Book of the…(week? month? depends on the next great book, I guess) is So Yesterday by Scott Westerfeld. It’s about Hunter, a seventeen-year-old who’s paid to find the latest, greatest trends for mass-marketing, and Jen, an “Innovator”–one of the kids inventing the latest, greatest before anyone else . Because, of course, once everyone is wearing it, it’s just not cool anymore. Initially I thought this story was about whether an innovator (someone who invents crazy new styles) and a trendsetter (someone who steals those inventions and sells them on the retail market) can be friends. Instead it quickly blows up into something bigger: there’s a pecking order here, from global companies to mindless consumers to late adopters to the I-would-rather-die-than-adjust-to-something-new. Everyone I know fits in somewhere. And it’s a dangerous, brand-maniacal world out there.
In my opinion, what Scott Westerfeld does really, really well is take one aspect of culture and magnify it, twisting it to see what happens when it goes just a nudge farther. In his trilogy Uglies, Pretties, and Specials, it was the idea of beauty. What would happen–these books ask–if we invented the perfect formula for beautiful people? And then did surgery on everyone? It’s a fascinating series, one that asks questions about human dignity, the growing-up process, and the role of science as authority. And they’re ridiculously engrossing sci-fi novels. Maybe more on them later.
Well, in So Yesterday, he’s done it again. This time, it’s the idea of cool. Here, in almost the same New York City we have today, cool is absolutely king. Mass marketing is moving at breakneck speed, and what was IN last week is so pathetically OLD today you shouldn’t bury your grandmother in it. The main character, Hunter, is paid by companies to advertise and collect data, but he’s not paid to talk about them them–so he doesn’t. He refuses to name any name brands whatsoever in the book, referring to them obliquely instead (phones made by “a certain company in Finland”, a quote from a certain “dysfunctional father” in a television show), because otherwise it would be advertising. He makes an exception for the ubiquitous Google. (Hmmm.)
This book only increased my desire to rail loudly at the mass-media advertising constantly streaming toward my skull. I can’t even walk into a grocery store anymore without being overwhelmed by seventeen brands of peanut butter and four hundred varieties of the snack-I-didn’t-know-I-needed-but-now-I-will-clearly-die-without. It makes me physically ill. Seriously, people! …But I digress.
It was refreshing to read a book about consumer culture with brand names so conspicuously absent. I also appreciated Westerfeld’s balanced look at the ways “cool” culture develops a life of its own. I became sadly reconciled to the fact that I will never, never be an early adopter. I can’t even figure out how to work the microwave properly. (Apparently you’re supposed to take it out before the smoke starts pouring around the edges. Who knew?)
It’s a great book; I’d recommend it. Check it out, and the trilogy, by clicking on the pictures. (There are no links to burned brownies, sorry. But I can recommend some tips if you want to make it yourself.)