When he issued “Little Brother” in 2008, the occasions in that story of adolescent monkey-wrenching and protest had a way of believable inevitability. Beginning with an all-too-likely terrorist assault on San Francisco and segueing into an exam of the surveillance state, the guide served as a colourful style of what may quickly be.
The 2013 sequel, “Fatherland,” hewed to the similar imaginary timeline, venturing into the Edward Snowden/Julian Assange/Chelsea Manning whistleblowers scene, once more deploying logical sequelae to provide occasions. However already Doctorow’s timeline had begun to deviate extra radically from historical past.
Now comes “Assault Floor,” the 3rd guide within the collection, and it’s simple that Doctorow’s “destiny historical past,” then again many suave and insightful resonances it nonetheless maintains with present headlines, is now not a believable near-term information for the sector, however fairly the occasions of a counterfactual “stub” (to make use of William Gibson’s at hand time period for such deviant continuums). The coronavirus pandemic, to not point out the unpredictable and ever-destabilizing movements of President Trump and his warring parties, have conspired to make Doctorow’s state of affairs another historical past; his story has escaped the framework of the near-future subgenre. What we revel in as a substitute is political cyberthriller, lively, daring and savvy concerning the limits of revolution and resistance, even though it’s now not exactly contoured to our exact dilemmas.
The primary two books on this collection focused on Marcus Yallow, a naive teen, then a better younger guy, of above-average intelligence, inquisitive about social activism in opposition to a burgeoning police state. A peripheral however consequential determine in his circle was once a girl no longer a lot older than he, named Masha Maximow. In the beginning operating for the status quo “unhealthy guys,” she sooner or later had a transformation of middle and facilitated Marcus’s anti-authoritarian strikes. Now she strides optimistically onto middle degree, and we plunge deeply into her lifestyles, each previous and provide. (Massive chunks of the textual content contain her backstory since “Little Brother” in a type of “Rashomon” retelling.)
Bankruptcy 1 opens in actual time and discloses Masha, our narrator, operating for a Blackwater-style safety company named Xoth Intelligence. She’s in an unnamed Jap Ecu county she dubs “Slovstakia,” putting in tool for the dictator. However her sentiments are actually with the rebels, and so she makes an attempt a double sport. (This thread captures actual international occasions in Hong Kong and Belarus with eerie constancy.) When came upon, she’s fired from Xoth and flees the rustic, albeit well-supplied with money.
She heads again to her local San Francisco, to crash at the sofa of her early life bestie, Tanisha, some of the primary organizers within the Black-Brown Alliance, the street-fighting inheritor to the BLM motion. When Tanisha is arrested, Masha — now reunited with Marcus and his spouse, Ange — will have to shift into top equipment to loose her buddy and help her reason. Past that objective, they have got to paintings to take down Zyz, but some other of Masha’s ethically compromised ex-employers, with a lock on San Francisco’s law-enforcement outsourcing. (Each Zyz and Xoth are run through ultracompetent girls, giving the triangular war between the 2 companies and Masha a matriarchal telenovela “Sport of Thrones”-“Dynasty” vibe.)
Doctorow relentlessly builds Masha’s personality right into a deep portrait of a broken character. In spite of — or on account of — all her presents, she’s borderline psychopathic, as her Xoth boss Ilsa brazenly tells her, but additionally at the verge of a fearful breakdown on account of many unresolved problems. Her allegiances are transferring and steadily self-serving. As Doctorow says in his afterword, “It is a guide about how folks rationalize themselves into doing issues they’re ashamed of.” In spite of those characteristics, Masha turns into a protagonist value rooting for, and one whose inside conflicts and cognitive dissonances propel her to sudden, even heroic movements. A first class geek, Masha additionally provides copious and widespread jargon-filled information dumps. Your leisure mileage might range on those passages.
Doctorow’s allegiances lie with the rebels and underdogs — he sketches the heroics of the protesters and the kinetic tumult of the riots with glaring verve and sympathetic exegesis — however he additionally offers Masha just right arguments for her complicity with the status quo.
Doctorow’s international may now not map our present occasions, nevertheless it nonetheless charts the common currents of the human middle and soul with precision.
Paul Di Filippo’s most up-to-date novel is “The Fatal Kiss-Off.”