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The Dystopian Novel That Explains What's Wrong With Real Smart Cities

In the fictional dystopia of Tim Maughan’s novel Infinite Detail, our dependence on urban technology has been suddenly severed.
"A weirdly science fictional city": Bristol, and its famous graffiti scene, helped inspire a new novel about the cities of a post-internet world.
"A weirdly science fictional city": Bristol, and its famous graffiti scene, helped inspire a new novel about the cities of a post-internet world.Phil Noble/Reuters

In his debut novel, British writer Tim Maughan finds an ingenious and plausible way to bring the world as we know it to an end: Someone breaks the internet. A massive denial-of-service attack severs instantly the electronic connections we have come to rely on—local and global, logistical and personal—plunging the world into a new dark age:

But Infinite Detail has more than mere dystopia on its mind. Cutting back and forth between New York City and the U.K. port city of Bristol—and between the hardscrabble post-internet world and the uncanny near-future version of our own society that precedes it—Maughan grapples with our sacrifice of privacy for convenience, our dependence on networked technology, and the death and possible second lives of cities. The novel emerged in part from a series of articles he wrote for the BBC and Motherboard that chronicled the head-spinning scale of the modern global supply chain. “I’d seen stuff that made me upset or angry or frustrated or confused in various ways,” says Maughan, now based in Ottawa, Canada. “I found that putting that stuff in fiction was a much more visceral way of getting those issues out and onto the page.”