May 2009

Kati Nolfi


Pop Apocalypse by Lee Konstantinou

Is it possible to write authentically and inventively about the near future, to imagine twenty years ahead without simply applying new nomenclature to existing concepts, technologies, and products? While reading Pop Apocalypse I thought about the function of the futuristic dystopian setting: warning, scold, shut down, rallying cry. Lee Konstantinou ideates 2029 as the logical result of resource plundering, state sanctioned violence, evangelical Christianity, global capitalism, and identity malaise. In this portrayal we recognize the hyperreal techno-fetishist nightmare we have been cultivating and face the mess we’ve created. The humanity and sweetness of character and story suffer for Konstantinou’s emphasis on the abstractions of technology (much like Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother and other dystopiana). His creations of the future are unimpressive and disingenuous. Mediashades; animated logo tattoos; the Sex, Lies, and Celebrity Channel; mood stabilizer bracelets; and Omni Science (“Google on crack”) all seem to exist today in less extreme forms. Cyborgification has already occurred (hello, Bluetooth earpieces) and I find the real an unrecognizable fantasy.

Our shambling (anti)hero is the debauched and narcissistic Eliot Vanderthorpe, heir to Omni Science and author of a dissertation on Elvis impersonators. Through Eliot’s quest for identity, existence, salvation, morality, kicks, he Learns About Life and Himself. His father is a fundamentalist Christian and the founder of Omni Science, which runs the Total Terror Surveillance System. There’s Sarah, an activist ex-girlfriend and Aliot, a doppelganger. The Middle East is now a consumerist paradise led by a pop singer, Caliph Fred and the United States (excepting the anti capitalist San Francisco’s Operation Win the West, all rights reserved) has left the United Nations and formed Freedom Coalition. An apocalypse is imminent and the feckless Eliot is the only person who can stop it.

Other novels -- some mentioned in Konstantinou’s P.S. section and the YA: Hunger Games, Adoration of Jenna Fox, Unwind -- have explored postmodernity, posthumanity, and collapse more brilliantly but Pop illuminates branding and status culture, intellectual property, and the social capital and microcelebrity buttressed by the Internet and the creators of content who are complicit in their oppression. 

All of this “pessimism of the intellect” recalls Slavoj Zizek: “We all silently accept global capitalism is here to stay. On the other hand, we are obsessed with cosmic catastrophe. The whole life on earth disintegrating because of some virus, because of an asteroid hitting the earth and so on. So the paradox is that it’s much easier to imagine the end of all life on earth than a much more modest radical change in capitalism. Which means that we should reinvent Utopia... The true Utopia is when the situation is so without issue, without a way to resolve it within the coordinates of the possible, that out of the pure urge of survival you have to invent a new space.”

So many dystopian science fiction books for adults and teens have been published in the last few years. They reflect our anxieties and fear but in the process of being sold back to us do they rouse us to act or do they effect paralyzing horror? When we can see the tendencies and tyrannies that we ignore and accept will we cover our ears and shout “la la la la” or reinvent Utopia?

In the end saving the world seems to mean nothing. Eliot is more self-aware and more moral but is caught between the dilemma of caring and not caring:

...Eliot’s still-nameless moral thing lectures him, the near future looks comparatively less terrible for you, but how does the future look for residents of the world’s many Riot Zones; for the refugees and war victims; for anyone who is even remotely aware that the threat of global annihilation has only in fact been temporarily postponed? Hold on, Moral Thing, says an older, less empathetic part of him. Life is hard. What’re we supposed to do? Care for your own interests. Others will care for theirs. Everything will sort itself out, in the end.

This leaves us with banality, a post-almost-apocalypse chimera, and a threat from Revelation 22:18-19. Something is very wrong but we conceive disaster more easily than Utopia and wait for it all to end.

Pop Apocalypse by Lee Konstantinou
Harper Perennial
ISBN: 0061715379
320 pages