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Homeland Hardcover – Feb 5 2013
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“A wonderful, important book . . . I'd recommend Little Brother over pretty much any book I've read this year.” ―Neil Gaiman on Little Brother
“A rousing tale of techno-geek rebellion.” ―Scott Westerfeld
“A terrific read . . . A neat story and a cogently written, passionately felt argument. It's a stirring call to arms.” ―The New York Times on Little Brother
“One of the year's most important books.” ―Chicago Tribune on Little Brother
“A worthy younger sibling to Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, Cory Doctorow's Little Brother is lively, precocious, and most importantly, a little scary.” ―Brian K. Vaughan, author of the graphic novel Y: The Last Man on Little Brother
“Believable and frightening . . . Filled with sharp dialogue and detailed descriptions of how to counteract gait-recognition cameras, arphids (radio frequency ID tags), wireless Internet tracers and other surveillance devices, this work makes its admittedly didactic point within a tautly crafted fictional framework.” ―Publishers Weekly (starred review) on Little Brother
“I'm a huge fan of Little Brother. Reading about m1k3y, Ange, and their friends helped me visualize the escalating intrusions on our freedom and privacy wrought by advances in technology. The book describes a dystopia that seems chillingly plausible--and near.” ―Alex Kozinski, Chief Justice of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on Little Brother
“Freaking cool . . . Doctorow is terrific at finding the human aura shimmering around technology.” ―Los Angeles Times on Little Brother
About the Author
Cory Doctorow is a coeditor of Boing Boing and a columnist for multiple publications including The Guardian, Locus, and Publishers Weekly. He was named one of the Web's twenty-five ‘influencers' by Forbes magazine and a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. His award-winning YA novel, Little Brother, was a New York Times bestseller. Born and raised in Canada, he currently lives in London.See all Product Description
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Both are dystopian novels about surveillance societies, but in many ways, Homeland is a more immediate, present day thriller. The vast majority of surveillance technology Doctorow describes exists now, and is already deployed in schools and by governments and corporations. Schools are today monitoring kids, taking pictures of them at school, in their homes, in various states of undress. Governments are installing spyware, with its own weaknesses that then make it easier to for criminals to get access to your computer. Companies are turning vast quantities of personal data into ever-more targeted marketing.
While I recall being outraged at the spectre of draconian surveillance in Little Brother, that feeling turned more to fear in Homeland. The future is here, and it's not pretty.
As another reviewer noted, 'Severe Haircut Lady' is not very threatening as the villain of the story, but I would say the true antagonist is the surveillance state itself, rather than any one person.
Like most Doctorow novels, Homeland is one third entertainment, one third education about the state and direction of technology's influence on us, and one third practical lessons in privacy defense. Since reading it I've changed and lengthened passwords, turned on two-factor authentication, encrypted hard drives, and started using a secure VPN.
This is the sort of novel I'd want my kids to read as teenagers: to learn when and where it's appropriate to question authority, how to act independently and responsibly, and to see positive examples of how they can create change in the world. I attended Cory Doctorow's reading for Homeland in Portland, and was heartened to see teenagers present at the talk who went on to ask intelligent questions about copyright laws, remixing, and rooting phones.
It's a fun read (you'll certainly get caught up in the story, and I did as well, finishing it over three evenings), and it's probably one of the most important books you could read this year.
Like Little Brother, Homeland must be read by anyone who cares about privacy, civil liberties, technology, or their intersection. Not only does the book address serious issues, it does so in a manner that makes it impossible to put it down until the very end. You'll be left actually thinking about social, legal, technological, and ethical issues, and that's exactly what society needs so desperately.
The new story is set a couple of years after the events in "Little Brother." Marcus Yarrow, who is struggling to pay for his college classes, is trying to find work. His parents, as always sympathetic, supportive but clueless, are now, unfortunately, also underemployed. The story opens with Marcus and his girlfriend, Ange Carvelli, attending the Burning Man festival in the Black Rock Desert. This is the best part of the novel, in part because Doctorow describes the event so well, and in part because he recreates some of the mystery and suspense that drove "Little Brother." (Doctorow also juices up the Burning Man part of the book with some surprising real-life cameos.) At the festival, Marcus is given a thumb drive with sensitive documents that compromise the misdoings of a government contractor, and is instructed to post the materials on the Web if the source should "disappear."
There's some promise to this set up, but the momentum is quickly lost. When the source of course disappears, Marcus decides first to catalog the documents in his possession; this plot device allows characters from the first novel to come back in from the cold. Marcus's trusted network sets to work reading and providing notes on the trove of files, and while not quite a Sisyphean task, neither is it practicable. Meanwhile, Marcus lands a job as the chief technology officer for the campaign of an independent California politician so pure he seems to wear a halo. He's basically President Obama before the Left lost faith in him. And here's where you realize the storyteller's didacticism is beginning to get the better of the story.
It's not the government per se, as in the first novel, that's evil. No, what's egregiously wrong with the country now is that the people's choice for president (read President Obama here) has been corrupted: he's opted to compromise his ideals. Thus, California candidate Joe Noss represents the undying hope for the ideal candidate that Obama had once been for so many. But perfect people don't make for interesting stories.
Neither does the work of cataloguing documents. Eventually, Marcus's friends, perhaps responding to the reader's mutterings, also start asking Marcus why they're doing it. At around this point, Occupy San Francisco-style protests begin to kick up, and the police brutally attempt to suppress them. Why? Just because, apparently. Marcus gets caught up in this police activity and the experience shakes him up to the point that he finally gets around to where we all were from the start: He abandons the cataloguing idea.
Ultimately, the problem with this novel is that the characters, their activities, and their aspirations are all so self-absorbed. The world seems to exist to entertain Marcus and his friends. Even in love, relationships develop to gratify oneself. (Marcus is pleased with Ange because of everything she is and does for *him.*) The characters seek to do their own thing unmolested, and if everyone sought that, this social ethic seems to suggest, then society would be better off. It's not apparent that the characters feel that they have a social responsibility to help others. As a result, there's not a lot of light between the left-leaning libertarianism of this book and the right-wing Ayn Rand's rational egoism.
As for the political sensibility underlying the story, Doctorow seems to reduce the modern, complex American political scene to the certainly problematical "one percent." That one percent of the U.S. population owns 40 percent of the nation's wealth is inequitable and unjust. That the monied class and big corporations corrupt politics through money is deleterious to democracy. But for the analysis to stop there is to ignore the reality that the early 21st century American populace is deeply polarized, with significant numbers of Americans, particularly in the South, supporting far right, Tea Party positions. I guess one must forgive the Californians of the novel for not knowing that Dixie is not San Francisco.
The author, too, gets self-indulgent at times. We saw this (and found it cute then) when the characters in "Little Brother" started getting "foodie" on us, waxing poetic on burritos. In "Homeland," Marcus's ability to make awesome cold brew and hot brew coffee just seems like another, increasingly annoying manifestation of his self-absorption.
One of the things the author does do well, just as with the first novel, is to capture the thrill of savviness with computers and computer networks. For that reason, and I mean this genuinely, the annotated bibliography at the end of the book is its best feature. Doctorow provides lots of great suggestions: you might do well to start with those books instead.
Markus and Ange are just less interesting this go-round. The conflict is not as tense. 'Severe Haircut Lady' gets a name, she is still ostensibly the villain, but she is not nearly as threatening. The conclusion is ambiguous, less satisfying and leaves a couple of big loose ends hanging.
The tech talk is interesting, but Doctorow goes a overboard celebrating the hacktavist / maker / burner culture.
Doctorow description of how badly the recession has damaged the San Francisco economy is slightly amusing considering that SF has been one of the least affected metropolitan areas.
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