Like with Fahrenheit 451
, I think this is one of those books that everyone should read, and read often. Not only does is what Doctorow’s talking about extremely relevant, but the various messages he discusses throughout stay with you for a while after you put the book down.
He can definitely pack a punch with his writing, and definitely shows in here. The first few chapters are all well and good—teen hackers who skip school to play ARGs! Good fun times!—and then wham
. The scenes of Marcus and the others trying to make their way through a decimated and attacked San Francisco managed to translate the terror and confusion of the moment, and then get ramped up whenever the DHS swoops in to detain the group. The details of “what exactly just happened” are as jumbled and confusing to the reader, and you really get the fear and claustrophobia that Marcus experiences during his detainment.
The first chapters really set up Marcus’s character. He’s cocky, thinks that he knows everything, but he can recognize his limits (physically, mentally, verbally) and when he needs to back down before things get too out of control. There’s an interesting code of honor at work; Marcus does want revenge on the DHS for what they did to him and his friend Darryl, but he’s not willing to let anyone else suffer the same fate or worse. And while a book about hacking, on the surface, seems boring (because hacking is nothing like the media portrays it), Marcus’s love of it shines through the prose. He’s well-informed, and the many (many, many, many) passages about hacking or security or technology show off his love of all of those things. (More on that in a bit.)
I like the Harajuku Fun Madness team, but they get dropped from the plot before the events escalate. The reasons why Van and Jolu leave Marcus behind are extremely understandable, but I would have liked to get a better grasp on their characters before they disappeared for the last 200 or so pages. Darryl gets a little more characterization, though it’s largely through flashbacks and Marcus’s narration. Ange is a weak character—she feels like she’s only there as the designated love interest, a m1k3y fangirl to spur on Marcus. She’s got some good moments, but there’s not much that she contributes to the plot. (Actually, on my first read, I thought she was going to be revealed as a double agent, because her dialogue and action do go for that theory.)
My favorite thing about the book is sheer amount of information on technology and security. While most authors would info-dump everything into the plot, Doctorow manages to work the relevant information into Marcus’s narration without dragging on for pages. It’s also presented in layman’s terms, so I actually had an idea of “Okay, so that’s how this works.” (To point, I actually did look up computer building a little while after finishing the book.) It’s engaging and doesn’t bore me to death.
But while the book focuses heavily on tech and security, the main crux of the book is the idea of civil liberties and rights and how they’re affected in times of national security. I agree with the central message—freedom shouldn’t be something that can be compromised. However—and this is my one nitpick of the book—I didn’t feel like there was an equal argument for the side of the DHS. We get a sympathetic view with Marcus’s dad and Masha, but everyone else who agrees with the DHS and their measures is painted as an incompetent strawman who just sprouts back propaganda. I’m not saying that the reader has to agree with the other side, just a sympathetic look at it would have been better rounded.
Still, I argue that this should be essential reading and with a lot of discussion. You don’t necessarily have to agree with Marcus or his actions, but it is something to think about.more