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Cory Doctorow on Writing Silicon Valley’s Greatest Forensic Accountant

Red Team Blues by Cory DoctorowAnyone on the Internet (hi! if ur reading this now, ur here) knows that this place is scary. The wild digital west—where some of humanity’s most lucrative heists, among all manner of other shady business, are executed at the tap of a clicky keyboard. It’s a tried, true tactic in the fraudster’s playbook to leverage lack of knowledge of the virtual landscape to turn the fun place where we read blog posts about books into dangerous financial snares. To that end, Cory Doctorow, who knows a lot about tech things, has dedicated his writing career to bridging that knowledge gap with his readers by way of page-turnin’ techno-thrillers.

We have him here today to chat about his upcoming novel, Red Team Blues.

Enjoy : )

I am literally a-tremble with excitement at the thought of people reading Red Team Blues because it writing it was amazing. I write when I’m anxious. During the lockdown, I wrote and wrote and wrote. Red Team Blues battered its way out of my fingertips in five weeks flat, *blam*, there on the page, the hard-boiled adventures of Marty Hench, Silicon Valley’s greatest forensic accountant, who has seen every tech industry money-scam in his 40 year career.

Marty was so much fun to write, because he was a perfect counter to the “shield of boringness,” scam economy’s way of making fraud plausible to devour your savings. Finance bros call it MEGO (“my eyes glaze over”) – a financial arrangement that is so dull, no one can read the fine-print without slipping into a coma.

For 20 years, my artistic and professional vocation has been figuring out how to make people understand complicated, dangerous things before those things destroy them. Those complicated, dangerous things are often embodied in spreadsheets, but while everyone else who discovered spreadsheets immediately started figuring out how to hide money with them, Marty decided he’d use spreadsheets to find dirty money.

The usual hard-boiled detective is a reactionary, yearning for the days when men were men and everyone else knew their place. Marty’s also melancholy for the past—but he pines for a time when making things and doing things was more important than manipulating balance sheets. It’s a feeling a lot of us share.

Sometimes, you can’t tell if anyone’s going to like the book you’re writing. Sometimes, you’re not even sure if you like it (see above, re: anxiety). But sometimes, you just know. I just knew when I was writing Little Brother and I just knew when I was writing Red Team Blues. If there was any doubt, it was incinerated when I woke up at 2 a.m. to find the bedside light on and my wife sitting up reading.

“Why are you awake?” I groaned.

“I had to find out how it ended,” she said.

Honestly, what writer could be mad about that?

I hope you’ll give it a shot.


Pre-order Red Team Blues Here:

Poster Placeholder of amazon- 83 Place holder  of bn- 44 Place holder  of booksamillion- 79 ibooks2 67 Image Placeholder of bookshop- 69


Five of Our Favorite Fictional Hackers

Look, our mothers are still disappointed in us for not becoming doctors. But we are disappointed in ourselves for not becoming hackers. 

It’s a digital world and an uncertain world, and our vision of hacking (perhaps a little influenced by pop culture) presents a robin-hood, windy-side-of-the-law path to a little more control over our world. And an opportunity to stick it to jerks and tyrants.

We haven’t ruled out a career change, but in the meantime, we will live our hacker dreams vicariously through badass fictional hackers. Here’s a list of some of our favorite sci-fi hackers.

Place holder  of - 48Murderbot from The Murderbot Diaries series by Martha Wells

Hacking is easier when you’re part bot and you’ve got loads of raw processing power to go with your organic parts. Murderbot could have become a mass murderer when they hacked their governor module, but instead they turned their hacking skills to torrenting hours and hours of media to read, watch, and listen to while still pretending to do their day job: trying to stop humans from dying.

Poster Placeholder of - 36Marcus Yallow  a.k.a “w1n5t0n” and Masha Maximow from Little Brother, Homeland, and Attack Surface

Look we like Marcus because he’s a rebel wunderkind who takes on the evil overreaching DHS with modded xboxes and a can-do attitude. He’s kind of easy to love.

Masha is… less easy to love. She rationalizes herself into some downright morally dubious things in all three books (she’s a bit of an antagonist in Little Brother and Homeland), but she’s a wildly intelligent realist with a chip on her shoulder who likes defying her corporate overlords for fun. So we can’t help but love her too. Check out Attack Surface in paperback now! 

Image Placeholder of - 60The Zer0es from Zer0es by Chuck Wendig

We’re cheating because there are several hackers to vie for favorite in Zer0es. The Zer0es themselves are a motley crew of hackers of varying skill levels.

There’s Chance, who’s a little bit of a con man but he dreams of being an Anonymous-style hacker; Aleena, an Arab Spring hacktivist; DeAndre, a criminal hacker who specializes in credit card data; Reagan, who’s a hacker but also kind of an douchey troll; and Wade, a grizzled old conspiracy theorist. At first look, they sound like a bunch of assholes. But so are the guardians of the galaxy, and these guys have to come together when their blackmailed into working for the government and learn… surprise surprise, our government is way more evil than they are.

Image Place holder  of - 20Placeholder of  -96Case (Henry Dorsett Case) from Neuromancer by William Gibson

Look we know he’s a mess. But we love ourselves a scrappy anti-hero and the fact that he’s a hacker just makes it better. Washed-up hacker is a great archetype (and our favorite way to play Honey Heist). Case has mad skills and considering he’s been booby-trapped and blackmailed, a hell of a lot of motivation. We won’t… spoil it (THIS BOOK CAME OUT IN THE 80s GET ON IT), but he’s also the centerpiece of a cyberpunk classic that is designed to mess with your mind and expectations, and we can’t help but love him for that too.

book-catfishingCheshireCat from Catfishing on CatNet by Naomi Kritzer

So it’s also a little easier to hack when you are a sentient AI like CheshireCat. But Cheshire is a gem and we love them too much to not include them in any list of excellent hackers. They are fully willing to hack anything from smart cars to bad robo sex ed teachers to help out their favorite humans. They also hack a small army of service bots as a small private army and we stan a sentient AI who’s willing to put in the work to keep their squishier friends around.

Honorable mentions to Mitch from Vicious by V. E. Schwab and Wade from Ready Player One (and Two now!) by Ernest Kline.

*We tried to write about our favorite real life hackers but they somehow managed to hack this article and make it fictional.


9 of Our Favorite Rebellions in Sci-Fi and Fantasy

Happy 4th of July! This week in the US we’re celebrating the Revolutionary War. There will be food, fireworks, and of course, books—because there’s no such thing as a holiday without reading, at least not for us! Since we’re celebrating a revolution, we thought we’d share with your our list of some of our favorite revolutions and rebellions in science fiction and fantasy. What are we missing?

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

Image Placeholder of - 33 In Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy, it’s a revolution wrapped in a heist. When Vin, a young Mistborn, joins a crew of Misting thieves, she thinks their only goal is to steal the Lord Ruler’s atium stash—an incredibly rare, and therefore valuable, metal that allows Mistborn to see the future. Of course, things get much more complicated very quickly as Vin, and the reader, find that crew leader Kelsier has much more dangerous goals: to overthrow the city of Luthadel and destroy the Lord Ruler himself.

The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu

Placeholder of  -55 Ken Liu’s debut novel The Grace of Kings tells the story of two very different rebel leaders: Kuni Garu and Mata Zyndu. The conflict in this one isn’t just about the fight against tyranny, but in the relationship between the wily, charming bandit Kuni and stern aristocrat Mata. Their goals may start out in alignment, but what happens once the fighting is done? Once the rebellion has ended, the true problems have just begun!

Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay

Poster Placeholder of - 25 What happens when a small, divided peninsula is invaded on two sides? When the conquerors use magic, as well as might? Those are only a few of the questions posed in Guy Gavriel Kay’s Tigana. In this standalone fantasy novel, a small band of rebels from a province forcibly forgotten by magic use guile and trickery to try to free their home from the massive armies of the two rival sorcerers who have conquered it. When you can’t compete on the battlefield, sometimes trickery can win the day!

The Word for World is Forest by Ursula K. Le Guin

Place holder  of - 72 When humanity moves into the stars, will we go as peaceful partners, or conquerors? Le Guin’s classic novel posits that we may not always be benevolent. In The Word for World is Forest, Terrans have enslaved the peaceful people of Athshe, and use them to harvest the forests that cover their world, since lumber has become scarce on Earth. If you visit enough atrocities upon them, however, even a peaceful people will eventually rise up against you—as the Athsheans eventually do, introducing mass violence to their previously pacifistic culture. The Word for World is Forest is short, but hard-hitting; Le Guin doesn’t pull any metaphorical punches.

Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

Image Place holder  of - 73 Should you defend a rightful ruler if he’s also pretty awful? That’s one of the big questions for the characters in Saladin Ahmed’s debut novel. The aging ghul hunter Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, his assistant Raseed bas Raseed, and the magic shape-shifter Zamia Badawi thought they were on the trail of a killer. Instead, they discover a fomenting rebellion against the rightful Khalif—who’s also a terrible person. All Adoulla wants is to retire and drink tea in peace, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen anytime soon if the Falcon Prince, the iron-fisted Khalif, and a brewing power struggle have anything to do with it.

The Black Tides of Heaven by JY Yang

It’s brother against sister in J.Y. Yang’s novella The Black Tides of Heaven. Mokoya and Akeha are the twin children of the Protector, who sold them to the Grand Monastery as children. There, they developed their gifts—and began, despite their efforts, to drift apart. Akeha, seeing the rot at the heart of his mother’s rule, chooses to fall in with The Machinists, rebels who want to end the state. Can the siblings maintain their bond as they end up on different sides of a growing conflict?

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

After a terrorist attack in his hometown of San Francisco, 17 year-old Marcus is swept up by Homeland Security for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. After days of being detained and mercilessly interrogated, Marcus is finally let go, and discovers that his world has changed. The US has become a police state, with everyone treated as a potential hostile. Privacy has gone the way of the dodo. Marcus isn’t about to take that lying down, though. It’s time to organize a cyber revolution.

Dune by Frank Herbert

In Frank Herbert’s classic science fiction novel, political instability is a fact of life for Paul Atreides. His father, Duke Leto, takes control of the planet Arrakis at the command of the Emperor, even knowing it’s likely a trap from House Harkonnen. Once the trap is sprung, Paul and his mother Jessica survive, fleeing to join the Fremen, the Arrakis natives who live in the desert. Using the Fremen as his fighting force, Paul embarks on a quest to take back Arrakis—and the galaxy—by overthrowing the Emperor and destroying House Harkonnen.

The Star Wars Extended Universe

Star Wars: A New Hope introduced the world to the Rebel Alliance, an organized band of misfits opposing the colossal, evil Empire. After the original trilogy, the Star Wars universe expanded out into a universe of books, with stories from a wide variety of authors, following different characters and locations across the galaxy. In Rebel Rising, we see the rise of the evil Empire as well as the formative years of a soon-to-be hero of the Rebellion: Jyn Erso. How are heroes formed? This is how.


Throwback Thursdays: Security Literacy: Teaching Kids to Think Critically About Security

Welcome to Throwback Thursdays on the Tor/Forge blog! Every other week, we’re delving into our newsletter archives and sharing some of our favorite posts.

Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother was first published in April 2008. Since then, it’s garnered attention, awards, and legions of fans. The much anticipated follow-up, Homeland published in February of 2013, and is now available in trade paperback. To celebrate the return of Marcus Yallow, we looked back into our archives and found this piece from April 2008, when Cory Doctorow spoke about teaching kids about online security. We hope you enjoy this blast from the past, and be sure to check back every other Thursday for more!

Little Brother by Cory DoctorowBy Cory Doctorow

How do kids figure out which search-engine results to trust? What happens to their Facebook disclosures? How can they tell whether a camera, ID check, or rule is making them safer or less safe? In the absence of the right critical literacy tools, they’ll never know how to read a Wikipedia article so that they can tell if it’s credible. They’ll never know how to keep from ruining their adulthood with the videos they post as a teenager, and they’ll never know when the government is making them safer or less safe.

Little Brother tells the story of young people who bootstrap their own security literacy because the adults around them fail to do so. I think that’s a depressingly realistic storyline, unfortunately. Security is hard to get right, and doubly so when it involves unfamiliar threats and countermeasures — can you tell at a glance whether the new high-tech lock in the window of your bike shop will work? (Here’s a clue: the best-selling lock brand for two decades was recently shown to be breakable with a disposable Bic pen in 10 seconds flat.)

Kids need critical tools and they need to sharpen those critical tools through debate and discussion, and that’s where Little Brother comes in. I don’t expect anyone to agree with everything I say — and I certainly hope that kids question every word in Little Brother and figure out how they feel about this stuff for themselves.

We live in an age where critical discussion of security is *literally* illegal. You can’t turn to the TSA officer who’s just taken away your water bottle and say, “I don’t believe that you can bomb a plane with water.” Mentioning the word “bomb” in front of a TSA agent is not allowed.

The difference between freedom and totalitarianism comes down to this: do our machines serve us, or control us? We live in the technological age that puts all other technological ages to shame. We are literally covered in technology, it rides in our pockets, pressed to our skin, in our ears, sometimes even implanted in our bodies. If these devices treat us as masters, then there is no limit to what we can achieve. But if they treat us as suspects, then we are doomed, for the jailers have us in a grip that is tighter than any authoritarian fantasy of the Inquisition.

It’s my sincere hope that this book will spark vigorous discussions kid/adult about security, liberty, privacy, and free speech — about the values that ennoble us as human beings and give us the dignity to do honor to our species. Thank you for sharing it with the young people in your life — and for being a guide at a time when we need guides more than ever.

Little Brother (Tor Teen; 978-0-7653-2311-8, $10.99), by Cory Doctorow, published in April 2010. Visit Cory online at or

This article is originally from the May 2008 Tor/Forge newsletter. Sign up for the Tor/Forge newsletter now, and get similar content in your inbox twice a month!

Little Brother-themed team scavenger hunt coming to San Francisco

Little Brother by Cory DoctorowThe San Francisco Public Library announces a city-wide scavenger hunt to coincide with the One City One Book festival!

Rogue Agent! The One City One Book 2013 Scavenger Hunt

A rogue government operative has a plan that will jeopardize the privacy of all citizens, and it’s up to you and your team to stop him before time runs out!

On September 14th, 2:00-5:30, we’re teaming up with the San Francisco Public Library to create a scavenger hunt based upon Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother. As part of the One City One Book festival, teams will take to the streets and scour the library to solve clues, crack codes, and help bring the perpetrator to justice.

Assemble a crack team of puzzle solvers, and bring your wits, a spirit of adventure, and your best walking shoes.  The One City One Book hunt is FREE, but you must register your team online before Friday, September 13th in order to play.  Find more information and register your team here.


Cory Doctorow at the Tools of Change Conference

Cory Doctorow attended the Tools of Change

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Cory Doctorow attended the Tools of Change (TOC) in Publishing Conference in New York this month, to talk about copyright and piracy in the digital age, as well as his new novel, Homeland.

About Homeland: In Cory Doctorow’s wildly successful Little Brother, young Marcus Yallow was arbitrarily detained and brutalized by the government in the wake of a terrorist attack on San Francisco—an experience that led him to become a leader of the whole movement of technologically clued-in teenagers, fighting back against the tyrannical security state.

A few years later, California’s economy collapses, but Marcus’s hacktivist past lands him a job as webmaster for a crusading politician who promises reform. Soon his former nemesis Masha emerges from the political underground to gift him with a thumbdrive containing a Wikileaks-style cable-dump of hard evidence of corporate and governmental perfidy. It’s incendiary stuff—and if Masha goes missing, Marcus is supposed to release it to the world. Then Marcus sees Masha being kidnapped by the same government agents who detained and tortured Marcus years earlier.

Marcus can leak the archive Masha gave him—but he can’t admit to being the leaker, because that will cost his employer the election. He’s surrounded by friends who remember what he did a few years ago and regard him as a hacker hero. He can’t even attend a demonstration without being dragged onstage and handed a mike. He’s not at all sure that just dumping the archive onto the Internet, before he’s gone through its millions of words, is the right thing to do.

Meanwhile, people are beginning to shadow him, people who look like they’re used to inflicting pain until they get the answers they want.

Fast-moving, passionate, and as current as next week, Homeland is every bit the equal of Little Brother—a paean to activism, to courage, to the drive to make the world a better place.


TOC: Cory Doctorow on how we’ll get beyond the piracy debate.


TOC: Henry Jenkins in Conversation with Brian David Johnson and Cory Doctorow.


Cory Doctorow on Aaron Swartz

Cory Doctorow on Aaron Swartz

Homeland by Cory Doctorow

Written by Cory Doctorow

On January 11, a young hacker, hacktivist and entrepreneur named Aaron Swartz took his own life. He was 26, and I had known him since he was 14. He was facing 50 years in prison. His crime was to walk into an unsecured computer closet at MIT, near the Harvard campus where he had a fellowship, and plug a laptop into the campus network, with which he proceeded to download a large amount of paywalled academic journal articles from JSTOR, an online repository of scholarly works. It is widely speculated that he planned on making these available for free, though it may be that no one will ever know what he really intended.

Here’s what we do know: Aaron didn’t care about the freedom of information. Aaron cared about the freedom of *people* to make use of information. When I met Aaron, he was already someone extraordinary, a 14 year old programmer who’d made key contributions to the RSS 1.0 standard, part of the foundational infrastructure of the Internet, designed to facilitate the sharing of information between different sites. He went on to be part of the founding team of Creative Commons, then went on to help create a website called Reddit, which is now one of the most rollicking, thriving communities on the Internet.

Aaron used his Reddit money to become a full-time, full-tilt, reckless and wonderful shit-disturber. Offended that the US government was charging for access to public domain case-law, Aaron paid to download 20% of US law, and then put it in the public domain. This earned him his very own FBI file and the everlasting enmity of the DoJ, who were frustrated that this punk kid had had the gall to give the public free access to its own laws, and had gotten away with it.

The DoJ threw the book at Aaron over the MIT stunt, even though JSTOR publicly disavowed any further prosecution of Aaron (MIT was more lukewarm on the subject, which gave the DoJ the excuse it needed to press on). They asked the court for a 50 year sentence for “computer crimes.” Even if he won, Aaron was looking at well over $1,000,000 in legal fees.

Aaron hanged himself two years, to the day, after his arrest. Make of that what you will.

I have often been asked whether M1k3y, the adolescent hero of Little Brother and Homeland, is a version of me. He’s not, I always say, because I was never as cool as that. I don’t think Aaron was “cool” in the way M1k3y aspires to be, but the two of them share a passionate, visceral response to injustice; they share a preternatural technical ability; and they share a charm and humor that makes the people around them want to follow them and listen to them.

Aaron read an early draft of Little Brother and called it, “The most subversive piece of fiction I can think of. I imagine armies of kids out there nuking frozen grapes.” When I started work on Homeland, the sequel to Little Brother, I knew I wanted it to turn on a next-generation political campaign. Aaron’s activist group, Demand Progress, had been at the vanguard of the fight against SOPA and PIPA (the sure-thing, oppressive Internet/copyright bills that collapsed in the face of absolutely unprecedented public protest). I knew he’d have good ideas.

He did. I sent him an email about it at 5:57AM on the morning of Dec 22, 2011. Aaron answered with a full-fledged, brilliant high-tech political campaigning strategy at 8:23AM. It was so good I basically just pasted it straight into the book, except for the last line: “i could go on, but i should actually take a break and do some of this.”

Aaron wrote one of the two afterwords to Homeland. I asked him what he would say to his own 14-year-old self, what advice he’d give. He wrote an outstanding call to arms, which includes lines like:
“I know it’s easy to feel like you’re powerless, like there’s nothing you can do to slow down or stop ‘the system.’ Like all the calls are made by shadowy and powerful forces far outside your control I feel that way, too, sometimes. But it just isn’t true.”


“The system is changing. Thanks to the Internet, everyday people can learn about and organize around an issue even if the system is determined to ignore it. Now, maybe we won’t win every time—this is real life, after all—but we finally have a chance.

“But it only works if you take part. And now that you’ve read this book and learned how to do it, you’re perfectly suited to make it happen again. That’s right: now it’s up to you to change the system.

“Let me know if I can help.”

Aaron signed it with his email address. He wanted the world to get in touch with him. He can’t answer their emails anymore, but he can still help. Aaron may have been hounded into a premature grave half a century before he should have gone, but he left behind a legacy and a consciousness of what can change, and how it can change.

The DoJ will never win their case against Aaron, now. And if we remember Aaron’s passion and conviction that wrongs must be righted; that information doesn’t want to be free, but people surely do; he will win forevermore.

Goodbye, Aaron. We miss you.


From the Tor/Forge February newsletter. Sign up to receive our newsletter via email.


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Place holder  of - 94Homeland releases next month but we have a chance for you to win one of ten advance reading copies now. Comment below to enter for a chance to win.

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Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card The Lost Gate by Orson Scott Card Little Brother by Cory Doctorow For the Win by Cory Doctorow Truancy by Isamu Fukui Truancy Origins by Isamu Fukui Shadow Grail #1: Legacies by Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill Never Slow Dance with a Zombie by E. Van Lowe Inukami! Omnibus 1 Story by Mamizu Arisawa and Art by Mari Matsuzawa Libyrith by Pearl North The Boy from Ilysies by Pearl North Alosha by Christopher Pike The Comet's Curse by Dom Testa The Web of Titan by Dom Testa The Cassini Code by Dom Testa The Dark Zone by Dom Testa Jack: Secret Histories by F.Paul Wilson Jack: Secret Circles by F. Paul Wilson Jack: Secret Vengeance by F. Paul Wilson The City of Fire by Laurence Yep

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