The Shift, George Foy

Bantam Spectra, 1996, 515 pages, C$17.95 tpb, ISBN 0-553-37544-X

The reviewer wakes up. For a single moment, his life is bliss, mostly because he doesn’t realize what a pathetic life he leads. Still smiling from his oniric tryst with Sarah Michelle Gellar, the reviewer managers to slide out of bed before waking up.

Looking outside the grimy windows of his apartment, he sees that things are worse than ever. Microsoft has plastered another hideous billboard on the building across the street, extolling the new consumer-protection features of Windows TJ designed to disallow any potential illegal activity. The reviewer knows that will transform the computer in little more than a Microsoft-approved silicon brick; he’s spent the last week re-installing his own machine.

He looks at the book on his reviewing slate and groans. George Foy’s The Shift, as undistinguished a piece of cyberpunk SF it’s possible to publish. The reviewer doesn’t have a clue what to say about the book that will sustain a full-length review. He decides to sidestep the issue and go take a shower.

Things haven’t improved after the shower, nor the breakfast. On the streets outside, wild bands of illiterate barbarians are fighting pretentious pseudo-intellectuals. It’s a battle the reviewer wants everyone to lose. As the spicy smell of tear gas wafts through the broken air-conditioning unit, the reviewer sits down at the computer to make another stab at writing the review.

His first approach is pure grade-school classic: Reword the back cover blurb, adding a few meaningless details that show he’s read the book. It’s not a satisfying experience: Not only does it offend his sense of creativity, but The Shift doesn’t offer anything compelling to write about. By this time, everyone has read a few dozen books in which a well-off character is brought down in the “real” world. Everyone’s had their fill of obsessive virtual reality creators who come to like their creation more than the real world. Everyone’s sickened of those oh-so-clever “virtual monster crossing in the real world” plots. Oh, and evil corporations aren’t anything new.

He deletes most of the plot résumé and graduates to a higher level of hack work; maybe it’s possible to waste a few words on the place of The Shift is the overall literary pattern of the SF genre? As quickly as he seizes upon this notion like a drowning man, he realizes it’s not going to work. The Shift‘s historical legacy and significance is null and void. It simply regurgitates the clichés of the cyberpunk genre in a nearer future. It does attempts to do something more realistic and closer to mainstream fiction, but the net effect is soporific for any genre reader. Maybe someone coming in fresh from outside Science-fiction will like it. But that’s not the reviewer’s audience.

The reviewer remembers his mother’s advice to find at least something nice to say about the book. But he can’t just write that the prison segment is quite good. Or that the conclusion ties up everything nicely. A good conclusion doesn’t expiate the busload of clichés that preceded it. Nor does a rather good prison novella redeems a 500+ page borefest.

The reviewer knows he’s screwed up. By spending most of the month reading the massively enjoyable Night’s Dawn trilogy, he’s run out of time to fill up the usual wordage. So now he’s stuck dredging up what he would normally read and forget away. There is no way out.

So he puts his fingers on the keyboard.

But then, a team of corporate anti-terrorists operatives bursts in his room and kills him in a hailstorm of gunfire.

It is, ironically, a happy ending.

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