Review: Infomocracy by Malka Older

Posted by DarkChaplain at 6/16/2016
It's been twenty years and two election cycles since Information, a powerful search engine monopoly, pioneered the switch from warring nation-states to global micro-democracy. The corporate coalition party Heritage has won the last two elections. With another election on the horizon, the Supermajority is in tight contention, and everything's on the line.

With power comes corruption. For Ken, this is his chance to do right by the idealistic Policy1st party and get a steady job in the big leagues. For Domaine, the election represents another staging ground in his ongoing struggle against the pax democratica. For Mishima, a dangerous Information operative, the whole situation is a puzzle: how do you keep the wheels running on the biggest political experiment of all time, when so many have so much to gain?
Upon seeing the cover a couple of months ago, and reading the premise of it all, I was excited by the idea of Infomocracy. It builds upon various things we see today and blows them up to the point of science fiction, giving us a very interesting idea for what the future might hold.

The Story:
"It's been twenty years and two election cycles since Information, a powerful search engine monopoly, pioneered the switch from warring nation-states to global micro-democracy. The corporate coalition party Heritage has won the last two elections. With another election on the horizon, the Supermajority is in tight contention, and everything's on the line.

With power comes corruption. For Ken, this is his chance to do right by the idealistic Policy1st party and get a steady job in the big leagues. For Domaine, the election represents another staging ground in his ongoing struggle against the pax democratica. For Mishima, a dangerous Information operative, the whole situation is a puzzle: how do you keep the wheels running on the biggest political experiment of all time, when so many have so much to gain?"


Disclaimer
I specifically requested this title from the publisher when I got the chance to ask for ARCs. Sadly, the post was very slow, which resulted in me getting it pretty late and it conflicted with other books I wanted to read asap. As a result I am only reviewing it now, about a week past its release.

The Review:
Upon seeing the cover a couple of months ago, and reading the premise of it all, I was excited by the idea of Infomocracy. It builds upon various things we see today and blows them up to the point of science fiction, giving us a very interesting idea for what the future might hold.

One of the key points that made me eager to dig into it was the concept of a massive search engine growing into a political tool and playing field, spanning almost the entire world with a scary amount of authority. I am already weary of Google, who have long since abandoned their "Don't Be Evil" tagline in favor of corporate interests. Seeing a company like that gain this type of influence over everybody made me wonder just how much would go wrong there.

It was surprising to see how genuine a lot of Information's engagement actually panned out, even though they still employed some questionable tactics. Unlike corporate giants today, they actually tried to create a fair stage for the next superelection, which was never going to be easy when most government parties are comprised of corporate alliances trying to push their own products and patents onto the rest of the world by gaining more traction in different regions.

The book also highlighted the laziness of the general population as well as their apathy to elections. Even when presented with a whole lot of information and details about which parties would act in their best interests, they would vote for the people with the flashiest advertisements, or buy into obvious propaganda. It is all too real a problem, and I cannot see it ever change, so I liked that the author maintained that mindset even among all the idealistic content and characters of the novel.

One such idealist, at least starting out, is Ken. He is a campaigner for Policy1st, one of the parties up for election, who believe in, well, policies first, and don't try to promote themselves with attractive faces or specific people to latch on to, avoiding the cult of personality in favor of good ideas and directions. He gets sent around the world to sway voters and investigate dirt on competitors. His character develops quite a bit and it felt interesting to see things through his eyes, an inside take on the election process, followed by a progressive shift in viewpoint.

Counter to that we have Domaine, an anti-election activist, who is working on propaganda to get people to realize that the whole process is stacked against them and not all that its made out to be. He didn't feature as much throughout as I initially thought, especially after the early chapters, but I didn't mind that. He moved the plot forward when it counted and provided a neat balance to Ken and Information employee extraordinaire Mishima.

Mishima was a cool character to me. She's sort of a special agent for Information, flying around the world to investigate governments breaking the rules but also serving as security at events and debates. At times I felt the author took it a little too far (like equipping her with Shuriken and making her perform elaborate acrobatics), but overall I was satisfied with how she came together. She has a narrative disorder which both helps and hinders her at her job and personal life. She sees conspiracies where none might exist, for example, and ties unrelated things together to the point of paranoia. It made for an interesting read, although when it came to her growing relationship with Ken, the reader already knew when she was on the wrong track, so it blunted the tension a bit.

The overall election process was interesting to follow, and while it may seem overwhelming at first, throwing around plenty of special terms like Supermajority, Centenals, micro-democracy and more from early on, it should be easy to grasp the situation within the first few chapters and get engrossed in the complexity of the world Older has crafted. Following the campaigning, political subterfuge and eventual disasters and the reactions of politicians was entertaining and exciting, while also being somewhat of a warning for the future.

One downside that I got to accept more as the book went on were the product and brand names that popped up once in a while. Of course, this isn't such a far future that strong companies from today would be extinct by then, so seeing corporations become governments like Sony-Mitsubishi felt kind of logical. On the other hand, I was a little uncomfortable seeing Nestlé "breast milk substitute" being talked about as promotional gifts. It fulfilled its purpose, of course, by reinforcing the notion that certain parties are backed by mighty corporations, and it is easy to see Nestlé as one such, just like the Coca Cola Company. Still, I have a natural aversion to what might be considered product or brand placement in fiction, so I'd like to point out that it happens here. As I said, I got used to it and it wasn't a big deal in the end.

At the end of the day I was very satisfied with the book. It delivered political intrigue and highlighted the underlying bureaucracy and pitfalls, both romanticizing the election process a little while also showing that it is not all that great. Disillusionment is a theme I tracked throughout, as more and more goes wrong in the world and the system is slow to react or proven vulnerable and at times unreliable. It showed a momentary shift in mindsets, but by the end, I doubt that many regular people will change as a result, something that isn't true for the protagonists.
After all, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

As a debut novel, I'd like to praise Infomocracy for its bold ideas. It tried to do something different and present something more in the spirit of science fiction than the usual tropes, while still maintaining a strong human focus and exploring different mindsets. I think that is commendable, and I'd love to read more like it from Malka Older.

Infomocracy on Goodreads

About the Author

I'm known as DarkChaplain across the internet, and call myself a passionate gamer and book enthusiast. I have been blogging mostly about games for a couple of years, but finally found my way to reviewing a different medium: Books. Honestly, I prefer that job so far.
Follow Me on Twitter @TheDarkChaplain


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