There’s a certain flavor of idea-rich, eyeball-kicky near-future science fiction that risks burying its storytelling momentum underneath dense world-building and bleeding-edge detail. I kept expecting that to happen in Malka Older’s vivid debut, Infomocracy (2016), but I’m happy to report it doesn’t: this one has a graceful, compelling narrative propelling its thought-experiment core.
In the mid-twenty-first century, a megapowerful search engine company called Information has created a new, post-national world where microdemocracy rules. The Earth is split into “centenals” of 100,000 people, and its citizens can vote for one of any number of worldwide governing parties to dictate policy on the local level. The new system has proceeded peacefully for two decades, through two 10-year election cycles, during which the powerful Heritage party has wielded the supermajority. But as the new election ramps up, something treacherous may be afoot. Ken, an idealistic campaigner for the up-and-coming Policy1st party, and Mishima, an agent of Information, gradually uncover evidence of a possible conspiracy that could alter the fate of the election, and change the world forever.
The thought experiment here is rigorous, interesting, and engrossing, for all that it lacks a firm logistical plausibility. In a world as geopolitically intractable as ours, could such a revolutionary system ever take root? I doubt it. But also, I don’t care, because it’s really fun to read about and Older does a great job realizing her vision, which is refreshingly diverse and global in scope. The scenario is populated with neat futuristic details, the characters are appealing, and the thriller plot clicks along swiftly with just the right mix of intrigue, romance, action, and drama. An impressive and noteworthy debut that should put Older on the map alongside similar new authors like Madeline Ashby and Ramez Naam.