Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Loser, by Matthew Hughes

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(Near-Future SF) A former critic of the new US president works on a labor camp building a wall. Then the new government gives him a way to earn his freedom. (7,438 words; Time: 24m)

Rating: ★★★★☆ Recommended

"," by , appeared in issue 03/08/16, published on .

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

Pro: The plotting is tight, the suspense is strong, and the ending reinforces the story's title. We sympathize with the narrator even as we're appalled.

The narrator's fear and subservience at the start really underlines just how broken he is. We really do believe he'd do anything they told him to do, and he's pathetically eager to get his family back. We're sad but not surprised that he never even considers telling his friends the truth.

The ending is horrifying and satisfying all at once. No kind of rescue would have been believable, and no forgiveness (had he been found out) would have been credible.

The story gets a lot of punch from the fact that we've watched strong leaders take other countries into tyranny (e.g. Venezuela, Turkey, Russia), so the vision of an American government doing the same sort of things is chilling.

Con: A country doesn't fall from democracy to tyranny in a single day (take Venezuela as an example). It takes years of gradual erosion of the safeguards against abuse of power.

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3 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. Pretty heavy-handed political satire. Did not finish.

    1. It got a little better after it moved away from the wall concentrating a bit more on the personal story than the political commentary.

  2. Yes, the message is pretty heavy, but I gave it a pass because it's completely contained in the what-if. Message stories that end up with two stars are ones where the author can't resist adding to the message throughout the story.

    However, if you can't swallow the what-if, then of course the story's not readable. When reading for my own pleasure, I almost always pass on America-turns-into-a-dictatorship novels simply because I do find it hard to believe.