“Get A Grip” by Paul Park: A Digital Domains Review

Copyright © 2010 by Ellen Datlow. Cover design by Stephen H. Segal.

“Get A Grip” is a short story by Paul Park that was published by OMNI Online in March 1997.

Good to get that out of the way.  Now, onto the review!

The Story: Smile For The Camera!

Jim Brothers comes across a strange man in a bar whom he thinks he met back in Russia, only to discover that the man is an actor and that the “Russia” he visited was in fact a cleverly-disguised amusement park.  This sets Jim on a quest to uncover just how much of his world is fictional and who’s in on this hoax.

What’s notable about this plot is how similar it is to that of the 1998 film The Truman Show, although the ending for this story is slightly darker than the film’s.

The Cast: How Long Can They Keep Up The Act?

Jim Brothers is the poor soul who discovers that his entire world–since age fifteen, anyway–has been nothing more than an elaborate set for a new genre called “interactive TV.”  He finds some sympathy from Barbara, his longtime “wife” who stays on to guide Jim out into the real world (or is it?).  But Jim is excellent in being just as confused as the reader about how far the show has gone to manipulate him and as frightened about how extensive some of the spin-offs have been (such as “war games” like Hiroshima).

The Setting: Actors, To Your Marks!

With “Get A Grip” (incidentally, the same name of the TV show based around Jim’s life), we see the new genre of “interactive TV.”  I would say it’s like reality TV, but with the latter, everyone’s a voluntary actor, while in the former, Jim has no conception that he’s just a character in someone else’s world.  The show is also set in a world where the history of the twentieth century as we know it turns out to be partly fabricated, including major events like World War II and the Russian Revolution (if the appearance of “Czar Nicholas III” is any indication).  Paul Park does a great job of implicating just how controlled and media-driven the real world is without having to display too much of it except through Jim Brothers’ case.

Final Verdict: So Where’s The Line Between Fact And Fiction?

“Get A Grip” is one of those stories that raises a lot of questions about what we think we know about the world around us.  Indeed, while I researching it, I came across an article about an unfortunate psychological trend known as “the Truman Show Delusion,” which demonstrates just how badly reality TV and other media have begun to affect the psyches of some people.  It makes you think about how dependent we are on TV and modern entertainment and whether it’s all worth the price we pay.

This Thursday, I’m taking a quick break in the Digital Domains lineup for a Dorrance Book Review.  Stay tuned!

Bibliography: Park, Paul.  “Get A Grip.”  Digital Domains: A Decade of Science Fiction & Fantasy.  Edited by Ellen Datlow.  Prime Books, 2010.

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