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- Book: Age of the Conglomerates
- Author: Thomas Nevins
- Publisher: Del Rey
- Price: $14.00
Book Review of Age of the Conglomerates: A Novel of the Future
Orwellian books should not start off at a New Year's Eve party
By Nadia Oxford
August 15, 2008
George Orwell's 1984 begins with Winston Smith hurrying home against the bitter wind, hungry and bursting with forbidden thoughts he knows will be ferreted out eventually by the secret police. He returns to a grey apartment that smells like bad plumbing and has few comforts of home. He's intercepted by his neighbour, a dimwitted woman whose thoughts are held hostage by her treacherous, Party-loving children.
Thomas Nevins' Age of the Conglomerates begins with Dr Christine Salter fretting over which dress will impress her male co-worker at a New Year's Eve bash.
“Big Brother” is a term that's often used to describe stories of the future; going by what many authors believe, humanity is not headed for good times. With increased paranoia over security and the state of the economy, it's not hard to envision the cold, corporate world that Age of the Conglomerates wants the reader to believe in. Unfortunately, the delivery is on par with an average video game or comic book story.
Age of the Conglomerates takes place in New York City in the not-too-distant future. The world is entirely consumer-based to the point that children can be made to order and discarded if the parents are not happy with their purchase. Old folks, labeled “Coots,” are shipped off to camps in Arizona where they have nothing to do but wait to die. At the centre of this cold society are individuals like Christine Salter and Gabriel Cruz, well-paid stooges who make genetic magic happen. The Conglomerate chairman lords over America in the place of the President, but he's recently been driven to do something about visibly aging in a country that's been trained to hate the old.
Age of the Conglomerates packs a lot of themes and characters into its 290 pages, but most of them are dull and sterile. Part of the problem is Nevins' writing style, which relies on an overabundance of info-dumps. Page after page explains why characters feel certain ways, as well as how people think and act in this brave new world. Dialogue is comparatively sparse and does little to convey the environment to the reader. When there is a whiff of emotion, there's not much that makes the Age of Conglomerates frightening.
For instance, unwanted children, called “Dyscards,” are dumped in New York City's subway system to fend for themselves. One such character is Christine's estranged designer sister, who calls herself “X”. To begin with, dumping humans of any status in active subway tunnels seems like a bad idea. Wanted or not, smashed corpses will gum up the travel of the elite. Second, X is understandably disoriented and confused when she wakes up in her new home, but she encounters two friendly individuals who have assigned themselves to helping out new Dyscards. In fact, Nevins assures the reader that the tunnels are a horrible place to live, but there's little that indicates as much. There's electricity, people seem to get enough to eat and there's no conflict. Dyscards band together and watch out for each other, which is fine, but their world extremely peaceful despite being overcrowded and populated by the mentally and emotionally disturbed. The worst issue X deals with throughout the novel is one instance of claustrophobia.
The same description-heavy writing applies to the rest of the novel, which describes the plight of Salter's “Coot” parents in Arizona, the kidnapping of Cruz by Dyscards and Salter's quest to find him while the Conglomerate chairman hounds her to perform genetic surgery on his aging body. The Dyscards accept Cruz as one of their own in record time despite him being directly responsible for their low status. Neither Cruz nor Salter seem especially guilt-stricken over their role in their consumer-driven world. And the book's climax, which involves a rescue mission, drops out of nowhere and ends just as listlessly.
Age of the Conglomerates has the potential to be a thoughtful dystopian work, but its weak presentation makes it as threatening as a kitten. The premise could be fleshed out well with better writing.