Q&A with Cory Doctorow at emusic.com

On the occasion of the publication of his first young adult novel LITTLE BROTHER, I spoke with Cory Doctorow over at emusic.com. The conversation was fairly wide-ranging, talking about the book’s origins, privacy vs. security, how Doctorow’s anti-DRM stance fits in, and what the book’s main character Marcus might listen to. But as is often the case, a lot of material got left on the cutting room floor, like these two exchanges:

SW: How did you balance the need to move the story along and maintain momentum with the need to explain certain critical concepts in computer hacking – Denial of Service, infected PCs, Bayesian analysis, creation of networks, to name a few? Was it a challenge to keep the number of expository paragraphs to a minimum?

CD: Some people view exposition as a necessary evil but I think exposition, when done right, and in science fiction most of all, the right exposition at the right moment can be just as fascinating as character development or plot twists. People don’t just read young adult science fiction to be entertained; they also want to know how the world works. They not only forgive you from going away from [the] main thrust of the action, they thank you for it. I wrote the book intuitively, taking as the starting point that if Marcus was a supergeeky kid, he had superheated conversations on how things — be it computers, or the internet, or specific hacking concepts — are explained. His whole life would be defined by explaining to people what [he is] super-passionate about.

I don’t think Marcus would view this as information overload. If you’re excited, if you’re the right person, it’s okay to explain things that are over their head. It’s a privilege to be around people if they are passionate about a subject. Ennui is [a] terrible characteristic trait – people who are bored don’t make interesting narrators!

SW: Let’s talk a bit about the role of women in LITTLE BROTHER. There’s Vanessa, Marcus’s hacker friend, and Ange, the cool hacker chick Marcus later likes; there are also contrasting female figures in Marcus’s mom and Carrie Johnstone, the DHS interrogator. Were you consciously trying to appeal to female readers who may not be inclined to pick up science fiction?

CD: I was raised by feminists to be a feminist. I had to tell the story from a particular point of view, and a boy’s made sense because I was a young man – it was easier, more plausible than the point of view of a young woman. Of people I know who are competent and strong and technologically skilled, the smartest and most knowledgeable about civil liberties are all women. EFF’s executive director and legal directors are all women. There have always been strong, intelligent, passionate women all my life. When I was growing up, I ran in social circles where most of the young women in my social circles were intelligent, motivated, politically astute and involved in all kinds of admirable causes. So when I think of young women, I think to the girls I dated when I was a teenager, and pretty much to a one they were smart, great passionate people.

As for a groundswell of female science fiction readers, whatever else is going on, women are 52 percent of the book-buying public! Excluding women from the clubhouse is a bad idea. I saw great video presentation of woman who is a software hacker, speaking at conference called LugRadio. She was talking about getting women involved in open source software project. “I could sit here talking to you about gender parity and software projects because it’s great to get women involved….forget that. I think we should get them involved because free, and open-source software should control the world! If women aren’t involved then only get 50%.” Social change that doesn’t involve women means we only get halfway there.