May 08, 08
Recommended to Brownbetty by:
Read in May, 2008
** spoiler alert **
Here is a book that is clever without being smug, and cynical while standing for something, both of which are all too rare.
Marcus is a smart-alec kid who is slightly too smart for his own good. He casually exploits the system and its loopholes, confident that his ability to do so is all the justification he needs. However, he's basically a decent kid, so this is not too aggravating to read about.
This book actually does believe in things, like the power of citizenry, and human rights, and, because it's written by Doctorow, open source, and the magic of things that have an on-switch.
One thing I appreciated was that this book knows how the internet works. It knows how social networking works, and how it doesn't, and at one point annoying lj quiz-memes are actually a critical plot-point. I assume anyone reading this review will be in a position to appreciate that in a book.
I am not sure how geeky one has to be to read this book. I definitely found myself geeky enough, but I'm wondering at what point all the unfamiliar references would start to become so much chaff to be winnowed through. On the other hand, I suppose if you don't know how to do an md5checksum, it's essentially a magic incantation and can be treated as such for the purposes of the plot, an approach with which SF readers are very familiar.
If you have a certain baseline level of knowledge, though, you will find the book quite educational; it's not too lecture-ful, but it does set out to teach one things, much like a Heinlein juvenile. I would like to point out that the rfid neutralization method in the book is needlessly high-tech, and leaves traces of tampering: instead, hit it with a hammer.
If you enjoy books about clever people who get in trouble, and then get out of it again by being clever, this is definitely for you. If you don't enjoy those books, though, you may still want to give this a try: this is one of those books which really could only have been written by a white man. It has that touching faith in the adequacy of cleverness and nerve to meet any situation, and that casual acceptance of the recognition of his peers. However, and here is why it may be worth giving it a shot even if you find that tremendously aggravating, this book knows that it could only have been written by a white man.
Marcus doesn't have an easy time of it, but the book does acknowledge that it could be so much worse-- without his parents connections, without their money, without being white while mouthing off to cops, this book would be about a kid who is sentenced to jail and never gets out because he can't quite make himself shut up.
One thing which detracted from my enjoyment of the book: SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER STOP READING NOW.
In the end, it turned out that ninety percent of the things that Marcus did to defeat the department of homeland security were immaterial, and the solution lay in, you guessed it, privilege: contacts of his parents, a certain amount of credibility, and a deus ex cellphone.