In this debut novel, a reality TV game show in the future seeks out pathetic individuals while its host loses enthusiasm for his tawdry job.
In London in 2072, Liam Argyle is an undistinguished, aging bachelor, meteorologist/gamer, unexpectedly cast as the host of Grass Is Greener on a network subsidiary of the all-dominating, Rupert Murdoch-esque RedCorp. This behemoth streams programs directly to the augmented reality implants people carry in their eyeballs or spectacles. GiG immerses viewers in point-of-view feeds from working-class folks with the most demeaning lives and careers. Viewer votes eliminate wretched contestants until the most deserving one wins an elite, off-planet life. Subjects include Liam’s old university political science professor, fearful of losing his position; a one-armed Cuban refugee who contracts illnesses as a medical test subject; a kvetching woman who cleans suicide scenes; a loathsome functionary who denies health care to the poor; and a husky Native American, the United States’ last flesh-and-blood porn star amid robots. Lawless is an admirer of Douglas Adams but the tale’s relationship to the riotous Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is mostly in footnotes that expound wryly on word origins, cultural asides, or non sequiturs. Once Mars resorts and sex droids are factored out, Lawless’ story skews more toward Evelyn Waugh’s urbane savagery or boardroom and business satires like Ernie Kovac’s novel Zoomar. Liam eventually balks at the cruel choices made by the Machiavellian show’s creators (a comatose, cancer-stricken contestant is allowed to lie unaided in the street). Even Liam is subject to humiliatingly staged nonevents and injury in bids for high AR viewership. Yesteryear’s SF authors could be eerily accurate in predicting reality TV, but in the context of entertainment centered on murder and death. Lawless’ clever novel reflects the present day’s digital media voyeurism and Survivor/Big Brother exploitation—no camera-equipped hit men, but still sardonic, with an ultimately dark outlook on the amoral peddling of schadenfreude, Thanatos, and boffo ratings. The work skews close enough to the real thing to make readers uncomfortable and perhaps wish for a little of Stephen King’s The Running Man, where the answer is to blow the whole place up. Liam is an especially feckless hero and practically useless as a rebel against the system. There is a hint this will change in a sequel.
A cultured, witty, and very British attack on vapid reality TV values, set in an empty-souled tomorrow.