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Babak Hodjat
The Narrator
Babak Hodjat, author

Adult; Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror; (Market)

Imagine an app that creates a story based on one’s life, complete with genres and characters to choose from. The Narrator is that app. There’s just one problem: the company behind the product isn’t seeing the popularity and use they were hoping for. Fraught with suspense, The Narrator is a foreboding of the power of technology, and asks the urgent question: How much of our lives is guided by free will and can we get back control before it’s too late?
With a technologist’s understanding of how Silicon Valley works, a futurist’s vision of what’s coming next, and a novelist’s sense of irony and suspense, Hodjat dramatizes, in this sharp-edged novella, a bleeding-edge breakthrough in storytelling: the development of the AI-driven Narrator app, from the Narration Company, which draws data from users' phones and lives to tell original, individualized stories rooted in everyone’s every day. Hodjat’s own story likewise draws from real life, as The Narrator’s portrayal of behind-the-scenes life and love at TNC draws on hard-earned knowledge of how tech products get created and the pressures that can push companies to make those products addictive—and to take reckless risks with users’ lives.

Those tensions are exacerbated once Lida, a market researcher, discovers, in the data she works with, that “there’s something totally weird going on with our extreme users.” She shares her concern with Matt, a technical product manager she’s just started dating, and over texts, phone calls, and dinners the pair try to tease out what exactly seems off in her spreadsheets. The company’s privacy rules stymie their efforts, tempting Matt to ask a member of his team for a favor: to look into forbidden user data.

Hodjat spins this narrative from many perspectives, capturing TNC staffers’ competing agendas, from an executive eager to keep the numbers up to please the founders, to a conspiracy-minded coder trying to date a friend of Lida’s. The challenge of understanding a product’s impact on users while still protecting privacy is compellingly explored. Hodjat’s especially good at laying bare the personal motives of each character, including the twisted, self-preservational logic that inspires Matt to sabotage a promising relationship. This compact tale speeds by, perhaps too swiftly—it offers little dramatization of the user experience, what stories the app tells, and what users get from it. Still, the storytelling’s swift, the milieu convincing, and the final revelations jolting.

Takeaway: This compact speculative thriller will please readers fascinated by how the tech biz truly works.

Great for fans of: Cory Doctorow, Rob Reid’s After On.

Production grades
Cover: B
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: A