Tim Maughan has long been one of the most promising up-and-coming, avante garde UK science fiction writers, whose post-cyberpunk short fiction mixed radical politics with a love of graffiti and a postmodern filmmaker’s eye: now, with his debut novel Infinite Detail, Maughan shows that he has what it takes to work at longer lengths, and can sustain a first-rate adventure story that grabs and never lets go, without sacrificing the political and technological insights that give his work depth that will stay with you long after the book is done.
Infinite Detail tells the story of a mysterious, permanent internet-wide shutdown, through the lens of counterculture network guerrillas who grow out of graffiti/squatter subculture in Bristol. The action flips back and forth between their fraught bohemia in which smart city technology is jammed in favor of free software that gives users control and community without ever spying on them; and the post-apocalyptic, blighted world ten years after the network collapses, killing supply chains, kicking off plagues and civil unrest, starvation and revolutions.
From these two poles, Maughan’s characters — a free software hacker who is the architect of a grassroots free/open alternative to surveillance captialism’s version of augmented reality; a seer who can call up images of the dead; a DJ who uses a sputtering, non-networked sampler and 3.5″ floppies and aging audio cassettes to mix beats; a guerilla fighter who has spent a decade in Wales, waging war on the conscript army that the elite uses to enslave agricultural workers — work backwards and forwards to the now of the story, explaining the mysterious event that killed every networked device in the world, almost at the same instant, and precipitated the chaos that shows no sign of ending.
Along the way, Maughan conducts a masterclass in the thrill and contradictions of counterculture, the uses and abuses of networks, the ways that capitalism can bend and flex to adapt, until, suddenly, it breaks.
This is a stunning debut.
Infinite Detail [Tim Maughan/Farrar, Strauss, Giroux]