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Monday, April 19, 2021

Silent Cave, Don DeLillo’s dystopian cyberpunk novella, is No. 1 on Amazon.com’s bestseller list

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Silent Cave — Don DeLillo Image courtesy the author

Silent Cave, published this month by Knopf, is based in the year 2033, and it’s set in the biggest information revolution that Western civilization has ever known. Civilization, explained DeLillo, “becomes technologically obsolete,” and is brought to an end by a mutiny among the programmers who were hired, many with a history of psychiatric disorders, to build a first-of-its-kind security system that was to be used by all leading corporations and hospitals in the world. It would be, for all practical purposes, “nothing but an electronic box,” and it was to be delivered by drone, by satellite, by motorbike, by passenger, and all of that would be delivered only once per day, 24 hours a day, for what would have been over 500 years.

But in that system, “there would be no human beings to enter the vault, no calls, no visits, nothing except an enormous stack of long, parallel cables.” Suddenly the focus of human existence “would shift back to the very architecture of human consciousness itself.” From there, Delillo imagines a future in which humanity is much simpler and brutish; too simple to pay any attention to technology at all. “It’s the kind of future I hope for,” he notes wryly. “The sort that makes me feel like I’m missing something.”

Silent Cave is DeLillo’s 13th novel, and it picks up where he left off in 2012’s White Noise, which imagined a 2070’s world at the mercy of a global pandemic that has the world reduced to “dark, painless moments of inescapable, germy isolation.” In Silent Cave, from which it draws a surreal, hallucinatory prologue, the cyberpunk setting is set to last 50 years, while its human participants slide down into a fractured, four-dimensional, plasticized utopia.

“This is the origin of government,” says an anonymous official in the novel. “The idea is, we’re ready to do any electronic thing, even all of the interpersonal ties, once it starts to reach a threshold of refinement. It’s the only way to live in the end. Once it’s gone, once we all trust all the things we once counted on, it’s that much easier to manipulate it. In a way we know what it’s going to look like already. We see the architecture of the world, those 300 years of civilization. Already, once technology is perfected, we’re a nation of robots.”

“The best way to take care of the world’s problems is to take care of yourself. When you stop buying things, going to expensive, designer stores and don’t go out for fancy dinners, you’ll save a lot of money, and you’ll also know where to cut corners,” he goes on. “Now there are five ways to live: Buy less, live more cheaply, exercise more, have fewer children, be a single person. Pretty much any way except to keep buying things. We’re already living on less, not only from ourselves but from people without jobs and families and all those things that used to be here. But to think of them as existential problems is to forget how many thousands of years of accumulated human history was made up of a build-up of war. And that’s not to mention the short-termism of money. There’s no record of all those things, of all those points to make. Instead, everything seems to feel like these habitual habits, of having a glass of champagne with dinner and like to do it more times than not.”

Read the rest of Josh Cohen’s review.

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