Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Review: Infomocracy

Infomocracy Infomocracy by Malka Ann Older
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I had vaguely heard good things about Infomocracy, so I waited for it to be on sale and picked it up. Frankly, I was disappointed.

For me, it combined a thing I dislike about cyberpunk (disconnected and more-or-less alienated characters) with a thing I dislike about hard SF (a story that has to fight its continual tendency to be exposition about the setting rather than a human drama). The result was a novel that, while well executed, was something I was never going to love.

I also didn't manage to fully suspend my disbelief. Firstly, we are shown a setting in which "microdemocracy" has taken hold over most of the world, and governments are elected for "centenals," units of 100,000 people - so two neighboring parts of the same city can be under completely different governments, each of which also governs people in geographically distant parts of the world. (They're referred to as "governments" rather than "parties," which I suppose is defensible, but the government that wins the most centenals also has some central pseudo-federal powers and responsibilities, and is referred to as having the "supermajority". Clearly it doesn't have an actual supermajority, though, since there are five governments in close contention for that honour, and it's mathematically impossible for five different groups to be within striking distance of a percentage significantly greater than 50% - which is what "supermajority" means in the dictionary. "Plurality" would have been a better term.)

The thing I didn't believe about microdemocracy was that it had been adopted at all - a given for the setup of the novel, which is about the third election under the microdemocracy system. I simply wasn't shown enough history to believe it, particularly since it doesn't, on the face of it, seem especially practical.

Other backstory, however, I was given in quantity. There's an inevitable amount of infodumping in a story like this, and it wasn't handled terribly, but it still clogged the action.

The main thing I didn't believe, though, was all the single people with no kids. One character has children (no partner), but the children are a lightly sketched inconvenience rather than real people. Everyone else appears to be single and childless, even the senior people.

Now, I work in tech, and my experience is that people's families are very important to them (their parents and siblings as well as their partners and children). Even if they're not important to the story, as such, they should at least seem to exist. I realise that in startup culture, there are a lot of single, disconnected people with not much going on outside work, but Information, the organisation in which most of the novel takes place, isn't a startup. It's a tech bureaucracy.

I also didn't believe the instant attraction-leading-to-relationship between two of the characters, or the way they met by chance after we'd already been following both of them separately.

I didn't believe the crisis, which brought down Information (or very specific aspects of it). It seemed technologically implausible.

And finally, I didn't believe (in light of recent elections and referenda) the ending, in which rationality carries the day. In fact, I didn't really believe that the various microdemocratic governments permitted Information to exist and to act as a combination of Google and Politifact, annotating their inaccurate claims for people.

Characters with too few dimensions and too few relationships (and the main one implausible), and some sociological and technological unlikelinesses that were inadequately sold to me, combined with too much exposition to place this at three stars for me.

View all my reviews

No comments: