Book Review: Homeland by Cory Doctorow
I could not resist Wil Wheaton narrating this audiobook. Since this sequel to Little Brother still contains multiple info dumps, having Marcus talk to me through Wil made this reading much more pleasant. I focused less on the poor structure of the info dumps and more on the goodness of Wil's vocal stylings! He read Pi...for pages of digits...and it was good! Plus, Wil Wheaton had a book cameo, if such a thing exists. So Wil had to read Wil, which was also pretty entertaining!
Homeland is still a YA book, but Marcus is much more mature. He's realizing that he must balance his hacker activity with a job that pays the bills. He's dropped out of college. He recognizes the struggles his parents have. He's even navigating his long-term relationship with Ange. With this more mature protagonist, the plot is also more mature. This sequel is scarier because the situations are less scary.
Huh? How's that?
Some of the circumstances in Little Brother were too extreme for me to take seriously. When Homeland Security agents water boarded an American teenager in the first book, I just kept reading. If I'm willing to accept that dragons exist in any number of fantasy stories, then I really should extend the same courtesy of suspending my disbelief to Cory Doctorow.
However, in Homeland, I found myself suspending my disbelief much less, which makes the plot that much scarier. These surveillance situations happen. We regularly give up plenty of information to the black hole of cyberspace. When I started using my first smart phone, I was aghast that it knew how many minutes it would take for me to get to work in the morning. Worse still was realizing that the phone knew exactly when I'd head over to Friday Happy Hour. Even though I'm sure no one is actually following me, I have left quite a data trail.
Really, the most unbelievable plot point is the portrayal of the idealistic politician Joe Noss. For voters who are frustrated by the current state of politics in this country, Noss represents what we wish we had. He's a character who would ask, "What would Atticus do?" While I would like to believe that such a politician exists, I'm just too jaded.
The book ends with another gem of a bibliography! Cory Doctorow takes over the narration and explains how he made sure to include key words in his writing so anyone could easily search those words. He writes that you may be "amazed, scared, energized, and empowered by what you find." He reminds younger audiences that when he was a kid, way back in the 1980s, you needed to know someone with information to learn about hacking. Today, a Google search produces pages of results. He wants kids researching, which I'm on board with.
He even teaches kids how to use Wikipedia. He politely points out that teachers frequently dismiss Wikipedia as a reliable source. He encourages kids to treat Wikipedia as a starting point. His two pieces of advice are to check the sources and check the talk link. I'm glad that Doctorow wants kids to use Wikipedia, but to use it well. If kids begin their research with Wikipedia, they can find multiple sources and read some of the rationale behind why certain sources are valued more highly than others. They still have to dig.
After reading both Little Brother and Homeland, I think I may have to read some of Doctorow's other books. He's going to be in San Francisco on Wednesday, October 29 at the JCC, so I may have to check out his presentation about the challenges that creative people and companies face today. Maybe get some book suggestions too.