It’s my book-birthday! Today marks publication of the Tor (US/Canada) paperback edition of ATTACK SURFACE, a standalone adult Little Brother book.
In an interview in the LA Review of Books, Technology and Politics Are Inseparable: An Interview with Cory Doctorow, Eliot Peper digs into the backstory and ethos of the Little Brother books in general and Attack Surface in particular:
Attack Surface explores how technology is not the solution to social problems, but a morally neutral accelerant to political action, and that ultimately only politics can solve social problems. How did you learn this lesson? How did it change your worldview? What does it mean for someone who wants to contribute to building a better future?
I started in politics — my parents are activists who started taking me to protests when I was in a stroller. But in 1977, when I was six, we got our first computer (a teletype terminal and acoustic coupler that let me connect to a DEC minicomputer at the university my dad was studying at). I never thought that computers on their own could solve our political problems — but I always thought that computers would play an important role in social and political struggles.
Technology and politics are inseparable. There’s a kind of nerd determinism that denies politics (“Our superior technology makes your inferior laws irrelevant”). But just as pernicious is the inverse, the politicos who insist that technology is irrelevant to struggle, sneering about “clicktivism” and “solutionism.” I have logged innumerable hours wheatpasting posters for demonstrations to telephone poles. I can’t believe that anyone who claims networked computers don’t change how politics work has ever wheatpasted a single handbill.
Cryptography cannot create a stable demimonde that is impregnable to oppressive, illegitimate states — over time, you and your co-dissidents will make a mistake, and the protection of math will vanish. But the fact that it’s not impregnable doesn’t disqualify cryptography from being significant to political struggle. Nothing is impregnable. Crypto is a tool — not a tool for obviating politics, but a tool for doing politics.
Moreover, the existence of crypto — the fact that everyday people can have secrets that can’t be read without their consent — changes the equilibrium in oppressive states. The privilege of the powerful — secrecy — has spread to the general public, which means that leaders who are tempted to take oppressive action have to take account of the possibility that the people they oppress will be able to plan their downfall in ways that they will struggle to detect.
Well this is pretty terrific: Pavel Anni was so taken with my 2020 novel ATTACK SURFACE (the third Little Brother novel) that he’s created “Mashapedia,” a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of the real world technologies in the tale.
Pavel is both comprehensive and comprehensible, with short definitions and links for the mundane (MIT Media Lab, EL wire, PGP) to the exotic (binary transparency, reverse shells, adversarial preturbation).
When I was an adolescent, my friend group traded secret knowledge as a kind of social currency – tricks for getting free payphone calls, or doubling the capacity of a floppy disc, or calling the White House switchboard.
I doted on books that promised more of the same: Paladin Press and Amok Catalog titles, Steal This Book, the Anarchist Cookbook, the Whole Earth Review and the Whole Earth Catalog.
But when I sat down in 2006 to write the first Little Brother book, I realized that facts were now cheap – anything could be discovered with a single search. The thing in short supply now was search terms – knowing what to search for.
As John Ciardi wrote,
The old crow is getting slow;
the young crow is not.
Of what the young crow does not know,
the old crow knows a lot.
The young crow flies above, below,
and rings around the slow old crow.
What does the fast young crow not know?
WHERE TO GO.
So I set out to write a book of realistic scenarios, dramatizing what tech COULD do, on the assumption that readers would glean those all-important search-terms from the tale, and that this could launch them on a voyage of discovery.
That’s the ethic I’ve stuck with through all three novels and the short stories in the series. It seems to have worked. Anni’s Mashapedia is the apotheosis of that plan: a comprehensive set of search terms masquerading as a glossary.
Anni’s hosted Mashapedia on Github, and you can amend, extend or contest his definitions by opening an issue in the repo. What a delight!
Science Fiction Cirklen is a member-funded co-op of Danish science fiction fans; they raise money to produce print translations of sf novels that Danes would otherwise have to read in English. They work together to translate the work, commission art, and pay to have the book printed and distributed to bookstores in order to get it into Danish hands.
I’m so delighted by this! My sincere thanks to the SFC people for bringing my work to their country, and I hope someday we can toast each other in Copenhagen.
Figuring out how to tour a book in the lockdown age is hard. Many authors have opted to do a handful of essentially identical events with a couple of stores as a way of spreading out the times so that readers with different work-schedules, etc can make it.
But not me. My next novel, Attack Surface (the third Little Brother book) comes out in the US/Canada on Oct 13 and it touches on so many burning contemporary issues that I rounded up 16 guests for 8 different themed “Attack Surface Lectures.”
This has many advantages: it allows me to really explore a wide variety of subjects without trying to cram them all into a single event and it allows me to spread out the love to eight fantastic booksellers.
Half of those bookstores (the ones WITH asterices in the listing) have opted to have ME fulfil their orders, meaning that Tor is shipping me all their copies, and I’m going to sign, personalize and mail them from home the day after each event!
(The other half will be sending out books with adhesive-backed bookplates I’ve signed for them)
All of that is obviously really cool, but there is a huge fly in the ointment: given that all these events are different, what if you want to attend more than one?
This is where things get broken. Each of these booksellers is under severe strain from the pandemic (and the whole sector was under severe strain even before the pandemic), and they’re allocating resources – payrolled staff – to after-hours events that cost them real money.
So each of them has a “you have to buy a book to attend” policy. These were pretty common in pre-pandemic times, too, because so many attendees showed up at indie stores that were being destroyed by Amazon, having bought the books on Amazon.
What’s more, booksellers with in-person events at least got the possibility that attendees would buy another book while in the store, and/or that people would discover their store through the event and come back – stuff that’s not gonna happen with virtual events.
There is, frankly, no good answer to this: no one in the chain has the resources to create and deploy a season’s pass system (let alone agree on how the money from it should be divided among booksellers) – and no reader has any use for 8 (or even 2!) copies of the book.
It was my stupid mistake, as I explain here.
After I posted, several readers suggested one small way I could make this better: let readers who want to attend more than one event donate their extra copies to schools, libraries and other institutions.
Which I am now doing. If you WANT to attend more than one event and you are seeking to gift a copy to an institution, I have a list for you! It’s beneath this explanatory text.
And if you are affiliated with an institution and you want to put yourself on this list, please complete this form.
If you want to attend more than one event and you want to donate your copy of the book to one of these organizations, choose one from the list and fill its name in on the ticket-purchase page, then email me so I can cross it off the list: email@example.com.
I know this isn’t great, and I apologize. We’re all figuring out this book-launch-in-a-pandemic business here, and it was really my mistake. I can’t promise I won’t make different mistakes if I have to do another virtual tour, but I can promise I won’t make this one again.
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SOUTH SIDE HACKERSPACE: CHICAGO
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On Oct 12, Tor Books will publish ATTACK SURFACE, the third Little Brother book – unlike the previous two, it’s not YA, and unlike the previous two, it stars Masha, the young woman who works for the DHS and then a private security firm.
It’s a book about rationalization and redemption: how good people talk themselves into doing bad things, and what it takes to bring them back from the brink. I’m incredibly proud of it.
It’s available for pre-order now, and if you send your receipt for your pre-purchase (from any retailer!) to Tor, they’ll send you FORCE MULTIPLIER, a new Marcus Yallow story.
It’s a story about stalkerware, technological self-determination, allyship, and the consequences of getting tech very, very wrong. I wrote it especially for fans of the series, and am forever in Eva Galperin’s debt for her help with the ending.
If you like infosec, puzzles and justice, this is one for you. Please help me spread the word!
Ulrich Oberender and his 11th grade students in a German high school created this “Edu-Breakout” based on my novel Little Brother: it’s a series of puzzles and challenges based on the book that engage deeply with both the privacy technology and the privacy ethics that run through the book! They call it “a digital escape room” and you’ll need to solve some challenges really early on to get very far! If you’re a teacher and want access to the Teacher’s Guide, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org or hit him on Twitter at @obucate to get the password.
It’s been ten years since the publication of my bestselling novel Little Brother; though the novel was written more than a decade ago, and though it deals with networked computers and mobile devices, it remains relevant, widely read, and widely cited even today.
Mary Kraus — who created a key to page-numbers in the Little Brother audiobook for students with reading disabilities — continues to create great classroom materials for Little Brother: Who’s Who in “Little Brother” is a Quizlet that teaches about the famous people mentioned in the book, from Alan Turing to Rosa Luxembourg; while the Acronym Challenge asks students to unpack acronyms like DHS, NPR, IM, DNS, and ACLU.
Mary Kraus teaches my novel Little Brother to health science interns learning about cybersecurity; to help a student who has a print disability, Mary created a key that maps the MP3 files in the audiobook to the Tor paperback edition. She was kind enough to make her doc public to help other people move easily from the audiobook to the print edition — thanks, Mary!