Homeland was a book I hadn't really planned to read as part of my "finish up my unfinished series" project for the year. I enjoyed Little Brother, but I wasn't itching to see where the story went from there. At the last minute, I decided to add it to the list, and now that I've finished it, I can say that I made the wrong decision. I should have gone with my first instinct and left it well enough alone.
That's not to say that the book is bad; it's not. It's actually quite readable, compelling, and intriguing. The problem is that it's padded with a bunch of unnecessary detail because it's all about the things that Cory Doctorow writes about on Boing Boing. It's about Burning Man and cold-brewed coffee and 3D printing and third-party political candidates and drones and darknet and so on and whatever and yadda yadda. These aren't even things that are mentioned in passing, either; if you ever get a hankering to try cold-brewed coffee (and don't think that Doctorow doesn't extol how awesome and good and better-than-yours this coffee is, because he does, for about two pages), just open this book to page 56. He doesn't write out a recipe, but he tells you how to make it, in insane, ridiculous detail, detail that doesn't belong in a novel.
In fact, here are things you will learn about, and how long you will have to endure the details, while reading this book:
-Secure passwords (four paragraphs)
-Random numbers (four pages, namely because at one point he quotes pi for 1000 places)
-Cloud server computing (three pages)
-Astroturfing (fake grassroots campaigns) and sock puppet accounts (two pages)
-Beating lie detectors by clenching your asshole (two very uncomfortable pages)
If Doctorow had cut all that detail, the book might be about 250 pages long. As it stands, the book is about twice that length.
The characters and plot take second place to all these details, and Doctorow doesn't really bother to hide that fact. There's no real development of the characters, and aside from a handful of the main characters, everyone is a two-dimensional shell that's there to serve as a reason for an info-dump, or to move along what little plot there is. Instead, the tone of the whole novel was ingratiating. That should have come as no surprise to me, since Doctorow is usually in full-on self-promotion mode, and the ideals and philosophies he discusses in this novel are his own.
There are still some aspects of the novel that grated on me, outside of all that detail. Doctorow has a habit if having his characters talk in detail to each other about things that both of them already know about. At one point, a character asks another one if he's read a book, to which he responds that not only did he read it, but he wrote a paper about it in AP English (because that's the sort of characters there are in this book). So the other character then goes into a whole lot of detail about the book, prefacing it with "Then you'll remember" so the author can pretend that he hasn't just written dialogue that has no place in the scene. Sure, he wants to convey information to the reader that they may not have, but there were other, better ways to do that.
This kind of thing peppered Little Brother, too, but it didn't bother me as much then as it does now. I think it's partly because the info-dumps were a service to that story. That was a book about terrorism, security, privacy, and government, so getting a bunch of information about all of those things was necessary to keep the reader engaged in the story. With Homeland, everything just seems sort of random. There was no real reason to go into so much detail about Burning Man, or to have the main character meet a bunch of friends of Doctorow's within the narrative. It was just a moment where Doctorow could look smug and make himself look important because he knew enough about these people to include them in their novel. I'm surprised that Randall Munroe didn't get name-checked in the book, too.
I also noticed that there were a ton of "have got"s and "has got"s all over the place in this book. I cringe inside when I hear that phrase, since "I have" conveys the same information as "I've got," with the added bonus of it being grammatically correct (see also: "Where are you at?"). When I see it in books, it bothers me even more. I can accept it when the narrator or character is talking in a conversational style, but when you have a poised, professional, severe character who keeps using that phrase, it just winds up being completely unbelievable.
The ending was disappointing, too, because it just happened, through no effort on the main character's part. What resolution there was occurred off-screen, making much of the effort of getting to that point wasted. Doctorow will show us the details that involve public Maker spaces, but not what happens to the primary antagonist?
I'll admit that most of what I dislike about this novel is the little pieces, but at the same time, the book serves as the kind of propaganda that Atlas Shrugged was, and continues to be. Even being on the side of the issues discussed in this book did little to prevent me from being annoyed at the details. The bigger picture is a decent story, it's just ruined by Doctorow being Doctorow. It's one thing to post and discuss this kind of thing on a blog, but when you're writing a story, you need to know when to draw that line and put the focus back on the story. Unfortunately, Doctorow (and, more egregiously, his editor) doesn't know how to do that.