Books, Reviews

Book review – INFOMOCRACY, by Malka Older


The official blurb:

It’s been twenty years and two election cycles since Information, a powerful search engine monopoly, pioneered the switch from warring nation-states to global micro-democracy. The corporate coalition party Heritage has won the last two elections. With another election on the horizon, the Supermajority is in tight contention, and everything’s on the line.

With power comes corruption. For Ken, this is his chance to do right by the idealistic Policy1st party and get a steady job in the big leagues. For Domaine, the election represents another staging ground in his ongoing struggle against the pax democratica. For Mishima, a dangerous Information operative, the whole situation is a puzzle: how do you keep the wheels running on the biggest political experiment of all time, when so many have so much to gain?

My quick-take:

Infomocracy is a well-written, thought-provoking, and fast-paced political thriller / near-future science fiction novel. The story hooked me from the start with an interesting and motley collection of characters, who are spread out all over the world, but are all somehow involved in the ongoing election campaign.

As the story progresses, and as it becomes more and more apparent just how high the stakes are in the political game being played, I got sucked in completely, and ended up speeding through the last half of the book to find out what would happen.

Anyone with even a passing interest in political science, the machinations behind the scenes in the world of politics, or cyberpunk-ish scifi should definitely read this book.

My blabbish take:

I studied political science at uni, and I can’t think of many other books in recent years that have triggered my political-nerd brain more than Infomocracy. As much as this is science fiction, it is also very much a political thriller of the best kind, where actual, believable political goals and machinations drive the action.

Interestingly enough, Older’s future-world is neither a dystopia nor a utopia, but a muddled, complex, multi-faceted, conflicted world, much like the one we find ourselves in right now.

Initially, the many characters, and the lack of a clear-cut “big bad”, made me feel a little bewildered as the story hopped around the world. However, because both the characters and the world they inhabit are so fascinating I was hooked anyway. I also liked the way Older allows each character to come into focus slowly and organically: we learn about them from their actions and interactions, their choices, and their reactions to what’s happening in the world.

Another important character in the story is the political system, and what drives the action is how the various actors – individual, political, social, and economic – try to protect, control, undermine, manipulate, or even overthrow that political system. This is the part of Infomocracy that really triggered my pol-sci brain: what if there were no nation states? what if everyone on earth were hooked into a giant, globally controlled information system and elections were held worldwide? what if the current nation-states disappeared and a new system was put in place that radically altered people’s allegiances and electoral choices?

Older’s world is close enough to our own that everything feels possible. Her vision of a society where everyone is connected to “Information” 24/7 is not hard to imagine: it’s pretty close to what our reality is already like with social media, though the interface in the book is more organic and complete. And some things in Infomocracy feel almost uncomfortably close: electoral interference, vote manipulation, the targeted use of propaganda, political “dog whistles”, and people having their worldview shaped by “information bubbles”.

While many of these things are obviously problematic, I also found myself falling in love with many aspects of Older’s world – specifically: global unity combined with a democratic system that ignores nation states, and is instead organized on a smaller scale. Of course, as Older points out, power structures (like the military industrial complex, for example) don’t magically disappear in this new system, they just find new ways of influencing politics, or are replaced by new power structures.

It will take me a while to digest this book: it’s packed full of ideas and visions, characters and action. The sequel ‘Null States’ comes out later this year and I cannot wait to read it.

Also: a TV-show about Mishima’s exploits around the world? I’d totally watch that.

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