Books

Disco Sour – Book Review (plus Author Interview)

There is a singular voice at work in Disco Sour which may well take you by surprise. The very concept of Giuseppe Porcaro’s novel is a heady brew of ideas fusing elements which you scarcely see in one particular story – politics, casual sex and technology – but Porcaro pulls it off while making his key point: we’re better off making connections than rejecting them, which feels particularly apt given the current global, and quite specifically European, climate.

Porcaro’s principal character is Bastian Balthazar Bux, ostensibly a civil servant/politician in what is essentially a post-European Union future-state, one still reeling from the embers of a European conflict which kicked off after the infamous collapse of the Greek economy. This sets Disco Sour, essentially, in an alternate future in which our present didn’t exactly play out in the way we experienced it; Bastian is a major part of the Federation, a network of local European governments, and Disco Sour very much puts him on a journey as he deals jointly with the heartbreak of being dumped via an app *and* must work to try and prevent the distillation of modern democracy at a conference, all in a condensed time frame.

As you can imagine, Disco Sour is pointedly satirical and darkly comic without thankfully ever tipping over to parody, and feels particularly gifted of a unique tone and blend of conceptual ideas which helps it stand out from the pack. Porcaro is interested in how technology is going to guide our future, not just personally with the smartphones that govern our interactions, but how it may be utilised by governments, corporations and political thinkers to influence the mass market of economies and movements. The ‘villain’ of the piece, radical Nathan ‘Ziggy’ Zukowsky, is trying to introduce Plebiscium, an app which combines the ‘swipe’ process of Tinder or Grindr with a widespread political vote. It’s a terrifying prospect that Porcaro, through Bastian, treats with the ironic fear it deserves.

Disco Sour is never dry when discussing these concepts, however, and Porcaro makes a point of Bastian being quite free loving and hedonistic, quite outwardly apart from the established idea of a political figure. Ultimately, he’s just looking for love and seeking a meaningful connection in a world which has spiralled, to some extent, out of control following several quite revolutionary moments which have threatened to consolidate power in the wrong places. While the novel touches on broader themes about politics, democracy and citizenship, it feels as much often like a romantic fantasy, with Bastian as our proxy-Bridget Jones attempting to figure out what kind of life he wants to lead.

In other hands, Disco Sour could have been an unformed mess, but you sense that Porcaro really understands the world he has devised here (down even to details such as adding copyright terms to words, which litter the pages etc…) and through it he manages to convey an unusual, near-future romantic political fantasy which may not quite remind you directly of anything you’ve read before.

Disco Sour is out now from Unbound. Read on for an interview with author Giuseppe Porcaro.

TONY: Disco Sour paints really quite a unique picture of a world affected by European politics and technology. How did all of these ideas come together?

GIUSEPPE: When I started to write Disco Sour I made the reflection that in the political sphere, the success of most of the populist and neo-nationalist movements, such as Trump or UKIP, comes from the emotional appeal they have on citizens who are disillusioned about the future and they find the only grip in the promise of a past that was never really true, neither great. Moreover, as Italian, I recalled the triumph of the 5 Stars political movement, that appeals people with the other simplifying narrative which is to wipe out politicians by installing a tech-led direct participation to overthrow representative democracy. In that context I considered that writing fiction, especially science fiction, would be an act of political activism to help reverse these populist narratives. I chose Europe as a contemporary ideological battlefield and created such parallel timeline where nation-states are wiped out.

T: Bastian Balthazar Bux is confidently bisexual and you can feel the sexual passion coming from the book as you read. How important was portraying Bastian this way to you?

G: Disco Sour challenges somehow the way sexual orientation is treated in society and in most genre and mainstream fiction (films, books, etc.). From one perspective, I wanted to write a story where gender or sexual orientation was not the focus of the romantic whereabouts. Throughout his quest, Bastian, the protagonist of Disco Sour, faces the ghosts of his past and present relationships which are evenly spread between boys and girls. The core of Bastian lover’s discourse is his fear of relationships coupled with his fear for break-ups, which is universal. On the other hand, I also seek a more militant approach. I wanted a story which would be upfront bisexual, as they are often an invisible B in both straight and queer worlds.

T: There is a real sense of timely political thinking in the book, particularly around the consequences of the Greek meltdown & subsequent European economic austerity. This is alternate future in a sense but do you fear we may be heading for a world like this?

G: Disco Sour is indeed making a timely reflection, and in fact I consider it taking place in a slightly technological advanced alternative present rather than the future. So in a sense more than describing how possibly things could go wrong, I wanted to capture the essence of our times being somewhat suspended between a past that is not there and the potential of a future that might be dystopic or not, according to the choices we will make in the present. There are many dystopian elements in our own reality already. And, ultimately, I wanted to create a mix between dystopia and utopia which somehow mirrored our own experience in this world.

T: Technology is key to Disco Sour, particularly the fusion of Grindr with app innovations which can ‘Tinder-ise’ the common vote. Are you troubled by how technology may affect democracy?

G: With the release of “Swipe the Vote” during the past presidential elections, Tinder broke new ground in the United States by claiming to be able to match voters with their dream-perfect presidential candidate. The matchmaking app tried to make voting sexy by employing to representative politics its same cut-to-the-chase dating method.Speaking of how technology is affecting democracy, we have already had a lot of news stories from Cambridge analytica to automated bots, that signal how participation could be hacked. I ask myself, thinking about tinderpolitics, who might still want to read up on candidates’ policies, attend rallies or even watch a debate? You might just want to jump into the bed of democracy with the one who turns you on politically, right? Who would bother to vote in the future if a set of sophisticated algorithms just identified, by trawling your data mine, your ideal candidate?

T: The book was of course published through Unbound, a new platform which acts much like a ‘kickstarter’ for fiction. Did that process change at all how the novel came out?

G: Even before pitching the project to Unbound, I had found a very specific methodology to write the book. Being my first work of fiction, it has been a learning process where to moments of solitude, I had to alternate help from others. Thus, the writing of my novel became an experimental project, involving an ever-growing group of people. Between March and December of 2017, I organized a series of interactive events, all of which greatly informed my book, and built a community around my story that was still in the making. I cooperated with scriptwriters, movie directors, performance artists, DJs, future readers and many others. It was somewhat in line with the whole project to look at Unbound as a partner, their innovative approach matched the continuous participation of Disco Sour’s community in the making of the book.

>T: You have a refreshing voice in terms of combining sexual and political science – do you have more novels in a similar vein planned for the future?

G: Disco Sour is a novel about break-ups and tinderpolitics set in an alternate present. I have some ideas for what will come next, I actually would like to build a sort of trilogy which connects not just sex, but broader fragments of a modern lover’s discourse with political themes. One idea would be to write a novel set in the deep future linking jealousy and infidelity with political implications of the changing nature of work. Another idea getting more and more stuck in my mind, is a story set in an alternate past about teenage bonding and sexual discovery, aliens, and… Berlusconi. Stay tuned.

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