'We were streaming live on lots of social media platforms. Live killings had become cliche. Torture was the new fad, starting now.'
'The Die-Fi Experiment by M.R. Tapia
Hindered Souls Press, 2017.
Note: M.R. Tapia sent me a Kindle version of The Die-Fi Experiment in exchange for an honest review
Maria and her husband, our unnamed protagonist, travel to Tokyo, Japan so they can get away from family, friends and the constant connectivity of social media. Having just miscarried their baby, Maria is eager to enjoy herself and throw them into every experience that Tokyo has to offer. They are lured to an attraction that offers the latest IPhone as a prize, the first one to finish a maze wins! Marie rushes in and our cautious protagonist follows, trying to please the woman he would happily die for. As it turns out, he might just get the chance. The newlyweds are separated and thrown into a gameshow where two married couples must brutally fight for survival. The losers will be executed. The winner will have to face one last fight for survival: against their own partner. In the end, only one person will walk away.
I have just finished reading Deadman's Tome: Monsters Exist, which contains M.R. Tapia's short-story 'Blood Revolution'. In both these creations, I was impressed by how the author crafts many thought-provoking layers into his work. This isn't your typical horror novella about torture and gore, though it contains a big helping of it, its about the corruptness of social media, how it is influencing our lives and serving up entertainment that we should truly question, rather than succumb to. At the start of the book, Tapia quotes Albert Einstein's famous phrase: 'I believe that the abominable deterioration of ethical standards stems primarily from the mechanization and depersonalization of our lives, a disastrous byproduct of science and technology. Nostra culpa!' This message is embodied throughout the novella, which dips in and out of the first-person present narrative - the couple's role in the Die-Fi Experiment - and the events leading up to their capture. Tapia drops in hashtags and emoticon statistics in order to remind us how our lives are constantly been streamed, rated and recorded. Everyday we are on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Twitch, everyday we are watching reality tv shows and everyday we separate ourselves from the world around us. Speaking of consumerism, Susan Greenfield states that "identity shifts away from the unique person with their idiosyncratic personality in favour of the collective persona, the collective narrative...Such single-minded devotion has taken on a ferocity and extremism that might even eclipse the gut-wrenching inhumanity of those previous, more overtly political ideologies" (p.3, 2009). In The Die-Fi Experiment, that 'ferocity and extremism' has become inhumane, there is a hive mind of viewers that who not only happily watch, upload and share the contestants torment, but beg for more.
In terms of horror, I didn't find the book 'scary' as such but it is extremely gruesome and therefore made me cringe on more than one occasion! I went through a phase in college where I watched all the Saw films, as well as films like The Collector, so I considered myself pretty desensitized to gore. However, Tapia proved me wrong! This author is fearless when it comes to detailing the torture of his characters, using everyday items like garden shears and fish hooks to add that uncomfortable familiarity for the reader. I found myself egging the protagonist on, who is completely devoted to Marie and plans to die at the end so that she may go free. These two are up against an unknown woman and her Italian husband, who is pitted against Marie. Fingers, eyes and tongues are lost along the way. For most of the story, the protagonist is tied up in a chair inside a Plexiglass container with his mouth forced open and a band around his head, his limbs are tied and he is forced to watch his wife fight for her life on a television screen. The plot is certainly wickedly sadistic and while I wouldn't say the idea itself is original, the way this idea is written, brought to life and executed certainly is. It was great to see a typical horror trope taken and refreshed into something truly thought-provoking, while still being able to send shivers down our spines!
The writing was always clear and very personable, Tapia has a wonderful way of weaving his characters' personalities into the narratives without over-doing it or putting too much emphasis on it. It is a subtle skill that is desired by any writers. I also enjoyed the fact that when it boils down to it, The Die-Fi Experiment is a love story, a romantic contradiction about the power of love and what it does to us, what we are prepared to do to preserve it. This novella is a horror, a romance and a sociological experiment all rolled into one.
There are a couple of things that did jar me out of the narrative, but never to an extent that spoiled by enjoyment. I was unsure at times whether Marie knew her husband was alive, I was a little confused by what she could see compared to what the viewers could see. I would presume, as she volunteered in a Japanese hospital while she studied abroad for her final semester, that Marie would understand at least rudimentary Japanese and understand some of what the host was saying, who does not hide that fact the protagonist husband is still alive. On one occasion, during a game in the later stages of the book, someone - trying to steer clear of spoilers here - gets a fish hook to the tongue and it sounds like the tongue gets pulled out. However this cannot be the case as the character speaks perfectly clearly later on, which I doubt would be the case even if the tongue was just split. Despite Tapia's attempts to explain the environments to us, I was still a little unsure by the setup of the stage and perhaps this is down to too many descriptions, leading to imagery clashes in my head?
Regardless, this was a highly interesting - so say 'enjoyable' makes me sound like a sadist considering what happens in this fiesty powerful little book! - and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to try something different. It isn't for the faint hearted and if you don't like horror I would steer clear! It is a very good novella to read aloud on Halloween, so if you have any parties and what a proper spooky story, this one is certainly for you.