Sunday, September 17, 2023

The Disinformation War, by SJ Groenewegen

This gripping, near-future political thriller is published by Gold SF, the newish imprint of Goldsmiths Press that aims to discover and publish new intersectional feminist science-fiction. The author is a friend and I get mentioned in the acknowledgments for having been a sounding board for some of the ideas explored in the book, so I can't exactly give an objective review.

It's the story of three people: online social justice warrior Kayla who IRL struggles with social interactions; intelligence analyst Libby who has become the target of a right-wing hate campaign; and Derek, a major-general in the army who is torn by the disparity between his orders and his oath to uphold the law. They're thrown together because of a shocking new scheme developed by the Home Office and private enterprise.

It's an exciting, involving story, the early parts reminiscent - in a good way - of the bleak, near-future and political consciousness of the "War" trilogy of Doctor Who New Adventures books by Andrew Cartmel in the 1990s. But the later part of the novel is concerned with hammering out the practicalities - and clash of personalities - in agreeing exactly how to combat the sinister vested interests behind a tide of disinformation. 

Often, science-fiction presents this kind of thing as an engineering problem: it just needs someone to properly identify the fault for a solution to be found. My experience is that, even when everyone has the most well-meaning intentions, there's rarely a "Eureka" moment in politics and it's more often an uneasy, imperfect compromise. People are a bit messy.

In that sense, the latter part of this novel reminded me more of the end of John Christopher's Tripods trilogy, in which the war against the aliens is followed by a more complicated peace among humans, and our hero goes off to become a member of the new government. Except it does more than that, presenting a draft manifesto plus notes and discussions about how this work might be taken forward. It all feels very timely - a novel addressing the bleak now.

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