The Pickup Artist

Posted by : atcampbell | On : December 17, 2002

The Pickup Artist by Terry Bisson

Fourteen people attended this meeting at Lori and A. T.’s home, and two submitted comments by email. Our topic was The Pickup Artist, a near future sf novel by Terry Bisson. In this story it has been decided that there is too much content (art, books, movies, music) in the world, so old stuff must be eliminated to make room for people to buy new content. Regular lotteries are held to determine which creators’ works are to be eliminated, and all the world’s governments develop collection agencies that confiscate obsolete content. The protagonist title character works for such a collection agency. Eight of us had started this book, and all finished it.

The Pickup Artist is full of thought-provoking ideas. The story is an obvious variant on Fahrenheit 451. We wondered why an award-winning author like Terry Bisson would write a book about such a painful theme as the destruction of art. We all found the concept horrible, but felt the scenario presented in this book is eerily plausible. The book is filled with interesting dreamlike imagery, including people tunneling through mountains of trash and drugs that let dead people talk. We liked the “speakeasies” where people enjoy forbidden content and the “flee” markets where they buy illegal merchandise.

We had several problems with this novel. The premise and first couple of chapters made us expect a satirical Pohl/Kornbluth story, but it evolved into a weird road novel. Several of us found most of the characters in the book to be uninteresting, which was painfully obvious in a sequence where a man and woman are on a long road trip but have almost nothing to say to each other. The book’s attempts at humor mostly fail. Many of us had difficulty reading about the horrific treatment the protagonist’s sick dog received from institutionalized veterinary care.

While we found enough flaws to only consider this book a partial success, its strong ideas generated some lively discussion. After the meeting we had a nice potluck dinner.

— A. T. Campbell, III