Speculative Fiction Reviews
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The Jenna Set, by Daniel Kaysen - Strange Horizons, 14 March 2005

The Jenna Set, by Daniel Kaysen

I'll be quite open in saying that I'm rarely impressed with the quality of humour in speculative fiction. There are writers who do it superbly: Connie Willis, Terry Pratchett, Robert Rankin, Paul Di Fillipo, and several others. Most, though, either fall flat or fail to integrate the humour into the story. I was relieved, then, to discover that Daniel Kaysen did such a good job with The Jenna Set.

The story concerns a telephone sales rep who finds herself on the wrong end of the conversation when she phones a teenage girl who persuades her to sign up for a new telephone service, Palavatar. This telephone service not only comes free but uses the latest in neural networks to handle calls and even deal with the calls for Jenna, if she decides she doesn't want to talk to someone. At first this works wonderfully, as Jenna lets Palavatar deal with her mother and vet her dates. But Palavatar is not quite that good, and it has trouble with the appropriateness of the call contents.

This is indeed a very funny story. Take, for example, the following:
"All the customer service numbers were disconnected, and Google drew a blank on Palavatar apart from a part-word match in some Finnish pdf files. But Kelly said every word ever gets a partial match in Finnish pdf files. It's that kind of language."

Of course, if you do google Palavatar, that is exactly what you'll get.

Kaysen is brilliant at dialogue. His story moves along with ferocious pace and the situations complicate impressively. The characters are both likeable and believable. The most obvious comparison for this story would be Connie Willis's work, and although Willis is better, Kaysen does not come off poorly from the comparison.

The story perhaps goes on too long, and lags a little towards the end, but it is nonetheless a very funny, very well-written piece. Kaysen is a new writer who is making an impact very quickly. I'll be looking out for more work by him.

--Patrick Samphire, 15 March 2005

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