And so we come to the end of Malka Older’s Infomocracy (all posts here). All kinds of things happen in the novel’s second half, so if you haven’t read those chapters yet, be warned that here be spoilers.
Overall, I really enjoyed this novel. It’s a very rich vision of a complex and transformed political world. I’m also enjoying following the #Infomocracy Twitter hashtag.
For this post I’ll begin as ever with a quick plot summary, notes on the book’s world, then lit prof observations. If you’d like to read previous posts and discussion, they’re right here.
1: The Plot
The global election happens, but Information goes down, and skulduggery occurs, with all sides scrambling for advantage and/or democracy, and the election hacked and revised. Mishima becomes even more of an action hero, Ken slides into working for a new employer, and Domaine gets in trouble. A new Supermajority appears.
2: The Future World
So far Information has sounded like a mix of Google and Facebook plus all social media. It also reminds me now of Wikipedia, with its massive amounts of human work, and their governance structure: “Information prides itself on its flat, consensus-based organization with no single person at the top of the hierarchy”… plus some emergent bureaucracy (315).
More political parties/governments: AfricanUnity (196), AlThani (must be drawn from this Qatari ruling house) (210). We learn that SecureNation is “made up almost entirely of military personnel and their families” (261).
Interesting political details: the microdemocracy is still only 20 years old, meaning governments can target older voters who remember the previous world (ours) of nations and war (280). Powerful point about political transformation. Felons can vote, even from jail (309) – how unAmerican. We also learn that the transition from nations to centenals involved threats of nuclear war (333).
Climate change is doing its work: “The main Information hub for New York City is in the heart of the Bronx, which seemed inconvenient for many years until seawater started to eat away at the edges of Manhattan” (242). The Maldive Islands are now known as “the Adapted Maldives” (268).
More technology: a healing pad applied to wounds which “rebuild[s] muscle” (201). Crows are part of public transit (223), and we learn that they “are designed to fly at the lowest altitude possible that enables a straight line between the origin and destination” (230). There is the Lumper, a device which “permanently disable[s] all metal firearms within its effective radius”, which seems to have disarmed the world in a huge way and maybe made the infomocracy happen (231). Some teakettles are nuclear powered (284).
People can run diagnostics on their minds, yielding rich infographics about their personality (258). Interesting security idea, a physical display: “complicated iridescent armbands that are nearl[ly] impossible to forge” (238).
We see people creatively use older technologies, or improvise new ones, when the internet goes down. The Liberty centenals have their own local networks accessed by their own hardware (298). Plus the retro telegraph (213)!
Design: people shape conference rooms to encourage certain behaviors, using a music of lighting, music, scent, and wind effects (245-6). Interactive fiction has developed (333). Food culture is interesting, largely vegetarian, plus a touch of insects for protein (335).
3: A Lit Prof Ponders
Several passages made me smile, like Mishima’s entertainment options:
Instead of looking at him, she wants to curl up with Jane Eyre, or a highly compressed season of The Wire, or Crow Wars V, but she can’t because she’s too polite (or embarrassed) to use content in front of a guest. (202)
“use content” is a great phrase. Or this sketch of Suzuki, who has a “well-oiled, slightly oily mind” (253). Drestle is a fun name, especially for a bad guy.
It’s a very post-Western novel. Most of the action takes place in Asia and the Middle East. We visit Paris and New York, but those are only stops, not colonial anchors of power.
In retrospect it seems like the first quarter of the novel did heavy world-building and scene-setting work. The next quarter built up tension gradually through the Liberty war conspiracy plot, our characters’ interactions with each other, and the classic energies of an election. Then the second half went into a higher gear.
I like the way the end of the novel doesn’t stop political development, but points to future possibilities, like shifting political units from 100,000 people down to groups of 10,000. “Nano-democracy, there’s calling it” (366). That moves towards the bolo’bolo model I mentioned previously.
The conclusion is also nicely open-ended as our point of view characters don’t grasp the full story. Mishima even has a nearly Phil Dick-like scene of imagining all kinds of plots and schemes that she can neither prove nor disprove. I do wonder about Domaine, who seems left hanging.
What did you think?
Malka, what are you writing now?
And what should we read next? Here’s our list of near-future science fiction novels.