Tuesday, May 14, 2013
Homeland - Cory Doctorow
Author: Cory Doctorow
Publisher: Tor, 2013 (Hardcover)
Length: 396 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Realistic Fiction
Started: May 9, 2013
Finished: May 14, 2013
From the inside cover:
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' 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 him 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.
I read Little Brother in 2009 (book released in 2008) and loved it to pieces, it still has a coveted place on my bookshelf. Although it was very much a product of the George W. Bush era with its emphasis on the violation of personal rights in the name of capturing terrorists, Homeland is very much the product of today; discussing everything from the recession and economic collapse, WikiLeaks, political corruption, the Occupy movement and the 1%, Anonymous, and internet security. Plus there's other little gems like Burning Man, making awesome coffee, and clenching and unclenching your anal muscles to screw with a polygraph...yes, you heard me, it's all in there.
The book opens a few years after the events of Little Brother. Marcus is now 19 and a college dropout after losing his reduced tuition rate (his dad was a prof at Berkeley and lost his job) and not being able to tolerate the mounting student debt he's accumulated. After getting his foot in the door at Burning Man, he becomes the webmaster for a new independent political candidate, but at the same time he's faced with a mountain of documents given to him by Masha. Marcus, Ange and Jolu decide to actually read through the documents before releasing them via darknet (a protected site derived from Xnet from the first book), and what they find is jaw-dropping. School boards using software disguised as updates to hack students' laptops to spy on them (camera, mic, keystrokes, etc.), companies buying student debt in order to jack up the amount through penalties if there's one missed payment and then going after the family's money and investments to pay it off, among others. And the scary thing is that these ideas aren't far-fetched, they're based on cases that actually happened.
Throughout the novel, Marcus debates his own involvement and responsibility with all this; trying to protect himself, his family, Ange, and also his boss from the potential fallout from leaking everything. It's a wonderful commentary on our own responsibility to report injustices as we see them and to not become so overwhelmed that we fail to do so.
The tech stuff described in the novel is done in such a way that non-techy people can still appreciate and understand everything, it reads like an instruction manual for these procedures, and the author even admits that he hopes the book is a first step for readers, who will then spend hours googling the topics to find the most up-to-date information.
Just like with Little Brother, I wish this novel had been around when I was a teenager, it would have meant so much to me back then. I plan on recommending Homeland, as well as Little Brother, to my students to show them that we all have a responsibility to stand up to injustices in this world, and that even a small, committed group of people can change things (in fact it's the only thing that ever has). For the record, that's not me, that's a Margaret Mead quote ^_~
Thoughts on the cover:
I like the continuity from the Little Brother cover, but using a darker colour scheme (I love the black, read, and teal), and the presence of smartphones rather than laptops in Little Brother's cover reflects the update in widespread technology.