Friday, February 14, 2020

Indie Short Fiction: Saving Nick Santos by Sam Lively

So I made an offer on Twitter to post reviews of people's short stories and almost immediately Sam Lively showed up, appropriate nom de plume there, with a transhumanist Christmas novella.

Whatever. It was fun and he was the first taker. If you submit a book to me for a short review in the future, though, expect delays.

Saving Nick Santos is A Christmas Carol except with Jeff Bezos and maybe the ghosts are wrong. The title character is a tech gazillionaire who is building the biggest Amazon Fulfillment Center in history on the North Pole, a sickly scrawny bald go-getter who's envious of dudes with fizeek and humiliates national leaders with his sassy godlike nanotech PA. A future version of that nanotech pops up on Christmas Eve to do the traditional time travel thing with him, you know how it goes.

It turns out, shocker, that in the process of building himself into God-Emperor Santa, Sant Nick has been neglecting his family, especially his even sicker daughter. We're not here to be surprised, though, there is exactly one ending that we want and we want to see how Sam Lively gets us there. The first stop is the future, where most of the story's energy goes, and Nick gets a tour of his fantastic North Pole factory-fortress and a glimpse of his austere immortal future self, which he and I both thought were pretty cool. There's a bit where his higher-ups, including his future wife that he'd just picked up in the present but doesn't get developed much, are going through the computerized Naughty or Nice judging, but we aren't shown the consequences and Nick sort of goes "yeah there's less civil liberty but my space suit looked cool." Future Nick relives golden memories of his time with his daughter but it's not made clear at this point that he could have, at the point where Nick's nanotech is making the intervention, done anything different.

What shocks Nick into rejecting this future is not that he has become a murderous fascist, it's that his vat farm for his organ donor clones has an area where he's got clones of his daughter, as he's still trying to figure out a cure for her even more godlike rare disease (even if you can individually rejuvenate your cells you can't beat pathos) and may be trying to revive her? Maybe that wasn't clear.

We're transitioned into the present with a bop on the head from God-Emperor Nick, which is mostly skimmed over by his nanotech, just shows him how his chad exec is suffering and that his daughter is also, in his massive hospital that he gave money to but not Love, suffering. In the past he gets to give her a hug and sees a not-well-justified turning point where he can maybe prevent himself from being a tech billionaire, I didn't buy it, but anyway he fails and goes back to the present and decides to be a better dad, whoops spoilers. I think the main idea was that he should have spent time with his family rather than getting rich enough to have a shot of saving his daughter, but then there's no way to change that until becoming Gigasanta is the only way forward?

Let me interject here and remind you that I am both a natural critic and an optimist, and I really liked this story. It didn't have a lot of room to breathe, and the character transitions were not smooth, and it is not well-edited, but it had a ton of heart and plenty of fun. The pop culture references are a bit heavy at first but even out, the implication that Nick really is a petty person at heart but that's OK was sweet, and Scrooge as Evil Emperor Santa was fresh. I wish we'd seen more of the wicked consequences of his Thousand Year Reichshop than just some dude getting remotely canceled, more of the bad effects of his modern-day Zuckhood than some powerful people being sad, but that's the opposite of spending the story wishing it was over.

Sam Lively writes with a spring in his step and I'd gladly read a novel by him if he'd only write it - this seems to be the only thing he's ever published. Wait, scratch that, he put out a non-fiction book on Disney being subversive, which I guess I can get behind. You can read Saving Nick Santos here, it's a dollar or you can read it on Kindle Unlimited.

Rating: 🎅🤔👍

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