Even before his birth, Johnny Baker's life is in danger. His mother breaks the law when she has her fertilized egg endowed with genes that will give her son the potential to become a visual artist. Born in 2038, John Firth Baker is the first genetically engineered artist. At the age of nineteen, at the threshold of his career, he is murdered. Now, ten years after his death, Baker has become famous. An art curator has organized a show of his work, and his biography-culled from journals, e-mails, and interviews with those who knew him best-is published. The Song of the Earth is this "biography." It presents a powerful and haunting portrait of an artist as a young man in the twenty-first century.
Baker is born into a world transformed by technology: genetic profiles, space travel, and controlled housing communities are commonplace. Global warming has altered the environment. A planetary gender war is raging, familial structures are shattered, and new religions contend with the old. Yet human needs remain the same: the search for love, the desire for approval, the longing for fame, and the quest for knowledge. The Song of the Earth is a hypnotic novel about our desire to control our destinies, our yearning for immortality, and the very human impulse to create art. With prose, poetry, and images, Nissenson tells an original tale that brilliantly captures the experience of another time and place.
Nissenson (The Tree of Life, etc.) creates a Rimbaud-like figure for the 21st century in a bizarre mock biography that supports the notion that art can't be taught although perhaps it can be engineered. Born in 2037, Johnny Baker is an arsogenic metamorph (a test-tube baby whose genes have been illegally tailored to make him an artist). It comes as no surprise when he turns out to be sensitive, open-minded, ambitious and (like his mother, Jeanette, a member of the group of gender activists called Gynarchists) gay. In high school, he has a few flings and becomes obsessed with a religious guru named Sri Billy Lee Mukerjee in fact, he eventually has his breasts augmented in imitation of the guru. He leaves home at 16 to live in New York, shacking up with a sugar daddy he meets through a personals ad, telling his mother he has gone to study art. His surreal, often morbid artwork is interspersed throughout the book, which acts as a sort of extended elegy, since Johnny dies violently at age 19. Nissenson has created a complete and fascinating future world full of details that tease the imagination, such as genetic manipulation, astronomical price inflation ($60-a-liter Evian), virtual reality and the submersion of most of New York City under water. The book consists of reconstructed dialogue, e-mails, fragments of interviews and downloads of information from fictitious Web sites. Although this approach is a pointed reference to the increasingly staccato nature of communication in contemporary society, it gradually loses its dynamism and becomes distracting. But the cumulative effect is a haunting warning against the hazards of pushing technology forward without regard for human integrity.
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One of the greatest works I’ve ever read
I remember pulling this out of it’s place in my high school library like it was just yesterday. This book changed my whole perception on literature as a whole. It grabbed my brain by the reigns and held to the very end. Out of five stars I overwhelmingly give it a six.