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irennie's picture

Company

By irennie in Teleport Us

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Description

You wake up, and everything is dark.  Beyond dark, monochrome.  You wake up in a strange room in a different body.  And then someone comes in to talk about how much you owe...

Company is a story about how much of yourself you own, how far obligation can go, and how much of you can be taken before you lose your humanity.

Comments

ArlaneEnalra's picture
ArlaneEnalra from Texas is reading Right now I'm editing . . .. February 2, 2013 - 2:08pm

That certainly falls on the dystopian side of the scale. You have an interesting premise here, have you ever listened to/read Spherical Tomi? The fact that death isn't an escape is reminds me of it.

Writing in the second person point of view started out a little disconcerting but seems to work reasonably well. Especially since my day job is actually writing software. This is another one where once I got used to the flow it read very smoothly, even with the unusual pov.

I liked the way you closed the circle at the end there, with Hilton's new role. The jump in pay rate was a little surprising but I can see how the added mental strain could justify it.

Nicely done!

Ivan Smith's picture
Ivan Smith from Melbourne, Australia is reading The back of a packet of potato chips February 3, 2013 - 4:15am

Very nice, well balanced, story, good ending.

Writing in 2nd person is interesting, but feels a bit unnecessary. The writing was tight though. I was confused about whether the character was living inside a simulation, brain in a jar style, or if it just had a robot 'Sim' body, like the simulacra from Phillip K Dick's stories.

Matt Hebert's picture
Matt Hebert from Vermont, originally, now in Dublin February 3, 2013 - 1:57pm

Great writing, very clean and efficient, but with color and feeling.  Very enjoyable.  The present tense, 2nd person, as mentioned above, stands out, but for the most part you met the challenge and it works.  The only problem for me [and possibly not for anyone else] was that you have to withhold information to get the emotional hit at the end.  It feels artificial to withold it from myself, so to speak.  Just a niggle, but it interrupted the nice flow.

Excellent story, though, and excellently written.  Thank you. :)

Grant Williams's picture
Grant Williams from Wichita, KS is reading Friday February 4, 2013 - 5:46am

Excellent story, well written and concise.  I was a little thrown by the perspective, but only because it isn't common.  I think it worked well for the story.

Tom Elias's picture
Tom Elias from Maine is reading Everything I can afford or that is within arms' reach. February 5, 2013 - 3:51am

Ian,

I truly liked this.  I believe that 2nd person is the only way to present this disturbing view of a dystopian future, so my hat's off to you on this insightful choice.  I am unsure as to why you numbered things memorandum-style, but it works, giving this a very corporate taste.

My only dart to throw:  Page four, "Sir, I respectfully enquire..." Use "inquire."

Paper_Junkie's picture
Paper_Junkie from MN is reading A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again February 5, 2013 - 9:44am

I also thought the second person worked well here.  I liked the concept, and the technological details, but thought the section headings threw off the flow of the story.  Good job!

Alehydra's picture
Alehydra February 5, 2013 - 6:36pm

This is hands down my favorite story here so far. I love the idea of not being able to escape your debts even in death. And the ending was so eerie. I read it last night but didn't have a chance to review. It's really stuck with me since I read it though. Great job!

Also, I imagined Rod Serling from The Twilight Zone reading it to me.

timbarzyk's picture
timbarzyk from Earth February 8, 2013 - 6:04pm

This was a great story and a thumbs up for me. You did an AMAZING job with the 2nd person here -- such a tough thing to pull off. I started reading it, and after a few paragraphs was like, "Hey, this is 2nd person perspective." It snuck up on me in a good way.

Your writing was concise and eloquent; dialogue appropriate and genuine. Great storyline -- had a progression (beginning, middle, end) -- even had backstory for character -- wife didn't think I was myself anymore (see, now I'VE become the sim!), so I rode my car off a cliff. "You can't afford death" -- HAH, love it.

Also, the bookend worked terrifically -- I think that helps short stories quite a lot -- to have the end circle back to the beginning somehow.

The length of it was totally appropriate too -- you didn't drag it out, yet it definitely read as a whole, complete story.

I can't even really think of anything to constructively criticize, and that's odd for me. I feel kinda weird.

Really good job. Look forward to reading more of your stuff.

Tim

JC Piech's picture
JC Piech from England is reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest February 9, 2013 - 10:11am

I really liked this. And it's actually believable. Details like the suicide nets were very well thought out. Excellent work :)

Ethan Cooper's picture
Ethan Cooper from Longview, TX is reading The Kill Room, Heart-Shaped Box, Dr. Sleep February 9, 2013 - 10:41pm

This was a fun read. Thanks for writing it.

You have a complete story here, and it's pretty lean and mean. Very satisfying, and the ending is really inevitable.

I don't have a ton to say. LBL is attached.

I think you pulled off 2nd person just fine. The only thing I think you should change is to not name your main character. Since the main character is me, calling me "Mr. Hilton" undermines what you're doing.

Very well done.

klahol's picture
klahol from Stockholm, Sweden is reading Black Moon February 10, 2013 - 6:22am

Very much liked it, and especially that the premise of virtual servitude seemed plausible. Believable Sci-fi, my favourite kind. Chinese masters and suicide nets on the sweatshops is a very nice touch. 

I also liked the theme that death is a luxury few can afford. If there's anything i lacked in this story, it would be to dwell a little on that particular concept. 

Rachel Saunders's picture
Rachel Saunders from York, UK is reading Lots of factual stuff for ideas February 10, 2013 - 8:09am

It is a well written piece, and defintiely fulfills the criteria of the contest. The cyclical nature of the story is good, and you've captured the nature of corporate hell very well.

Grant Piercy's picture
Grant Piercy from Ohio is reading Nothing at the moment, but recently Don DeLillo's Libra February 10, 2013 - 10:58am

This is a searing piece of short fiction. Many have pointed out the excellent use of second-person narrative, which can be tough to pull off. I was also a fan of the jumps forward in time. Each break in the narration ended on such a strong line with great impact, adding to the overall effect of the story. The banal, endless office atmosphere overwhelmed me; a disturbing, dystopian, and logical endpoint to modern corporate culture. Thumbs up on this, all the way. 

SConley's picture
SConley from Texas is reading Coin Locker Babies February 12, 2013 - 7:01am

There are some cool moments here but i found the story a bit too dry and monotone, if that makes sense. I liked the shape in the suicide net, that was a stark moment. Some of it reminded me of Battle Angel Alita, just not as exciting. And although the second person perspective was written well, i didn't see a point in writing it that way. It just seems like it was a thing to do? We don't know what's at stake here and there's no real sense of urgency. I think this story needs to be a little more fleshed out. It has a lot of potential though and it was a subtle read, which is always better than the opposite.

Essel Pratt's picture
Essel Pratt from Indiana is reading Too many to name February 15, 2013 - 8:50am

I really enjoyed this!

Jeff Kyle Jr's picture
Jeff Kyle Jr February 15, 2013 - 11:43pm

I also enjoyed the cyclical nature of the story. And I agree, definite Twilight Zone material.

Tom.Brewer's picture
Tom.Brewer from Cincinnati, OH is reading Cities of the Plain February 16, 2013 - 3:10pm

This story was as fun to read as it was disturbing. You made great use of the second person POV.

GG_Silverman's picture
GG_Silverman from Seattle February 18, 2013 - 1:32pm

I'm bummed because I'm unable to access the story, some website issue is preventing the doc from loading. It sounds amazing, judging from the comments so far. Will try again later.

irennie's picture
irennie from All over. Currently in Cambridge, England. is reading the Target Doctor Who novelizations February 18, 2013 - 2:27pm

I'm putting up a plaintext version of this as well.  Apologies for this version not working.

GG_Silverman's picture
GG_Silverman from Seattle February 18, 2013 - 5:02pm

Cool, I will check it out either tonight or tomorrow. Thanks!

GG_Silverman's picture
GG_Silverman from Seattle February 19, 2013 - 12:23pm

Had a chance to read and...wow. Just, WOW.  I LOVED the voice. I was immediately drawn in by it, and was completely immersed. A brilliant concept, simply executed, and the end gave me chills.

I bow down before you, sir! {starts shining your shoes}

C Patrick Neagle's picture
C Patrick Neagle from Hood River, Oregon is reading words, words, words February 22, 2013 - 4:06am

Nicely done.

I like the use of the second-person. It gives the reader that sense that time-is-in-stasis the story requires for fruition. I also like the pacing. The exposition here works (I normally shy away from it) because of the machine-like nature of the society and because it isn't overdone.

Here are a few specifics:

Pg 2: I balked at "...any choice in the matter you had you made when you..."--the phrase mind-twisted my parsing abilities.  I like "...the poor resolution of your eyesight makes her teeth look sharp and vicious" quite a bit.

Also on Pg 2: "...think about what they [have] done" sounds better, tense-wise, to me.

Pg 3: "Twelve hours pass like twelve minutes" and the at-work bit: The tone of the piece is so dark thus far, that giving the protag joy during this time feels a bit off. For twelve hours of every day, he feels happy? Heck, that's more than most of us get.

Pg 4: "..and wondering if you [will] take it if it [does]" keeps the tense in line.

And that pretty much covered that. Again, nicely done.

PS (Post reading the comments above): For me, the 2nd person, present-tense worked fine--it gave it an it-could-happen-to-anyone vibe. I do, though, agree with SConley about the monotony of it. I also get _why_ the monotony is there. However, a few other moments like that of the suicide in the net wouldn't hurt--other incidents where the protag sees it and then moves on (monotonously), while the reader is still staggering along behind, a wee-bit stunned.

Although I don't have a problem with the 'you' being a specific named person (the second-person is becoming much more widely used than it was in the past, and only once in a while--"Springheel Jack"?--is the 'you' actually 'you the reader.' However, losing the name might also work in the story's favor. The 'you' in the sim at the beginning and end then become nameless, faceless (literally) cogs.

 

 

Juice Ica's picture
Juice Ica from Rhode Island is reading The Twelve by Justin Cronin & Beautiful Creatures February 22, 2013 - 10:56am

Ahhh I loved this! It was dark and twisted, my favorite kind of story for sure. I really didnt even notice the 2nd person POV. Sure its uncommon but it works amazingly well here in creating this wonderfully hopeless viewpoint. Really well done. I have no complaints and wish you luck!

FreakyLemon's picture
FreakyLemon from East Anglia, UK is reading Your Deceptive Mind - A Scientific Guide to Critical Thinking February 26, 2013 - 2:20pm

A great piece Ian.  I have nothing to add to the exhaustive comments above, other than to say you have inspired me to think again about second-person narrative - I've always written in third-person, with my inaugural first-person piece posted on this site recently.  Thank you for sharing.

Rob Pearce's picture
Rob Pearce from Cambridge, England is reading Lots of unpublished stuff and short story collections February 27, 2013 - 1:37am

Hi Ian,

As everyone said, a good, chilling piece. Opinion seems mixed on the second person - I fall mildly on the "it doesn't work" side, but not far enough to worry me.

I wondered about Tseng referring to the PoV's suicide attempt as "to settle your balance", since it clearly wasn't about that. More accurate (and possibly more menacing) would be "to evade payment" perhaps?

The ending is a lovely circular twist. I'm not sure how far I believe it, but within the seriously-messed-up context you've painted it works great.

So you've earned a thumbs up from me, too.

Adam Jenkins's picture
Adam Jenkins from Bracknell, England is reading RCX Magazine (Issue 1 coming soon) February 27, 2013 - 9:33am

The second person point of view is very different, but it worked in the context.  I like the idea that this could be anyone, and second person almost forces us to empathise with the character.  The only part that grated on me as mentioned in another comment, was giving the character a name, which takes away from the pov you adopt.  It’s also pretty perfectly weighted in terms of length.  It’s lean, well-paced and has a really good flow to it.  The ending worked well for me, the tortured becoming the torturer is a neat twist.

Kate Bosco's picture
Kate Bosco from Natick, MA is reading The Passage by Justin Cronin February 28, 2013 - 8:56pm

You have a nice, tight style and packed quite a lot into this little story! I had no problem visualizing what was going on and it was a smooth read. I liked that in the end, despite the monotony and the de-humanization that the character went through, he still had some compassion for other debtor (though I can see that he's already making excuses so that he can feel less and less as he sees more people).

Second-person POVs are generally hit or miss for me, but I think you did a fine job. Giving "me" a name and a little bit of a backstory takes me out of it a little bit, but I was able to get over that pretty quickly.

irennie's picture
irennie from All over. Currently in Cambridge, England. is reading the Target Doctor Who novelizations March 1, 2013 - 1:30am

Many thanks for all your comments, everyone.

I'm considering a minor rewrite (although obviously I won't submit it for the challenge) making the "you" figure a bit vaguer and without a specific name or backstory.  Would this help make it more universal?

Mess_Jess's picture
Mess_Jess from Sydney, Australia, living in Toronto, Canada is reading Perfect by Rachael Joyce March 14, 2013 - 12:27pm

Hi Ian,

Usually I can't abide second person stories, but you've done this so well you may have me over my phobia of them. It's a particularly difficult point of view to use, so congratulations on making it work. I particularly liked how quickly you hook the reader in with:

"Oh.

So you went through with it.  Evidently it didn't work."

Very nice work with this, a very tantlising line.

The dystopian theme here would feel like a reality to me, but for the sim body! Isn't an insane percentage of people in America under crippling debt? I really felt for the poor bugger, particularly when the woman from the insurance company tells him he can't afford death. And the end was quite chilling, nice twist. 

In regard to your question about point of view, maybe just change the way you word your introductory sentences, rather than change to firsr or third. Are you a workshop member here? There is an amazing Chuck Paulanick essay that I recommend you read before redrafting this piece. It's actually about first person point of view, but I think all of the points hold true about second person point of view as well. If you can hold off from starting a paragraph with You or Your for a while into the story, the reader feels more like it's their experience and not like they're reading a story. I think it's called Submerging the I, or something similar. I

My story is a little longer, but I would be very grateful if you could spare some time to read and review it.

Thanks

Jess ( http://litreactor.com/events/teleport-us/gravidism)

Liam Hogan's picture
Liam Hogan from Earth is reading Hugo Nominations April 23, 2013 - 5:28am

Hi, Ian, and congrats on winning an author review - and I'm also playing catchup on any winning entries I didn't get to read!

Nice piece - short, and as others say, a proper dystopia. If there is a problem with it, it's that Andrew is a little too emotionless, too robotic. Though you present him sometime after he has got used to the routine, you have to wonder about nightmares, about regret, and without this, there isn't quite enough humanity in him, for us to feel full empathy. You'd probably want even more emotion when he's originall trying to justify his suicide attempt?

(I wouldn't like to point out that being a good programmer doesn't prepare you to be in client relations, as such promotions happen all the time! But I do wonder if he has shown anything other than diligence - perhaps even his acceptance of his state is a qualification for his new role?)

Nothing wrong with the writing style - I didn't spot any obvious typos or clunky bits, good solid work!

Liam

lynnemthomas's picture
lynnemthomas April 30, 2013 - 8:19pm

Dear Ian,

Thanks for providing the story, which I've been asked to review.

I think you did a nice job of creating a dystopia, although I wonder just how scientifically plausible the technology is (compared to the debt service terms, which seem all TOO plausible, alas). Also, I did not spot a non-human in the story, unless you consider the formerly-human-body-stuffed-into-a-sim to be non-human (which I do not).

This is a well structured story that trucks right along to its inevitable ending. It's a bit predictable for my taste, but I think you did a good job of getting across the feel of the grinding inevitability of the job, and the horrible position that Andrew is put into. I would have liked his voice to be slightly more distinctive, but I suspect that was a specific choice on your part, to tie into the inevitability.

Nice work, overall.

Warmly,

Lynne M. Thomas

Editor-in-Chief, Apex Magazine

(with apologies for taking so long to get to the critique)

lynnemthomas's picture
lynnemthomas April 30, 2013 - 8:21pm

Dear Ian,

Thanks for providing the story, which I've been asked to review.

I think you did a nice job of creating a dystopia, although I wonder just how scientifically plausible the technology is (compared to the debt service terms, which seem all TOO plausible, alas). Also, I did not spot a non-human in the story, unless you consider the formerly-human-body-stuffed-into-a-sim to be non-human (which I do not).

This is a well structured story that trucks right along to its inevitable ending. It's a bit predictable for my taste, but I think you did a good job of getting across the feel of the grinding inevitability of the job, and the horrible position that Andrew is put into. I would have liked his voice to be slightly more distinctive, but I suspect that was a specific choice on your part, to tie into the inevitability.

Nice work, overall. Especially with the second person POV.

Warmly,

Lynne M. Thomas

Editor-in-Chief, Apex Magazine

(with apologies for taking so long to get to the critique)

lynnemthomas's picture
lynnemthomas April 30, 2013 - 8:21pm

Dear Ian,

Thanks for providing the story, which I've been asked to review.

I think you did a nice job of creating a dystopia, although I wonder just how scientifically plausible the technology is (compared to the debt service terms, which seem all TOO plausible, alas). Also, I did not spot a non-human in the story, unless you consider the formerly-human-body-stuffed-into-a-sim to be non-human (which I do not).

This is a well structured story that trucks right along to its inevitable ending. It's a bit predictable for my taste, but I think you did a good job of getting across the feel of the grinding inevitability of the job, and the horrible position that Andrew is put into. I would have liked his voice to be slightly more distinctive, but I suspect that was a specific choice on your part, to tie into the inevitability.

Nice work, overall. Especially with the second person POV.

Warmly,

Lynne M. Thomas

Editor-in-Chief, Apex Magazine

(with apologies for taking so long to get to the critique)