Marcus, a.k.a “w1n5t0n”, is only seventeen years old, but he figures he already knows how the system works–and how to work the system. Smart, fast, and wise to the ways of the networked world, he has no trouble outwitting his high school’s intrusive but clumsy surveillance systems.

But his whole world changes when he and his friends find themselves caught in the aftermath of a major terrorist attack on San Francisco. In the wrong place at the wrong time, Marcus and his crew are apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security and whisked away to a secret prison where they’re mercilessly interrogated for days.

When the DHS finally releases them, Marcus discovers that his city has become a police state where every citizen is treated like a potential terrorist. He knows that no one will believe his story, which leaves him only one option: to take down the DHS himself.

Why do you give away your books?

Giving away ebooks gives me artistic, moral and commercial satisfaction. The commercial question is the one that comes up most often: how can you give away free ebooks and still make money?

For me — for pretty much every writer — the big problem isn’t piracy, it’s obscurity (thanks to Tim O’Reilly for this great aphorism). Of all the people who failed to buy this book today, the majority did so because they never heard of it, not because someone gave them a free copy. Mega-hit best-sellers in science fiction sell half a million copies — in a world where 175,000 attend the San Diego Comic Con alone, you’ve got to figure that most of the people who “like science fiction” (and related geeky stuff like comics, games, Linux, and so on) just don’t really buy books. I’m more interested in getting more of that wider audience into the tent than making sure that everyone who’s in the tent bought a ticket to be there.

Ebooks are verbs, not nouns. You copy them, it’s in their nature. And many of those copies have a destination, a person they’re intended for, a hand-wrought transfer from one person to another, embodying a personal recommendation between two people who trust each other enough to share bits. That’s the kind of thing that authors (should) dream of, the proverbial sealing of the deal. By making my books available for free pass-along, I make it easy for people who love them to help other people love them.

What’s more, I don’t see ebooks as substitute for paper books for most people. It’s not that the screens aren’t good enough, either: if you’re anything like me, you already spend every hour you can get in front of the screen, reading text. But the more computer-literate you are, the less likely you are to be reading long-form works on those screens — that’s because computer-literate people do more things with their computers. We run IM and email and we use the browser in a million diverse ways. We have games running in the background, and endless opportunities to tinker with our music libraries. The more you do with your computer, the more likely it is that you’ll be interrupted after five to seven minutes to do something else. That makes the computer extremely poorly suited to reading long-form works off of, unless you have the iron self-discipline of a monk.

The good news (for writers) is that this means that ebooks on computers are more likely to be an enticement to buy the printed book (which is, after all, cheap, easily had, and easy to use) than a substitute for it. You can probably read just enough of the book off the screen to realize you want to be reading it on paper.

So ebooks sell print books. Every writer I’ve heard of who’s tried giving away ebooks to promote paper books has come back to do it again. That’s the commercial case for doing free ebooks.

Now, onto the artistic case. It’s the twenty-first century. Copying stuff is never, ever going to get any harder than it is today (or if it does, it’ll be because civilization has collapsed, at which point we’ll have other problems). Hard drives aren’t going to get bulkier, more expensive, or less capacious. Networks won’t get slower or harder to access. If you’re not making art with the intention of having it copied, you’re not really making art for the twenty-first century. There’s something charming about making work you don’t want to be copied, in the same way that it’s nice to go to a Pioneer Village and see the olde-timey blacksmith shoeing a horse at his traditional forge. But it’s hardly, you know, contemporary. I’m a science fiction writer. It’s my job to write about the future (on a good day) or at least the present. Art that’s not supposed to be copied is from the past.

Finally, let’s look at the moral case. Copying stuff is natural. It’s how we learn (copying our parents and the people around us). My first story, written when I was six, was an excited re-telling of Star Wars, which I’d just seen in the theater. Now that the Internet — the world’s most efficient copying machine — is pretty much everywhere, our copying instinct is just going to play out more and more. There’s no way I can stop my readers, and if I tried, I’d be a hypocrite: when I was 17, I was making mix-tapes, photocopying stories, and generally copying in every way I could imagine. If the Internet had been around then, I’d have been using it to copy as much as I possibly could.

There’s no way to stop it, and the people who try end up doing more harm than piracy ever did. The record industry’s ridiculous holy war against file-sharers (more than 20,000 music fans sued and counting!) exemplifies the absurdity of trying to get the food-coloring out of the swimming pool. If the choice is between allowing copying or being a frothing bully lashing out at anything he can reach, I choose the former.

How do I donate to you?

Due to popular demand, I’ve set up a system to accept donations — see here for more

32 Responses to “About Little Brother

  1. G33kX

    If You have a unix system (linux/MacOS X) You can find good iMail Jamming words by typing
    ESC X
    it will give you some words to “spook” the DHS

    global Lon Horiuchi Operation Iraqi Freedom Serbian cryptanalysis
    covert video Blowfish oil pre-emptive Belknap interception JUWTF
    industrial espionage INSCOM ISEC

    Keep on jamming

  2. WhitePine

    It doesn’t make any sense, if somebody already read the book, Why would they by a physical copy anyway?

  3. Jessica

    I’m researching a presentation on why trainers should use Creative Commons, which brought me here. But I had to leave a comment, because I also saw Star Wars when I was six, when it first came out in Memphis, on a school field trip. And the next thing I did was rewrite it as a play. Kleebits and … I can’t remember the other character’s name. Brings me right back.

  4. Nicolle

    I completely agree with you. I have a Nook and don’t exactly “buy” books on it. In fact, I’ve never purchased an actual/eBook in my life (unless it was a gift card, of course) It’s not that I don’t believe in buying books. I’m 17 and jobless – I just don’t have the money. I love books with real paper, though I don’t think eReaders could ever replace real books. See, ever since I was 4 or 5, I’ve been going to the library. I check out books and read them. Once I finish, I return them. If I like them, I’ll check them out again. But I usually never bother. There’s something… odd to me about reading a book more than once or twice. I don’t have time to re-read. Even if it’s good – there’s other books to read, and so little time!

    I guess my point is that I never had the intent on purchasing the books anyways, so why deprive myself of the opportunity to read them when given the chance? It’s not that I would go to a store and steal stuff, but I’m a teenager – I’m naturally inclined to steal stuff if I’m not going to get caught! :) Anyways, I read this book (the eBook, that is) and absolutely loved it. I really applaud you for what you’re doing – having, most of all, the courage to keep up with the times. The future is now, and I think people are still living in the past, with old ideas. The future, as well as the present… are always changing, and that’s what I love about science fiction!

  5. m1tch311

    best book i have ever read. i have 5 1&1/2 story bookshelves filled with books. yours is the best by far. keep writing please!

  6. Llanet

    I´ts one of the best books I´ve ever read. I started reading it at my cousins house, we were on vacation and I was bored. Only problem was even if I can read a book in a few hours, I couldn´t read it in 2 and this one book was from her school´s library. I live in Mexico and I´m 13, books over here cost about 400 pesos or $40 dollars, obviously I can´t afford them and even if I worked at my age all I would make would be about $10 dollars a day (if i´m lucky). I still love having my books at home and on paper, but if I can´t afford them I read them online. There are some russian sites I visit to get them for free (althought I don´t understand russian the titles are still in their original language), but they don´t always have the book I´m looking for so its a relief to find them to be free and in the internet with permission of the author. Thanks (sorry for long comment and bad english, It is not my native language)

  7. Ayesha

    This book is recommended reading as a part of an e-learning course i plan to take. Without the free ebook download (for this and other books) I would not be able to take the course or even read this book. While i love reading and feel that nothing can replace physical books, i live in a country where very rarely do science fiction and fantasy books make an appearance in bookshops. So i have to opt for e-books. And while i could purchase the e-books, the cost of buying all the recommended books in the course is just not feasible. Thank you so much for making this book available for free.

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