Infoquake (Book Review)

Infoquake cover

Infoquake

David Louis Edelman’s Infoquake is about cutting-edge programmers in a far-future world dominated by “bio/logics”, or programs that extend the human body. This being the future, of course, many things are different: Our Internet has been replaced by the “Data Sea”, modern corporations have turned into “fiefcorps” while religions are replaced with single-issue groups called “Creeds”, and people can use “multi projections” to virtually travel around the world, indistinguishable from flesh-and-blood people except for being intangible.

Infoquake is a fun, fast read that makes a perfect airplane book, but it never reaches the depths that it is aiming for. A culture with generations of experiences so different than ours should be fundamentally changed in some ways. (For books I’ve read recently that explored differences like this, see the shockingly different culture in The City And The City, or to a lesser extent the magic society of the Young Wizards series.) The people in this novel are easy to understand through the lens of our own culture, though. The powerful programs circulating through everyone’s bodies don’t fundamentally change their capabilities, but instead are just used to add flavor to the prose. (For example, it may say that someone “switched on PokerFace” in a place where a present-day novel would say they “struggled to keep their surprise from showing.) Fifty years ago, Isaac Asimov was writing about how the ability to visit people virtually would change our perceptions of self and human interaction. But in Infoquake, the decisions about whether to physically travel or project oneself virtually are entirely based on narrative convenience.

A lot of thought did go into the world-building. The book closes with 50 pages of appendices that actually feel relevant and interesting. It’s just too bad that the result is so shallow, without any of the exploration into human nature that science fiction can provide.

The “fiefcorp” system is another frustratingly-vague element of the book. Most companies in this book are small teams of 10 or so people that only last for a few years. The employees (“apprentices”) pledge to a master for a period of years, earning only subsistence wages with the promise of a big bonus when the contract ends. This system keeps the main characters in the employ of their obsessive, narcissistic leader Natch throughout the story, but it raises many unanswered questions about how such a structure could succeed and continue for generations.

In the novel’s case, the fiefcorp works because the characters are equally vague and defined only by their work. They regularly put in 16-hour days for Natch (with the help of a bio/logics program that keeps them awake, of course), and never mention any hobbies or friends outside of this work. They remain single-mindedly focused on driving the book’s plot forwards.

As for that plot, it is fairly interesting. Natch is a borderline-sociopathic genius driven to succeed in order to quiet an existential emptiness. His fiefcorp’s battles to fight to the top of the bio/logics food chain are redirected when he is given a head start on a mysterious new science initially known only as “The Phoenix Project”, which promises to redefine humanity as much as bio/logics did centuries ago.

Programming marathons and corporate battles are not normally the ingredients for a page-turning novel, but Edelman manages the light touch necessary to keep these moving along for the reader. By the end of the book, a complex status quo has been built up, along with several moving pieces that guarantee this status quo will not remain in place for much more of the trilogy. It is slightly frustrating that so many unresolved elements are introduced late in the story, but it’s obvious that the three books are meant to be read as a whole.

Will the rest of the trilogy address the frustrations I had with the first book? It’s hard to say. This story seemed pretty content to play with the pieces of a distant civilization without actually exploring the consequences of making them so distant. On the other hand, it’s hard to believe that so much world-building couldn’t be setting up something more complex. One scene in the book provides the sort of experience I’m looking for: A sheltered character named Horvil meets “an Islander”, a person who we have been led to believe is less technologically advanced than the rest of the world. To Horvil’s shock, the Islander shows that he is still quite sophisticated and even uses bio/logics, but explains that his people avoid the dangers of all the uncontrolled code that floats around “civilized people’s” bodies. This scene works so well because, two-thirds of the way into the book, the reader has also had time to build up expectations that are now being subverted. A different way of life is being shown, and it mirrors tensions in today’s world without copying them directly. It is possible that the later novels intend to continue correcting the reader’s misunderstandings as the world of the characters changes.

Whatever the future volumes hold, Infoquake is a light, readable science fiction story. It provides escapism, but no deep ideas.

Grade: C+

 

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  1. May 22nd, 2011

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