'Zero K', by Don DeLillo - Review

By Martin, Tim | The Spectator, May 21, 2016 | Go to article overview

'Zero K', by Don DeLillo - Review


Martin, Tim, The Spectator


Cults, the desert, natural disasters. Artists, bankers, terrorists. Cash machines, food packaging, secret installations. Mediaspeak and scientific jargon. Crowds and capital. Language and death. Just as it used to be possible to play Ballard Bingo with the work of the late 20th century's other great literary monomaniac, so Don DeLillo's themes have remained astonishingly consistent in the 45 years since Americana , his first novel, appeared. The unswerving focus has a lot to do with why, like Ballard, he has so often been charged with prophecy: in cryptic gallows comedies such as White Noise and The Names , with their sinister wonder-drugs and murderous language cults, or the spacey and frigid Mao II , with its 'new tragic narrative' of 'midair explosions and crumbled buildings', he seemed to be telling us stories about the confused 21st century long before it arrived.

But the frigid prose of Zero K , his 16th novel, is so clotted with familiar themes that it sometimes resembles a sedulous parody of the author by himself. It's set in an underground facility (check) called The Convergence, in a remote desert (check), where Jeffrey Lockhart, a 'cross-stream pricing consultant' and 'implementation analyst' (check) is summoned by his father Ross, a banker (check). The Convergence has a notably cultish feel about it (check -- I'll stop scoring now). It is a cryonics facility that aims to 'rewrite the sad grim grieving playscript of death', freezing and preserving its clients until science can rebuild their bodies.

This isn't science fiction, or at least it's becoming less so. The real-world futurologist Ray Kurzweil, an adviser to Google's anti-ageing laboratory Calico, has been speaking for years about 'Bridge Three', when nanotechnology, working at a molecular level, may allow us to restore cells and turn back the damage of age. And that is the fate that the novel's tycoon Ross Lockhart has laid on for his terminally ill wife Artis, who, shortly before being euthanised and frozen, declares her plan to 'enter another dimension. And then return. For ever more.'

Lost in the warren of the Convergence, with its peculiar Andromeda Strain vibe, Jeffrey muses in forbidding and familiar DeLillo-like cadences on life and death. …

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