Washed up screens, neon tubes, mobile phones and kitchen appliances pile up on the beach atnden; in between, a stranded blue whale that choked on a refrigerator. At night, deer sink into electronic waste in search of food, while roaring Fata Morgana machines project endless advertising loops directly into the sky and the hum of fighter jets is reminiscent of wars that are not too far away.
The post-apocalyptic setting that Rudi Nuss chose for his debut novel “The Reality is Coming” is inhospitable. That’s why his characters prefer to flee into a virtual environment called “Avalon”, through which they move as naturally as through “first reality”. Whereby VR also harbors dangers since it is no longer maintained: “the bugs, the delusional algorithms and the wild layers of code north of the extreme extent of the void.” should avoid “so as not to disappear with a wrong click in a bottomless shopping basket”.
For Rudi Nuss, born in Berlin in 1994, these scenarios are by no means just dystopian. Apart from a veritable firework of bizarre ideas, the collapse of old (thought) systems offers the perfect backdrop for all sorts of loopholes and opportunities to try out new identities and alternative forms of community. The gender-fluid first-person narrator Conny lives with the gay couple Wolfgang and Nikita in a container in a junkyard near the fictional coastal town ofEnden. Conny, on the other hand, meets her “love interest” Marlo at the bar of a run-down hotel in Avalon, in the form of an extinct giant bird. And Wolfgang, who suffers from a rare metabolic disease in the “first reality” and can hardly move from the couch, hunts through the virtual forests in Avalon in the form of a pack of shiny metallic coyotes.
The permanently mutating reality with its equally rapidly changing identities may initially overwhelm some readers. But overstimulation is part of Nut’s agenda. The best thing is to just let yourself be carried away by this sometimes thoughtful-melancholic, sometimes trashy-absurd structure, located somewhere between computer game, surreal dream prose, fan fiction and philosophical essay.
There is also a kind of plot, or at least a mission that Nuss’ characters have to fulfil: Conny and her friends are looking for the long-lost copy of a utopian VR in the depths of Avalon, with the help of which they save the world from a sect called “the new immersion”.
This quest, which is admittedly quite far-fetched, serves – as in every good game – above all to raise all sorts of profound questions about identity, origin, (alternative) historiography, perception and memory. Or, on the meta-level, on the fragility of human life itself. At one point, Conny quotes two depressed geologists from the (fictitious) horror film “Terrors in the Earth’s Crust”, in which they ponder “that death is lurking a few kilometers above and below us and that all creatures on this planet are just looking for an almost disappearing death change thinness”.
Apart from that, a lot of what Rudi Nuss tells together in his novel is just great fun: the iconic science fiction setting, the eccentric supporting characters, and last but not least the sheer inexhaustible wealth of subtle and macabre details.
A dying figure sees after all profound considerations about his own transience – at the end of the tunnel not a divine light, but an annoying pop-up ad for an online casino, which she tries with her last strength to click away.
Rudi Nuss: Reality is coming. Roman, Diaphanes-Verlag, Zurich 2022. 248 pages, €22.50.