Possibly the most important book of our time!
OK, probably not, but it is a good book and raises lots of questions that we should be thinking about. The story is about Marcus Yallow a teenager in San Francisco who is into tech: hacking school laptops, figuring out ways to get past the school surveillance systems, etc. mostly to get out to play tech’ based games. However, being in the wrong place at the wrong time Marcus and his fellow gamers get caught up in the aftermath of a terrorist incident and get picked up by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
That’s when the story takes a really interesting turn and raises those questions that we should all be thinking about. DHS takes on increasing powers of monitoring and tracking people going about their normal day, arrest and detention without trial and online monitoring. Marcus, following his wrongful arrest and mistreatment, uses his tech skills to set up secure encrypted network (Xnet) and becomes the anonymous leader of an underground, youth based resistance movement who highlight freedom of speech issues and generally try to get in the way of DHS.
The book is fast moving, hi-tech and thought provoking. The tech isn’t that futuristic, lots of things that we use almost every day (often without even noticing) and it is all explained in very simple ways so I don’t think it would only appeal to ‘tech heads’. The story is obviously very US-Centric with all the examples of how the constitution, Bill of Rights, etc. came about and what they are all about, and there are parallels between 9/11, Guantanamo Bay, surveillance-society, state sponsored torture, etc. But these issues affect us all and are worth being aware of!
Aside from the ‘who is watching big-brother’ questions there is also a coming-of-age story of Marcus finding love, overcoming the odds, standing up to authority, etc. My only complaint about the characterization and writing would be that he crys a lot! OK so Marcus is going through a lot but I started to get the impression that the author couldn’t express different emotions so got out of lots of situations by simply making Marcus cry, a small point but it really started to notice it.
OK, now here is the deal breaker. This book is naturally available from good book shops, but you can also read or downloaded it totally free through a creative commons license! This is the first ebook I’ve read – i.e. reading it completely on a small screen using my new gadget (more later) and I suppose the fairly simple writing style helped that too – i.e. shortish paragraphs and dialogue sections were easy to read on a small screen about a paragraph at a time.
I would highly recomend this book not just as a good read, but important topics that we should think about even more so in Britain where CCTV makes us some of the most watched people in the ‘free world’.