Big Brother, hacking, civil liberties and high-tech abuse of power: An Appreciation of Cory Doctorow’s Homeland, a 2014 Prometheus winner for Best Novel

Introduction: To highlight the four-decade history of the Prometheus Awards, and make clear why each winner deserves recognition as notable pro-freedom sf/fantasy, the Libertarian Futurist Society is presenting weekly Appreciations of past Prometheus Award-winners.

Here’s the latest Appreciation for Cory Doctorow’s Homeland, a 2014 Prometheus Award winner for Best Novel:

Cory Doctorow’s 2014 novel offers a timely drama about an ongoing struggle for civil liberties against the invasive National-Security State.

Homeland follows the continuing adventures of Marcus Yallow, a government-brutalized young leader of a movement of tech-savvy hackers who previously had been detailed arbitrarily and brutalized by the U.S. government after a terrorist attack on San Francisco.

This sequel to Doctorow’s Prometheus-winning and best-selling Little Brother  is set several years later after California’s economy has collapsed while the government’s powers have only grown.

Nineteen-year-old Yallow and his fellow hackers, all tech-savvy teen-agers, are still fighting against the high-tech tyranny of the intrusive Big Brother-style federal government.

But Yallow, now the public face of resistance and thus more constrained than ever, faces a difficult and dangerous decision when a former rival surfaces to give him a thumb-drive containing a provocative Wikileaks-style exposé of massive government abuse and corruption and asks him to release it publicly if she goes missing. Then her and his worst fears materialize.

Homeland, like Little Brother, offers an insightful cautionary tale about people struggling against the invasive national-security state, with its enormous potential for massive government overreach, corruption and abuse of power.

Here are insightful excerpts from David Wayland’s review in the 2014 issue of the Prometheus quarterly (Volume 32, Number 2):
“Like its predecessor, Homeland takes place in the present, and is steeped in the recession that straddles the end of the GW Bush administration and current Obama administration… During a fortuitous and chance meeting with four notable real-world people at Burning Man, Marcus is given a chance to interview as a webmaster for a political candidate, Joe Noss, who is running as a pseudo-independent Democrat.
“Here Marcus is given a chance to participate in the big-P kinds of politics, ‘the kind that involves elections and so on,’ as Noss puts it during his first meeting with Marcus. Noss appears to be Doctorow’s dream candidate, an ‘independent’ voice, yet still within the liberal fold.
“When a novel like Homeland tackles very current events, it must be considered against the backdrop of those events and how those events are interpreted. Homeland tries to walk the ideological minefield of supporting the political infrastructure and people who make massive spying and callous drone attacks possible, while at the same time decrying and pointing out the excesses brought about by the rent seeking of this same political infrastructure.”


“Whereas the ending of Little Brother and the beginning of Homeland appear to still cling to the idea that changes can come from within the system, the idea that our candidate will not be as bad as the other guy, this view seems to evolve somewhat by the end of Homeland.
“Setting aside politics, the novel itself dives into the modern privacy versus national security war, a war largely fought by government and resisted by those few who see the looming threat of Big Brother…
“Marcus also gets involved in a local Occupy protest, which quickly turns into violent repression. Doctorow is skilled at researching current events, and bleed- ing-edge technology. His passion for maker culture, detailing the concept of legal intercepts, the idea of paranoid linux, permanent and all-intrusive surveillance, make for a thrilling read.
“Yet despite what actually happens in the world, it seems that the protagonists are more worried about businesses surveilling people than government (despite Wikileaks and the massive Snowden NSA leaks, all government related). Johnstone, the villain in the shadows, isn’t shown as a true public employee stooge, but rather a private contractor, a Blackwater-like opera- tive. Motives are rooted in money.
“…Toward the end of the novel, as Marcus and Liam, a fellow Occupier, discuss their future, Liam scoffs at Marcus’s idea that electing Noss to public office will make the world a better place: ‘He barked a laugh. “You’re kidding, right? You really think it makes a difference who we vote for? After you’ve seen the darknet docs, seen how someone uses the system to get rich, then used their riches to change the system to keep them that way? Jesus, Marcus, what is this, high school civics?”


“One page later, Marcus muses that his government turned his city into a police state, kidnapped and tortured him. While he originally though that it isn’t the system, but the people in office, he has realized that the good apples become bad apples. There are always emergencies, and people use those emergencies. He seems to finally realize what he didn’t see in Little Brother, that working within the system just gets you worked over.
“A tragic aspect of the novel is reading the Afterword by Aaron Schwartz, the young internet prodigy who killed himself after becoming the focus of an over-zealous prosecutor going after him for hacking and releasing documents into the public domain. Schwartz’s last sentence — “Let me know if I can help” — became a distressing read knowing he is no longer alive, his promise and passion extinguished.
“Homeland is an important novel, a powerful novel. Doctorow might not be a libertarian, but like George Orwell the socialist exposing the ills of socialism through his fiction (Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four), Doctorow cares about freedom, and rails in a powerful voice against those who seek to control our freedom and those who work to limit our rights and abilities to live and act free.”

Note: Doctorow also won Prometheus Awards for Best Novel for Little Brother in 2009 and Pirate Cinema in 2013.

Cory Doctorow (Creative Commons license)

Doctorow, a Canadian sf writer, also was nominated for Prometheus Awards for Best Novel for Makers  (2010), For the Win  (2011) and Walkaway (2018).

* Coming up soon on the Prometheus Blog:  A 40thAnniversary Celebration and appreciations of the next novels to be recognized with a Prometheus Awards: Daniel Suarez’ Influx, the 2015 winner for Best Novel.

* See related introductory essay  about the LFS’ 40thanniversary retrospective series of Appreciations of past Prometheus Awards winners, with an overview of the awards’ four-decade history.

* Other Prometheus winners:  For a full list of winners – for the annual Best Novel and Best Classic Fiction (Hall of Fame) categories and occasional Special Awards – visit the recently updated and enhanced Prometheus Awards page on the LFS website.

* Join us! To help sustain the Prometheus Awards, join the Libertarian Futurist Society (LFS), a non-profit volunteer association of libertarian sf/fantasy fans and freedom-lovers.
Libertarian futurists believe cultural change is as vital as political change (and often more fulfilling, positive and productive long-term) in achieving universal individual rights and a better world for all.

Published by

Mike Grossberg

Michael Grossberg, who founded the LFS in 1982 to help sustain the Prometheus Awards, has been a writer, arts critic, speaker and award-winning journalist for five decades. Most recently, Michael won the 2019 Ohio SPJ awards for Best Critic in Ohio (for theater reviews) and Best Arts Reporting (which he’s won seven times). He's written for Reason and Libertarian Review magazines, was a regional columnist for years for Backstage weekly, helped lead the American Theatre Critics Association for two decades and has contributed to six books, including critical essays for the annual Best Plays Theatre Yearbook and an afterword/essay for the first paperback edition of J. Neil Schulman's novel The Rainbow Cadenza. Among the books he recommends to inform a libertarian-futurist perspective: Matt Ridley's The Rational Optimist, David Boaz's The Libertarian Mind and Steven Pinker's Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress.

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