By the way, the main character in this scenario isn't really Ms. Hilton, but a different party-animal heir cast in a similar mold. Eliot R. Vanderthorpe Jr. is shallow, libidinous and surprisingly likeable. Oh, and he's also a philosophy grad-school dropout with an evil doppelganger. Named Aliot.
Can this planet be saved? Turn to Stanford grad student Lee Konstantinou's new book, "Pop Apocalypse," to find out.
Billed as "a possible satire," Konstantinou's first novel, published by Harper Perennial, is full of the fanciful gadgets and the sense of the world we know turned on its ear that science fiction readers expect. Eliot's sometime girlfriend, Sarah, wears a mood-stabilizer bracelet, while his father calls him on his smartwatch.
"The spill of neat-o ideas is a blast," British science fiction writer Adam Roberts wrote in a review of "Pop Apocalypse" on his blog. One of his favorite things: the daily Terror Forecast.
This world, though, is also familiar, sometimes creepily so.
"I wanted to take a story that began in an obscure vein, from science fiction, and address issues that had more universal appeal," Konstantinou said. "I wanted basically to have it set in the present with a few seemingly innocuous changes to technology. ... This is basically a book about finance."
A major turning point in "Pop Apocalypse" comes when Eliot's wealthy father, weary of his son's shenanigans, turns Eliot's name loose on the Reputations Exchange. Says Eliot Sr.: "The discipline you need, son, is the discipline of the open market. In the mundane world, it is the market that gives and that takes away."
(As it happens, when a drugged-up Eliot makes a scene at a presidential reception, his name's value falls like a shot.)
In today's celebrity-stalking society, it's not so surprising that when a big name screws up, the public gets wind of it right away. In "Pop Apocalypse," the appetite for scandals has grown increasingly ravenous, aided by the march of technology and "fan-scholars," who study everything the famous do.
When Eliot and Sarah have their first kiss, for example, a paparazzo in a tree captures it on his palmcam:
Footage of The Kiss, as it soon came to be known, hit the mediasphere in less than twenty minutes. ... Eliot's Name took a devastating hit as lovesick girls around the world started abandoning 'Eliot's Den.' For their part, the evangelical gossip magazines ... weren't entirely pleased that Eliot was dating someone Jewish or that he might actually, God forbid, be having premarital sex. Sarah, meanwhile, became the center of her own fan industry. ... At its peak, the median price her Name could earn hit $500 per minute of video.
Money is the key. In this world everyone is continually trying to get footage of everyone else, because you might catch a celebrity and make some cash.
"It's not a Big Brother from on high," Konstantinou said. "It's more like everyone working in their own small way to watch everyone else. ... These things that are developed for homeland security will have commercial applications, and the most shallow, banal commercial applications you could possibly imagine."
Konstantinou knows a little something about the commercial world. Born in New York in 1978, he graduated from Cornell and came to Silicon Valley, working for Oracle Corp. for two years as a technical writer. Plainly speaking, he got bored out of his skull.
"I'd never planned to go to grad school. I knew I wanted to write fiction," he said. "But I realized that it's important to have a day job that you really love."
He's now getting his doctorate at Stanford's English department and hopes to eventually teach, probably specializing in 20th-century American literature, along with writing. This summer, he's teaching a Stanford continuing studies course in novel writing.
Later this month, Konstantinou will also speak on "Pop Apocalypse" at Books Inc. in Palo Alto and at the Stanford Bookstore.
He began writing the book in the summer of 2005, inspired in part by William Gibson's novel "Pattern Recognition" and Gibson's use of branding. Konstantinou decided to write his own novel about branding theory, weaving in his earlier hopes of creating "a very hardcore cyberpunk novel about a dystopian future where everyone lives in big skyscrapers and most of the planet is a wasteland covered in gray goo," as he said in an interview in the back of "Pop."
"Once that basic framework was in place, the characters and plot and everything else just sort of downloaded into my brain from wherever it is that novels come from."
But it isn't so easy to get published. Konstantinou finished the first draft in the fall of 2006, sent it around, got some positive feedback, did some revising, and wondered whether the book would actually be published before 2029. Ultimately a publishing-company friend of a friend read the book, loved it, and got it into print.
So far, the novel is getting some good buzz. Publishers Weekly, for one, called it "playful and witty," and "an intelligent and blistering what-if."
Bay Area readers will also find much to recognize, which was part of the fun for Konstantinou. He set the book mostly in places he had lived or knew well, which besides New York and Barcelona include Berkeley and San Francisco's Mission District, which he now calls home.
At one point in the book, Eliot finds himself on Mission Street, where he feels sorry for the "aging hipsters and over-the-hill bohemians" he sees:
Fifty-year-old men and women wear orthopedic high-tops and tweedy newsboy caps, play with nose and eyebrow rings in too-large piercing holes, massage heavily tattooed arms that have begun to sag. ... A blight of nostalgia grows moldlike everywhere upon these streets and these people.
Does Konstantinou think his Mission friends will see themselves in these characters? He hopes not, he says, laughing. "That would be terrible."
Info: Lee Konstantinou is scheduled to give readings from "Pop Apocalypse" at 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 13, at Books Inc. at Town & Country Village in Palo Alto; and at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 26, at the Stanford Bookstore at 519 Lasuen Mall. Go to www.leekonstantinou.com.
This story contains 1076 words.
Stories older than 90 days are available only to subscribing members. Please help sustain quality local journalism by becoming a subscribing member today.
If you are already a subscriber, please log in so you can continue to enjoy unlimited access to stories and archives. Subscriptions start at $5 per month and may be cancelled at any time.