The Most Pernicious Misconception About Democracy Is That We Think We Are Living in One
Legendary sci-fi writer Malka Older on what happens when real life increasingly resembles a dystopian novel
Malka Older’s new speculative novel, State Tectonics, imagines a radically different world order from the one we know: Instead of residing in sovereign nation states, citizens of Older’s world opt in and out of small, distributed, heterogeneous communities based on their preferences. Some people want a hard line on crime, others prioritize universal health care and education, and still others seek out laissez-faire corporate governance. There’s something for everyone, and if you don’t like it, you can always switch. The entire system is stitched together by “Information,” a massive and highly bureaucratic organization that provides ubiquitous digital infrastructure, fact checks content, and monitors elections. Just like Google, Facebook, and Amazon fight for users today, in Older’s world, a diverse set of governments built atop Information constantly vie to attract citizens.
But even the most well-designed systems can be subverted, and within Information, numerous factions are trying to do just that: circumventing Information’s panopticon, spying on each other, hacking the system, and sowing misinformation—all in the service of seizing power. In the midst of this churning geopolitical maelstrom, a diverse cast of spies, activists, and technocrats struggle to untangle these complex machinations even as they begin to question fundamental aspects of the world they inhabit.
“It’s easy to assume that technological ‘progress’ unfolds in a mostly linear and inevitable way, but that’s far from true.”
State Tectonics, which wraps up Older’s critically acclaimed Centenal Cycle series, may be science fiction, but its speculations are eerily relevant. Reading it, one can’t help but think of current refugee crises, the rise of reactionary nationalism, the inevitability of accelerating data breaches, and the terrifying brinkmanship so evident in Washington. But unlike the bleak scenarios played out in Black Mirror…