Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Shut up, Narrator

One aspect that struck me as particularly strange about “The Girl Who Was Plugged In” was the narrator, particularly in the first act of the story. It is a very colloquial narration, which isn’t too odd in and of itself, we have seen that in many novels, but more than that it is that the narrator seems to assume he knows more about us, the readers, than he has any right to. He makes constant commentary on what we are “looking at” or “see,” or even refers to actions we seem to have done, but certainly do not recall.
The first thing it made me think of was a film, as the narration is so clearly focused on providing a replication of a visual experience. “I'll give you just one goodie. Maybe you noticed on the sportshow or the streets? No commercials. No ads…That's right. NO ADS. An eyeballer for you,” (2) says the narration. The way the narrator assumes he knows what you have “seen” can support either two interpretations: that he is assuming a film-like experience, where you are being shown what he wants, or that you are standing right there with him. The first causes problems because he seems to make reference to what the reader has “looked at,” implying that he can see us as well, rather than just show us, while the second cannot be possible because he is a seemingly invisible narrator. However, as this is a short story that exists only in print, neither of these interpretations are possible at all. I can’t help but wonder what purpose this confusing of the medium of “The Girl Who Was Plugged In,” achieves.
Then again, the capitalized buzzwords and melodramatic gesturing also echo vintage copywriting. The whiz-bang, snake-oily style of “But you're curious about the city? So ordinary after all, in the FUTURE?” (2) or “Look around. Not a billboard, sign, slogan, jingle, skywrite, blurb, sublimflash, in this whole fun world,” seems like it is called by a carnival barker. This draws an obvious connection to the themes of the story and seems to me to be the most compelling rationale for an interpretation of the narrative style.
However, because of this I find the narration to be, in a word, annoying. To me the narrative style is gimmicky. Moreover, the confusion of media that I mentioned seems only to take me out of the story. Once the narrator sends us on our way (“But it's time to go back down, far below to our girl. Look!” [3]) and departs for a moment, we get into the gory details of Burke/Delphi’s transformation and Tiptree reveals herself to be a capable science fiction author. Once the narrator returns, however, I just have to fight the urge to find him and kick him. To me, one of the strengths of Science Fiction is its ability to immerse the reader, and in this case, the narrator’s gimmicky, somewhat smug narration constantly yanked me out of the story, and disturbed me more than any of the actual themes of the story ever could.


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