The Dark Fields

Glynn, Alan. New York: Bloomsbury, 2001. 341 p, $24.95, hardcover. ISBN 1582342245.

Literature of intoxication has always been a way of investigating both the problems of consciousness and political realities, and it seems as if every generation had its perfect drug: alcohol for the lost generation, speed and heroine for the beats, LSD for the counter-culture, cocaine for yuppies, and ecstasy for nineties ravers and their re-invention of psychedelic politics. Each substance, it might be argued, is perfectly aligned with each movement, amplifying both the good and bad aspects of each. Then there are imaginary drugs, from the spice at the heart of Dune, to DeLillo's Dylar. In his first novel, Alan Glynn sets out to imagine the perfect drug for the global information age, and he gives us MDT-48, an imaginary substance of terrifying origin and potential.

Set in New York City, The Dark Fields is told in the first-person by Eddie Spinola, an intellectual slacker and former cocaine addict, now eking out a living as a copywriter for a small publishing house. Through a bizarre series of coincidences, Eddie finds himself in possession of MTD-48, a drug that has some curious effects. On his first trip, Eddie discovers that the drug boosts the intellect, making him far smarter -- but also faster, more intuitive, and more charismatic. By warding off sleep and focusing his attention span, Eddie finds that the drug enables him, in a matter of hours, to write a book, learn a foreign language, or predict certain events by detecting patterns in vast amounts of information. What author Glynn has imagined is the perfect drug for the information age, one that makes its user a match for the ceaseless flow of data from television and newspapers to the Internet. Rather than being lost in the overload of endless news, history, opinions, and other information, the user of MDT-48 can take it all in and find meaningful patterns within it. It is an addictive combination, and the book follows Eddie's adventures as he goes through numerous career changes: from copywriter to stock trader and ultimately high- finance guru. However, like all drugs, MDT-48 has its downside, including lethal withdrawal symptoms and terrifying side-effects that can render a user homicidal. If this were not enough, the drug itself is both created and distributed by a shadowy corporation worthy of Pynchonian paranoia, and it isn't too long before Eddie begins to suspect that he didn't just "find" MDT-48 after all.

The Dark Fields is reminiscent of cyberpunk from William Gibson's Neuromancer to Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash, though not quite as elegant as the former or imaginative as the latter. Indeed, the book seems to suffer from some of the same problems as much cyberpunk. While the plotting is fast paced and compelling, the premise relevant and engaging, at points the writing itself falls a bit flat, and the conclusion fails to really resolve some of the most interesting questions the book has to offer. Nonetheless, for those interested in visions of the information age, intoxication, and consciousness, this is a compelling first novel, and it seems to promise even better work in the future from Alan Glynn.

David Banash