After the world ends, a widowed reporter is assigned to investigate whether the internet—and, by extension, human civilization—meant anything at all.
This pitch-dark satire by Doten (The Infernal, 2015) takes all the author’s previously demonstrated predilections for skewing popular culture and dials it up to 11, at least in the horrifying prelude to everything that comes after. The opening sequence is charitably meant to be an absurd and garish caricature of the American presidency, but it might well serve as a trigger to those disgusted by the lies and disinformation that emerge from the White House daily: A diseased and rambling leader, isolated on his titular airship, drops his ridiculous tweets even as he uses the military’s “wonderful codes” to rain nuclear fire down on the world. By comparison, the rest of the novel is relatively benign despite launching with a fragment of text, alone on a page, that reads in total: “the sheriff of sucking u off is made of fire.” Rachel is a horrified survivor first, former journalist second, who takes refuge in the Twin Cities Metro Containment Zone. She only wants to find out what happened to her presumably deceased wife and daughter and so reluctantly takes an assignment from a revived New York Times Magazine to write “a piece on internet humor at the end of the world.” From here, Doten serves up an underground-flavored conspiracy thriller involving an obscure novel that inspires a true-life hacktivist group called the Aviary to take down the world that’s left. The main narrative is seeded with fragments, memes, and pop-culture narratives, but the story that emerges is horrifying. The hunt for a password to unlock what’s left of the internet takes Rachel to a sadistic cult leader who mutilates her in grotesque fashion and spends what’s left of the novel confessing his crimes. The end result is imaginatively political and experientially gross.
An acid satire that might have been funnier in sunnier times.