September 14th, 2002

The Backlog Reviews: Number Five - Whole Wide World

At a panel at Worldcon Cory Doctrow wondered where was the Internet's John Grisham? As I'd just finished reading this book the night before, the answer was obvious: "Paul McAuley".

Whole Wide World is a detective story that takes on many of the modern political issues associated with the web and the interactions between the online and offline worlds.

It's the day after tomorrow, and a London not too different from the one we're in. Two years ago the infowar, a mix of global terrorism and the May Day riots, took out the information infrastructure of the city of London. In response the government has turned Britain in to a surveillence society, and has cut the country off from the rest of the Net behind an array of net-nanny filters and firewalls. It's the "if this goes on" response to RIPA and similar laws, and to the appearance of CCTV on nearly every street corner. But McAuley's cameras are part of a national network, one controlled by the police and enhanced by AI tracking and pattern recognition systems.

A girl is dead, murdered in front of illegal web cams. But there's no sign of a killer - not even on the CCTV records in the area. Our narrator, sidelined into computer forensics after an incident during the infowar, finds himself drawn into a conspiracy involving mysterious messages, a porn web service, and the role of art in a wired world. As he gets sucked deeper and deeper into the mystery he discovers that's more than just a story of sexual obsession, instead a secret that can destroy the whole repressive structure of society. It's a question of right and wrong that can destroy him completely. It's a journey that takes him from the East End to Cuba, and from one side of the law to the other. It's a pity that all he wanted was just another chance at active police work...

Unlike many infothrillers, McAuley has done his research - bioth into the technology and the associated politics. He knows the capabilities of the technology, and the tools and technologies that can be used (and it's easy to forgive his occasional errors). There's also a strong undercurrent of 80s punk all through the book. Taking its title from a Wreckless Eric song, McAuley's narrator links key events in his life to music - and concerts from his student days back in the 80s.

Well worth reading.
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