“JackBack,” was the “Newcomer’s Corner” featured short story in the Fall/Winter 1997 issue of Absolute Magnitude. It appears it may not only have been newcomer J. Scott Crawford’s debut short story, but also, apparently, his last short story.
Set in a future Atlanta, Tyler Underwood is a security specialist who has been called to install a system for a celebrity who had chosen to live in Cummings, Georgia, which Underwood considers to be the most dangerous suburb in Atlanta, outside the Perimeter, the area of Atlanta in which he felt safe. The story of his drive home is juxtaposed with the description of a sales call for JackBack, a car security system that ensures people are able to recover their stolen vehicles, which Crawford portrays as a major issue in his Atlanta.
Underwood’s story is about his attempt to get home from this installation. Driving a Jaguar, he knows that his car is a target for every carjacker on the road. When his on-line communications system shut down, his concern, possibly paranoia, kicks in as he tries to make it to an area he considers safe. As he drives, he focuses his attention on a Camaro that seems to be trailing him, making his drive home a race to safety, at least in his own mind.
Against this, the details of the JackBack story line provides support for the danger that Underwood perceives, at least so far as the maker of the JackBack device want to promote the need for drivers to make use of their services. While Underwood’s story focuses on his drive home, the JackBack story includes sections dealing with a sales spiel to a new car owner, a flashback to a previously retrieved car, and, eventually, a tie in to Underwood’s drive home.
Crawford’s twist isn’t entirely unexpected, but he does handle it well, managing to tie the two tracks of the story together in a meaningful way. It does open up some additional questions about Tyler Underwood, which would have been interesting to see Crawford provide information about, even as flashback. Without looking at Underwood a little more, the story has an incomplete feel to it.
While there is nothing outstanding or particularly special about “JackBack,” aside from it being Crawford’s debut/only story, the story is competently written and indicates that Crawford knew how to write stories. It would have been interesting to see where he would have gone if he had managed to publish additional stories.
Steven H Silver is a nineteen-time Hugo Award nominee and was the publisher of the Hugo-nominated fanzine Argentus as well as the editor and publisher of ISFiC Press for 8 years. He has also edited books for DAW, NESFA Press, and ZNB. His most recent anthology is Alternate Peace and his novel After Hastings was published in 2020. Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference 6 times. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7.