Sunday, August 26, 2007

Exposure - Kurt Wenzel

Kurt Wenzel
Little, Brown and Company

Futuristic Thriller/Satire

In 2019, advertising is everywhere, and it moves and speaks constantly. The main culprits are mobile image billboards (MIBs) that provide moving images and sound without the option of muting them. These images and sounds are everywhere, from roadsides to public bathroom stalls. The public has virtually no way to escape from the relentless ads. And, truth be told, most of the public is apparently so numb to it that they don’t even think about trying to get away from it. Then a book appeared, with no author listed, called The Black Book for it’s complete black cover. It argues against the MIBs, the constant noise, and the digital insertion of former screen icons into ads.

Dre McDonald runs the most powerful talent agency in the world. He reps all the top names, including A-listers Colt Reston and Carmen Montoya. He also has a hand in the development of the MIBs and other cutting-edge technology. With Dre’s help, Colt’s image is, quite literally, everywhere. In the dozens of movies he’s made, in the constant photographs that are taken of him when he’s in public, and on a huge number of MIBs. Carmen’s image is everywhere, too, even after her sudden and unexplained death.

Marshall Reed hit it big ten years ago with what has been called the perfect screenplay. The movie starred his longtime friend, Colt, and the two have remained close, even while Marshall works primarily at punching up other writers’ scripts. Colt calls Marshall in a panic, telling him that something is wrong with his face. At first, Marshall writes it off to Colt’s working too hard. But, within days, the changes are undeniable. Marshall learns that the same strange thing happened to Carmen. It can’t be a coincidence, but finding the real cause is going to take a lot more than even the doctors at Cedars can provide.

The humor here, and there is some, is very dark, but works perfectly with the tone of the novel. Marshall is not the most sympathetic character, prone as he is to booze and drugs, but he’s still improbably likable. This near-future Los Angeles seems more than possible; the ad industry has already had a go at inserting iconic actors into current commercials. Let’s hope that non-mutable talking billboards on every flat surface are not next.

My only complaint is that the true cause of the deaths is not fully explored. It’s left to the reader to connect the dots, which, honestly, isn’t that hard. In all fairness, that’s not really the aim of this novel, being satire/thriller and not cyberpunk. I just would have enjoyed it if this aspect had been mined more thoroughly. On the satire front, the author expertly skewers the characters we love to hate: the drug-addled screenwriter; the top agent drunk on his own power; the reporter, always looking for the next big, salacious story. EXPOSURE is an enjoyable and fast-paced ride that will have you compulsively turning the pages, looking for the next twist. This is a great blend of thriller and satire on a future that is all too probable.

Rating: 8
July 2007
ISBN# 978-0-316-09397-2 (hardcover)


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