Andrew Altschul, according to reviews, has applied a devilish wit to what he observes as a growing societal fascination with reality TV, in his novel, “Deus Ex Machina” (Counterpoint, 2011). That fascination, in Altschul’s view, centers on ever-devolving scenarios of debasement, danger and cutthroat competition for contestants.
Intrigued by shows such as “Fear Factor” and “I Love Money,” Altschul crafts the ultimate reality show, “The Deserted.” Its novelty factor is that contestants seem to be completely unsupervised — they are filmed in an actual battle for survival on an island with real, not just, imagined dangers — a “Lord of the Flies” for adults, who discard morals for money.
In an excerpt, the producer of “Deserted” pitches the show in this way: “Free will: a concept of such beautiful simplicity no one quite knew how to discuss it. You chose the environment, dropped the unsuspecting players into it, and left them alone. No host, no gags, no idiotic games. And no intervention.”
Altschul’s background as an FM deejay and later as a music journalist in San Diego in the late ’80s has served to inform and color his first two novels — “Lady Lazarus” (Harcourt Books, 2008), a satiric submersion in rock and roll’s celebrity culture and exhibitionism that feeds a cultural curiosity about tragedy and spectacle in the lives of others; and his latest view presented by “Deus Ex Machina” of the degeneration of television reality shows and the current American culture that enjoys the ugliness.
Publishers Weekly says, “Rarely has societal criticism come with more mayhem … an anarchic assault on the dehumanizing power of media.”
Altschul said his fascination with American media and culture began when he was living abroad during the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton and the subsequent election of George Bush “It’s when I first became concerned with celebrity culture and the idea of how frequently we are lied to [in the media] on a daily basis, lies both large and small, that the public not only does not mind hearing but gets upset when confronted with the truth.
Altschul has a bachelor of arts in psychology from Brown University and a master of fine arts in English from the University of California, Irvine. He was a Wallace Stegner fellow in creative writing at Stanford University.
He is not new to Idyllwild, having spent many weekends here when he worked in San Diego. In fact, one of his stories is called “Leaving Idyllwild,” and scenes in both novels owe some tip of the hat to Garner Valley’s Zen Center and Idyllwild Arts.
Altschul will talk with Author Series host Eduardo Santiago at 2 p.m. Sunday, July 3, at B’s Mountain of Books. There is no cost to attend this popular event.