Art Official Intelligence

Eighteen years ago this June, I watched Peter Weir's The Truman Show at the old Loews Nickelodeon theater in Boston, and was transfixed by both Jim Carrey's performance and the film's forecast of a society in which the line between fiction and reality would be obliterated between the lines of a television screen. Four years later, I watched Steven Spielberg's Minority Report at the AMC Fenway in Boston, and was equally fascinated by what I referred to in an unpublished review of the film as "a world in which advertisements will be able to personalize commercials, asthma inhalers will be used to store liquified drugs, cars will be able to travel along the sides
of buildings, and cereal boxes will feature real-time animation instead of stationary drawings."

As I read Malka Older's Infomocracy (Tor Books), I felt the same sense of intellectual elation and fascination with the future I felt watching those two films. Actually, I'd contend as great as those movies were, Older's novel is even better.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I attended high school with the novelist and international aid relief worker. Older was a visionary spirit back then, and Infomocracy proves that time has only enhanced her excellence; this brilliant book is unquestionably one of the greatest literary debuts in recent history.

Infomocracy takes place two decades after the establishment of an international government. Countries are divided into districts known as "centenals," which can choose to support one of several parties, some corporatist, others populist. In the twenty years since this government apparatus was established, the corporatist Heritage party has been the dominant political force, but as world elections approach, there is concern among those in power that they may be about to lose it.

Older has crafted three distinct and fascinating characters: Ken, an official with the Policy1st party; Domaine, an activist who loathes this particular world order; and Mishima, an operative with Information, the technological behemoth which oversees the elections, and which has become as essential to life as food or water. The only reason I can't call the interactions between Ken, Domaine and Mishima the most fascinating aspect of the book is that there is no element of this work that is not fascinating.

If I described all of Older's technological creations, I'd never finish this review; suffice it to say that I hope Older isn't deprived of credit for the future real-life versions of the innovations she describes in this book. Older's prose is detailed, philosophical and at times blisteringly funny (describing a global election debate, Older observes that the PhilipMorris party is "famous for their continued defense of the death penalty").

As I read it, I couldn't shake the sense that the world Older has created is coming ever closer to reality--and not just her tech ideas. Haven't we already seen man-made disasters that claim innocent lives, and efforts to manipulate technology to influence the outcomes of elections? How many years will pass before Older's book is regarded, like The Truman Show and Minority Report before it, as "science fact"?

Infomocracy's sequel, Null States, is scheduled for release next year; as soon as I finished the first book, I wanted the second. Older has so many ideas and so much skill in communicating them that I wished both books had been released simultaneously, so as to have full insight into this coming world.

When--not if--Infomocracy is adapted for the screen, I hope that at least a portion of the boldness and spirit of this book will be retained. This is one of the best novels of the decade--of the last few decades, in fact--and Hollywood should do justice by it. By forecasting democracy's degeneration, Older has become a defining literary voice for this generation.