Kipper's Game is about a computer whiz-kid, his parents, extra-terrestrial life, the disintegration of our planet, Nazis, and the pleasure principle. The novel by Barbara Ehrenreich, an essayist for Time magazine, left me with a bland taste in the mouth and a vow to make sure I never lead a life like that of Della Markson.
Markson, who's Kipper's (aka Steve Markson) mom is dumped by her husband Leo. Alone, she moves from day to day in daze with no apparent reason to exist. In the past, she had devoted her life to raising her son---but he too leaves her. She blames herself for her son's action, but only in the end does she realise that Kipper left her to program a computer game---one that would stimulate the pleasure centre in the brain directly, thus making it the most addictive game known to man. Why bother with sex, or other orgasmic experiences, if the pleasure centre can be stimulated directly. One could do this forever, physicallly leading the life of a vegetable, but mentally experiencing mutiple orgasms.
So what is it about the game that stimulates the pleasure centre? Ehrenreich plays on man's quest for knowledge as the ultimate aphrodisiac. This is evident in the way she depicts science as the ultimate learning experience, but carefully hidden from the mainstream populace by camouflaging it as a tedious enterprise. The reason people gather knowledge in this novel is even more way out; it is so extra-terrestrial life forms can learn about us. To summarise: Kipper writes a game that stimulates the pleasure centre, by encapsulating the human experience of questioning and learning, so extra-terrestrials can learn more about us when they come across the game. Puts Gibson to shame, doesn't it?
Set in the near future, it also depicts how living conditions have deteriorated. The scientists, who initially performed research on the pleasure centre, were employed by the Nazis, who used human subjects (the Jews and other people considered enemies of the Reich) in the ultimate experiment. Ehrenreich is very though-provoking in this novel, presenting ideas like a fast-evolving protein system for thought processing (ala the immunoglobulins) and rewiring of the neuronal circuits in the brain in all possible ways to increase intelligence. That reason alone makes this worthwhile reading.