Malka Ann Older
Review By Kris Vyas-Myall
This is a book I absolutely adored, in fact it is in the running to be my favourite book of the year, but I am not sure I would necessarily recommend it for everyone. I spend all day working with big data, I volunteer with political parties in my spare time and I love to read polling data to relax. For someone who finds cross breaks as exciting as I do, this is the kind of science fiction novel we would dream about.
For this explores the future of democracy in an explosion of ideas. It takes all the trends in information, social media and politics and explores them in fascinating ways. All of it is plausible and attempts to neither laud or condemn this future, more this is one possible way the world could go.
Some people may dislike the level of information that is introduced at the start but I loved it. Older has clearly spent so much time working out the complex formulation of the world and it is necessary to discuss exactly how it works before you can really dive into it. However, in spite of this, it is not a vision that is absurd or hard to understand. Whilst I have not read this as a manifesto this kind of proposal is the natural extraction of where we may be heading.
One of the big things that has emerged as so important this year is the realisation that information is not neutral and access to more information than ever before has not made people more informed, but has caused them to become siloed. Even with the organisation “Information” the question still becomes: what is really true information? How informed are people?
This does not free people. Domination by corporations, for example, seems to be accelerated not reduced. People with interests still seem to be able to control things. This could turn into the kind of standard techno thriller that bores me but it keeps firmly asking the questions, not merely using it as a vehicle for action sequences. Neither does it purely become a social-science lesson, a specimen pinned and labelled, this world that is built is to be explored and lived in.
If there is a fault I did sometimes have a hard time keeping track of where the characters were at each point in the middle of all the data dumps. However, this was the right call to make, as you see the experience from different points of view and they are well differentiated. Also I am very much a person who likes to see the woods rather than the individual trees.
However, the characters did strike me as very real, I have been at elections where I have worked for one political party but been friends with people campaigning for opposition in the same region, where we’d sit up and watch the debates both cheering our own candidate on. I’ve had meetings with commentators, activists and even been yelled at by people telling me all politicians are the same and the system is corrupt. As such I felt like I recognised many of the different people on show. Hell I am certainly the person who sits there crawling through the data trying to grab on to any hope in the trends.
And as such, hope is not what I would say is in good supply. What we get is a possible vision of the future that is so real. Neither a warning or a satire, just what may be. This kind of thought-provoking science fiction is, in my opinion, exactly what the field needs.
I would recommend anyone interested in this to first check out the opening chapters on Tor in order to see if this is what you are looking for: