SCI FICTION, November 9 2005

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"Man for the Job" by Robert Reed

SCIFI.COM announced that SCI FICTION is closing. It is a terrible blow to all its readers, but I do hope that people will visit the brainchild of Dave Schwartz (, and volunteer to write an appreciation for their favorite SCI FICTION story. Let’s see it off in style.

Onto the review of Robert Reed‘s "Man for the Job." At first, I questioned the choice of second-person narration in this future tale of conspiracy and testing industry. Especially since some of the passages seem sure to alienate half of the audience—for example, "The burgundy blouse has two pockets, and against those pockets, two small nipples reveal themselves. You can’t help but notice. You wouldn’t be male without investing a moment or two watching her stiff flesh rub against slick fabric." (Italics added.)

Second-person often allows for a closer identification with the protagonist, but when identification fails, it can be jarring. In the beginning of the story, it seemed that the jarring part was winning over, and I was relieved when the identification kicked in.

The future Mr. Reed paints is believable—standardized testing, which already regulates significant portion of our lives, is required for everything, including employment. The world is peaceful, and most menial functions are delegated to the machines. It is bleak, but certainly not horrifying—until the protagonist agrees to undergo a new test. And this is where things turn quite strange. This piece explores a familiar theme of excessive reliance on technology, but Mr. Reed’s take on it is quite fascinating.

Sparse, matter-of-fact prose creates a strong sense of unease and growing tension. "Your right leg is a mess, but it looks in fine shape compared to the mangled stump that was your left leg. The pain is constant but endurable. Your mood is better than you might guess." The identification with the protagonist becomes very strong, especially as Mr. Reed skillfully manipulates his readers’ expectations—at some point, the protagonist believes that everything he’s witnessed was just a simulation; a reader would likely arrive at the same conclusion a few sentences earlier.

A fascinating read, challenging and stylistically stunning.