Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Ministry of the Eye, by Dale Bailey

Lightspeed Magazine, April 2015; 12,797 words
Rating: 1, Needs Improvement

Bureaucrat in an ugly dystopia starts seeing signs of forbidden beauty in the debris on the filthy streets.

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Pro: The idea of a black-and-white world that criminalizes color has possibilities. The twist that the punishment is inflicted on his family, not on him, is fitting.

Con: The story suffers from overwriting, editorializing, unnatural dialogue, and even punctuation and grammar errors. Alex's emotional state is always told to us by the narrator, never shown through his actions.

A very unusual problem with this story is that the writing interrupts itself continually. For example, "After an hour or so — his hands, unaccustomed to such fine work, had begun to ache — Gerst emptied the handful of shavings into the trash, shoving them down under the day’s refuse."

As to the plot, this is obviously an allegory, but it still needs to make coherent sense. Gerst has a job that's a caricature of dull--slotting punch cards into color-coded slots-- and he's unaware of the purpose of it. It's impossible to believe anyone would have such a task. We're not given enough info to understand why picking up a pretty piece of garbage is something that would threaten your career--nor do we believe this particular bit of flotsam is worth that. Presumably we're supposed to accept all of this as part of the what-if, but it is doled out so slowly that the result is a long sequence of challenges that our suspension of disbelief keeps failing.

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