We have met the enemy, and he is us

This was the final week of the Coursera Science Fiction course. We read Little Brother by Cory Doctorow. It’s an excellent novel, intended for young adults, but excellent in its own right. It’s also free, available for download at the link above. It discusses a fictionalized (hopefully) DHS, and causes a lot of introspection. It also talks a lot about cryptography and technological security. Read it. My essay for the class follows.

Little Brother takes a clear stance, with clear and unapologetic villians. Many other works we have read take a similar position. The assertion that the view of the author is transparent is not a result of Doctorow’s treatment of villains. It is the result of the contemporary, realistic approach of the novel.

Villains in FrankensteinDracula, and The invisible Man are treated not better, but worse than villains in Little Brother. Victor, Dracula, and Griffin are clear villains with no redeeming characteristics. Dracula has no direct voice in the book, which is told exclusively from the point of view of enemies. Griffin has no friends, no defenders. The villains represent their own interests, and are not shown to have redeeming value to society.

In contrast, Little Brother provides the villains with a direct voice in Drew Yallow and Charles Walker. The ‘benefits’ of the villains’ actions are discussed extensively, if unsympathetically. This open debate is unique among these works, and the appearance of the author ‘taking a side’ against the villains stands in stark contrast to the actual content.

This incongruity is because of the more realistic and contemporary approach of Little Brother. The fantastical elements are not far removed from the realities of America today. The years have not given the work enough distance to get credit for being impartial, and the fantastic is not extreme enough to be excused for being one-sided. It is easier to allow a one-sided stance against Dracula since he is clearly not human – not one of us. In Little Brother this is not as clear, the villains are one of us, so more ‘gray’ area is demanded.

Because we see more of ourselves in the villains of Little Brother, we want to see more good in them, since it would be hard to accept evil in someone so like us. That is the difference between Little Brother and the other works: The others ask you to judge someone else, while Little Brother asks that you judge yourself.

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