Published by Tor Teen on Feb 5, 2013
Genres: Dystopia, YA
Find the book: Amazon, Goodreads
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 onetime girlfriend 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.
If you don’t know who Cory Doctorow is by now, you probably are not an EFF-supporting, darknet-implementing, singularity-pushing, Creative Commons-loving, hackerspace-using, library-revering, left-leaning geek. And that is fine. But if Doctorow could have his way, he would welcome you into the club with open arms. In fact, that is what his latest YA book, Homeland, the sequel to Little Brother(2007), is all about. It is a call to youth to take charge of their electronic lives (and their lives in general) and to fight for an open and transparent government and a society that defends human rights. Although this book is narrative fiction, it could more closely resemble a revolutionary’s handbook, one that instructs the young reader on how to adapt to a rapidly changing world and how to stand one’s ground when corporate boots trample on one’s rights while complicit politicians look the other way.
Black Rock City, Nevada, is where Homeland begins. Marcus, the nineteen-year-old protagonist, crosses the dusty playa of the Burning Man festival in the middle of the night to a remote location where he is handed a thumb drive from his friend, Masha, and told to go public with the files “…if you ever hear that I’ve gone down.” It’s a Wikileaks scenario, for sure, with a document drop that could cause a PR nightmare for a number of defense contractors, politicians and investment firms.
After Burning Man, Marcus returns to San Francisco where he lives with his out-of-work parents and spends time with his girlfriend, Ange. He’s looking for work and his connections in the hacker world quickly help him to land a job as an IT manager for a regional political candidate…one Marcus admires and believes in. But after Marcus becomes concerned about Masha’s wellbeing, he begins to strategize on how to go public with her files and, to his surprise, the candidate he works for agrees to host some of them on the campaign’s website.
After the files go public, angry protests erupt in the streets of San Francisco. An Occupy-type demonstration ensues and the authorities step in to control the crowd. During the protest, Marcus is “kettled” by the police and thrown into a detention bus where he waits hours before processing. He’s humiliated by a body search and interrogation and then he is set free. When he goes back to work the next day he discovers that the campaign can’t risk being associated with him, so Marcus is once again out-of-work.
In the end, Masha turns up, bruised and abused after a run-in with some defense contractor thugs, but she helps Marcus to clear his name (she implicates herself) to get the meanies off his back. The story bookends with a scene from the following year’s Burning Man festival, where Masha, Ange and Marcus rendezvous, exhausted but energized and with a renewed sense of purpose. We’re back to where we started: there’s still a bad system out there ready to exploit you and restrict your freedoms, but if you continue to fight for what you believe in, at least you’re doing something. It’s an existential fight, with no clear enemy and no clear solution. But fight you must.
Doctorow’s Homeland shows us a world that is dangerous for anyone who dares not play by the rules. But this is the sacrifice. If you play by the rules, then things will never change. Elections will increasingly become irrelevant, politicians will be corrupted and capitalism will continue to take advantage of a deck that is increasingly stacked in its favor. Take the other course and do what is right, Doctorow pleads. It won’t be pretty and you’ll probably suffer for it, but it’s what your conscience dictates.
Cory Doctorow is a powerhouse. He reaches millions of readers every month through his editorship at boingboing.com and he is a tireless speaker, teacher and thinker. With Homeland, he’s taken another step toward solidifying himself as a leading voice in a complex and transformative age. He’s half a step ahead of the issues that we should be paying attention to, and this should be reason enough to pay attention to him.