Friday, February 11, 2011


(Or: "A Place in the World III.")
If you've ever been sucked-in by the sociological complexities of SURVIVOR, or by the flash & glitz of ROCK STAR: INXS, or by any other "Reality TV" show 4 any reason, against your will or otherwise, Andrew Foster Altschul's DEUS EX MACHINA is the book 4 you. & it's brand new.
DEUS follows the producer, technical crew & cast thru a disaster-plagued season of THE DESERTED, a sorta SURVIVOR-From-Hell. Tho things start out fairly "normal," slowly the weirdness & brutality of The Deserted's desert-island scenario spirals up & up, out of control. The Guys In Charge at the Network feel that the wilder the situation gets, the better the show's ratings, so the situation evolves in2 lethal craziness.
The Producer realizes what's going on & feels that his show -- which he originally thot would portray an honest look at human nature under tough conditions -- has now become perverted & twisted, appealing 2 the lowest possible audience, far away from his original plans.
The Producer tries 2 re-assert his control, 2 get the show back 2 something closer 2 real behavior & genuine emotion. But The Producer has his own baggage & issues 2 deal with....
So far, not 2 suprising, right? But things get way ugly. No form of human behavior is 2 brutal 2 televise. The show's contestants stop caring about each other VERY quickly, just as in the "real" thing. People die -- in the ugliest possible ways. & it all gets fed in2 the cameras, which see all, know all, have background interviews ready 2 handle any possible situation.
While The Producer tries 2 set-up a finale that will return some real human emotion 2 the show, people behind the scenes R taking his scenario & cranking it up as far as it will go. & the real finale turns out 2 B a horrifying quasi-mystical Xperience no1 can Xplain. But the crew keeps on filming.
Altschul might B suprised 2 think he's written a science-fiction novel, but I think he has. The technology the crew uses 2 get the show on the air is just 1 step ahead of what Xists right now -- I think. The use of e-mails, tweets, blogs, cellphones, & the way they IMMEDIATELY have an effect on the production is very up-2-date. Scarily so. & the Control Room scenes R as vivid, high-tech, tense & believable as the best work by William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Neal Stephenson....
I was pretty disappointed with the ending, even tho it was 4shadowed as early as Page 6. It's sorta borrowed from Dan Simmons' brilliant '80s short-story "Two Minutes Forty-Five Seconds," if that doesn't ruin it 4 ya. It coulda been better if Altschul had actually borrowed MORE from Simmons.
In the book, the owners of the island B4 the TV people took over R listed as Ballard Metals Corp., & I think the late English writer J.G. Ballard coulda written this book, with his overarching theme of how Big Media is 1 of the controlling forces of R lives. But Ballard hardly ever got as close 2 his characters, & was almost never as warm 2 them, as Altschul is here.
Ballard is also echoed in summa the distances evoked in this book. Big disasters happen, but R shown 2 have little real effect. A magnitude-8 earthquake hits near the island, & a tsunami floods the production compound -- but there Cms 2 B little REAL damage & the show continues without a hitch.
This event & the reaction 2 it sorta echoes Real Life -- like the Sumatra Xmas earthquake a coupla yrs back, or Hurricane Katrina: The disaster is huge in R perceptions 4 awhile, but by a week or 2 later we're on2 something else. Rebuilding after the disaster may take years -- but who notices, who cares about that? Other than the people at Ground Zero....
This Bcomes even clearer as Altschul winds the book down: Near the end he slips in2 Lecture Mode about what other atrocities Reality TV has 2 offer, as long as you DON'T CHANGE THE CHANNEL. As if by then U haven't quite gotten the point. But believe me, by then U have.
But I don't think U should read this book 4 the ending. There's a lot of other good stuff U'll find along the way. Some of it's pretty outrageous, even funny. Some of it's also pretty brutal. Tough 2 read. But worth it.
Near the end, 1 of the contestants who gets hauled off the island early sez the publicity he received after being on the show & the little bit of $$$ he earned didn't make a whole lot of diffrence -- what he was really looking 4 was a place 2 fit in. No matter how badly he was treated, at least he felt like he had "a family" 4 1nce, a place where he could fit in "just so." A place where he could B useful & content, "which is what everybody's always trying to sell you anyway."
& tho there R multiple "winners" of the show, Altschul makes clear that winning doesn't make them happy.
I think Altschul's book has a pretty firm grasp on how contemporary society works -- what we seem 2 care about, & what slips right by us. & he gets his story told quick, in just over 200 pgs. & I think I spotted Xactly 1 typo.
Now I'm gonna havta track-down Altschul's previous book, LADY LAZARUS, which is sposta B "a rock & roll novel"...!

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