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Trade: a Novelette
By Lochlan Bloom
Reviewed by Karl Wolff
The narrator works for Crunkl, a Berlin-based social media start-up with a edgy-yet-meaningless name (Instagram, Tumblr, Facebook, ad infinitum). His boss is Svil, a Swede who is very pro-equal rights. The narrator has an "easy relationship" with Lis, a sometime girlfriend. While Crunkl is still a small operation (only ten people on staff), the narrator is tasked with meeting Chet Bull, CEO of Sympatico, another start-up. Following the business meeting, Chet takes the narrator to an orgy as part of a nightmare descent into booze and pills. And it is truly nightmarish. Chet comes across like a libertarian satyr, extolling the virtues of money without a trace of irony and crowing about his sexual conquests in developing nations. Chet talks about how he ended up severely injuring a woman during a previous orgy while the narrator slowly loses sense of time and place after a massive consumption of booze and drugs.
While initially horrified at the after-effects of the night's debauchery. After a discussion with Andre, a friend of Lis's girlfriend, Andre introduces him to the works of Michel Houellebecq. Then he hits upon the idea of creating a social network of his own. This social network would focus specifically on sex. Producers of explicit material could get credits when someone watches their material. The watcher, in turn, would pay debits. It has a nice economic symmetry to it. This new commodification of sex leads to strange consequences. Lis becomes LisabetA, a wealthy porn star, and human sexual relationships become monetized, commodified, and hyper-mediated. It also feeds on delusions of grandeur, since not everyone has either the body type or ambition to become a LisabetA porn mogul.
Trade is a great short novel (or novelette). It begins strong, with a snarky, cynical narrative voice and "insider baseball" gossip on the inner workings of start-up investments. The Chet Bull misadventure is a tour de force and worth the admission price. My only quibble is with the ending. If Bloom could have sustained the energy and attitude throughout, it could have been an incredibly good novel. The depressed office worker as narrator and the treatment of sexuality with clinical detachment made the story feel like a mad cross between Fight Club and J.G. Ballard's Crash. The novel fell off the rails at the end. It devolved into an extended essay on how society changed after the narrator's sexual social media platform takes off and becomes a global phenomenon. The energy that began the novel drained away and it became more didactic. That said, if Bloom could expand this world into a full-length novel, with the same energy and attitude, then he'd really have something. As it stands, the novel feels like it stops abruptly. Even with this criticism, I would still recommend it to fans of challenging speculative fiction along the lines of J.G. Ballard and William S. Burroughs.
Out of 10/8.1
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