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Jennifer Egan's "The Black Box"

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I admit it: my eyes rolled when I read that Jennifer Egan, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Visit from the Goon Squad, was serializing a short story on Twitter. Surprise! "The Black Box" turned out to be a really good read.

I read it in tablet edition of The New Yorker's Science Fiction issue (June 4 & 11, 2012), and in restrospect, I wish I'd read it while Egan was tweeting it out via @NYerFiction.

The story is told via a series of brief, real-time dispatches-cum-field-instructions stored in a chip implanted in the citizen-spy heroine's hairline. (It's the Science Fiction issue, remember.) It was a completely engrossing read on my tablet, and reads pretty well online, too, but seems dead dead dead on the printed page. (It looks like something from the side of a cereal box.) It's still available on @NYerFiction, but the tweets are of course captured in reverse chronological order, so it's an awkward read there now.

So yes, it was a stunt, but a good one. In terms of form, Egan exploited the particular characteristics of her chosen medium to perfection, but she also worked the tropes of both science fiction and espionage thrillers for everthing they're worth. (Your brain makes the movie for you unprompted.) The story is more moving than it has any right to be, and made me realize just how good a writer Egan really is.

If anyone else has read it, I'd love to know what you thought.

You can read "The Black Box" on line here.

Egan briefly discusses the story's origins here. You can see two pages from the original manuscript; Egan wrote it in longhand in Japanese notebook containing eight rectangular blocks on each page (for making manga comic books, maybe?).

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