When High Technology Meets Immortality

Zero K

by Don DeLillo
Scribner, 274 pp., $27.00
Don DeLillo, New York City, 1990s
Dominique Nabokov
Don DeLillo, New York City, 1990s

In Zero K Don DeLillo has found the perfect physical repository for his oracular visions, his end-time reveries, his balladry of dread. The place is called the Convergence. It is a sealed, self-sufficient, subterranean cryogenic facility, funded by wealthy patrons and secret government agencies. Within are chambers in which the bodies of hundreds of wealthy patrons are frozen in gleaming pods. The essential organs are stored within smaller pods. The bodies and organs are to rest in a state of suspended animation until our inevitable, impending apocalypse has run its course. One character calls this “faith-based technology.” It requires several forms of faith: that the pods will remain frozen indefinitely; that future civilizations will be able to reanimate the bodies and grant them immortality; that life in the distant future will be preferable to death.

The Convergence, which is buried underground in the southern Kazakh steppe, has the appearance of an intergalactic spaceship. The facility looks much like the compound in Alex Garland’s film Ex Machina (2015), with which Zero K shares a tonal affinity. Access tubes and airlocks and sliding walls connect long hushed hallways lined with pastel-colored doors. Most of the doors do not open and those that do require the assistance of an encoded wristband, the kind one might wear at an all-inclusive Caribbean resort. The “veer,” a horizontal elevator, travels between various numbered levels, the most distant requiring special clearance. A visitor’s bedroom is not so much a room as it is a “scant roomscape.” Wandering the halls are mute, spectral figures draped in priestly gowns, a young boy “in a motorized wheelchair that resembled a toilet,” and prostitutes from former Soviet states. The Convergence is not merely a laboratory, after all. It is also a conceptual art project, “a model of shape and form, a wilderness vision, all lines and angles and jutted wings, set securely nowhere.”

Within it are various installations. We encounter screens projecting images of catastrophic floods, tornadoes, and war in the Middle East; a catacomb of plastic mannequins; a room in which all four walls are painted with a continuous image of the room and its furniture; an empty white marble room in which a small barefoot girl cowers silently in the corner. These tableaux appear suddenly and often without comment, like images glimpsed while surfing late-night public access television. The Convergence, writes DeLillo, “was a form of visionary art…with broad implications.” The same description applies to Zero K and, for that matter, much of DeLillo’s fiction. His vision is ironic, sere, crackling with static like a horror film. But those broad implications—what are they exactly?

Our escort through the Convergence is a thirty-four-year-old American named Jeffrey Lockhart. He spends his days “in middling drift,” working at jobs with titles like “cross-stream pricing consultant,”…

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