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Sunday, May 25, 2008

LibraryThing Early Review

The Age of the Conglomerates: A Novel of the Future
by Thomas Nevins

This title was so attractive to me that the Librarything algorithm got it just right to pick me as an early reviewer. I was really excited to have scored this book. However, the best thing about this book was the title.

The whole work felt expeditiously executed. The ideas seemed both too numerous, and vague, the predictions unsupported. The writing was poorly edited: so much so, that I wondered if the writer's pals at Random House, where he works, didn't want to hurt his feelings with corrections.

For a start, Nevins's version of the future is already out-dated – imagine that in 50 or so years there would still be cell-phones in use and old computers lying around with email capability!

The dystopia Nevins envisions is an America bankrupted by the meeting of massive boomer pension requirements with decades of personal borrowing beyond assets, winding up with CEOs of powerful companies "united in greed" taking over government and operating the country as a "Conglomerate", to their own continued personal benefit. Not a bad idea, although anti-corporate in a juvenile way. However, the lifestyle achieved does not seem consistent with personal benefits accruing to these leaders.

The action plan of the "Conglomerates" involves the appropriation of the assets of the elderly and their resettlement into camps; the genetic modification of the children of the rich, to order; and the family-requested and paid-for resettlement of unmanageable children, ostensibly to other camps, but actually to dumps in the New York subway. Whew!

The inelegance of the writing is well-demonstrated in the tin-eared use of the casual "Coots" as the official word for the elderly, apparently a homage to the writer's father, and "Dyscards" for the cast-off children, a term one could imagine they would like, but would be too biker-glam for the "Conglomerate" bureaucracy, surely.

The main characters are part of a family that conveniently embodies each of these categories, and consequently the family dynamics are forced off-key: the grandparents, old "Coots", are fabulously in love, still. Their daughter (invisible and unexplainable in the story) is unable to stay married, and has had one natural child who is possibly the highest-ranking geneticist in the country (ie a key "Conglomerate"), and two genetically-modified children, one of whom is a "Dyscard", a wild punk. (How did that happen? The mother has already paid once to have this child. Shouldn't she get her money back instead of having to pay to discard her? What can the explanation be?) Neither of the older children can stand their mother or each other. Whew, again!

And what about the handful of genetically-modified mutant babies that the "Dyscards" are trying to save from the "Conglomerates" at all costs? Where does that come from? Although they have no connection to any part of the story, they appear suddenly to provide the locus for the narrative, which improbably winds this family's lives back together as the writer works them through the scenario of the "Coots" and "Dyscards" needing each other to fight the "Conglomerates". Enough said.

I see that the other reviewers are forcing themselves to finish the book responsibly, as I am, but I guess there is not much to look forward to in the last 20 pages.

Nice face, shame about the legs. ( 1/2)

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