Review: Little Brother

Little Brother
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think this is an important book, like a modern reworking of 1984 but with a more positive outcome. The latter is possibly because it is written in a style accessible to teenagers – great, get them interested in questioning things, empower them to take action rather than bow down to oppressive regimes. People need to be politicised!

It made me laugh out loud in a few places, e.g. “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 forty used voluntarily.”

It works as a story; it works as a warning; it works as a believable interpretation of many governments, since we learn more and more about how much they spy on us, how unclear the law is on the matter, and how they silence people who spread the truth with imprisonment and draconian laws. (My favourite recent UK example is ).

The other thing about the story – it works at making you angry. Angry at the assumption by those in power that they are not our servants, but rather, that we are theirs. To be secretly spied on. And most countries have systems whereby your only vote options are between parties that will let this continue. Is it any wonder that people feel disenfranchised by the formal political systems? Politics is about how you live your life. Politics is about the right to express yourself free from interference. We don’t have this. Legitimate concerns and dissatisfaction are interpreted as ‘terrorism’ by Governments, showing how out of touch they are with the people. And this book captures that zeitgeist.

PS Download it for free from Cory's site.

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I've been thinking about apostrophes recently, following Cambridge Council's dropping of them, then their reinstatement following public pressure (including my digging). I've been asked questions about apostrophes, and when they should be used. I thought I would do a bit more public service and explain the rule I work by.

Traditionally we talk about apostrophes as being there to show omission and possession. The issue of omission is quite straightforward, and I'll link to some good guides on that. The idea of possession is not quite so simple though, since it does not fully explain the many cases where there is no possession or ownership in any traditional sense.

"That is Karl's book." This is straightforward. I own the book. But then we come across cases like these:
  • Scholars’ Walk: do the scholars really own it? No.
  • The secretary’s boss: she doesn’t own her boss.
  • Karl’s friend: I don’t own my friend.
  • 6 weeks’ hard labour: the prisoner doesn’t own the weeks.
So the simplified description 'possession' obscures as much as it reveals, and isn't the best way to think of aspostrophes.

I find it much easier to think of apostrophes as representing the 'of' construction. If you can reword it as the "x of x" pattern then use an apostrophe.
  • Walk of scholars, therefore Scholars' Walk
  • Boss of the secretary, therefore the secretary's boss
  • Friend of Karl, therefore Karl's friend
This also works with cases that normally cause problems:
  • Two weeks' leave (leave of two weeks, so use an apostrophe)
  • BUT two months pregnant (no apostrophe, since you can’t say “pregnant of two months”)
  • Citizens Advice (no need for an apostrophe in the organisation name, since it is advice for citizens, not the advice of them - further explanation here, if the link works - if not have a read of the Oxford Guide to Plain English by Martin Cutts). 
Bear in mind the complication when words are missed out, but have to be assumed, and therefore an apostrophe is still required.
  • "I'm going to John's" = "I'm going to John's [house]" = house of John, so an apostrophe is needed
  • Christie's = Christie's [auction house] = auction house of Christie, so an apostrophe is needed
  • "Their strengths and weaknesses complemented and cancelled out each other's" = "each other's [weaknesses]" = the weaknesses of each other, so an apostrophe is needed
None of this is rocket science, and I'm not claiming to have made it up, it is just the system I find simplest to adopt. If you want to know more about apostrophes then I recommend the fuller articles here:
I fully expect someone to point out examples where my simple system falls apart!

Stages in writing a novel - rewriting

There are various stages involved in writing a novel. This is a simplified view, which generally represents my own process.

  1. First is the 'gathering ideas and thinking' stage. This doesn't mean planning everything out, but does lead to convincing details, key plot points, and ideas about some of the characters. And although some of the research can come after the first draft is written, with the imagination filling in the blanks for now, at least a bit of research is appropriate here since it will save you time. The system I use is quite efficient. I have folders for future novels, and even though I am not working on them yet I save snippets whenever I come across a phrase, description, bit of information or scene idea that is relevant. By the time I come to start that project I will already have a lot of material to work from.
  2. Then you will write a first draft. I'm not going to say much about that today. During the process you'll also do some editing and further research.
  3. The mysterious process of 'rewriting'. More on this below.
  4. Probably an external literary editor. This is a bit like a game of snakes and ladders: if you are unlucky you might get sent back to the rewriting stage. If you rolled a six then you can move on.
  5. Make the changes and edits your literary editor suggested. Keep polishing the stone.
  6. Get it proofread. Do some tweaks, more polish, and then you could be finished. Celebrate with some cake and a nice glass of ginger wine.


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