Review – Homeland by Cory Doctorow

Here are the things that happen in Homeland, Cory Doctorow’s sequel to his 2010 young adult novel Little Brother:

  1. Marcus Yallow goes to Burning Man and plays Dungeons and Dragons with Wil Wheaton and the founders of the Electronic Frontier Foundation
  2. Marcus receives the key to a collection of leaked government data that documents various injustices perpetrated in the name of protecting American freedoms
  3. Private military contractors sabotage Burning Man
  4. Marcus gets a cool job working for an amazing independent political candidate
  5. Marcus goes to an awesome rally for freedom and is arrested
  6. Marcus puts all the leaked information on his boss’ website, gets fired, and his girlfriend stops talking to him

Though less risible than Pirate Cinema, Homeland is another example of Doctorow writing fan service for himself. Marcus, now infamous for exposing the extreme interrogation techniques used against him in Little Brother, does very little over the course of the book. He’s a tour guide through the outskirts of a security state, introducing readers to things Cory Doctorow thinks are cool, like jail-breaking cell phones, setting up darknets, and girls who like Star Wars and videogames.

The only things Marcus doesn’t love unabashedly are water-boarding, politicians who don’t keep their promises, and lame people who are into the things that he thinks are cool. The last one strikes a uncomfortable note, as it’s the closest the book comes to having any interpersonal conflict.

Pirate Cinema was infuriating partially because the protagonist gushed over everyone he met. Marcus does the same thing in Homeland, but takes exception with a couple of characters that are too enthusiastic even for him. The pair of Anonymous hackers that break into Marcus’ darknet are treated with scorn, and Marcus goes out of his way to avoid his coworker Liam, who looks up to Marcus as a hero. Since all the characters in the book are defined solely by what they’re into (or for the female characters, what they’re into and that they have breasts), this hypocrisy comes off as particularly distasteful. If there was some indication that this was a character flaw on Marcus’ part, that would be one thing, but Doctorow seems oblivious to it.

It’s tempting to say Homeland isn’t a novel, just a series of essays interspersed with characters giving each other high-fives, but technically it’s a picaresque. It’s autobiographical, plotless, and Marcus and his friends are basically criminals. But where picaresque novels are generally defined by their wit, Doctorow ignores satire in favor of listing things you should Google after finishing the book. This isn’t an exaggeration, the bibliography is a set of instructions on how to use Wikipedia correctly. And while not as alarming as its predecessor, this does make Homeland feel especially unnecessary. There’s got to be a better way to find good coffee in San Francisco than having to read this book.

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