Review of Palm Mall: A Vaporwave Novelby Oliver Neale
I have been searching for a ‘real’ Vaporwave novel.
My Vaporwave shelf contains some works which analyze the genre and some books that taunted me with similar aesthetics, like Ballard’s retro futuristic descents into madness and Philip K. Dick’s vibrant dystopias. I came upon this 728-page Vaporwave novel with hesitation. The author has thousands of pages published on Lulu.com and rarely adds much context to the product description. Also on his page is an in-progress “Vaporwave Sequel” of similar length.
At first I remained skeptical, since the book’s back cover and formatting are wonky. But I got past the myriad fonts and sank into the immersive storytelling. The main character is an autistic kid who spouts off facts and lists. Several characters are planning a mall construction based on a sort of “happy place” oasis of the mind. The tone is bathed in Vaporwave imagery evocative of the synth-centric Youtube channels which have become pretty much the only music I listen to anymore. Satires of Corporate America, and funky adolescent anti-social ruminations ensue. But where the novel really works is in the frequent genre Easter eggs sprinkled liberally throughout the text. It’s dialogue-heavy, with dozens of transhistorical allusions that add layers of intrigue and metaphysical amalgamations. Take, for instance, the incorporation of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. You think he just shoehorned the idea into the book, but later he describes the tomb of Qin Shi Huang which was said to contain treasures inside so fragile that to open the tomb would be to destroy what was inside. The only way to preserve its contents is to let it go undisturbed forever. These connections require active participation from the reader and are the marks of an author having fun with his craft.
The author references 80s commercials, advertisements, and philosophy to amusing effect. There are some uncredited quotes and images related to the story’s many tangents. Not only is the story a serviceable rendering of modern-day ennui, the social interactions depicted are often touching, surreal, enigmatic, Lynchian, and weirdly evocative of a dreamlike state of mind.
As with most small, unassisted publishers, the product lacks professional editing and contains inconsistencies, both of logic and sense. British spelling is used, and the author would do well to drop the habit of using “whilst.” These quibbles aside, I found this novel entertaining, enlightening, engrossing, and a beautiful symbol of entropy, of the morose deserts of overstimulated minds, of the bleak onslaught of future time descending upon our screen-focused race. It is a haunting and atmospheric conjuration of digital ghosts, with realistic characters orbiting the ideal wellsprings of their blasted imaginations. We are fearful nomads trapped in a consumerist mainframe and if you seek after nostalgic avenues and technicolor sunsets, there is much to be unearthed in this oversized novel.
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