Cory Doctorow’s young adult novel “Little Brother” plunges readers into a dystopic version of San Francisco, in which the Bay Bridge is attacked by terrorists and the Department of Homeland Security reigns supreme. We talk to Doctorow about his writing and work with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and to city librarian Luis Herrera about why the book was selected as the San Francisco Public Library’s One City One Book selection for 2013.

Interview Highlights


Cory Doctorow, author of "Little Brother," co-editor of the website Boing Boing and former European director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation
Luis Herrera, city librarian at the San Francisco Public Library

  • Magnus

    There are some interesting insights and connecting of the dots about what is really going on in America and the rest of the world in the following interview of Michel Chossudovsky. Is Doctorow’s vision of a police state on steroids, with government-sponsored terrorism deployed to justify abolishing our rights and freedoms and the rule of law, even possible? In a word, yes. In fact we are nearly there.
    Want to know the truth? Don’t rely on the mainstream media.

  • geraldfnord

    I’m afraid that [paraphrase] ‘computers’ doing things you don’t know about’ is an inevitable byproduct of 0.) computers’ being necessary to people who really can’t understand them, some non-zero portion of whom will never be able to do, as impossible as that might seem to some, and 1.) leaving the purity of the (notionally) green command-line. There’s a reason why ‘Terminal IDE’ goes on any phone I use running Android.

    Alan Turing? Mr Doctorow’s sometime collaborator, a Mr Stross, had some insights into what _really_ happened to him….

  • Chris OConnell

    Great show. The silly question of whether Glenn Greenwald is a journalist must be mocked. He has been writing since 2005. He has a body of work 8 years long that anyone can see. The number of stories he has reported and exposed are mind boggling. He has won many awards for this work. Edward Snowden specifically contacted him because of this body of work. Edward Snowden did not trust the New York Times to vigorously pursue and publish the documents he took.

    • Fred

      Greenwald has done great work as a journalist, but it must be noted that previously when he was a lawyer he defended Neo-Nazis, and not just any but the worst ones.

      • Chris OConnell

        Yes, because Greenwald is a 1st Amendment absolutist. He also defended Anwar al-Awlaki’s right to say extremely heinous things, literally inciting people to violence against Americans. Because according to the Supreme Court in the 1960’s. such speech is protected. As is pro-Nazi speech. You just can’t incite to imminent violence, such as saying, “There’s an evil American, go attack and kill him now.” That is not protected. But you can say, “Americans have declared war on Islam. It is the duty of Muslims to kill Americans when they can to defend the Muslim nation.” That used to be protected but Awlaki was killed for it. His speech was definitely effective and inspiring lone wolves to attack.

        Free speech is not so you can say “I love mom.” That speech is protected in dictatorships. A society with true free speech allows for the most revolting and offensive statements, and the most revolting and offensive political movements, such as white-supremacism and so Greenwald is proud to defend these people, even though he obviously rejects their beliefs (he’s a gay Jew!)

        Once the Nazi or the Islamic extremist is prosecuted for their speech, that is the beginning of the end of the First Amendment.

        • Fred

          If I recall correctly, Greenwald’s notoriety is not from representing Neo-Nazis’ 1st amendment rights.

          A person named Dave Emory researched Greenwald as part of his ongoing tirade against the “underground Reich”.
          Greenwald was representing someone who had had family members of a judge murdered.

          • Chris OConnell

            You.or those making him notorious for this, just don’t get it.

      • mikegem

        This is what lawyers do, and it’s a hard part of the job. They defend unpopular defendants, because upholding the law outweighs the odious aspects of the unsavory defendant who happens to be a client at the time.

        It’s a tradeoff. In America, the founders decided, and we’ve continued to agree with them for over two centuries, that it’s better to put the burden of proof of criminal guilt on the state and let some guilty people go free than put the burden of proof on a defendant and imprison an innocent citizen who couldn’t prove innocence against the overwhelming power of the government.

        Sometimes the result completely sucks. We all feel awful and angry when somebody gets away, literally, with murder because some lawyer was successful in asserting a defendant’s legal rights, despite the plain evidence of their guilt.

        The benefit to all of us is that the government (composed of fallible people) has to really prove its case against a defendant. Whether a defendant is a neo-Nazi or a Quaker must make no difference – if the government can’t prove its case, the defendant goes free. The alternative has been tried many times in recorded history and found to be disastrous. See, for example, the Inquisition (all of them), the USSR under Stalin, etc.

        Really right things, like presumption of innocence, are sometimes very costly. And they’re worth the cost.

        • thucy

          great comments here today, but yours especially

  • Robert Thomas

    Currently, I know someone’s knowledgable of communications or computing machinery technology if they can tell me something useful about criteria for selecting programmable predistorting retimers, for example from Gennum or TI, or whether supporting those associated macros from the Avago or Marvell libraries are appropriate for a particular circumstance.

    I don’t ask *any* question about any level of “software engineering”.

    I recently worked on a team with many engineers (200?) that produced a product that operated under a dozen distinct operating system images by the time it came to fist revenue shipment. A typical chassis might incorporate forty or fifty interacting multi-core processors each running its own coordinated Unix kernel or real-time executive operating environment, connected with a half dozen complex purpose built ASIC patterns.

    By ship date, there were recorded about a dozen significant hardware errors that required re-design or tactical mitigation. There were recorded over 60,000 software bugs. The VAST majority of these software bugs were the result of sloppiness, inattention, casual miscommunication, callow inexperience and poor engineering education; generally, CRAP engineering.

    Operating systems from uncoordinated, random “crowd source” egalitarian fire circles? I’d say “Save us!”, but honey, we’re already there.

    • Fred

      The tech industry discourages the hiring of experienced engineers and American engineers. It encourages inexperienced employees to engage in “competence theater” in front of managers, who are happy to be fooled because they get promoted by dumping older Americans. This is a demographic war started by management.

      • Robert Thomas

        I’ve had a whiff of this, but as an old white guy myself, I see it more as a difference in expectation between hardware and software engineering than between ethnicities or even generations. Over the last thirty years, hardware engineering quality has steadily and monotonically improved, while during the same period the quality of software engineering has sagged. There is a clear market force behind this. While the cost of error in hardware design has risen, the cost of error in software engineering has decreased. It’s expensive and embarrassing to replace a customer’s hardware (perhaps even a “forklift” repair, in my business) but customers have been “trained” to expect continuous software repairs (often euphemistically labeled “upgrades”) in trade for increasingly complex (and rushed to market) feature sets.

        This is a practical consequence, since it IS possible to fix software errors ex post facto, relatively cheaply; however, the chaos that it brings to the development cycle has begun to seriously choke efficiency during the design, prototyping and pilot production phases.

        • Fred

          Coders too often are narcissistic young boys who want to claim they dramatically brought about a product’s success, or their team did, in order to appear competent and successful themselves and eventually receive promotions to join the ranks of do-nothing middle managers who sit in meetings literally all day 3-4 days per week.

          These narcissistic coders denigrate preexisting, working software that they are too lazy to understand, and insist on rewriting it all. But they’re too lazy to rewrite it all, actually, so they rely on other people’s code, which is buggy. Add those bugs on top of theirs and you get the bug-ridden crapware that you seem to have experienced, indeed we all have.

          Crapware requires frequent updates, so it is trendy now to claim it’s smart to do “nightly” builds and frequent deployments. In reality, it’s because most everyone is a lousy, lazy coder that this has come about. Imagine if the people at your auto garage worked the same way, and sent over new car parts and a junior mechanic to your home every day to fix yesterday’s mistakes.

          Yet that is what the software biz has become… like a mechanic who is so bad they have to fix their mistakes constantly.

          • Robert Thomas

            Well, Fred, I can’t exactly disagree with your dystopian observation…

            The reason I started a rant on a page about this poor fellow’s juvenile thriller was his shudder-inducing exhortation that “everyone should [try to?] learn to code”. Good Lord, I thought that had already happened, precipitating the milieu of software dilettanti, software arrivistes, software “bon vivant” et. al. that I encounter now, where once were found engineers.

          • thucy

            Oh, callow youth! And yet, I and others are still interested in what this whippersnapper Doctorow has to say. (Much of what Balzac wrote was first dismissed as “juvenile” or worse. The first time I saw “Fight Club” and later “The Girlfriend Experience” I thought they were awful. Now I see they were articulate and thoughtful reflections of a particular moment in America.)

          • Robert Thomas

            thucy, I seemed to be dissing juvenile literature. I was using “juvenile” merely in its (perhaps archaic?) sense of “young adult” or “youth-adult” or whatever the more modern label is. I don’t at all mean it in a disparaging way – I think “YA” is not only an honorable genre but can be of great literary merit. I was only reacting to Doctorow’s flippant (inexpert) suggestions about engineering, not to his novel nor to his storytelling. The novel has many admirers and I suspect they’re not all goofs.

          • thucy

            Okay, thanks for explaining that. (I enjoyed reading your perspectives on engineering/coding, tho I’ll admit 99% of it went over my head.)

          • Fred

            From IMDB:
            The Girlfriend Experience
            A drama set in the days leading up to the 2008 Presidential election, and centered on a high-end Manhattan call girl meeting the challenges of her boyfriend, her clients, and her work.

            On the face of it, not plausible. How stupid would a boy have to be to dating a professional STD-collector i.e. call girl?

          • Clearly you think you understand. Where in the industry do you work?

          • Fred

            Al, stand up from your desk, turn 30 degrees. That’s me waving.

          • That seems unlikely since (a) I don’t work in a cubicle and (b) no one named “Fred” sits near me when I work in an office. 🙂

          • Robert Thomas

            I got the impression that Fred was asking you to stand and look in the pataphysical sense.

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor