Infomacracy is depressing to read. It’s fun to read. It’s a good political thriller, particularly if you happen to be an Internet junkie. I’d recommend it to anyone. But it’s depressing. Before we get there, let’s talk about the less depressing stuff. The book cover I have mentions Snow Crash. Unlike Snow Crash, a lot of the tech is just minutes away from existing.Back then, the idea of the information overlay in the real world was still science fiction. Now, we have had Google Glass. While the first version was a spectacular failure, more and more companies are piling on the augmented reality bandwagon and my sister-in-law has use her phone to do real-time translation of signs in another country. I’ve been waiting for this world since I was a kid and it’s finally nearly here. That’s exciting.
It’s also fun that Malka Older explores the politics behind the Burbclaves of Snow Crash, called Centenels in Infomacracy. I first read Snow Crash in High School and the idea of the dissolution of geo-political borders in favor of discontinous government was fascinating. However, in the decades since, I’ve had a lot more real-world experience with the political world and it’s pretty clear Snow Crash is a naive implementation; or rather, Snow Crash was a Cyberpunk novel in which the Burbclaves were just a background element. The politics only matters where they intersected with the story. In Infomacracy, it IS the story. Of course, there would end up being the concept of a Super Majority because a world of infinite governments is a world that’s seconds away from chaos.
Finally, while the characters in a thriller are necessarily a bit shallower than a traditional story, Older writes characters that are a bit more fully realized than the typical thriller. There is, of course, the requisite sex between the leads, but even that typical plot point is tinged with some very unique circumstances related to the characters. I also love that one of the characters is not neurotypical. There are more and more representatives of non-neurotypicals in fiction nowadays, but it’s always good to move away from Rainman whenever possible.
Now to the depressing bit. When Malka Older wrote this book, she was just extrapolating from contemporary complacency in the electorate. She was just extrapolating from the fact that we’d dissolved into echo chambers of news for the left and the right. It was before Fake News was a sequence of words you’d write in capital letters. It was before a president who didn’t simply mislead as all presidents had done since the birth of the nation, but who denied facts that could be confirmed with video evidence. And so a book whose plot revolves around a contested election, disinformation, extreme pandering, and physical violence against people in a different group than the attackers – is DEPRESSING to read in 2017. What was a potential warning when it was written seems trite now. How cute, they spread a little misinformation.
After we started working the wife banned Office Space from being watched. It was too real now, she said. I have at least one Goodreads acquaintance who has held off from this book because it’s too real. I get it. But you should still read this book because Older does such a great job with the genre conventions and I can’t wait to read the next book in The Centenel Cycle.