Here’s the story. Here’s the comment:
Alvaro Zinos-Amaro, at Strange Horizons:
“The Gambler” by Paolo Bacigalupi explores one character’s sense of responsibility to honest news-reporting in a world that dictates content by popularity (pings, clicks, links, social pokes, etc.). The narrator’s distinctive first-person voice and observations on culture (“Americans are very direct”) weave a fascinating tapestry, though I personally found some of his uninformed perspective unlikely, and bordering on irrational righteousness. Search for identity is always compelling, though, when handled adeptly, and that is certainly the case in this piece. “True Names,” “Molly’s Kids” and “The Gambler” all make comments of varying seriousness on generational succession. “The Gambler” does so most eloquently by having the protagonist explicitly recognize how he is following in his father’s ideological footsteps.
Paul Raven, at Futurismic:
With “The Gambler“, Paolo Bacigalupi steps out of the niche that has been built around him on two counts – first by writing something so near-future it could be set before the close of the current decade, and second by writing something with a glimmer of hope to it. A plausible enough vision of the future of web-based new media to provoke io9 to cite it as accurate (albeit slightly ironically, considering their recent broadening of remit), “The Gambler” is actually a classic story re-told – the journalist who, despite the disapproval of his superiors, wants to write the news stories that really matter as opposed to puff-pieces.
David Soyka, at Black Gate:
However, the story here that I’d pick for the “hit single” [...] is “The Gambler” by Paolo Bacigalupi. The narrator is a web journalist in a near future in which readership – and the news feed’s stock price – is measured instantly. Reporters who file stories that get the most clicks directly contribute to company profitability. What kind of stories get the clicked on most frequently? Well, if you’re guessing that it might be the tabloid celebrity stuff as opposed to detailed analyses of government reports, you’d be making a reasonable extrapolation based on the current state of media “news” coverage.
The “gamble” is that there might be an audience for something more substantive than the usual fluff. That the gamble might have a chance of winning is why it is a science fiction story.
Charles Tan at Bibliophile Stalker:
Another undeniable favorite is Paolo Bacigalupi’s “The Gambler” due to its focus on its Vietnamese protagonist. The strength of the piece is Bagicalupi’s focus on character and this is evident as we get flashbacks of the narrator’s father who is a martyr of sorts. There’s a lot of details packed into the story that gives it a rich flavor and makes it believable. Where Bacigalupi triumphs is that while the story could easily have taken place in the modern era, what makes it science fiction is the exaggerated qualities of our culture. By the time we reach the end, the story’s fairly predictable, but it nonetheless hits your gut and even I’m forced to evaluate my reasons for writing.
There’s an unavoidable element of meta about “The Gambler”, never more prominent than when Kulaap tells Ong, with a sigh, that “No one reads a depressing story, at least, not more than once”, and Ong responds by insisting (quite rightly) that his stories are real news. Thus (the suspicion is unavoidable) does Bacigalupi deal with his reputation for miserablism. But the reader is never nudged into noticing this parallel — you need information external to the story to see it — and the story instead wisely spends its time deepening Ong’s quiet but firm sincerity. The end of the “The Gambler” is probably the most touching thing Bacigalupi has yet written: what Ong gambles on is human nature, and Bacigalupi makes us want him to win.
So generally positive, then, but with some reservations — the plausibility of the central character, and I’d like to know what others make of Abigail’s observation in the comments to my original post that the ending felt truncated to her. I’m also slightly surprised not to have found more comment about this story out there; have I missed any significant write-ups?