The Geomancer


Infoquake: A Dangerous Vision?

David Louis Edelman's Infoquake has racked up praise beyond my wildest expectation, being called "a triumph of speculation" by Bookgasm (who listed it in their top five novels of 2006) and "the science fiction book of the year" by SFFWorld. It prompted Ian McDonald to proclaim, "So fresh and good I shamelessly stole an idea from it: the whole premise of a future corporate thriller.... Buy Infoquake, read it.... Give him the Philip K Dick award." Alas, they did not, but Barnes & Noble chose it as the number one book of the year in their list of the Top SF&F Books of 2006. Needless to say, we are more than thrilled. (And hey, there's still the Locus poll.)

But it's this review in the April/May 2007 issue of Asimov's, that may be the most interesting analysis of the book that I've read thus far. In the latest of his always enjoyable On Books columns, "Whither the Hard Stuff?", Norman Spinrad praises Infoquake as a "high-speed, high-spirited tale of high-powered and low-minded capitalist skullduggery, corporate and media warfare, and virtual reality manipulation. It’s the sort of thing that would make a perfect serial for Wired magazine, given the nature of its ad base, if it ever decided to publish fiction."

He further praises Edelman for his skill in crafting hard SF, saying "Edelman seems to have convincing and convincingly detailed knowledge of the physiology and biochemistry of the human nervous system down to the molecular level. And cares about making his fictional combination of molecular biology and nanotech credible to the point where the hard science credibility of the former makes the questionable nature of the latter seem more credible even to a nanotech skeptic like me. And after all, let’s not kid ourselves too far, that’s really the nature of the hard science fiction game; otherwise it wouldn’t be hard science fiction."

Here I have to warn you there's a spoiler in the review as to what the MacGuffin of the book is (or seems to be), but Spinrad finds all of this struggle for verisimilitude erected around a core concept that he feels is a "'doorway into anything'—superpowers conjured up at will out of the bits and bytes, infinite replay of actions in order to come up with the desired result—in other words, magic" to be disturbing. Yes, disturbing!

He concludes, "I have no quarrel at all with the use of magic as a literary device in fantasy or surrealist fiction, where it has produced masterpieces. Magic masquerading as science and/or technology is another matter, and a graver one. And the better the masquerade, the more successful on a literary level, the more disturbing the transliterary consequences."

Unfortunately, or fortunately, or both, I doubt a great many of today's readers will get hot under the collar about "transliterary consequences," a state of affairs that is part of the lament of Spinrad's broader article. As he says, "Literarily and commercially, the question of whether or not such a novel could be considered 'hard science fiction of the post-modern kind' is ridiculously irrelevant. " But it is nice to imagine a world where the debate might reach titanic proportions, like the shouting matches once provoked by the New Wave. I'd love to hear reports from Nippon 2007 that there were knock down drag outs between the Mundanistas and the Infoquakers. As well as constituting a healthy sign of the state of SF, that would be high praise indeed.

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