Novel: Null States by Malka Older

Malka Older returns to the complex, fascinating world of Infomocracy in Null States (2017), an engrossing, worthy sequel. In this futuristic scenario, a worldwide system of microdemocracy— wherein regional “centenals” of voters choose from a vast variety of options to determine their local governments—has mostly replaced the traditional nation-state. There are still, however, holdout “null states” which haven’t yet opted into the new system. In the wake of the previous election cycle’s controversial end, Roz, an agent of Information, is sent to Africa to oversee the transition of DarFur, a region that has just opted into microdemocracy. The assassination of DarFur’s head of state, however, forces Roz into an unexpectedly thorny investigation which gradually peels away at a conspiracy to upset the microdemocratic world order.

Older’s worldbuilding in this series is fascinating, intricate, and detailed, and while at times it suffers from a “can’t see the wood for the trees” problem, I’m convinced that’s a result of Older’s next-level structural ambitions, which are quietly sure-handed. Is the microdemocracy thought experiment a realistic one? I’m still unconvinced, but also unconcerned, because it delivers a wildly imaginative, thought-provoking backdrop for tales of adventure, intrigue, and romance. Roz is a sympathetic new hero in the series, and she’s aided by the memorable, returning protagonists of Infomocracy, Mishima and Ken. Sequels to impressive first novels don’t always retain their hold on me, but that’s not the case here—definitely looking forward to the third volume.

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