“Monetized” by Jason Stoddard

IZ220 coverHmm. This strikes me as a rough start, in several senses:

My Saturday started with Antonio Moreno, screaming at me through my eyeset.

“Mike! Where’d the money go!” he yelled.

I groaned. I sat up. Full sun streamed through the grimy windows of my Silver Lake crackerbox, slashing the bedsheets white and hitting one absinthe-soaked retina like a billion photonic bullets.

(We already know he’s screaming. Do we really need that “he yelled”? Either way, shouldn’t that exclamation be a question? And isn’t that “Full sun…” sentence just trying a bit too hard? I quite like “slashing the bedsheets white”, and I don’t mind the basic image behind “like a billion photonic bullets”, but the construction feels off; I start wondering what a photon-like bullet would be like, rather than wincing at the bullet-pain caused by a billion photons.)

We lay our scene in a near-future “de facto post-scarcity” California from the hyperactive Doctorow/Stross mould, with narration by a petulantly plugged-in young man (teenager?), so the story couldn’t really be said to calm down at any point, but it does become engaging enough that I stopped stumbling over the rough patches. Manufacturing is so cheap that most people can achieve a decent standard of living by “monetizing” their everyday interactions; a cross between Google Ad Sense and the Microsoft Paperclip whispers “revenue opportunities” in the narrator’s ear. We are intended to take this seriously, both economically and in its potential to deform human relations. I haven’t thought about it too hard. Some of it is decently chilling: casual mention of “the anonymity of people who suck at social networking”, for instance. Some of it feels glib, as the story barrels towards its paradigm-shifting conclusion. Little of it feels distinctive.

19 thoughts on ““Monetized” by Jason Stoddard

  1. You… you mean it’s possible for a sentence to be flawed even if it’s clear, grammatically correct, and can be parsed on first reading? Huh, whoda thunk it? ;-p

    (Sorry, couldn’t help myself… I promise I’ll shut up now… )

  2. This story gives a good example of why I keep cancelling my Interzone subscription, then singing up again a few issues later. Most Interzone writers just try too hard. I am all in favour of encouraging young writers, but “Monetized”, like so many other Interzone stories, is begging for a good editor. One of the best bits of advice I ever read about writing was to carefully construct your opening sentence, put in your most powerful metaphors and images, make sure that you grab the reader with every word, and then throw it away and start writing with your natural voice.

    With Interzone, I really miss stories that use classical conventional prose, and take their time to establish character and setting. But house style seems to be slam bam images and street punk narrators, which have become as cliched as mad scientists with sexy daughters used to be. Chris Beckett does adult characters with real problems, but most other writers seem unable to imagine people not living hand-to-mouth street existence, with problems with women, authority and employment. Look outside your own lives, guys.

  3. Allan: I share your experience of finding modern Interzone‘s quality erratic, and your appreciation of Chris Beckett’s work. One minor point — the narrator isn’t living hand-to-mouth in “Monetized”; quite the opposite, he’s pretty comfortable. It’s fair to say that his problems are largely to do with women, authority and employment, however.

  4. Aha! I think I see now. When *I* have trouble with an overwritten sentence it’s my issue because I can’t handle sober, serious, characterful writing. When *Niall* takes issue with an overwritten sentence, it’s because the author isn’t being clear.

    It all makes sense now! I’m glad we’ve settled that.

  5. I can’t handle

    I never said that, nor did anyone else in that discussion, nor do I think it. But I am glad we’ve identified a universal standard of “overwritten” to which we can appeal to determine who’s at fault in cases like this. It makes life so much easier.

  6. I’ll agree that many sentences in the Denault piece could stand to be broken up, but I see Niall’s point too. It’s refreshing to see a review that actually has structure and makes arguments.

    And it doesn’t seem to me that it’s overwritten as such; rather that the author’s spent too much time in the 18th and 19th centuries. Something I’ve been guilty of on occasion, myself.

    Whereas the “photonic bullets” sentence — I’m not sure I know what overwriting is, but mixing that many metaphors, similes, adjectives and human senses in one image might well be it.

    (Plus, I want to know what this singular-but-metaphorically-plural sun hit the other absinthe-soaked retina like.)

  7. (I’m not taking Niall’s side just to take Niall’s side, honest! Google around till you find us both talking about Stephen Baxter if you want evidence.)

  8. David-

    I totally agree with the structure and arguments! I found Matt’s review quite valuable at that level. I was making a purely sentence-level argument about that one.

    I also actually agree with Niall that the ‘photonic bullets’ sentence is ‘overwritten’ (if he’ll accept that as a paraphrase of ‘just trying a bit too hard’) It’s just that he’d previously mentioned that the main reason for considering a sentence too long would be that it became difficult to parse–no other aesthetic consideration seemed applicable to him at that point. So I thought it was funny that he criticized this one, which I didn’t find difficult to parse–it seemed like other aesthetic principles were actually going to be relevant! But it still came down to parseability, I guess.

    But I still agree it’s overwritten.

  9. (Plus, I want to know what this singular-but-metaphorically-plural sun hit the other absinthe-soaked retina like.)

    I think the narrator is wearing an eyeset over the other eye.

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