Author’s note: I wrote this book review way back in 2012 on a website that — thankfully — no longer exists because it sucked, but a few articles (like this one) seemed worth preserving. I was pretty harsh when I wrote about this debut novel and it didn’t help that there was a small wave of reviewers that agreed with me. However, the sequels are actually really good and make up for this first novel. Definitely worth a read if you’re into cyberpunk.
Dystopia and Cyberpunk are a bit of a favorite of mine. If you looked at my favorite authors list, a good seventy percent of them have at the very least dabbled, successfully I might add, in either one of each genre. I’ll even go so far as to say that even those who can even be considered, post-cyberpunk writers, like Richard K. Morgan, have done a pretty good job of maintaining and keeping this small niche of a sci-fi sub-genre relevant. The Aughts (2000s) especially had something of a boom period in cyberpunk novels (though in terms of film and television, it’s been practically a desert), which is still continuing today. Though that’s not to say that all were really that good.
Infoquake, part of the Jump 225 trilogy, was published in 2006 and written by then, new author and former dot-com entrepreneur, David Louis Edelman. This book was certainly pimped out on most of the major sci-fi blogs at the time, like io9 and amazon.com as being the new gold standard in post-cyberpunk science fiction. So, of course, like a cocaine addict, who desperately needed his new fix, I snatched it up in the hopes that it’d give me that sweet Neuromancer high I’d been looking for. I’d been jipped however, since the hit was laced with sixty percent Splenda.
Infoquake: awesome cover, mediocre novel.
Infoquake, which takes place 300 years after a devastating post-singularity war between man and machines, the world as we know it, has turned into a series of corporate fiefdoms vying for control. In this anarcho-capitalist future these companies also participate in the manufacturing and selling of nanotech and biological enhancement applications known as “biosoft” or “bio/logic” that is used to help people with a number of mental and physical tasks in an individual’s day-to-day. Also, not only is most of the population wired up to their eyeballs in nanotech and bio enhancements, but it’s also operating on a wireless network known as the “data sea” that can be accessed anywhere, over multiple channels, as well as other planets within the solar system.
Yeah, I don’t see how this could end badly, either.
Now, before I even get into the main story-line, I have to personally take issue with how this nanotechnology is introduced in the novel. Firstly, after Edelman establishes that humanity almost went extinct at the hands of killer machines, why would the population even agree to wanting to go back to letting machines regulating their lives, again. Granted 300 years is a long time, but not long enough I’d imagine for people to decide that injecting themselves with tiny machines that can regulate their bodies is A-okay, now. Especially since there’s the potential for somebody to hack these devices and make them stop your heart from beating, or control your mind, or turn you into a nano-infested rage-zombie. Shit, America is less than 300 years old and we’re still arguing about whether we even need a federal government or not, after being ruled over by a very centralized England, at the time. And if that weren’t enough, none of this nanotech is being regulated at all, by any agency, with any clout whatsoever. Because Edelman seems to think, with his libertarian worldview, that the world is in no need of any government oversight. I’d like to see the survivors of a grey-goo or terminator-like future agree with him when they’re the ones hiding in abandoned subway tunnels, eating rats and avoiding harvester drones, patrolling a blackened sky.
I’m David Louis Edelman: and I’d prefer that the Invisible Hand determine the viability of our species’ survivability.
Our hero is Natch, a handsome, ambitious, biosoft entrepreneur. A man who seems to suffer from severe bi-polar disorder since he operates on three settings: angry, really angry and manic-depressive. He’s a twenty-something future yuppie, who wanders around his spacious office condo, barking orders at his assistants Horvil and Jara, while basking in his own greatness, trying to claw his way to the top of the biosoft market. His favorite thing to complain about is how small his luxurious office condo is as he sits and sulks, as Jara tells him that his place is actually much better than most flats in the city. But, oh no, Natch will have nothing of that. “It can always be better, bigger” he states as he goes off on another speech that they need to be working harder and that Jara and Horvil aren’t trying hard enough to get their nanotech products up and running. Did I mention that this little shit’s small business is being bankrolled by his dad? Oh yes, when you first read the two discussing the matter of Natch’s business, you’ll wonder why his father didn’t just leave Natch to die on some rock in the middle of nowhere.
Though it’s funny that I mention that because that is almost what happens to Natch, as his origin story is linked to being the sole survivor of a terrible biological attack as a baby, on a lunar colony. Natch later suffers the oh so painful life of a boarding school student as most of the children pick on him for being small…or something. Anyway, according to Edelman, Natch may or may not have set some kid’s face on fire out of anger, on a camping trip, but whatever, it’s supposed to be character development, I guess.
However, that’s of the major flaws that this novel has, especially when it comes to its characters. Edelman seems to try to give Natch some tragic backstory about being a survivor of a terrorist attack and getting picked on in school, but it comes off as the author trying way too hard to get the reader to sympathize with Natch and unintentionally making him out to be more of an ungrateful asshole. Patrick Bateman and Hanibal Lector do not need backstories for us to sympathize with. They’re evil and so is Natch, and Edelman should’ve just owned up to that and ran with it. Not that it would of helped much, but it would’ve made Natch a little more interesting. Sometimes having that mystery makes a character all the more compelling, instead of unearthing every possible piece of a character’s past. That’s how Lucas ruined Darth Vader, for most Star Wars fans. The other characters, Horvil and Jara, don’t seem to be written any better. Horvil is depicted as a very likable, but docile programmer, who seems to roll over at every command that Natch gives him. While Jara tends to spend most of the novel wallowing in her own depression while having fantasies of giving Natch a rim job (I guess it’s true, that neurotics tend to gravitate towards one another, though this sounds more like Stockholm Syndrome to me). There is also the government official who is head of the Center for Wellness, who despite his dickishness, actually has some good intentions of trying to regulate the biosoft market, because of its obvious potential of being abused. But, of course, Edelman depicts this government man as a villain who wants to secretly steal everyone’s freedoms and Natch’s ability and social license to be a sociopathic asshole in the business world.
After a few stunts performed by Natch, that would’ve gotten any normal person a twenty-year jail sentence or a billion-dollar bonus as a Goldman Sachs CEO. He is called in by Margaret Surina, a sort of more cuntish (if you’ll excuse the phrase) version of Natch, to improve and launch a new product by her company, while fighting off several corporate fiefdoms that will kill for a chance to steal this new technology for themselves.
From this point on it’s an Ayn Rand, neo-liberalism, wank-fest. Full of pompous speeches by Natch and several backroom business dealings, as Edelman tries to sell the idea that the Surinas and Natch’s of the world are the real masters of the universe, while the government is some form of pure evil that eats babies on the weekends (all this, despite the fact that Natch — a free-market true believer — is clearly the real asshole of the story).
“Hey kids! I’m here to teach you guys the coolness of EXTREME FUTURE FREE-MARKET ECONOMIES!!”
Of course this new technology has far reaching, unintended consequences and it’s use of the inter-galactic wireless network makes this new biosoft all the more dangerous to humanity if put into the wrong hands. This leads the author to tack on some lesson at the end of the novel, that technology isn’t bad, people are, but they don’t need policing (what?) speech, but by then I was pretty much just trying to get myself to the finish line and not even bothering in understanding this oddly self-contradictory logic.
Though I have to give Edelman some slack, since this was his first book, I can’t believe he dropped the ball on this one. To his credit, he did have some interesting tech ideas and concepts, as well some interesting depictions on how a post-singularity, post-geographical society might work. However, the man got too bogged down trying to make us like his hopelessly unlikable main character, didn’t bother to develop his other characters and tried to make this book his personal soap box about how his ideas on economics and zero-government are great if only somebody will listen to me rant. This book could’ve used a lot more subtly and whole lot less preachiness and exposition. I hear that the sequels to Infoquake are much better, but the first book might have just turned me off from them for good. 2006’s Neuromancer this is not.