The beginning of infinite detail it’s misleading. There is an adolescent, almost a girl who, it seems, is capable of seeing the dead. Or rather: she sees them at the moment of her death, not as ghosts, but at the moment of her farewell. Those who believe in her and come to the office where she looks after her bring her the remains of a civilization that, more than disappeared, no longer works: cables, glass, bottles, brands, garbage, historical residue. Is that Mary, the girl, lives in the “After” of this novel by Tim Maughan, a Scottish author and artist born in 1973. That after is life after the disappearance of the internet and everything that goes with it: global consumption, planes, the economy, communications, food distribution, energy, the financial system.
Shortly after we learn that the girl does see the dead, but she does so for reasons that have little to do with the supernatural. She lives and works in Bristol, the nerve center of this dystopian novel or speculative fiction, not post-apocalyptic: humanity, albeit with great difficulty, survives this forced return to analog. But the effects of the blackout are very similar to those of a nuclear bomb.
Maughan divides the novel into “Before” and “After” alternately, in chapters that are mixed, to tell how the cyberterrorist attack that collapses the infrastructure of capitalism is reached. The manifesto before the blackout spread by a hacker group, the launch of a worm or a virus that “eats” the internet, reads like this: “We hate the internet. We used to love it. We grew up loving the internet. It made us happy… (but) We were never the owners, we never would be… We watched our communities dissolve into civil wars. We watched as our political activists and community leaders became famous brands, as our techno-utopian visionaries bowed down to capital and shareholders. We allow ourselves to be converted into the content between the commercials, nothing more. Capitalism and its algorithms have crushed democracy.”
The manifesto continues: the tone and content is very current when you think about cryptocurrencies, fake news, Zuckerberg or Elon Musk. However, it appears in the very near future, à la JG Ballard, when all cities are already smart and people, instead of a telephone, have glasses that allow them to be permanently connected with whatever they want. It is not a world without ties and without love, but it is an oppressive world in which the yearning and the anguish of liberation become so unbearable that escaping into the pressure cooker does not seem enough. Like the relief that Rush seeks, for example, a British-Pakistani man who creates the Stokes Croft People’s Republic in Bristol, a neighborhood where it is impossible to connect to the Internet: “Part hippyster commune, part permanent art installation, part political protest, the Croft claims to be a haven from the physical and digital surveillance we associate with daily life in major cities and online. All the inhabitants reject surveillance, the internet and big data, but they have their own network, because Rush is a hacker through and through: a network mesh disconnected from the internet that is downloaded as an app and used in the neighborhood. A connection on a community scale.
The Croft, however, belongs to the “Before”. is the heart of infinite detaila novel of ideas, very close to the essay, that questions about the revolution and its meaning, about rebellion and its possibilities, about the uncertainty and the contradiction and the chaos that would come with a disconnected world.. Would it really save us, would it set us free? Or is it another utopian illumination that sounds good on paper but only produces suffering in reality? Maughan says it in the voice of one of his characters. Crack is: “The end of permanent surveillance and tracking. The end of being subjected to all that. The end of capital. The end of security. The end of certainty. The end of tranquility. The end of feeling safe. The end of being connected. The end of friendships. Maughan spares the details of what happens immediately after the blackout, ignoring much-visited details of classic famines and violence and migrations. He is more interested in consequences and thinking about them. In fact, many of the young revolutionary inhabitants or semi-nomadic Crofts, now older and embroiled in other problems, discuss their past actions. For example, Anika – now hooked up with rebels in Wales – and Grids, a less radical and more political man, who stayed at the Croft to try to improve the lives of his people, like a leader who takes and gives, but it is in generous essence, they fight like this. Grids says:
“What did you think was going to happen? After they broke everything. Really. That you thought? That everything was going to be magically solved? That this network of yours was somehow going to give you all the answers?
We didn’t pretend to have answers. Not for everything. We didn’t fight about it. We fought so that people could decide for themselves, Grids. To start again. We were fighting for self-determination…
Well, they got what they wanted. Self determination? Those Knowle skinhead paramilitaries who lynch Muslims? That is self determination. This is how it looks. Lots of gangsters and warlords and terrified people, all trying to take care of themselves, trying to protect their own.”
However, one must not think that because of this dialogue infinite detail it is a novel that prefers the “old order” of data and surveillance. It only turns on itself in the great question of our time, if this life makes us free or slaves, if slavery is the price to pay for comfort, if someone in the world is thinking that they cannot afford these problems, how much there is a privilege in feeling oppressed by the Internet. infinite detail it is also fiercely urban: multi-ethnic, modern, diverse, technophilic and technophobic, traversed by the culture of graffiti and contemporary performance art. And the music: with the blackout everything digital went away so what remains, on vinyl and cassettes, is drum & bass, jungle, dub, urgent and hypnotic electronic genres, the tachycardia of the end.
infinite detailWith its time jumps, it can be a bit confusing and it’s a shame the well drawn characters aren’t fleshed out in more depth because there’s huge potential in the romantic Rush, the practical Grids, the young Mary and Tyrone, the damaged Anika. This imbalance is suffered a bit but, in the end, the power of the doubts, the uncertainty and the rage of this first novel leave aside the setbacks because it is powerful in its dark vision of the question about whether it is possible to restart the machine and what would remain of us without her.