Always a day away
YOU SHOULD TOTALLY READ ANDRI SNAER MAGNASON’S NOVEL LOVESTAR! IT’S THE GROOVIEST AND WILL MAKE YOU LOOK SMART TO ALL YOUR FRIENDS!
You don’t even have to pay me to howl those words at those who happen to pass by me. I’ll do it for free. That’s how good this book is. Wait; let me back up a bit.
Change arrived by way of subtle shifts in nature. The arctic terns became confused and no longer flew to the Antarctic, instead content to make their homes in Paris, France. Even though there was little to pollinate, a few short months later the world’s bee population up and migrated to Chicago. Next, the butterflies became confused, flying to the freezing north instead of their typical hibernation destination of Mexico. People began to panic. Was the world coming to an end?
Of course we live in on a planet where our bees are slowly disappearing from something called colony collapse disorder. If they die completely we’ll find ourselves in some trouble as they’re responsible for pollinating 1/3 of the food we consume. Douglas Coupland imaged a world surviving without bees, only to see them suddenly return in his novel Generation A. In Magnason’s however, they not only thrive, they rule an entire city. Why?
The prevailing theory in the world of LoveStar (and the one that was originally embraced and then dismissed as the real life cause for the decline of our bees) was that world was becoming too inundated with waves. Cell phone towers, satellites, all manner of transmissions were jamming the airwaves, confusing the animals, making it impossible for them to communicate with one another. A replacement system was needed. Enter LoveStar. Enter the world’s first cordless modern man.
LoveStar, a corporation founded by a man who calls himself LoveStar, figured out how to transmit messages between human beings using bird waves. Oh the possibilities for mankind! Especially once LoveStar understood how to control a person’s speech center. Just think of all the new advertisement opportunities.
People could work off their debts or earn some extra cash by being forced to “howl” things. “HAVE A COKE!” “SHOP HERE!” LoveStar also learned how to control the bodily functions of others. They could pay people to become AdTraps. Why stop at making a person howl when you could make them urinate themselves in order to sell diapers or openly weep in order to promote a new movie?
Why stop at all? Keep progressing LoveStar! Next they would unlock the secrets of love. Matching each person in the world with his or her true soul mate. They would unlock a new, cleaner death. Why bury people in the ground when you can send them into space via rockets and turn them into shooting stars? Puffin tastes too fishy and you feel guilty eating it because it’s so cute? We’ll make it taste like turkey and squawk “eat me” at you to alleviate your concerns.
In Magnason’s world those in power take technology and continue to advance it and abuse it under the guise of creating a better, simpler, freer world without ever stopping to consider the possibly profound ramifications their actions will have on the world as a whole. Sound familiar?
My grandfather was born in 1919, at Oddsstaɗir in Melrakkaslétta. He may have belonged to the last generation in lceland living in full harmony with reality. People of his generation considered themselves rich because they were not hungry. –Andri Snaer Magnason, Dreamland
But when you’ve conquered human desire, love, and death, what’s left for you to control? Aren’t you a God? Not quite yet…
What happens when you continue to make technological advances in the name of freedom only to enslave those whom you desire to make free? Technology becomes its own AdTrap. Promising things it could never hope to deliver. Isolating us from one another. Slowly destroying the world and all of its natural resources.
Equal parts Vonnegut and Calvino, but never truly derivative of either influence, Magnason’s novel takes a sometimes scathing, sometimes humorous look at what happens when we are willing give up our freedoms in exchange for the promise of a better tomorrow that never arrives.
Progress is necessary, but at what cost?
The world that Andri Snaer Magnason imagines in LoveStar may be in the realm of science fiction, but it isn’t so far from the truth. In this alternate universe, technology is personified and specifically catered to the individual. “Howlers” are programmed to shout out personal ads to the public, such as “PRETTY DRESS! YOU WERE SMART TO BUY SUCH A PRETTY DRESS!” Love is calculated so that individuals can find their perfect match, and death is no longer carried out through burials. Instead, the dead are shot up into space where they fall back to the earth in the vision of a comet or falling star.
All of these activities are designed and implemented by LoveStar, an organization that researches human patterns, brain waves, and emotions to allow humans to live more productively and harmoniously. The problem with these utopian ideas, however, is that they are usually one step away from dystopia. For Indridi and Sigrid, the benefits of LoveStar are fast becoming a horrible nightmare. The happy couple has just found out that they are not a match. They keep telling themselves (and each other) that it doesn’t matter – that their romance can withstand LoveStar’s doomed diagnosis of their relationship, but the pressures of a society that relies on statistics and calculations soon begin to poison their happiness.
But more than love, romance, death, and advertisements, LoveStar serves as a horrifying warning to readers that when life and human emotion is left in the hands of technology, the world truly becomes a cold and lonely place. Magnason’s novel presents a bizarre and curious alternate universe that may at first seem far from the realm of possibility. But upon closer inspection, the realities of LoveStar are not that far from our own. Western society is one that is programmed to believe that life cannot exist without technology, and don’t get me wrong, technology is great. I love my iphone, I love social media, and I love that technology is making huge leaps in the fields of medicine, science, and space exploration. But at the same time, it’s easy to see how dependent we are on technology. A life unplugged is a life of naivete and loneliness, right? But if we allow the possibilities of technology to enter the realm of our emotions and instincts, well, that’s a whole different can of worms – and not only has Magnason opened this can, but he has allowed the futuristic worms of possibility to explore whatever they choose – and the scenarios are far from ideal.
LoveStar asks readers to consider how far we will allow technology, calculations, and statistics to go. Are we advancing as a society, or are we creating a breed of humanity that is incapable of making emotional and intimate choices with whimsy and instinct? Do we instead rely on the possibilities of outcomes that science has taught us to rely on? And if we rely on them for basic decisions, how long until our lives are completely controlled by machines that falsely claim humanity and morality? It’s a lot to consider, and some of it may seem outlandish and dooming, but still, it’s worth considering.
By Andri Snaer Magnason
Translated from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb
Seven Stories Press