At first I was wary of this book. It's YA, and Cory Doctorow is a technologist with very strong anarcho-libertarian-leaning views on privacy, piracy, and intellectual property rights. I happen to (mostly
) agree with his views, but not without a few misgivings, and anyway, a preachy book that's a vehicle for an agenda will turn me off even if I agree with the agenda.
Despite a few spots where I think Doctorow simplified the issues too much, this is in fact a great book (taking into account that the target audience is young people, which is why there is so much spelling out of the ideas and history behind the arguments Doctorow is making). It's a great book because the story is compelling and the characters make you care about them, independently of the ideological background.
The story in a nutshell: terrorists blow up the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, provoking a hysterical reaction even more extreme than post-9/11. The Department of Homeland Security turns into a virtual occupying army, and Marcus, the main character, because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time (and because he's a hacker) finds himself imprisoned, interrogated, and classified as a terrorist himself.
From there the novel proceeds in a sort of stripped-down and more optimistic version of 1984
, one in which the "underground" actually exists and actually has a chance of winning. Doctorow deliberately exaggerates the security apparatus and the anti-terrorism hysteria of the U.S., but only a little. The story is also a light primer on hacking, jamming, and generally screwing with security systems.
Marcus is a real teenager, and manages to have real teenager parent and girl issues, despite being pursued by an increasingly zealous police state. All of the secondary characters are equally real, and quite reflective of the real Bay Area. Since again, this is a YA novel, it can perhaps be forgiven for making it just a little too easy for a bunch of teenagers to take on DHS, but I do think Doctorow punted by making all the bad guys (i.e., anyone supporting the government/anti-terrorist position) purely stupid and/or evil.
Nonetheless, it's still a great story, and it should be enjoyable (though perhaps a bit vexing) even to those who actually think the Patriot Act is a good idea. (Hopefully it will make you reconsider...)