Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Bernard Keane's new novel Surveillance - I wanted something more serious.

Bernard Keane, political editor for Crikey, is without doubt one of the best journalists in the country. A former senior public servant, he does his homework, reads government, industry and commissioned reports and submissions by the bucket load, and he can write.

I consider him essential daily reading. His take on things political, social and economic is passionate and insightful. He has pet hates which I share. One of them is governments' surveillance of their own citizens, and particularly Australia's recently introduced data retention regime.  

I therefore had to read his just released novel, Surveillance. I expected a real world fleshing out of his ferocious antipathy to government and corporate overreach in this contested terrain.

Unfortunately, I didn't get it. The novel is really a piece of soft porn with a pretty ordinary corporate malfeasance narrative as cover. In Keane's fictional world all beautiful women are just hanging out for cock - the bigger the better.  

It's hardly a robust critique of political power and lack of transparency, much less an examination of how people's real lives are negatively affected. It's an old fashioned thriller that presumes to take us behind the veil of secrecy of the cybersecurity and defence establishment and the corporations that rely on it for business. The higher the level of public anxiety and panic, the better for business. We're led into a forest of acronyms: ASD, ASIO, ACSC, AFP and more - agencies and their feverish, faux serious manoeuvrings, all done quietly and efficiently by a self-important, crusty, but powerful elite. This is an age old story of establishment power, trussed up for our times.

If business is bad then security threats need to be manufactured. Public debate can always be massaged by a compliant media provided the lie is big and mythic enough. It's in everybody's business and political interest. 

This is an easy read set in the familiar streets of downtown Sydney, but a lost opportunity by Keane. 

I wanted something more serious.