Astro Noise: A Survival Guide for Living Under Total Surveillance

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I missed Laura Poitras’s show at the Whitney this summer by a few days, but had been eagerly awaiting this companion book. Much more than a compendium of what was in the exhibition, instead this is a book that stands on its own, with essays from various and sundry figures. The book begins with 14 pages of glossy, colorful “anarchist” images, snapshots taken from the British Army’s communications headquarters to intercept signals from satellites, drones, and radars in the Mediterranean.

After the usual gladhanding of a foreword and introduction, we get into the contributions, starting off with some fiction by Cory Doctorow which convinces me that my opinion of his writing is not changed—mediocre. Next comes an essay from a current Guantanamo prisoner, currently on hunger strike. Ai Weiwei includes a photo essay of surveillance shots of him post-release from prison. Poitras’s Berlin journal was one of the most interesting pieces, her burgeoning relationship with Snowden unfolding before us and reminding me that CITIZENFOUR is ready for a re-watch. Snowden himself contributes a tiny piece, as well as the video-artist-extraordinaire, Hito Steyerl (yes I am a fan-girl). Jacob Appelbaum also adds his two cents, along with a few pages of redacted info from the FBI released via FOIA requests. Inexplicably, Dave Eggers also “contributed” to this, mailing in a few pages of the screenplay for his novel The Circle. I resisted the urge to redact his name from this book entirely. Interspersed between the essays are stills from Poitras’ 2001/2011 short film O’Say Can You See, reactions of people looking toward the World Trade Center a few days after 9/11.