In a world where Big Brother is everywhere and ready to get you… Recalling instances of 1984 and Mr. Robot, Cory Doctorow’s Homeland hones onto one hacker who, push comes to shove, is ready to make it out there in the big bad world despite the odds.
The teen sci-fi novel opens up to Burning Man, a huge festival that takes place every Labor Day weekend in the middle of Nevada’s Black Rock desert, where festival-goers are invited to take part in an epic celebration of reveling, carousing, and partying. The big no-no is being a ‘spectator.’ You are expected to participate in Burning Man. Sitting apart from the action is a huge insult. Thousands of people show up in the desert and to accommodate them, the people behind Burning Man have erected an entire city-like edifice to welcome the visitors. They call this Black Rock City, named aptly after the miles of surrounding desert.
Marcus Yallow, aka M1k3y, finds himself inside the hallowed city walls of Black Rock City attending his first Burning Man experience. He is having a spectacular time, brewing his potent flask of cold brew and exchanging in a system of gift economy, where you basically go around offering things to relative strangers in hopes of them doing the same for you. From meditating at the temple to reading books volunteers had hand-printed onto scrolls of paper at the Library of Alexandria, Marcus finds himself with little to no spare time to himself. But all this was temporary. Everything including an effigy of the titular Burning Man will be consumed by fire towards the last days of the festival. Because of this ephemeral motif, Marcus begins to see things with a more clear-eyed approach.
With the last remaining days of the festival nearing, Marcus is stopped by his old friend, Masha, who pushes into his possession a USB stick with thousands of files that hold politicians, businesses, and no-good-doers accountable for actions that implicate them. Masha dumps this intel net onto Marcus, directing him to leak the information if she or her boyfriend Zeb were ever abducted due to their knowledge of these files.
Marcus who went through his own kidnapping case a year prior, flashbacks on the crucial moments when he was tortured and questioned for things beyond his control. Hardened by his experience, Marcus reluctantly agrees to the arrangement. But when he witnesses Masha and Zeb being escorted from Black Rock City premises by Carrie Johnstone (Marcus’ arch-nemesis whom he first encounters in the first book, Little Brother) and her goons, Marcus begins to question his involvement and if he was even up to saving his friends.
Burdened by his responsibility, Marcus comes home from Burning Man defeated. He was in a predictable predicament for the times. A college dropout at the age of nineteen, currently living with his parents in San Francisco, and at the time, jobless, though not through a lack of trying, Marcus is feeling more than dejected.
But not for long. Marcus is offered a job working for independent nominee for senate Joe Noss due to his legend as M1k3y, hacker extraordinaire. He climbs aboard the campaign with already a lot on his plate. Marcus has enlisted his best friend, Jolu, and Jolu’s associates, as well as his girlfriend, Ange, in establishing a Darknet site in order to release the incriminating documents in Marcus’s possession. Will Marcus have enough guts to release everything just in time to save his friends’ life? Or will his experiences keep haunting him, enough so he falters at the keyboard? Does real life and politics mix? Or will Marcus regret working for Joe Noss, a man he both admires and respects?
Marcus is a great and compelling narrator, and we get to hear his story in a voice that is adventurous, filled with foils, and above all realistic. He makes the story into one that is an entertaining read filled with intriguing plot twists and riveting drama in every scene.
Homeland is the sequel to Little Brother. This is my first attempt at the series, and at times I found it regrettable that I didn’t read the prior book first. It was hard to follow the story at times for it kept referring to events found in the first book. As this is the second book in the series, the quick transitioning to give exposition to the story will give you whiplash. There is definitely a lot of backstory to this novel.
I also kept finding myself looking up certain terms found in the book that I was unfamiliar with. A lot of this book is filled with dense how-to material that goes into depth explaining things that a person with no technical experience might find complicated. At times I found myself over my head perusing the technological lingo and more than once had to rely on Wikipedia to get myself out of a techie definition jam.
Overall, Cory Doctorow's Homeland was very on point due to the political and economic climate of our times. Although this was written in 2013, it gives us an insightful look into internet security transparency, the trustworthiness of our politicians, and the depth of student loan debts in our country with searing commentary and relevancy.