Saturday, January 29, 2011

Under the Thumb of the Brain Patrol

Short Story by Ferrett Steinmetz

David is a quiet, abused, unpopular kid just trying to keep his head down and make it through high school. Allie is his best friend/confidant/true-love, and Valencia is the school queen bee. All the characters are bland sneering stereotypes taken to the extreme usually reserved for bad movies. And there is no redeeming camp-value here either. David has to get over his infatuation with the popular girl who abuses him through manipulation but will never date him, and realize his true love was there all along in his female friend. Never seen this before...

The one unusual conceit is that this happens in the future, technology-wise, and in a bizarro universe where the exact opposites of all overused teen movie tropes about cliques and cool kids and whatnot are reversed. It might be funnier if it was the reverse of something that rang a bit true, but it is the reverse of the fictional high school fictional characters like to attend.

The nerds are cool and popular, and abuse the jocks, who still remain a clique despite tragically underfunded sports teams. It feels like something wanted to be said here about public education funding, but it was another missed opportunity as we only learn that things well-funded in real schools are underfunded here, and vice versa. Oh and we gloss over some cruelty-to-clones that you'd think would approach murder charges.

Anyway, the popular girl is a nerd, and the picked on protagonist is a jock. We get into a bit too much detail about her sexy pasty overweight body and his gross six-pack and muscles. Feels overkill, unlikely, and over-harped-on besides. After an implausibly nonsensical robotics lab, Valencia invites David to a science fair with her. Then she kidnaps Allie, chains her up, and puts David in a dungeon to gather data for a reality-tested role playing game.

Lame jokes about Tolkien, D&D, and chainmail bikinis here, nothing new or surprising. And one of the nerds predicts a TPK for David. I find it hard to believe these nerds wouldn't care enough about semantics not to say "total party kill" when referring to a singular person, maybe I'm more anal about these things, but it sure as hell bugged me, and I'd have at least liked to see some nerd with my level of pedantry point it out. Anyway, he saves the girl, and they somehow decide they are going to live happily ever after when they are done with high school in a resolution that makes 0 sense or comic value. It is one thing to end a story about a nerd with "and we'll be happy when they work fast food and I'm Bill Gates." It is another to end a story that way when you are a looked-down-upon underclass with no science education in a super-science world making fun of a brilliant scientist (bitchy queen bee that she is).

Nonsense without being comically nonsensical. Over-the-top but not enough to be funny. A not-very-clever reversal of fake Hollywood reality. A few amusing turns-of-phrase can't save this story from coming across as a drawn-out bad joke.
1.5 Shoggoth-class biohazards out of 5.

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