Long after civilization has ended, a screenwriter teams up with a bioengineered human in this novel.
Some 1,500 years ago, all of society came crashing down with the Fall of the Internet, and now everything is covered in soot and ash. It’s in the sky, blocking the sun; it’s on the street; it’s all over the survivors. The world’s livestock was wiped out, and now consumers eat unappetizing things like “ceramic beef.” Trapped in darkness, people look to the movies for emotional sustenance. The films are made by the Academy, a murderous organization that controls part of the former United States. Tim Lancaster is a screenwriter, known as a Selector. Selectors write, depend on popularity points, and provide blood autographs to the Watchers, the proletariat. Depressed and suicidal, Tim bids on a bioengineered human at the Egg Selection Process and takes home Lora, whom he trains to craft a masterly screenplay. Tim and Lora try to piece together past events and uncover the story of Sol Menskowitz, the Academy’s founder. Concurrently, a shadowy group called the People in the Darkness plots against the Academy. The conspirators have a story that they think will restore civilization, if only it were made into a movie. They also plan to attack the Academy in Chicago. Tim and Lora travel to Los Angeles to work in the fabled Hall of Mythos, where they can complete their screenplay, but the Academy’s draconian ways mean that they are in danger. Bruno (The Disintegrating Bloodline, 2009) has certainly created a frightening world full of bleakness, despair, and a great deal of ash. But it can be hard to follow what little storyline there is, as the writing leans toward incoherence in most of the book. There is a great deal of aimless pondering and hazy philosophizing (“Maybe it’s not so bad saying positive things,” Tim thinks. “But he knew this was a lie. He didn’t know when the world ended, but he wondered where it began”). And the author sprinkles a multitude of rhetorical questions throughout the plot. Time and place can be hard to pin down; cause-and-effect relationships are too random; and at several points the main character Tim is referred to as John. Bruno has built an inventive, singular universe, but the moments of lucidity are too few to overcome the narrative’s burdens.
A nightmarish dystopian tale that is gargantuan and difficult to decipher.