Friday, May 30, 2008

In Which it Turns Out I Don't Like Reading About Jerks

Generally speaking, I start every story with the intention of finishing it. That's the default setting that most authors want to encourage. Unfortunately, in the opening novella in May's Analog ("Test Signals" by David Bartell), I felt like I was running into repeated stumbling blocks thrown into my path, telling me to go no further.

The first bit seemed promising: a gigantic computer runs genetic simulations over an astronomical number of combinations. When it finds a viable organism, it turns it over to some underpaid staffers to pick out the potentially useful or salable ones. So far, so good. One of these staffers is our protagonist.

He gets a call from one of his co-workers Tina, identified as "the company whore," (bad sign #1) who has recently been promoted. He had once considered going out with her, but a deformity on her neck made him queasy, then he found out about her reputation. He identifies himself as an asshole around this time as well. (Bad sign #2)

Anyway, he goes up to Tina's office to see what she's found. One of the simulated organisms that she's found has four arms, just like our protagonist turns out to have. This disturbs them both greatly, for no reason I was able to discern (#3). They're so concerned that they go have a talk with a senior analyst who's crazy about trees (??). The senior guy suggests that Tina has arranged it just to get our hero to go out with her (#4), leading to this gem of a quote:

"Her face was getting red, so I decided to change the subject. Not that I don't like seeing people squirm, but in her case, I'd rather see it in private."

(#5) Basically, this guy is just the kind of jerk I really dislike in real life. I'm already not looking forward to spending more time with him, but I forge on!

They're still freaked out about the 4-armed humanoid, so they go out together across town for lunch (#6), where they proceed to not talk about work at all (#7). Instead they insult each other about their deformities (#8), which apparently makes them like each other even more (#9).

So what we have here are two dislikable people. The author has established that the boy doesn't like the girl, so of course they end up going out. They're both worried about this work thing, but instead of talking about it at work they go out, despite the aforementioned dislike. They insult each other, which leads to attraction somehow. And the actual topic that they thought was so important (although we're still not sure why) gets completely dropped while this version of "flirting" goes on.

Count me out.

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