It’s virtually impossible to write fiction about the Internet, or what the Internet may someday become, without owing a huge debt to William GibsonEchelon, by Josh Conviser, definitely does that – but it should be considered  a compliment that I also say that he owes a lot to Neal Stephenson.  This allegiance with Stephenson is not just with Snow Crash, either… Conviser doesn’t involve nearly as many disparate plot lines together that Stephenson does, but there’s definitely the element of the really big unknown hanging over you as you work your way through the novel.

I’m not going to do a plot synopsis in part because I don’t want to spoil things, but also because I finished the book several weeks ago and will be certain to get details wrong.  The basic idea is, there’s a force called Echelon that started as part of the NSA and has since become a free agent, and Echelon has been basically controlling EVERYTHING in the world.  They head off all strife – there is no more war, no more famine, no more badness.  People are peaceful & happy the world over.  And Echelon employs a veritable army of agents who work “in the flow” to monitor information and make sure that the peaceful status quo is maintained.

Yeah, it’s a little big of a Big Brother vision… very early on I checked the copyright date (it is, indeed, post-9/11).  And yet… Echelon predates 9/11.  I’m struggling now to recall if there’s specific reference to 9/11 in the book, which makes me think that there wasn’t.  It would have to fall between the time when Echelon was an NSA project and when it split off and became the most powerful force in the world.  It’s interesting to me that it has such clear political implications for a post-9/11 world (FISA, anyone?), but by putting the seminal events in the life of the technology/agency BEFORE that watershed event, Conviser is taking it out of that context.

All in all, an entertaining read if you’re into dystopian future sci-fi, or ‘net fiction.


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