiar, Tierce Japhrimel, the Devil's Assassin and, possibly, oldest child (Lucifer refers to him as "my eldest" at one point). As it turns out, Danny has her own score to settle with Santino who has killed her best friend Doreen several years previously and is, by all accounts, a sadistic serial killer.
One of the things I enjoyed most in this book was the dark and gritty atmosphere of the futuristic world where fantasy blends with sci-fi and shamans, ancient Egyptian gods, demons, golems and so on are generously interspersed with plasguns, hovercraft (even one that can become invisible), datbands, flying slick boards and the like. It is a world where Christian religion has been discredited (the demons do not form part of the Heaven-Hell dichotomy but are instead alien beings occupying a different dimension who"modified" (and possibly created?) mankind as part of their own genetic experiments) and people with various psychic abilities (psis) are recognised and trained so that their powers can be harnessed for the purposes of society. A 70-day war is mentioned, after which the Parapsychic Act (which seems to regulate and grant citizenship to psis, though its significance beyond that is not entirely clear) was introduced.
This is a very fast action-driven story and the author does not pause along the way to explain the jargon and the way her world operates, leaving you to work things out for yourself from the context, which may irritate some readers but I found I quite enjoyed this sparse brushstroke approach. It was sufficiently engaging to hold my interest throughout this book and enough was left unexplained to make me look forward to reading the other books in the series to make sense of all the info we are given.
The other big plus of this book is the relationship between Danny and Japh. I loved the interaction between them and there was just enough subtlety in the build up to make it believable. Not so keen on the glowing green eyes but, I guess, one can't have everything and it looks like they will be phased out anyway.
I did have a few niggles (other than the glowing green eyes), by far the biggest being that Saintcrow seems to get stuck on certain expressions and repeats them ad nauseum. I was getting a bit sick of Dante's emerald winking, rings spluttering and knuckles going white from grabbing on to the hilt of her sword, her being told to "breathe, just breathe" constantly, everyone's eyes being dark and liquid and lips peeling back from teeth and so forth. ...more