Books

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

A computer-savvy 15-year-old would probably find Little Brother entirely worthwhile, and she wouldn’t be wrong.


Little Brother

Publisher: Doherty, Tom Associates, LLC
ISBN: 9780765319852
Author: Cory Doctorow
Price: $17.95
Length: 384
Formats: Hardcover
US publication date: 2008-04
Amazon

Marcus Yallow, narrator and chief protagonist of Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother, is a senior at Cesar Chavez High, which makes him “one of the most surveilled people in the world”. Of course, Marcus is only his name in the real world.

In the school’s technological underground, he’s the notorious w1n5t0n (“Not pronounced ‘Double-you-one-enn-five-tee-zero-enn’”), and in case you missed the 1984 reference in the novel’s title, this name should do the trick. A convincing, and at times quite frightening, look at the dangers of technological authoritarianism, Little Brother is a loose adolescent cyberpunk update of Orwell’s best novel, and a decent work of fiction in its own right.

Reading a Young Adult novel by an author whose adult fiction you admire generally proves to be an interesting, if not always enjoyable, experience. More than one reader I know insists that Haroun and the Sea of Stories marks the highpoint of Salman Rushdie’s career, and though they’re horribly mistaken, Haroun is undeniably a majestic work of children’s literature.

On the other hand, you’d be hard pressed to find a greater admirer of Michael Chabon and a bigger baseball fan than me, but I couldn’t make it past page 50 of Summerland, and I wasn’t all that many years removed from its target age group when it was first published.

Little Brother is far more Summerland than Haroun. It reminds you why you love the author in the first place, but it really is for an entirely different audience. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing. Doctorow has written some very strong science fiction for adults, particularly the excellent Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom (another Orwell title reference), and much of what’s best about those earlier novels is on display in Little Brother.

The world of Cesar Chavez High is meticulously designed and almost always convincing. The near-future technology Doctorow describes is entirely plausible, the dialogue, while not always a pleasure to read, is a good approximation of how high school kids actually speak, and the central social issues explored are certainly worth examining. Its well-constructed and thoroughly engaging plot aside, the core of Little Brother is an argument against the creeping surveillance state.

Doctorow’s greatest success lies is his ability to effectively dramatize these issues while only occasionally distracting from the story, and even those instances are forgivable. Less forgivable are passages where Doctorow’s interest in peripheral technological issues overwhelm his writing. Case in point:

I turned to my SchoolBook and hit the keyboard. The web browser we used was supplied with the machine. It was a locked-down spyware version of Internet Explorer, Microsoft’s crashware turd that no one under the age of 40 used voluntarily. I had a copy of Firefox on the USB drive built into my watch, but that wasn’t enough -- the SchoolBook ran Windows Vista4Schools, an antique operating system designed to give school administrators the illusion that they controlled the programs their students could run.

It’s not that I disagree with Doctorow’s take on the relative merits of IE and Firefox, though the unavoidable absence of any reference to Google Chrome immediately dates the book. It’s just that Doctorow repeatedly brings the story to a halt so he can explain such references, perhaps out of fear that large chunks of the novel would otherwise be incomprehensible.

But surely Doctorow’s target audience knows what a $SYS$ file is, and surely anyone who doesn’t isn’t going to enjoy this novel any more thanks to repeated tidbits of programming trivia. A detailed understanding of computer technology directly related to privacy concerns would, of course, help readers fully appreciate this book. Comprehensive knowledge of the browser wars? Not so much.

If this seems like quibbling over minor details, I plead guilty while maintaining that these things really do distract from what is otherwise a clever, exciting, and even, dare I say, important book. I’m certainly not the ideal reader, and not just because it isn’t age appropriate (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is one of my favourite novels from last year, and it’s not even as good as The Half-Blood Prince). But a computer-savvy 15-year-old would probably find Little Brother entirely worthwhile, and she wouldn’t be wrong. Just don’t expect anyone over the age of 20 to read the whole thing voluntarily.

6

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.


In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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