Don DeLillo 2016. Zero K. London: Picador. 274 pp.
The protagonist, listless Manhattan son Jeffrey, his wealthy tycoon father Ross, and his stepmother Anita (archaeologist, now terminally ill), revolve around one another in slightly dysfunctional relationships that however become warmer (or anyway less remote) as first Anita, then Ross, gravitate towards cryogenic preservation. The cryogenic facility is in Chelyabinsk where a dystopian architectural vision has been realised in order to prepare the patients for a life that is eternal, but evidently post-human. Or perhaps sub-human. The facility has been built thanks to Ross’ vast wealth. While in the vat, awaiting medical and scientific advances that will allow cures and re-animation, the patients retain a whisker of conciousness thanks to pharmacology and nanotechnology which are unspecified; DeLillo has no need of such menial matters. Son Jeffrey rejects the offer of this eternal (but unproven) future, although it is only with the last words of the novel that DeLillo allows him to finally and fully declare his humanist hand.
Thus, the themes are dying and not dying, father and son, mother and son. This could be considered as near future science fiction, except that the science is hardly there at all and the fiction is so sparely written that there is hardly enough of it to classify. Is it fiction or barely concealed non-fiction drawn from some present-day cryogenic facility in California? If only DeLillo would write hard science fiction with more of a narrative, the philosophical questions and humanist declarations, when they came, would hit harder. Iain M. Banks comes to mind. Instead it is in off the deep end, and you had better be ready to swim.
DeLillo clearly demands respect, or what passes for it, from critics. And so, most of the published reviews I’ve read are pretentious, even though the reviewers have not noticed that the novel certainly is not. It is just a sparsely-written sketch of a future where not one of the choices is inviting, and where the worst options are places no-one would enter willingly. Probably I should read something written by DeLillo when he was younger.