"Better Sweets to Prove Than Sleep" by Lisa Mantchev
The second work from Futurismic falling under my radar is "Better Sweets to Prove Than Sleep" by Lisa Mantchev. I have to say it isn’t quite as good as "Strike a Pose" by Donnàrd Ricardo Sturgis, for a couple of reasons, but mostly because it suffers from weaknesses that prevent the full-suspension of disbelief. Not to say this is a bad story at all.
The opening paragraph immediately draws the reader into the world by presenting the speculative elements right up front:
Jenna retrieved four poems memorized in third grade, the capitols of fifty-four states, and the molecular structure of hydrogen. She dumped them in the recycle bin, shuffled around her free memory and recategorized the Townsend project as High Priority.
Jenna tries to hide that she is a microsleeper from her boyfriend, Zach, who comes from a small "redneck" town and can’t deal with the fact that his own sister is a microsleeper. A conflict strikes when our protagonist gets a romantic offer from a business associate and fellow microsleeper, Phillip, who tries to show her what life could be like with someone like herself.
These characters and situation managed to invoke powerful emotions in me worth mentioning. Having been in Zach’s position at one time in a similar love triangle (minus the xenophobia and racism), this one hit me hard with those old-feelings of jealousy and frustration. By accurately capturing these emotions, Mantchev manages to accomplish something most authors never achieve. At least not to the same degree.
However, one of the things I had trouble with was completely sympathizing with any of the characters. I couldn’t sympathize with Jenna because I’ve been in Zach’s position and am not sympathetic towards someone so fickle and easily distracted from her boyfriend (even if from a logical stand-point, I can agree, she had good reason). I couldn’t sympathize with Phillip because, well, he’s the handsome guy trying to snag the girl who’s "taken," not giving a crap whether Zach is there or not and being a bit snobbish towards "hibernators." I couldn’t quite sympathize with Zach because he’s a xenophobic racist who spurns his own sister for being a microsleeper.
I should mention now, I think many of the feminist affiliation will enjoy this story and think highly of it. The ending transforms into a tale about a woman empowering herself, even though the first two-thirds of the story don’t support this theme. Overall, I saw this as a story about a person trying to reach her full-potential, combating xenophobia, and finding her place in the world. In other words, thematically, this story could’ve been so much more than just a story dealing with negligible gender-issues. It adds nothing particularly new or thought-provoking to that topic, while it could’ve offered both to the topic of xenophobia or dealing with small town prejudice (similar, but more concise in scope) or even empathy. The "feminist" theme doesn’t rear its face until the very end, at which point it pops up in an extremely heavy-handed form.
As big a mess as the themes are, the most troubling problems appear in the speculative elements themselves. The microsleepers and hibernators are never explained well enough. At the beginning, some details in the story lead you to believe microsleepers had computer chips implanted in their brains. Indeed that is my first assumption from the details the author provides. However, by the end of the story it becomes clear microsleepers are evolved humans. Although some might think the intimations within the story are enough and need no more explanation, I heartily disagree. A brief info dump or two of the history and evolution of microsleepers or discovery of the existence of microsleepers among the human population would’ve done wonders for adding depth, setting, and nuance to the story. Not to mention it would’ve made the speculative element more believable.
Although the opening paragraph draws us in and gives us an immediate speculative element, it serves as a detriment when analyzing this particular flaw. The opening makes me wonder why Jenna would still have four poems from third grade stored in her "memory banks," presuming she always had limited space. In other words, why wouldn’t she have gotten rid of it long ago? It creates more questions than it answers about the rules of being a microsleeper.
Also, when Zach speaks of his sister, the dialogue makes it sound like she had a choice in becoming a microsleeper:
"My sister’s decided she’s a freaking microsleeper."
The author uses this piece of dialogue to try and demonstrate Zach’s xenophobia, which works to some degree. But it comes so early in the story that it becomes another element which throws the reader off and makes us believe that being a microsleeper isn’t genetic, that it’s some kind of choice.
There’s a lot of little elements like that which keep the reader from completely suspending disbelief. The rules for microsleepers just aren’t explained well enough. Still with all these flaws, "Better Sweets to Prove Than Sleep" ends up being a very readable, original, and highly entertaining tale.