I was very excited to read this and I was well aware that I would compare this to Little Brother constantly. Little Brother blew me away and any novel so closely related to it in scope and theme would have a hard time passing scrutiny.
The first chapter didn’t quite pull me in. I understood that it was supposed to set the tone, that the freedom of the Burning Man festival was intended as a stark contrast to the oppressiveness and bleakness of the ‘real world’ waiting back of Chicago. I found it remarkable that all the positive aspects of Burning Man were brought out in opposition to everyday life: the absence of surveillance, commercial transactions etc. Burning Man acted as a counterpoint and, for me, added to the sense of oppression and captivity and the constraints exercised by society waiting on the return to ‘civilisation’. The need to point out how great it is that something is absent in a confined space and time only emphasises how fucked-up reality really is. Of course, the happy, carefree, and peaceful setting of the first chapter also served to make the invasion of outside forces, intent on disrupting the harmonic atmosphere of this seeming paradise, even more shocking.
Even though surveillance and control, and the abuse of power were ever-present in the portrayal of the school system in Little Brother, the kid’s attempts to circumvent the measures put into effect by the school board added a playfulness that came to an abrupt end with the bombing. It’s very much the same formula in Homeland. While similar to the narrative strategies employed in Homeland, Little Brother’s opening chapter worked better for me. I’m pretty sure that my own claustrophobic nature and dislike of large groups of people and extreme heat evoked a personal reaction contrary to the one intended for the Burning Man setting.
The pacing of Homeland is near perfect. There are episodes of relative calm that ease the readers into the story but always keep them in suspense of the dreadful things that might happen next to shatter the serene and joyful atmosphere. And when these awful things do happen (as they inevitably will, but in a different way than expected), you sit there clutching the book, holding your breath, and fervently hoping the protagonists will find a way to prevail and face down their opponents. I’m pretty sure that other reviewers will criticise the protagonist’s vast knowledge of almost everything and his tendency to explain things to his readers in detail. I didn’t mind that at all. As in Little Brother, the story is told from the POV of Marcus Yallow who, by now, has finished school and quit college because of financial difficulties and is looking for work in a very unstable economic situation. The reader follows Marcus’ reasoning and emotional and logical reactions. Marcus explains a lot of technical and scientific know-how, which was quite fun to me, whether I was already familiar with what he talked about or not. I admit that quite a bit just washed over me, but my paranoia was definitely fuelled again, so much so that I had to resist the urge to remove batteries from mobile phones and laptops and to cut the internet wires. Cory Doctorow is occasionally being accused of being overly didactic but I really cannot say that I share the sentiment. Since I’m usually someone who shuts down as soon as I get the feeling of being preached to and really start climbing the walls when people patronise or proselytise, I’d argue that Marcus’ insights into technical and scientific, societal and political developments are delivered in an agreeable manner that asks you (politely) to consider these issues for yourself and make up your own mind about how you feel about and how you’d choose to react to them.
All in all, Homeland is an excellent book and exactly what I was craving at the time I read it The ending was hinting at the possibility of a third book, which I would really like to see a lot (as long as Masha does not turn into a competing love interest). I’m wavering between a four and five star rating … what the heck, it’s been too long since I handed out five stars. I enjoyed reading Homeland very much and that is worth 5*.