Infomocracy by Malka Older. Book Review
Set not too far in the future, the world is now divided into centenals of one hundred thousand citizens free to vote for the government of their choice. These governments (sometimes made up of large and currently recognisable corporate brands) are competing for political world supremacy. As always the voters can be influenced, which is why each political party must mine the data obtained officially and illegally (through operatives on the ground) in order to work out the best strategy to sway the voter. But in the run up to the big vote there are indications that something quite unethical might be afoot.
In 1984, William Gibson’s Neuromancer really got to grips with the potential of the internet well before its explosion into the rapidly expanding form we now see. In her debut novel Infomocracy Malka Older does the same for the way democracy is run. As a PhD candidate studying governance and disasters she certainly has the right credentials to write the type of novel that could be the ‘shape of things to come’ with regards to ‘big data’.
Big data is a fascinating area, considering the data mining that is being applied to social media networks and the part big data might have to play in the current run up to the presidential elections in the US. With free software packages already available for an individual to begin to handle large data sets and large organisations having access to an impressive number of servers, the technology that is being used in Infomocracy is pretty much there.
But this is not just a technically accurate exposition of our possible future, because the author has managed to retain a very human side to the story; one that is at the very heart of how results might be influenced and why the political parties must be monitored. The human interactions are combined with plenty of action in what is a highly engaging political thriller populated with characters from all levels of society, who are involved in different aspects of data collection and processing, and policing the governments to ensure fair play.
There is a great deal going on in this novel, and it is not for someone who wants a casual read. The story moves around, frequently cutting from one character’s perspective to another and rapidly shifting around the world. But this serves to give a sense of all the strands that have to be pulled together by those attempting to gain power and those seeking to curb illegalities. It also makes the world building possible on the fly, and keeps the narrative moving forward at a good pace.
With big data technology developing all the time, how long will it be before the world of Infomocracy becomes a reality?
Infomocracy was courtesy of Macmillan-Tor/Forge via NetGalley