Saturday, June 8, 2013

Homeland, by Cory Doctorow

I've been sitting on my review of Homeland for the better part of a week now. I'm feeling kind of intimidated, to be honest. Because there's a lot to say about this one. And what with all the nifty NSA surveillance coming to light at the moment, the book feels particularly prescient.
It's the sequel to Little Brother, which was probably my favorite road trip read. We meet up with narrator Marcus Yallow about two years after the events of the first book. We find characters (and, you know, the world) still reeling from those events. Marcus is clearly suffering from PTSD after being tortured, and the country is in economic turmoil. Kind of like reality, except worse.You know I hate plot summaries, so let's skip ahead and talk about the strongest aspects of Doctorow's writing: world-building, and characters.

Cory Doctorow must be an awesome dude to hang out with. He seems like the type of guy with an unerring sense of the most interesting places to be. And so many of Homeland's settings are real places in the Bay Area. They're just not the most typically talked-about ones. I was struck over and over again by the vividness of the descriptions--of a Burning Man festival, of a great crafty hacker hangout, of a massive protest, of an abandoned ex-bathhouse by the sea. I'm not normally the biggest fan of description, probably because so few writers can capture just the right details to make it interesting. Doctorow is one of those happy few. I mean, holy crap. I want to go to Burning Man now. This is unexpected.

My favorite thing about this is how Doctorow manages to make the world so interesting. He conveys this so much with his characters as well. They're engaged, they're curious, they get psyched about sharing trivia at the dinner table. I love this. And, okay. Marcus? Can we talk about Marcus now? He's our main character, our MC, the big cheese, the main man. Now for me, that often turns out to be...not my favorite character. Does anyone else feel this way? Is it me, or are main characters sometimes...not the most interesting? Or maybe it's just that they get over-shadowed by the brilliance of the other characters around them. I've felt this way about TV shows (Buffy) and in books (sorry, Potter), even when I really liked the main character (both of my examples). Maybe the difference is that these books are told from Marcus's point of view, so we really can't help but root for him all the way.

But he's also fucking awesome. And not in your typical hero way, either. He geeks out about computers and D&D. He's got a great sex life with his girlfriend. He's addicted to coffee (and can talk pretty damn knowledgeably about it, too, which made this former barista very happy). He's an incredible computer programmer and hacker. And, as I mentioned before, he's got PTSD, which means he spends a lot of this book pissed off and wracked with indecision. He's reactive instead of pro-active, and he gets a lot of shit about it from a couple of smart people who love him. But man, this kid really wants to do right. And he wants to be safe, and he wants the people he loves to be safe, and he's so fucking scared but he keeps trying. I love that in a guy.

And he may be the MC and narrator, but his friends and family are no less realized. His relationship with his girlfriend Ange is complex and realistic. It's always nice to see a couple who can support and challenge each other. And the friendships were just as good, just as complicated. AND his parents. And his boss. And and and and.

This book gets all the stars. All of em. Read it read it. I can't even do it justice.

1 comment:

  1. Yes - ALL the stars! Also, I tried cold brewing after reading this book. So far, no regrets :P

    I suspect you're right about Doctorow being awesome to hang out with. I'd love to hear him speak someday - not the same, but probably the closest I'll ever get :P