Thursday, July 15, 2010

Cory Doctorow's FOR THE WIN and Alex Shakar's THE SAVAGE GIRL

Every now and then, synchronicity strikes and I find myself reading two books that dovetail thematically. Such is the case with For the Win and The Savage Girl. Both novels endeavor to awaken our sensitivities to the out-of-control influences extant in our late stage capitalism.

Doctorow's book is being marketed to young adults and the style and pacing is perfect for his market. Loved the book and the message: Solidarity! but missed a more adult approach to character development. That's where Shakar's book came to the rescue: slower plot development, but we have the opportunity to develop a little insight into the main characters.

Doctorow's book has been published recently and Shakar's in 2001. Both books voice a strong concern for our devolution as a species brought on through our enslavement to consumerism. Doctorow's gamers fight for standards, such as those safeguarded by unions. Shakar talks of a "post-ironic" society where we as consumers no longer exist outside of our "purchasing power" and constantly buy to self identify.

We are each alone unto our credit rating... "But," Shakar says, "hell is not necessarily other people, no, not necessarily; hell is being surrounded by people who share no solidarity, it's like dying of thirst on the bank of a contaminated river."

Why is this we may ask ourselves and Doctorow answers, "It's the stupid questions that have some of the most surprising and interesting answers. Most people never think to ask the stupid questions." And I would add to that the many are not asking for fear of being perceived as stupid because the question IS stupid. But, the stupidity rests in the question, not in the asking which is simply part and parcel of the inconceivable path we are all on that brings us to this "post-ironic" point in time, smug in our knowledge. Because, are we not spoon fed up to the minute news stories from all over the world? Do we not have access to mindboggling POV from diverse media as well as individuals, through social networking? Are we anything if not informed? BUT, can we take the information we receive and translate it into an understanding of the forces around us that governs our lives? There lies the rub.

My bathtub book during this same time frame further supported the theme. (This has been a very, very good week or two of reading.) One of my favorite authors, Aldous Huxley, touched on some of these same subjects in his TIME MUST HAVE A STOP. However, in true form, Huxley leads us to the subject from a more philosophical frame of mind: "...there's only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that's your own self." A principle that is in direct contradiction to his character of rich uncle Eustace who surmises, "So long as one was alive, death didn't exist, except for other people. And when one was dead, nothing existed, not even death. So why bother?"

Little does rich uncle Eustace know that no sooner than the words are uttered than he has a heart attack and dies, primarily from apathy and overindulgence. But this isn't what's of interest, rather Huxley's description of the death experience on pp.125-129, or most of chapter 13.