Few things are as endlessly entertaining as depictions of Philadelphia in pop culture, which is why we're launching The 19102 Review, a new column devoted to Philly books.
The Pure Cold Light
Sci-fi, 1993, Avon Books, 242 pp.
Thanks to Facebook friends and the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society for directing me to local writer Gregory Frost’s dystopian adventure, set in an unspecified future Philadelphia that has split (even more) in two. The rich and their servants live in the Overcity’s towers; the poor, addicted and disenfranchised nest in the Undercity, occupying derelict buildings, SEPTA catacombs and Box City, a sprawling morass of packing containers on Independence Mall. President Odie is a talk-show host and puppet of the world’s largest corporation, named (sans subtlety) ScumberCorp. They make the drug Orbitol, which has unexpected dimensional side effects, and infuse their Happy Burgers with masses-mollifying tranquilizers.
ScumberCorp also owns the media, so reality TV rules (“Everybody wants to get on TV,” a character insists. “Where’s your sense of warhol?”) and investigative journalists probing the very top of the 1 percent, like our heroine Thomasina Lyell, are rare.
It’s a fast-paced, exciting read, especially once Lyell and ScumberCorp prisoner Angel Rueda encounter ruthless, relentless enforcer Mingo. His attempt to stage Rueda’s death sparks a huge conflagration at Eastern State Penitentiary, now a lockdown for troubled youth. And what’s this about aliens in the Undercity?
Frost’s predictions are all the more impressive given that his vision developed in the Internet’s nascent days — a decade and a half before Citizens United, seven years before Survivor and (arguably) before that blurry date when presidential candidates became media monkeys.
If you have a book that'd be perfect for The 19102 Review (the dustier, the better), email ten.repapytic@gylime, or just drop it in the mail it to Emily Guendelsberger at Philadelphia City Paper, 30 S. 15th St., 14th floor, 19102.
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