Little Brother #3

Surface Attack by Cory Doctorow

Publication Date: October 13, 2020

Summary from NetGalley:

Most days, Masha Maximow was sure she’d chosen the winning side.

In her day job as a counterterrorism wizard for an transnational cybersecurity firm, she made the hacks that allowed repressive regimes to spy on dissidents, and manipulate their every move. The perks were fantastic, and the pay was obscene.

Just for fun, and to piss off her masters, Masha sometimes used her mad skills to help those same troublemakers evade detection, if their cause was just. It was a dangerous game and a hell of a rush. But seriously self-destructive. And unsustainable.

When her targets were strangers in faraway police states, it was easy to compartmentalize, to ignore the collateral damage of murder, rape, and torture. But when it hits close to home, and the hacks and exploits she’s devised are directed at her friends and family–including boy wonder Marcus Yallow, her old crush and arch rival, and his entourage of naïve idealists–Masha realizes she has to choose.

And whatever choice she makes, someone is going to get hurt.

ARC provided by MacMillan-Tor/Forge via NetGalley for an honest review.

Confession:

This is the third book set in the Little Brother world, but it is told from the perspective of a newish character. Masha is a very minor character in the first two books, but here she is the star of the show. I had often wondered about Masha while reading the first two books. Wondering what made her tick and why she makes the choices that she does. This book does explain it all, and then some.

I liked Masha for the most part, although there were many times I didn’t understand her choices, and I’m not sure she did either. Although she was an idealist at the start, wanted to help catch the terrorists who attacked her city, she soon gets caught up in the surveillance racket and soon discovers that there is no real distinction between good guys and bad guys. Almost anyone in the right circumstances will make a bad decision. She does what she can to ease her conscience, but soon even that is not enough to keep her from despising herself and what she has done.

Although you don’t really have to have read the first books to get this one, it does help. There are a lot of flashbacks to the other books and to the parts of Masha’s life that happened during those books that we didn’t know. There is also a lot of tech talk, which does at times slow the narrative down, and many times goes over my head. But some of it is damn scary too. All the different ways that the government, businesses and others I don’t want to think about, can spy on you, yes you, the average citizen just minding their business.

This book is perhaps a bit darker than the other two, but the ending is so hopeful. I loved seeing how Marcus and Angie’s lives turned out, too. A good commentary on how tech can be helpful but also a cautionary tale on how governments could easily go down the wrong road.

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