Friday, September 02, 2005

One for Michael Levy: Ned Vizzini, Be More Chill (London: Harper Collins, 2004)

Very early on in this work I had an argument with Michael Levy who felt that my objection to books in which sf formed the metaphor for a kid sorting out his/her emotional relationship with parents or lovers "failed" books which succeeded in their own terms. I still stand by what I am arguing, that many of these books aren't sf, that they aren't about the impact of technology but about something else, but in Be More Chill I've found a book that is about relationships and is also science fiction. The crucial difference is that the technology is not a metaphor for anything but a facilitator that tackles what being a teenage boy is like, head on.

Jeremy is terminally uncool. He keeps printed sheets where he records all the slights he receives, he doesn't know how to dress, and he can\'t even get as far as asking a girl out, never mind being turned down.

One day a colleague (not a friend) talks him into buying a squip, a nanocomputer in the form of a pill. He swallows it, and the computer begins to give him advice on how to be cool. The book is funny, and sensible. Vizzini has done something both very simply and very clever--found a way to make an "agony" book, hip. When things go wrong it's partially because Jeremy ignores the chip at crucial moments, partially because the chip is only a computer after all, and Jeremy's girl of choice turns out to be a bit smarter than the chip realises. At the end Jeremy chooses to flush the chip, because it's degrading, but there is no sickening "lesson" about how one should just be yourself. At the end, Jeremy has learned, had grown wiser. The chip helped him get started and from there he can work out who he wants to be and how to go about achieving that. Be More Chill is a book about how technology can help us: no hysteria, no fatalism no metaphors.


Blogger Ned Vizzini said...

Hey, this is Ned Vizzini-- I don't do Blogger, but I'm setting up my new site at I really appreciate this review. Thanks so much. I really wanted the book to be about evolution, and where we might all be headed with man.machine interfacing. I do believe the squip will be real. If you Google it, you might find the same thing. :)

10:12 AM  
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