Rated R: Kill Team One, by Mike Leon (11:02)

IOD-RatedRToday we see that narrating a movie-watching experience is a lot trickier than it sounds.

What I gleaned about the story: Some girls are watching a movie in a theater. Adam Sandler has a pooping crisis. The next Jack Reacharound film is coming soon. And the hollow man is killing Asian soldiers.

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Note: The story opens with: “LOS ANGELES,” the thundering voice of a faceless narrator bellows as the orange hued city skyline rolls by. Technically, the phrase “orange-hued” needs a hyphen. I’m not charging a WTF for this, since it is extremely minor, but coming in the first sentence, the omission primes me to expect an inexperienced editor. And that means my spidey-senses are all set to tingling at the very start.

Kudos #1: Great start

Details: The opening scene narrates a typical Hollywood action movie trailer and does so with style and humor, perfectly capturing the genre, and satirizing it deliciously.

WTF #1: Pronoun confusion

Analysis: The book seems to be structured according to the sequence of things that happen in a movie theater, starting with the trailers. I’m into the “Feature Attraction” now, and the narration is describing what’s happening on the movie screen.

“The river is too wide to swim across,” whispers the boss to the man closest to him. He points downhill and to his left, where his gunmen have a clear view of the wooded river bank. They left the opening on purpose—a trap. “He will come back through here unless the dogs get him first.”

It’s not really clear to me who the “he”, “his” and “him” references point to. In addition to the sentence structure of just this excerpt, I think the confusion is also a product of the way the story is being told. Instead of immersing us into the action directly, the narrator is describing the events taking place on a movie screen, and that’s an immediately distancing mechanic. The characters in the movie are all ambiguous male figures, with little context, so the narrator has even less to give us.

WTF #2: Detachment syndrome

Analysis: This is the first time I’ve experienced this in an IOD book, so I’m coining a new type of WTF to try to capture it. The problem is that the events being related are coming second hand. The narrator is describing the action of a movie taking place on the screen in a theater. As a result, everything is at an extra distance of removal from the reader, and too many of the characters are “the man”. There’s “the hollow man”, “the men”, “a man”, “five armed men,” “the boss whispers to the man”, and a few “he” and “his” references, just to make it all totally opaque. Over the course of three short paragraphs.

You know that effect when you look through binoculars the wrong way? That’s what this feels like. The narrative camera of the movie has been projected onto the screen, and then interpreted by the narrative camera of the book’s narrator. It’s completely distancing. Like watching it reflected several times in grimy mirrors.

WTF #3: Unspoken POV shifts

Analysis: Jump cuts work great in movies, but film grammar does not translate directly to prose without embellishment. A reader requires more narrative glue, precisely because he cannot see what’s happening on the screen.

In this case, we get very little stage business. Very little description of people moving, or the camera angle changing. I suspect that the narrator is accurately depicting the quick cuts happening in the film. There’s a guy on screen. Then another guy. Then the first guy. Then the second guy again, and so on. But there’s no context or establishing motion. This works totally fine when we’re watching a film, because we can see that the scene has jumped to a different POV. But simply describing the rat-a-tat-tat parade of faces and poses in the narration, without benefit of these unspoken jump cuts, makes it almost impossible to follow what’s happening. Ultimately, it left me floundering, wondering what the narrator must be seeing, and how the author could have better conveyed that, rather than just experiencing the world through the POV. In other words, immersion had been broken.

Note: This was a fascinating analytical experience for me, trying to follow the logic of the film experience transcribed to prose. For my reading tastes, the effect is jarring and uncomfortable, but I have to give credit for a very interesting attempt at merging the two forms of story.

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About the author

Jefferson Smith is a Canadian fantasy author, as well as the founder, chief editor and resident proctologist of ImmerseOrDie. With a PhD in Computer Science and Creativity Systems compounded by a life spent exploring most art forms for fun and profit, he is underqualified in just about everything. That's why he writes.