Fair and Balanced

In the interest of my own writing, as per suggestions from John Scalzi, I am trying to analyze jPod to determine why it got published, even though it angered me greatly.

  • Snappy dialog. The dialog in the book was, outside of some obviously and horribly ridiculous moments, very human and natural, but with the wit knob turned to 11. It was very easy to read the conversations.
  • A grabber. In the first ten pages, we have a guy who leaves a fairly mundane day job to help his pot-growing mother bury a dead biker (Post-spoiler alert! You just read a spoiler.)
  • A highly likeable main character. Ethan is so utterly vanilla and moderately braindead, it’s nearly impossible not to overlay some of your own traits onto him.
  • A recognizable, comfortable environment. jPod is just an amalgam of any computer company, pleasingly separated from the normal grind of the rest of the corporate machine. An island of friends awash in a sea of gray conformity. Who _doesn’t_ see their friends like this?
  • A group of peers you wish you had. Nerdy female friend who can be totally honest with you through benefit of your platonic relationship. Drug-using sexual deviant who you get to live vicariously through. Hot girlfriend who comes on to you with minimal prompting. Normal-looking guy who turns out to be so strange you feel normal by comparison. Other guy who you cajole into revealing his deepest secrets by group harassment.
  • A series of disasters that peaks in an adventure and emotional enlightenment. Dead guys, human smuggling, heroin-addicts sold into labor camps, the book has it all. It actually has two arcs, the motion of Ethan moving from slacker cubedrone, through utter exhaustion, into honest and emotionally complete Ethan (who also gets to have regular sex), then the motion of Ethan to fix his sin of inaction and rescue Steve (and therefor his professional life, saving him from the assistant production assistant black hole).
  • A situation where the reader would naturally turn away, explored. Who would have buried the biker? Who would have stayed at the house and fed the immigrants?
  • An ending. I’m not going to say a good ending, because I don’t feel it was good. But, there was a handy cinch on this bag of turds. Everyone leaves their old jobs, and starts working at a fascinating new place. Through their trials, they are purified and move from purgatory to heaven. We don’t even get to find out what it’s like there, we aren’t capable of it. Because the book is a map, a to do list. Get your shit sorted out, develop healthy relationships, come to peace with yourself, pursue your dream, and in pursuit, you will evolve into God-knows-what. It’s not a bad concept for an ending. It’s practically the same ending that Lost in Translation used, and I loved that. It’s the “tech victory” from Gal Civ 2. The ending of Back to the Future (“Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.”). The ending of Catcher in the Rye. The ending of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Simply put, the character has changed, and this book is the story of the character at the beginning, not the story of who he turns into.

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