Anno centres a federated Europe in an uncertain, and not-too-distant digital future, when politics, the media and mass communications have fused into one amorphous whole. He works for the Bureau of Data Protection (BDP), a federal government department responsible for monitoring the full range of material, in all media, posted into cyberspace. The BDP is forced to do this when rebel states are seceding, small satellites once of the federation but now at a remove from it, economically and socially. A handful of organised outsiders threatens to undermine the central state through a concerted propaganda war, using the federation’s own digital infrastructure. It is this climate of mutual suspicion that to Anno makes inevitable decades of digital guerrilla warfare. While his department takes steps to prevent this, he doesn’t reckon on the intervention of his old college sparring partner, Craig Diamond, who is now a powerful media mogul. The two engage in combat conducted through cyberspace, in a rare concoction of literary sci-fi.
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Across the Rebel Network is a worthy successor to Peter Cowlam’s Who’s Afraid of the Booker Prize? The two novels together compose a single narrative: a dazzlingly inventive, bitingly satirical, and savagely funny critique of postmodern culture and society. They are an Apes of God for our time. Jon Elsby
The book’s setting is mid-twenty-first century, with a central narrator, Anno. There is one long section (the ‘Benbrook’ section) dedicated to Anno’s student life, a reflection back to the first decade of the century. This may give us an extended time frame, but the novel’s social, political and aesthetic concerns are immediate and timely. Its geo-political landscape is a fantasised federated Europe, where government, the media and mass communications have fused into the intrusive surveillance state the likes of Julian Assange and Edward Snowden are warning us about. Anno is at the heart of government surveillance, with special interest in material, in all media, posted by small groups of organised rebels waging digital warfare against the state, with its own, counter-propaganda. The novel is one of clever illusion. It is endlessly inventive. It is bound, aesthetically, to the traditions of European poetry and literature rather than the whims of genre fiction. It is rooted in the personal, given that the novel’s generality, its data wars, has as locus the contest that gradually develops between Anno (of the state) and the novel’s other principal character, Craig Diamond. Diamond is a cynical media mogul, and the two have renewed combat begun when the pair were students at Benbrook (hence the Benbrook section). Peppered throughout with references to Nabokov’s *Bend Sinister*, *Across the Rebel Network* shares something of the purpose and aesthetic of that predecessor. It’s a good night now, but not for mothing. Jack d'Argus
Peter Cowlam is a writer and critic. His brief stint as a commissioning editor saw two issues of The Finger, a journal of politics, literature and culture. His novel Who’s Afraid of the Booker Prize? won the 2015 Quagga Prize for Literary Fiction. His latest novels are New King Palmers and Across the Rebel Network, the latter being longlisted for the Guardian 2015 Not the Booker Prize. Poems forthcoming in Fulcrum. Poems and short stories have appeared in The Battersea Review, Literary Matters, The Brown Boat, The Criterion, Valparaiso Fiction Review, The Four Quarters Magazine, Ink, Sweat & Tears, The Liberal, Horizon Review and Epicentre Magazine.