Attack Surface, by Cory Doctorow

I read the first book in this series way back in 2013. Little Brother was a fast-paced response to increased surveillance and eroding civil rights in the face of terrorist threats. Homeland built on that theme by looking at the extra-legal activities of a government contractor that was prepared to use deadly force to keep their secrets secret. Cory Doctorow’s new novel, Attack Surface, is the darkest and most terrifying of the series yet. I recommend that interested readers go back and re-read the first two books to refresh their memories, because this book heavily references them.

Masha Maximow drifted away from her friends in high school, physically and ethically. Where her friends Tanisha and Marcus became big league hacktvists fighting against a host of nefarious things that the government and their contractors have been up to in the name of fighting terror and crime. Masha’s ability to come up with ways to weaponize relationships and technology lands her a job with people Tanisha and Marcus view as the enemy. In the decade since Homeland, Masha has made a lot of money doing things she spends a lot of time not thinking about because, as she points out to her very scary bosses, the information they collect catches a lot more normal people than it does criminals or terrorists.

At the beginning of Attack Surface, we meet Masha in the middle of a job in what appears to be a former Soviet state. On the clock she helps the government install tech that collects and analyses information collected from ordinary citizens’ and activists’ phones. Off the clock she helps the activists avoid that surveillance. When things go extraordinarily pear-shaped, Masha is fired and cut adrift from the clandestine world she was hiding in for ten years. Now that Masha doesn’t have an official job to do, she returns to her hometown of San Francisco.

In Little Brother, technology was a tool. It was neither good or bad except when humans put their hands on it. Marcus, the protagonist of that novel, saw technology as a way to a future utopia of sharing and equality. That hope is far, far away now that Masha is the protagonist. She’s so cynical and burned out that she spends most of the novel telling people all the ways that they’re fucked. Masha is a prickly person, so much so that I was strongly reminded of Lisbeth Salander from the Millennium trilogy. The more I read, the more paranoid I got. I started heavily side-eying my cell phone and wondering about how many apps I needed to give up. Technology, in Attack Surface, reads more like a weapon and a drug. We’re addicted to our devices for so many reasons. But in the hands of unscrupulous police departments, governments, and government contractors, all of our devices might as well be tattling on us all the time, giving up data that could be used to charge people in the event that they need to disappear and stop making “trouble.”

This really is a frightening book. And I think it might be my favorite because, on top of a plot that keeps twisting and turning and scaring the hell out of me, it also contains an intriguing psychological portrait of a damaged woman who has spent too much time ignoring her now-shouting conscience and thought-provoking ideas about cybersurveillance, civil rights, and social justice.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.

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