In the future, California is an occupied territory, the United Nations is for poor countries, and America’s president is named Friendly, but the media-obsessed, personal-computer-equipped denizens of Pop Apocalypse: A Possible Satire are blissfully unconcerned about the brink of armageddon. Lee Konstantinou’s first novel begins broadly, but winnows out some surprising (and not-so-futuristic) revelations.
Corporate scion Eliot Vanderthorpe Jr. is about to register his name on the international Reputations Exchange; as the son of the founder of video surveillance and intellectual-property enforcement company Omni Science, the media attention and commentary he attracts can enrich his family’s collective stock offering, so long as he avoids any more incidents involving the British prime minister’s son and a bottle of champagne. But when the scripted reality show he’s signed up for on the MTV Bildungsroman channel gets tiresome, Eliot heads to the occupied city of Berkeley, California, a stronghold left over from the NorCal war, to meet a doppelgänger so close that he fooled Omni recognition software. Meanwhile, Eliot is wooing a recalcitrant ex-girlfriend, keeping tabs on his best friend in a terrorist-threatened Israel, and avoiding his father’s Karl Rove-esque business manager, whose assortment of contracts let him control Eliot’s entire life.
Pop Apocalypse buzzes with biblical references (the giant neon halo over the Omni Science headquarters is the most obvious) and constant reminders of the end times, but that isn’t necessarily bad: The occasionally overwrought imagery is useful for organizing the technology and history of this Department Of Homeland Security-meets-YouTube world. An intertextual article featuring quotations manufactured for Eliot even reminds readers that he was born just after 9/11, when the idea of blanket, constant video surveillance would have seemed like a bargain to the Department Of Defense (from which his father’s fictional corporation made billions).
The process of building that world is initially a distraction from Eliot’s cringe-inducing metamorphosis from rich party kid to concerned citizen, but the details of his known universe are just close enough to terror fantasies and current corporate skullduggery as to be riveting. In this case, it’s better for readers that Eliot never knows what’s going on; in his naïveté, every discovery is literally world-changing. And in spite of the advancements of the Freedom Coalition-leading United States, there is no technological panacea for prejudice and distrust. How ancient.