Defragmenting Daniel, by Jason Werbeloff (21:13)

IOD score cardToday we see that an intriguing premise can blunt the impact of technical problems. We also see that Bryce has a squeamish tummy.

What I gleaned about the story: An orphan named Daniel earns his keep by scrubbing harvested organs. He’s just turned eighteen, which is when he’s supposed to gain access to his personal files. But before Administration will hand them over, they want something from him in return.

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WTF #1: Scattershot extra commas

Analysis: Unexpected commas are tiny potholes along the road to adventure.  Early on in Defragmenting we hit three in rapid succession, bump, bump, bump.

Plug in the renal artery, and you’re good to go.


It wasn’t difficult, once you got the pipe and the artery lined up.


Now, he held the squirming pipe to the kidney…

None of these commas need to be there, neither from a strict punctuation perspective nor to make the text flow properly.

But I noticed that  the first one was a major trip-up, the second one less so, and by the third one I was barely noticing. Why? Well, besides the brain’s innate ability to acclimate, the creepiness of the organ scrubbing process was distracting me more and more. As the story gathers speed, the technical issues begin to fade.

Kudo #1: The creepiness builds and builds

Analysis: Defragmented opens with teenagers fiddling with organs, testing their squishy plumbing and making sure they’re ready. That’s an intriguing start. But the vivid details don’t stop when our main character (David) leaves work. Each new detail sheds more light on this strange world we’ve entered.

“Not that long today,” said a girl with no lips.


He’d been sixteen then. Before they’d harvested his lungs.

Rather than flatly stating how this organ-based economy works, the narration is showing us the results and letting our imaginations guess at the machine. The result is a profound sense of horror and dread.

WTF #2: Abundant Special Capitalization

Analysis: After finishing his shift at the Organ Farm, Daniel has to head over to the Administration so he can finally pick up his File, the one the Orphanage has been keeping from him all these years.

That’s a lot of unnecessary capitalization that could be dispensed with. I mean, the Organ Farm is just what it says on the tin: an organ farm. Where they farm organs. (Am I the only one wishing the place was called The Chop Shoppe? With the extra ‘-pe’ to show it’s a classy, quaint little establishment? Okay, I guess it’s just me.)

And David’s File is just his case file. Yes, it’s a file with a particular significance in this society. But still, it’s a file. No caps necessary.

Kudo #2: Creepiness of a second kind

Analysis (warning, mid-sized spoilers): There’s a bit of synergy going on between two of the things I’ve learned about the world. First, that the poor sell their organs to get by. That’s a punch to the gut (one that hopefully doesn’t hurt the resale value of my intestines). But when I learned that Daniel (as an orphan and hence a ward of the state) incurs debt for his upkeep (they’re running an orphanage, not a charity), suddenly things look much more dire for him.

As the administrator lists off all the organs that he’s already sold away to finance his orphanhood, then matter-of-factly says that he’s still behind and needs to pawn part of his brain as well…



That is just messed up. It’s one thing to start off the struggle for survival with one arm tied behind your back. But to enter the fight with limbs chopped off? Kafka would be proud.

WTF #3: Ew ew ew ew ew! (scrubs brain)

Analysis: I’m still kind of reeling from the messed-uppedness of what they’re asking when Daniel is berated by the guy behind him. The office is about to close, and he’s got some business to conduct.

The thing is, the guy has no skin. Or at least, his original skin was harvested and replaced with transparent film.

Any story with strong horror themes has to walk a fine line, keeping the reader as close to their limits as possible without going over. Pacing is important. You sometimes have to ratchet it back, give the reader and the character some respite.

Defragmenting may very well do this for some, but there’s something about peeling away skin that really hits my personal squick button, and that little detail came when I was already at Peak Shudder.

I didn’t want to read any more. Other readers with different sets of squicks and squees probably would have sailed right by it.

It may be time for me to hang a “No Grotesque Horrors” sign outside my critique shoppe. But this book might be worth a horror fan’s attention. It’s got an intriguingly icky dystopian setting, a neuroatypical protagonist with a number-obsessed brain, and it’s delivered in a punchy writing style reminiscent of William Gibson. I could recommend it more highly if it were free from technical defects, but this book is doing a lot of things right. Horror readers may want to give ‘er a look.

Take the Pepsi Challenge: Want to know if my own writing measures up? Try the free sample on one of my books or short stories and decide for yourself.

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