Homeland (The Novel, Not the TV Show)

(Quick reminder – I am back in school so columns will be catch as catch can.)

Long time readers may remember how much I liked Cory Doctorow's YA novel Little Brother, which my science fiction/fantasy class happened to study this past week. The timing was especially nice because the sequel to Little Brother, Homeland, was recently released, making this the perfect time to read the two novels consecutively.

Homeland picks up a couple of years after the end of Little Brother. Marcus has had to drop out of school after both of his parents lost their jobs. His student debt is snowballing, what with interest and fees, and he hasn't had any luck finding a job. (His previous job was eliminated when the ISP he worked for was shut down.)

As the story begins Marcus and Ange are at Burning Man, having an amazing time, until they run into an old alley/enemy. Masha, looking paranoid and run-down, has a ton of Wiki Leaks style data she wants to leave with Marcus, with the instruction to make it public if something happens to her. Which it does, almost immediately. Marcus' nightmare nemesis, Carrie Whitestone, (Severe Haircut Woman) shows up on the playa, followed by some burly thugs. Shortly thereafter there is an explosion and in the ensuing confusion and mayhem Masha is hustled away.

Marcus has PTSD from his initial run in with Whitestone and her goons and isn't mentally or emotionally prepared for another encounter. He is immobilized by her appearance and Masha's disappearance and puts off deciding what to do. Ange is not thrilled with his indecision so the two of them get to work on a plan that will hopefully keep everyone safe.

Meanwhile Marcus goes to work for an independent political candidate, Joe Noss, managing his web presence. Joe's campaign manager knows Marcus' back story and warns him if she finds one whiff of hacking or other computer scandal she will fire him on the spot. Marcus isn't just afraid of being water boarded again, he's afraid of losing the only job he's had for some time. Being the only working member of his family is a tremendous responsibility.

While Little Brother focused on the police state, surveillance and torture, Homeland branches out and tackles the financial crash, maltreatment of protestors, Anonymous, activism and more. Just as in Little Brother he supplies quite a bit of information to the reader, including some data on modding 3-D printers. (My oldest son has one and I'm very interested in looking at possible uses for the machine.) Much of what he has to say echoes stories that have been in the news for the last couple of years, which makes the novel that much more disturbing.

While there is plenty of information there is also plenty of what makes a great YA novel. There is love, tension, danger, knotty problems, complex characters and hope. You can totally skip all of the technical stuff and still have a terrific story. On the other hand you have the opportunity to learn all kinds of things, both good and terrible. Some of it I took with a grain of salt, like how Marcus and Ange are drowning in student debt. I looked up the price of attending their schools and did the math and am not quite sure how you would end up with a lot of debt with the low prices of their schools. It's not like they're going to Hopkins or something. On the other hand the novel is set in either a near future or a slightly different time-line, so maybe that explains it.

If you get nothing else from the book you might like the cold brewing method of coffee making which Cory describes in detail. Some members of my class tried it out and are fans.

You can read an excerpt here: http://www.tor.com/stories/2012/07/homeland-excerpt or download the novel here: http://craphound.com/homeland/ Remember, you can download it and buy it. I downloaded it so I could read it right away and bought a copy for one of my kid's birthdays that is coming up in a few months.

Bonus Treat:
This week's bonus treat is a novelette from the Tor website. Called Portrait of Lisane da Patagnia and written by Rachel Swirsky, it's an intriguing story of art, magic and madness. http://www.tor.com/stories/2012/08/portrait-of-lisane-de-patagnia