Book Review - Disco Sour

DISCO SOURDISCO SOUR by Giuseppe Porcaro
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I received an ARC of this book from Netgalley. I was excited by the idea of a science-fiction novel revolving around apps and a seemingly gay protagonist. Well, I was partially correct in my assessment of that.

Porcaro is a debutante fiction writer and this book was publicly-funded through a project called Unbound. The fact that the book did not have an editor proved one of its downfalls. For one, the synopsis does not touch on the main themes of the book, that of a general mess-up who spends the entire book pining for his first love.

Bastion is the Executive Director of The Federation, an arm of legislation/politics (I really couldn't figure it out) desperate to maintain order and sanity in a chaotic near-future. The Euro-centric setting is a refreshing departure from the overwhelming England/American stories the publishing world is flooded with, and the author's vast (yet imperfect) knowledge of people, places and languages adds a flavour of authenticity to Bastion's hectic travelling schedule.

The book starts with Bastion being dumped via a generic message from an app just prior to a celebratory work party. It supposedly ruins his evening, but we never feel it - we are informed thus, and while Bastion does, from time to time, reminisce about his boyfriend's curly black hair, his emotional reaction never goes beyond skin deep.

Bastion drinks too much and goes back to his hotel room with a woman that looks like his first love, Janine. The next morning, nursing the worst hangover ever, he realises he is missing his Morph (the phone to end all phones), and must hurry to get a replacement and make his flight to Chile for a conference. His colleague, Sandra, alerts him about their nemesis Nathan using the conference as a platform to present his election app which will potentially end the usefulness of The Federation. So starts a series of ridiculous events which sees Bastion miss three flights, his scheduled time to speak at the conference and suffer sleep-deprived hallucinations that convince him that he is the target of a global conspiracy.

This book could have been great, but didn't even get close. There is jargon-heavy speak between the main players, none of which makes sense to a layman, but most importantly, doesn't give us much inkling about the story or the plot. There is plenty of expository world-building, written as if the author is reading out a text book, but it feels inauthentic and out of sync with the narrative. Porcaro never weaves the world-building into the story, it is always a separate entity that stops the plot from moving forward.

Add to that, the inclusion of trademarks, etc in the written lexicon make it an uncomfortable read. From my experience, most companies require such marks to be incorporated on first instance, and then discarded following this. Following this rule of thumb would have made the reading experience better. Or else, a keen-eyed editor may have been able to increase readability by reducing the amount of nomenclature in the book.

The timeline is also confusing, where it suggests that the current events take place later than 2032, yet the protagonist was living a full life in the early noughties, and has clear knowledge of everything in history, no matter how far back it goes. How old is he, exactly?

This book isn't actually about the takeover of apps or political mind games, it's mostly about one drunk dude who cannot get over his breakups. Every single event is punctuated by Bastion pining for Janine. For a book that starts off with him having a boyfriend, we spend the majority of the story on his relationships (and some explicit details) with women. That's a classic bait-and-switch manoeuvre that I really should have seen coming, but didn't. Bastion is coded as bisexual, but the heteronormative manner in which the book is written just reduces his past girlfriends to one-note caricatures of human beings. Janine may be a neuroscientist, but she is also a version of the crazy ex-girlfriend trope.

Much of the 'political' shenanigans escaped me - they weren't well-written or written with any gravitas. The world that Porcaro has built is exquisite, but we never get to experience it. I felt 'disconnected' instead of 'conjoined' with the narrative. So much seemed to be riding on Bastion's speech at the conference, only for it not to take place on-page. And then, when it seems like their worst nightmare has come true, a convenient computer hack solves the day. Seems like some B-movie style writing here.

As accomplished and error-free as 'Disco Sour' is, it never quite finds its feet. Porcaro has a brilliant imagination, but he is not able to intertwine the world he has built with the people who are living/running it or with the story that will affect it. Plus, this book appears to be little more than a romance disguised as political philosophising. There is no harm in adding romance to any genre, but if it is going to be the main theme, tout it as such so that the reader is not caught unawares. I think a good editor could have tightened up some of the clunky writing, as well as ironed out the vagueness in the narrative. We needed to understand the gravity of the situation, but couldn't through all the exposition.

I highly recommend Porcaro continues building on this world, but maybe with a character not as incompetent as Bastion. I would love to read more of his vision of the future.

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