(Post originally published on my other blog, GrogMonkey, back on Jan. 27, 2011. Still trying to figure out how to divide the work between the two blogs.)
Freedom(tm) is the sequel to Daniel Suarez’s brilliant Daemon. It’s going to be impossible for me to review Freedom(tm) without spoilering Daemon to some degree. Daemon told the story of a genius online game designer who over years set up a hidden system within the Internet to awaken upon news of his death. That’s where Daemon begins, upon the activation of this servant process, or, computer daemon. In Freedom(tm), the daemon has won the first stage of its plan, it has started a revolution.
The novel takes place in today’s world, and in today’s reality. Everything that happens, every technology that’s used, is either currently in use and available as consumer electronics, or is military. Some examples include sonic placement which allows for a voice to sound as though it is coming from a specific point in space, even one’s own head (this is currently being used by advertisers), suits that bend light around it so as to render the wearer near-invisible (military development), aerial drones that can be tagged with a target’s cell phone GPS and send deadly darts to rain upon them from 10,000 feet (guess who uses that), power systems that can pull fuel-use hydrogen from the rock while creating water as a byproduct (in use currently where the oil industry doesn’t kill it), vehicles that can be equipped with sensor arrays which allow it to drive by itself following road lines and signs, FMRI machines that can virtually read minds if the subject can be asked a series of questions like a polygraph, etc.
Although, the one negative about the book, as that a lot of this technology gets used by the revolutionaries in quantities that strain believability. Even in the system of commerce and trade that is set up for the revolution to use, it’s difficult for me to believe that they can be equipped in such a short amount of time with mass quantities of wireless “augmented reality” glasses, power station-building equipment, invisibility suits, etc. But, fortunately, it’s written in such a way to to be forgiven.
Yet, that problem weighs heavy, I think, because of just how otherwise believable the story and situation is. Suarez writes a story that in all other aspects demands to be believed, so when a very crucial element of the revolution is questionable, it makes the verisimilitude of the entire story weaker.
Revolution. Let’s get back to that. That’s what Freedom(tm) is about — the true revolution for the modern age, the only kind of revolution that can happen in the western, developed world that could lead to fundamental change in economics, politics, society in general. Freedom(tm) illustrates a revolution that would have to take place in order to change the entire economic system from modern capitalism where boom-and-bust cycles are inherent, where unemployment is a necessity to keep the process working, where exploitation is not just a cost of doing business but a vital component — and brings about a system of true democracy controlled by the people and not by politicians who do the will of their richest contributors (corporations). Freedom(tm) does what SF author Kim Stanley Robinson advises we all must work towards: a post-capitalism society. Every stage of socio-economic-politics in history was thought to be the best one at the time, and at each new stage we looked back on the previous and questioned how we ever thought that last one was the best we could do. We need to get to that next stage. Freedom(tm) creates a believable means of doing so.
But it’s not an easy revolution. In Daemon, the daemon and some of its top human servants, are seen as evil. Killing people, infiltrating networks, implanting network worms, setting up processes by which corporations are held hostage and economic disaster looms…. The daemon is undeniably the villain of that novel. But Freedom(tm) shows us the reason behind it. And we come to realize that revolution is messy, and bloody. The point of revolution is to rip power from the hands of those who are in control, and obviously, those in control aren’t going to go down without a fight. Take what may be arguably a “worthy revolution,” the U.S. revolution. By most people, it’s seen as a just and necessary revolution — but think of how many people were killed fighting it. How many innocents, caught in the middle, suffered. How much was lost so that power could be ripped from one elitist class to a new, American class of elitists. The French Revolution was the epitome, the culmination, of the destruction of feudalism and control by royalty and the rise of democracy and private ownership — and it was horrifically bloody beyond belief. The “good guys” in that revolution were responsible for mind-numbing amounts of death.
Freedom(tm) doesn’t shy away from the necessity of “evil” things in order to bring down the multi-national corporation empire and establish true democracy and freedom. And, most importantly, create modern freedom where technology and modernization is not sacrificed, and is available to all, without the sociopathic economics of corporate oligarchy.
I doubt Suarez would call himself a leftist, I don’t know. He never uses terms in his novels like socialism, or communism, or anything like that. And that’s too his credit! Those words have a lot of baggage (most of which erroneously applied and misunderstood), that I’m sure if he used them or their ilk, he’d turn off readers out of hand. But the society, the economy, that he illustrates in Freedom(tm) is absolutely one of state-less communism, or anarcho-socialism. The government is undermined and rendered unnecessary, the corporations are rendered unnecessary and a violent hindrance to freedom and democracy. The society that is envisioned is absolutely the one that Marx said would follow capitalism, the one that could only be brought about thanks to the self-destructive mechanations and benefits of capitalism.
Like Cory Doctorow did with “wuffie” in his Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, Suarez imagines an economy based on individual reputation and the acts one commits, good or bad, against other people and society. It’s a system that can only work in extremely small societies where everyone knows each other, or with modern/postmodern, technology dependent upon the interconnectedness we all scrape the surface of in our use of the Internet. The plus side is we have the means now to realize a post-capitalism society! The downside, is it’s dependant upon technology. And that only works so long as energy supplies are good. Suarez deals with that by describing system of creating and distributing energy power that is sustainable and not reliant on non-renewable fossil fuels.
You’ll notice I jumped in talking about the grander themes and ideas of Freedom(tm) and haven’t really talked about the plot or characters. Sadly, those are the weakest parts of the novel — but that’s not to sat they’re bad. Where Daemon was all about plot and character, Freedom(tm) often feels like it uses characters (many from the previous novel) simply as a means to portray the ideas Suarez wants to get across. The characters, some of whom were so vivid in Daemon, come off here as two-dimensional. Especially the only significant female character, Agent Natalie Philips. In Freedom(tm), she’s acted upon and used as a tool to advance exposition. In fact, in the climax of the novel, she’s on the brink of actually doing something, discovers some vital information, is ready to jump into action, and suddenly everything she did up to that point is rendered pointless by the actions of other characters and she’s even saved by her lover in a way that makes her entire character arc of rising action meaningless. I get the feeling that Suarez was intending more for her — he placed her in a very important, vital location in the story, gave her access to important information and means to get more and do more, but then in a swoop makes it all a complete anti-climactic waste. I was very disappointed about that. Perhaps as he wrote the novel and found ways around her character to advance the plot and reach the grand climax, he forgot to bother with going back and writing her out of the novel, because she ultimately has no point in even being in the novel at all.
The plot that involves the way the government, basically in control by the multi0national corporations, fights back against the growing revolution, authentic and scary. Using increasing fear-tactics governments have always used to try to keep people in line and too powerless to act and too distracted to even speak out (economic crashes, high unemployment, outlandish fuel prices, and a patriotic surge of anger toward illegal immigrants), they find ways to use corporate, private military forces (fictional analogs of the real Blackwater/Xe Services, KBR, DynCorp, Aegis Defense, Raytheon, International Intelligence Limited, Executive Outcomes… these sound like fictional organizations, don’t they?) to do in the U.S. what they do in reality all over the world — divert public outrage toward those the powerful want undermined, and keep revolutionary elements (and the people in general) under check, with force if necessary.
Freedom(tm) is in many ways a terrifying novel because of how realistic it is (e.g.: the way in which corporations currently control government, and private corporate military operates around the world, and how the government could believably act against its own people in the attempt to maintain its own power); but it’s also one of the most inspiring, hopeful books I’ve read. So many people ask me what this fantastical anarcho-syndaclist, government-less communism, could possibly look like, and I too often have to use far-future SF like Blue Mars to offer examples — now, there’s Freedom(tm) which sets it in the here and now. Sure, it has some flaws, but there’s no such place as utopia. Oligarchic capitalism has serious problems, but so many people think it’s the best we can do — it’s certainly better than slavery and feudalism. I say we deserve to fight for a post-capitalist system that is even better than capitalism, even if it’s not perfect. Better is better, utopia or not.
Oh, critical theory aside — it’s really a fun and exciting book. Don’t let my socio-political ramblings dissuade you from readingDaemon and Freedom(tm); it’s my job to give voice to the overt socio-politics that’s only hinted at and implied and told through narrative in novels.