Malka Older‘s debut novel Infomocracy (Tor, review copy from NetGalley) feels eerily prescient in the wake of this week’s EU referendum in the UK, particularly in light of Michael Gove’s claim that “people do not want to hear from experts”. Older envisages a world where the nation state has been superseded by world-wide micro-democracy. People live in centenals of around 100,000 people. Once every ten years, each centenal votes (on a first-past-the-post basis) to choose the government that will rule it for the next ten years. A government winning enough centenals could potentially win the so-called Supermajority. Underpinning this system is Information, a global infrastructure providing impartial factual analysis and information to underpin the choices of voters.
In theory, the real-time analysis provided by Information should enable people to pick the government that will be most advantageous for their centenal, based on the potential impact that government’s policies would have. Election claims can be checked in real time and people can see whether election promises have been kept. But some of those governments contesting elections aren’t happy with the new system. Mishima, a crack Information employee, and Ken, a campaigner for Policy1st (one of the governments contesting the election) separately uncover signs of a conspiracy to bring down Information and steal the election.
The conspiracy use a global Information black-out during the election to substitute their own information network, spreading propaganda and misinformation, including about the election results themselves. Some are delighted to be told what they want to hear, rather than impartial, objective analysis, but this unleashes a global crisis that pushes the world to the brink of war.
Infomocracy is a fascinating novel, if slightly uneven in places. It’s slow to start, but picks up tremendously about 40% of the way through. There is a slightly odd fixation with Mishima’s clothes. Loving descriptions of her outfits can sometimes interrupt the flow of the novel and its dramatic tension (particularly at times of high drama). And nowhere is Information’s function in providing analysis properly examined. It is assumed that Information is always impartial (unless corrupted from within) but without ever asking whether it’s possible to have truly impartial analysis. Older already has a sequel to Infomocracy in the works, so it will be interesting to see whether she goes on to address those questions.
Goodreads rating: 3*