Homeland

Homeland

Homeland by Cory Doctorow. Tor Teen (an imprint of MacMillan Publishing), 2013. 400 pages. Publisher recommends for ages 13 and older. ISBN: 9780765333698.

Homeland is a sequel to Little Brother. Marcus Yallow, still the narrator, is now 19 years old. He’s still dating Ange. His parents have lost their jobs in an economic crisis that has hit California. Marcus has had to drop out of college and is himself trying to find a job.

Marcus and Ange go to Burning Man in the Nevada desert. While there, Marcus runs into Masha, a character from Little Brother. She hands him a USB stick and tells him to release the contents of the stick onto the Internet if she is kidnapped. Shortly thereafter, Marcus sees her being forcibly led away from Burning Man by Carrie Johnstone, his arch nemesis.

There are 800,000 documents on the USB stick. Marcus and his friends try to figure out how to release those documents responsibly and in a way that can’t be traced back to them.

Marcus is offered a job by the charismatic Joe Noss, a candidate for the California State Senate running as an independent. Marcus believes in Joe. He believes California will be better off if Joe wins.

The book goes into a great detail of technical information about the Internet. It also goes into detail about the uses of the Internet. The central conundrum seems to be how to release the 800,000 documents anonymously and responsibly. It’s a conundrum Marcus didn’t ask for and doesn’t want. But the Internet is a powerful tool to disseminate information and Marcus knows how to use it. Along the way, we see the breakdown of society as we watch the way the city of San Francisco deals with peaceful protests.

The end is a little too pat for me. Besides that, the pace gets bogged down when Marcus explains technical details. Nevertheless, it deals head-on with political, economic and societal issues that are of immediate concern in this country.

The book contains two Afterwords that serve as calls to arms, one written by Jacob Appelbaum of WikiLeaks  and one written by the late Aaron Swartz. There is also an excellent bibliography by Cory Doctorow.

In the end, Marcus says “The system was people, and I was a part of it, part of its problems, and I was going to be part of the solution from now on.” This, I believe, is the take away line. In addition, the reader also takes away the memory of a fun story.

Blog Reviews:

Birth of a New Witch
A Librarian’s Take
Radish Reviews
System Overlord
Tor.com

Professional Reviews:

Kirkus
Publisher’s Weekly
Wired

Author Website:

Cory Doctorow’s Craphound.com

Little Brother

Little Brother

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow. Tor Teen (an imprint of MacMillan Publishers), 2008. 416 pages. Recommended for ages 13-17. ISBN: 9780765323118.

Little Brother isn’t exactly science fiction. It could happen now. The story is told by Marcus, a 17-year-old expert hacker living in San Francisco. He and three of his friends skip class to go and play a game one Friday afternoon. There is an explosion. A bridge, we later learned it’s the Bay Bridge, has been blown up by terrorists. Marcus flags down what he thinks is an emergency vehicle to help one of his friends who has been injured. The vehicle belongs to the Department of Homeland Security. Marcus and his friends have sacks put over their heads. He and two friends are held for five or six days, then released. The fourth friend, Darryl, is not released. While in custody, Marcus struggles to maintain his rights under the Bill of Rights. Eventually, he gives up and tells the DHS what they want to know about him.

When Marcus returns to San Francisco, he finds the DHS is watching every person’s movements in an attempt to prevent another terrorist attack. His father, who has no idea that his son was imprisoned, thinks this invasion of privacy is fine. Marcus doesn’t, and neither do the thousands of kids he involves in his attempts to stop the DHS.

The political issues raised are very timely. When is it appropriate to give away our civil liberties in the name of preventing terrorism, and when should we fight for those civil liberties? Should congressional or judicial oversight of organizations like the DHS be in place, or should they be able to operate freely. Is it right to hold people without telling them why, and without telling their families where they are? Is it right to torture people? In this country, are people still innocent until proven guilty? These are the questions Little Brother raises.

The book has too much explanation of technology for me, but technology geeks would love the explanations. I am a political geek, and I love the political aspects of the book.

It’s clear Doctorow doesn’t know San Francisco well. The most glaring error is the constant reference to BART as “the BART.” I got pulled out of the story a little bit every time he referenced “the BART.”

With the exception of the long paragraphs about technology, this book is fun, and the political issues are even more pressing now than they were when the book was written in 2008.

Blog Reviews:

Fantasy Book Critic
Nerdy Book Club
Prometheus Unbound
Strange Horizons

Professional Reviews:

Kirkus
Publisher’s Weekly