(Disclaimer: English is my second language, so I want to apologize in advance for there may be mistakes in the text below. If you find any, please let me know so that I can correct it. I'd really appreciate it. Thanks.)
Review Soundtrack: I suggest reading this review while listening to Democracy, by Leonard Cohen (Spotify, YouTube).
Science fiction is a perfect genre for speculating about the future of politics and new forms of government, a topic that I am always interested in reading about. Hot on the tracks of the splendid Too Like the Lighting, by Ada Palmer, comes Infomocracy, Malka Older's debut novel, which is related in themes but also very different in setting and tone.
As can be inferred from the title, there are two main elements in the world of Infomocracy. On the one hand, Information, a global organization that provides instant data on almost everything. Almost everybody is constantly connected and can get info about every aspect of life, from the reviews of a certain restaurant to the latest poll on vote intention. Think of an Internet on stereoids, managed by an independent agency and you'd be pretty close to what Information is.
On the other hand, we have microdemocracy, a really neat idea that gives the novel a distinct personality. In Infomocracy, the world is divided in centenals, groups of a hundred thousand people that vote for their own government from more than two thousand different alternatives, each one with its own laws and policies:
Ken is now in one of the densest, most diverse places on the planet. In half an hour, he can walk through upscale enclaves where the intellectual rich have voted for tranquility and gardens, keeping out anyone who doesn’t belong with guard-enforced no-trespassing laws; squalid centenals where the whole hundred thousand seem to be packed on top of each other, sustained by subsidized drugs and cigarettes and probably subsidizing some far away co-constituents through cheap labor; neo-communist areas with massive canteens and service economies; governments where pork is illegal; where beef is illegal; where any meat at all is illegal, along with advertisements, soda, and material possessions. Of the two thousand, two hundred and seven registered governments, nearly one hundred and fifty hold at least one centenal in the northeast tip of Java.
The demographics of so many competing and overlapping identities could not be easily divided into hundred-thousand-person chunks, so many of the centenals have the potential to shift allegiance.
This compelling setting is the background for a near-future politic thriller with a quite fast pace and some good action scenes. We will follow three main characters (one from Information, another from the Policy1st government and another one who is against the microdemocracy system) during the days before and after the election, experiencing firsthand the inner workings of the different political campaigns, the electoral debates and some unexpected events that will put the whole system at risk while the bigger governments fight to get the Supermajority.
There are many things to like in Infomocracy. The setting of course, is extremely interesting, and I really enjoyed reading more and more details about how the world imagined by Older works. The plot is intriguing and, from the excellent beginning, you will quickly feel the political tension that goes in crescendo until a more than adequate ending. The characters are also very interesting and the decision of providing three complementary points of view is really on spot and helps making the worldbuilding vivid and believable.
However, I also found some problems with the novel. The pace, for instance, is sometimes a bit uneven (there is certain event near the first third of the book that I think was not adequately timed since it kind of breaks the tension that was building up to that moment). Also, the interaction between two the characters felt a bit forced, and I would have liked to see more of Domaine, who I think deserved more prominence. But my main concern is that both Information and the microdemocracy system seemed too vulnerable, from the technological point of view. As a computer scientist, I couldn't help feeling that any engineer worth their salt would have built much more redundancy into the structure, avoiding many of the problems experienced in the novel.
All in all, Infomocracy is a very interesting political thriller with some good science fictional elements. Despite the problems mentioned above, I really enjoyed reading it and I recommend it for its original worldbuilding and its bold and pertinent take on the future of politics.