[Originally published on Reviews by Steve, September 3, 2014]
Reading the sequel to what has been one of my favorite novels of the 21st century (so far) is an exercise destined to have a hard time living up to expectations. While Doctorow’s Little Brother is, in my opinion, an important book, Homeland does a good job of being entertaining, but seems just a little too self-aware to live up to its predecessor. Click through after the break to get my breakdown of what works – and what doesn’t – in this book of rebellious youth growing up.
Little Brother (read my review here) followed the events in the aftermath of a terrorist attack on the San Francisco Bay area, including the destruction of the submarine BART tunnel and the Bay Bridge – both at rush hour. The focus was on Marcus Yallow, a young high-school student, and his three friends, who were all swept up in the ensuing security lock down on the Bay Area. The indignities and threats to their rights imposed by the government that was supposed to protect them drives the story forward.
Homeland moves this focus to events a couple of years later. Marcus is now a young adult, and he takes a job working for a new and progressive politician who is seeking to change the system from the inside. However, a chance meeting with a formal nemesis – Masha – leads to a series of difficult decisions. She hands Marcus a thumb drive full of sensitive information regarding government and corporate collusion, and asks him to release it to the public should anything happen to her. Inevitably, something does, again resurrecting another character from Little Brother (“severe haircut lady” for those that have read the book), who takes Masha and her boyfriend into custody. Marcus must then determine the wisdom of releasing thousands of sensitive documents into the public domain, possibly threatening his job, his freedom, and possibly even his life – he has, after all, dealt with these dangerous and out of control security types before, and knows how far they’re willing to go.
One of the more interesting aspects of Little Brother was that it was full of info-dumping – entire sections wherein Marcus explained some piece of technology that helped in his resistance against authority – acting thus as a sort of guidebook to civil insurrection in the Internet Age. Homeland has less of that, but isn’t weaker for it. It is, however, less intense in that the characters never seem to be under the same kind of constant threat that Marcus and his friends faced in the first book.
This does not make the book any less timely. In fact, although I felt that Little Brother was both timely and possibly prescient of the potential direction policing in the West appeared to be going back when it was published (April 2008), Homeland is downright eerie in its prescience. It was published in February 2013, just four months before the Snowden NSA leaks hit the news. I’m not saying that Marcus and Snowden have a lot in common – beyond the leaking of sensitive documents, that is – but once again Doctorow seems to have his finger on the pulse of society, and is able to turn events, possible and likely, into compelling fiction.
Just as in his previous efforts, Doctorow incorporates pop culture effortlessly into his work, thus providing a kind of time stamp for future readers of a cultural moment. In Homeland, not only will you learn how to cold-brew coffee (all the flavor, none of the bitterness!), but you also get to visit Black Rock City and the Burning Man festival, where Marcus gets invited to join in on a game of Dungeons & Dragons with Wil Wheaton and the founders of the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation). In a moment of marketing genius, it is also Wheaton who ended up doing the audiobook narration for the novel.
I really enjoyed reading Homeland – I always enjoy Doctorow’s writing – but I didn’t quite love it the way I did Little Brother. Where I felt that LB was an important book, I find Homeland to be moderately lighter fare. It is, however, well worth reading, especially if you’ve already gotten to know Marcus and his friends in the first book.
Steve’s Rating: (8 / 10)
A solid follow-up to what is my favorite of Doctorow’s books. Homeland is a little less compelling, but still a great deal of fun. Plus, you’ll learn a few handy tricks along the way – it is worth the price of admission alone to learn how to cold brew coffee.
Series: Sequel to 2008’s Little Brother
Publisher: Tor Teen
Date: February 5, 2013
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