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Little Heroes

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(Bantam Spectra, New York, 1987)
price: $18.95; 488 pages
(hardback edition)

The blurb on the back:

Norman Spinrad, acclaimed author of Bug Jack Barron and Child of Fortune, has created an extraordinarily powerful novel of sex, rock and revolution driven by a relentless 4/4 beat.
It is the near future. Tens of millions now live in the streets. The City teems with Uzi-toting enforcers, kibble-munching streeties and wire heads plugged in to the latest electronic high.
And somewhere along the line, rock and roll has lost its soul - or rather sold it to a megacorporation that churns out synthesized hits with all the passion of the market research reports that dictate their demographic parameters.
From the highest towers of the corporate world to the sex-and-thrill bars, to the death-infested streets, an explosion is about to take place...

Here are some common themes in science fiction dystopias:

  • In the future the class divide between capitalist and worker will have widened to become a virtually unbridgeable chasm. In HG Wells' The Time Machine (1895) this division has become so extreme that humanity had split into two species.

  • The way to keep the underclass under control is to feed them mass-produced pseudo-culture. If - as in Orwell's 1984 (1949) - the technocratic ruling class can get some kind of computer or machine to generate this product, so much the better.

  • In the future, 20th century entertainment forms like TV and movies will have been superseded by more direct experiences that, ideally, feed directly into the brain or, at least - as with the 'feelies' in Huxley's Brave New World (1932) - stimulate more senses than simply the visual and auditory.

And now, here's a book that uses all these themes in one hit, and builds on these classic foundations by adding rock & roll to the mix.

Set in the early years of the 21st century, it shows us an America decimated by devaluation, where unemployment is commonplace and rock music is firmly in the grip of accountants and electro-nerds producing synthesized superstars to keep the proles contented.

Sadly, but entirely predictably, when this corrupted industry is counterposed to 'real' rock & roll, the alternative is seen as being the American 1960s, where Grace Slick and Jim Morrison are taken seriously instead of being ridiculed as absurd egotists. Elvis gets the occasional nod, but mostly we're in Grateful Dead territory here. And - speaking in both a personal and prejudiced capacity here - I'm no fan of the Dead. Give me early-Kraftwerk or Mike Paradinas or Air, anytime: the honest sounds of human and machine working together in harmony, rather than the organic dullness of the Dead. And if I were confined to a desert island, I'd prefer to have the 1910 Fruitgum Company than Jefferson Airplane or Jefferson Starship or Jefferson Anything. (Actually, now I come to think of it, there was a track called 'I'm Allergic To Flowers' on Pebbles Volume 3 which was by the Jefferson Handkerchief, and that was damn fine: psychedelic, not hippy.)

Anyway, I think I've let myself get sidetracked. By the time this came out Norman Spinrad was already a highly respected author and editor (although his work was denounced in Parliament as 'degenerate' at one point in the late-1960s), and if you can either ignore or forgive his orthodox taste when it comes to rock & roll, then what you've got here is a decent book. No surprises are going to come your way, and there may well be bits that do nothing for you, but there's a lot of it and there are several strands running through, which makes it easy to skim-read the odd chapter in favour of concentrating on the stuff you like.

I'm sounding grudgeful, I know, but there's a tone here that suggests that this is supposed to be the Great American Rock Novel. And it ain't. It is however, a nice bit of trash fiction.

Mr Spinrad
Norman Spinrad


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