Don DeLillo's satire on a futuristic "faith-based technology" is rigorously intellectual and movingby Elaine Showalter / March 24, 2016 / Leave a comment
Published in April 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
Early in Don DeLillo’s new novel Zero K, a young American named Jeff Lockhart eats breakfast in the “food unit” of a remote and mysterious facility. “What is this we are eating?” he asks a man nearby wearing a “monk’s cloak” of purple embellished with gold. “It’s called morning plov,” the man replies. I looked up “plov” and discovered that it is a popular Uzbek casserole of pilaf and mutton, the comfort food of Russia.
Still, plov sounds drab and Orwellian to English-speaking ears, somewhere between the vile breakfast food “Filboid Studge” of the Saki short story and the poisoned Kool-Aid drunk by followers of cult leader Jim Jones. The detail is ominous, and when Jeff explores the labyrinthine corridors of the facility, he encounters long halls of screens which show horrifyingly realistic scenes of violence and catastrophe: floods, fires, tornadoes, self-immolation, mass migrations and plagues.
The nameless and secret facility is located in the desert near Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. Jeff has been summoned to it by Ross Lockhart, his billionaire father. Lockhart is a “man shaped by money” and a lifelong seeker after “self-realisation”; indeed, he “realised” himself in an earlier phase by leaving his first wife and abandoning Jeff at the age of 13. He made his fortune by “analysing the profit motives of natural disasters,” and now owns an international network of “companies, agencies, funds, trusts, foundations, syndicates, communes, and clans.”
He was in his sixties when his second wife Artis became seriously disabled with multiple sclerosis and other illnesses, and since then invested heavily in the Zero K of the novel’s title, a method of cryogenic suspension that freezes the body, stores it in a combination warehouse and museum, and will bring it back to life in “cyberhuman form” in a more secure and enlightened future era. They have chosen to build the facility near Bishkek, Lockhart tells his son, because of its “durable energy sources,” “structural redundancy,” “security patrols” and “elaborate cyberdefence.”