Essay–Slingers: When A Narrator Has A Face

I’ve been reading Matt Wallace’s “Slingers” serial. If you’re not already reading it, shame on you. I’ll be posting a review of it soon, but this essay isn’t really about pimpage. It’s about two things Wallace does well as a writer.

Books written in third person can turn out very dry. The narrator is typically a casual observer who has no real skin in the game and speaks as if they’re just reporting the news. Larry Heineman’s Paco’s Story is the first book I can really remember that had a unique narration approach. In that book, the narrator was the ghosts of Paco’s dead unit. They told the story with irony, occasional humor, and the occasional nod toward the reader. Some of the literature “purists” were incensed by this use of artistic license, but fuck ’em–it worked.

Slingers is another such example. Instead of Paco’s ghosts, we get a narrator who speaks to the reader and at the same time describes the thoughts and action with great energy and irony. The narrator is, after all, in on all the inside jokes, the history of the characters, the sport, and etc. The characters in Slingers are quite serious–they play a bloodsport, so death is always on their minds. It shows. These are gladiators of the far future and playing a game the entire human race watches. Death is their friend, their enemy, and it reeks of inevitability.

I have writer friends who loathe present tense. So what does Wallace do? He uses present tense. Everything is happening this instant. There is no “had” or “will” or any of that nonsense. It is split-second by split-second narration. It makes the fight/game scenes dramatic and accessible.

I’ve written stories in present tense before and was yelled at. Of course, that was in college and the literature snobs were a bit unforgiving about breaking the rules. Well, I’m not in college anymore and, dammit, experimentation is just as valid in genre fiction as it is in “literature.”

When you read Slingers, the narration may throw you off at first. So might the present tense nature of the writing. But it is a top notch experience and I cannot recommend this serial enough. For you writers out there? This should be required reading. For you readers? You need to purchase these stories and devour them.

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