I have to confess, I judged Malka Older’s book entirely by it’s cover because it was so pretty.
And it didn’t disappoint. It was probably one of the smarter and more relevant books I read this year, with glimpses into how we consume news and what happens when you vote entirely online.
The plot follows two main characters, who are caught up in the world election cycle. Following the switch to ‘micro-democracy’ at some point in the past, participating countries (no longer countries, I suppose) that had opted into the system were divided into 100,000 people (centenals). It is now election year, and a test of the micro-democracy system. There are cross-world parties Liberty and Heritage first but also hyper-local parties that people can vote for.
But there are SHENANIGANS a-foot! We follow the events that unfold through the two main characters Ken, a campaigner for a political party called Policy1st, and Mishima, an operative for the worldwide bureaucracy called Information – who are the guardians of fact and also of the elections themselves.
It was a full headrush, with all the language, structures and well…politics (given it was about an election) of the world to get into before things got rolling. However, once you got used to it, it was a really compelling and interesting read.
I quite enjoyed the idea of the micro-democracy and wondered how such a system would work in practice. How many different parties would London be governed by? I just imagined major metropolitan areas being patchwork quilts of different politics. I also wondered how basic things like getting taxed or public transport would work.
Regardless, the story line was very compelling and I absolutely raced through the last 100 pages.
Brilliantly, it also totally passes the test with a huge amount of interesting, intelligent and important female characters. I think there are more women than men to be honest, which was fabulous. Also Mishima is SO BADASS. But also, complex and nuanced in a way that seemed to go with her job and her characters (the opposite of Ren in Planetfall really.) I just found all the characters super believable, which was really nice. I enjoy ridiculous characters (hello Behind the Throne) but these characters made the book feel much more grounded.
Anyway, it was totally great. I would totally get it for people who like smart sci-fi for Christmas. It should also be the next book up on Science Fiction Double Feature which is my new podcast about books and science fiction! Woo! Go have a listen to last month’s about The Interminables.