Tuesday, July 18, 2006

PopCo by Scarlett Thomas

Somewhere between William Gibson's Microserfs and Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon; yet clearly a voice of her own, Thomas brings global ethical concerns into her narrative in a fresh and honest examination of individual responsbility. Commercial/capitalistic practices such as sweat shops or marketing scams are under fire as she questions why we work for someone who exploits the short-sighted masses? Are we in effect buying into the whole totem system? Are we lost in a forest of corporate camouflage where our buying power, (which we are told by advocates is one of our social conscience tools), is fated to eventually flow into the same multi-conglomerate pockets, regardless of our best efforts to read the packaging.

However, don't be put off by the seriousness of the sub-plot, the primary story is an infectious mystery tale of secret treasure and espionage left over from her parents and grandparents and a love story that is closer to the bone than most any I've read lately. In this day and age, love isn't the simple "happily every after" prince charming, will he won't he, that it was for women of a "marrying age" a few short decades ago. Thomas has a new version of the happy ending for intelligent, well-educated women with choices for whom being "together" doesn't necessarily have anything to do with another person. The story for post-modern women is the existential issue made manifest: What am I committed to in my life and how can I take responsibility for my own happiness without selfishly ignoring the rights of others to happiness.

Or something simpler: if I'm not part of the solution, am I part of the problem and can I live happily ever after, alone or with anyone else, with that knowledge?

On a side note: Love the contradiction of social conscience that doesn't extend to smoking. Yes, I smoked for 10 years, but gave it up as one of the few socially responsible things I've ever done in my life.

A few quotes of note: p.65
New friendships can also be like a children's birthday party; a big table laden with cakes, sweets, crisps and multi-pack chocolate bars wrapped in foil. It's as if there's just too much sugar there, all at once, piled on the table. You stuff yourself but it's too much and you just can't think about sweets again for a long time. Or sometimes new friendships--the ones destined to be focus-grouped but never launched--can be like playing an out-of-tune string instrument: when you find yourself carefully fingering the chords for your favorite song but hearing the sound coming out all wrong. Your input is the same as always, but the thing responds erroneously, playing you back an unfamiliar non-tune which gives you a headache.

Deleuze, Baudrillard, Virilo are tossed out as "thinkers" linking science and art. Food for later thought.