I always complete my own review of a book before I read anyone else’s.
Hopefully that stops me sounding like a book reviewer.
Sometimes, if another reviewer agrees with me, but expresses my feelings better than I could, I’ll quote and link to them in an edited version.
Or I’ll quote and link to someone who has an alternative and interesting point of view.
But these things are edited in afterwards rather than planned into the first draft.
For instance my first draft review of this book would never have included the word “dystopian”.
And now here I am rewriting the whole introduction to this post around this new word.
Super Sad True Love Story does indeed deliver a dystopian vision of an ultra-connected, ultra-transparent, ultra-privacy-violated not too distant future.
Like Edward my interest was piqued mainly by Shteyngart’s portrayal of social media and the role of technology in our near future lives.
For other commentators the bleakest aspects of the book are the idea of America fighting an unwinnable war in the jungles of Venezuela, its cap in hand economic subservience to China and Norway, and the almost racist attitude to LNWI’s (Low Net Worth Individuals).
For me the bleakest aspects of the book are the demise of books themselves and the slightly-too-credible-to-be-comfortable world in which the digitally projected you is more important than the real you.
On bleak aspect number one…
Lenny Abramov, the book’s lead character and one half of the true love story, marks himself out as, as best, an oddity and, at worst, a social leper for still buying and reading books (or “bound, printed, nonstreaming media artifacts” as they appear in the latest purchases section of his digital profile).
“You’ve got to stop buying books, Nee-gro,” Vishnu said. ” All those doorstops are going to drag down your PERSONALITY rankings. Where the fuck do you even find those things?”
Which leads me nicely to bleak aspect number two…
(Almost) everyone in the book is permanently glued to their äppärät. The äppärät is Shteyngart’s affirmation that the future really is mobile.
But not in a good way.
Äppäräti, and the way that people use them, make any current concerns about Facebook privacy and the impact of technology on our humanity look relatively trivial.
We might be headed that way but I’m not aware that “malicious provision of incomplete data” is a crime just yet.
And even Facebook’s Terms & Conditions don’t (yet) include phrases like “By reading this message you are denying its existence and implying consent.”
In Super Sad True Love Story you literally are what you äppärät – “I link. Therefore I am.”
Only the lowest of the low, the outcasts, don’t carry an äppärät and “normal” people find it really disconcerting when they can’t instantly access real time and revealing data about a fellow human being.
There was this one guy who registered nothing. I mean he wasn’t there. He didn’t have an äppärät, or it wasn’t set on Social mode, or maybe he had paid some young Russian kid to have the outbound transmission blocked.
The only other people that don’t carry äppäräti are those in positions of real power. It is an us-and-them privilege and status symbol not to be permanently laid bare to everyone around you.
People form intense emitional attachments to these ultra-evolved mobile devices. (Can’t imagine where the author got that outlandish idea from).
Four young people committed suicide in our building complexes, and two of them wrote suicide notes about how they couldn’t see a future without their äppäräti.
The media hipsters in this super sad world exhibit an American Psycho level of äppärät scrutiny and device envy. (Can’t imagine where the author go that outlandish idea from either.)
Here’s Lenny Abramov’s line manager on his outdated äppärät…
Let me see your äppärät. Good fucking Christ. What is this, an iPhone?
The most extreme form of open social graph behaviour is “FACing”.
I’ll let one of Lenny’s friends explain…
“It means Form A Community,” Vishnu said. “It’s like a way to judge people. And let them judge you […] When you see FAC, you press the EmotePad to your heart, or wherever you can feel your pulse […] Then you look at a girl. The EmotePad picks up any change in your blood pressure . That tells her how much you want to do her.”
And this is what happens when Lenny loses his FACing virginity…
The pretty girl I had just FACed was projecting my MALE HOTNESS as 120 out of 800, PERSONALITY 450, and something called SUSTAINABILIT¥ at 630. The other girls were sending me similar figures.
That’s right. FAC data isn’t just shared between two people. Everyone in the bar can see who you rate, and how you are rated by everyone else, in terms of fuckability, personality and disposable income.
A man uglier than me walked in and, ascertaining his chances, turned right around.
Dystopian or what?
In an ironic twist, a novel in which we witness the prophesied demise of books actually shows how digital channels are breathing new life into book marketing.
Here’s the promotional video for Super Sad True Love Story.
It might not be the literary equivalent of an OK Go video, but it’s an easier and arguably better way of reaching over 90,000 people at the time of writing than hitting the road and signing books for four weeks.
And it’s another example of an author exploring new interactive, social ways to find an audience. Often doing so independently of the big publishing houses.
At Blonde, for instance, we helped historical novelist Philippa Gregory to launch The White Queen on Twitter.
Is the relationship between authors and publishers going the same way as that between musicians and record companies? Interesting times ahead if so.
Oh yeah. The other half of the True Love Story is a Korean girl called Eunice Park.
I haven’t written about her or the love story because I’m more interested in the Super Sadness, which has much more to do with the way in which too much personal information creates a society based on anti-social media than with the ebb and flow of an unlikely relationship.