Sensation: Acerbic novel about pop culture and popular madness as functions of parasitic manipulation

By Cory Doctorow

Nick Mamatas's novel Sensation is the story of Julia Hernandez, a mild Brooklyn semi-hipster who is stung by a mutant wasp and colonized by its parasitic eggs, who warp her neurochemistry to turn her into a catalyst for chaotic destruction. Hernandez leaves her husband, Raymond, at gunpoint, and proceeds to assassinate a gentrifying real-estate baron. This turns her into a Brooklyn folk-hero, as blogging hipsters from the midwest found a kind of situationist political movement with no name (you discuss it by ironically waggling your hand back and forth).

The wasps who have taken over Julia have an ancient enemy: a race of spiders who are normally a prey animal for the wasps (the wasps lay their eggs in the spiders, who are then compelled to spin a kind of nursery for the larvae, who eat the spiders on the way out). These spiders are an ancient, collective intelligence, and they use their power to spin facsimile humans ("men of indeterminate ethnicity") who form a spy network that oversees the human race and invisibly fights off the wasps' influence, in an ancient battle that has been waged for the whole history of our three species.

Sensation is told from the spiders' collective point of view, as they attempt rescue Julia from the wasps' clutches and stash her in the Simulacrum, a network of places, retailers, and lifestyles that don't ever mesh with the real world. It recounts Raymond's fraught relationship with the movement and its non-founders who refuse to plan, or take on any sort of authority structure.

Mamatas is a powerfully acerbic writer, both in fiction and online. His acid wit is infamous, and it is on splendid display in Sensation, which is alive with scornful insight about pop culture, the net, and politics. Sensation is a kind of bastard love-child of GG Allin and Kurt Vonnegut, a science fiction story that is funny but always discomfiting. I recommend it highly.


Published 5:35 am Mon, May 30, 2011

About the Author

I write books. My latest are: a YA graphic novel called In Real Life (with Jen Wang); a nonfiction book about the arts and the Internet called Information Doesn't Want to Be Free: Laws for the Internet Age (with introductions by Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer) and a YA science fiction novel called Homeland (it's the sequel to Little Brother). I speak all over the place and I tweet and tumble, too.

5 Responses to “Sensation: Acerbic novel about pop culture and popular madness as functions of parasitic manipulation”

  1. VagabondAstronomer says:

    I had planned a story where the driving force to most human endeavours is candida albacans, an insidious colony intelligence that does pretty much the same thing.
    But not as cool. Going to have to get this one. Thanks for the heads-up, Cory.

    • Anonymous says:

      Heh, I was always suspicious of our gut bacteria, just think of all those armies in history that all died of dysentery at some convenient moment.

  2. Chentzilla says:

    But is it better than Pelevin’s Insect Life?

  3. T Nielsen Hayden says:

    Leiber, spiders and snakes. The old ways are sound.

  4. frogworth says:

    This is a really excellent novel. I echo Cory’s recommendation.
    Mamatas is a compelling writer – this is a decidedly weird book, weirdly constructed and written from a weird perspective, but it kept me reading all the way. It maintains throughout a charming and often hilarious commentary on politics, social engineering, relationships, how America thinks of itself, and so much more.

    Glad to see it appearing on BoingBoing. I think it’d appeal to a lot of the readers here.

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