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Homeland, by Cory Doctorow. - Barnstorming on an Invisible Segway [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Marissa Lingen

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Homeland, by Cory Doctorow. [Feb. 24th, 2013|07:16 am]
Marissa Lingen

Review copy provided by Tor.

I am unable to read the book Cory Doctorow wrote here, because the book he wrote had an afterword by a living activist, a friend he expected to have around to bounce ideas back and forth with, and this one has an afterword by Aaron Swartz. I don't even know the guy, and it was just awful reading his afterword and knowing what came next for him. Knowing that he ended it with, "Let me know if I can help," and then...cannot help. Cannot get help. In the publicity materials Tor sent out, Cory said he knew he was going to talk to teens about Aaron (GOOD), he just didn't know what he was going to say. I would be at a complete loss myself. I am at a complete loss. I hope for his sake that grief that mingles personal and political starts falling into grieving narrative the way that (in my experience) purely personal grief does.

It was entirely relevant to the plot of the book, and it made the whole thing alarmingly more poignant. This is the story of M1k3y when he's grown up enough to let himself be Marcus, knowing that the world doesn't need him any less as a young adult. This is a book about consequences--the plot points of Little Brother have had a variety of them for Marcus, not all of them positive or convenient. He moves into the adult world of IT jobs and politics, and those politics take to the street. I have to say that having watched a protest march that later did turn into a violent confrontation, safe on the twenty-somethingth floor of my hotel, made the parts where people were trying to find the right escapes more vivid too. The entire last two thirds of the book is an adventurous rush through the knife edge between present-day politics and near-future extrapolations. Although I can't speak for the completely technically illiterate, I think that for most people who don't have a technical background, the computer security stuff will work like Patrick O'Brian's ships: you'll learn a bit, and the pieces that pass you by will provide verisimilitude.

I had two main quibbles with Homeland. The first is that I felt the beginning was pretty self-indulgent. Cameos by personal friends, and not just personal friends, but personal friends called out by name with lists of achievements, playing D&D at Burning Man. As a result the beginning felt slower to me than the rest of the book. Possibly people who are new to the concept of Burning Man or to various specifics described herein will react differently. The second is that there was a lot of focus early on, and even seeded through, on the consequences of Marcus's previous actions as M1k3y, and a lot of focus on debt as a lever to be used on people and as a problem to be solved. And the ending...really did nothing with the Yallow family's general situation, or with the problem in general. Granted, personal debt in modern western cultures, particularly in the US, is a really big problem, and if Homeland had hey-presto solved it, that would likely have been unsatisfying also. But to have the Yallows in roughly the situation they were in to begin the book, in terms of their personal finances, kind of undercut the unusual degree to which Homeland was realistic and interesting about consequences. Maybe there will be more about this in a third book? But I have made up third books unintended by the authors before--sometimes so authoritatively that the editors thought I had talked to the authors before them--so possibly that's not to be hoped for, or at least not planned on.

Anyway, markgritter was describing this sub-genre as "dystopian techno-optimism," and I think that's fair. Not only do I think that's fair, I think it's a good thing, and I'll take techno-optimism in more settings, dystopian or otherwise, thanks. Not my favorite Doctorow book--Makers is going to be a high bar to clear there--but fun and worth the time.

[User Picture]From: bradipo
2013-02-24 05:07 pm (UTC)
I was also a little put out that the Yarrow family problems were made so central early and then neither their solution nor the consequences of their lack of solution seemed to play much into the end.

On the other hand, I'm sad about the same thing in real life as well. So many people have such problems, and so many people seemed to spend the first five years of the financial crisis just drifting along.

A bit of this may be just that we've become so wealthy (as a society) that lots of middle class people have a depth of resources available. They're able, for a time, to make do by drawing down savings, spending down retirement accounts, putting things on credit cards, getting some unemployment insurance (and maybe some food stamps). Combine that with squatting in your own house (with delays in foreclosures, maybe for a long time), and I can see why it would take years for these problems to come to a head. And yet, even now they don't seem to be coming to a head. They've mostly quit getting worse and maybe are getting better and it seems people are ready to "put them behind us."

Edited at 2013-02-24 05:57 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: blue_hat_guru
2013-02-25 04:17 am (UTC)
It can be more than a little challenging to do more than drift when every attempt to get ahead results in a kick to the teeth. Or even more of the earth falling out from under your feet.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2013-02-25 11:48 am (UTC)
In a novel, however, signaling "this is a huge problem--OMG huge problem for a lot of people--also huge problem for Our Hero and his family--look at the huge problem" generally means that it will either have major effects in Our Hero's story or will get at least somewhat solved. In this novel, Our Hero runs around doing all kinds of stuff that could easily result in the earth falling out from under his feet and/or all his teeth being kicked in. But it doesn't happen, nor does triumph happen--it's just that the labeled huge problem gets shuffled aside awhile towards the end.
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[User Picture]From: bradipo
2013-02-25 01:42 pm (UTC)
I certainly don't mean to criticize the people so hard hit by the economy that they can't find the wherewithal to do better. My criticism—aside from what I share with Marissa about the book—is aimed at society for not coming up with a better response to the situation.
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[User Picture]From: blue_hat_guru
2013-02-26 04:38 am (UTC)
My apologies. I'm afraid that the combination of being both a Ph.D. in Physics ("you're practically guaranteed a great job!") and a nearly 4-year casualty of the Great Recession (I do get to capitalize that, right?) at this point is making me...less than generous in some important ways.
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[User Picture]From: mamapduck
2013-03-09 06:29 am (UTC)
I'm skipping a chunk of this post to avoid the spoilers, but I agree. While I love most of Doctorow's work, Makers is hard to beat.
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