Futurismic, May 2005

Note: This post was imported from an old content-management system, so please excuse any inconsistencies in formatting.

"The Existential Cure" by Will McIntosh

Over a course of its run, every magazine will produce a few duds. Not even Futurismic, which has so far impressed, is exempted from this phenomena. "The Existential Cure" by Will McIntosh fails to inspire or work on almost every important level of story. Everything from the setting to the believability to the character arc was out-of-balance. A far cry from the two stories that proceeded it.

The story present us with a world where a deadly virus called PreCort is invading human minds like a parasite, threatening to cripple the economy and cause an apocalypse. The protagonist’s son is affected with the virus. A bully at schools torments his son and the stress of the bullying threatens to make the virus go active. All of which sounds interesting when reading the summary, but lacks in credibility for a number of reasons.

The sparseness of the prose badly hurts this piece. White room syndrome plagues the entire story, seriously crippling the reality of this world for the reader. The first two paragraphs read:

I stood on the edge of the curb, out of the flow of pedestrians, and watched for my son and my ex-wife. A blonde man with a twisted face and raging skin ulcers brushed against my shoulder as he lurched past. He was laughing like a loon. I tried not to flinch.

I spotted Caroline’s van and flagged it to the curb.

Now some might think I’m quibbling here. Certainly this opening provides a reasonable amount of setting. However, because of the piece’s nature, a reader would expect more description. I never could imagine what was happening in front of him in this scene. From the description given, I picture a ton of people walking by and then a car magically appearing and parting the crowd like The Red Sea. Are there other cars? Are there a lot of pedestrians? Do others in the crowd have lesions on their flesh? Are their faces despondent? Two or three more lines of description would’ve answered these simplistic description questions and developed the world. Instead, the writer gives us a very basic setting that could come from a thousand other books, a car just somehow appears without giving us context or blocking, and it causes the whole thing to harm the believability of the setting and world for the reader.

The next biggest flaw is the juxtaposition of bullies with the virus. Although a noble attempt to try and compare bullies to viruses, the comparison never quite works. This is a little harder to dissect. Some of it has to do with the comical and bizarre terms used to describe the virus in the protagonist’s head. Another part might be that the protagonist attacks an adolescent bully before making the connection between bullies and viruses. This scene in particular leaves the reader staring at the story wide-eyed and saying, "I don’t care if he picked on bullies or is protecting his son, this dude just attacked someone half his age! What a dick!" The actions of this scene sour our impressions of the character and cripple our sympathies for him.

The author uses this juxtaposition to resolve the story. I won’t go into too many more details in order to avoid spoilers, however, the resolution also fails. One of the reasons is the amount of time that each scene skips. Every time the story changes scenes, another six months pass. This could work if many of these scenes were more substantial. Many of them are really quick scenes, saying this outcome worked or that outcome didn’t work. I understand these are necessary to make the implementation of fighting the virus realistic, however, these jumps in time obliterate the emotional arc. Things happen too fast and too easy, creating a dearth of powerful tension. This story might’ve worked better if the author chose to add more scenes in between this, slowly developing the search for the cure (showing in more concrete and emotional details the failure of finding a cure, also allowing for more development of the protagonist’s co-workers) and exploring the protagonist’s fears over his son’s bully in a more sophisticated way.

It’s all these niggling flaws that make this story not worth your time. I suggest you skip this one or read some of the previous stories appearing on Futurismic.