Friday, July 8, 2016
Review of Zero K by Don Delillo
Where Vinge’s Singularity has seen science pushed toward fantasy, Zero K pushes science toward religion. (Similar, but not exactly the same.) Jeffrey Lockhart is the son of a multi-millionaire. His father has invested huge amounts of money in a remotely located cryogenics/nanotech facility called Convergence where the world’s rich can go to have themselves preserved should technology ever advance to the point to revive them. Visiting his father at the facility to see his stepmother “inducted,” Jeffery comes face to face with the cult nature of Convergence—science spun into faith until it’s too difficult to see the difference. Having trouble coming to terms with his own affected existence dealing with the reality of his step-mother and father’s choices, his experience at the facility culminates in a worldview he never saw coming.
Spare and austere, Delillo’s prose evokes a mood of distance, of abstract existence that perfectly complements life inside Convergence as well as Jeffrey’s issues with perspective. Zero K an obvious reference to the temperature at which molecular and cellular activity ceases, and mistakenly thought to be the temperature at which bodies are cryogenically frozen, the title likewise refers to aspects of existentialism—of being seemingly frozen in place while the world spins around you—the novel is obviously addressing. Title and prose together foreshadow and ground the narrative’s agenda, which leads to:
For certain, Camus and Sarte (even a little Huxley) linger on the chilly wings of Zero K. Jeffrey Lockhart perpetually unable to cross the line—to step into uninhibited existence, his experience with the logical absurdity of Convergence as well as happenstances in his personal life serve to prevent him from being fully participant to the moment. Delillo nicely outlaying Convergence and its views, Lockhart is caught tentatively on its hooks, all the while being pulled the other direction by employment and relationships—the minute, edgy details of quotidian existence. Though I do understand where some might think Convergence to be James Bond evil, for sure there are enough scientists being published today with more than one foot in the realm of the non-empirical to give it a backbone. Delillo aware, he plays their rhetoric off existential concerns to a chilly melody.
Filled with subtly haunting scenes and a sustained reservation , Zero K is a novel that delicately employs tropes of science fiction to tell the story of a middle-aged man dealing with life’s ontological quandaries. A handful of other strong themes visible (modern dislocation and isolation, media content, mortality, techno-fantasies. Infused with sharp social observation, a mood like concrete whose sheer weight steadily pushes the narrative forward, and a finger or two on the pulse of 21st century existence, it may not be Delillo’s greatest novel, but certainly more significant than the majority of genre novels deploying similar tropes.
Posted by Jesse at 9:32 PM