Feb 3, 2009: Night Switch is the story of three characters. Joe is a night watchman (or something) who spends all his working hours playing video games and ridiculing his girlfriend in internet forums. Marin is his internet-only, Establishment-hating girlfriend, who buys a talking book that she mistakes for an incarnation of God. Jason is a slacker script-kiddie/blogger type who works for the Department of Homeland Security and who ends up watching Marin for the government when she starts acting a little crazy at the behest of a talking dog she names Dax. The story is, in turns, a paranoid conspiracy theory about the excesses of Bush America, an implied rant about religion and religious people, an extended IRC chat with the kind of people who say things like "you SUCK n00b LOLZ!", and, finally, a D&D/The Matrix-hybrid story about a version of our world where university students can summon demons to crush buildings, and search for "Angel Stones" to increase their power.
There’s nothing wrong with any of this. In fact, it could be a lot of zany fun. Unfortunately, I didn’t find it to be so.
In a way, Night Switch suffers from not taking itself seriously. Normally, for a comedy, that would be a good thing, but, in this case . . . the story feels like it was "phoned in". To be honest, I found it dry and uninteresting. This is in part because, for the first three chapters (41 parts), pretty much nothing happens. Joe—who apparently is some kind of far-right Christian—wallows in his ignorant-and-proud-of-it personality, scowling at and ridiculing everyone around him. We are regularly told he has deep religious convictions, but the most we ever see of them is the one time he tries to go to church. They certainly don’t show up in his behaviour otherwise. As far as I can tell, he doesn’t actually have any job duties, but his manager doesn’t fire him, in spite of his consistenly nasty and insulting behaviour towards her. Across the country, at UC Berkeley, Marin goes a bit off her rocker when Dax walks into her life and starts talking to her, but as we mostly see it from Joe’s perspective (who doesn’t treat her emails seriously), it all feels flat and empty. And when the narrator is in her perspective, her paranoid leftist fantasies about the state of the world are so over-the-top that she just feels woefully immature. Jason goes to his job, but it all seems very reminiscent of the cartoon-version of MIB—silly and juvenile, and intentionally so. I can imagine Jason and his coworkers having a farting contest while waiting for something interesting to happen on their video screens.
The narrative voice is inconsistent. There are times when it borders on being literary—particularly when depicting the futility of Joe’s existance. At other times, it vanishes altogether. Early on, there is a transcript of an IRC session with Jason and his fans, but few of the user names are included—it is marked up like dialogue, without tags to indicate who is saying what. Sometimes the narrative is almost jovial—a distant third person, amused by the characters he is watching. At other times, it’s flat and lifeless. My feeling is the only one that really worked is that jovial, distant, third-person narrator—he could have carried the piece. But every time the narrator merged into one of the characters’ perspectives, I had to remind myself the story was meant to be funny, and that made it unfunny for me.
That all said, things do start to improve suddenly, about halfway through chapter 4: the plot starts to assert itself, and the characters start to show some depth. Jason finally emerges as a believable protagonist—even the hero of the piece—and Joe starts to lose some of his blunt edges. The writing grows quite a bit more solid, too. A real story starts to emerge, and, although it is still pretty light-hearted and cartoonish, it’s a definite improvement, and it’s too bad the first three or four chapters got in the way.
It is perhaps a telling point that there are a number of "Shirt Guy Dom day" posts left in the text of the story—"filler" installments written by other people that are not part of the actual story. And, in installment 07.10 (the second last one at the time of this writing), the author posts a recap, using one-sentence summaries of each previous installment. I’m not positive, but I suspect you could read those one-sentence summaries for the first three or four chapters, and then start reading the real text at chapter four or five, and be better off for the shortcut.
My feeling is that Night Switch is essentially a text-only webcomic that may prove mildly-amusing to a very specific audience—predominantly male internet junkies who know their way around a PC, have played a few games of D&D in their time, and who hang out in IRC and think a good time involves getting kick-banned from a server. If that sounds like you, maybe you’ll see the humour in the story where I didn’t. Otherwise, I’m sorry to say, you’re probably going to find the story an uncompelling read—that never really comes together.
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