James Nicoll Reviews

Home > Reviews > Post

Ballots Not Bullets

Infomocracy  (Centenal Cycle, volume 1)

By Malka Older 

15 Feb, 2019

Doing What the WFC Cannot Do

1 comment

Support me with a Patreon monthly subscription!

Malka Older’s Infomocracy is the first volume in her Centenal Cycle. 

Twenty years ago, the people of the world came together in an unprecedented step to form a new international order. Since the first global election, war among participating jurisdictions has been eradicated, and prosperity and trade have spread. 

Key to the new status quo: Information, the organization that ensures everyone’s access to reliable information. 

Democracy requires elections, in which superbly qualified coalitions (from their POV) must risk of losing to less qualified rivals. Heritage has held a supermajority ever since the new system came into being. But its lead is disturbingly narrow (from the Heritage POV). Heritage and its allies worry about Liberty (a competing party), which is suspected of scheming to revive nation states by methods fair or foul. 

Nature throws an unexpected monkey wrench into the election cycle, when an earthquake hits the Kanto region. In the wake of the disaster, communications are briefly disrupted, as is the on-going election. Suddenly the election (which had seemed Heritage’s to lose) is thrown into chaos. Time for the rival parties to turn to more … unconventional methods. 

Including an attack on Information itself. If information can be made to seem illegitimate, any complaints re an illegitimate victory can be dismissed as fake news. 


Mishima and Ken. Mishima works for Information. Ken works for Policy1, one of the many parties contending to win votes. Any relationship between the two would be a flagrant conflict of interest. Notwithstanding, they hook up at a party and scheme to continue the relationship. As one does. Really, is there any romantic spice more potent than this is clearly a bad idea?” 

As is typical of all too many of quasi-utopian novels, it’s not at all clear how the world went from our currently kleptocratic states (spanning the narrow spectrum from oligarchic to autocratic) to one wherein nation states have been peacefully abolished in favour of a myriad quasi-democratic micro-states. My suspension of disbelief crashed like the Genoa bridge.

Nor does the organization, Information, running the world-wide network seem all that plausible. Where’s the racism? The sexism? Where are the entitled techbros? Did all that just vanish like the morning dew? 

If I can use a strained analogy, it’s as though someone wrote a novel in which Boston’s current maze of streets had been replaced by a sensible grid. Many people, especially the relatives and loved ones of travellers who set out to cross Boston and were never seen again, would agree that this would be a good idea. But what process could possibly lead from the nightmare of today to an orderly Boston of tomorrow? If there is no path from A to B, it does not matter how wonderful B would be. 

Novels about utopias and quasi-utopias often leap over the gruesome details of getting from us to them. Not always. I’m reminded of Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, in which an anarchist utopia of sorts has a perfectly plausible backstory (one that is remembered and celebrated by the anarchists). But ignoring the details is a commonly accepted conceit of the genre. 

SF stories are entitled to their One Impossible Assumption: faster than light, telepathy, the idea that Britain would opt to leave the EU without having any clear idea how to manage the aftermath. It’s what they do with the one impossible thing that matters, Having imagined an implausible situation, Older then shows various groups reacting to it. I regret to report that underhanded cunning and what CREEP would have called rat-fucking feature prominently. On the plus side, at least the various factions view elections as worth subverting. 

As people do. 

And that’s what SF is often about. Not just the big shiny idea, but the unforeseen consequences. 

Infomocracy is available here (Amazon), here (Amazon.ca) and here (Chapters-Indigo).