cover image Ecstasy Club

Ecstasy Club

Douglas Rushkoff / Author HarperOne $17.5 (320p) ISBN 978-0-06

Club kids and new technologies potentiate like drugs and alcohol in a thriller that's the first novel from media critic Rushkoff (Media Virus) as well as the first fiction to come from HarperEdge. Rushkoff draws on his knowledge of cyberculture and the rave scene (and its use of the eponymous drug, ecstasy) to explore the weirdness that could result when alternative culture turns on, drops out and logs on. Led by Duncan, a charismatic young Brit with hypnotic powers, a group of educated, disenfranchised 20-somethings take over an abandoned piano factory in Oakland, Calif., envisioning a space where the party never stops and where they might possibly tap into another dimension. A modern variation of Ken Kesey's 1960s Bay Area ""Acid Tests,"" the Ecstasy Club sponsors computer experiments fueled by mountains of hallucinogenic drugs. There is high-tech method to its madness, and there are forces working against it. As malevolent coincidences begin to mount, it becomes clear that a remarkable number of people are involved in a conspiracy involving government mind-control--the police, the feds, Plugged magazine, Hollywood actors and a 1960s drug guru. At the root of it all is the ultra-paranoid E.T. Harmon, founder of the powerful, mind-controlling ""Cosmotology"" cult. Narrated by Zach Levi, a sensitive tech wiz who is second in command to Duncan, the novel has enough immediacy and plausibility to make it magnetically readable. But as Zach's suspicions about Duncan's motivations grow, and as he finds himself increasingly drawn to Duncan's girlfriend Lauren, the conspiracy plot gets dumber and dumber. It's hard to reconcile Rushkoff's sharp-edged journalistic observations with the lumbering super-conspiracy idea he comes up with. His creaky plot undoes him in the end, but his writing talent indicates better novels ahead; meanwhile, this will be a hot item among the Gen-Xers. (May)