Today I have reviews for two books about politics, one a science-fiction and the other an account of events all too real.
State Tectonics by Malka Older
In the conclusion to the excellent The Centenal Cycle, we learn the fate of Information and micro-democracy.
State Tectonics doesn't reach the same heights as the previous two novels in the series. The ideas that seemed exotically fresh in Infomocracy are still interesting but aren't enough to make the book great in and of themselves. Null States, the second book in the series and my favorite, possessed the tale's most compelling character, Roz. Unfortunately, she takes a backseat in the finale to other characters who aren't nearly as interesting. She does have some scenes dedicated to her, but not nearly enough. Her balancing her romance with a politico in the former Sudan with her job as an Information agent added a captivating subplot in Null States. In the final book, Roz is pregnant, but, unfortunately, in my opinion, how she plans to balance her job with impending motherhood is never explored.
Despite its flaws, State Tectonics satisfactorily wraps up The Centenal Cycle. As usual, the story seems eerily plausible, especially given the current state of the real world with election interference, cyberattacks, alternative facts, and social media companies running rampant without accountability. Taken as a whole, the trilogy is well worth reading, especially for anyone with interest in near-future sci-fi and politics.
What can the aspiring author learn?
Verisimilitude. Older infuses State Tectonics, and the entire series with a sense of realism that makes the reader think: oh my God, this is possible. The thought is accompanied by rising dread––OMG, THIS IS POSSIBLE! How she accomplishes this is worth checking out.
Partly, she achieves a sense of verisimilitude by giving her characters real-world problems to solve, or, at least, problems that feel plausibly "real world". You won't find death rays in this novel, but you will discover characters who are trying to make their world a better place even though the odds are stacked against them. The characters' striving also gives the story a sense of hopefulness. This created an interesting dichotomy with my personal feeling that I wouldn't want to live in the world of The Centenal Cycle.
Peril by Bob Woodward & Robert Costa
An in-depth account of events leading up to and following January 6, 2021.
Eye-popping and absorbing. Woodward's seemingly exhaustive reporting details the anxiety of government and military leaders leading up to and following the events of January 6, 2021. I was particularly amazed to read that none other than former vice president Dan Quayle ––from an Arizona golf course–– urged then Vice President Mike Pence not to kick the selection of the electors back to the states. What that would've done is lead to another four years of Trump as president. Why? The thinking is that the predominantly republican state legislatures would have voted for Trump. If the account is accurate, it was Dan Quayle's counsel that punting the selection of electors back to the states would create a constitutional crisis that kept Mike Pence from doing just that. This and other anecdotes make for a read that I practically polished off in one sitting.
What can the aspiring author learn?
I think anyone looking to write enthralling non-fiction will do well to study Peril. Woodward's non-fiction writing utilizes many of the same techniques used by authors of fictional works. Indeed, his writing proves Sol Stein's argument that all good writing uses similar techniques to create suspense that grabs the reader by the collar and drags them into the story.
One of the reasons I decided to review Peril alongside State Tectonics is that although the latter is science fiction, the political skullduggery and the anxiety felt by the casts of characters is astoundingly similar to what is found in Peril. Both are frightening and hopeful accounts of democratic elections where things nearly go disastrously wrong. Both stories show us that democracy's best and arguably last line of defense is an informed and engaged public.