Big Picture

July/August’s Big Picture

Waste of Space

by Gina Damico

Chazz Young, CEO of DV8 media productions, has been riding high on a string of crowd-pleasing reality shows, and now he has an idea to blow his former work out of the water: recruit and sign a crew of teens, chosen of course for physical traits and personality quirks that promise to ramp up the drama, send them into space, and see what happens. No actual space flight is involved, because Chazz intends to keep them locked into a set on a remote New Mexico soundstage; the teens themselves will never know that though and neither will the audience. NASAW (wait for the expansion) scientists will rig up a convincing set and propose some space adventure narratives, and the lucrative fee from DV8 will fund their future serious research. Three, two, one . . . the show blasts through the ratings, and the skepticism of many fans who see through holes in the sets and the plots only fuels the afterbuzz as each week’s TV airing and the 24/7 nowhere-to-hide camera footage cranks online. Then the National Association for the Study of Astronomy and Weightlessness turns out to be the National Association for the Search of Atmospheric Wormholes, and the rogue scientists have unleashed events that Chazz could never have predicted but happily exploits.

Damico does for media frenzy and outer space what Libba Bray did for glamour pageants in Beauty Queens (BCCB 6/11), taking this adventure all the way from comedy to sharp satire. If she were content to skewer the odious Chazz and his broadly stereotyped contestants—sexy Bacardi and blackmailing Clayton, in particular—she wouldn’t score many points for grabbing the low-hanging fruit, but nothing and no one connected with the Waste of Space show is spared from Damico’s lampoonery. The kid labeled disabled (he’s missing a finger) proves too, well, abled to command audience interest, and he’s promptly yanked from the show. The scientist consultants are more than willing to sell their integrity for fund- ing. Perky, the media personality who covers the media personalities, is a cooing bundle of buzz-stirring titillation. Fact checkers who try to expose the charade are basement-dwelling dilettantes. The whole story of the space nonflight gone wrong is leaked by an opportunistic journalism intern who happens to have access to the tapes and memos that compose the novel. And then, there’s us, the readers-cum- viewers, who know this is all manipulated nonsense on a tragic trajectory but are compelled to rubberneck the train wreck anyway.

In the end, that relationship between media feast and media consumer lies at the heart of Damico’s satire. Readers both young and old indiscriminately ingest responsible reporting, manipulated news, truthiness, and outright lies; we make a brief effort to digest it; we excrete our opinions and assessments within our like-minded circle of pals; we crave the next day’s repast. And so young readers will come to gasp and howl and hoot at Chazz and teen Spacetronauts, but they should be prepared to laugh at themselves. (See p. 492 for publication information.)

Elizabeth Bush, Reviewer


Cover credit: Art from Waste of Space © 2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.