Imagine, if you will, that your body was home to thousands of nanotechnological devices. These devices are the hardware platform for software that controls anything from your heartbeat to your eye colour—the miraculous field known as bio/logics. With the right programming, you can enhance your senses, expand your memory, or cripple your body.
What if Apple decided which bio/logics programs you could run in your body?
That's the question I couldn't get out of my mind as I read Infoquake. David Louis Edelman has taken the typical cyberpunk route, and his Earth of the future is a fractured map of semi-anarchy. Instead of nation-states with centralized governments, individuals subscribe to L-PRACGs, "Local Political Representative Association of Civic Groups." L-PRACGs vary across a spectrum of governmentalism/libertarianism. People may also belong to creeds, which are sort of the secular successor to religion: organized ethical belief systems. Unlike L-PRACGs, however, many creeds hold actual power. The days of government are gone, and creeds, corporations, and the "Defense and Wellness Council" are the new players.
Bio/logics is the centrepiece of Infoquake. It's a software industry, the workhorse of the economy, and for people like Natch, it's almost a way of life. Anyone with the right equipment can create bio/logics programs and sell them on the Data Sea. There are certain entities that play quality control: Dr. Plugenpatch sets standards that any respectable bio/logics program must meet; the Defense and Wellness Council will act against anything perceived as a serious threat. Nevertheless, "black code" is still out there, and people do get infected. This isn't just a computer virus or a malicious phone app: black code can stop your heart.
So there are some elements who want to see a stronger centralized authority for the administration of bio/logics programs (and there are some elements who want the industry even more de-regulated and de-centralized). This reminds me of a similar ideological battle happening in the software industry today. Apple is by no means the only company guilty of this, but it's certainly the poster-child: only Apple gets to decide what runs on the iPhone. Of course, there are alternatives to the iPhone. But what if there weren't? What if one company had the monopoly over what programs literally ran your bodily functions, controlled what you perceive and remember? That is a very scary scenario.
It's also not quite what Infoquake is about. The theme is present in the conflict between Creed Surina and the Defense and Wellness Council, but the MacGuffin of MultiReal is so much more. It's a new technology, and new technology always scares those invested in the status quo. But it's also a catalyst for discussions about the world Edelman has created.
Which makes it all the more troubling that the first hint of MultiReal, indeed of anything mentioned on the back cover, comes almost halfway into the book! After briefly introducing us to the main characters, Edelman devotes the majority of the first 250 pages to Natch's childhood and backstory. It's all very interesting—indeed, it ended up being the more interesting half of the book—but there is a lot more exposition in Infoquake than need be. And that doesn't include the myriad appendices of terms, timelines, and people. Infoquake has one too many infodumps.
What Edelman has done isn't so much worldbuilding as it is construction of a vocabulary of the future. Dr. Plugenpatch, L-PRACG, hives, creeds, geosynchrons, ConfidentialWhisper, connectible, ROD, OCHRES, Data Sea . . . the list goes on. All this terminology makes this future seem functional. Yes, at times, it is overwhelming, but more because of the concepts than the jargon itself. I never felt overloaded by the terminology—and the glossary is useful—but I did have trouble grokking multi-projections, the nature of the Data Sea, and even bio/logic programming itself. Optical code? I have trouble visualizing in general, so I'm not sure I could even program holographically!
It's possible that my predilection for programming predisposes me toward partiality for Infoquake. I'm not sure how a non-programmer would enjoy it, although I think there's definitely more to the book than just a new way of creating software. This is a brave new world with new rules and new mores. And to see that, you need look no further than Natch.
Nominally our protagonist, Natch is still somewhat of a cipher even after Edelman divulges his backstory. I am still not sure what makes him better than his opponents, except that the narration is biased in his favour. Natch is a shrewd businessman and is as ruthless as many of his competitors. He has no qualms about using dirty tricks to get what he wants. It's one such trick that brings him to the attention of Margaret Surina, who lures Natch and his fiefcorp into taking the reins of the MultiReal project. Even though he has no idea what it is, not even its name, prior to taking the job, Natch has a feeling that this is what he has been looking for his entire life, a purpose, a direction.
I never quite warmed to Natch, and I'm sure this is intentional on Edelman's part, because Natch is not a hero. He's not meant to be a hero. Infoquake isn't about the underdog struggling to free the masses from the thumb of the institution, although that conflict is definitely there. No, Natch is another character in a drama no less than the fate of human society itself. We as readers might not care about what direction Natch pursues, but he might influence the course of the entire human species—MultiReal is that important, and Edelman convinced me of that if nothing else. Natch's world is already so different from ours and posed to get much weirder, yet it's still dealing with the same ideological issues that plague us today.
So I'm conflicted about Infoquake. On one hand, it's a mess of exposition, backstory, and unresolved plot. None of the characters are particularly compelling. On the other hand, there were still times when I couldn't stop reading. The idea bio/logics and its crucial place in society is just so fascinating that it shines despite the book's other flaws. Sometimes one great idea is all you need. But it helps if you have a little more than that.