Sunday, November 4, 2018

Smear Job, by Rich Larson

★★★☆☆ Honorable Mention

(Near-Future SF) Jalen is sentenced to “court-mandated perception modification,” which seems like a very mild penalty. At first. (1,620 words; Time: 05m)

"Smear Job," by (edited by Trevor Quachri), appeared in issue 11-12|18, published on by .

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

Review: 2018.567 (A Word for Authors)

Pro: It’s marvelous how much information this little story unobtrusively slips us in just 1620 words.

Jalen gets in trouble when his underage girlfriend’s “rich, white, neo-Mormon parents” find out and go to the police. We never learn exactly how old she is, but he’s 18 at the time, so she must be under 16. Given the severity of the response and the fact that he won’t see her again “for a long time,” I’d guess she was under 14.

The penalty seems very mild at first; he simply can’t see anyone under 18 anymore—not even infants; they’re just pixilated blurs. He gets no jail time, though, and he doesn’t even have to register as a sex offender.

But he’s stuck with it for 25 years, 20 of which still remain when his own child is born. His hopes that the mechanism is smart enough to exclude a person's own children are dashed; he will never see his son until the boy is a man.

Con: The story tries too hard to exonerate Jalen. Jalen himself never, not once, thinks he did anything wrong. He was too poor for a lawyer, Steff’s white parents were probably motivated by his race as much as his age (or why mention it?), and he seems completely happy with a wife his own age, so he wasn't really a child molester. Other than the very last line in the story, there’s no concession that he actually did anything wrong at all.

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