Friday, May 31, 2013

Homeland by Cory Doctorow

In Little Brother we met Marcus Yallow, aka M1k3y, a tech-savvy teen who was randomly arrested and held prisoner in a secret facility by the Department of Homeland Security after a terrorist attack in San Francisco.  Stunned and furious, Marcus leads a tech revolution against the new security state after his release.  Fast forward two years and we join the brains behind the Xnet at the Burning Man festival in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada. 

Things have not been going well for Marcus.  He dropped out of college because his student loans were through the roof, he can’t find a job and he’s living at home with his parents who have both lost their jobs.  But Marcus has made it to Burning Man.  He’s somehow managed to save enough money and borrow enough camping gear to make it to this year’s festival.  And it is AWESOME!  He and his girlfriend Ange are having a blast dancing at all hours of the night and examining the art that thousands of other people have put on display.  Out of nowhere, Marcus runs into Masha, a one woman tech army who works for DHS.  Masha meets Marcus and hands him a 4 GB USB stick.  A USB stick with tons of government documents so creepy and wrong that even loyal DHS employees couldn’t keep it to themselves.  Masha asks Marcus to keep the stick safe and if he hears that Masha goes down, he’s supposed to leak everything to the public. 

All of that is quickly put out of Marcus’s head after one of the huge art cars at the festival explodes.  Marcus manages to break his nose during all of the chaos and sees Carrie Johnstone for the first time in two years.  Who is Carrie Johnstone? Remember the certifiably crazy woman who waterboarded Marcus while he was being detained by DHS in Little Brother?  That’s Carrie Johnstone.  Burning Man comes to an end the next day and Marcus makes it back to San Francisco- with a lot of burning questions.  Marcus gets a lead on a job while at the festival and once he returns home, he finds an email from the campaign manager of Joe Noss, a man who is running for the California state senate.  And after months and months of handing out resumes, Marcus has a job.  As the webmaster for Joe Noss’s political campaign, no less. 

Meanwhile, Marcus and his friends manage to create a darknet site in order to keep tabs on the 800,000+ government files that were on Masha’s USB stick.  And of course, word gets out.  Marcus is still trying to fight the good fight to keep the government from hacking the privacy of the American public.  But as we learned in Little Brother, that fight is never easy.  I was really interested to see that there are afterwords in the back of this book: one by Jacob Appelbaum of WikiLeaks and another by Aaron Swartz of Reddit.  There is also a bibliography section that has lots of tips and resources if you are at all interested in learning about modding your own open source programs.  This book was a crazy technological thrill ride and I loved every minute of it.   Readers who liked the intense, hacker filled pages of Little Brother you will love Homeland


Now Reading: Ask the Passengers (the audiobook!) by A.S. King

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