Not long ago, it seemed like every literary author was doing a book about the apocalypse, possibly involving zombies or werewolves. But now, there's a new wave of beloved authors tackling our bewilderment with the internet-dominated world we live in.
Top image: Ed Yourdon/Flickr.
The literary wave may have started with Gary Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story, with its ubiquitous social media ranking everybody's social status and fuckability. (Although this sort of thing was predicted years earlier by authors from Rudy Rucker to Cory Doctorow.)
And then, just a few months ago, every literary author — including Shteyngart — had to try Google Glasses and write a soul-searching essay or piece of literary fiction about them.
Now, there are a few new books coming out all at once, which deal in different ways with our immersive new world of technology.
There's the new Thomas Pynchon novel, Bleeding Edge, which takes place in 2001 and deals with the world of dotcom entrepreneurs and internet whiz-kids. According to the review by internet theorist Evgeny Morozov, Bleeding Edge "offers us a deeply poetic meditation on the digital modernity," while exploring the notion of the Deep Web, a part of the internet that hasn't been crawled by search engines. And the Deep Web represents a future of the Internet that we know, from the vantage point of 2013, will never materialize. Writes Morozov:
Pynchon – famous for shunning publicity and not allowing himself to be photographed – makes a decisive case for anonymity and invisibility – to hell with both Google and NSA! – as a key enabling factor of this alternative, pleasantly weird and heterotopic postmodernity – a postmodernity that has unravelled under the pressure of informational capitalism and the global war on terror.
Then there's The Circle, the new book by the prolific Dave Eggers, who already tackled globalization and our discontents with technology in A Hologram for the King. In The Circle, Eggers follows Mae Holland, who goes to work at an internet company in the near future. The Wall Street Journal describes the plot of Eggers' book, which comes out next month:
Set in the near future, The Circle is the spiritual and business heir to our times, a mashup of Google, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and PayPal.
It’s run by a group of Sheryl Sandberg-ian high achievers and founded by shadowy futurists whose vision of complete, global knowledge-sharing carries ominous consequences for democracy by the book’s end.
Like any good horror story, Mae’s introduction into The Circle appears to be a blessed event. She glows with her newly won status and gawks at The Circle’s schedule of academic lectures.
That’s just when she begins to lose herself into a digital maw. She’s asked to wear devices that monitor her health and emotions; she’s pressured to constantly update her social-networking status; and soon she’s asked to document her every move with a video camera hung from her neck, with what will be disastrous effects.
And then, perhaps most surprisingly, there's Ripper by Isabel Allende. The famous author of historical fiction with magical-realist touches has moved to the present day, and she's doing a thriller that sounds as though she's commenting on the relationship between the virtual and "real" worlds in a very different fashion than Eggers and Pynchon.
In Ripper, Amanda is a teenager who loves to play Ripper, an online game where she and other teens around the world try to solve Jack the Ripper's murders. But then a string of murders start happening in 2012 San Francisco that echo Jack the Ripper's methods — so Amanda and her friends decide to adapt the game to try and solve the real-life murder spree happening around them. And then, of course, Amanda's mother gets captured by the serial killer, and it's a race against time to catch him before she dies.
You can read an excerpt from the novel here, including one bit where Allende writes:
The kids who played Ripper were a select group of freaks and geeks from around the world who had first met up online to hunt down and destroy the mysterious Jack the Ripper, tackling obstacles and enemies along the way. As games master, Amanda was responsible for plotting these adventures, carefully bearing in mind the strengths and weaknesses of the alter- egos created by the players.
Then finally there's The Unknowns by Gabe Roth, which has gotten nice reviews in the New York Times and the Telegraph. Like Pynchon's novel, Roth's takes place in the mists of history — in 2002, on the eve of the Iraq War. Roth's main character is a dotcom millionaire who's made a fortune analyzing online marketing, like the Amazon ads that suggest other books like the one you're looking at. And Roth's hero, Eric, tries to apply his data-mining expertise to fixing his social life and his love life. It's a romance and a coming-of-age novel, but by all accounts it also deals a lot with the monoculture of internet marketing and web development, and the people like Eric who populate it.
Did we miss any other new or recent literary books about our new internetocracy? Please let us know!