Strange Horizons, 14 March 2005

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"The Jenna Set" by Daniel Kaysen

Short story "The Jenna Set" by Daniel Kaysen is a lighthearted romp that touches on the themes of interpersonal relationships in this modern age of automated phone answering machines and dating services. 
Jenna is your average single gal.  She likes watching reruns of Friends on the telly, and going out for dinner-then-oral-sex dates with likely single male prospects.  One day on her job as a telemarketer, in a delicious feat of irony, she’s hooked into trying a new phone service, the Palavatar, by one of her erstwhile customers.  But the Palavatar is more than an answering service with a great long distance plan; it’s a fully automated communication package capable of engaging in conversations for you, removing the pesky necessity of having to talk to people on your own.  And it’s sophisticated enough to fool relatives!  As one might expect, wacky hijinks ensue, as well as some steamy phone sex, which takes Jenna on an unexpected phone-venture.

All in all, Kaysen’s tale is a delightful read, funny in all the right places, with a splash of social relevance tossed in for depth.  If one is so inclined, one may ponder the ramifications of a society where it is commonplace to never reach a human voice when phoning for assistance, or muse upon the sterility of circumstances whereupon a caller expects to leave their rant/question/polite dialog in the care of a machine.  Or, you can do what this reader did, and follow along Jenna’s escapade, grinning madly.