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Turn of the Century by Kurt Andersen

Turn of the Century (1999)

by Kurt Andersen

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I had a real problem getting going with this book. I originally bought it in 2000, shortly after it came out in paperback in the UK. Given the fin de siècle subject matter I really should have read it then and I did try, but always seemed to get fed up 50 pages in.
As it turns out it I just needed to get a bit further in to where the story actually starts to take off. After that I loved it.

Having really got to the book late and given it's subject matter I though it could appear somewhat dated, however the tale of media and technology industry convergence remains valid today. Having read the book you can see why as it illustrates many of the pitfalls these two industries are facing and how many of the products they continually tell us are the future of entertainment are still some way off.

Whilst this is very much a book about TV, technology and big business it is also a book about a city. New York, LA and Seattle are characters in their own right who dictate how much of the story is played out. New York especially is a great creation in much the same way Anne Rice did with New Orleans.

The prose is excellent. Sharp, hip dialogue with wonderfully jargon filled descriptions of the workings of TV studios and corporations that really make you think you're getting some insider insight.

There is also a lot of food for thought. Some of the hoops shows go through to maintain ratings and viewer approval are quite worrying and given the authors background I am sure there is at least some truth to it. The impact of big business in an entirely non-productive, but money generating way also raises concerns. Nothing we don't already know, but it does bring it home and is dealt with very well.

The ending does tale off a little, but not enough to spoil a very vibrant book. ( )
  melancholia101 | Jun 24, 2008 |
Excellent, in a dense brand-name-dropping way - imaginative in all directions, rips off The Corrections before it was even written, prophetic ending, I really don't know how Kurt Andersen got the time to type it, much less write it. He kind of leaves the weasel thing hanging though.
  athenasowl | May 3, 2008 |
Maybe the best of the Y2K novels, by one of the founding editors of the defining early-90s magazine, SPY.
  wfzimmerman | May 20, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0385335040, Paperback)

Everyone will compare Kurt Andersen's scathingly funny first novel to Tom Wolfe's fictional debut, The Bonfire of the Vanities. Like Wolfe, Andersen is a merry terrorist, a status-attuned assassin with liquid nitrogen in his veins, a prose style with the cool purr of an Uzi, and the entire society in his crosshairs. And like the Man in White's protagonist, Sherman McCoy, Andersen's George Mactier is a master of the contemporary universe--not just Manhattan, but decadent post fin-de-siècle Hollywood, the globe-gobbling, infotainment-tainted news media, and cyberspace from Seattle to Silicon Valley to Silicon Alley.

Turn of the Century opens in February 2000, in a bizarro world with just a tangy twist of futuristic extrapolation. George has parlayed a Newsweek writing job into a PBS documentary into a $16,575-a-week job as a producer at the sinister MBC network. His series, NARCS, is a veritable Cuisinart of fact and fiction in which the actors get to participate in real drug busts and get all the best lines, since they're working from scripts. In the most notorious episode, the dealer they arrest turns out to be an Actors Equity member (thanks to Rent), so he gets union scale and a recurring role.

As George stumbles into a Wolfesque calamity spiral, his wife, Lizzie Zimbalist, ascends to power. Lizzie is a brilliant software entrepreneur: her "force-feedback technology" alternative-history game can sense players' fear. "If you travel to 1792 Paris, for instance, you are designated a besotted peasant or a frightened aristocrat or an angry sansculotte according to your heart rate, blood pressure, and skin conductance; too many twitches, the wrong sort of palpitation, and you're a marquess (or marchioness) headed for the guillotine." Needless to say, her insights into the year 2000 earn her bigtime interest from George's boss and Microsoft. Lizzie is a character at least as vivid as George, and their hectic family life is uncloying and acutely observed.

Andersen's plot (involving Bill Gates's potential death) has more hairy turns than the Hana Highway--read carefully or you'll go off the road. But you're guaranteed a wild ride with amazing characters: an irreverent investor inspired by James Cramer, a hilarious MBC toady, Timothy Featherstone--who's as marvelous a creation as Tony Curtis in The Sweet Smell of Success--and worlds' worth of social caricatures. Kurt Andersen has an uncanny ear for the way we talk now and Turn of the Century is sharp, knowing, and subversive. Let's all pray that it isn't prescient as well. --Tim Appelo

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:43 -0400)

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A spoof on our society featuring an upwardly mobile couple getting rich in a fantasy New York. It is a world of organic cigarettes, televised revolutions and a plot to acquire Microsoft stock by virtually killing its owner. A first novel.

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