At first you don't like the characters of Norman Spinrad's latest novel, "Little Heroes." They're sleazy, impotent, self-centered, greedy, vicious, spiteful and mostly, very lost. They struggle to survive in a not-too-distant future America--an America whose sinister features are already visible today. Their attitudes quickly become understandable.
Spinrad's heroes are obsessed with "sex, drugs, and rock and roll." They include Glorianna O'Toole, a burnt-out '60s should-have-been rock star, now dealing dope under the name of the Crazy Old Lady of Rock and Roll. There's pimply-faced Sally Genaro, a Chicana from the San Fernando Valley. Enamored of the rock scene, her best talents are being very easy and artfully performing on the Voxbox, a computerized voice synthesizer capable of replicating perfectly the human voice. There's also Bobby Rubin, a nerdy computer freak who operates an image organ, the video counterpart to the Voxbox. When he's not creating video imagery to play over Voxbox music tracks, Bobby is trying to bed fantasy women out of a Playboy dream. That's on the West Coast.
In New York, there's Paco Monaco, a Puerto Rican. Mucho Muchacho, as he calls himself, is a tough macho , one of more than a million homeless "streeties" surviving on "people kibble" in the Big Apple. And then there's Karen Gold, late of an aspiring middle-class family in Poughkeepsie, now on a downward spiral from a once-lucrative job as a software programmer, soon to be an indigent streetie.
They all have one thing in common: They are powerless victims in a world not of their making. They are outcasts, the wimps of society, pursuing make-believe dreams sold to them by the quintessential media conglomerate--Music, Inc.
Music, Inc. is the media master. It is "what IBM was to the computer industry, what McDonald's still was to greaseburgers." It not only has a monopoly on the production of music videos, it creates the Stars, sells the videos through its national chain of stores, features them in trendy nightclubs and hypes them on its owned-and-operated MTV-style stations. It is the nightmarish result of music video, concert management, infotainment and product merchandising, all wrapped up and controlled by the same omnipotent and omnipresent Company Store.
Big Brother is an MTV video jockey.
With the help of Glorianna, Bobby and Sally from the Valley, Music, Inc. creates APs (Artificial Personalities)--the logical extension of Max Headroom. Shaped by demographic and marketing studies of the ideal Rock Star, APs are brought to life at the audio and video synthesizers and made into superlords that electronically drug the masses for maximum control and profit.
Spinrad's futureworld is a dark extrapolation closely pegged to the real world of today, a believable and horrific vision of 1980s America given enough rope (and time) to hang itself. But, as always with Spinrad, there is hope.
Enter the Reality Liberation Front--a group of computer hackers whose assignment is to boldly go where few hackers have gone before: by modem, right into the computer innards of banks, the IRS, the stock exchange and any other citadel of computerized money and power. The RLF threatens the infrastructure of future America by selling "bedbu1735601191audit, put money into your bank account or make you rich with fictitious stock on Wall Street. A capitalist's nightmare? Of course. In the words of Artificial Personality Red Jack: "Red Ripe Anarchy, For All the World to See. What Will the Fat Men Do?" Indeed.
"Little Heroes" is vintage Spinrad. He's back with the eroticism of previous novels, the use of graphic sexual language and his abiding fascination with the power of mass media. His style is challenging. Realistic Puerto Rican spanglish is intermingled with Hollywood glitztalk and music video computerspeak. What you don't know, you quickly learn.
But what of the human spirit? Love? Art? Most important, what of genuine gut-wrenching, hip-swaying, soulful human rock 'n' roll? Is it to be manipulated and sold out by soulless APs, along with the rest of the American Dream? Finding out the answer to this question is the fun of reading Spinrad.
Intelligent, well crafted and gutsy, "Little Heroes" is a primer for the survival of the human soul in a world made crazy and vicious by the perverse actions of music media moguls. It is an absorbing and provocative work. If it has a flaw, it is that the distance between Spinrad's world of the future and that of today is not so easy to discern.