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Infomocracy (The Centenal Cycle, #1)
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Group Reads > June 2018 - Infomocracy

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Yoly (macaruchi) | 795 comments Don't forget to use the spoiler tags!

message 2: by Gary (last edited Jun 06, 2018 03:55PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Gary | 1472 comments Just started this one the other day. She jumps right in to her nomenclature and sets us down in the middle of what would appear to be some pretty well thought out world-building, which I always get a kick out of. I don't mind training wheels when it comes to sci-fi, but I don't mind just going for the ride either.

I found the Ozymandias/The Watchmen reference laugh-out-loud funny. It's probably a bit obscure a reference for the rest of the world-building and time period, but totally worth it.

message 3: by Gary (last edited Jun 06, 2018 04:02PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Gary | 1472 comments Anybody else experiencing the ideas of this book cutting a little too close to the bone? That is, I'm doing a lot of "Oh, that's interesting political dynamic—goddamn Trump" or "yeah, that seems like a pretty accurate assessment of how politics works given human nature—goddamn Trump..." and "I guess people really are that easily influenced and manipulated—Putin-Trump/Trump-Putin.... God-freakin'-damnit!" moments, if you will.

Yoly (macaruchi) | 795 comments I only started it today, and I'm still on the first chapter, so I can't comment yet, but this book was mentioned plenty of times during this US election cycle, I'm guessing this is the reason why.

Yoly (macaruchi) | 795 comments This book has been a little tough to get into. I had to re-read the whole first chapter, and had to read a cople of reviews online (npr, the verge) for the book in order to get a grasp on what I was actually reading. I took some notes and I think I'm back on track :)

I'm at the start of chapter 3 (or maybe 4? don't remember) and even though the book feels a little dense I'm really enjoying it. Let's see what happens.

Gary | 1472 comments "Dense" is the word a lot of folks seem to want to use. Especially at first. The NPR write-up is good

and Tor has a nice concise one
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?
I'm on chapter 20. She weaves the storylines of Ken and Mishima together, which I found made them much easier to follow, but when she goes back to Domaine I have to reset every time. We get other jumps into the POV (from her 3rd person narrative) of Sazuki and Shamus (kinda sorta) which also make for odd, rather disjointed perspective shifts.

Weirdly, (or maybe not...) I'm getting mental images of the characters as manga/animation characters. In my head, Mishima looks like this:

Ken makes me think of an older version of Huey Freeman from Boondocks:

Sazuki is "the chief" from Ghost in the Shell (the animated version, of course, not the god-awful live action film):

Shamus could be any number of wry, angry techie/mad science-y characters:

I don't really have a great handle on Domaine as a character, so no particular anime version springs to mind....

I think I'm getting those sorts of images in my head because so much of the story centers on Tokyo, and in my brain Japan + Sci-Fi = Manga.

Gary | 1472 comments OK, I'm on Chapter 22. Some of the world building, in particular an interesting bit about the lack of guns in her future society, happens here. She'd mentioned plastic guns before, but I hadn't read anything into that other than a kind of sci-fi. Apparently, technology that (view spoiler) is fairly common, which explains that dynamic. Plus, there are guys running around with (view spoiler) so I feel much more justified in my Manga/anime comparison now.

Gary | 1472 comments I think one of the ways that makes this book easier to grasp is to think at first of the political units as abstractions rather than parties. That is, the corporations mentioned are economic platforms. Sony has a tech emphasis. Philip Morris more of material/luxury set of values. Policy1st is an idealistic "most for most" kind of group; "liberals" if you will. "Heritage" is what we might want to think of as "conservative" or whatever one might want to call the contemporary Orwellian manifestation of parties who call themselves "conservative" these days.... But even if they are at first blush abstractions, they soon do what a lot of political parties do. That is, they start to manipulate the system rather than participate in it in good faith, and they justify their means to achieve their ends.

"Information" as a group is kind of a World-CIA. The CIA meets the UN meets Star Trek's Federation, if you will. Maybe it's the CIA just as it got reformed from the post-WWII OSS, still without the CIA's nasty history of toppling 3rd world dictators they didn't approve of or propping up 3rd world dictators that they did, or engaging in a little arms dealing financed by drug smuggling, with a few handy go-betweens for the sake of appearances.... They are, effectively, an abstraction of the "information is good" idea backed up with the resources of a world government; the kind of idealist rhetoric that 4chan is based upon and that Julian Assange used to create Wikileaks before either of those two organizations offered themselves up (out of naivete, idealism and/or sheer cynical narcissism) to the authoritarian propaganda forces of sociopathy, insurrection and barbarity.

message 9: by Gary (last edited Jun 14, 2018 10:22PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Gary | 1472 comments Not quite finished but a few notes, spoilers included:

1. Don't stab people on a booty call. This isn't much of a spoiler because not much comes of it, but (view spoiler) Honestly, as unlikely as some of the dynamics are in this book, I found that one the most difficult to swallow. Why (view spoiler) and his getting over it so conveniently and passively was more than a little unbelievable to me. Even the dialogue got weak at that point.

2. Guys with katanas should be described more fiercely. In fact, they should be badass. Nobody should hold a katana and get described as not knowing how to use it in sci-fi unless it's an intentional joke. I think Ms. Older really dropped the ball in that section. Instead of making Mishima a kickass, take names kind of political operative, she's just stabby. Again, not really great storytelling there unless she was (for some reason) going for something much more flabby, and I can't quite figure why that would be her intent. The thugs and lackeys involved in a political intrigue to shift the world order should be suitably threatening and expert, or at least ruthless. An earlier action sequence (view spoiler) was more compelling, though there were a few spotty bits here and there in it as well.

Overall, I don't think action is Ms. Older's strong suit.

3. Politics, politics, politics. It's an interesting world building that Ms. Older sets up. She goes only a little of how it came about, and I think that might have been a smart move given that it seems such an unlikely system. The political system she created always intrigued me, but in a weird kind of way. "Huh... that's interesting," I'd think every time she'd go into detail. "I don't see how that could actually come about from the current set of political systems in the world, and I don't think it would necessarily work that way in practice, but still... interesting."

4. It's all about information or, I guess, Information (capital "I"). This is a spy thriller. Or it's meant to be a spy thriller, though maybe not entirely thrilling. It needs a word between "thrill" and "meh" to more accurately describe it. "A spy... huh, that's stirring", if you will. It's almost like every time she could have gone into full James Bond (Jenny Bond, in this case) thrill mode she pulled back and thought, "No, I'm being serious here..." and tamped the action down. So, for instance, Information is effectively the real world government. We get very little of their mandate other than that they know all, see all (with gaps...) and are in charge of maintaining election integrity, and they do so as a kind of omni-agency. It's "the UN meets the CIA meets the Federation" as I described it as before, and I still think that's about right.

And that's all well and good. It's a sci-fi novel, after all. However, the existence of that omni-government makes the politics that happen under its aegis something of a non-starter. That is, all politics are local politics. International politics (there aren't nations per se, so that should be "inter-centenal" politics) exists, but it always exists under the authority of Information, meaning... it doesn't really exist on much more than the level of PR and marketing. Sure, they can decide local policy on things like recreational drugs, but given the 100,000 population size of the centenals, they would be largely toothless. One could (and the characters do) find a centenal that is more conducive to one thing or the other and just travel there. I was reminded strongly of an article I read decades ago about the ban on abortion in Ireland (a political issue that came up again recently...) in which the writer described that ban as cynical and hypocritical given that the reality is that any Irish woman/girl who wanted to have an abortion performed need only cross the border into the UK to have it, and the politicians who quoted scripture from their ivory towers well knew it. The politicians get to affect a "holier than thou" righteous indignation marketing strategy, and civil liberties of women/girls are just a ferry ride to Liverpool or a day trip to Northern Ireland away.

Information presides over that kind of system, meaning the *real* government is Information. If it's legal somewhere, but illegal somewhere else, it's effectively legal everywhere given the size of the political units described in the book. There would be rural places where that was less possible or, at least, more difficult (which Ms. Older does allude to) but that's the case now as well.

message 10: by Yoly (new) - rated it 3 stars

Yoly (macaruchi) | 795 comments I didn’t like this book. I did like the premise, the micro democracies, the Information, the centennals, the corporations, all that was very cool and I liked it. But then there’s the plot, and character development (or could I say lack of in both cases?). I didn’t care much about the characters, I didn’t care what they were doing, in part because I didn’t know what they were actually doing for almost the first half of the book but I think it was mainly because I thought it wasn’t really interesting.

I would have preferred a short story or even a novella, that way she could have skipped all the awkward “action scenes” and maybe could have dropped a few characters here and there.
But I really wanted to like this book, the premise sounded very interesting, the reviews online were saying it was awesome, so I wanted it to be awesome for me, but it wasn’t :(

Gary, I agree 1000000% about the book not being a thriller. Before I wrote my review I was tempted to review it with just “meh”. But then I thought about how cool I thought the micro democracy thing was, and the centennals and the whole election process. I think that the author is awesome as imagining this type of stuff (and after reading her bio I know why) but she really needs to work on the “telling a story” part of writing novels. I’m not an expert but I think after throwing out the micro democracies/centennals novelty there isn’t much left.

Like I mentioned before, I really enjoyed her political structure. I think that part was fascinating but I’m not sure it could work in practice. There’s currently 195 countries in the world and even though we might be inclined to say differently, the world is a complete mess right now. With 7.6 billion people on the planet that would be like 76,000 governments, right? That’s mess to the gazillionth power!

Now that I finished the book, I'll be "exploring the internets" to see what else I can find about the book.

message 11: by Gary (last edited Jun 19, 2018 12:48PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Gary | 1472 comments The microdemocracy thing is the most interesting thing about this book, and I think likely the most improbable. (On the other hand, nothing in the past two years has gone the way I thought it would in American politics, so we could be all be under Information's semi-benevolent and mostly competent thumb by next Tuesday if my recent track record is a guide....) But part of the appeal of that concept for me was how unlikely I find it. It turned that element into an almost fantasy element. I'm perfectly willing to read books with dragons and witches, so why not tens of thousands of Athenian democracies? Had it been more realistic I think it would have been less believable in the context of a SF novel....

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