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Malka Older

Fiction and Excerpts [7]
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Fiction and Excerpts [7]

How Presidential Debates Could Function in Our Information-Rich Future

, || 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 microdemocracy. 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.

Infomocracy: Chapter 5

, || 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 microdemocracy. 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.

Know Your Parties! A List of Micro-Democratic Governments in Infomocracy and Null States

The micro-democratic system in Infomocracy and its sequel, Null States, features thousands of districts, all with their own laws. Electing an over-arching world government—in this instance a “supermajority”—would be impossible if many of these districts didn’t merge their interests and form larger political parties.

Infomocracy introduces these major parties, but they change a lot over the course of the book (as well as in the ensuing novel Null States, but let’s not spoil that here!). Here’s a refresher on who the major players are, and where they’re at by the end of Infomocracy!

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It’s Not a Good Idea to Forget About the Null States

In the technocratic, information-driven world of my Centenal Cycle novels, “null states” is a technical term for the remaining nation-states that are not a part of micro-democracy and refuse to allow access to the global bureaucracy of Information. It comes from the old computer science term for when a field doesn’t have any data in it: neither yes nor no, empty. For the people in Infomocracy’s future, accustomed to immersive surveillance and data, the remaining nation-states are blanks. They are easy to forget about and it’s easy to imagine they don’t affect the interconnected governments of the micro-democratic system.

As our heroes find during the period covered in Null States, however, their system doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Countries that they don’t know anything about can engage in wars that threaten the pax democratica and send refugees over the micro-democratic borders. (In micro-democracy, where population increase is a good thing, refugees are welcomed and indeed courted by most governments, but this is still an impact that can’t be ignored). These vestigial nation-states may not fit into the world order, but it’s still not a good idea to forget about them.

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Statelessness is a Problem We Created, and One We Can Solve

When Infomocracy was accepted for publication, I decided I would donate a percentage of my earnings from the book to a non-profit working in an area related to the book’s themes. This was partly because I feel so lucky/privileged/blessed to be able to earn money doing something I love (especially since I already have another career I’m pretty happy with as well). The other reason was because I wanted to ground the fictional, futurist world of the book with the real present of its readers. My hope is that knowing a percentage of each purchase goes to support work in a specific area will help readers connect to the issues in the book, and see their relevance—and the potential for changing the status quo—in the world around them.

The Accountability Lab was the perfect fit for Infomocracy, reflecting the novel’s concerns with governance and transparency through their innovative work with young people around the world. I’m proud to have been able to support their programs—like Accountability Incubators and Integrity Idol, and if you’ve bought a copy of Infomocracy I hope you are too.

[The sequel focuses on areas on the edges and outside of the future world system.]

Not Predicting the Future, Just Observing the Present

A lot of reviews and readers have used some variation of the phrase “frighteningly prescient” to describe Infomocracy. But it’s not.

At least not in the way they mean. (I can still hope it will be in other ways: engineers of the world, a Lumper in the near future would be great, thx!) Most people are talking about the way the book shows the power of information use in election, and how that mirrors their experiences of the 2016 US presidential race (or, sometimes the Brexit referendum).

The book was finished in 2015, and it’s called Infomocracy because that’s what it’s about: rule by information. Whoever controls what people think they know wins, and if they do it right people still think they’re making up their own minds, and even when they do it wrong its hugely disruptive. The future posited in Infomocracy has a UN-like body dealing with global information management that aggressively annotates everything from advertisements to stock photos to political promises, but data manipulation continues. The global election that is the crux of the book is disrupted through hacking and vote stealing and shady campaign practices. A government gives different groups different information about basic facts, triggering armed conflict. Sound familiar?

Here’s the thing: I wasn’t even trying to be predictive there. I was describing the political situation I saw in the present, refracted through an imagined future political system to emphasize some elements.

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Are We Heading Towards an Infomocracy?

I have lived in, worked in, and visited a lot of countries with on-going separatist movements. (That includes the United States and, in fact, almost any country you might be reading this from). Some are more noticeable than others. When I lived in Sri Lanka, the LTTE had carved out a band of territory off-limits to the Sri Lankan government, complete with its own (limited) public services, radio stations, and time zone (this territory was later violently overrun and no longer exists). When I traveled in Spain, Spaniards were boycotting cava because of Catalonian secession movements, and there were warnings about attacks by ETA, the armed Basque separatist organization. When I worked in Timor-Leste, one of the newest countries in the world was still figuring out things like economy and orthography after centuries of colonialism. A few hundred kilometers to the north, in Maluku, people were still deciding whether the new autonomy offered by the Indonesian government was worth giving up their dreams of independence.

[These urges for breaking up countries into smaller and smaller administrative units reflect one of the fundamental problems with democracy: oppression of the minority by the majority.]

How Presidential Debates Could Function in Our Information-Rich Future

In 2016 we have instant fact-checking, pundit commentary, and a constant stream of information (and misinformation) defining the parameters of our political debates. As our culture continues to adjust to being an information-rich society, what might debates look like in the future? And what happens when information technology reaches equilibrium across the globe, when billions of people have the information they need to institute change?

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Living in an Infomocracy

This article originally appeared on March 9, 2016—publishing simultaneously on Tor.com and at the Huffington Post’s Thought Matters blog.

I love the drama of elections. I love the constant polls and predictions, measuring the desperate efforts to slide ahead by even a few points.

[Elections are stories, and like all stories, they shift according to the predilections and propensities of the teller.]

Optimism and Access: The Line Between Cyberpunk and Post-Cyberpunk

Calling Infomocracy a post-cyberpunk novel wasn’t my idea.

I’m happy with the “cyberpunk” part. Infomocracy owes a huge debt to cyberpunk novels (not the least being compared to Snowcrash on its front-cover blurb). When I started writing it I was thinking very consciously about the cyberpunk aesthetic: smooth, capable characters who can pull off some fairly glamorous intrigue but then turn around and show you their gritty, imperfect underbelly as well; a combination of virtual and physical action; a tone with an element of darkness but also a tendency to wink at self-awareness. Also katanas. (In retrospect I don’t really understand how katanas fit into cyberpunk, but they do seem common there, and since I spent two years studying iaido in Japan, I was quite happy to use them.) The characters and the story quickly took over the writing process and went their own way, but I’m grateful for that initial glossy impetus.

I’m less thrilled with the “post,” mostly because I hate to admit that cyberpunk could be over.

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Series: Cyberpunk Week on Tor.com

Engaging in the Democratic Process with Infomocracy

Infomocracy is based in the late 21st century, in a future when democracy has evolved into micro-democracy and governments compete for dominance across tens of thousands of tiny jurisdictions in a global election. Any centenal of one hundred thousand citizens can vote for any government it wants, and governments knit their scattered constituents together with virtual technology and common laws.

It’s an alluring idea. Each community can pick the government it wants. No need for pitched battles between groups with completely different interests in countries that span time zones, climates, and vastly different histories. It’s a vision of customized democracy that aims to increase voter engagement and information that tries to reduce the problem of oppression by majority, if not completely remove it.

[Infomocracy is set in the future, but the problems its characters struggle with are challenges that we face today.]

Infomocracy: Chapter 5

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 microdemocracy. 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?

Malka Older’s debut novel Infomocracy is available June 7th from Tor.com Publishing. Read chapter five below, or head back to the beginning with chapter one!

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Infomocracy: Chapter 4

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 microdemocracy. 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?

Malka Older’s debut novel Infomocracy is available June 7th from Tor.com Publishing. Read chapter four below, or head back to the beginning with chapter one!

[Read more]

Infomocracy: Chapter 3

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 microdemocracy. 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?

Malka Older’s debut novel Infomocracy is available June 7th from Tor.com Publishing. Read chapter three below, or head back to the beginning with chapter one!

[Read more]

Infomocracy: Chapter 2

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 microdemocracy. 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?

Malka Older’s debut novel Infomocracy is available June 7th from Tor.com Publishing. Read chapter two below, or head back to the beginning with chapter one!

[Read more]

Infomocracy: Chapter 1

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 microdemocracy. 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?

Malka Older’s debut novel Infomocracy is available June 7th from Tor.com Publishing. Read chapter one below, and come back each day this week for additional excerpts!

[Read more]