“I need more dystopian Portuguese science fiction in my life.” I can honestly say I’ve never said such a thing before, but now it’s interesting to think about. One of the cool things about having a blog is that you make friends across the globe, some of whom decide that a book is absolutely worth sharing and right up your alley. So it is that a good friend of mine from Portugal sent me a copy of Pedro Barrento’s The Algorithm of Power. Thanks, Manuel. He reviewed this book himself, so if you want to check that out, please feel free to do so. He’s got some things to say.
For myself, I rather echo his views that science fiction need not be so technical as to lose the majority of those who would read it. It’s cool to see that sort of thing every so often, and it’s even better if I can keep up, but sometimes the point is simply to ensure the story is on a level that the majority of readers can keep up… and want to. By no means does this mean dumbing it down either. It means approaching the story, and its message, from the perspective of the everyperson. It means encountering an everyday culture that, in the case of a dystopian work, offers us a glimpse of a world that could happen if we don’t start acting now instead of reacting to trends.
In other words, this book does what classic science fiction does best: it offers us the pitfalls of a possible future… and perhaps the hope that it’s not too late to do something about it if we want badly enough to change it before it’s too late. For The Algorithm of Power, the idea is that government has been taken out of the hands of fallible humans and placed in the cold efficiency of an operating system. Unlike what most of my generation expected back in the day, this isn’t like Skynet and the Terminators. This is more in line with what we might expect if we stay on the track we’re currently on, seen through the eyes who live and grow in that kind of a world.
What would that look like centuries from now? How did it come to pass? These are questions the reader will have, and the answers will be a confrontation in the tradition of the best science fiction. The attention to detail isn’t at hyper levels as it would be if you read something like Clarke or Tolkien, but there’s more than enough here to make you want to keep looking into the next horizon and see what else is there. More than that, it’s enough to render the story and its characters believable. This is a functioning world with enough fuzzy edges to allow it to grow and evolve. How it functions leaves its mark on the characters, and thusly on the reader. Nicely executed.
On the whole, a remarkable read. With all of the heavier learning I’ve been doing of recent, this was a welcome distraction with the side effect that it made me better appreciate some of the things in my own world. You know that idea that you never really appreciate something until it’s gone? This book can change that.
For those for whom translation is a consideration, The Algorithm of Power is originally written in English, so for lazy Americans like myself who only speak one language, translation is not a factor. Go forth and enjoy.