Be Wary, Be Vigilant, a review of Little Brother and Homeland by Cory Doctorow

Marcus Yallow is a seventeen year old San Francisco teen and comical technological misfit causing more trouble than is necessary. Unfortunately, his world gets turned upside down when a terrorist attack destroys the Bay Bridge, and he is caught up in affairs. Once he is freed from an unlawful detention by the Department of Homeland Security, he finds that his city is turned into a defacto police-state, where every citizen is treated like a terrorist. It’s up to Marcus and others to do the impossible; to take on the Department of Homeland Security.

Cory Doctorow does not mince words when it comes to showing people what a life under an authoritarian surveillance state would look like: the constant monitoring; the police doing random checks; the massive subversion of one’s personal privacy. Even 12 years after being published, a lot of the hallmarks ring true. This is even truer when it comes to Homeland, which is only a few steps removed from what we have today, despite being written long before our current troubles.

The way that Doctorow makes this horrific, oppressive, and completely believable slip into the unreal, is to make the magical seem mundane. The explanations of technology, cryptography, hacking, internet protocols, and 3D Printing, are done with such love as to really get across both the good and bad aspects. Understanding the technologies at play here not only helps the reader understand the situation, but they also provide hints for how to structure your own life without being oppressively monitored on a daily basis.

The characters in the book can blunder around sometimes, but after the initial teething issues they become much stronger, especially more so in the Homeland.

I definitely recommend reading, not only because it’s a good framework, but because it shoves a mirror into what we’re currently living through, and asks us how do we want to change it.