|Deep State is the sequel to Walter Jon
Williams' earlier novel This Is Not A Game. Like the first book it concerns
itself with an exploration of how the power of the internet can be used to make changes to
the way the world works.
Dagmar Shaw is running an Augmented Reality Game in Turkey to
promote the latest James Bond film. Turkey has recently been taken over by a military
junta and Dagmar is less than happy about the political and social realities of life in
the new Turkey. But she's being well paid, a job is a job and the ins and outs of Turkish
politics are not really her business. She's just there to run a game.
The game is a resounding commercial, artistic and organisational success. Hundreds of
thousands of people (mainly in Turkey, but also in the wider world) have come together,
pooling their skills and knowledge to solve the problems that the game presents.
After the game finishes, Dagmar is approached by one of its sponsors who turns out to
be a spook employed by some anonymous branch of the American government. He wants Dagmar
to use her game design skills and the powerful internet infrastructure that she's
developed in Turkey to organise and promote a grass roots level revolt against the junta.
Working from a British RAF station in Cyprus, Dagmar and her colleagues set up a new
game specifically for the purpose of bringing down a government. She organises flash
crowds to form and protest in places where it's hard for the police to respond quickly,
and then melt away before the authorities can react. It all starts well, and the regime is
looking more and more foolish and impotent as reports of the demonstrations spread around
Then, much to Dagmar's satisfaction, spontaneous demonstrations that are nothing to do
with her organisation start to happen. The revolution is becoming a genuinely grass roots
one. The authorities, goaded beyond endurance, deploy a secret weapon that effectively
shuts down the internet...
There's a lot going on in this novel. In our world, the power of the people to topple
regimes has been demonstrated again and again. The collapse of the Soviet Union, the
current unrest in the middle east, all these things prove that the essential idea behind
the novel is not an unreasonable one (though personally I find it morally suspect, to say
the least). The very clever use that the novel's protagonists make of the internet to
facilitate and organise and coordinate things that might otherwise remain just isolated
and unimportant incidents is a brilliant touch, and from this point of view the novel is a
Other aspects, however, are less successful. Williams tries hard to explain the details
of the technology his protagonists use, and he makes a complete mess of it. Since most
people regard computers and the internet as magic black boxes, and technical jargon as the
equivalent of a magic spell, I suspect this probably doesn't matter much to the majority
of his audience. Only the computer professionals will wince at his enormous technical
blunders. But nevertheless, those blunders are there. The novel would be a lot stronger
without the pages of obfuscated and meaningless gobbledegook that he inflicts on us. It
would also be a lot shorter, and that too would be a strength rather than a weakness.
The novel is structurally flawed as well. The last two or three chapters descend into
very silly melodrama -- interminable chase scenes, guns go bang, all for no very good
reason. Replacing the last three chapters with three pages would again make the story much
stronger. And shorter...
Flawed though the novel is, the central idea is intriguing and well managed and the
strength of that idea in conjunction with the interesting personal lives of the
protagonists makes this an enjoyable and thought-provoking book.
But I do recommend that you stop reading it round about the time Dagmar goes to
Uzbekistan. Everything from that point onwards is a waste of paper and ink.