Little Brother is a great example of the use of Science Fiction to expound upon the political fears of the time. Doctorow uses specific temporal and physical settings to emphasise this sense of fear. The fears of the 20th and 21st Century, as shown by Doctorow, are those of personal liberty and the role of government in society. By creating a dystopian near future, the author has been able to sketch out why he has these fears.
Doctorow shows how the framework of the society we have created can be allowed to control us instead of enabling our freedom. Little Brother also shows how humanity, in general, doesn’t react until it affects us personally, as well as how easily we, in general, can be hoodwinked into accepting these changes. Although the themes in this novel would have worked equally well in another setting, the use of modern day America helps create an immediacy that would lack if he had used fantastical location. In the same way, by placing the time of the work as ‘almost now’, has the same effect that would not have been achieved in, for example, a setting of Nazi Germany.
By using science fiction to elaborate on and expand on his own fears, Doctorow is following clearly in the footsteps of other science fiction authors, such as Mary Shelley to Ray Bradbury and beyond. Each has used the fears of their time to create statement, yet without the politics of the day getting overly involved. Doctorow uses both personal fears, such as in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and the socio-political fears as found in Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles, to create a chilling novel that is not 'pure' Science Fiction, and yet isn't NOT Science Fiction either. Little Brother returns to the roots of Science Fiction by allowing Doctorow to use the story as a vehicle to explain a theory to his readers.
Little Brother / Cory Doctorow [epub version]
Future Politics [website]
Edited and updated essay:
To be added later