Wednesday, August 8, 2018


by Malka Older, 2016

Infomocracy is one of many books I’ve read in the past few years that could be called near-future political thrillers. However, it’s the one that leaves me most keen to start reading the sequels. We’ve got a very strong combination of storytelling and worldbuilding skills here.

Here goes. I’m going to describe the worldbuilding first.

Imagine there’s no countries.

“It isn’t hard to do”, you say? Well, hold on. There’s still religion, and possessions too. Plenty to kill or die for. No brotherhood of man here. All we’ve got is a radical change in how political power has been organized.

The world has been divided up into political units of 100,000 people each, called “centenals”. Every ten years, they all hold simultaneous elections to decide which governments will be in charge for the next decade. The largest governments, with names like Liberty (libertarian-leaning) and Policy1st (technocrats focused on good governance), regularly capture centenals on every continent. Others are more regional; for instance, at least two major governments are primarily based in China, though there’s always a chance they could win in the odd centenal outside their power base.

The government that wins the most centenals becomes the “Supermajority”, effectively a limited form of world government. The current Supermajority is called Heritage, which seems to be a vaguely right-of-center party with strong corporate backing, though it’s anyone’s guess if they’ll still be in power after the next election.

The other distinctive feature of this world is “Information”, an independent entity that has apparently replaced the news media, and seems to be generally trusted by people of all political stripes around the world (a very impressive achievement, in my own humble opinion).

The current year is never mentioned, but technology is moderately more advanced than our own. (One notable change is that gun-neutralizing technology is now ubiquitous, and as a result knives, swords and shuriken have made an impressive comeback.) Older only vaguely glosses over how this system of government came into being, which is a wise choice. I would have a very difficult time accepting that humanity as I know it would accept the advent of Information so easily, but present it as a fait accompli and I’m happy to speculate about what will happen next.

Our story takes place in the days leading up to the third global election under this system. Our primary protagonists are Ken, an operative working for Policy1st, Mishima, an agent of Information, and Domaine, a dissident who is skeptical of the whole centenal system. Each of these characters does quite a bit of hopping around the globe in the run-up to the election, with East Asia as the novel’s geographical epicenter -- Tokyo, the Ryukyus, and Jakarta all see quite a bit of action.

Domaine is an anarchist working to bring down the system that Ken and Mishima believe in, but he is not written as a bad guy and his views are presented sympathetically. The novel’s true villains are the shadowy interests within certain governments who are determined to stir up trouble, and perhaps tamper with the voting. Mishima is convinced that one of the big governments is deliberately trying to stir up old-timey nationalistic warmongering, in extremely subtle ways tailored to the local cultures around the world. (What I remember best is the ad that runs in China with imagery of a great continental power rising up and enveloping a suspiciously Taiwan-shaped island.) But this isn’t enough to prove that they’re up to anything….

In Malka Older’s day job, she has worked for several years in international development, humanitarian aid and disaster relief. She has created a complex world here, and she’s willing to contrast political positions with some subtlety and empathy.

I have a habit of reading Book 1 of this sort of series and never continuing to Book 2, so it’s high praise that the next book, Null States, is on my reading list.

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