Attack Surface

By Cory Doctorow

Attack Surface, a novel by Cory Doctorow
Book details About the author

I am not someone that goes in for Conspiracy Theories, I just don’t have the energy for them. Take for example the idea that nanobots are being injected into people so that the Deep State can track our every move. Why would they spend trillions of pounds on such technology when we are all pretty much logging our own moves via Smart Phones and Social Media? These shadowy entities are better served building vast storage warehouses and harvesting all the data. It is now a case of interpreting that data for their own nefarious needs. Sounds farfetched to you? Cory Doctorow’s new future allegory Attack Surface thinks otherwise. 

Masha Maximov is a great programmer, but she knows she is not the best. Her abilities lie in being able to interpret data and understand how best it can be used. At first, this was for the US Government but as data became the new Gold Rush the private sector became involved and offered Masha a lot of money for just a small part of her soul. Years later, Masha does not have much of a soul left and the technology she has helped create now tracks us all and not just the bad guys. Can Masha find her way back home to her old friends and family, and does she even care anymore? 

As a Juvenile Literature Librarian back in 2008 I was given the privilege of reviewing Doctorow's debut outing in Little Brother and to this day I still find myself pondering about that book. It blended the idea of science fiction, instead acting more like an alternative version of our own world. That book was written for teenagers but never talked down to them. Since this Doctorow’s writing has matured alongside his reader and characters. Attack is the third in the series and is once again eerily like the world in which we live in today. 

The book is told entirely from the perspective of Masha and almost acts like an autobiography of an imaginary life. It leaps back and forth in time, touching upon events in previous books but also creating a lot of new content. The structure is such that you are not required to have read the earlier books to enjoy this one. Fans will have a little more insight, but the main thrust works on all levels. 

You could almost describe Attack as Cyberpunk, but that means that we are now living in a Cyberpunk world. Doctorow is an author and activist. One of Doctorow’s aims is to inform and empower people about online safety. This book is a fictional call to arms and is jam packed with real life exploits that the authorities can and do undertake. You can read the book as an enjoyable techno-thriller, but you should really listen to what the author is trying to say. The authoritarian way of life found within the pages of Attack is only one or two more steps along our own path. 

As someone who works with IT and technology, the heavy use of technical language was fine for me. But I tested one paragraph on my less computer literate partner, and they struggled to understand. I consider that Doctorow has an almost poetical handle on technical speak and you can enjoy the rhythms, even if you cannot understand the words fully. His style of writing has a sense of disruption like that of Chuck Palahniuk.  

What pushes Attack above other near future and technothrillers is its social consciousness and Doctorow’s commitment to knowing his subject matter. I don’t think I have read another piece of fiction that has informed me as much as this one about real-world technology. The writing style and character development is enough to satisfy any reader of speculative fiction but for those that like their fiction tech heavy, they will love it.   

Written on 1st October 2020 by .

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