Infomocracy by Malka Older
Tor.com, 2016, 380 pp
Reviewed by Bobby Fischer
Malka Older's Infomocracy creates a future that is familiar in both aesthetics and emotions. The aesthetics are cyberpunk all the way; characters are fitted with body modifications and implants that allow them to access the Internet (here called The Information, the novel's near omnipotent stand-in for Google). In the Information Age, flesh and machine merge in a way that is more utilitarian than fashionable, which results in an amplified version of our current digital habits. Emotionally, Older plays into multiple paranoias that are exacerbated by our relationship to those digital habits.
In Older's future, a world government is run by a global democracy and made up of what she calls microdemocracies, overseen by a supermajority. The Information is a neutral party, cataloging and filtering data to the world's citizens in order for them to make an informed decision. Though no one really comes out and says it, the gist here is that The Information is the real supermajority, something a smart reader could probably suss out by glancing at the book's subtle title.
The novel begins during election season and moves you through the drama of such. The book is told through two protagonists: Ken and Mishima. They're representative of parts of the political process. Ken is a campaigner for Policy1st, an organization that acts as a counter to the corporate and military parties also running for supermajority. Mishima is a sort of troubleshooter for The Information, a protagonist who doubles as a data analyst and an action hero. The book's multiple action scenes revolve around Mishima, and, at one point, she cuts off a guy's arm with a katana. Ken and Mishima are romantically involved, and though their jobs aren't at counter purpose, their interactions display the uneasiness and suspicions around politics at election time. Another character, Domaine, is ancillary, but he is the book's sole voice of dissent about the election. He thinks voting is a corrupt process and that feeding into it only serves to further the corruption. He will remind you of people you are friends with on Facebook.
This is a book for conspiracy theorists. It's more dedicated to analyzing the possibilities of corruption than it is committed to its William Gibson-inspired roots. The narrative's climax plugs into paranoia about voter fraud that stretches across party lines and parallels multiple generations of American drama. It's as much about Anonymous's claim that they stopped Karl Rove from “hacking the vote” as it is about Bernie supporters' insistence of Hillary's malfeasance or dead people in Chicago voting for Kennedy. It plugs into our genuine fear of being lied to and effectively multiplies that fear by offering us a digital future and all the anxieties that come with it.
With all the historical election mania it dredges up, Infomocracy is startling in its lack of cynicism. By the end, it seems to legitimately believe in the bureaucracy that it erects, resulting in an ending that feels off-brand and almost naive. The writing, on a sentence-by-sentence basis, falls in line with the science fiction expository aesthetic, and it never does anything poetically that it doesn't have to. What it all adds up to is a serious attempt at analyzing a possible future by looking at our current concerns. If you're plugged into the election cycle and can't get enough, or if you're looking for original science fiction, then this book will do. If you're looking for both of those things, look no further.