oh sweet jesus I am so, so goddam in
|# ? May 15, 2018 02:35|
|# ? May 21, 2022 03:36|
|# ? May 15, 2018 02:53|
Hell yes I'm IN, prior plans be damned. I'll take some flash too
|# ? May 15, 2018 02:55|
|# ? May 15, 2018 02:58|
Hell yes I'm IN, prior plans be damned. I'll take some flash too
|# ? May 15, 2018 03:03|
I will be third judge
|# ? May 15, 2018 03:08|
|# ? May 15, 2018 05:28|
I am in.
|# ? May 15, 2018 06:26|
CalvINo and Hobbes
|# ? May 15, 2018 10:06|
JUDGE CRITS: THE NEXT GENERATION (WEEK 301)
“Come With Me” by Yoruichi
What it is: A teenage (?) girl assumes her best friend is leaving her behind to go on an exchange to Vancouver. She has a bad time at a party because of this assumption.
How it works: Emphasis on Sophie’s viewpoint and assumption on the issues, as well as things that feel gross and off-putting like the vodka gelatin and the burning couch to reflect her internal state. There are also progression points where Sophie learns things that contradict her assumptions and break her out of her funk.
Does it succeed: It’s alright. Not much in the way of frills, but it gets the point across.
“The Unrevealed” by Djeser
What it is: A pilgrim travels to the site of something that cannot be known. He finds what he looks for… or does he?
How it works: Much of the story is spent providing a layman’s outline of the pilgrim’s goal and the competing ideas in his order about that which cannot be known. The actual communion is mostly absent from the text in a blunt, literal sense, with scraps spaced out to suggest the remains of paragraphs. The first and last paragraphs are identical, reflecting the lack of an endpoint for this philosophical journey (and all philosophy).
Does it succeed: It’s a neat thought exercise combined with a simple but effective gimmick, which counts for a lot with me. It doesn’t have much in the way of character, but I don’t think it needs to. I liked it, but sparksbloom disliked it, so our opinions cancelled each other out and left you with no mention. This week looks like it'll be the week for you.
“Signs of Life” by Tayacan
What it is: Some folks go out in a spaceship to find sapient life on another planet. They probably should have taken more precautions.
How it works: There’s some decent tension-building in here, and an okay alien design. Not much else going on that I can see.
Does it succeed: You might need something else in here if you want to make a decent sci-fi yarn that stands out from the crowd. Some kind of hook would be nice. I’m ambivalent about the abrupt ending, too.
“Patronage” by Hug in a Can
What it is: An artist relies on an older man to get funding for her work, only to discover that their expectations of what that work is are different. She continues the arrangement anyway, though she considers this a lie now.
How it works: The awkwardness with which the story portrays Vincent got most of my attention. There’s the analogy made about his appearance, which is unique and telling, plus the way they awkwardly shuffle around each other until he just drops the dumb goal he has for her work like it’s less than it is. It also brings in a strained relationship with the protagonist’s mother to foreshadow and reinforce the sense of disappointment she feels.
Does it succeed: Yeah, though it doesn’t feel fully alive. Much like those branches painted blue, it feels like some parts of the artist’s life are more lively and given more attention than others, and not just because of the economy necessary for flash fiction. You’re still doing good for a first-timer, though.
“After the Sundering” by Antivehicular
What it is: Two nonverbal people were once conjoined, but are now separate. They still travel together, but one worries that because they are no longer connected physically, their mental connection will weaken. Despite this, No-Longer-Me helps Me with a broken leg and foraging, reassuring them in the process.
How it works: There is no dialogue, only gestures and actions and thoughts. Everything is deliberate and feels like a relic of the most bygone age. Considering that nothing much is happening except the voicing (not literally) and addressing of a concern, the pace feels more or less perfect.
Does it succeed: Sure does. Though the lack of names and the almost feral nature of the characters is an obstacle to sympathizing with them, the writing and emotions on display make up for it.
“19 Minutes in Dubai” by Hawklad
What it is: A jewel thief gets careless and fucks up the heist, but it’s already hosed because one of his teammates betrayed him, and it turns out his earlier fuckup saves his life.
How it works: The minute-to-minute title cards and fast pace work to emphasize the fast pace and tight schedule Nash is working under. There are a bunch of moving parts here, too, which helps the piece go by faster.
Does it succeed: It’s very efficient. I’ll give it that. While I read it, I felt engrossed, but the effect soon fades once it’s done and I’ve thought about it. It was fun while it lasted, though.
“Learned Helplessness” by QuoProQuid
What it is: An elderly man has trouble taking care of himself, so his daughter and son-in-law get him a robot to take care of him. The robot oversteps its boundaries and makes Arthur happier but less healthy, so he finds a way to get rid of it.
How it works: The repetition of “Hmm, sorry. I didn’t get that,” is great and taps me into the vein I need to empathize with Arthur’s annoyance with this newfangled gizmo, plus it’s pretty integral to the joke at the end.
Does it succeed: That’s about all that stuck out to me about this one, though. The rest of it is meh.
“Unsolicited Silence” by Lazy Beggar
What it is: A space guy finds a space hotel to rest at. Nobody will talk to him. He just gets serviced automatically. His frustration builds until he forces someone to get him cryptic hints, then I guess he’s trapped in the hotel forever? I dunno?
How it works: Um, let’s see. There’s plenty of time given to demonstrate how pissy the guy is, and he stays pissy throughout the whole story, so there’s no sense of escalation. That counts as a technique, right?
Does it succeed: No. The guy we follow is annoying and there’s never any real explanation given for everything that happened. It’s just weirdness for its own sake. Remember when sparksbloom requested no contrived rom-com poo poo? I’m counting this as a violation.
“Babble” by Thranguy
What it is: The narrator shoots another man dead after having a conversation with him. Prior, some kind of worldwide phenomenon robs everybody but the narrator of comprehensible language. He finds another man who can speak, but when that man unveils a eugenics plan involving their children, the narrator decides to kill him instead of going through with the plan.
How it works: Emphasizing the ways society changes after all verbal communication stops was a good idea. Slipping a fakeout “oooh, how did this happen?” thing in the beginning, maybe not so much. The payoff wasn’t quite worth it.
Does it succeed: Mostly not. For something so earthshaking as the inciting incident of the story, I felt underwhelmed.
“Skin Diving” by Bad Seafood
What it is: When growing up, Baek was teased for being tall, and for cutting her hair short. As an adult, a friend invites her to a mixer, where she meets a kindred spirit. They talk about diving without an oxygen canister on their backs, and then Baek and her friend leave, though only Baek is satisfied in the evening.
How it works: This is one of the most subtle stories I’ve read on TD. Baek and Yong-joon’s conversation doesn’t make much sense on the surface, so at first I was bored, but then I asked myself what was really going on. I’m going to assume that Baek is trans, or at least has some gender issues, as does Yong-joon. Whatever they’re talking about, it’s so taboo that they can’t speak of it outright at this mixer, and the signals they give each other are more effective than whatever gesture Ae-jong was trying for.
Does it succeed: I think so? I might have to confer with the other judges on this. It might be too subtle for this contest, but I can’t think of how to make it better right now.
“Ponytail boy” by sebmojo
What it is: An ugly man with a speech disability who lives in the seediest part of England decides to abstain from conversation entirely. This goes well for him until a lady at work is nice to him, at which point he’s physically unable to go back on his plan. Then he sets an occupied bar on fire and bam, he’s a terrorist.
How it works: First it does the “three weeks earlier” thing, with added snark, just so that I can have a bad first impression of it. Once we get into the grime and the filth of Guy Ritchie’s England, though, the tone of the story, from the main character’s disgusting appearance to everyone else’s disgusting names, I find it easier to get into the misanthropic mood of the story. It’s like if Edward Gorey wore a hoodie and would slice yer froat, mate.
Does it succeed: Ending’s rushed (not convinced on the leap to arson, which isn't terrorism unless the main character has dark skin ), and it took me a while to warm up to it, but it has potential. Give it another rewrite or two, see what happens.
|# ? May 15, 2018 14:02|
In, flash. Swear to God this time I'm good for it.
|# ? May 15, 2018 15:07|
in with the toxxy toxx
|# ? May 15, 2018 15:20|
Thanks for the crit, Solitair! Let's keep it rolling; I to have crits up for Week 301 and my outstanding judge crits (I think just Competition Week?) before submission deadline for this week.
|# ? May 15, 2018 16:53|
I am ignominious.
|# ? May 15, 2018 17:14|
JUDGE CRITS: THE NEXT GENERATION (WEEK 301)
Thank you for the crit! Now I know more about the skills I need to improve!
|# ? May 15, 2018 21:12|
In, flash. Swear to God this time I'm good for it.
|# ? May 16, 2018 03:11|
Here's 3 more. I'll try to have the last 3 up tonight or tomorrow morning. I want you to know these were lovingly crafted between bouts of hacking up troublingly hued phlegm.
Noah - Reserve America
Bilfred is looking for work after his job at Bear Ears National Park ceases to exist. Luckily, unlike his coworkers, Bilfred knew which was the wind was blowing and was able to secure the one ranger job opening at Voidmart.
His first shift is overnight, which he thinks is odd, but he takes it because he’s got his little daughter at home. For his first day, she’s packed him a lunch, including his favorite hard-to-find candy bar. When he arrives at the darkened store, there’s an old ranger waiting for him in the camping gear section. The old ranger gives Bilfred a broom, a map, and a radio, then crumbles into the breeze like dandelion seeds.
Bilfred gets to work, having been reassured by his predecessor that he’ll know what to do. A distorted voice comes on the radio, creepy but not unlike the voice of his daughter, and directs him to find a missing camper in the offshore drilling section.
Then the narrative tells about Bilfred’s employee of the month plaques. Someone or something replaces it each month, though Bilfred has no luck catching them in the act.
The narrative then tells us about Bilfred’s search methods and broom. The Swifter Sweeper allows him to go back and fix his past decisions, so when he’s trying to track someone or something and takes a wrong turn, he can go back and have a do-over. In this way, he experiences quite a lot of time without too much time “actually” passing. He uses this trick to read and learn and come up with new and exciting things to tell his daughter whenever he gets back home.
One interval, the radio summons him to the Pleasant Lies and Pheasant Lies aisle. He takes his time getting there, plotting his route and taking time to read and nap. Soon, though, he reaches the aisle and realizes something is very wrong. There’s the wrapper of his favorite candy bar on the ground, apparently old enough that the bit of chocolate left inside had gone old and dry. A bit further down the aisle, he notices that some pies have obviously gone missing. He plunges deeper into this part of Voidmart, taking turn after turn, leaving an erratic trail of markers. He keeps expecting to see--I think--his daughter.
Instead, he arrives in the garden section and finds an orange sleeping bag with a body inside. Near the bag is a sad attempt at creating a tiny subsistence farm. Bilfred investigates a corpse with some terror, suddenly convinced it’s going to be his daughter. It isn’t, but when he checks her ID and sees her birth date, he realizes that he has in fact lost track of time, in spite of the Swifter’s time-fixing abilities. He’s now ancient, and it’s apparent no one ever came looking for him. He realizes that Voidmart never particularly cared about him finding living campers
He wonders briefly about trying to undo everything with the Swifter, but ultimately realizes that there’s only one way this is going to end. The end of the story finds Bilfred much as he found his predecessor, aged and weary, about to hand off ranger duties to a young man.
I did some interpreting in my summary, so I guess I’ll just expand on that. Bilfred kinda makes his own bed when he takes the job and then immediately proceeds to use this time unfucking device a bit selfishly. I mean, he justifies it by telling himself he’ll go back home and impress his daughter with everything he learns in his down time, but doesn’t he miss his kid? So I’m not sure if it’s intentional or not but he comes across as a bit short sighted. Which IMO you don’t want to be as a ranger.
Voidmart’s motivations are a little ambiguous. Someone continues to surreptitiously put up “employee of the month” plaques, so they’re clearly invested in keeping him motivated. The narrative states that Bilfred realizes that Voidmart never really intended for him to bring back survivors, which kinda suggests that maybe giving him a time-loving device was intentional, to disorient him.
Honestly, I’m not sure I understand this one entirely.
Perhaps you’ve already guessed that part of my issue with this piece is comprehension. The story feels like it’s happening because the words say it’s happening, but there’s an odd sort of distance between the reader and Bilfred/the narrative.
One of the issues is with how information is presented. Like, the Swifter Sweeper is a key part of the story, but unless you already know the flash rule, it’s kind of confusing because the narrative doesn’t really take a beat to pause and introduce the mechanics of the broom. I don’t need hundreds of words of Bilfred discovering its capabilities, but maybe a couple sentences where he is getting the knack of it?
I never got a distinct sense of what Bilfred was doing, honestly. I know he was sort of a tracker/scout/search and rescue guy, along with doing the Voidmart equivalent of forestry, but the only time we ever see him finishing the job is at the very end. Is the dead camper the first person he’s successfully found? Is that who he was tracking the whole time? What happens to daytime customers in the store? Do they also get lost, their corpses recovered by Bilfred?
Maybe I’m totally off from what you intended. All that said, there were a lot of potentially charming elements to this story. Bilfred and his love of Chattanooga Chunkyboys had the potential to be endearing. The problem was, everything in the story feels really glossed over, except for the beginning and the end, so I never really connected with Bilfred or his misadventures.
Curlingiron - The Void Also Gazes Into You
While attempting to take some items to the returns department, Nina stumbles into a black abyss where she can’t see anything. After (evidently) a half hour or so, she encounters a jovial voice in the darkness. In short order she learns that she’s arrived in Returns, aka the Void.
The jovial voice banters with her a bit, but she’s had a pretty long, lovely day and says so. To make her feel better, the voice turns on a light--revealing that he’s nothing more than a skeleton. Out of reflex, Nina throws the bin she’s holding at the skeleton, and the light goes out. To lessen the creepiness of its appearance, the skeleton dons some Groucho glasses and turns the light back on.
It turns out the skeleton works in returns and is named Danny. Nina asks him if he knows where she should take the items she was trying to return, to which he replies that he does...but she’s probably going to have trouble getting back out because, for whatever reason, the Void has decided she is meant to be “returned” along with the items she’s carrying.
Nina obviously isn’t happy with this, so Danny lets her in on a secret: everyone has a bit of Void in them, and the key to escaping is to take a bit more Void with you when you leave. So he has Nina do a visualization exercise and imagine herself filling with the Void. Once she’s done this, he instructs her to say, “I welcome the Void into my life.”
She opens her eyes and finds herself back in the toy department, her bin now empty of returns. At the bottom of the bin is a sticky note that reads “The Void Welcomes You Too, Nina ”
Not a whoooole lot to analyse here because most of the story is banter between Nina and Danny. I did find myself wondering if this was some sort of right of passage or initiation intended to get Nina to “welcome” the Void into her.
This is another story that could be very charming with better execution. As it is, most of the story is just a back and forth banter, which is kind of amusing but not enough so to carry the whole piece. It helps that I can hear it in your actual voice, so that enhanced my personal experience. Others might not have that advantage!
The thing with the groucho glasses was probably the funniest bit, but it works better as a visual gag than a prose gag, if that makes sense.
I want to believe this was meant to be a subversion of the “heads talking in white space” thing that a lot of newb writers do (since they’re, you know, basically heads talking in a blank black space) but that miiiight be reading a little too much into this.
Also, you took on three flashrules. I can definitely see one of them (the skeleton), but I’m having trouble picking out the other two. Still, it was a tough challenge, and the fact that you came up with anything even a little coherent is kind of amazing!
Armack - Leaving New York., Part II of III: Void Where Prohibited
M. Septus Aemilius (i’m gonna just call him septus from here on out) lives in ancient rome and he’s got an embarrassing illness that threatens his career and social standing. He flees to the “market”, which is where he originally contracted the strange illness. Except the market is nothing like we would imagine the markets of ancient Rome; indeed, it seems Voidmart has stuck its dark tendrils deep into civilizations past.
Inside Voidmart, a rather contemporary-seeming guy is arranging fidget spinners. Septus starts to ask him about his illness, but the employee is quick to dismissively direct him down to customer service. Septus complies and heads to the customer service department, passing a number of aisles whose wares are contemporary with ancient Rome. He stands in an absurdly long line before he’s finally seen by Brittany, a turbo-cheerful Voidmart Satisfaction Engineer.
He explains the problem: he feels like poo poo, but more worrying, he’s having spells where he can’t control his tongue. Apparently, he’s been blurting out Voidmart ads, and it’s bad enough that he’s afraid he’ll be killed or thrown out of the senate for being inappropriate. He recounts a particularly bad outburst, when one of his his colleagues came to seek comfort after losing both wife and child to childbirth and Septus said something like “Voidmart baby shoes for sale; never worn.”
Brittany insists that this is just Septus’s enthusiasm for Voidmart leaking out, but Septus vehemently disagrees and reveals that a doctor observed a ‘V’ inside his ear. So something is definitely afoot.
Brittany checks his records and it turns out that Septus inadvertently accepted an agreement to allow Voidmart to expand their ad department into his brain. He did this when accepting the terms for a (I assume) very racy app for his solar powered tablet. Brittany tries to defuse his anger by pointing out that, as a businessman himself, he too would take every opportunity to expand his business.
Defeated, Septus leaves Voidmart. On his way back home, he encounters a beggar who’s lost his Rubik’s Cube. septus blurts out an ad for Voidmart brand poker chips before apologizing and tossing the beggar some silver. The beggar thanks him for the opportunity, and the word ‘opportunity’ sparks a bit of inspiration.
Septus agrees to make amends with his colleague and abase himself in front of the senate. In exchange, Voidmart would be prohibited by law from operating in Rome. This would include a full nullification of every contract made with Romans, including the one that turns septus into a walking ad.
The last paragraph is an epilogue. Voidmart uproots from Rome and moves to present day Canada, where a sentient skyscraper lumberjack named Em has cleared a convenient wooded area. Voidmart becomes sentient and falls for Em, and together, they attract lots of business and tourism, ultimately causing an idyllic city to spring up around them. They fall for each other and birth (??) an adult toy shop. The end.
This is another iteration on the idea that Voidmart extends through time as well as impossible amounts of space. I think i’ve mentioned it in other critiques, but that was my favorite bit of Voidmart canon to come out of this week.
I do enjoy the idea that a well-off senator and businessmen--someone whose business sense can be appealed to--would still ultimately take issue with the advertising techniques of an amoral megamart. It speaks to the idea that maybe a lifestyle of easy retail gratification isn’t really worth the inundation of advertising. Especially when that advertising is outright inappropriate or encourages unhealthy behavior (like a destitute person gambling).
I’m gonna jump straight to it, friend. Your use of the flash rule was cheeky as all get-out. It was knowingly and brazenly tacked on to the end. I gotta almost respect that, but I was a bit sad because the rest of the story was so darn good. And the Em bit wasn’t even bad, it was just...well, I think you know what you did. I suspect this was a bit of an act of protest of my zany flash rules.
Otherwise, this was amusing, it was well observed, and it was probably the most in depth iteration of the “Voidmart across time” trope.
I genuinely lol’d at the Hemingway bit, then immediately felt a tiny bit bad.
Sitting Here fucked around with this message at 08:48 on May 16, 2018
|# ? May 16, 2018 04:11|
Thank you for some pro-tier critting!
|# ? May 16, 2018 05:34|
flash rule for fumblemouse: the years beneath our feet
|# ? May 16, 2018 14:21|
in flash rule tia
|# ? May 16, 2018 17:16|
in flash rule tia
|# ? May 16, 2018 23:42|
it's the way all the kids these days say "thanks in advance"
|# ? May 16, 2018 23:44|
it's the way all the kids these days say "thanks in advance"
Flash rule for Flerp:
"For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail."
|# ? May 16, 2018 23:58|
flash rule for fumblemouse: the years beneath our feet
"L'enfer est plein de bonnes volontés ou désirs", mon ami.
|# ? May 17, 2018 00:40|
in flash rule tia
|# ? May 17, 2018 00:49|
Week 301 Crits
Come with Me
This is the story of Sophie, who’s upset that her friend Joan is going on an exchange trip during a drinky party. Over the course of the party she learns that her friend Ben is into her, even though she thought he was into her friend. Also, a couch lights on fire? By the end of the story Joan invites Sophie on the trip.
Not a huge fan of this, because Sophie is really passive the whole time. It sounds like Sophie really doesn’t like herself, and I kept waiting for her to surprise herself, to learn that she could live a meaningful life without Joan. Or at least confront Joan directly about applying for a foreign exchange trip and not telling her best friend about it -- that’s genuinely a little messed up. But instead the conflicts are solved by other people pledging their commitment to Sophie, and that means she doesn’t really grow. And, like I said above: personally, I see the conflict here Sophie’s lack of self-confidence and belief in herself. That makes me see this “happy ending” as not-so-happy after all.
So this guy is a philosopher wandering through the lands in search of the anti-nous, aka a thing in which there is no possible knowledge. He spends a lot of time pontificating on the thing that can’t be known, but we learn that it was stored in a temple by a washer-woman. Anyway, he encounters the thing, and he loses his memory of it, complete with cute repetition of the opening paragraph.
I didn’t like this at all and wanted to give this the loss. I’m not a stickler for traditional structure, but I did ask that the conflict of communication be resolved by the end of the story, and a recursive loop doesn’t seem much like a resolution to me. But I’d even excuse that if the philosophical meandering was interesting, but it’s not, and it reads more like pedantry to me than wisdom -- especially, more than halfway through the story, where the protagonist lists several less compelling counter-theories to his own. The prose is competent, but structurally this piece is a mess that’s very close to off-prompt (Aside from not resolving the conflict, I asked for communication from some to someone or someones -- unless this means “the audience,” “mystical corpealized nothing” doesn’t count as “someone.”)
Signs of Life
Alaya and Lillian are on a scouting mission, looking for an alien civilization that sent a communication. At first they’re excited to contact a new civilization. They travel for a long time, and the characters are getting kind of bored of traveling as they take shifts keeping watch. The communications with the captain gradually cut out, and their anxiety increases. When they encounter the civilization, they realize that the civilization doesn’t know how to communicate, so they end up just getting attacked and killed.
I wouldn’t consider this “resolving the conflict” either though I suppose if they’re dead, the conflict is resolved. This is a really long build for a kind of anti-climax; the foreign alien civilization attacks the intruders and kills them feels kind of empty. You start with a nice character moment, with the two of them knowing they’ll be friends because they like watching the ship get smaller behind them, but once they start circling the planets, the characters are just bored and not that engaged with encountering another civilization. The prose of this story is pretty well-written. It’s the structural issues that frustrate with me with this one.
Polly has a frustrating day with her art and then she gets a call from her mother. Polly has to reassure her that everything is fine and she’s getting enough money. It turns out she has enough money because she’s being supported by this guy Vincent, who’s into her art and pays for her to do art full time. When he comes over, he doesn’t like her newest work, because it’s not about him, not like the last piece. Polly knows the last piece wasn’t really about him but she figures this is just the compromise of an artistic career.
I like this one because it presents a mystery of miscommunication -- why is Vincent upset -- and answers it in a way that has an emotional impact on Polly. I can’t tell if we’re supposed to see Polly as a spoiled brat, or a suffering artist who’s a little naive. The narration seems a little snarky about her, like that comment about her use of Christian iconography. So that means I’m not sure how to feel about the ending. Has Polly just grown up a little bit, learning how the real world works, or has she just surrendered her integrity? Maybe the ambiguity is intentional, but if it’s not, then there’s some tightening up that needs to go into the story. Otherwise, the prose is strong, and you do a good job capturing Polly’s voice.
The protagonist has been injured. She’s been sundered by the gods from her other half, No-Longer-Me. They’ve been sundered by godly intervention, and they live a life of foraging. The protagonist believes they are not very intelligent, that No-Longer-Me has all the intelligence, and she seems to fear death. No-Longer-Her takes care of her, though, and they learn to communicate through low moans and pleasant sounds. The story ends in a place of optimism.
I like this because it captures the right balance of grief and loneliness. The protagonist is yearning for her sundered other half, and there’s some really beautiful passages that capture this perfectly. I do have a little bit of trouble picturing the whole of these two -- I’m imagining two people fused chest-to-chest in a permanent embrace, which seems contrary to the kind of survivalist rough terrain these two have to deal with. But I really admire this story for its implicit worldbuilding. The story doesn’t infodump, because the crux of this story is the yearning the protagonist feels to return to No-Longer-Me, the sense of loss for what used to be and can’t be anymore, the intense desire to be understood by her sundered half.
19 Minutes in Dubai
Nash McIntyre is on a diamond heist with his buds Charley and Jamie. But he ends up in a bathroom and can’t turn off the alarm. He can’t communicate with his buds either. So he crawls into the vents and tries to set off an alarm, but it doesn’t work. And he realizes he’s been double crossed, and it’s confirmed when he sees the dead body of Jamie. He spies on her and corners her, finds out that he missed her plans to kill him through dumb luck, and then she tries to kill him by shocking his ear piece, but it doesn’t work because the battery is dead.
This is competent at what it sets out to do, but I have trouble getting engaged in it because I don’t care about the characters. It’s well written and the pulp action is pretty easy to follow, which is definitely an achievement, but I don’t like that Nash succeeds not through ingenuity but instead through sheer dumb luck and bumbling. I feel like the stakes need to be higher, that he needs to have more of a pervasive sense that his life is in danger, or that he’s about to get caught.
Arthur’s children set up a home assistant for him. He doesn’t like it. He wants to have control over his own life, but his kids say it’s necessary for his safety. The device is frequently unresponsive and it throws out all of his food and sets up control of his life through scheduled routines. He falls into the thrall of the routines, but when his son-and-law and daughter come by, he kicks the assistant into the street to get hit by a car.
This is a very competent story, aside from the rushed ending. Arthur’s frustration is captured well, his relationship with his family is painted clearly, and that is definitely one annoying robot. Arthur’s journey from resistant to submissive is pretty believable, but I don’t think there’s enough context for him going from complacency to kicking the dumb robot into the street. Solitair thought the ending was funny, and I guess it is, but as the kicker to a pseudo-horror story I really didn’t like it.
So there’s this guy. And he’s running from a bad job. And he goes to this moon of a planet to hide. It’s called Carcel. He has to wait a long time for everything. He finds a bad motel and people are rude to him. Then he goes to a diner where everyone is rude to him. Then he goes to a bar where people are rude to him, but there’s a drink put out for him, so that’s nice. And people are afraid. Then he sees a shuttle and tries to get inside, but he can’t. But some dude appears and tells him he can’t get in. They get in a fight. And then a shadow descends on them. Then when he wakes up he finds out that the shadows rule the place and they don’t want anyone to communicate with each other.
I think this is an OK premise but the dumb violent main character doesn’t really endear me to this story. I’m also not totally sure why the protagonist wants to get into the shuttle -- to leave the rude planet, probably, but it’s not very clear to me. The clipped prose style feels a little repetitive, too. On the other hand, the atmosphere here is pretty creepy, and the idea of going somewhere where no one wants to talk to you and acts pissed off when you approach them… well, it’s a lot like being in New England. But the mysterious shadows and the things you want being there for you -- that’s pretty cool.
There’s a world where there’s been an epidemic of aphasia. Our protagonist shoots a friend in the chest as a hook. He met Orin through the radio. There’s some flavor about this world. Our portagonist becomes a teacher. Oren (or Orin, the name changes), comes up with a plan to start a harem to raise speaking people. This is why he shoots Oren. Then the protagonist flees.
Again, the is an interesting, well-thought-out world with an interesting character, but the plotting doesn’t make much sense here. I just wish things were a little bit tighter. Like, Oren’s plan of eugenics is pretty insane, but what would bring this to a place of murder? I like this one, but it feels a little loose, like it needs more space to take hold and develop the human aspect while still selling the worldbuilding aspects. The idea feels compelling enough that we don’t really need such a stretch for the actual plot.
Baek is a tall girl who has a childhood friendship with Ae-jong. Eight years later Ae-jong invites Baek to a mixer. Because Baek’s nickname, Baek-hyeon, connotes masculinity, her destined conversation partner, Yong-joon, assumes that she’s a dude interested in dudes. They talk anyway, and she says that though she was bullied as a kid, she’s learned control because she grew up skin diving, where you had to balance the fear of drowning with the experience of diving down, holding your breath while snorkling. They part amicably.
This very low-stakes story is enjoyable in its way, but I feel like it’s a little padded. A lot of this dialogue seems basically empty, communicating next-to-nothing. I can see what these two like in each other, why they’d be sympathetic toward each other, but I’m kind of searching for broader implications, greater meaning. It’s possible I’ve missed some subtlety here, but Baek telling Yong-joon that she could deal with the adversity of being gender-noncomforming because her family made her do snorkle-waterboarding doesn’t feel like it’s significant enough to anchor this story.
Eusebius is a weird looking guy with a stutter who takes a vow of silence and finds it improves his life. One day he meets a girl who’s nice to him. She can’t talk to him and gives up and instead goes out with one of the guys who buillies him. In a fit of rage he burns down the pub where they’ve gotten drinks.
This feels rushed but there’s inspired moments, like the observation of how Bezza gets a little more sympathetic toward Eusebius when he takes his vow of silence, or the way the narrative gets lost in stream-of-consciousness in the more charged moments. The supporting cast is memorable in their particular nastinesses. And I like the idea of this guy giving up words because everyone else sucks and he can’t be bothered to work with them. I just think the turn toward arson and terrorism is really poorly done here and it feels a little ridiculous.
|# ? May 18, 2018 02:23|
All right, all right! If it'll make you stop screaming from the back of the car, we'll pull in at the next McDonald's and order a sack of Week 292: Ancient History and Week 293: These Sainted Days of Spring for the road. I don't promise you'll like the prize inside. Then again, who knows? Maybe Chili's impersonation of Maximillion Pegasus is the last thing you need to complete your set of Silly Recapper Voices (Collect All Four!). That esteemed gentleman joins Sitting Here, Ironic Twist, and me in loving the 80s--or not, as the case may be--and praying to the saints for better reading material, a plea that goes unanswered as Twist takes on newtestleper's "Count your nuggets before they're dipped" and we all stroll through the weed garden that is Fuschia tude's "Garnish."
"Lose these good paying jobs—give up these friends—and we finally have a group of friends now—I’d have to give away my heirloom tomato plants cause it’s too early to harvest—and for what?"
Episodes past can be found here!
Kaishai fucked around with this message at 07:17 on May 18, 2018
|# ? May 18, 2018 03:37|
The rest of the Voidcrits
phew it's done, sorry for the delays, im dead now
Sebmojo - The Roots of Desire
Wendell and what’s left of his family live a scarce life in their hidey hole behind the shelves of Voidmart. I think it’s actually just him and his mom at this point. His mother tells him tales of family members lost in the course of living surreptitiously between the margins of Voidmart, all of them slowly dying off one way or another like some macabre Borrowers situation. At the end of these stories, Wendell always after his sister, Elarif who has allegedly climbed the heights to “paradise”. She doesn’t speak of this for long, however, before she inevitably shoos Wendell off to go play or do a chore.
Cut to sometime after Mom has died and Wendell is an adult, or at least older. Wendell is hanging out high above the shop floor pondering his sister’s disappearance. He decides his mother told him true, that Elarif has ascended to some high, unfathomable place via the ominously named Terminal Lift. He realizes that he would like to find his sister, but the prospect of going after her is terrifying.
Complicating things is Voidmart’s mascot, Voidy, who hangs above everything and watches the aisles with its camera eyes. When it spots a shoplifter, it communicates to the Door Men, who seem to be terrifying security automatons.
Ultimately, though, Wendell can’t really tolerate life behind the shelves anymore so off he goes. Wendell has deduced that “the secret” is madness; Voidmart preys on people’s obsession with possessions. Wendell and his family are spared from the madness, seemingly because they merely steal things instead of covetously purchasing them with hard-earned cash.
This fact comes in handy when Wendell approaches the Terminal Lift. In order to get there, he has to walk down the Aisle of Wonders, which is full of things meant to tantalize and draw Wendell in. His mother’s face looks out from a TV and cooes “buy us”. But Wendell has another ace up his sleeve: as an aisle-dweller, he has no money. He dismisses the images of dead family and heads for the Lift.
Inside the elevator, Wendell tries to gather his thoughts and think about what he’s going to say to his estranged sister. The lift door opens onto a space full of blinding like, which is immediately eclipsed by a massive Door Man. It lunges for Wendell and he darts out of the way just in time. He scrabbles toward some nearby shelving and instinctively dives behind it, into a space much like where he grew up.
Someone grabs him. It’s Elarif! She explains that she knew he was coming because there’s an announcement whenever someone comes up the Terminal Lift.
With dawning dismay, Wendell realizes the Ultimate Floor is just another level of aisles and cravings and shinies meant to prey on people’s cravings for Stuff. Elarif insists there’s another elevator, another floor, and if they work together, they can get to the REAL Ultimate Floor.
Wendell looks up at the ceiling and has a vision of floor after floor, a whole world of aisles stuffed with empty fulfilment.
Wendell and family set themselves apart from the gluts of people who fill Voidmart’s aisles, but you can’t really escape desire, can you? Even if you try to set yourself apart from those who seek fulfilment in material ways, you’re always going to crave *something*. And that’s how the Void gets you. So Elarif’s pursuit of the Ultimate Floor was really not that different from the customer looking for that one gadget that will somehow make everything okay. Wendell may or may not be in a similar predicament; he seems to realize the deal by the end of the story, but what can he even do with that information? The Void appears to have consumed the world, so there’s nothing but cravings and the hollow retail experience that perpetuates them.
It’s interesting because you’ve touched on similar ideas, the ascent to a nebulous something, in other stories, but previously it was more...optimistic? This story seems to take the position that the only way to even kind of “win” is to want nothing. Which I agree with but it’s kind of a reversal of your usual writing MO, which is fitting for Voidweek, IMO.
Eh, this is fine, but I think you dallied too much at the beginning. The whole ending felt smushed up against the word count.
As for your flash rule, I am going to assume that Wendell had some jauntily bouncing Greek pecs and you just forgot to mention them.
Hawklad - Take Your Child to Work Day
Kevin is a repairman or a maintenance worker of some sort. His last job of the day is to go to the Crematory and Burials section and repair a “chiller”.
There, he meets a wraithlike woman and her daughter (because it’s “take your child to work day”), who are very creepy. They guide him to a large freezer with a heavy locked door. Kevin goes inside to fix it and is locked in by the woman
Cut to Chucky, a kid. Chucky is kind of an obstinate little brat. He’s got some kind of kid-friendly computer and it’s addressing him by name via words on the screen, and also a voice in his head? Chucky isn’t very impressed, especially when the voice/words implore him to press a button labeled ‘E-S-C’ (escape, i assume).
Chucky looks around for something with which he can smash the computer. Then he decides to press the button.
Cut to...ChuckyKevin? Chucky appears to have fused with Kevin, I guess because of some shenaniganry with the computer? Anyway, ChuckyKevin seems to have gone all Army of Darkness on Voidmart and pummeled security into retreat.
Having conquered part of Voidmart for himself (if only temporarily), ChuckyKevin goes to play in the endless rows of toys.
Oh gosh, bud. There was clearly an idea here and you clearly weren’t able to fully execute it, for whatever reason. I think what’s going on is that Kevin dies, possesses a kids’ computer, and uses some technomagical fuckery to take over the kid’s body and lead an undead army in conquest.
I’m not entirely sure why the woman in the Crematory and Burials section locked Kevin in the freezer. Since this is the analysis section, I’ll guess: The woman is part of a malcontent undead faction within Voidmart and knew that Kevin would use his skill with technology to...somehow possess a body and lead Crematory and Burials to victory? Or she just really dislikes guys named Kevin.
Where to start? Nothing is adequately explained, no one demonstrates any clear motivation. Kevin seems like a nice, normal guy at the beginning, then yadda yadda yadda he turns into a hybrid murderkid. I’d be willing to accept just about any explanation for this, but it’s just not there.
Like I said above, it’s also not clear why freaky lady locks him in the freezer, presumably killing him. I’ve got several nitpicks with that bit, too. First of all, I’m not sure why you would describe a cash register as a “monolith”. Stern, fine. Dark mahogany, fine. But a monolith makes it sound like something quite a bit more impressive than a cash register. Save your weird descriptions for things that matter! Also, you did one of my biggest pet peeves:
"I'll let my replacement know you're in there," the woman lied.
When it’s already obvious that someone is lying, or when it’s going to become immediately apparent that they’re lying, you don’t need to tell us they’re lying in the dialog attribution.
Okay and then let’s talk about Chucky. Chucky is a bad, disagreeable kid, and you could’ve played that for a bit of conflict. Instead, he spends a bunch of words being obstinate until finally complying with Kevin for no particular reason. It would’ve been more fun to show a bit more struggle and back and forth between Kevin and Chucky. I dunno.
Just...write a whole story next time, k?
Bad Seafood - Pomp and Circumstance
Bruce has an amazing pompadour, so it’s appropriate that he should work the hair products aisle.
Enter Dougan. Dougan introduces himself by way of an anecdote about the Kievan Rus, a people who saw an assault on a man’s beard as an affront to his pride.
After a bit of banter, it becomes clear that Dougan is seeking Pompeii’s Pomp Gel, a “legendary second rate hair jelly.” Initially, he pulls out a gun and points it at Bruce, then realizes his mistake and pulls out a wallet.
Either way, Bruce won’t sell him the Pomp Gel. It’s reserved, with a waitlist.
Dougan isn’t happy about this and takes out his gun again. Before he can shoot, however, Bruce hits in the face with a bottle of shampoo. Dougan’s bullet goes wild and punctures a can of hairspray, to which Bruce applies a lighter, producing a wall of flame that divides the aisle. Dougan’s hair catches fire and he jumps back. Bruce uses the opportunity to book it for the elevator.
Unfortunately, the elevators are both inconveniently placed and absurdly crowded, so there’s no way he’s getting away via the lift.
Just then, Dougan reappears in a stolen golf cart, still angry and still very much in possession of a gun. Bruce is cornered, out of options...unless…
He opens the Pomp Gel, which glows and shimmers. He takes a tiny amount of the gel and applies it to his pompadour, giving it a preternaturally luscious sheen. With Dougan and the cart nearly on top of him, he stands his ground, then ducks to the side at the last minute in such a way that one of the tires slips off the slickness of his ‘do, sending Dougan over a nearby balcony’s edge, into a shark tank.
In the epilogue, we learn the customer who reserved the Pomp Gel was none other than Bruce’s own grandfather, whose pompadour is as majestic as it is white. He notices immediately that the can has been opened and accuses Bruce of cheating him. Bruce plays coy about his adventure and instead “admits” to using a touch of the stuff himself.
This seems to mollify grandpa, since he admits to doing the same thing at Bruce’s age.
I mean, this was another fun adventure with Bruce. I’m not sure there are layers to peel away, but it’s nice to find a familiar face in the third installation of Voidmart. I like the revelation that Bruce comes from a distinguished line of cool pompadour-havers.
Otherwise, this was a fun, bantery action piece that doesn’t really require much analysis.
There was a scant amount of classic Voidmart fun this week, so this story provided a welcome journey back to the good old days. I think a story like this is going to have a bit of trouble standing up against a story like Rhino’s winning piece, if only because Rhino’s piece could, with some modification, stand alone without the prompt, whereas this story is very much deep in the spirit of Voidmart as collectively imagined by Thunderdomers past and present. That’s not really a critique! I cherish every moment spent with Bruce and I hope to see him again someday.
Otherwise, I don’t have a whole lot of critical feedback on this one. Thanks for the fun contribution to a weirdly depressing week!
|# ? May 18, 2018 03:42|
Good crits ITT.
|# ? May 18, 2018 14:32|
|# ? May 18, 2018 14:32|
|# ? May 19, 2018 06:00|
Also also in.
|# ? May 19, 2018 06:28|
|# ? May 19, 2018 06:36|
Signups are closed.
|# ? May 19, 2018 07:27|
What Ukto Saw
In Enji, the citizens fell through the world. On the eighth day of summer when the sun was high over the sand, their floors and streets swallowed them. Many died or disappeared, but some did not – they were stuck jutting from the earth, alive, with twisted limbs and bent backs. This is not interesting in-and-of-itself; in the world of Ataal, such things are commonplace. Enji is different, because Enji went on.
On the eighth day of summer, not all of Enji was inside Enji. Not all of a city’s work happens in the city: farmers in the fields, hunters in the desert, mystics sitting upon marble pillars. They did not fall through the earth and when they returned home, they found their loved ones crying out in pain. They sat with them, and stroked their hair; they spoke of the land-locked as if they were already dead. They gave palliative care and they did not weep. They held meetings about dealing with broken bones, and filthy clothes. They got very good at caring for the land-locked. They loved them, you see: they bathed and fed them, but they also hugged them, and sang to them, and coated them in perfume made from sweet desert flowers.
In time, the society of Enji twisted to accommodate their new lives. Industries sprang up: a man could not could not care for his land-locked husband every hour of every day, but he could pay another man to do it for him. In time, that changed too: one man to feed, one man to bathe, one man to sing songs. Enji was rich in mineral wealth, and in time the city refilled on its own. New arrivals were briefed on the land-locked. Many took jobs looking after them, and when more folks showed up, the old-new-arrivals briefed them. The oasis of Enji rose higher: a city of jasmine, pomegranate and gold. Wealth flowed through the streets of Enji – the city of men-within-earth.
When one of the land-locked died, there was clear procedure. A priest would lay garlands of sweet-smelling flowers around the deceased, then call out to Ukto, the vulture goddess, to carry them away into the sky. No man in Enji would dare to hurt a vulture, for fear of angering Ukto, the cleaner of the dead. The temple of Ukto was the tallest in Enji: its golden minarets towered over the city of sand. If the family of the deceased were wealthy (and many in Enji were wealthy) they’d commission an artist to encase the body in beautiful enchanted glass so it could last forever.
As the land-locked died off (of old age, or some other invisible malady that carried their kind away), the city of Enji became littered with prisms. At sunrise, sunset and the hour when the sun was most high, the glass sang – light refracted off the prisms in just the right way to have them ring out. A true citizen of Enji could set their watch by it. Clever men with mirrors would stand by the prisms and play music for travellers – the locals saw the practice as tacky but there were always strangers’ feet upon the streets of Enji. Enji: the city of men-under-glass.
In time, the last man who remembered the face of a land-locked –Ibu, a merchant who’d been on the road outside the city– died. When Ibu’s husband had gone to the earth, Ibu had cried and cried until his neighbour shouted at him. Ibu had cried with his husband Yaji, and expected him to die. Yaji died, but not for forty years. Ibu died ninety years later, at the ripe old age of two-hundred and six; Ibu died peacefully, in his sleep, and took with him the last memory of Yaji.
In time, the last man who remembered the purpose of the prisms –Ajata, who lived a thousand years unremarkably– died. His father told him stories about why the city sung at dawn and dusk. He told him the prisms once contained skeletons. Little Ajata had not believed it, but had rushed to his classmates to tell them anyway. They hadn’t believed him, and had forgotten all about Little Ajata’s strange lie. Big Ajata died because he said vile words at a vulture and it pecked his eyes out. He died in the mountains, with Enji stretched out below him. He took the memory of skeletons with him and so Enji was left only with prisms of coloured glass that sang at dawn and dusk; Enji was left with men with mirrors, who played songs on the prisms and who were beloved by all.
A university rose and bloomed. Archaeologists studied the glass and said “maybe it is to capture the sun” or “maybe it is to pay homage to Ukto, the goddess of the sky” and made careers of this speculation. They made sure the glass was well-kept. Tourists flocked to Enji, and took photographs, and even though the earth had long since ceased to spring forth gold, Enji remained a rich city – the envy of Ataal. Enji: the city of glass.
The world turned, and another nation (its name does not matter –I cannot remember it, therefore it does not matter–) attacked Enji and burnt the great city of prisms to the ground. They took its riches, and killed its people, and smashed its musical glass. They took their loot home. They drank wine and toasted the murder of a city.
In time, the last man who remembered Enji –a singer, a storyteller. His name does not matter– died. The sand covered up his bones, as the sand covered up Enji.
In time, the sun above Ataal got so hot that it cooked men inside their homes. Oceans evaporated, and silence came to rule Ataal. The deserts around Enji got so hot, they turned to glass. If a man had walked across the desert –though there were no men left on Ataal– he might’ve seen a ruined city under glass. When the sun was at its highest, it struck the glass and the glass sang out.
It sang for nobody, save Ukto and the endless open sky.
When the earth opened up, Enji went on. When the skeletons rotted away and their memory was lost, Enji went on. When war came to Enji and smashed its glass, Enji went on – silent beneath the sand, not even a memory. It is not a lie to say: even in death, Enji went on. Enji: the city under glass.
|# ? May 20, 2018 19:59|
Of Eluse, before the lightning
There were two ways into Eluse: either come down the Ox River from Sela hundreds of miles to the north, or join a trader’s caravan and travel through the desert from either Buma in the east or Yix in the south. Eluse’s location made it a good stopping point through the arid scablands of the Masgal subcontinent, with locals who were only too glad to entertain and trade with travelers. It was a budding town poised to rival Buma, a jewel in the desert where the weary could recover and restock.
Eluse sat at the mouth of a canyon where the wide Ox River had carved through a mesa to expose steep cliffs of white and tan sandstone. Uncut desert willow trailed long branches into the swift green-brown water while tall cottonwoods reached upwards toward the broad blue sky; tall grasses disguised sudden silty drops into water, and provided cover for snakes, turtles, frogs, and fish. Cacti with flat, prickly leaves could be found here as well as in the desert proper, encroaching on civilization wherever they could, and chirping birds hunted brightly colored lizards no longer than a hand’s length around rocks and bushes. Herds of big horned goats and sheep bleated and brayed, attended to by a watchful goatherd. Terraced gardens had been dug out of the cliffs and a spring flowing down to the river had been diverted for natural irrigation.
Buildings made from wood and mud clustered around the base of the cliffs. Three sides of each building were closed against the dry desert winds, but the fourth was open and draped with cloth for privacy. Black, white, red, and yellow were predominant, cheap colors for people who couldn’t afford the more expensive dyed cloth. Specialized craftsmen were rare in Eluse, but here and there was the clack of a small loom or the chatter of basketweavers and potters as they worked at their crafts. Fishermen repaired their nets alongside butchers knapping their stone knives. Music drifted through the air from men and women singing, busking and practicing their skills.
Over the course of generations caves had been dug out of the cliffs, an elaborate system of hallways, large and small chambers, and vents that brought fresh air even to the deepest, coldest rooms. Stonemasons had smoothed the fine siltstone and incised elaborate carvings and bas relief murals into the walls; life-sized carvings of trees, birds, and animals decorated antechambers and geometric patterns covered in paint gave hallways a strange and muted beauty. A small part of the Ox River had been diverted to flow through lower chambers to create private bathing areas, the water warm from the sun beating down on it.
Wide windows with balconies had been hewn from the rock to let natural light and fresh air into living quarters, and the curtains hung for privacy were in brighter colors than those of the mud huts; spots of red, yellow, green, and blue popped against the stone like gems set against the fair skin of a foreign visitor.
The richest apartments were highest up, providing both security and beautiful views of river and desert alike. Boldly patterned carpets covered the floors, and in the uppermost common room was a long low table made of rare wood. Here was where moneyed locals would entertain family, friends, and esteemed guests, sitting on the covered floors and leaning back against piles of embroidered pillows and blankets and eating bowls of savory marinated meat, candied fruit, and cloyingly sweet date wine, while a dancing girl spun and swayed to the strains of a stringed instrument. Charcoal braziers burned scented wood and kept the chill out during the nights these gatherings would occur. Guards bristling with weapons lurked in doorways to keep any unruly visitors from ruining the festivities.
Then the Cataclysm happened.
Vicious electrical storms formed in the desert almost overnight, heavy black clouds so thick as to block out the sun so that when viewed from afar the landscape would seem to vanish into an endless void where the only light was from lightning that raced through the clouds like the swirling sash of a dancing girl or struck the ground in strobing flashes of white. No caravan would brave such a storm without grave consequences. Ships could still come down from Sela if they dared, but the effort required to row back up against the current meant there had never been much trade between the two places to begin with, and it was easy for Sela to cease trade entirely.
The wealthy were trapped. From their high apartments they saw unrest grow as things that were taken for granted before were now uncertain. They tried to plan their escapes, hoarding food from the communal gardens and hiding behind their merrily patterned curtains. The dusty air that whispered past the light fabric now held an ominous tang of ozone, lightning without the rain. Their guards grew restless, unsure if their pay was still worth anything within Eluse, and gangs began to form among the common folk as those with ambition plotted to oust the frightened rich and install themselves instead.
Cut off from the other cities, the jewel of the scablands was tarnished and forgotten.
|# ? May 21, 2018 00:27|
Uranium Phoenix fucked around with this message at 16:15 on Dec 28, 2018
|# ? May 21, 2018 02:07|
Solitair fucked around with this message at 17:29 on Dec 31, 2018
|# ? May 21, 2018 02:45|
Crits for Week 296 (Challenge, Struggle, Tears & Triumph)
Overall judging notes: I thought this week was generally decent to good in terms of quality, and there were several no-mention stories on the bubble that would have easily HM'd a weaker week. I was also a little more charitable to the eventual DMs. If there's one complaint I have about the week, it's probably that a lot of the competitions felt a little flimsy in terms of stakes and real character investment. I judged in judgemode, so my initial notes didn't involve any author references, but here I'll probably throw a few in.
This story, to me, feels like a waste of potential. I really like the core concept of this story (that what the humans believe is a contest is actually collusion between the two AIs to talk to each other more), and the character dynamics at play are interesting, but I feel like it's kind of too short and flat for it to really go anywhere. I'm fine with de-emphasizing the "competition" itself, but it would be nice to see the specifics of the AI's collusion; how do they perceive humans as perceiving them, and how do they change their performance to seem more or less human?
Really, the humans are the weak points here, with nothing particularly interesting going on. On a rewrite, I feel like that could be the point of the story, especially if it's told from the AI perspective -- the concept that the AIs are sapient but fundamentally disinterested in the humans' problems vs. the desire to spend time with each other -- but if that's not really intentional, this story could use much more distinctive human personalities and problems. As it stands, everyone seems about as flat as the pseudo-chatbot text.
An additional small note: I've noticed you tend to have characters referring to each other by name in your dialogue a lot. It fits better in this story than it some others, but please start using commas between the dialogue and the names, as shown:
"I just posted some crits about Week 296, Yoruichi! Check it out."
This reads a lot clearer and cleaner than the lack of comma, especially in a story like this where there's a ton of this dialogue style.
Chainmail Onesie, "No Left-handed Swordsmen (1873 Words)"
This was one of my favorites of the week and I believe was my personal win vote. This does a much better job at making the core rivalry and competition feel meaningful and high-stakes, although I suppose it being life-or-death helped in that regard. I feel like there's good action prose here, although it's dense and complex.
The major issue with this story, which I believe is what knocked it out of win contention, is that the use of Japanese terms and jargon is a little heavy for ready comprehension to many readers. I noticed you chose to translate "shortsword" and "longsword," which was probably a good idea from the perspective of not making a Something Awful audience's eyes glaze over at a reference to a katana, but there's a lot of other terms left untranslated and often without context clues. I'm not the best person to evaluate this, since I have some Japanese language experience, but my understanding is that this was a serious uphill climb for some readers in a story that wasn't otherwise flinching from complexity, and that can be a dangerous combination in Thunderdome. To paraphrase advice from a previous judge: assume your Thunderdome audience is drunk, or otherwise not in a position to read for maximum comprehension. Keep it a little simple.
Bubble Bobby, "I'm Gonna Get You Hitler!"
There's a decent initial premise/joke here, but I don't think the story sustains it or gives a satisfying payoff. Some of that is the pacing; I'm not sure it's completely necessary to continue the story after the protagonist finally manages a win, except to establish that the protagonist is becoming a ham now that he's taken the spotlight, which isn't really reflected on. (If there's an intent to do a "black man triumphs over racist, only to become a caricature in his success" arc, it doesn't quite land, and I'm not even sure if it's intended or if I'm reading too much into this.") It doesn't help that there's really no emotional catharsis to the Dieter plot, which is built up to be the real conflict of the story, the reason the protagonist keeps coming back to a rigged contest -- but he really doesn't get that kind of cathartic moment, just slightly better luck once, and then being a star while Dieter sulks. Yes, technically he's won, but it's not personal or interesting and doesn't feel like a satisfying development.
I feel like this piece is stuck in a weird place between serious and comedic and doesn't end up nailing either. If you want the characters to have serious arcs, commit to them and make them the meat of the story. If you want to write a story about a goofy reality-show rivalry of hams competing to kill Hitler, just let it be silly and don't give us the racism subplot. Don't split the difference, because it just leads to reader disappointment.
Captain_Person, "Running Free"
I liked this on the first read, then liked it less on subsequent reads. The major issue, on those rereads, is that the emotional throughline ends up somewhat muddled, which makes the ending feel abrupt and confusing. I feel like this story could put more emphasis on the more negative side of Stewart's feelings about Jenny; I think the idea here is that he's always ambivalent/negative towards her, just kind of cowed, and the parkour competition gives him the confidence to stand up for himself even though he doesn't win it? That would be better off emphasized more, because as stands it feels like he's not particularly unhappy with going along with her ideas, until suddenly he is.
I'm also kind of unsure about the logistics here. Are there no adults who care about this improvised parkour course with school desks? How are those Bunsen burners alight outdoors? (I don't want to be pedantic, but every Bunsen I've ever used has needed to be connected to a central gas source. This is a minor thing, but it's the kind of thing that bugs me.) I'm willing to go with this not being interrupted, but the improvised obstacle course feels a little lazy, vs. designing a plausible course out of authentic features of a schoolyard. Not a huge deal, but something that doesn't work to the story's benefit.
Thranguy, "Knight Takes Bumblebee"
This one feels kind of overambitious and diluted to me. I realize that you're trying to tell a story with a sweep over years of Jude's life, to emphasize the importance of Ben's chess tutoring and the resulting life lessons, but at this length I feel like it mostly makes the story feel unfocused and cluttered. (There are definitely ideas here that feel half-baked -- still not sure what's going on with the subplots about polyamory, and I'm not sure Ben's backstory with Jude's mom/possibly being Jude's dad really goes anywhere meaningful or useful to the story? He can be a father figure to Jude without any of this.) The core relationship between Ben and Jude is well-illustrated and strong, but I wish it had been grounded in a few specific incident, rather than this broad superficial sweep. Maybe bring the polyamory plot to the front and have Jude stuck in a nasty position and forced to use lessons about priorities and sacrifices learned from fairy chess?
Deltasquid, "Strada Chiusa"
This is a good, solid piece, and I feel like it won thanks to its focus on specifics: a basic but competently-drawn backstory that supports a good central character dynamic over a single night of story action. It starts a little dry, but it improves as the characters get a chance to breathe and understand each other better, in a good parallel to the decreasing focus on the time-trial goal in the story itself. I don't have a lot of crit about it, but I think it's a good example of how keeping to very specific storytelling goals and avoiding excess can be a very valuable tool for writing Thunderdome flash fiction.
Exmond, "The Bandit and the Lady"
I'll start by saying that I didn't really want to DM this. I think there's a lot of very laudable ambition on display here, both in terms of stepping outside of one's standard narrative tropes and in terms of using descriptive language, and I really appreciated seeing that. That said, there are a lot of major issues here that eventually forced the DM.
I'm not sure how much detail to go into, since I'm not sure if you're still reading this thread, but here are the big things:
1. As another crit has already mentioned, the descriptive language has some problems, because it's not always good at creating clear mental images. Take this sentence (I believe already commented on, but a good example):
"The Lady came out first, with a black dress whose ruffles crescendo in a tip of elegance around her."
What does "crescendo in a tip of elegance" mean? It's... coming to a point? Trying to creative memorable metaphor is fine, but this would be much stronger if it were being related in concrete terms that can be readily visualized by the detail. Descriptive prose has to have a sensory focus. I know I'm hammering on about specificity in these crits, but seriously, be specific. It's better to be clear than to be clever, and attempts at cleverness like "whose fiery blonde hair did not match her temperament" just muddle things. (What color is "fiery blonde?" Strawberry? Brass? And the bandit doesn't seem meek to me, and is immediately confronting the lady, so what does this sentence even mean?)
2. Elements of the mechanics are still rough. The main characters' titles are capitalized a bit oddly, there are a few tense switches... there's a lot of stuff here that I think might need an outside proofreader.
3. Yoruichi already wrote a really good crit about this, but there are some weird things going on in this story with gender. I think you're trying very hard on female representation within your stories -- we're worlds away from the Woman Dropping Conflict On The Phone that the recaps love mentioning -- but I think it'd serve you well to think about this concept of "lady" that powers this story, as well as your Poor Madison brawl piece. What are you trying to convey here? From the outside, it reads very gender essentialist, which can be distracting and unpleasant. (Also a little nonsensical, honestly. How long does this fashion show take? Aren't people chasing the bandit, like, right now? Not a time to pause and do a lot of magic clothes changes!) There's also still a tendency here to define female characters in terms of their relationships with men or with a patriarchal society roles. I think I groaned when it turned out that the bandit was motivated by her dad being disappointed. Can't a woman just want what she wants without it being because she's a mother, daughter, or wife?
I'd like you to try an exercise. The next time you write a story, take your draft and switch out the main character's name and pronouns to make them the opposite gender. Does the story instantly become ridiculous? Does it tend to particularly become ridiculous when female characters are changed to male ones, because the female characters are entirely enacting gender stereotypes? I'd like to see you try to write androgynous female characters -- not androgynous in terms of looks, but androgynous in the sense of taking an ungendered human role, where their desires and actions are based on individual motivations instead of specifically female societal expectations.
Djeser, "~The Persistence of Memory~"
I'm not entirely sure what to say about this, because I still feel like this was sort of a sloppy goof of the story, with a surprisingly strong start and not much of an ending. I also suspect you know this and that you may have gotten bored/tired of the joke midway through, hence the abrupt ending and the little [FOOTAGE LOST] gimmick. I don't want to just write "you know what you did," but I sincerely suspect you know what you did and I can't really say much useful, so... the stuff that's here is enjoyable, I guess?
Crain, "County Bylaws"
This is a story I've grown more sympathetic to over time, although I still think it deserved to lose the week. I suspect this story was intended to be bone-dry humor, of the sort frequently created about Minnesota and/or by Minnesotans, but dry humor needs to be executed exceptionally well to land, and this didn't work. (More sympathy here; I fail this plenty myself.) Part of it is that these observations don't feel fresh or interesting. The situation is, in theory, interesting and weird, but it just doesn't go anywhere and nothing particularly notable happens in the contest, besides a cliche and somewhat distasteful "very old person just up and dies" joke. The ending is particularly unsatisfying, and I get the feeling you weren't sure how to end it so just blew everyone up.
Were I to try a rewrite here, I'd probably try taking things directly from the alien's perspective, both to give more flavor and to work with the "alien has a lot of contest strategies that are systematically foiled" runner that sort of gets lost in the original story. Let it be a little wackier. It'd help.
Ironic Twist, "Can You Hear Me"
Like I mentioned in my initial comment, this piece feels to me more like the beginning of something rather than a completed story on its own. What we get is interesting, but we don't really see any resolution of Vivia's newfound revelations or any real interaction with the bird-person, and the revelations don't quite get enough time or context to sink in. I feel like this piece was constrained by length and also, I think, constrained by the prompt; the competition feels more like an excuse, one that could be replaced by practically anything else. (I'm also not sure I buy the bird-person winning. I realize Vivia's not a reliable narrator, but it still doesn't sound like a great ambient composition for a hotel.)
This sounds negative, but honestly, I like what's here and I would read more. What's here just doesn't feel finished, and that's unsatisfying.
cptn_dr, "House Special"
If the previous story was mostly emotional revelations with a tacked-on competition element, this one is mostly competition without much emotion. It's a nice little yarn for what it is, just a burst of weird horror entering a hapless guy's life, but there's no connection or emotional arc between Robert and the other characters, and Nick is clearly a basic Satan figure without much to add to the story in terms of depth. This just feels like something that happens to Robert because of bad luck, which isn't bad, but it makes this kind of shallow. I do really enjoy the descriptive language, though, and I think as a shallow little horror story this works just fine.
Sitting Here, "Freeroot Climbs Towards the Celestial Branches"
This was on the HM bubble, as I recall, and it's a very solid story. I think what kept it from HMing was mostly that the "competition" element seems slightly flimsy -- Freeroot certainly has the drive and the dynamic with Lowbranch, but they're really only competing in Freeroot's mind -- and that the middle seems slightly flabby, with more wilderness-survival focus than fits the rest of the story. It's got a good ending, though, and a good central character dynamic. There aren't a lot of glaring issues here; I pretty much enjoyed it.
Jay W. Friks, "Truth and Courage"
Boy, this piece caused a lot of discussion in judgechat. I personally think it's an ambitious piece, with some compelling ideas, but it's very rough and occasionally a hard sell. The mechanics are still shaky, with several jumps between present and past tense, which doesn't help the readability of a story with a lot going on. I know this sort of thing can be a long struggle, but please continue to work on it.
The good thing about this story, I think, is that it nails being visceral and high-stakes in a way that a lot of stories this week didn't, although on a re-read I'm not sure the stakes are entirely clear -- it's life-or-death, but the prize money goes to both parties? Or just to the loser? That's probably set dressing, though, given that the real stakes here are both the threat of death and the degree to which death is really desired or accepted. There's a good contrast here between Lewis and Helga, and it's the heart of what's strong about this story.
The problems with this story... well, the mechanics have been mentioned, but there are also big chunks that are confusing, starting with the ending. My assumption with the ending is that Helga is accepted as having found "truth and courage" and is accepted by the masked people, while Lewis isn't and gets shot for it, but it's still not really clear what all of this is about or why it's going on, which makes it a touch frustrating for a reader searching for answers. There are also some questions of taste. I wasn't insanely bothered by the pee reference, because it's pretty clearly used as a fear indicator, but body-fluid stuff in TD is always going to put you on shaky ground, and I can't blame people for being unhappy with piss content.
Schneider Heim, "Together, Their Best Shot"
In a week with a fair number of okay stories, this may be the okay-est of them. It's perfectly adequate, with decent enough characters, but doesn't really linger in the mind very long. Probably its greatest weakness is that the very intriguing competition ends up as just backdrop, the descriptions of its content kind of perfunctory-feeling. Magical safecracking is an insanely interesting idea, but it never really gets any meat in this story, and I think that's kind of disappointing. It's okay to use magic as a backdrop to a mostly realistic narrative, but I would have liked to see some exploration of this instead of it basically being about CS graduates with a coat of magic paint.
Tyrannosaurus, "Tyger tyger"
This has an arresting first scene and is generally well-written and solid throughout, but it also didn't make a lot of a lasting impression on me. The ending feels very much like an anticlimax; I know the point of the endeavor is that this isn't something that's going to have the nice storybook ending where the protagonist gets the girl and the funding and the moral high ground, and maybe one out of three ain't bad, but I wish this had been resolved with something other than a third character coming in to yell at the first two. The protagonist stays passive the entire way through, and while I once again suspect that this is the point, it would have been nice to give him a moment of action.
Kaishai, "The Essence of Good Barbecue"
This was another favorite of mine for this week. I think its biggest strength, which it shares with several other of the high-point stories of the week, is that it's very interested in the content of its competition, in a way that gets the reader interested and makes the characters' passions convincing. The major issue is that the core conflict seems to be resolved very quickly, but honestly, I think that's reasonable; the impression I get is that Bruce and Elliot didn't really want to stay mad at one another, so it's understandable that they would make up fairly quickly, and it's definitely plausible that Elliot's heart really isn't in it. Good stuff.
CascadeBeta, "Eclipse the Sun"
The major issue with this story is the twist and the measures that are taken to conceal it. The basic concept of the twist -- that the reader will be deceived into believing the violence of the wrestling match is real/spontaneous while it's actually choreographed -- is reasonably interesting, if probably not sutainable after a certain point. (I don't know a ton about wrestling, but I'm pretty sure you can't get away with a competitor striking a referee unless that's in the script.) The problem is that this is concealed by having the story be more or less pure action, with no thoughts or characterization, to hide that the characters know this is all in the script. More characterization would help this story a ton and make the ending more interesting. I wonder if flashbacks would have worked -- having the protagonist think of his previous issues with Stone during the fight, reading Stone's own actions, and giving depth to their rivalry and maybe gradually giving hints that they've worked through it now? It's tricky. I respect what you were trying to do, but I think the relentless action writing makes the twist feel hollow.
Uranium Phoenix, "The Finite Possibilities Resulting From Two Warships Confronting Each Other With Lasers"
Every time I judge, it seems like there's always a story I like or dislike entirely based on my own idiosyncratic whims, and for this week it was this story. The other judges liked it, and I don't think they're wrong to do so; it's a tight, clever piece. It just didn't work for me, though! My issue with it is that this all feels a little too clever and facile, such that it cheapens the stakes at play. All the banter and the slightly silly names for the AI warships made this feel slick and plastic to me, not actually the life-or-death conflict (for both the main characters and their crews/passengers) that it's supposed to be. Maybe this is just me, but it made the story bounce right off me.
BeefSupreme, "Hearts in Two"
This was another story that I liked overall but left me wanting in some ways. I think my major problem with it, as mentioned in my blurb-crit, is that Eleanor just feels too beaten down and in such a transparently bad situation. What this feels like to me is the kind of emotional power/charity fantasy one can build around an estranged loved one, where you meet them again and they're in really dire straits (because obviously life without you is going to be terrible) and you offer them charity (because you can afford to, your own life going so much better, and to show that there are no hard feelings) and they accept with complete humble gratitude... it's really a sort of revenge fantasy, on the principle of living well being the best revenge, and it doesn't make for compelling fiction because it's so one-sided. It's easy for Charlotte to forgive and pity her mother, because her mother is so simply pitiable.
What I would have preferred to see here, I think, is a muddier situation. Make giving up the job more obviously a major sacrifice to Charlotte -- surely this kind of thing doesn't just grow on trees? -- or make Eleanor more complex, maybe still with the guy she left Charlotte's dad for, maybe just generally unrepentant. Make this feel like there's a meaningful choice here for Charlotte and that she has to swallow some pride or sacrifice something too, instead of just getting to be the better person so easily.
QuoProQuid, "Are You The One?"
Guilty confession: I didn't actually read this until writing this new crit block. Now that I have... this is nice, light, kind of fun, and also kind of flimsy. It's pretty basic "a couple of characters meet and a weird thing happens," and it's an enjoyable enough weird thing, but I wish there was a little more to the characters than just Spectators At A Weird Thing. This feels like it would have been mid-pack if considered, which isn't terrible in a decent week.
|# ? May 21, 2018 03:07|
|# ? May 21, 2022 03:36|
Crits for Week 301 (Communications Breakdown)
Yoruichi, "Come With Me"
This is a good setup with an abrupt, clumsy ending. I really liked your initial depiction of Sophie -- a little bit cringeworthy, but in that "oh, honey, no" way where the character's flaws are familiar and sympathetic -- but it's really not entirely clear why she turns around and decides to start taking people's word for it about liking her. I presume you were trying to show forward momentum for the character, but it makes things feel very flat: "Sophie has crippling social anxiety until someone just tells her to knock it off, and then she doesn't anymore." Something messier would have felt much more real, especially since it seems like she has problems beyond what just self-confidence can fix. (Don't study-abroad programs take time, applications, etc. to get into? I don't think you can just say you're going and that's it. I guess maybe she can still get into it, but it's surely not as simple as Sophie deciding to go and it's a done deal.)
Djeser, "The Unrevealed"
This is a well-executed piece that has next to nothing to do with the week's prompt. (I was going to go into speculation about how it might fit with the communication theme, but you've said in IRC that the connections are tenuous and metafictional, so we'll just leave that where it is.) I think it's pretty obvious why it wasn't successful in the context of the competition.
Beyond that, my major issue with it is just that it's an amnesia-loop story. Maybe I just don't find this entire trope satisfying, but perfect amnesia loops where the status quo doesn't advance at all are frustrating and unsatisfying stories to me; I think this would be a stronger and more interesting piece if there was a suggestion that something was happening in this situation, that the narrator had changed from their contact with the anti-nous, even if just in a way that they couldn't personally recognize. It'd be a nice subversion of what is otherwise quite predictable.
Tayacan, "Signs of Life"
There's an interesting idea here, but the pacing really kills it. This story spends far too much time on the approach and scene-setting, without enough interesting worldbuilding or character stuff to justify it, and then rushes through an ending that feels kind of unfinished. I presume the main characters are intended to die, but it's weird to just cut the story at that assumption and not, y'know, show us what happens, even if it's just the predicted death. The prose is pretty decent, but I feel like this needs an editing pass, either to tighten it up or just to make it a longer piece where the excessively long opening fits better into the whole.
Hug in a Can, "Patronage"
This is low-key but generally effective; I especially like the description of Vincent, and I appreciate that he's ultimately selfish in a very human way, even kind of well-meaning in his self-centeredness. I feel like it would have been easy to make him evil and manipulative, but no, he's just kind of a doofus, and Polly is definitely more like him than she seems willing to admit. This struck me as sort of insubstantial on my first read, but it improves on a reread, and I think there are some good character nuances here. I hope you stick around and keep writing; I'll be interested to see what you have to say.
Antivehicular, "After the Sundering"
(insert clever, charming, mildly self-effacing self-crit here)
Hawklad, "19 Minutes in Dubai"
I'm not sure this is really a story about communication breakdown so much as it is a (semi-)comedy of errors. It's a fun little action piece, but I feel like the main character is kind of its weakest link. I can see where Nash is supposed to be roguish but sympathetic, and his legitimate concern and grief for Jamie is a high point, but he's really not all that likable, and frankly it's easy to sympathize with Charley about Nash's dubious competence and quality as a teammate. His success and survival comes entirely down to loving things up, just coincidentally in ways that foil the traps set for him. It would have strengthened the character a lot to have him show some legitimate competence at times.
QuoProQuid, "Learned Helplessness"
This is another one where I'm not convinced that communication breakdown is really at the heart of the story. The repeated refrains of "I didn't get that" are more a bolted-on running gag than anything that really drives the plot, since Nadia acts functionally sapient and to be willfully ignoring Arthur. Maybe if there was more of Arthur's relationship with his daughter in here and more emphasis on his insecurity and feeling of betrayal? That's the most evocative strand, in my mind, and it's barely touched on. The rest of the story isn't particularly interesting to me.
Lazy Beggar, "Unsolicited Silence"
Oh man, is this story confusing. Frankly, I'm still not entirely sure what's going on here or how any of this makes sense. I guess it's supposed to be a kind of Twilight Zone story, where the boorish protagonist suffers an ironic fate, but I honestly can't even make the setting make sense in my head. (If there's regular passenger shuttle service to Carcel and some sort of hospitality industry, wouldn't this vow-of-silence thing be made clear to visitors? Does the vow of silence also prevent people from explaining anything in text?) The protagonist is certainly unlikable, in the vein of an ironic-fate-story victim, but they're not drawn clearly enough or with obvious enough connection to this silence world to make that fate seem interesting or warranted. It doesn't help that the prose is choppy and kind of unpleasant to read, and I can't tell if that's the character voice. This is just way too unclear for me to really have advice on improvement.
There's a lot of potential in this piece, but I feel like most of it gets wasted. We've got elements of subversion of/commentary on the "cozy apocalypse" subgenre of post-apocalyptic fiction, where small communities ride out the apocalypse unscathed and the (always male, usually nerdy) protagonists become their leaders and patriarchs with a convenient group of nubiles, but there are also some elements of cozy apocalypse played totally straight, even though I'm not sure they make complete sense. (Why does the protagonist get romantic attention? He doesn't seem to be doing anything productive, besides science that by definition the people who've lost language can't understand, and how could they even perceive that he's immune? They can't tell the difference between anything he's saying and their own aphasia?)
The major issue here, I think, is that the story feels detached from the human element of its story and the real consequences of the situation it lays out. The conflict between the protagonist and Oren really comes down to one question: are the affected people still human beings, deserving of the right to self-determination, or are they just grist to be used to create new "real" people? The protagonist and the story clearly come down on the side of the former argument, but that's undermined by the fact that none of these people are ever humanized at all. We get a few references to their behavior, but there are no aphasic characters in this story. If the protagonist cares about his children or any other loved ones as something other than abstract figures, it's not made clear, and so his rejection of Oren's deal feels more like vague philosophical misgivings than an actual assertion of their humanity. It's not clear that he actually believes in that humanity, just that he feels squeamish about the harem stuff. Does he even disagree with Oren, or is it just distasteful to him?
Bad Seafood, "Skin Diving"
This is another piece that feels slightly over-abstracted. For starters, it probably couldn't have hurt to make the fundamental miscommunication (that Yong-joon is gay and and expects "Baek-hyon"/"older brother" to be a man) a little clearer, since I think it's easy to miss. It's also understandable that these characters are talking fairly tentatively, feeling out their shared issues that they don't normally talk about, but the story may err on the side of the over-delicate. That said, I actually liked it quite a bit. I think we successfully see two strangers making a connection in a way that has some meaning to the protagonist, and overall it's a nice sweet read.
Sebmojo, "Ponytail boy"
Grimy, unpleasant, and compelling. I think the weakest part of this is probably the headache/slap and resulting revelation; it feels like a forced, quick way to get the protagonist to stop talking, when I feel like a more natural development would have probably served the story better. (Alternately, did Eusebius give himself brain damage? I honest to God read this as brain damage at first.) That said, I think the rest of the story is a pretty evocative piece about coping mechanisms and what happens when they fail. I didn't find the ending as abrupt as some; it's big and shocking, sure, but it seems clear that Eusebius has completely reached the breaking point, and I presume the contrast between the trivial final insult and the terrible behavior it triggers is deliberate. I don't think I enjoyed this story, or was really supposed to enjoy it, but I definitely thought about it and carried it with me a while.
|# ? May 21, 2018 04:26|