, in current vernacular
, means something that joins two things together, such as the interface between man and machine. But it was not long ago that it meant a "boundary
", or "dividing line", with the idea of separation, in sewing, it means a piece of fabric between the lining and the shell of a coat. This book, by Marcus Adlard, is the story of a fictional town near Newcastle-on-Tyne
, in a world where an "interface" has been erected between art
, where the ultra-bright are all business executives
, and all of the less-than-stellar are Citizens, sitting around getting drunk on weak free beer
. Stahlex, a ferro-silicon laminate
, made in the manner of IC's, is used for everything from building materials to stockings, and being trampled on is the most common cause of death among the general citizenry.
In clubs with names like "Fun Palace", aphrodollies supply airline-stewardess quality sex for (male) executives. They're said to be "highly specialized", which means, apparently, they do Kegel excercises and dress up in costumes, plying their trade in Disney World-like stage sets, aided by "aphrogas", a piped-in inhaled stimulant. They wear "flicker knickers", which are bikini panties that glow and give off signals, as part of their costumes, which I find hard to visualize, considering that some of these women are dressed as 18th century Venetian dogressas, and some as cave women.
The inconsistency between the sharply detailed and the unvisualizable is only one of the annoying, and downright silly things about this book.
To a Britisher, apparently, this book has a great deal of resonance: the Sicilian MC at the Fiesta Club, the shock value of haircutters as celebrities, the overweening preciousness of the polite conversation among young professionals on their way up. (They tend, apparently, to speak in encyclopedia entries to each other.) The pop songs in it sound authentically lounge-like. To a Yank, however, it's somewhat overplayed.
Here is Philippa, who has the misfortune to have a major-league crush on Nick Levantine, a shallow playboy with whom she works. "Can a man who is used to... aphrodollies be content with..an ordinary woman.." She sobs uncontrollably."...provided that she...loves him?" Puh-leeze, lady. Get a grip. Just because he eats every day at the Essex House doesn't mean he won't like a home-cooked meal now and then. Besides, you're a comptroller with experience in uh, Discrete Systems Math. (It says so right here.) This is an executive?
Anyway, back to the book. Midway, the hero asks a robot "autopal" exactly why things are the way they are. The answer hinges on the notion that technical knowlege during the Industrial Revolution became too specialized for artists to find commonly understood metaphors, so that art withered while technology boomed. Somehow this, plus the alcoholic anaesthesia of the masses, led to an absence of rugby songs, graffiti, social dancing, crowdsurfing, and wise-ass remarks, so what passes for entertainment is provided by robots who tell jokes and sing lounge music, and no one knows how not to get stomped on. (There don't seem to be many women around, either, and we don't get to see what prole homes are like, other than the fact that no one wants to stay there.) Outside the Tcity dome, executives get to pick over what's left of Western Civ, eating gourmet meals, collecting fine porcelain, watching actors lipsynch to Wagner's operas, and practising their tasting techniques on fine Bordeaux, but there isn't much fun in it. Everything is technocratic in the extreme, in the time-honored traditions of Metropolis, except for a few rebels who get involved with the rebellious yuppies on their way up, blah, blah, blah....
If the notion of technocracy was the single biggest trend in the first part of the past century, the failure of all of these systems is the single biggest piece of news in the second. Human beings, apparently are not only extremely resistant to propaganda, but retain their own off-the-record ways of being creative as well. In the early 60's it did seem as if high culture was going off into the stratosphere, and pop culture was being produced by media conglomerates, rather than created by individuals. A cynical eye would have put The (early) Beatles into this category, along with the "autocrooners" so wonderfully caricatured here. But by 1971 when this book was written, the DIY world of skiffle/blues/rock unmasked this as an illusion -- by then, the trend was firmly towards singer-songwriter-producers, artist-run labels, and the like. No one gave a damn whether technological metaphors might prove too exotic for the mainstream, either: 60's songs are loaded with them. OK, so it wasn't "high" culture then. But some of it is now.
Somehow, I can't give this book a completely bad rating, though. There's just something about it that makes me want to cook and eat that lunch menu, and buy my own monkey figurines. I might even listen to Webern, if I can find a recording of the piece he mentions. But then, I'm going to have to play some Sting. He's from Newcastle, you know.