“Saving Diego” by Matthew Kressel

IZ221 coverThere is a trick to writing first-person narratives set in the future, of course. I’m not asking for Nadsat every time, but I think that either you have to make some attempt to make your narrator sound like they belong — as Jason Stoddard attempts in “Monetized” — or you have to make something of the dissonance, say as Ian R MacLeod does in Song of Time. The big problem with “Saving Diego” is that it doesn’t really do either. Here’s the first paragraph:

I had traveled twelve thousand, seven hundred and sixty light-years to see my friend, but the hardest part of the trip was the last seventy one flights of stairs. Goddamn the Nefanesh and their ass-backwards ways! I struggled to catch my breath as I moved down a dim hallway covered with dust. Oil lamps flickered from high places, and the doors sported knobs and hinges, like some virt park for kiddies, a rehash of a dead era. But no, the Nefanesh preferred their realtime antique, the fucks. Why Diego had come all the way out here, to this world at the edge of the galaxy where the planet-munching numens roam, I could only guess. I hadn’t seen my friend in six years.

The first sentence has a nice jaded-by-wonder vibe to it; the second is pure contemporary American, yet the casual space travel to a human colony thousands of light-years from Earth (and the mention of “virt parks”, and the idea that doorknobs are an antique affectation) makes it clear we are some way into the future. “Goddamn”, “the fucks”, and “ass-backwards” — that last in particular, I think — are jarring.

That said, when we meet Diego, the language makes more sense. Here he is: “smiling like the Buddha. He wore nothing but a pair of ripped shorts … A mop of greasy gray hair hung to his shoulders and his beard was long and shaggy.” This is a drug story. Diego is addicted to the local stuff, jisthmus, which really truly gives you access to higher consciousnesses (the aforementioned planet-munching numens), and he’s called Mikal to help him get clean. So there’s some hippy in the mix (and not shiny happy Rucker people, either), which explains much of Mikal’s voice (if you can choose to believe, for the duration of a story, that people like him will always talk like that), and there’s some “gritty” addiction stuff, and a bunch of sfnal literalising, as when Mikal takes his own inevitable trip, and feels “… a monstrous hand reaching across light-years of space to stroke me … Pleasurable like a thousand orgasms. And vile, because each stroke said to me I was nothing but a speck of flotsam in an infinite sea.” All of which is fine as far as it goes; but Kressel wants his future to feel slightly plausible, too, so we get other slang — oxdep, realtime, freegenes — and the two idioms don’t mesh, neither deepening nor informing the other. “Saving Diego” is stranded by its style.

2 thoughts on ““Saving Diego” by Matthew Kressel

  1. Yeah, another story I wasn’t really impressed with.
    Now I’m wondering what I’ve seen in Interzone all year. I’m sure it picks up at some point ;)

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