– by Josh Schlossberg, Josh’s Worst Nightmare
I had trouble sleeping the night I read M.R. Tapia’s new novella, The Die-Fi Experiment.
Sure, it might’ve been the July heat. Or the woman on my mind. But I blame at least half of my sweaty tosses and turns squarely on Tapia’s locomotive-paced storytelling, the disturbing images he conjures, and the maelstrom of emotions he drags a reader through.
Let’s be clear from the get go: The Die-Fi Experiment is not for the faint of heart. Nor, just to be on the safe side, anyone with any kind of heart condition whatsoever. While the sometimes graphic depictions of physical violence aren’t gratuitous—they serve almost exclusively to hasten the plot—they are, let’s just say…intense.
The premise of The Die-Fi Experiment is that a newlywed couple honeymooning in Japan are kidnapped and forced to compete in a gory game show in front of a live audience and the eyes of thousands of social media junkies. Think American Gladiators meets Saw meets You’ve Got Mail (kidding about the last one).
Not only must the lovebirds endure violent trials, the winners must ultimately compete against one another in a battle to the death.
Believe it or not, The Die-Fi Experiment is a love story. And a convincing one, at that. Very little mushy stuff, here…unless you count mangled human flesh. But, really, Tapia delves into the contradictions of romantic love, how it can make you stronger and weaker at the same time.
Because is there any worse feeling in the world than having to stand helplessly by as the one you love suffers? And is there any purer motivation than the willingness to endure pain and hardship—or even death—on a loved one’s behalf?
The Die-Fi Experiment is also a timely and brutal commentary on social media. Tapia mercilessly dissects the role of social media in the devolution of our species through our constant craving for stimulation and the hollow desensitization that is the inevitable result.
The most screwed up thing about The Die-Fi Experiment is that it’s not that far from reality. When some of the most popular shows on television involve voyeuristically watching sad sacks stumble through life and get stuck in the muck of their own unredeemed suffering, why not have a game show where audience members cheer on actual physical trauma?
Typically, when we witness pain inflicted on a fellow human being in real life, we feel compassion and concern. But, somehow, when there’s a screen between us and the victim, our empathy is literally screened out. This is the kind of stuff that Tapia makes us think about, and good on him for doing so.
A few beefs I had: The horror game show concept isn’t exactly new—it’s been around for quite a while in both fiction and film. And while Tapia does add on the social media layer, he’s not necessarily breaking any new ground.
In terms of the writing itself, while strong overall, I occasionally had trouble visualizing the settings, such as the arena in which the game show takes place, and the layout of the contestants in relation to the audience.
Also, the rules of the game itself weren’t immediately clear to me, while some of the torture devices seemed unnecessarily convoluted.
Still, these minor issues did little to detract from the flow of the story.
Even if you don’t give a fig about the fate of our species, The Die-Fi Experiment is a carnival-esque fun ride, basically a rollercoaster that veers of the rails and crashes through a haunted house. It’s non-stop constant action with a satisfying backstory that makes you genuinely care about the main characters, all defused with a great sense of humor. You’ll even learn a thing or two about Japanese culture.
If you’re someone who needs a full night’s sleep every night, then you might want to pass this one by. But if you don’t mind jolting awake at 3 a.m. with clenched fists and a scream on your lips, then you should give The Die-Fi Experiment a try.
Josh Schlossberg, author of “Drain” (Bards and Sages Quarterly, July 2017) and “Viremia” (Deadman’s Tome: Campfire Tales II, August 2017), oversees Josh’s Worst Nightmare (JoshsWorstNightmare.com) where he surveys the dark landscape of today’s horror fiction.