All the darkest fears of the modern era have become reality in Ken Macleod's tenth novel. Climate change is in full effect, war has sprawled across the Middle East and into Asia, a flu pandemic has killed millions and the economic rise of China has come at the expense of the US. The book opens in an unspecified year in the near future with what appears to be a nuclear explosion at an American air force base in Scotland. Was it a terrorist attack, an accident or the first strike of the next world war?
Moments earlier, Roisin Travis escapes from a peace camp close to the base with photographs that may hold the truth about the blast. When she contacts her father with news of the explosion he puts into action a long-held plan to go on the run.
As the security services try to track down the Travis family, the book pits underground bloggers against Government agents intent on subverting the blogosphere with fake blogs, hijacked blogs and disinformation:
"Cartwright and his colleagues knew that they couldn't rely on online material, because they and hundreds like them spent every working day fucking it up. Contaminating online information was what Information Management Services did. Outsourcing the supply of disinformation to a swarm of freelance contractors had been one of Homeland Security's smarter moves."
The Execution Channel is a top-notch thriller, an airport novel (though perhaps best not read in an airport given some of the scenes therein), but little more than that. The characters are clearly but shallowly defined. It's pretty much one motivation per person and nobody has to wrestle with any particularly tricky internal conflicts.
For all that, this is a darkly entertaining read. Macleod has great fun spinning and unspinning the fears and memes of our age. His perspective on blogging and its effect on the powerful will amuse bloggers and their readers. And his alternate reality version of 9/11, which serves (in my mind at least) as a thorough debunking of conspiracy theorists, is almost worth the price of the book alone.
It's all seems a little silly but you never know, Macleod could be onto something. Any number of incidents from this book could happen tomorrow.