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Disco Sour


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In Guiseppe Porcaro's Disco Sour, a mundane plot and protagonist are overshadowed by a vibrant, rich, and blackly comic vision of a near future where electoral democracy is at risk.

There’s a lot to like in Guiseppe Porcaro’s Disco Sour. Its world is engaging, complex, and blackly comic, and its characters are well drawn and convincing. Its bleak near-future, despite the comedic elements, may very well be prescient—we are, after all, beyond satire in 2018.

Strangely, it’s the sheer quantity of the subjects the book touches upon that is both the novella’s biggest strength and its main weakness. The novella—a heady kind of existential comedy-cum-romance-cum-political thriller—tells the tale of Bastian Balthazar Bux, a youngish member of the Federation (a European network of civil societies and local governments) who, having just been dumped by a cold-blooded boyfriend via a breakup app, is sent off to present the Federation’s newest scheme, the League of Young Voters, at a conference in Chile. Before he goes, he learns that Nathan Zukowsky, the alleged son of Roman Polanski, is travelling to the same conference to sell plebiscitum, a Tinder-esque app designed to replace traditional elections. The world Bastian inhabits is a light sci-fi vision of the near future: a European civil war has left traditional democracy hanging by a thread and present-day capitalism has progressed logically, with almost every proper noun copyrighted and every militia boasting its own corporate sponsors.

Within this rich setting, Disco Sour’s actual plot and its narrating protagonist seem rather flat. The majority of the drama is internal and is consigned to bars, train carriages, airplanes, and airports, and Bastian is mostly concerned with getting over his hangover, sorting out his travel plans, and thinking occasionally about his ex, Janine. Embedded within the moment-to-moment narrative are poorly integrated information dumps that explain the state of this new world. These sections paint a vivid, pleasingly cynical outer world that, disappointingly, feels rather detached. Corporate-sponsored militants fight student-led anarchists over the shattered remains of Europe, democracy is dangling above technocratic populism, and yet the plot we’re given is a hungover man trying to get to a conference. It doesn’t help that this conflict’s stakes are rather vague; the worst-case scenario of the main conflict seems to be that Nathan impresses the conference audience with his idea, while the best-case is that Bastian gets over his hangover, gets laid, and impresses with his League of Young Voters concept. Hardly riveting stuff, especially when this conflict is foregrounded in front of a much more engaging and promising backdrop.

Porcaro’s confusing decision to focus on the least interesting elements of the book is compounded by narration that is often too clever for its own good—Porcaro throws around similes that require technical or biological knowledge and then, not trusting his reader to understand, spends the following paragraph explaining his throwaway simile. This issue combines with the book’s plot issues to present an interesting question: are thematically appropriate but unengaging stylistic and narrative choices justified? After all, you could read Bastian’s self-involved narration as typical of an individual thrashing in the impossibly deep waters of a bureaucratic, technical age; likewise, you could read his mundane quest as reflective of the surreally flat lives many of us live in an age of ceaseless activity. However, while these links are technically smart, if they harm your story, are they worth it? In Disco Sour’s case, probably not.

Reviewed by

Fred Johnson is an English freelance writer and books editor living in Edinburgh, UK. He's worked for Standout Books, the Book Butchers, Kirkus Reviews, Birlinn, Oxford University Press, BubbleCow, and the Proofreading Company, and in his spare time he writes poetry, non-fiction, and short fiction.


About the author

As a political geographer, Giuseppe has always been interested in how the intersection between technology and politics is moving towards uncharted territories in the future. DISCO SOUR is his first experiment with fiction. view profile

Published on May 24, 2018

Published by Unbound Digital

0-1000 words

Genre: Science Fiction

Reviewed by