The sequel to Little Brother, Cory Doctorow’s YA-novel-as-technonerd/hactavist-primer, boasts many of its predecessor’s merits– and far too many of its flaws.
Author: Cory Doctorow
Original Publication Date: February 2013
ISBN: 978-0765333698 and 0765333694
A couple years after the events of Little Brother, Marcus receives a thumbdrive brimming with incriminating information, and once again finds himself the target of government and corporate agents.
1. At one point, our principal characters find themselves at a peaceful protest rally and under attack by police. Doctorow paints a harrowing picture of events that have already happened and will happen again.
More of the book should have read like this chapter. If you’re not paranoid, you’re not paying attention.
2. Homeland, like Little Brother, wants people, young people in particular, informed and politically active. Let’s face it: a good many people are apathetic in the face of encroaching dictatorship, and many of the young people who become active often get embroiled in ludicrous conspiracy theories that distract and depress (at one point in this novel, we hear about a group analogous to the 9-11 Truthers. Doctorow suggests why they’re almost certainly wrong, and why a government prepared to take advantage of evil acts and disasters may be creepier than one that causes such acts). Homeland presents both real and speculative examples of political skullduggery, financial oppression, illegal police actions, and unethical business practices. The violations of privacy and civil rights barely qualify as speculative ficiton; most of them have already happened. They are happening. This book will make you paranoid, on perfectly reasonable grounds. The novel also points out ways in which we might address the dangers we face today.
I wanted to find some way to politely say, “Hey, Liam, don’t worry about impressing me, okay? I already like you, and all this stuff is just making you sound kind of desparate.” But every way I could think of saying that would… make me sound like a dick (104).
Doctorow wants to promote his technogeek/hactivist/burner affiliations, and project them onto his youthful protagonist. He tries hard at making Marcus hip, to the point of stifling the narrative.
The book’s first few chapters, for example, take place at Burning Man, through which the protagonist and his girlfriend meander in search, I suspect, of an editor. In the third chapter, they wander into several of Doctorow’s heroes/friends, a little bit older than they’d be in real life. In a book already heavy with technology-related explanation, in an introduction especially thick with exposition, throwing guest geek heroes (with whom young readers may or may not be familiar) for no really good reason seems like a poor decision. Yes, these characters set up one plot element and may or may not relate to another (I expect more in the inevitable third book of the trilogy). These matters could have been handled differently, and better.
Story: 4/6 The narrative too often takes a back seat. The question of who hacked Marcus’s computer never gets resolved, a major plot problem gets handled (for now) by an unsatisfying deus ex machina, and the ending (necessarily, I suppose) remains open.
Characterization: 3/6 As in its predecessor, the characters have been dilineated, but they lack much depth or development. Marcus grew in Little Brother; he remains pretty much the same character over the course of Homeland.
Emotional Response: 4/6 The book features some genuinely thrilling moments, and a great many paranoia-inducing ones. Excessive didacticism undermines the mood somewhat.
Overall Score: 5/6 Doctorow delivers important information and concepts to young people in the form of readable and book-report-friendly YA novels. For that, he deserves our respect and attention.
In total, Homeland receives 29/42
Point of Interest
A couple months ago, links to download Homeland were being shut down due to a DMCA request by Fox, who had confused the novel with the series of the same name.