Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Infomocracy, by Malka Older

Have you ever picked up a book that sounded so cool, but the plot and style didn't end up appealing to you?  That's Malka Older's Infomacracy for me.  In this near-future sci-fi novel, nation-states have gone the way of history, and now governance is done by competing organizations, selected democratically by each centenal, which is 100,000 people.

The story revolves around several people gearing up for the next election, in which some of the organizations are seeking to gain a supermajority, expanding their control.  There are obvious opportunities for interesting political and social commentary here, and Older does have her moments.  But I didn't enjoy the story, which was lots of talking, was sort of confusing (there I go, once again proudly displaying my intellectual shallowness), and did not engage me.

In one of her moments of brilliance, Older comments on the response of the governments to a major earthquake:  "They're getting help, probably more than they need, because of the election.  Because it looks good.  Because these damn governments are competing with each other to help the most."  Nobody wants to be Bush after Katrina. . . . She goes on to point out other persistent problems around the world that are routinely ignored.  That always bothers me, too.  Have a big disaster like the earthquake in Haiti, and suddenly the whole world cares.  But have generations stuck in poverty in sub-Saharan Africa, and just try to get the world to pay attention. . . . Good luck with that.

Later on, she talks about the evolution of news coverage: "We find that people who hate each other that much rarely view the same types of information."  That made me think of Hillary voters and Trump voters.  The internet has made information access so customizable that one voter can read only articles critical of Hillary, while another can read only articles critical of Trump.  She says, "despite all the information available, people tend to look at what they want to see."  Ain't that the truth.

Older has some interesting passages like this in Infomacracy, but I couldn't get into the story much.  What about her overall idea, the fall of the nation-state and the rise of specialized democratic governance, some of them corporate concerns like Philip Morris and Coke?  The concept of "nano democracy"?  I guess we'll have to wait a few decades to see if she is a prophetess. . . .

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

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