Review: Infoquake, by David Louis Edelman

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Solaris, ISBN 978-1-84416-582-5

(Review first published on the ASIM website, August 2008)

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Infoquake is David Louis Edelman’s debut novel, the first part of a trilogy revolving around the exploits of a singleminded young bio/logics programmer and entrepreneur, Natch. Set in the medium future (a timeline contained within the book’s compendious appendices suggests that Infoquake‘s action occurs at least 400 years after the present day), the story paints a picture of a society dominated by bio/logic technology (involving “OCHREs”, nano-scale biochemical software patches designed to augment human capabilities) and by the routine ability to remotely project and manipulate holographic images across at least interplanetary distances.

Natch is a programming mogul at the head of a burgeoning fiefcorp, concerned with getting to the top in the most expeditious manner. He’s not overly troubled by qualms arising from the use of unethical, or even illegal, methods to achieve his aims. At the start of the book these aims are reasonably straightforward: to achieve the number one listing on Primo’s, an industry ranking of bio/logics companies. The slot he’s after is currently occupied by longtime rivals the Patel brothers. But when events start to take a turn for the worse for Natch, it’s by no means certain that the Patels are involved: Natch has made plenty of enemies, and precious few friends, on his rapid climb towards success and notoriety. And knowing just who his friends are becomes increasingly important as Natch immerses himself in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to develop and exploit the new, mysterious, and world-changing MultiReal technology initiated by industry demagogue Margaret Surina.

Edelman does a very good job of establishing a consistent future society, and of integrating his principal technological innovation, bio/logics, into this society. In some sense, however, the setting he evokes lacks for plausible detail. My own reaction to the book’s cultural extrapolation is probably tainted by having very recently read Greg Egan’s Quarantine (first published in 1992), which touches on similar technological innovation: Egan’s “mods” fulfil essentially the same function as Edelman’s “OCHREs”, both being forms of biochemical machinery capable of enhancing or masking human behaviours, reactions, and emotional responses. To my mind, Egan does a masterful job of characterising the world in which such technology exists, whereas Edelman’s setting is more a thing of function than of true beauty. However, it’s probably not entirely fair to compare the two books in detail: though they share a few important plot elements (an occurrence almost unavoidable in the increasingly crowded multiverse of science-fictional imaginings), they ultimately tread in quite different directions. The Egan work, too, is a standalone, whereas Infoquake is the first book in Edelman’s ‘Jump 225’ trilogy (the second book, MultiReal, has I believe already been released, but has not yet reached Antipodean shores); thus, while Egan must completely characterise the universe of Quarantine in just the one book, Edelman has the luxury of three, and thus need not explain all within the present volume.

The characterisation in Infoquake is reasonably good, with most of the book’s less sympathetic characters emerging as at least somewhat equivocal in their ethical motivations, and the putative hero, Natch, is very obviously a rather shady protagonist in his own right. None of the characters exactly shines as a truly idiosyncratic entity. But as with much SF, Infoquake is at least as much a novel of ideas as of characters, and in the context of its contained ideas this is a well-wrought, propulsive, and consistently readable book. Even when it was sometimes difficult to invest any significant empathy in the plight of Natch, there was still enough intrigue within the storyline to convince me to find out what happened next.

I am, I should say, always a little wary of trilogies and of continuing series, but Infoquake holds itself together (as an isolated entity within a larger conglomeration) fairly well. There is enough of a resolution to complete the story (for now), but also plenty of scope to take matters further. It would be interesting in this respect to see how book two, MultiReal, travels, occupying as it does the dreaded ‘The Two Towers’ position within the trilogy’s literary sandwich.

Overall, Infoquake emerges as a well-told, entertaining, and thought-provoking first novel. A solid start. Edelman’s just might be a name to watch.

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(Review by Simon Petrie, 2008)

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