oPtion$. By Fake Steve Jobs (Daniel Lyons). Da Capo. $22.95.
The Last Days of Krypton. By Kevin J. Anderson. HarperEntertainment. $25.95.
Nothing in either of these books ever happened, but the idea of both works is to treat themselves more as nonfiction than as novels – one as a memoir, one as a history.
oPtion$ actually has a real-world history, one almost as strange as the spelling of its title. A Forbes senior editor named Daniel Lyons was revealed in The New York Times earlier this year as the author of a very popular blog about Apple Computer, its CEO and his friends and colleagues – written with tongue so firmly in cheek that it could, with a little more pushing, break through. Lyons wrote under the name “Fake Steve Jobs,” and has now expanded his persona and his blog into a full-length book – which is oPtion$. The title ties into the controversy over the real Steve Jobs’ role in backdating options for himself and others so everyone could make additional profits as the stock of Apple rose (and rose and rose). If you don’t know about options, backdating or the controversy involving Jobs, or if you don’t care, this is emphatically not the book for you: it is an extended in-joke, full of dropped names and snide business comments and parodies of the way companies operate. There is, for example, an imagined meeting with Hillary Clinton at which not-Jobs writes that Jobs said (but not really), “The thing is, I’m planning to endorse Al Gore, if he runs, because he’s on my board, and he’s going to save the planet from melting, and he’s going to make my pal Bono the head of the Supreme Court or something.” Hilarious, right? No? How about this one? “We’re driving along Skyline Boulevard, close to Neil Young’s ranch, and I’m thinking maybe we should pull in and see if he’s home. We could go in and talk politics for a while and smoke some weed and Neil can give me shit about how music sounds better on vinyl than on an iPod.” There’s a lot more of this – in fact, there’s pretty much nothing but this – in oPtion$, and if you don’t get it immediately, you won’t get it at all. For the self-proclaimed “in group” only – you know who you are.
You also know who you are if you are so dedicated a fan of Superman that you would like to read a 90-chapter, 412-page book about the destruction of the planet where Superman lived before coming to Earth and becoming…well, Superman. The planet is Krypton, whose explosion produced Kryptonite, which is deadly to Superman; the book is The Last Days of Krypton, whose ending is a foregone conclusion (hey, just read the title!) and whose pages are taken up with a description of the world’s society and the political infighting and willful blindness to danger that lead eventually to its inevitable end. Comic-book superheroes have had some rough times in recent years: Captain America was shot dead at point-blank range (laying the foundation for someone new to assume the name), and Superman himself was beaten to death by an implacable foe (laying the foundation for him to return). So it is hard to say whether The Last Days of Krypton will find an audience. It is, after all, not about Kal-El, the some-day-to-be Superman, himself, since his parents managed to get him away from the exploding planet when he was still a mere baby (later to become, of course, Superboy). It is about Jor-El the scientist and Lara the historian, Kal-El’s parents, and the doomed world in which they lived. There is, unfortunately for those not steeped in Superman lore, nothing especially new in the characters here, in what they do or in what happens to them. Nor is the narrative exceptional. Here is Kevin J. Anderson writing about Jor-El’s brother, Zor-El (these names sound sillier in a novel than in a comic book), who rules Argo City: “He stood on the central golden bridge that spanned the bay separating the peninsula from the mainland, letting traffic flow around him. Once again, he did not want to call attention to his arrival. Doing so would mean having to admit that his warning to the Council had been ignored.” And here is Anderson writing about one of Jor-El’s attempts to save the world: “When the distant early-warning outpost was completed on the empty plains, all twenty-three receiving dishes turned their detector arrays toward the open sky. They listened for the faintest whispers from the empty heavens. Optical telescopes studied the stars at night, while longer-wavelength sensors combed the neighborhood of space during the day.” This is extremely ordinary, even formulaic SF writing, conveying no particular sense of wonder or even of differentness about Krypton, its people or its story. Nor is there anything new in the factionalism and politics of the world’s rulers. The idea of an in-depth story about the world from which Superman came might have made a good comic book, but it’s just not, err, novel enough to succeed in the form of a lengthy work that is nothing but words.
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