Home » Fantasy and the human mind » Cory Doctorow – Little Brother

Cory Doctorow – Little Brother

Coursera, Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World  by Eric Rabkin.

The last book for this course was a bit of a disappointment for me. I am not the only on. There was a thread on the forum called I hate “Little Brother” which was very popular.  I contributed to that thread :- “I didn’t hate the novel but it did nothing for me. For the first time I have nothing to say about it. “

The book left me cold and I struggled to get this essay out. In the end I did it very quickly based on games. A couple of the reviewers noticed that I had difficulty with it and that my conclusion was very weak.

Please write an essay that aims to enrich the reading of a fellow student who is both intelligent and attentive to the readings and to the course. Each essay should be between 270 and 320 words.

Here is the essay that I submitted which received a 4.


Life is a game.

The frequent mention and importance of games in the novel gives readers the impression Marcus treats everything as a game. It wouldn’t be surprising if suddenly we discovered that this was all part of an Alternate Reality Game (ARG).

Barbara Stratford first met Marcus when he was seven and was “excited about [his] new video games”. He started playing Live Action Role Play games at scout camp and at weekends a game called Wretched Daylight. He used the vampire theme from that game to organise the flash mob cover for his getaway. These early games taught Marcus the strategy building and also technical skills that he came to use in later parts of the story.

Marcus starts his story telling us (twice) that an Alternate Reality Game, Harajuku Fun Madness, is “the best game ever invented”. He describes the game as a type of “scavenger hunt” requiring research on the internet and also “prowling the streets of a city, checking out all the weird people”. This is just what he does after his release. He researches, finds and uses information and prowls the street to find likeminded people who can help him.

In order to speak to his friends and supporters Marcus uses an on line game on his Xbox. Using the game has a number of benefits on top of it being unmonitored. Each avatar is anonymous giving people the freedom to say what they wish without danger. Although the DHS try to infiltrate the game the players are too streetwise. Marcus uses his avatar to hold a press conference whilst still remaining anonymous and also safe from physical attack.

The language of games is used throughout and the word ‘game’ appears regularly. His detention and questioning were “playing with his head”, his plans are foiled and it is “game-over”, experts have “been at this game for a long time”.

The question remains, was this a terrorist strike and overly enthusiastic DHS or all part of a Japanese ARG?


Works cited:

Please note that this essay is written in British English.

Quotations from Cory Doctorow — Little Brother


Peer Review 

The review process is split into three parts.

Part one FORM

Please indicate in 30-150 words your judgment of the FORM of the essay you have just read.  FORM here refers to matters of grammar, usage, and structure. Are the sentences grammatically correct?  Are the words properly used?  Is the exposition and argument laid out clearly?  An ideal response would note one aspect of Form that the writer does well and would profit by continuing and one aspect of Form that the writer would profit by improving in ways you make clear.

peer 1 → Grammar, usage and structure are really good. Words used properly and arguments are laid out clearly.
Thank you.
peer 2 → This essay does give the details of “Little Brother”. However, the sentence structure was a little stilted. The grammar was appropriate for the assignment and the word usage was difficult to follow. I didn’t find any definitive argument to be defended. The author talked about the use of technology and Marcus’s Xbox, which he used to communicate with the other followers.
Yes. It was done in a hurry and there was not much or an argument.
peer 3 → There are a few errors of grammar, tense, spelling, and usage, but the choice of language is strong. Overall, a nice job!
I would love you to tell me where they are. – Not very good for an English teacher is it?
peer 4 → Like how you put in cites you wrote in British English. I was with you until your conclusion was a question.
Thank you. Yes the conclusion is really not very good.

Please grade the FORM of the essay you have just read on a scale of 1 to 3. FORM here refers to matters of grammar, usage, and structure. Are the sentences grammatically correct? Are the words properly used? Is the exposition and argument laid out clearly? An ideal response would note one aspect of Form that the writer does well and would profit by continuing and one aspect of Form that the writer would profit by improving in ways you make clear.

Since everyone can learn to write better, at least 10% but no more than 30% of the grades should be 1. Everyone should strive for perfect grammar. However, if someone writes in ways that are particularly vivid or uses particularly incisive key terms to focus the argument or in some other way is outstanding in usage or structure, that essay should be awarded a 3 but no more than 20% of the grades should be a 3 because, by definition, “outstanding” is comparatively rare. Most grades should be 2.

Score from your peers: 2


Part two CONTENT

Please indicate in 30-150 words your judgment of the CONTENT of the essay you have just read. CONTENT here refers to matters of insight, argument, and example. Does the essay show a deep understanding of some aspect of the work or of a pattern that one can see in the work? Does the argument make sense, feel persuasive, and reveal the significance of the insight or insights? Are there concrete details from the text that support the argument and that we come to understand more powerfully because of the argument? An ideal response would note one aspect of Content that the writer does well and would profit by continuing and one aspect of Content that the writer would profit by improving in ways you make clear.

peer 1 → It’s ok. May be, I would read more about the implications of the link between life and virtual game. But, it’s a good content. Well done.
Thank you.
peer 2 → I believe the author of this essay had a good understanding of this novel to be one of using technology to overcome society. They feel because Marcus is so involved with the Internet and his Xbox that Marcus doesn’t see anything else. This may or may not be true. This student has come to their own final conclusion that brings up a final question. Are we in an ARG.
That was exactly what I was aiming at. Thank you.
peer 3 → The “game” angle of analyzing the novel was an excellent choice and is very well supported in the essay. All except for the last sentence, which is IMHO a nonsensical attempt to give the novel a twist. Choosing to ignore that sentence, since your essay is by far the best I had to evaluate this week, I give it a 3. Nice work!
I think it was weak but not nonsensical. Due to the total immersion in games I would not have been surprised at any time the author said that it was all an ARG and Marcus found out that he had won.  It would have been within the extreme nature of the game and of the fiction within the book. 
peer 4 → Good point and an interesting one. Wish the conclusion was sound or there was no question on the end, could have given you a three.
Yes the conclusion wasn’t good. I should have thought that one out better.
Please grade the CONTENT of the essay you have just read on a scale of 1 to 3. CONTENT here refers to matters of insight, argument, and example. Does the essay show a deep understanding of some aspect of the work or of a pattern that one can see in the work? Does the argument make sense, feel persuasive, and reveal the significance of the insight or insights? Are there concrete details from the text that support the argument and that we come to understand more powerfully because of the argument? An ideal response would note one aspect of Content that the writer does well and would profit by continuing and one aspect of Content that the writer would profit by improving in ways you make clear.

Since everyone can learn to write better, at least 10% but no more than 30% of the grades should be 1. Most people will offer their readers a new insight and some detailed reference to the text that argues for the significance of that insight and for an appreciation of how that detail functions, so most essays will enrich our reading and earn a 2. Some essays will be astonishingly new or persuasive or useful by making the story much richer and even by helping you understand better how to read stories in general. Such essays earn a 3 in Content, but no more than 20% of the grades should be a 3 because, by definition, “outstanding” is comparatively rare. Most grades should be 2.

Score from your peers: 2


Part three COMMENTS 

Please write here any other comments which you feel might be of use to you or the writer of this essay.
peer 1 → My general opinion is really good. I like your essay, and the content too. Well done!.
Thank you.

What I will take forward. 

Even when I can’t get into a book and feel that I have nothing to say my best attempt will still get an average score. I am so pleased that I did all the essays on this course. I feel I have learned more about fiction and how it works. I particularity liked Ursula LeGuin and will read some more of her work. I also know that young adult literature is not for me. But them I am not a young adult.

I very much enjoyed discussing books with people. Some of the essays I reviewed were just so intelligently written that I felt intimidated. Others were so poor that I felt proud of my own work.

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2 Comments

  1. Sean says:

    Nothing wrong with a twist ending 🙂
    Although I’d find it hard to identify the point when they went ‘in’….

    Perfectly reasonable opinion IMHO.

    • Louise Taylor says:

      I think they went in when they went into the tube station – a portal – None of the rest need be real, A test of gaming skills and endurance.
      Thanks for your opinion Sean.

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