NULL STATES by Malka Older


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The second in a near-future series in which most of the world is governed by microdemocracy—in which groups of 100,000 people, or “centenals,” vote for their government according to policy, not location.

While the previous novel, Infomocracy (2016), was fairly self-contained, this is decidedly a middle-volume book, with three storylines whose interlinkages will probably be further clarified in the next installment. Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, two of the titular “null states” outside the microdemocracy, are preparing to go to war, threatening nearby centenals. In what was once Sudan, Al-Jabali, head of the DarFur government, has just been assassinated. And Heritage, toppled from its position as Supermajority (the government which holds the most centenals) during the last election, is threatening to secede. Various agents of Information, the more-than-internet agency that surveils, gathers, and analyzes the data which keeps microdemocracy running, strive to investigate and keep a lid on these situations while also juggling complicated romantic lives. The more they dig, the more the evidence points toward a conspiracy within Information. As a novel about a threatened election, Infomocracy had more specific bearing on the current political situation (in several countries), but there’s still a lot here that’s germane to the present. Older continues to argue, most convincingly, that controlling the flow of information to the government and the public is the most potent power there is and illustrates how seemingly insignificant data points can build up to a larger, threatening picture. There’s also an extremely relevant post-colonial subtext helping to drive the plotlines: despite the best efforts of politicians, drawing arbitrary geographic boundaries does little to erase centuries of ethnic and cultural identity.

Carefully researched, prescient, thoughtful, and disturbing.

Pub Date: Sept. 19th, 2017
ISBN: 978-0-7653-9338-8
Page count: 432pp
Publisher: Tor
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 2017


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