Welcome to Halfman, Halfbook for my stop on the Blog Tour for Attack Surface by Cory Doctorow and published by Head of Zeus.
About the Book
Returning to the world of Little Brother and Homeland, Attack Surface takes us five minutes into the future, to a world where everything is connected and everyone is vulnerable.
Masha Maximow has made some bad choices in life – choices that hurt people. But she’s also made some pretty decent ones. In the log file of life, however, she can’t quite work out which side of the ledger she currently stands.
Masha works for Xoth Intelligence, an InfoSec company upgrading the Slovstakian Interior Ministry’s ability to spy on its citizens’ telecommunications with state-of-the-art software (at least, as state-of-the-art as Xoth is prepared to offer in its middle-upper pricing tier).
Can you offset a day-job helping repressive regimes spy on their citizens with a nighttime hobby where you help those same citizens evade detection? Masha is about to find out.
Pacy, passionate, and as current as next week, Attack Surface is a paean to activism, to courage, to the drive to make the world a better place.
About the Author
Cory Doctorow is a science fiction author, activist, journalist and blogger – the co-editor of Boing Boing and the author of many books: In Real Life, a graphic novel; Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free, a book about earning a living in the Internet age; and Homeland, the award-winning, best-selling sequel to the 2008 YA novel Little Brother. Cory has been on the frontline of international debates on privacy, copyright and freedom of information for over a decade.
Masha Maximow is a smart girl who is working for Xoth Intelligence. This is an InfoSec company who can provide individual, companies, states and countries with the tool they need to monitor and spy on their staff and citizens. She is currently in the country of Slovstakian working with the Ministry of the Interior to upgrade their systems to enable them to spy on their citizens with the best software that Xoth is prepared to sell a former Soviet Bloc country.
She learnt her trade of surveillance and providing the tools of oppression by slipping through the darker shadows of the internet in the virtual battlegrounds of Iraq, and now she is highly paid and very very good at her job. Rather than chill out in a five-star hotel in the evenings, she hits the streets and finds the leaders of the public opposition to the right-wing goons in the government and teaches them every thin that she knows on how to fight back against the oppressive surveillance. Insider knowledge does help sometimes…
Then she gets caught.
He boss at Xoth considers her compromised and she is swiftly sacked. The hotel room that she stays in that night is normally rented by the hour, but she needs to lie low before leaving the country. She is woken in the middle of the night by the sound of a car crash, it was one of the Finecab automated taxi’s wrapped around a planter. She is just dozing off and hears another crash. Another cab crash, The feeds on her phone showed the usual riot and overly heavy police response and then lots of photos and videos of cabs being deliberately run into the protestors. She realised that this was the work of the company that she had been working for not long ago. She had to leave the country as soon as possible.
She ends up back home in San Francisco, but waiting for the flights means she has time to think about how she ended up in the InfoSec business and the first person that she worked for, Carrie Johnson. When she is back home she hooks up with Tanisha a friend from long ago who is involved with the Black-Brown Alliance which had its origins in the Black Lives Matter campaign. They spend a while catching up and Maximow realises that the group needs a full-time security person and offers her services. They head back to Tanisha’s flat and she falls fast asleep. She realises that she is being targeted when the alarm of her sounds. The phone is off, but there is a hacker trying to get into her phone. The log file terrifies her, so she goes to check Tanisha’s phone and realises that it has been compromised. Just how much is soon clear when she is picked up on a train and Maximow offers to go with her.
Life for both is never going to be the same again.
This world that Doctorow has imagined is set in the very near future, with most of the technologies that he is writing about either already with us or we are on the cusp of receiving them. It feels absolutely bang up to date with some of the things that are happening in the plot and subplots being very strongly influenced by current real-life events. It is set just far enough into the future to be a quite disturbing dystopia. I really liked this book, even though it is a terrifying read. If you think about the implications of a future of overly authoritarian states that he is predicting in here, then it is pretty grim.
I thought that the characters mostly felt fully fleshed out, Maximow, in particular, seems to be some flawed genius. Her two bosses at the InfoSec companies, Carrie Johnstone and Ilsa are two sides of the same coin really. Both super smart and ambitious they only have on thing in mind and that is to maintain power and influence in their company and over the population as a whole. I did find that it jumped around a bit too much between her present warp-speed life and the recounting of her previous life. Occasionally he moves away from the technical language that most will be able to follow and ventures deep into the silicon pathways. Where this book really wins though is presenting the stark future of the advent of mass and oppressive surveillance of the population at large and the choices that we have to make very soon as a society to curtail government and private sector intrusion into our private lives. This is 1984 in real life; your life. Oh, and read the two afterwords too; they should make you think.
There is a need to balance online privacy, everyday security and the ability to solve crime. But not at the cost of individuality, freedom and self-expression
Don’t forget to visit the other blogs on the blog tour
Buy this at your local independent bookshop. If you’re not sure where your nearest is then you can find one here
My thanks to Lauren Tavella for the copy of the book to read.
You can follow Cory Dotorow on Twitter here, and I strongly recommend that you do so
Head of Zeus are on Twitter here