Moving Kings by Joshua Cohen - review by Ben Hamilton

Ben Hamilton

Systems Down

Moving Kings


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In the 1980s, when Tom LeClair wrote about ‘systems novels’, it must have seemed a brief phase wholly embodied in the works of a handful of American novelists – chiefly Don DeLillo and Thomas Pynchon – who were raised in wartime and found themselves scrambling to figure out the new world of consumer electronics and globalised spycraft. Yet these days there appears to be no way of not writing about the systems that make up the macro data of everyday life. ‘If there is an individual alive in 2015 with the genius and vision of James Joyce,’ wrote the novelist Tom McCarthy, ‘they’re probably working for Google.’

In 2015, Joshua Cohen wasn’t working for Google, but he was, in a slanted way, writing about Google. Book of Numbers, a novel about a billionaire inventor of a search engine and his biographer (both named Joshua Cohen), had a lively intelligence to it – until the tech-god Cohen took over and began relating his life story in pedantic, weighted prose, and every turn of the page became as slow and effortful as flipping a mattress. When Cohen (the real-life author) revealed in interviews that, actually, the novel had a secret scheme – every

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