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Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.
I like this prompt. I'm in.


Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.
Heart and Soul
(458 words)

Max sat at their piano, lost in Mozart's Fur Elise, and Maggie lingered in the doorway to watch him. He didn't need anyone else while he played. The slightest of smiles bent his lips, and he focused intensely, wholly, beautifully on the music, to the exclusion of the outward world. She clicked on low heels across the floor. Before she reached the side of his bench, Max turned his head and met her gaze. The corners of his eyes crinkled into soft creases as he smiled at her, now, and she at him; the music continued.

Maggie gestured for him to scoot over. He did, and she perched beside him. The corderoy of his trousers felt soft and warm against her knee. Their thighs pressed companionably together, though Maggie leaned away to give his arms room--and counterbalanced her own helpfulness by slipping a foot free of its shoe and sliding her toes up his calf. Max laughed and gently bumped her shoulder.

"'Heart and Soul'?" Maggie murmured in his ear.

He glanced at her. He glanced at her hands. She wiggled her fingers and broadened her smile. He drew Mozart out to a passable conclusion, then his hands hovered, ready, above the deep keys, and Maggie's hovered, ready, above the high. Her bare foot found the right pedal. They lingered like that: he waited for her to start and she teased him with hesitation, until he waggled his brows at her. Maggie broke with a soft chuckle and began.

However many times they played this together, she always remembered taking Max to the toy store on an early date to play at being Tom Hanks and his boss in Big, and how she and he had mangled the song--but they'd found the rhythm eventually, and they had it now. His low notes supported her piping, dancing high. She hummed the melody. Max nudged her shoulder again, and she tapped her ankle against his.

She ignored the pain in her hands. But two of her fingers spasmed and soured the song.

She felt the tension in Max's body; she didn't have to look at him to know his expression, and she didn't, because she had to focus on uncurling her hand. Her fingers bent--unbent--to her will, and through the bone-deep arthritis ache, she continued to play. He continued to play, for her.

After the last note, Max took her hands and kissed each swollen knuckle. "Next time, Maggie, I'll refuse."

"No, you won't." She touched his jaw and the stubble there. "Our song's still worth it."

His right arm folded around her, and she leaned into him, hands in her lap and left cheek on his shoulder, and listened to the music in their silence.

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.
Oh, wow. Man. Never thought I'd win, or that my Thunderdome crown could be made out of love instead of the shattered and melted bones of the damned. Thank you!

I'm reachable at (REDACTED).

Chairchucker posted:

Kaishai should be instantly disqualified for this:


I confess there should've been an umlaut.

Edit much later: Oh, for... I've always thought that was a Mozart piece, but no. Beethoven's Fur Elise. (Except with an umlaut.) Thanks, Chairchucker; you taught me something.

Kaishai fucked around with this message at 07:50 on Mar 3, 2013

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.
Thunderdome Week XXIX: Written in the Stars

Judges: Kaishai, Echo Cian, and Martello

I love the Zodiac, don't you? All that predestination, all that symbology, all that fulfillment of a vital role in the tabloids, and all of it based on patterns in the stars that ancient astrologers must have been drunk as hell to see. Your prompt this week is Written in the Stars. Write a story of up to 1,200 words based on the Tropical Zodiac sign to which your regdate belongs--mine would be Scorpio, for example.

Your story must relate to your sign in some way, whether that means its symbology, its mythological ties, or some random OkCupid quiz's description of its attributes. You may want to go with instead of OkCupid, though, since I'm not going to hunt down anything too obscure.

And! Your story must also include some technology, field of study, or other form of specialized knowledge that you currently know nothing about, and that knowledge must play a significant role. No drat tossing in a reference to your protagonist's career in astrophysics and thinking you're done. You need to do some research, and you need to do it in the Ask/Tell subforum. Either post in an established thread or start your own.

The signs and their dates as per Wikipedia:

Aries: March 21 - April 20
Taurus: April 21 - May 21
Gemini: May 22 - June 21
Cancer: June 22 - July 22
Leo: July 23 - August 22
Virgo: August 23 - September 23
Libra: September 24 - October 23
Scorpio: October 24 - November 22
Sagittarius: November 23 - December 21
Capricorn: December 22 - January 20
Aquarius: January 21 - February 19
Pisces: February 20 - March 20

Sign-up deadline: Friday, February 22, 11:59pm USA Eastern.
Submission deadline: Sunday, February 24, 11:59pm USA Eastern.

I look forward to reading your stories about fish-tailed goats who wear Lolita fashion! But note that Homestuck fanfiction is punishable by your viscera being ripped out through your eye sockets somehow.

sebmojo (Libra): The last night
V for Vegas (Virgo): The Sons of Saranya
STONE OF MADNESS (Capricorn): Starcrossed
Benagain (Libra)
toanoradian (Gemini)
budgieinspector (Aries): Ram On (Submitted past the deadline)
Purple Prince (Leo)
CancerCakes (Capricorn): Large Delta, Capricorn
Symptomless Coma (Aries)
Jeza (Aquarius): The Water-Bearers
Erogenous Beef (Sagittarius): Under Pressure
swaziloo (Virgo)
Honey Badger (Capricorn)
systran (Virgo): Middleman
twinkle cave (Sagittarius): DOOM BOX
Beezle Bug (Gemini): Diamond Point

Kaishai fucked around with this message at 07:43 on Feb 25, 2013

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

toanoradian posted:

A question: Are we only allowed to use Ask/Tell as research? For example, can I complement my knowledge on spoons of Early Middle Ages from with several posts from the Spooner thread?

Also, are the sub-forums of Ask/Tell fair game? My 'lousy student going to Laos to start a spoonfucking business' may need some more specific information.

Ask/Tell is mandatory, but you can supplement what you learn there with whatever lore your spoonpimp heart desires. A/T subforums are acceptable unless Martello says otherwise.

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.
There are now under 24 hours left for sign-ups. The stars shine bright upon the bold, but those who shy from combat will never become constellations in heaven.

Well, unless they bang Zeus and he throws them into the sky in the shapes of bears. Zeus is weird like that.

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.
Sign-ups are now CLOSED! Competitors have two days left. Per Ask/Tell ad astra!

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.
No, you're fine. I've read your story and linked it into the prompt post with the rest.

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.
Two hours left to go. Ten stories yet to be submitted.

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.
Right, like a piece being sheer and utter garbage has ever stopped anyone before.

If you want to toss it up anyway, I'll give you a truncated version of the crits I'm preparing for the combatants whose heads need not (yet) be downcast in shame.

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.
:siren: Submissions for Week XXIX are now CLOSED. :siren:

I'll confer with the other judges to decide who among systran, twinkle cave, STONE OF MADNESS, CancerCakes, Erogenous Beef, Beezle Bug, Jeza, V for Vegas, and sebmojo will sit on the throne beside Martello and ESB next week. I've been working on crits and may have them ready tomorrow.

Benagain, toanoradian, budgieinspector, Purple Prince, Symptomless Coma, swaziloo, and Honey Badger have brought shame on the stars of their registry.

I was going to give you so many bonus points for introducing me to the astrology songs, budgieinspector! You don't even know.

Kaishai fucked around with this message at 06:21 on Feb 25, 2013

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.
:siren:Week XXIX Results: Per Ardua Ad Astra:siren:

To my surprise, I didn't loathe anything this week. Much. I'll have a lot to say about every entry, which you can all listen to or ignore according to your predilection, but for now, know the names of the honored and the disgraced:

WINNER: sebmojo, your delicate balance of story quality, prompt creativity, and use of research has won you another term upon the Thunderdome throne. Your horoscope says you will engage in a threesome with Erik Shawn-Bohner and Martello this week. Enjoy that!

Honorable mention goes to STONE OF MADNESS.

LOSER: systran, your piece held some promise toward its end. Your sign was a clear influence on your work. But rough writing has doomed you; your horoscope says that you will wear the face of a blond creature with 80s hair taking a weapon through the forehead.

Crits are coming soon, and this week's prompt sooner still.

Kaishai fucked around with this message at 02:52 on Feb 26, 2013

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.
Critiques for Week XXIX: systran, twinkle cave, STONE OF MADNESS, and CancerCakes

The combination of prompt and requirement made this a challenging week. Some combatants rose to the occasion while others stumbled, but I didn't abjectly hate anything, rather to my own surprise. Several pieces suffered from ambiguity: an unclear setting or an unclear ending, always assuming it had an ending at all.

If I couldn't recognize your sign in your work immediately, I hit up Google and checked three or four astrology sites; if I still came up empty, I gave up. Nobody actually failed to hit the prompt altogether, but there are one or two where I wonder whether I missed a more subtle use. Feel free to tell me about it if I did. It wouldn't have changed the results in any case.

I'm splitting these into three posts, so if your crit isn't here, wait a bit and it'll turn up.

systran, "Middleman"

The strongest element of this story is how well it meets the prompt. That hyper-critical, over-analytic nature you gave Dirk is a classic Virgo stereotype. You did a pretty good job with the family relationship also; Jayen's position as a repressed son who loves Dirk but resents his demands is clear.

You fulfilled the A/T part of the requirement. Bonus point: I see signs of raaaan's answer to your questions in this story. Good show there.

The bad news for you is, I am a Virgo. You're on target with the hyper-critical thing!

You went over the word limit, and you could have avoided that by trimming the opening paragraphs. They're confusing anyway. I thought from the first paragraph that Dirk was watching Yanina give the clock the death stare, but then it turned out she wasn't there at all? Dirk's musings about Suresh and his heritage add nothing to the story but bloat, though Dirk's attitude toward the secretary does develop his character. That entire early section is also seen only through the lens of Dirk's thoughts; nothing actually happens. We're told and not shown everything we come to know about Yanina or Suresh. In contrast, Jayen's attitude toward Dirk is mostly shown, not told, and it's so much more compelling. Could you cut the first three paragraphs nearly wholesale and open with Dirk reflecting on his lazy secretary on his way home? I think you could, and I think you should.

Your grammar isn't too horrifying, but every error stands out all the more in a story about an analytical perfectionist. No perfectionist worth the name would think ''till,' dammit. That's not a word. (You wanted either ''til,' one L, or 'till,' no apostrophe.) Hyphens don't belong in the phrases 'just transferred in' or 'level of middle management.' In the third paragraph you say 'This foresight and planning is' and 'This is how he reached,' but the story is in the past tense. Etc. If you want to try selling this somewhere, find a line editor first. (That said, I've seen much, much worse. This wouldn't be hard to bring up to grammatical snuff.)

I don't hate this story, but it begs for condensing and polish.

TL;DR: Too long, bloated, sometimes confusing, and my Virgo soul shed a few tears. But your characterization is good, and when you show instead of tell, your story and relationships get interesting.


twinkle cave, "DOOM BOX"

Prompt: Met. Sagittarius is the sign of the wanderer, the philosopher on the road, and the crew's original dedication to parties is a philosophy of a kind.

Research: I see no link to an Ask/Tell thread. I made a brief effort to find an applicable one, then gave up. I'm kind of disappointed because I was hoping to read SA's answers to 'Tell me what would make for the world's most badassiest mobile dance party.'

You need a line editor too. You've got your tenses in a row, but the occasional missing hyphen or comma, the use of apostrophes in plurals, and the appearance of a semi-colon in a colon's place all add to the headache created by reading about a man named Fre$h Fr3dd^7. Although in a story like this it almost works for you. I get a similar headache when assaulted by my jerk neighbor's overzealous stereo! Yes, it's all coming together now.

(Seriously, you could tidy this up a bit, but the errors are small stuff.)

This has a Snow Crash feel, a similar mixture of nukes on wheels and irreverent bizarrity taken seriously at unexpected moments. I'm not saying you're Neal Stephenson (for better or worse), but there are worse works for a story to resemble. I don't like this sort of thing, and yet I eye it sideways as though maybe there's something good just on the edge of my vision.

The end isn't clear. The geek radicals leave Fre$h alone with the nuke-ette because Clydematic is sick? Or did Fre$h take them with him and they let him drown the bomb? Where and how do these people sleep, anyway? It took at least three read-throughs before I pieced the chain of events together, though that might be from the aforementioned headache.

The creative take on the prompt gets high points. The lack of Ask/Tell posts may disqualify you. I still kind of want to set Fr3dd^7 on fire. Which harks right back to Sagittarius, so another point for you.

TL;DR: My opinion doesn't matter much if you're not eligible! A shame, too. I dig your take on Sagittarius despite myself.


STONE OF MADNESS, "Starcrossed"

Glory Hallelujah, you can write. You don't have the technical/grammar side down completely cold; most of your semi-colon usage was correct, but I spotted three places you should have used a colon instead: before a list, before another list, and before a sentence fragment ('his phone'). 'Vodka bottle' and 'outdoor light' need no hyphens in their contexts. In general, though? Your prose flows smoothly, your images are evocative (drat you for that, given the bedbugs and cockroaches), Derek's emotions are convincing, and you stick the landing. I can imagine this being published somewhere.

I did wonder about having Christmas lunch on Christmas Eve. Not Christmas Eve lunch, then? But if that's the biggest question I have, you're doing fine.

On the other hand, there's the prompt. You've got the most direct references as yet to the Zodiac, and yeah, Derek's birthday makes him a Capricorn, but that's not the most creative way to use the sign. It counts; because your story was so good, I expected more anyway. Thus are you punished for not sucking.

Research: drat you so much for making me look at a thread about bedbugs. The direct influence of what you learned in A/T isn't obvious to me. Derek doesn't drink beer in the story, but weight and health aren't established as relevant to him. You only got one answer re: bedbugs; that gets a pass. I guess not many people hang out in the bedbug thread for some bizarre reason. I like that you mined two threads for info, but I'm not sure how well you met the 'significant role' requirement.

All the criteria for the week at least get a nod. This is a good story--I had to focus on technicalities to criticize it much at all.

TL;DR: Could have shown the work better regarding the research and been more creative with the prompt, but you've written something worth keeping. A reasonably strong contender.


CancerCakes, "Large Delta, Capricorn"

Hey, I hoped someone would use a star of their constellation somehow, and you've done it. Awesome. I like this interpretation. Did you know Delta Capricorni is a binary star system, or that Delta Capricorni A is possibly variable, weirdly fast, and rich in metallic content? I didn't until I looked it up, and now I've learned something. You get a point for the accurate distance in light years.

You nailed the research element: your visit to the space development thread shows in the story. I see the answer to your question regarding gamma rays in the crisis; that's a significant role. Well done.

Your imagery helped a worn SF trope or two (such as waking from cryogenic-or-whatever slumber) keep some interest. I'll be seeing the extruded ginger monstrosity in my nightmares, so thanks for that. I was reminded by the sense of helpless doom of Tom Godwin's "Cold Equations." Your prose isn't exactly elegant; it gets the job done, not much more, but considering how much information you worked in, it flows well enough.

I don't want to encourage you to drop any of the info, but the first half, which is all characters and description and interaction, has more life to it than everything after David says the line about the brake fuel. You could probably streamline the paragraphs that begin 'James and Sally looked at David' and 'James was working automatically'--the prose starts to make alarming clunking sounds in these.

Grammatically, you can join the line of those in need of a line editor. 'Upside-down teardrops' needs a hyphen (and 'teardrops' is one word); 'gently caress's sake' needs an apostrophe; you've got some commas where they shouldn't be; etc.

This probably won't be my favorite, but I like it.

TL;DR: Lots of research and a good use of the prompt win you points, though you still went over the limit. There's nothing grossly wrong. Maybe the story's a little infodumpy.

Kaishai fucked around with this message at 08:36 on Feb 26, 2013

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

systran posted:

Did I lose primarily for exceeding the word limit or did I lose straight up as well? Either way I'm in again this week!

You lost straight up. That story needed a lot of work. I admire your spirit, though!


E:vv trying not to poo poo up the thread with 'thankyou' posts but thanks for the feedback Kaishai, that's exactly the kind of stuff I need to know (re. grammar, accursed semicolons etc). And yes you caught me abusing the prompt, fair and square.

ee: Christmas lunch missed after drunkenly passing out; Awakes at 2:21 pm; Shutting-up now

You're very welcome. Get that story brushed up and send it somewhere. As for lunch, you're right--I missed that he was passed out that long. I imagined the story starting early in the day, which makes little sense in retrospect.

On to more crits!

Critiques for Week XXIX: Erogenous Beef, Beezle Bug, and Jeza

Erogenous Beef, "Under Pressure"

You know you put that song in my head every time I looked at your title, right? Just checking.

Your first line is a great opener--except let me suggest you never use the phrase 'a butt in his mouth' unless that's exactly what you mean. Hell of a mental image to have to overcome. On the plus side: 'stippled.'

On my first couple of reads, despite that line, I thought you'd written an alternate-Earth story in which oil drillers occasionally broke through to Hell a la Dwarf Fortress and let loose a gas made of souls that mutated them in horrible ways. But no: these men are in Hell already and drilling for literal hellfire. I don't like this premise as well. Hell being people doing their jobs, forever, isn't a bad concept, but what separates these three souls from the ones in the Soulfog? (Isn't that stuff made of souls? It spattered ectoplasm everywhere....)

The problem isn't that I preferred the other premise, though, it's that the premise you've got isn't clear enough. Some of that is my fault as a lazy reader. It's all right there in the first line, right? Yet your Hell is so much like the ordinary world that it's easy to forget Phil is dead and picture an Earthly worksite. The direct references to Hell are all phrases that could be metaphors, up until 'Screaming clouds of souls enwrapped the car.'

Prompt: Mutable, mutation. Clever. Turning Fire + Philosophy into a story of hell and souls is a nice and subtle take. Consider this obligation met with bonus creativity points.

Research: You've got this. Your research is obvious. And you show it without any infodumps of which to speak, which is excellent. My confusion doesn't apply to the oil rig stuff; I don't know why you'd dump mud, hit shear rams, or pull a string, or what annulars are, or what a kick means (though I've got a guess on that), but I can go with it because Jed's, Horace's, and Phil's emotions are where the story is.

Your prose isn't elegant either, but it shouldn't be for this piece. The character voices are good. There's a spot or two where a sentence is off ('Rust-brown dirt crunched beneath the pickup’s wheels, kicking up dust'--the dirt was kicking up dust? 'Phil slid a window open'--a different window than the one he stood at a couple of seconds ago? Probably not, so 'the window' would be better), and I'd probably set 'Open, drat you!' in italics if it's Phil's thought, but I don't see real problems here.

The muddled setting will probably keep this from being my choice for winner. Major kudos on the research, though. That stuff is great.

TL;DR: Best use of research yet and a creative interpretation of Sagittarius. If I'd had an easier time figuring out where it was set, I'd have enjoyed it more.


Beezle Bug, "Diamond Point"

I was going to hold how talky this is against you until I looked at a description of Gemini and had to laugh. They love to talk. Okay, that works, and I'm giving it to you whether it was intentional or not. You've got 'the Twins' as same-gender lovers; not bad. It's a less-obvious interpretation, and I see other ways in which you may have used the prompt but did it with a light hand if so.

But talky stories can come with problems, like weak setting and missing details. Is Patrick an artist? Mitchell mentions his art, but Patrick said a pen wasn't exactly his thing, which doesn't sound like a thing an artist or letterer would say. Digital artist, maybe? Sculptor? Does he practice another art entirely? I can't tell, and I want to know. The characterizing tidbits I picked up through all the talk weren't enough to make me care about these guys. Mitchell comes closer to being interesting.

Actually, I keep thinking every time I look at this story that it would have been a good shot at last week's prompt. The relationship between the men is the strongest aspect.

You've done your research and it shows in the work. I'm impressed you managed to fold a story around a fountain pen, and the specific model of pen plays a significant role in the story, as requested.

'Slam' or 'bang' would work better than 'crack' as a sound effect for a door; 'exaggerated' is the spelling you want. I can't find much to critique, though, on the sentence level.

The biggest problem the story has is that it's a character study of two nice but ordinary people having a conversation, so, unsurprisingly, it's not very compelling. Maybe Mitchell should explain the pen while demonstrating what it does. Maybe whatever the men wrote or drew while they talked could characterize them further? I don't know; that's what I'd try first. You need some kind of action, a conflict, more emotional depth, or something.

TL;DR: Too much dialogue and too little else leaves the characters too bland for me to care about. I do like what you did with the prompt and your research.


Jeza, "The Water-Bearers"

I'll be looking at/judging/critting the story sans intro first. What's here is interesting, though I'm afraid you might be right: having not read the intro yet, I have no idea what the hell was going on at the end. I'll go back when I'm done, read the intro too, and comment on how and whether it changes my perception.

First, you get a point for hypnotizing me with a giant spinning .gif. You lose it and more for going over the word limit even after cutting out the entire premise.

You wrote a story set in water, and that would be enough to count for the prompt. Mixing air into your plot is an excellent second touch. 'Water' for Aquarius isn't itself creative, but--air aside, even--giving your ocean story a Lovecraftian horror atmosphere, except with nukes? (Maybe?) I didn't expect that. Full points here, maybe with a bonus point or two.

I wish I could give the posters in the diving thread points, because they were all kinds of talkative and helpful. (Note to Bishop, should s/he be reading: I might not have noticed if you hadn't said anything in the thread.) You've worked terminology they shared with you into the piece. Diving is central to the whole thing. You're even with Erogenous Beef in terms of digging into your subject and sharing it with the rest of the 'dome. Excellent!

But--and you knew this was coming--what happens in this?

What I think I get: Ingvar is a diver in Iceland, working around launch pipes that I'm thinking have something to do with missiles. He's working with a guy named Mike to get uncontaminated water to an organization called UNSA. He dives down beside the pipe and comes across strange symbols--oh, hey, two jagged lines. The Aquarius symbol? That's awesome. Anyway, he keeps swimming and goes down too fast. He reaches and enters a facility; he's getting the nervous shakes from the stuff in his tank. He finds the lab covered in those maybe-Aquarius symbols and, reasonably enough, has a fit of the screaming meemies and ends up attempting the hard reset twice, which I suspect he should not have done. Then Mike is dead?

What I don't get: What is he resetting? Why would it result in uncontaminated water? Did he not do it right the first time, did he screw up doing it twice, or both, and did he screw Mike and others over or is he only lost in his panic fog?

I want to understand this ending. I'm psyched about the atmosphere you've created, which is gorgeous with suspense. It does feel like reading Lovecraft in that way. I'm even pretty sure the answer to the mystery isn't going to be a naked pink lobster from beyond the stars, a plus in my book. I still can't follow the story through its climax, and I don't think that's entirely on me.

Your grammar is sometimes rough, though that's a secondary concern. Hyphens are missing. Commas are missing. Apostrophes are missing. Get thee to a line editor alongside everybody else.

Without reading the intro, I'd say this is a story you should keep and work on. The atmosphere is so very effective. Just clarify some, dammit. There's 'mysterious' and then there's 'WTF.'

TL;DR: This doesn't make enough sense to get near the win, despite being one of the more compelling stories this week. Prompt, check; research, check; mesmerizing .gif, check.

All right, now I'm going to check out the intro and see how hilariously wrong I've been.

...Aquarius rockets shooting water into outer space. I love that. Well, that explains the long-as-hell launch pipe. Water from the facility poisoning people is great.

The shift from deep-sea/possibly nuclear horror to sci-fi with a deep-sea horror twist is a significant change in perception, and... this may sound weird, but despite enjoying the rocket concept, I almost prefer the version without the intro. The intro provides context, but the context changes the atmosphere. And I'm still not sure what happened. Did whoever painted the glyphs poison the water? What would the hard reset do? When you work more on this story--and you really should--I hope you answer those questions. I'd like to read it, if you do.

Kaishai fucked around with this message at 05:22 on Feb 26, 2013

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.
Critiques for Week XXIX: V for Vegas, sebmojo, and budgieinspector

V for Vegas, "The Sons of Saranya"

You need more commas. 'Have you been practicing Viswanathan?' and 'I have guru' don't have the same meanings as 'Have you been practicing, Viswanathan?' and 'I have, guru.' I started the story expecting Viswanathan to be some sort of health or religious practice. Only for a second, but your first line isn't where you want that kind of confusion.

Research: Your research is clear, and the subject you chose is at the heart of your story. No problems there. I thought you did a fairly good job of introducing unfamiliar (to me) musical terms and describing them just well enough that my brain could imagine a song.

Prompt: You reference astrology in general, but the interpretation of Virgo isn't as clear. The sign might be present in the perfectionism the brothers show toward their music or the song's moment of order from chaos. I'll assume that's it and call the prompt met; I'm curious whether I missed something else. You've got a far stronger Gemini theme going with the twins in perfect opposition to each other.

This is the first story I feel the grammar errors really hurt. A lot of the ambiguous feeling it has may be the fault of ill-structured sentences. 'His fingers gliding over the strings as the slow notes of the Alap began to form in the air' is a fragment, for instance; the verb form should be 'glided.' In the sentence 'Shivnath dressed in black, methodically and implacably works through the melakarta ragas,' the descriptive clause should be separated: 'Shivnath, dressed in black, methodically and implacably' etc. And so on.

Anyone who takes his time and reads closely will probably understand what you mean in all of these instances. Someone who's reading it after hours spent critting Thunderdome pieces might stumble often enough that she would lose the storyline and think Anand killed Shivnath in Delhi. Hypothetically speaking.

Clean up the grammar and you may have a publishable piece here.

TL;DR: The research is solid, the tie to the prompt is more tenuous, and the grammar is killing you. A line edit may be all you need, but you need one badly.


sebmojo, "The last night"

Prompt: Jennifer is a balanced personality, sensitive to even the weight of light. That's a lovely, understated take on the Scales. You also made stars critical to the story in a way that brought astrology to mind without ever saying the word.

Research: You brought in radiation pressure and the masslessness of light, and those things are important to the narrative, so I'd say you met this.

You've written one of the strongest stories and finest balances of research and prompt. Which is fitting, I suppose. The stars speaking in celestial Braille is a beautiful concept, but your best phrase has to be 'emit some isomer of 'what the gently caress.''

You've polished it, too, for the most part--I think you missed a carriage return in the paragraph in which two people have dialogue, and 'As the sea mounded up into an impossible wall that towered over us' sticks out as an odd fragment (lose 'As' and it works). Braille should be capitalized. Still, I get the impression that you know what you're doing.

I have nothing to suggest to you beyond one more round of polish. Fine story. Fine work. Keep this one and try to sell it somewhere.

TL;DR: All the obligations have been met with elegance, and this piece is almost of final draft quality.


budgieinspector, "Ram On"

I'm irked with your painkillers. Your story might have gotten my vote to win, jokes about Harvey Sid Fisher aside. It's one of my favorites for its emotional intensity and the symbolism of the mountain lion and the ram.

You did your research, and I'm impressed you let the answers to your initial questions about the park shape the story the way they did.

You went an obvious route with the prompt, with the ram, but I looked around and found a list of negative personality traits for Aries: Moody, short-tempered, self-involved, impulsive, impatient--sounds like Scott to me. Was that intentional? I like how you used the ram even if it isn't, but if you layered your references, that's icing on the cake.

Scott telling Terri about her poverty and dependence (in the paragraph starting 'Yes, as a matter of fact, I did') verges on being a characterization infodump. It's the story's most graceless moment, though within the realm of the believable.

The intensity shown in the car and in the metaphorical mirror on the mountainside is the strongest element. It's so well done that the fight is uncomfortable to witness.

I can't criticize the grammar much. In the sentence containing '‘the flyover states’.' the period should be within the quote marks if you're using American English. 'Clamped down on the back of his massive neck, and again, tearing flesh in search of the spine, and, finding it, bit down to sever, to kill' is awkward to me; I'd prefer 'and did it again' in the second clause. A semi-colon after 'spine' wouldn't go amiss, though I think you might be using the commas this way intentionally to keep the feeling of an unrelenting attack.

Nothing else to say, really. It's a great piece. Send it out to editors sometime if you haven't already.

TL;DR: Painkillers: a blessing and a curse.

That's all she wrote. Thanks for your efforts, combatants.

Kaishai fucked around with this message at 06:16 on Feb 26, 2013

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.
In for magical realism.


You and Grace spend all the money you have on toothpaste, and boxes of Frosty Lemon and Raspberry Mint Explosion pile up in the corners of your respective bedrooms. You don't tell anyone why, not even your mother, who's used to a certain level of weirdness from her children and has the wisdom not to ask about things that are merely strange... although you catch her with a tube of Frosty Lemon one day, tasting it gingerly. When it turns out not to be cunningly concealed cocaine, she leaves the matter be.

Unfortunately, the rest of the world isn't so discreet. Mr. Zopper's video goes viral on Wednesday, and all of a sudden the grocery's toothpaste shelves sport gaping cavities of which no dental hygienist would approve. It takes weeks for you to find the final box you need, but at last you and your sister assemble the clues into something like sense:

First look high, then look low
Not as East as East can go
Past the pale in a predator's claws
Teeth and wealth sleep in red jaws
The hunter stands both south and west
Of the ground with beauty blessed
No place older
No place colder
A trove of wonder and delight:
Vivid green concealed in white.

You're stumped. So is Grace. The two of you throw theories back and forth, but you can't come up with anything convincing. It would be easy to get discouraged--except no one else comes forward with the prize.

You're sprawled on the living room floor with your homework; your mother has gone outside for a smoke and left the TV turned to Jewelry Television. You ignore the hosts' cheerful prattle until you happen to catch two words: "Vivid green!"

You glance up. The camera spins around a green jewel the same color as a Mountain Dew can. "And folks," a jolly man says, "it's a wonder we can bring you this stone, because Russian chrome diopside can only be mined in Siberia three months out of the year. The rest of the time it's just too cold over there."

Siberia! A fast trip to the computer turns into an hour of searching and reading, your heart beating fast as piece after piece slots into place. Grace is sleeping over at a friend's house, and this information is too good, too precious to share over the phone or in text. You keep it to yourself through a sleepless night.

"Mines in Russia, but not the eastmost part. The Russian Bear. Red--that part's out of date, sure, but it still fits." You confer with your sister in the recess yard after lunch the next day. No one else is around except for Ms. Gannet, the supervising teacher. "I've got a plan for how to get there."

"I think you're wrong." Grace digs through her backpack and pulls out a slim black-bound hardback with an image of pyramids on the cover. "I figured it out last night after Jeanine fell asleep. The treasure's here." She opens the book to a marked page.



You slide your eyes toward Ms. Gannet. Is she staring at the two of you? You are hunched over and mumbling like madmen.

Grace whispers, "It's supposed to be in the Kunlun Mountains, north of Tibet. In China. Red China? The Chinese dragon? And this book says it's a green valley full of peace and delight."

"Grace. Shangri-La isn't real."

"I believe," she hisses. Of course she does. "Mr. Zopper must have found it. Somehow I'm going to find it too. You can come with me, but I'm not going to Siberia in December!"

You suppose if Shangri-La existed, Grace would have a case. If it were real, it would be old. The mountains around it look awfully cold in her book. But the part where the place was made up by some dude is hard to get over.

Unless Grace is right to believe.

Is that possible? And can you risk her going off to Tibet on her own, treasure or no treasure?

If you hatch your scheme to get to Siberia even though it means going alone, turn to Page 15.

If you go along with Grace on her quest for Shangri-La, turn to Page 6.

Kaishai fucked around with this message at 04:15 on Jul 15, 2013

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.
The Frozen Child
(939 words)

Elizabeth and Jonathan crowded at the frosted window, his bony shoulder digging into her pudgy one, their elbows jostling for position in an absentminded fight. Their mother had gone to visit Mrs. Hennessy. She couldn't stop them from watching the snow fall, even if she might see the flakes in their eyes later and slap their faces pink for it. Neither child really watched the snow, anyway; no novelty in that, but the figure outside in it was more than novel.

She was dancing.

The neighbor girl Gina spun around and around against the backdrop of the houses across the street. They were white, and she wore a long red coat that had been her elder brother's first. She held her arms out, palms up. Her face tilted up and smiled for whatever lay behind the clouds.

Elizabeth knew the word 'sun' and had seen the thing itself on television, but it wasn't usually a relevant concept to her since it had been snowing in her town for twenty years. She imagined the sun growing a face to smile back at Gina. She imagined it showering raisins on Gina and thought of stealing a box of Sun-Maids from the cookie jar. She wondered, not for the first time, why her mother kept raisins in a cookie jar.

But when the wind pulled Gina's coat tight across her belly, Elizabeth forgot such questions. "There's a baby in there," she hissed at her brother.

"What? In her coat?"

"No, doofus, Mama told me--"

Outside, Gina collapsed in a red heap.

Jonathan raced Elizabeth for the trap door in the kitchen, but they had to work together to haul it open; he beat her to the ladder and ran ahead of her down the tunnels and turns that led to Mrs. Hennessy's house. He banged on Mrs. Hennessy's trap, but when it opened Elizabeth shouted first, "Gina's out in the snow!"

Mrs. Hennessy grabbed Jonathan and pulled him up. Their mother grabbed Elizabeth. Both women shook the children by the shoulders until they got some semblance of a story, and then Mrs. Hennessy was gone to fetch Gina's parents. Mama poured tea; they each held a cup for warmth.

Something large thumped against the front door--the aboveground door.

Mama was at the door, twisting the seven tall bolts, before either child could move, and she pulled shivering Gina in and then slammed it shut again. A whirl of snow blew in, but Mama dodged it. She hauled Gina to the living room fireplace and lowered her onto Mrs. Hennessy's rug, which had black and white cows all over it.


"Stay there, Jonathan," their mother snapped.

Mrs. Hennessy came back. Gina's parents followed her. All the adults crowded shoulder-to-shoulder around the red pile of Gina so Elizabeth couldn't see anything. She heard her mother say, "She's pregnant."

"She wasn't," Gina's father said. "Before."

For long a while after that, there weren't many sounds besides murmurs and grunts and soft groans from the huddle of adults. Jonathan looked speculatively at Mrs. Hennessy's big-screen TV. Elizabeth slid off her chair, abandoning her cold tea. She crept into a gap between Gina's mother's shoulders and Mrs. Hennessy's legs.

A film of ice covered Gina's face and the palms of her hands; she didn't breathe. The squirming red thing Gina's mother held breathed, but it didn't cry. "A boy," Gina's mother said in a dead voice.

Elizabeth's mama took the baby from her and pried open his little fists, gently, with just one finger. His tiny palms were white with ice. When the warm air hit them, then he screamed. "It will spread. He can't live very long," Mama said.

Gina's father said, "Good."

Mama put the baby on a bookshelf, beneath a window, where the house was coldest. She didn't wrap him in a blanket or anything, and he kicked feebly; under the blood he looked very pale to Elizabeth. All the adults had forgotten her and her brother both. They were murmuring again, about Gina now, and crying like adults shouldn't cry.

Elizabeth looked for Jonathan, but he'd found the TV remote and was searching for cartoons.

She picked up a small chair and carried it to the bookcase. She climbed up and looked the baby. The ice rime marked his lips and his cheeks, his eyes were cloudy white, and he didn't seem to see her at all. She still didn't think he deserved to be put on a bookshelf to die. He was almost too heavy for her, slippery, and gross, but at least he didn't scream any louder when she picked him up.

In all the rush, Mama had forgotten to lock the seven bolts.

Snow danced in when Elizabeth got the door open. Her mother yelled, "Elizabeth, get back here!" Elizabeth ran out into the snow with the baby before the adults could stop her--before her brother could look away from Adventure Time. She kept running even though no one followed.

She found the place where Gina had fallen, the imprint of the older girl's body already erased by snowfall, and stopped to breathe. The baby's wailing trailed away. Elizabeth looked down at him: frost covered him completely now, or else he was made of it and always had been.

Elizabeth knelt and laid him on the ground, and his tiny mouth smiled at her as he sank into the snow. Within five heartbeats, he was gone.

She tilted her face up toward a hidden sun. She opened her hands to catch the snow. She held its smile in her heart now. She wasn't afraid.

Elizabeth danced.

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.
I'm in.


"How exactly do you plan to get us to Tibet, smarty pants?" you ask Grace. She lights up with a radiant smile. Whether or not she'd be willing to follow you to Russia, she's happy to have you in her corner.

It diminishes your warm fuzzies a bit when she admits, "I don't have a clue."

The two of you try to talk your mother into spending Christmas in the Eastern Hemisphere. You pretend a sudden spiritual conversion to Buddhism, but your mother isn't swayed, though she does buy one of those fat Buddha statues for the living room. When Grace slips and mentions Shangri-La, what hope you had left takes a flying leap.

The telephone rings one night; your mother answers. About half an hour later she calls for you and Grace. Twin creases runs between her brows. "That was Ms. Gannet from school," she says. "Do you want to guess what she told me?"

"No idea," you say. Grace shakes her head.

"She's arranged a school trip to the Kunlun Mountains as a reward for excellent students. Apparently you both qualify. All I would need to do is make sure you bring appropriate clothes, and you could go."

You trade long looks with Grace. Something about this doesn't sound right--nothing about it does, actually. But Grace breaks into a grin and bounces on the balls of her feet. "Yes! Oh, please, Mom! Please!"

"There has to be a catch," your mother says. "I don't know...."

But in the end, Grace's pleading and her own desire for you to get more cultural exposure wear her down. Three days after Christmas you set off for Kashi, China on a coach-class flight, sharing your seating row with Ms. Gannet. No other students are on the plane.

You decide to be forthright. "Why are you bringing us along?"

The teacher's lips press together and their corners tuck up. "Why, fairness. I wouldn't have known where to look if it weren't for the two of you."

Since when has fairness been a concept teachers understand? You can't relax--not during the interminable flight, not in the hotel room, and not during the long drive south. Even Grace spends as much time fidgeting and clutching her book as she does looking out the rental car window.

Snow mantles the Kunlun Mountains in white. Ms. Gannet parks the car when it can't go any further into that forest of stone peaks, and you shudder inside your anorak as you step out. An old place? A cold place? Yes and yes: you feel very young in their presence, and very, very small. And that's before Ms. Gannet grabs Grace and puts a gun to her head.

"Fairness?" you squeak through chattering teeth.

"Let's say instead that I'm afraid Shangri-La won't show itself to someone like me. The legend says it isn't a place for violent people." She gives you another of those tight, thin-lipped smiles, and she jerks her chin toward the trail. "You need to find it and bring the treasure out. Then I'll let you both go--but you'd better drop your cell phone first."

Your cell clatters to the ground. You don't seem to have any choice... unless you want to gamble against Ms. Gannet's willingness to kill, and try to fight.

Will you save your sister directly? Turn to Page 12.

Or will you do as you're told, for Grace's sake? Turn to Page 21.

Kaishai fucked around with this message at 04:19 on Jul 15, 2013

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.
(666 words)

Driving past Joe Marsh's yellow grocery store, Roger took in the sight of Joe trying to wrestle its ancient pinball machine into the back of his pick-up. Boards for the windows leaned against the truck's back tire. Roger's mood ticked down a notch further before he even pulled into the cemetery drive.

He guided his Ford into the parking lot of the little church, sliding in between the two cars already there. Roger closed the car door with as little noise as he could manage and walked along a row of graves. Most of the granite stones in the yard were old friends to him, as were no few of the people lying under them, particularly in one of the sections that would be thick with flags come Memorial Day. He paused by Billy Hurnsey's stone and slapped the top affectionately.

And there was Don, sitting on one of the folding chairs Henry had left beside the newest, half-filled grave. The gravedigger knew the two men's tradition by now.

"Where is he?" Roger asked, falling into the chair beside his old friend.

Don stuck out the deformed claw he had in place of a right hand. Roger grunted, gripped it firmly, and shook. Don grinned, and Roger smiled back despite himself. "Gone to try and badger a last beer out of Joe," Don said. "Bud's not good enough for him." He leaned and fished a white-and-red can out of the cooler at his feet, then offered it to Roger.

Roger shook his head and took the metal flask out of his left pocket. Don looked at the flask for a moment, then the pit in the earth. "Guess it wouldn't be much trouble to run you home," he said.

"Thanks." Roger sipped his bourbon. He considered the headstones within his line of sight--except for one; his gaze jittered past that one, moved quickly to the next-youngest grave on the grounds instead, where his attention lingered on the soil already sinking in after months of weather.

Don followed his glance. "Been a while since the last one. Everybody's got better places to be anymore. Even dead."

Roger nodded.

Don shifted; his chair squeaked. "Did you ever meet the boy?"

"I saw him visiting Shirl once," Roger said quietly. "We didn't speak. But... I went to the viewing last night."


He dimly remembered confused looks from a herd of city strangers. Far more clearly he saw again, with his mind's eye, Shirl's eyebrows and Shirl's nose on her son's dead face. "Awkward as hell."

"Don't guess he'd be here either if he'd lived longer. Not married yet... lucky bastard." Don gulped down about a quarter of his can.

The bourbon loosened Roger's tongue. "He should have been my son."

Don put his beer on the ground and squeezed Roger's shoulder with his good left hand. "Nope. You belong here, even now, like me and Henry. Shirley never did."

"She does now," Roger snapped--and regretted it, but Don didn't pull away. They sat together without speaking. Drying leaves rattled on the oak in the northwest corner. A beetle scuttled over the heap of dirt still waiting to cover a dead man. The town road showed through gaps in the cemetery's wrought-iron fence, empty, grey, and soundless.

In his memory, Shirl whispered, "Why do you have to stay?"

He let his eyes drift at last to the rose-pink stone beyond the dirt pile. "I might as well," Roger murmured to the granite and the sleeper beneath. "As long as you're here."

A grimy hand clapped his left shoulder hard: Henry's. The gravedigger held out a can of Heineken, and he tapped it against Roger's flask. "Cheers to the dearly departed," Henry said.

"Cheers," Don said, repeating the gesture with his Bud; metals clinked dully. "Shouldn't look backward for too long, Rog. It's not good for you."

Roger took a pull of bourbon and regarded the open grave. "Backward. Forward. Sometimes they look the same from here."

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.
My idea won't leave me alone. I'm in.

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.
It Is the Last
(634 words)

In the autumn, six months in advance of Easter, Michael set a topaz into the space left for it in the forest-green enamel of a pendant. Only when he'd finished did he notice the quiet of the workshop around him. He took the loupe from his eye. Henrik Wigström stood at the back of the cavernous room, waiting for the jewelers who remained in the Petrograd shop to grant him their attention.

Apparently Michael had been the last delinquent. "Next year's egg for the dowager czarina will be made of Karelian birch," Henrik told them all. "The surprise will be silver and gold, if we can acquire them. Master Fabergé wouldn't take it amiss to find such materials in the back of a cabinet where they might have been forgotten."

Henrik's eyes didn't linger on any particular craftsman, but Michael's fingers trembled against enamel.

When the law had come down forbidding jewelers to use silver or gold, and all of them had been reduced to working in copper and steel, Michael had... borrowed a few scraps before the government could take them. Just a few. Just in case of need. And the next morning, when he slid a little box to the back of the least-used cabinet--several other jewelers watched him do it--his fingers found more boxes already there.

He alone was given the task of setting rose-cut diamonds in the tiny clockwork elephant and the golden key that wound it, once they had been made. How fine it was to work with gold again, to fill Marie Feodorovna's familiar monogram with sparks of brilliance. And the perfect little elephant! Michael slowly, painstakingly set gems into the pits he made in its hide, and sometimes he smiled as he did. The moments when he could work on the surprise carried him through dull hours of crafting syringes for military nurses; what did he even know of such things?

He put the emptiness of the workshop out of his mind, though fewer than two dozen men still worked there. He managed to ignore the sounds from the streets below, where strikers gathered, and of course he ignored his own hunger. He set one tiny silver tusk into place, then another. He shivered inside his coat.

One piece of news reached Michael's brain. He approached Wigström on that third day of March and asked, his throat tight, "The czar has abdicated?" Henrik nodded curtly, and Michael pressed on: "What of the Easter egg? The dowager's egg?"

For several long moments, Henrik looked out one of the windows. "The order for it hasn't been canceled," he said at last. The workmaster's voice lacked enthusiasm, or any audible emotion at all.

Never mind that. Never mind the craftsmen who wondered aloud where he could hear whether Citizen Nicholas Romanov would be in any position to give gifts by the end of the month. Michael devoted himself to a tiny, shining creature, a beautiful thing.

Then it was done. Michael picked up the winding key.

The men of the workshop gathered around him as he inserted it into the elephant's side and turned it. The soft clicks of the gears were a song. Sunlight fractured inside the diamonds that paved its golden sides as the elephant walked across his table. It raised its miniature trunk, and the silver tusks flashed; its eyes flashed, and broken light scattered across the aged wood; he could have covered it with one hand. Wondrous, he thought. Ridiculous. Majestic. Scarred jewelers' hands clasped his shoulders. Michael nudged the elephant to turn it around, to make it march in front of them again.

Master craftsmen watched a testament to their artistry mimic life in the glow of the falling sun, its footsteps louder, briefly, than the voices of Petrograd.

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

Some Strange Flea posted:

Kaishai - It Is The Last
There’s a historical context I’m not familiar with here. Maybe I’m just dense. The story to me just seems like “stuff happens”. There doesn’t seem to be a particularly strong thread running through it. Communicates the feeling of one of a group feeling dedicated to their work pretty well but I don’t get what I’m supposed to take from the middle of it. He’s excited to be working on this thing but then he’s worried for two lines that he might not be able to finish it but then its fine? I dunno.

Fair enough; thanks for the crit. If I didn't make the context clear, I messed up.

I had fun looking up the history, so in case anyone else digs this kind of thing: the February Revolution in Russia ended in the abdication of Czar Nicholas II on March 2, 1917, which in turn ended the Russian empire and ultimately led to the rise of Lenin's Communist government. Carl Fabergé's workshop in Petrograd (St. Petersburg in the present day) produced opulent Easter eggs for the czarinas from 1885 to 1917, although the last one finished, the Karelian Birch Egg, was never delivered.

In July of 1918, Nicholas Romanov, his wife, and his five children were shot to death in the basement of the house in which they were held, at the order of the Bolshevik government. His mother, Marie Feodorovna, managed to escape Russia with a few of her other offspring.

Rasputin was a close confidant of the czar and czarina until his assassination in 1916. (That's not pertinent to the story. I just wanted to inflict the link.)

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.
Critiques for Week XXXIII: Noah, SpaceGodzilla, Erik Shawn-Bohner, HaitianDivorce, Fumblemouse, Nubile Hillock, pug wearing a hat, Steriletom, and Baggy_Brad

Fanky's prompt brought quite a range of interesting interpretations into the 'Dome, but also more than a few stories that fell on their asses for one reason or another. I'll be picking on grammar again. When I suffer because of your comma splices, so do you.

Noah, "A Fine Day":

Some elements of your story are vague, such as: who are the marching men? When and where is it set? Why the riot? If a foreign army is marching on a street in America or elsewhere, I understand the tension and rage. If the American military is marching on an American street, I don't; I need more context. The phrase 'American but not' and the choice of uniform colors make this perniciously ambiguous.

However, you capture a lot of feeling and intensity in your 375 words. Although the vagueness goes too far, a child might well not know exactly what's going on, and you've nailed that viewpoint--I particularly liked John's attempt to set the men on fire with his mind because it's such an angry-child thing to do.

Military parades and triumphal marches through conquered lands are both traditions, and you showed people living in clear nightmare. Prompt: check.


SpaceGodzilla, "The Living":

Your interpretation of 'traditions of the dead generations' is an interesting one, invoking a different sort of despair that's powerful precisely because it's so banal. I like the approach. I'm not wild about the writing. You're heavy on exposition, probably too heavy for a work this short; it feels like you could trim some of it out and give yourself more room to make the reader feel what Ichiro feels. As-is, I'm told why he's unhappy, but only at the very end do I start to feel for him.

On a technical level, the phrase 'the depression' appears three times in the second-to-last paragraph, which is at least one time too many; it's repetitive. In the second sentence, 'after' shouldn't be capitalized. 'Father-in-law' needs hyphens. But your grammar's not bad overall.

You won't get my vote for the win, but I see potential. If you end up working further with this story, try focusing more on Ichiro's feelings; make his desolation--or emptiness, in the case that he's doing this only because it's one more thing he's 'supposed' to--into a real nightmare.


Erik Shawn-Bohner, "This Land Is Your Land":

Kinda preachy; Cavanaugh's lines about 'all this for cars and lights' and 'burning up our grandparents' are heavy-handed and threw me out of the story as I tried to imagine somebody saying them in the middle of a war zone. Reggie splashing gas on the attendant went too far for me. He lost my sympathy. Without sympathy, the story loses emotional power.

But despite some hangnails sticking out of its gnarled fingers, this piece has impact and hits the prompt squarely. Your prose is generally skilled, evoking multiple senses as you build the setting. Nitpicks: 'White paint curled on the station’s walls and was bare in patches like the scales of a dead snake' is clumsy as hell. I think you mean the paint is peeling from the wall in places and leaving the wall bare (since you haven't established there's anything hanging on the wall, much less so much stuff that bare paint spots would be remarkable), but that isn't what the sentence says. I'm not sure whether the patches are like scales, or if the whole wall is like a dead snake with some scales falling out, or what. You also use 'the attendant' way too often in a short space. It's particularly egregious with 'Reggie shook the can at the attendant. Waves of putrid gasoline splashed the counter and onto the attendant.' This guy either needs a name or another epithet.

You've nevertheless managed a complete and reasonably strong story within few words.


HaitianDivorce, "Starstuff":

'Mum'd'? 'Starcraft'd'? 'Times'd'?? I think I know what you're going for here, a casual internal voice, but this goes too far. The words read wrong, less like 'this character slurs syllables together in his thoughts' than 'this writer doesn't know how to use contractions.' The effect isn't worth it. You've already established the casual tone of the inner voice by using terse sentences with dropped subjects.

The Internet tells me a nye is a small wooded area or a flock of pheasants. But from the context, I'm thinking here it's some sort of data device that would hold photographs? That needs to be clearer; if it's a made-up word, ditch it and go with a recognizable term. If it means something else entirely, it's really not clear. 'Unplacable' should be spelled 'unplaceable.'

Garret accepts his death so calmly that the interpretation of 'nightmare' is subtle, and the nightmare is almost more for the reader: that humans could adapt to killing the old to recycle them (though at least the doctors still feel a need to keep it quiet). The more I think about this take, the more I like it. I like the story in general. It pulls quiet emotion from a familiar SF concept. And the title is great: we're all made of starstuff, and to starstuff--base elements--we eventually return.


Fumblemouse, "Hard Computation":

The writing isn't like his and the ideas only have surface similarities, but I'm still reminded of two of Isaac Asimov's short stories, "Nightfall" and "The Last Question." Combining the two might result in something like this.

I don't wholly understand how the Aspects are millions of upgrades past individuality and personal data storage yet have individual desires and art collections. And what's this computation it exists to do? Maybe these things would deserve exploring without the restriction on word count; maybe not. The real story is how horrifying a simulation of human life would be to a machine. You've nailed the prompt, and you've made the traditions of the future look rather unpleasant to me in the now, which is neat symmetry. I enjoy the classic-SF feel of this piece; it is, perhaps, weak in emotion and character, but given givens, that's not a surprise.


Nubile Hillock, "Tallgrass":

I like what you're trying to do more than I like what you've done. I suspect limiting yourself to 300 words is to blame. Too many sentences are awkward: I couldn't identify the protagonist right away (was she the Queen, haunted by her own words?) or tell what hadn't been crossed--the Flat itself? The boundary? Then, 'The fears of Big Things, of angry Others'--'of' sounds possessive when used in this way, so I'm wondering what Big Things are afraid of and why it's relevant, when that isn't what you mean. The sentence is passive, too.

I was going to say I can still figure out what you're saying in each case, but I'm not so sure I can. What I think is happening: a worker ant hunts for food on behalf of the colony's dying queen, and she dares a different colony's territory when all else fails. She finds a berry or a grain of sugar or something, but it's too late. The queen has starved. The worker nevertheless descends with her prize into the tall grass, but members of the other colony come upon her and devour her. Is that right? See, I like it if so--the concept is delightful--but at the end, especially, it's murky. (Who lives in the tall grass?)

The quest of ants for food as a tradition is a bit of a stretch, but I enjoy the way the ant is (presumably) caught briefly between the dead generations and the living, not quite being either, and suffering from the drives of both.

I don't mind, by the way, that I couldn't automatically tell the protagonist was an ant. That's kinda cool. I dig your idea and admire your ambition too much to vote for you to lose; the story's too rocky to get my vote for victory. (It did get my blessing, though.)


pug wearing a hat, "Private Browsing":


Seriously, what? Is there a story here? I see the tradition, big church weddings, and that Isabel wants to escape it, although that's a weaksauce nightmare without a better look into Isabel's psyche (and/or whatever happened at Victoria's wedding) than your manner of telling allows. 'Girl is getting married; she checks out her future mother-in-law's wedding pictures and decides to elope' is a fairly thin premise to start with, and it's much too thin to support this gimmick.

I don't have much taste for gimmick stories to begin with, admittedly. When they work, they can be pretty impressive. When they don't, there's nothing there. There's nothing here for me. I enjoyed two things: Isabel's favorite quote and Victoria's reaction to it, neither of which adds anything to the 'plot.'


Steriletom, "The Sixth Republic":

I wonder what these Reforms were, since everyone, including the Entrepreneur, seems to be suffering. But I like that you leave that vague and let the reader imagine something dreadful.

You hit the prompt, but your subject is tired. The news is saturated with doom-and-gloom projections of where the U.S. economy might be headed. Here's one more. You don't go far enough to make it different or more frightening, and it lacks teeth, at least for me, despite the scenario it projects being sincerely nightmarish.

Grammatical nitpicks: When the clause after a conjunction is complete, with its own subject and verb, then a comma should separate it from the preceding clause (so: 'They legislated the unions out of existence, and we pleaded with them to do more'). 'Low-wage workers' needs a hyphen. That's small stuff, though. Your prose is fine, generally, and I can sense the protagonist's entirely believable disgust and frustration.


Baggy_Brad, "Aware":

Your formatting isn't ideal. Blank lines between all the paragraphs would make the text easier to read. You swap tenses in your second sentence (you probably want 'Father has dragged the branch' etc. to keep it in the present), and with 'I remember other times though, freezing times when trees have no leaves,' 'have' should be 'had' since he's remembering the past. 'Hungry, sickness times' would read better as either 'Hunger, sickness times' or 'Hungry, sick times'--two nouns or two adjectives, not one of each. The last sentence seems pointless. 'He fossicks my seeds' etc. would be a better closing line.

All that said, I enjoyed this piece; I enjoy its setting in early human history, before anything that comes to my mind when I think of dead generations. Even so far back, someone could feel oppressed by the past. The format and grammar are all I really have to criticize.

Kaishai fucked around with this message at 06:42 on Mar 25, 2013

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.
Critiques for Week XXXIII: livethepostmetal, CancerCakes, Erogenous Beef, Will Styles, systran, HiddenGecko, sebmojo, and Jeza

livethepostmetal, "The Procession":

This is pretty rough, probably the roughest writing yet this week. For a first attempt it's really not bad, but you should stick around and keep learning, writing, improving, and polishing if you aspire to wear the blood-soaked crown.

Technicalities: What I said to Steriletom about commas and clauses applies to you, too. 'Father' should only be capitalized when used in place of a name, so in the first paragraph your usage is correct, but when you say 'her Father,' that's incorrect. 'As though Father was still there' should be 'as though Father were still there.' When you say 'her father watched over his painting,' that sounds like she means her father's painting, not her brother's. Replace 'his' with 'her brother's,' or better yet, give the brother a name the first time he's mentioned. Since this is set in real-life Argentina (isn't it?), no man's eyes should glow red.

'Each was as if his death had turned them to stone while they were sleeping.' Awkward. I assume she means her father's death, but this could as easily be saying each man was as if his own death, etc. 'Was' is a klutzy verb there, too. I would rephrase it to 'All of them behaved as if her father's death had turned them to stone while they slept.' (I exchanged 'Each' for 'All of them' since 'each' is singular and thus them/they would be technically incorrect.) Grammar doesn't always need to be correct in dialogue, but ''“I should have never took you and your bastard son in' is very awkward, and I recommend 'I should never have taken you' etc.

In this second flashback (with Gabriela) you have tense problems. You need to use the past perfect to show that these events take place in the past of a past-tense story. So, for example, 'Gabriela scrunched up her face to avoid crying and when he was done, she silently cleaned the mess and went to cook him another meal' would become 'Gabriela had scrunched up her face to avoid crying, and when he'd finished, she'd silently cleaned the mess and gone to cook him another meal.' The same goes for the third flashback.

The semi-colon after 'tombstone' should be a colon. The period after 'Adolf' should be within the quotation marks.

(I went at you left, right, and center about this stuff because you said it was your first try; I assume grammatical ravaging will be more useful to you than to the veterans.)

Aside from all that, you're heavy on flashbacks and light on things actually happening during the story; it's all backstory, really... but since it's set at a funeral, I think this works okay. You certainly hit the prompt.

If you don't get my vote for the loss, it'll be close. But keep writing. Your basic idea wasn't bad at all.


CancerCakes, "Agnatic-Cerebratic Succession":

Your title reminds me of Crusader Kings II, which I was enjoying earlier today, so you start out a point ahead. But then you lose it for using 'One' as if it were the 'royal we,' a.k.a. the majestic plural.

How do you eviscerate soup, anyway? Maybe if it were organ soup.

I'm amused. You managed to be humorous with a grim prompt, so go you. Not sure how accurately you've depicted the royals, but that's probably not the point. Harry's my favorite thing in the piece. Your twist ending is abrupt and fairly nonsensical, though--it's sort of like, 'Yadda yadda non sequitur yadda gaffe yadda dinner chat yadda OH GOD BRAINS IT'S BRAINS IT'S BRAINS THE QUEEN EATS BRAINS! BRAINS!' It's a nightmare, but it's too WTF to be serious and too grim to be silly! Maybe it would fly with more space for reaction from Harry. Or maybe if the description of the girl weren't so very not funny.

I don't think this quite worked, but I appreciate that you tried.

(Oh, and keep watching your grammar. What was with that comma after an ellipsis when Philip spoke? Good God.)


Erogenous Beef, "Xlendi":

I think you missed the prompt. The protagonist's father held him to restrictive (and odd) rules while he was growing up, but those rules don't hinder him now; his father even helps him to escape, so even if cold fish were acceptable as a nightmare, I wouldn't see the weight of dead generations in it.

...Unless the father is the one suffering under the weight? Did he want to be a musician too and gave up the dream? Is the whole life the protagonist describes his nightmare? Huh. I'm not sure. The records aren't proof of much beyond the father liking music and having interests his son doesn't seem to have expected. If you were going for that interpretation or one like it, there should probably be a musical instrument in that cubby.

Anyway, that's not the only problem. Why is the protagonist fleeing his wedding? He doesn't think once about the woman. Does he hate her? Is he an rear end in a top hat? Both? Maybe he shouldn't be fleeing such an event, since it begs for some explanation.

I can sort of tell this isn't in its final form. You might have something interesting here; I dig this father and son in a fishing family who both love music but have never bonded over that for some reason. I want to know more about them.


Will Styles, "Metamorphosis":

Oh, dear, look at the comma splices and the lack of commas where they ought to be. You need a line editor more than most. You also switch tenses in 'This time though he’d gone too far and I’m getting out of this town': the rest of the story is past tense, so it should be 'I was getting out of that town.' (Maybe just 'out of town' if you don't want to include a subtle clue about whether he succeeds in getting out or not.)

You and Erogenous Beef had a similar idea, but your interpretation is much more cliche: a misunderstood gay boy wants to escape a rural community to the big city, to star in musicals no less. Somebody calls him a fairy. With the sniffling and lines like 'let me live my life and not yours!' you're portraying him as melodramatic and a bit histrionic, which plays to stereotype. The last line is cheesy. It would be hard for anyone to wring a good story out of a stereotypical protagonist and cliche plotline, and you aren't making either one fresh or new.


systran, "Ex Cathedra":

I'm surprised the leader of a failed revolution appears to have faced no consequences--but then, the story is (necessarily) short. This is a much better work than the last story of yours I critiqued. It has some resonance with current events but isn't directly connected to them; it shows Catholicism from two angles, through Alecjo's resentment and through his later desire for forgiveness. The last line is really quite strong.

There are still minor grammatical issues: 'The Pope spoke his final words ex cathedra just before Aleĉjo kicked the chair out from under his feet' should be in past perfect ('The Pope had spoken his final words' etc.) unless Alecjo is murdering another Pope in the story's present, 'Mass' should probably be capitalized, and 'two-thousand-year chain' needs another hyphen.

Kudos to you. Whether or not you win a crown this week, your improvement is marked.


HiddenGecko, "Brine Vats":

What is the purpose of the brains? What do they do for anyone? Tiffany has to be cleansed to be 'made useful,' the brain-flesh has the job of 'aiding the living,' but the use of the vats and their contents and how they could help anyone are mysteries I can't solve. Without that, it feels like Tiffany's experience is pointless. The horrors she goes through are hollow.

Your imagery is good, though. You invoke a nightmare that could be pretty powerful, and I like that you went in such an oddly literal place with the prompt. You mix your tenses quite a lot: there's a lot of past tense in the first paragraph (though it's not consistent there), but the rest is in the present. You've got at least one semi-colon that should be a comma, hyphens missing here and there, the usual kinds of small errors (for everyone, not you specifically) .

The lack of a defined purpose for the brains hurts the story so much. I have a feeling it would be a strong piece if the central process had some meaning.


sebmojo, "Birdsong":

Your first line needs an 'and' at the start of the third clause. (I know: nitpick, nitpick. But errors in a first line stick out worse than usual.)

The piece is admirably brief, and I don't have much to say about it. It's closer to a vignette than a story proper. The real story feels more implicit--why the girl's mother is dead and why she would be sad in Heaven; we don't hear that story, but the edges of its emotions are present. That's enough to make this work for me as a flash piece. Any longer and it probably wouldn't.

It's not my favorite of the week, but it does the job in a simple, straightforward way that still holds some feeling.


Jeza, "Conscience Round":

It feels like this isn't put together quite right, though it may just be the very late reveal of the executee's name that makes it seem out of order. It would help if the flashback dialogue included quotation marks. Your first line and last line in particular aren't working for me. 'Horrible' and 'simple' aren't opposed; there's no realization to be had in conflating the concepts. 'Innocuous' might be better than 'simple' to get at what I think you want to get at, that a nightmare can be built of little things that are unremarkable of themselves.

As for the last line, I'm fairly sure the run-on sentence is intentional, but it doesn't read well. I suggest 'A shouted word, the contraction of an arm muscle; another word, the twitch of a finger,' which puts a tiny pause between the aiming and the firing and gives the last action a little more emphasis.

Everything between those lines I like, though I think it'll benefit from another polish once a deadline isn't breathing down your neck. The mood of the piece is grey despair, and the drizzle and the pale mud feed beautifully into it. Thomas seems too worn down by horrors to be passionate anymore. He goes along, because he must, and doesn't fight it, because he can't; he feels it's wrong but hasn't the spirit to do anything about it even if he could, and that inability is as much a nightmare as what he has to do.

Kaishai fucked around with this message at 06:50 on Mar 25, 2013

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.
I'm so in on this one.

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.
Reaper's Dance
(840 words)
Song: (Don't Fear) The Reaper, by Blue Öyster Cult

A Valentine's costume party wasn't the same thing as a masquerade ball, and it was unfair to hold a real event to the standards of creativity and effort she'd built up in daydreams--or so Kathleen reminded herself. Still, she'd hoped to see something more elaborate than the business suits at least half the men wore. Even the bed-sheet togas on a good quarter of the guests, men and women, heightened the atmosphere in comparison.

As she thought it, a man who'd invested in plastic laurel leaves and a swag of purple velvet caught her eye and saluted her with his glass. She smiled at him, then she moved on.

She'd come as Zeffirelli's Juliet. No act of man or make-up could make her look fourteen again, but wearing ribbons in her dark braid, the embroidered, cap, and the red velvet dress too large everywhere except the bosom, she felt that young. She shifted through the room, steering wide of the punch bowl and so free of most of the crowd; for now, she just wanted a good vantage point to see the more unusual costumes. A flash of light against metal paused her.

Was that a scythe?

The towering figure that held it--he or she, probably he, had to be nearly seven feet tall--wore a cowled black cloak, sure enough, and Kathleen guessed the skull mask before its owner looked her way. It was the weapon that intrigued her. She had to get a better look. Death had turned his face away again, but as she drew close, the black hollows that passed for eyes in his mask returned to her.

"Lady Capulet, you always were too fond of me," he said. She'd expected a baritone voice, but this Death spoke in a tenor.

Kathleen grinned and pointed at the scythe. Its blade stood level with her temple. "Where did you get that? How did you get it past the door?"

He angled the implement so the light shone on it more fully. "It's dull as dirt, I promise. Touch it and see."

"No, thanks. I'd rather not tempt fate," she said.

"Anyway, it's amazing the things you can find in old barns."

"You stole it," she accused him.

"I beg your pardon. The scythe properly belongs to Death." He tapped the butt of its handle against the floor. "This particular scythe properly belonged to a farmer who let me hunt for props in his barn before he knocked it down. Shame on you, making assumptions."

For a moment she thought she'd offended him; the noise of the party muddled his tone. She glanced away, her face heating. Dancers had gathered in the middle of the room, bouncing along with varying levels of enthusiasm to a Shania Twain song, of all things. It wouldn't be too hard to escape into that mess. She opened her mouth to apologize--

But Death had followed her glance and gotten the wrong idea: he held out a hand in a skeletal glove. "One dance?"

Kathleen hesitated. "What about your scythe?"

He leaned it against the wall. "I'm not worried anyone will steal it," he said. "Come on."

How many chances did one get in life to dance with Death, particularly to 'Man, I Feel Like a Woman'? She took his hand. The fingers in the glove felt nearly as slender as bone.

Except Shania's song ended before she and Death reached the dance floor, and the sound system blared the opening notes of a pop rock song she didn't recognize. Kathleen slowed, but Death pulled her in, and he led her to a clear enough space that they'd have room to move freely and room to be seen. "Don't be afraid," he said to her, and then they were dancing. Whirling, really. He didn't pay attention to the people around them; he twirled and spun her about without consideration for whether anyone else danced the same way. Her skirts belled around her feet, and she laughed. She no longer felt like a nervous child. Though he stayed more or less in the same place, with his assistance, she flew.

Some of the Greeks and tycoons nearby applauded them when the song ended. Kathleen grinned breathlessly and curtsied on wobbling legs. In her delight, she stopped judging their choice of costumes. They were here to have fun, weren't they, however they'd dressed? And wasn't she?

"Again?" she asked Death, even though she doubted her lungs were up to it so soon.

The grin of the skull didn't, couldn't alter, but it seemed friendly to her. "Another time, Juliet. Kathleen. I promise you."

He melted away, disappearing into the press of people faster than a man so tall or so distinctive should have been able to manage. The last she saw of him was one more flash off his scythe's edge, too bright for it to be dull at all; only after midnight, when the party was over, did she wonder how he'd known her name.

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

The Saddest Rhino posted:

Authors Crit:

Kaishai - It Is the Last

Thank you! You made my day. I loved working with this subject, and I'm glad some of the beauty of the Fabergé creations came across in the story. The eggs just fascinate me.

Nubile Hillock posted:

:frogsiren: Most Enjoyable Kaishai! I really, really wanted to give you the win. The song and story together were the most enjoyable read this week. I'm a sucker for the underdog... and the story kind of left me wanting. It was a lovely vignette, but I've read this cliche over and over and over. It worked every time, though (and had me clapping my hands together like a toddler with downs). Expect a crit!

Thank you too! (Two positive crits? I should have bought a lottery ticket today, clearly.) I enjoyed writing it. Song prompts are my new favorite thing.

Congratulations, systran!

sebmojo posted:

And what will be the judgment of the dome - mocking reference to Bonnie Tyler? Sober approbation of the deed of a warrior? OR BOTH?

I move that whatever picture is chosen, the text should come from 'Holding Out For a Hero.'

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.
The distinguished Hillock and I have conferred, and we set the following terms upon Dr. Kloctopussy:

Your word limit is raised. You have the choice of either writing 1,500 words MINIMUM about The House On Maple Street, or 2,000 words MINIMUM about a picture of your choosing. Let it be known which challenge you will take (and in the latter case, which picture) at least 24 hours before the submission deadline.

Good luck. May someone have mercy on your soul, for we will not.

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.
You're good to go, crabrock. Go ahead and submit your Mr. Linden's Library piece when you're ready.

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

magnificent7 posted:

I've pored over the pages, scanned the stories. And I'm clueless. Submissions are closed, got that part. The prompt - is that the topic/rules/photo to write about? And it's posted in here too.

That's it? Do I have it all correct?

Here is an example of a prompt post. They usually have a week number and title up top.

Within a day or two, likely, systran will name the winners and losers for the week that just closed. Within a day or so of that, the winner will post a new prompt. At that point everybody's free to pile on it like lemmings at the bottom of a cliff, and those who agreed to judge will come to rue their choices in life!

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.
Critiques for Week XXXV: Steriletom, Martello, SpaceGodzilla, CantDecideOnAName, V for Vegas, Voliun, Nikaer Drekin, crabrock, Symptomless Coma, Greatbacon, and Canadian Surf Club

Well. So. This was an... interesting week to be a judge, I'll tell you that for nothing.

Let's just get on with the crits, shall we? I have over eight thousand words to spew at you all, and time's a-wastin'.

Steriletom, "Red Scare":

The biggest problem I have with your piece is its predictability. Nothing about it came as a surprise. Mr. Ares' name bought you some time, as I hoped he was literally the Greek god of war riling up America during the red scare, but nope, he's an alien. The Ares/Mars thing is a clever hint, but your chosen picture already invokes rockets; you don't need more clues. I wonder too whether Farrow shouldn't have noticed this guy's name is essentially 'Mr. War.'

And seriously, Glarny agGlarn? That book title? Martians are an honored staple of classic SF, but the book's name and the author's name slide right into Cliche Valley. The revelation of a title as your final beat reminds me too much of the famous Twilight Zone episode "To Serve Man." Related grammar nitpick: book titles should appear either underlined or in italics, not within quotations. Quotation marks are for the titles of short works (or TV episodes). Short or long, 'by <author>' is not part of a title. You left off the period on your last sentence.

Less related: some of your sentences are short on words, such as 'No answer and no sound from within' (no verb); 'Perhaps I’ll send you a copy once complete' (why wouldn't he say 'once it's complete'?); and 'You’ve never filed any taxes and no birth certificate' (again no verb, at least pertaining to the birth certificate). At the same time, you've got superfluous words elsewhere. What's with all the 'the X began to Y'? Stop that. I'll give you that 'began closing the door' is reasonable, if limp, since the action is interrupted by Farrow, but the construction is pointless everywhere else. The lock turned. Farrow pulled out his handcuffs. The house rumbled. Look how much more dynamic that is. And behold, six words freed! Maybe you could put your verbs back now.

'Like the house, Ares was cleanly groomed and nicely dressed'--the house is groomed and dressed? In what, a tuxedo? To make the simile work, you'd need something more like 'Like the house, Ares was tidy and elegant'--words or phrases that could apply to a building.

Much as I'm picking on you, I like the way you establish your time period: between the title, the word 'Soviet,' the TV being a new thing, and the FBI being so concerned with spies, you didn't have to come out and announce exactly when this is set. It's a touch of subtlety the story otherwise lacks.

On the whole, I don't hate or even dislike this. It's mediocre, not horrible. It works with the prompt and the picture. It just doesn't do anything at all that's new.


Martello, "The Cranes Came Home":

As I read this story, I constantly had the sense it was going somewhere interesting. I still had that feeling when it ended. What seems to happen is that a man who accepts work as hired muscle, probably for illegal activities, takes a particular job as a favor to an old contact, despite being on vacation with his lady. She's been reading a Japanese story that possibly has some double meaning. The man reflects on this as he waits for his job for Captain Tory to begin.

There may be more to it than that--I thought the sense of foreboding, enhanced by the plot of Jade's... book? Scroll? Is that an E-reader brand, or is she reading a literal scroll, and if it's a literal scroll then why is it capitalized? Distracting. Anyway, I feel there's a strong implication that this job will be Gabe's last. He's never going to make it home to read that book with Jade, is he? But that's outside the text (and possibly completely wrong). What's actually here is a vignette in which very little occurs. It's got life in its characters and life in its setting--though the Italian brand names, food names, and city names together are slight overkill; I'd rather have more sensory description--and I like it more than I should because of that, but the plot is functionally absent.

Arranging the sections out of chronological order doesn't serve you particularly well. When you start alternating the present moments of watching for the sailboat with flashbacks, that works, but why not have the earlier flashes in sequence?

Similarly, some formatting touches would help: italicize the book title, and italicize Tory's IM. Other small things: 'She stabbed in the air with her fork,' 'She cut the air sideways with her fork'--if she's going to wave that thing around like a conductor's baton, vary the phrasing more. 'He seamlessly pronounced the name like a native' is redundant, and I suggest losing 'seamlessly.' '“poo poo’s translated by a Greek-Japanese-American-whatever mutt, not even the original text”'--why does Gabe know that, and why does he care? It reads like it's shoehorned in for the sake of establishing the book.

Gabe, Jade, and that foreboding feeling are the strengths of the story, and they almost carry it... but not quite. I almost like that the plot is implicit--but not quite. It probably needs more words more than anything. You get points for going somewhere unusual with the picture. I didn't expect your interpretation, but I can still see it in the work.


SpaceGodzilla, "The Diary of Georgia Munroe, Age 10":

You've done a good job with the diary format. 'The whole farm belongs to us, after all' is the only blatant sore spot: would she write that for any reason but to establish it for an audience? Do we even need to know? I agree with Hillock that 'swinging' is a weird word for grass (I suggest 'swaying'), and while I'm dwelling on your first paragraph, an ellipsis that closes a sentence should have four dots: three for the ellipsis, one for the period.

Format-wise, I wish you'd underlined your dates or something to break the sections more cleanly. I'm not sure how Georgia could rip out such a big swath of page by opening a book--did she drop it? Oh, well, that bit of contrivance is worth it for the story's sake. I like this one; I like the voice; I like the nesting of imagined books within imagined books; I like the interpretation of the image. You do glide over the whole mother-attempting-to-filet-father thing, but Georgia's lack of reaction to that shows just how messed up her head is. You might want to cut the apostrophe in 'i don’t know' since Georgia doesn't use punctuation in that paragraph otherwise.

I don't have much to say! This is good. The child viewpoint is strong, and the suspense you set up from the start regarding Georgia's situation pays off. Whether it contends for the win will depend on everybody else, but you're not going to be near my low tier.


CantDecideOnAName, "Eye":

So about your picture: this was my secret favorite picture, one of two I especially hoped people would pick. (The other was Mr. Linden's Library.) Anyone who took this and did a halfway decent job with it would probably have had an advantage with me, and when the time came for the judges to fight over the deposition of souls, perhaps that would have been enough to spare him or her; who can know?

Maybe you can already tell from my verb tenses that you're in trouble.

Look, I'm not inherently opposed to vignettes, and I don't believe a protagonist needs to change for a story to be worth telling. I do think something interesting has to happen! And what happens here? A man who isn't given a name goes somewhere cold where there are trees with eyes, a thing about which he seems quite unruffled. Goodness knows it's not like that's wonderful or weird or anything. He's so drat blase, you've taken the sense of wonder that your idea--the only thing the piece has going for it--should have and stomped it flat. Constance cuts some bark off with a pen knife, which the tree just watches, like you do. And the protagonist decides he doesn't want to be around trees with eyes in the future. And that's it.

Your connection to the picture is tenuous at best--although you used the caption, which counts for something. The foreboding, possibly grim mood the image holds is missing. Maaaaybe something nasty will happen to Constance for slicing up these trees? Maaaaaybe the trees will detach themselves from the taiga and take revenge on the protagonist for witnessing their violation? Maybe you meant to suggest such things? It's possible. But because the main character doesn't seem to give a drat, I'm not worried.

As for the imaginary book prompt, Janove's journal is such a nonentity in the story that I'm inclined to say you wiffed it. The book's main purpose seems to be to tell us things that would be better shown.

I don't know. Your prose is stodgy and dull, but I have an impression you can write, although you've chosen here to tell everything interesting about the tree, to populate your story with colorless stick figures, and to have absolutely nothing of consequence occur. You put in all that information about David that was ultimately irrelevant, probably for the sake of atmosphere--but atmosphere needs to pay off. I'm so disgruntled by this. How did you write a story about trees with eyes that's this lifeless??

Dammit. Also, the semi-colon after 'spotted our treasure' should be a colon. There are a couple of other, minor things I could nitpick, but grammar is not your problem.

If you pair your decent grip on grammar and description with better storytelling techniques next time (and a plot worth the bother), you'll be better off. Keep competing.


V for Vegas, "The Library of Unwritten Books":

You've got two brands and flavors of story stuck together here. You should have kept to one. The warm, folksy beginning, suitable for a children's story, has charm that fits your picture even as you take that image in an unexpected direction. The zanier, wink-wink-nudge-nudge, silly middle and end could be amusing. You're heavy-handed with it, throwing in stuff that doesn't make particular sense in the context, but the tone could still work. Ask Chairchucker!

...Or don't, given his avatar. Where was I going with this?

Right: two flavors. Either of them might work individually, but not mashed up. You set up a particular tone and then disrupt it. The silly half--more like two-thirds--is also the weaker, which doesn't help you. I'd get at you for consistency, only I don't think you tried to be consistent. Alpha Tory and Beta Tory don't share much more than a name. You end up with this weird creation like you tried to make a centaur by cutting the legs off a man and the head off a horse and gumming the bodies together with rubber cement or something, and then you didn't even tie a scarf around the scar for camouflage.

The result is all too broken and slightly unsettling. The good first third may carry you through. You met the prompt; you evoked the picture. Odds are looking good that I'll have worse fish to fry--but that's a bit of a lucky strike for you.


Voliun, "S.O.S":

I'm going to be honest. This is a mess. Picking apart why is going to take a lot of words on my part, so get comfortable.

Your biggest overall problem is that the story doesn't make sense. You have a reporter arriving at a dentist's house to interview him regarding... well, her topic isn't clear at all at the outset. She works for a reputable paper, but also for a tabloid, and for this tabloid she wrote a possibly libelous story that accused Dr. Ashford's brother Richard of sabotaging his work. Whatever that work might be. Apparently it involved something called a 'portable smart house,' which you reveal at the eleventh hour. After that, everything is so murky I don't even have a clue. The take-off of the smart house was possibly sabotaged? And Richard may have been 'murdered' in the incident, so the sabotage was done by someone else? But Ashford claims Richard left the house an hour ago--when did this crash happen? Or was there a third brother? What the hell is going on, and who are the 'children'? Robotics in the house? But why would they like looking at plates? The parts I can follow are vague to the point of obscurity, and in the end it falls apart into a jumble of pieces I can't hope to connect.

(I mean, I figure they're in another one of those 'smart houses,' but so what? And why is a lone reporter going after the story of a house taking off, crashing, and killing a man? That's not important enough to rate more interest? Is Mr. Ashford supposed to be this Richard fellow and there never was a brother? Is that the deal with the coat? These are questions your story raises but doesn't answer. I suspect Ashford killed Richard, but I make that guess based on how stories work rather than on reasons you gave me.)

What could you do to fix it? Introducing the 'smart house' concept earlier would be a good start. Don't make the subject of the interview or the subject of Miss Rivett's tabloid piece a point of suspense. That brings nothing to the table but frustration. Explain your concepts: what a portable smart house is and why it flies, what Ashford's brother was up to, what happened in this crash, why Miss Rivett would interview a dentist about it, and why she suspects murder. When it comes to everything that matters, you're way too oblique.

When it comes to stuff that doesn't matter, you put in too much detail. Take the start of your fifth paragraph: 'The doctor wobbled aside, opened the door, and pushed an overgrown potted thin tree further against the wall near the door's hinges. Near the plant, he hung his lab coat on a hook beside a black dress coat that have a golden name tag with 'Richard Ashford' on it. A drooping rose with pink petals lay in one of the dress coat's pockets.' I now know more about this tree than I do about Richard Ashford. I don't need to know anything about the tree, though. I don't need to know the hook is near the plant, or that the name tag is golden, or that the rose in the coat pocket is pink. And if the 'Richard Ashford' name tag isn't visible (I'm having trouble picturing how it could be, hung on a hook), then you shouldn't tell me about it. Reduce this to 'The doctor opened the door wide for her and hung his lab coat on a nearby hook, beside a black dress coat with a wilting rose hanging from one pocket' and you suddenly have a lot more words free to use elsewhere.

Or here: 'A thin reef hung above both closed windows. One of its ends were hugging one side of a square glass clock. Both hands of the clock was near the number five.' That is one long-winded way to say it's 5:25. You aren't making your setting come alive when you point out details that don't matter, although I'd guess that's what you're aiming to do. Describe things that are unusual, interesting, and relevant; remember smell and touch as well as sight. What do those olive-colored vines smell like? Is the metal stool comfortable? Is the doctor's voice scratchy or smooth? You may not need those details either, but they would build the scene more effectively than what you've got.

Several of your sentences are awkwardly constructed. 'The maple door creaked open seconds later while the doorbell's jingle faded.' Later than the ringing of the doorbell, I presume, but you shouldn't say it that way. 'The maple door creaked open seconds after the doorbell's jingle faded' would be better, but I suggest something else: 'The door creaked open seconds after Miss Rivett hit the doorbell.' Now your lead character is introduced right in the first line. Then you have 'Arching away from a pile of overgrown leaves above'--so he bent backward? Probably not, right? But that's what 'arching' suggests. And there's a pile above? Piles usually rest on a surface. So maybe 'Ducking away from a clump of overgrown leaves overhead' would do a better job of saying what you mean.

'The brunette's face gleamed and pointed at the dentist.' What?

Now, let's talk grammar. You need a proofreader. Among other things, the final S of your title needs a period after it, since it's an abbreviation; hyphens are missing from compound modifiers like 'thick-rimmed' or 'square-shaped'; commas are missing from descriptive phrases such as 'overgrown, thin, potted tree'; you mix your tenses; and sometimes you've used the wrong word, like 'wines' when you mean 'vines,' or left a word out entirely. If you take this piece to the Farm, you may find some help with getting these things in order.

You hit your picture, more or less, but you missed the imaginary book entirely. At most, you had an imaginary newspaper and imaginary article. Not the same thing!

To sum up: This doesn't work. You've got a lot of room to improve. I am 99.9% sure you'll get the losertar this week.


Nikaer Drekin, "The Lumps":

This is almost entirely serious--absurd, but grimly so--but you've peppered it with strange notes that seem to be aiming for humor, and the effect is a bit like munching on a decent homemade cheeseburger with a Lucky Charms marshmallow mixed in with the onions. Your imaginary book ("Now with graphic illustrations!") is the prime offender. It's shoehorned in, and that sticker makes it even more out of place. Ptoo! Get that purple horseshoe out of my dinner!

Really, everything between 'giant's drumsticks' and 'Over the next three weeks' is weak. Dr. Campbell may as well be a sitcom psychiatrist. Your finale is the more stark for following such literary dishwater, but it doesn't need so much help: Milo's end is effectively creepy and set up well by his hypnosis session. Clearly something is going to go wrong, but until it happens, there's suspense regarding what. This is where the story is successful. You do a much better job with the horror elements than the borderline wacky hijinks.

As for the beginning, it's serviceable. Not as good as the end. I do like your scab simile. I would decapitalize 'lumps' when Milo first refers to them. Your grammar is generally fine, and I'd call your prose serviceable too in that it's not exciting, remarkable, or offensive; it gets the job done without much flair.

You wiffed the book as badly as CantDecideOnAName, but you hit your picture square on. In this case, the image appears in the story almost exactly as it does on the page, but by setting the bulk of your story after that moment, you gave yourself room to go somewhere unpredictable.


crabrock, "Suspended Without Pity":

crabrock posted:

I made my fiance give me permission to post it out of fear it'd be too creepy or weird so this is totally on her.

Well, that's a good sign!

(Pssst: it's fiancee, with an accent over the first E, for a female betrothed. And don't blame your creepy fiction on your significant other. Own it.)

True story: at one point last week Nubile Hillock and I were discussing prompts, and this paraphrased exchange occurred in connection to a different idea:

Kaishai: Maybe we should specify 'no pedophilia,' though.
Nubile Hillock: I like to think goons won't write about pedophilia if it's not mentioned.

Hillock, this is when I point and laugh.

Anyway--your hedging actually works against you. What you've written is creepy, but it's horror-creepy, an indictment of pedophilia that's extremely sparse on detail (thank you). It's sickening; at no point do I doubt it's supposed to be sickening. But the apologies make it sound worse than it is.

I respect the direction you took the image, as you've gone somewhere very dark but still recognizable with the fairy-tale feel of it. The book in the picture could be sinister or wonderful. The book in your story sure as hell isn't wonderful. Mr. Linden thinks it is, though. His 'love' is a toxic vine creeping out to poison Isabella, never mind Amber. You've got a strong relationship between story and source. Your imaginary book is also integral, so you hit that part of the prompt.

Here's the thing. Why does Linden give Isabella that book? Why does he think she'd enjoy it? And why in hell's name would a professor self-publish a pro-pedophilia novel with his name right in there--is this the career equivalent of suicide by cop? No one sane would do this, but the idea that someone whose publications are a critical part of their livelihood and whose background is of deep interest to his employers would do it shatters all suspension of disbelief. Please tell me I'm not insufficiently cynical when I think no college would keep this man on the faculty. The premise goes beyond merely straining credibility, and that weakens the story as a whole.

That said, Isabella's reactions--aside perhaps from the part where she didn't leave her copy of the book on the Dean's desk--ring true to me. You make me sympathetic toward someone who was banging her professor for a grade. That's something. Each character thinking the other is 'loving broken' is one of the better touches.

Your prose has some issues. 'Absconded.' 'Vamoosed.' Neither of these are appropriate for their contexts--they're over the top, and 'vamoosed' in particular sounds like Isabella is the Road Runner fleeing from Wile E. Coyote. You don't want that kind of absurdity. 'The boy's heart fluttered like the flag on a sinking ship'--we're not in his perspective, and Isabella can't feel his heart flutter. Cut that line. 'Yea' and 'yeah' are different words; you want the latter, or 'yes.' Mr. Linden himself doesn't write well at all, but I'll assume that's intentional.

You'd have horrifying horror on your hands if the base concept were plausible. Maybe Isabella could have found a notebook in his office with a handwritten version of the novel. Maybe he could have sent her an anonymous printout if he wanted her to read it for some reason. I don't know, but the way it stands, your premise is--alas--loving broken.


Symptomless Coma, "Rashomon's Vector":

I like your idea more than your execution, I think. This is one of those stories where I'm not dead sure my impression of what's going on is the one I'm meant to have. My take: a giant liner, tall as a skyscraper, rolled into a canal city in the past of the future; the main characters live in the slum created by the broken buildings. Anne discovers a book that requires cool temperatures to open, and it contains instructions for piloting the wrecked ship... which may not be a ship at all. As her brother looks on, she takes it, herself, and him out of the ruined city.

Not bad at all, and you've got a good atmosphere marred slightly by rough writing (more on that in a bit), but I have questions. What were Anne's mother's parting words; what happened to Anne's mother, anyway? What is 'the camp'? It's mentioned only once and never explained. Likewise 'the protectorate'; throwing these terms around does give the impression of a future dystopia, but the camp especially is more confusing than it's worth. What is the ship? A Cthulhoid vessel from beyond the stars? 'Pressed it' is a bad choice of verb phrase for Anne stabbing herself with a needle and bleeding into the ship, which I think is what happens. I wondered on my first read whether the blood was a metaphor and if so, for what. I end the piece unsure who built this thing and what the purpose is. Maybe you don't want me to be sure. I think you take the vagueness too far, however.

I see you scraping against the 900-word ceiling, and that's probably why. Writing a concept this complicated in such a short span is a difficult business, perhaps not even possible. You captured the feeling you wanted (I think) despite all my questions above, and I salute you for that.

I mentioned the writing earlier. With your premise being so complex and potentially confusing, your prose really needs to be crystal clear. Rashomon is 'she' on first reference, but 'it' on every reference after. 'Hand-work, though dirty and baked in the sun'--the hand-work is dirty and baked? I seriously imagined making pottery for a second here. 'Ash slid along the frosted sheets'--frosted sheets of what? Glass? Ice? 'She clenched that metal block to her'--I'm not absolutely sure of this one, but I don't think you can clench something to. You probably want 'clutched.' 'Through the little porthole, his sister pulled at levers and dials'--'Visible through the little porthole' would be better unless Anne's reaching through the porthole. Etc. There are enough small things like that to add up and damage the piece. It needs another polish.

(Oh, I almost forgot. When used as an adjective, 'X-year-old' is a compound modifier and calls for two hyphens, so: 'twelve-year-old,' 'thousand-year-old city.')

You do a great job with the picture and the prompt. Full marks there. You should keep this story and expand it.


Greatbacon, "Brother Francis Cried No More":

Oooh, a book of artifacts. I love these things. I love artifacts in general, and I would read your fake catalog. You put your picture in your fake book, which would be rather literal if it were the only connection, but the image is clear in your setting and plot, too, so the result is a delicious layer cake of inspiration. I like this! I also dig your final line; it's good and strong.

Your writing here isn't as sound as your ideas. Not that it's terrible, but take this line: 'As silently as he had disappeared, the chaplain returned to the entrance bearing a towel.' That's our introduction to the chaplain? We didn't see him disappear, silently or otherwise. It's backwards. (You said you went over the limit originally; perhaps this is a cutting scar.) Francis is 'awakened by the excitement of the unexpected storm,' but he wasn't asleep. Maybe 'made alert' would be better? The line 'It was dated 1142, over a hundred years ago' sticks out. It's a clumsy way to set your piece in time, and the vague sense of 'in the past' that the story gives may be sufficient.

"Even if this book contains falsehoods, someone is seeking out evil in earnest. I must warn the head of this congregation that one of his flock has fallen to temptation." Clunk! Would even a monk say this? In a room where he's alone? If nothing else, I'd make it an unspoken thought if I were you, and I'd probably cut it off after 'congregation' too.

You need a lot more commas than you've used; your prose sounds choppy to my inner ear (too many short, unpunctuated sentences), and this is one reason why. For the most part the prose is functional and simple. Watch for repetition: 'The stairs seemed to spiral downward forever.' 'The sound of it dropping seemed to echo forever.' Be careful too of stuff beginning to happen instead of happening.

I especially enjoy everything after Francis drops the book. More polish would strengthen the story, but it's a nice read regardless. Your approach to both halves of the prompt is top notch.


Canadian Surf Club, "The Old Sadogue":

Canadian Surf Club posted:

Tried to make friends with the comma again

Bless you.

You've done a good job, too--your comma usage isn't perfect, but it's respectable. Same goes for your overall grammar. Your story's easy to read, flows well, has good imagery and characterization, refers to your chosen image, and includes an imagined book. The book could use a trace more definition. It could be a collection of local fables or an entire book about the Old Sadogue for all I can tell. But it's probably for the best you didn't shoehorn in a title; I have the impression of a book with a very small printing, perhaps one of a kind. To your lead, it's just 'the book.'

One thing: 'Da'' drives me nuts whenever I see it. Lose the apostrophe. Treat it like Ma or Pa. You also misspell 'dinghy.'

In many ways this is the father's story, even though he isn't the perspective character. He's the one who gets the most development and the one whose faith is really being tested. He's the one who keeps the faith, and since he's an adult, there's magic in that. It makes it seem more possible that the Sadogue legend is real. It's all well done. And this: 'I wanted to say something to cheer him up, but knew better than to say anything at all when he was like that, and instead buried my face in his coat sleeves.' That's like the experience of being a child when your parent is upset encapsulated in one sentence.

This story is one of my favorites so far, and there's not much else for me to say. Good work. It was a pleasure to read.

Kaishai fucked around with this message at 17:15 on Dec 31, 2013

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.
Critiques for Week XXXV: Fumblemouse, Chewie23, Sitting Here, CancerCakes, Noah, Erogenous Beef, Jagermonster, Bad Seafood, sebmojo, JuniperCake, and Chairchucker

Fumblemouse, Signals and Wards:

I don't mind too much that I don't know the nature of Sam's lights or how she got her secret book, but it bothers me more that this little girl can read, can think, but the doctors are going to scramble her brain. Why? What's wrong with her that cutting her head open is necessary? She seems very normal. If there's supposed to be something awry with how her brain is wired, I don't see it, aside from her muteness. But if she's only mute, brain surgery seems extreme, and wouldn't she know the whens, whys, and wheres of her operation? I got hung up on this, and I never got my answers.

Your writing's pretty solid, though. There's an odd word choice or two. The phrase 'allayed the troubling uncertainty of the Children’s Ward' contributes to the impression that Sam isn't only neurotypical, but educated--it's a bit much. When you use terms like 'incomprehensible,' 'fluorescent,' and 'surgical' while we're inside her head, it implies to me that Sam understands these terms, knows what they are; again I'm troubled by what's about to happen to her, not because it's dreadful--it is, of course--but because I don't understand the reason. This distracts me. Your grammar, however, is excellent, save for a missing comma or two. You describe things well.

I appreciate your take on the picture, but the book does mystify me. Is it literally imaginary and Sam hallucinates? If it is, I guess it's a further expression of her premonitions of death. That would serve the prompt. If it isn't, it's more confusion than it's worth.

Your own vocabulary may have gotten in your way here. It could be a good story, but it's gone wrong in some way I find difficult to point to, like Sam herself.


Chewie23, "The Wind Charts":

'The book floated along the river bank before being spotted by the boys.' Making this your first line sets up the book, not the boys, to be your protagonist; you should probably rephrase it. 'Rubbing away the mud, the cover read in big bold letters'--this is a dangling participle, meaning your participle ('rubbing') modifies the wrong noun ('cover'). You're telling me the cover rubbed off its own mud. Nice trick! (I kind of want to read about a sentient book now.)

Your tenses are all over the place. 'The waters did their damage and washed out the text on the pages'--unless that's happening as the boys watch, you want to say 'The waters had done their damage and had washed out the text on the pages.' You should use 'could,' not 'can,' in 'How hard can it be reading a book?' With 'It was not the first time the boys consulted him,' you should say instead 'the boys had consulted him.' Watch for this, because you do it a lot; I'm not pointing to all the examples here.

Leaving out dialogue and reporting it all secondhand is the equivalent of telling, not showing, everything Michael said. I don't recommend this! I don't recommend quite so many exclamation marks either! Those would probably be fine if they were in dialogue, though!

Why do the boys go to Castletown at all? Michael drops them off--but where? The book is theirs, and I expected them to take it to the Book Menders with Michael along for the ride. Now Michael's looking like your main character. You should probably rearrange your opening so that it's from his perspective. Have the boys rush in and shove the book at him; show its ruination through his eyes.

The finale is anticlimactic, but it sort of suits the whimsical mood you wanted.

I don't think you quite got there--the story read to me more like you were trying to do children's fiction and trying too hard, with the exclamation points especially--but it isn't charmless. It does remind me a bit of the only Miyazaki film I've seen. Whether it would have if you hadn't mentioned that, I don't know, but I kind of doubt it; I don't dislike the piece regardless, though I think it could be better. You did a nice job with the picture and the prompt.


Sitting Here, "Fire Escape":

This. This is lovely. Dystopian SF, done with a light hand. You do as Greatbacon did and put your picture literally into the story. In your case, the pastoral splendor of the harp's garden is warped in the warring outside world. Isolation, melancholy, and beauty all feel like themes here. I want to see the missing pages from the sketchbook. What was there, why are they gone? I'd like to read a story set in the father's time that touches these things. If you can't tell, I like your story a lot.

It's not perfect. 'My dad never did own up to it, but I knew there was something.' Something what? 'Something he kept hidden,' I expect, but on my first read that wasn't obvious. You use semi-colons when you should use colons in 'One month; that was how long' and 'caught my eye; a small catch.' I'm not sure why the father was so anxious to keep his son away from the book. This really does have a lot of hints at a story left untold, which distract slightly from the story you do tell.

Still, it's hard to complain. Beautiful work. This is likely to end up either on top or just slightly below.


CancerCakes, "Unlock your imagination in the library":

'The House is full Of Leaves.' Be honest, CancerCakes: did you commit this abomination of capitalization on purpose? Your effort is futile! Try as you might, you're not losing this week! Besides which, you're the first person to format a book title correctly. That would absolve you of almost anything.

You don't even need the help, in seriousness. This is the strongest piece of yours I've critiqued and the strongest I can remember reading. Part of that might, admittedly, be my weakness for your picture (it's my other favorite) and the very concept of secretive, labyrinthine libraries, but I think this is genuinely good. You've written entries in an imaginary book about imaginary books, but the imaginary books are hidden and quite possibly imaginary even to the protagonist. That's fantastic. It's got this neat unwinding horror feel that goes wonderfully with the labyrinth. I want those card catalogs in my house. I will say the use of the picture as opposed to its title is rather weak.

Nor is that the only weak point. I wish there were a month attached to the days in that journal. Kind of odd that there wouldn't be; who writes just the day? Your story's title isn't capitalized properly and doesn't fit the mood. The diary format makes it possible to blame wording mistakes on your protagonist, but I have my doubts that 'I am yet to find any books' is an intentional gaffe. (The verb should be 'have.') You flat leave words out of the phrases 'Escaping auction house will be good for me' and 'I had to helped to my bed.' In the sentence 'Since the profit would likely be wholly stolen by parasitic lawyers or my spouse, so I am not inclined to speculate upon the effort required,' 'since' and 'so' are redundant: pick one.

Then there's the last paragraph. When I line up the capitalized letters, I get 'IWETATKYMAEVIS.' MAEVIS is obvious, but IWETATKY eludes me as I'm sure it does not actually mean 'I wet at Kentucky.' Adding HOL from the aforementioned abomination doesn't help either, it just gets me (with some unscrambling) 'HOLY TEAK WIT.' Or 'HOLY WEAK TIT.' Or 'WITH TO LEAKY.' I guess it could be 'WITHOUT LEAKY' if I assume the one word capitalized in the title should also count as an oddity. 'OUT WITH LEAKY'? Probably not. Whatever you're going for here is kinda obscure, is what I'm saying.

You've got some problems; they're relatively minor, and I like the story anyway. You should write about libraries more often, but rethink the anagrams.

:siren:ACTUALLY!:siren: Jeza figured it out! Thanks, Jeza. I had to outsource this puzzle. So it's the first letter of every word in the last line, huh? I WILL ESCAPE THIS ASYLUM TA KILL YOU MAEVIS. Pleasingly grim, but I share Jeza's distaste for 'ta' amidst the mad ramblings of an otherwise articulate man. And let us not forget that no sane reader will bother.


Noah, "The Next Chapter":

It's inevitable your conclusion would be anticlimactic--that's the point--but the sense of having been left out of the real and more interesting story still overpowers my sympathy with the protagonist, who of course is in exactly the same position. The idea is an interesting one, and you lend the image (or take from it) a mood that's far different from what Chewie23 got, yet just as valid. I just don't think you've quite pulled it off: when the story ends, I'm dissatisfied.

I suspect you haven't left enough room for the aftermath. We're with the protagonist in his lonely melancholy for only one paragraph. When he's with the others, he's less compelling than Bernie, and he has no quest of his own--no story of his own. No name, even, of his own. He's an accessory to someone else. Maybe his loss in having to leave the story, and my ability to care, would be more intense if he definitely had mattered, if he'd played a more active role. What if he always had to wonder whether Bernie could have succeeded without him?

Other than that, the piece is very reminiscent of "The Body"/Stand By Me, and I want to find out what happened to the other children. You've hit both aspects of the prompt. I like how little you explain about the book. It's a mystery, part of the story we don't get to see. In this context, that works. There are odd bits: the protagonist desperately wanted to know what the book smelled like? An old book a boy has been clutching through a sweaty adventure? Really?

But you've done what you wanted to do, as best I can tell. That I think it would be better with some changes may be a matter of taste.


Erogenous Beef, "Don't Skip To the End":

You had me at 'The library is yours to keep.' You kept my attention throughout, and I'm glad I didn't read ahead. I absolutely love your premise. Describing a dust-covered room as a 'domestic winterscape' is great; I enjoyed the metaphor of the book as a fishing lure; to put things in books is the best possible rationale for theft; your final line was not what I expected, and it landed like a brisk slap. Do you know how much I love not having much to criticize?

Even your grammar is drat near ideal. One major exception: you should have used the past perfect during the flashback. (So: 'my classmates had called Mr. Wilkins an old gypsy,' 'Between its covers, I'd soared over the Alps,' etc.) And your book title should be either italicized or underlined.

Your use of the picture might be slightly weaker than some (you're almost as close to Mr. Linden's Library as The Harp), but it's still good, and magical, imaginary books are the core of your concept.

At this point there's some stiff competition for the win. You're a contender, though, as far as I'm concerned.


Jagermonster, "Uninvited Guests":

Your writing is rough. I don't remember noticing so many errors in your entry last week. Your use of the imaginary book disappointed me too, although maybe it shouldn't, since I wouldn't be surprised if Googling +"Portals, Doorways, and Demonic Gates" actually got me somewhere.

('Your search - +"Portals, Doorways, and Demonic Gates" - did not match any documents.' Thank you, Google. It's good to be wrong now and then.)

The point remains: the book is relevant for one paragraph. The story doesn't need it at all, which goes against the spirit of the prompt.

You've certainly used the picture, however, and Jeremy's ultimate level of violence was surprising yet believable to me: he's afraid and hates what he fears, so he bends everything he has on destroying it. This moment could be his transition out of childhood. The deepening voice and sudden expletives suggest that too, not to mention the business of having just roasted Stuart Little alive. The mouse-things can symbolize youthful innocence, more or less. Jeremy gets angrier when he realizes what he might have done--I like that too; I'm guessing that consciously or subconsciously, he realizes what he's lost, with no one to blame but himself.

So your symbolism is pretty effective. The prose, less so. You too should remember to use the past perfect in your flashbacks. Your third paragraph is a wreck: 'Too afraid to head down the stairs and turn on the lower light, only the dim bulb at the top of the stairs provided illumination. He reached in his pocket and removed his father’s lighter. He lit it, but it didn’t provide any better illumination.' The first sentence tells me the light bulb is afraid, and both sentences use a variant on 'provide illumination,' which is much too distinct a phrase to repeat so quickly. Only one person should speak in a given paragraph, but two people speak in your fourth. You say 'Only one thing lived behind doors like that in basements' and then list several possibilities. You left a period off the sentence containing 'apredo portalis arroha.' Later, you don't capitalize 'gently caress you!' Etc. I would also split your final paragraph into two and put the break after 'Or Narnia.'

Why did the mouse-things know his name? Why did they choose that moment to emerge? It strains coincidence a little. I would rather he'd knocked or something before the knob turned, though I suppose he's too scared for that.

This isn't on my high-score list, but it isn't bad. It's a decent take on the picture, and the action has energy behind it. You should haul this over to the Farm if you want to work with it further.


Bad Seafood, "Descartes":

'His head lulled lazily.' 'There were fields there, tick and beautiful.' 'Suicide. No fowl play.' Oh, dear. Were you rushed? This looks like it wasn't proofread, and the misspellings aren't the only symptoms. I'll get back to that shortly.

If I understand it right, this is a post-apocalyptic piece featuring an alien whose personal library of seven books brings destruction to the humans who read one. It's possible these books caused The End. Roger has finally tracked down a third book, leaving four still abroad to cause damage. His niece died to recover it. The alien's motives are unknown, but human deaths only amuse him; he was captured fifty years ago, nailed to a chair, probably blinded, and now communicates through a radio.

That's a fascinating interpretation of Mr. Linden's Library. The picture is there, except with blood in place of vines. Your imaginary book is incorporated well. The premise inspires a lot of questions, natch, like what the alien's role was, how the books work, etc., but I don't feel I have to know in order to get the story... though it wouldn't hurt. For ideas, I give you thumbs up.

Honestly, though. Fowl play?

And your sentence structure is so oddball: 'it seemed a strange and curious thing to look back on the war as thing thought of fondly.' What? I know what you mean (I think), and I think you want either 'it seemed a strange and curious thing to look back on the war and think of it fondly,' or 'it seemed a strange and curious thing to think fondly back on the war' for bonus concision. Similarly, 'in his hands crumpled the letter that accompanied it' is bizarre. You might want 'his hands crumpled the letter that accompanied it' or 'in his hands, crumpled, the letter that accompanied it.' I recommend the former. 'The voice from the radio was tired and distant, yet carried itself with a musical bearing.' What? (Again.) I'm not sure where you were going with that clause, whether you intend to tell me the voice is musical or convey some sort of audial poise on top of that. Maybe 'yet held to a musical dignity'? I don't know.

'Was comprised of such sentences' -- 'Comprise' doesn't work this way, weirdly. Go with either 'was composed of' or 'comprised such sentences.' That last one looks unnatural to me, but it's correct.

It's a decent piece, would probably be a good piece, but right now the lack of polish is too obvious.


sebmojo, At Torneträsk:

As usual, I don't have much to pick at with you. This is good, as you know perfectly well; I think you must do stuff like stick the period of your last line outside its quotation marks just to screw with us. You have incidents of multiple people talking in the same paragraph fairly consistently, though. Cut that out.

Young prodigies are among my favorite characters when they're drawn well, and you do that thing where one shows an ultra-intelligent child's ultra-intelligence through formal speech patterns without taking it into absurdism. Per's relationship with Ulli is a pleasure, the setting details are evocative, and you've got sensawunda all over the place. It's upbeat. You've brought in a Twilight Zone-style magic without the TZ cheesiness. I really appreciate how light this is. Thunderdome stories have a tendency to go grim; humor and happiness stand out and shine when they work.

I don't know whether you'll win--good as this is, I'm not ready to call it definitively better than certain other pieces. It's a great story, though. Excellent work with the picture and the imagined book.


JuniperCake, "Sanctuary":

'Can still lose even if I can't win'? Nope! You're out of luck on both counts! Kudos for posting anyway. You've gone a more direct fairy-tale route, I see, which is appropriate for the Linden picture.

I'm not sure I understand your piece, though. Violet is a sweatshop worker, apparently, overseen by many 'parents.' They lock her in a closet for reading a book. She accidentally sets clothes in the closet on fire, then believes the parental unit that comes for her is actually a monster. I think she's imagining that? (Or seeing through the physical truth to a deeper truth, considering.) Then a modern fireman arrives. Violet doesn't recognize him for what he is.

Your opening suggests an honest-to-goodness, once-upon-a-time fairy tale, and deviating from that so relatively late--you do mention a lighter early on, so that's a clue, but it's easy to miss--is jarring. The ending is hard to follow, a casualty of Violet's unreliable perspective. I wonder that Violet can read at all. How old would she have had to have been in the long-ago time when she learned, given that she reads a book without difficulty? Four, minimum? Five? But she doesn't know the overseers aren't her real parents? Not sure I buy that. But--I'm intrigued by your use of a sweatshop. This was a good idea. I'd like to see it made to work better.

You break your text into paragraphs more often than you need to: the first three sentences would read better as one paragraph. Your prose in general needs some fine-tuning. Examples: 'She twirled in the cramp space' should say 'cramped space'; 'she was confronted by a closet full of smoldering smoke' doesn't sound like she's in the closet, though she is. It sounds more like she's rolled a Closet Full of Smoke on her random encounter table. Then, in your final four paragraphs, you switch tenses entirely from past to present. Don't do that! I think you might have done it on purpose, to switch out of Fairy Tale Mode and into Real World Mode, but from Violet's perspective there's no difference. Nothing has changed, and the fireman is a monster to her. The tense swap is thus weirdly meta if intentional, and whether it is intentional is by no means clear.

Work on your commas. They're absent from many places, such as 'The boy pushed the book into Violet’s hands and she hid it in her clothes'; 'That night, when everyone had gone to sleep'; 'in strange, beautiful places'; 'For her own good, her parents said'; and 'Exhausted, she slumps to the ground.' (I've put commas where they ought to be in those phrases.) That's not a comprehensive list.

Your ideas outstrip your execution--you're not alone in that this week, or any week--and you wouldn't have been in my top echelon, but you wouldn't have been in the bottom, either. This is decent and more interesting than some.


Chairchucker, "Museum of Chairs":

Oh, Chairchucker. I'm glad you were late with this. This way I can enjoy it without caring about prompts and such. I'll critique you on those grounds anyway, mind you; I've got a kind of theme going here, and I've frowned at other people for changing their approach at the last minute. Integrity is key.

You've got a chair, you've got a rug, you've got movement under the rug, but "The Seven Chairs" might have been a more appropriate choice if you wanted to go in this direction. (I notice your clever reference to French windows. 'Ended up in France' indeed.) On the other hand, there's something to be said for hitting more pictures than one. It's like a trick shot or a video game challenge run. I don't see anything even slightly resembling a book, however. No matter what Alan and Kate might say if I asked them, you can't 'read' a dead snake.

When Gracie says '“Wake up, grandpa!”' 'Grandpa' should be capitalized. 'His' is also vague in that sentence--you could be referring to Fritz's ear. The 'window' part of 'French window' should be in lowercase. I'm not convinced of the ability of a T. Rex tooth to hold the weight of a disco ball. If the T. Rex is alive, it wouldn't put up with the indignity; if it's dead, that tooth's probably just glued in the jaw, you know.

Okay, seriously now, I love the story. Your irreverence entertains without fail. Kate and Alan have no taste, is all I can say about them. Please tell me the disco ball spins and that Gracie grows up to be a paleontologist.

Kaishai fucked around with this message at 18:00 on Apr 8, 2013

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.
Congratulations, Sitting Here! You've won the best kind of victory, a hard-fought one against worthy contenders. My favor was divided almost evenly between your piece and Erogenous Beef's, while sebmojo could have taken a seventh crown in almost any other week, and several other people trailed by only a neck.

To everyone who said thanks: you're welcome!

I don't want to clog up the thread with back-and-forth past this point, but while I'm posting anyway:

CancerCakes posted:

The fact that it almost stands on its own makes me much happier than I have any right to be on a Monday morning.

It does stand alone pretty well. I'm with systran: I think you could remove the House of Leaves references and let the story be its own entity. Whether you leave most of them in or not, you should ditch the H-O-L capitalization in that one diary entry. It looks like sloppy writing if you don't catch it, and it's possibly too obvious if you do.

Good story, anyway. 'Observations' might work in place of 'auras.'

Martello posted:

The no italics was lazy copy/pasting from Word. More words is definitely what I needed, what I did had no room to breathe. So basically, I suck is what I'm saying.

Mazedonia is a fake cigarette brand from Tintin if you'll believe it. I borrowed the brand as a little homage. Made-up cigarette brands have a long and glorious tradition, from Victory to Red Apples to Morleys.

Nah. You can write. The core felt hollow, but I liked what you did have. If you've written about these people and this setting elsewhere, it explains a lot. They were the best parts. (Also, sorry for screwing up your title initially. I've fixed that.)

Didn't catch that reference, but missing it didn't hurt the story any, and knowing about it now adds a little sparkle.

Symptomless Coma posted:

Your take is right, except for in the last line I'm trying to imply that Rashomon is bound into the ruined city, and that when it starts the city comes with it. My question to you - is that idea so weird that it has to be stated more explicitly than that? I'm still addicted to being vague. A part of me thinks it's clever.

Vagueness - Ash is a device to add artificial vagueness, but Anne doesn't fully know what the book is either, just that it'll change their lovely fortune in some way. Again, I take it I didn't get this over properly, right?

Anne's mother's words - This was a way of not having to say "their mum's dead". I thought it would be interesting to just drop that there and let people wonder, assuming its some admonishment against babying Ash... but is there no room for uncertainty?

Is the answer to all these questions the same? It is, isn't it?

That idea is pretty weird! At least in the sense that I wouldn't expect buildings to be bound to a ship, even a living tentacle-ship, unless it's sunk tendrils into each one (or into the bedrock?), and even then I'd expect physics to tear most of them apart. I thought the ship was knocking the skyscrapers over when they lurched forward. I think you're going to have to explicitly say it brought the city along, even if you don't want to get too deep into how.

There's room for uncertainty. You just have too much uncertainty, so stuff like the mother's parting words is more frustrating because it adds to the feeling of not knowing what's going on. If you expanded on other cloudy ideas--maybe your dystopian setting and the protectorate, maybe the nature/origin of the ship, maybe both--the little stuff wouldn't gall. You don't need to explain everything, but you've hit the wrong balance (for me) of confusion and satisfaction.

If you want to talk more about this, call my name three times in front of a mirror in the Fiction Farm and we can chat there.

Chewie23 posted:

Also, should I include what I was shooting for in my pieces (like mentioning Miyazaki) or leave it out in future TD writing?

Noah's right. If there's something you really want readers to know, you could try putting it in spoiler bars at the end of the story, but what you wanted to do doesn't really matter for judging. You could get more into that in the Fiction Farm afterward.

Bad Seafood posted:

I'll accept the rest of my editorial shortcomings, but Merriam Webster has my back on this one.

Hrm. Maaaaaybe. I'm still squinting at a voice carrying itself, sir.

When all's said and done I'd like to know what I've missed in the title, if no one else gets it first--I looked up Descartes pre-crit and couldn't make the connection.

systran posted:

Chewie23 - The Wind Charts!!!!!!!!!!!!


Kaishai fucked around with this message at 03:56 on Apr 9, 2013

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.
In with JonasSalk's The End.


You have to keep moving one way or another, and the glint has given you a goal. You shuffle toward it, following the rim of the bowl as best you can. Your snow gear can't keep the frigid air from reaching you entirely, and by the time you're where you thought you saw the light, ice crystals have formed on your lashes. Every breath hurts. You're exhausted.

It makes you an easy target.

The first blow to your head comes from behind. You collapse into the snow. A heavy boot slams into your ribs, or tries: your padded anorak protects you somewhat, just as your hood kept that first strike from knocking you senseless. Your assailant knows what he's doing, however. He kicks the side of your head; your sight blacks out.

You're stunned and dazed, not fully unconscious, so you feel it as he takes everything from your pockets--and your flashlight. You roll on your side as he finally moves away. A mistake. You go blind again from vertigo, but not before you see his tall, heavy frame and the shovel he carries: he must be another treasure hunter, but that won't help you identify him for the police.

After you manage to get up--after you make it back to where the car was, only to find he's stolen that, too--you realize that won't be a concern.

Your frozen corpse isn't found until June.


Kaishai fucked around with this message at 04:21 on Jul 15, 2013

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

Canadian Surf Club posted:

I was going to choose this story because it has very symbolic meaning to me. It was the loser of the week I was In but didn't submit a piece and was branded with the Thunderdome Badge of Shame/Advertising.

So if the gods speak our favor I'd challenge you to a :siren:Revision Duel:siren:, the greatest contest known to English Majors. Normal prize for the winner, but if I lose then I submit myself to further shaming and humiliation.

It is the only way.

Interesting. Since I've already said to myself, "What's the biggest challenge I could tackle? What is outside of my wheelhouse, possibly beyond the ability of God or man to redeem, and too short for its plot? I know! 'Rural Rent--goddammit, Nubile Hillock!" and then gone for something at least equally foreign to my experience because I like pain apparently, I don't see why I shouldn't take up another gauntlet. Challenge accepted, if the judges permit.

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

Fanky Malloons posted:

Since I was bummed to miss the smalltown horror prompt way back at the beginning of the thread, I have decided to re-write that week's losing entry The End by forums user Jonas Salk

It is as though the waiter at a diner has brought me a tray full of sun-ripened horse rectums, and as I watch the maggots crawl about and question my life's decisions, it dawns on me that everyone else in the place is salivating over my plate. I try to hide in the freezer, to no avail. We are Legion. We are Thunderdome.

Kaishai fucked around with this message at 05:18 on Apr 10, 2013

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.
Original story: "The End" by JonasSalk, the losing entry for Week XXIV.
Original word count: 739
Rewritten word count: 830

Shep killed the engine of the hot-wired rattletrap and shoved its door open. The air outside the car was thick with summer roses and motor oil, and he breathed in deeply; all he'd smelled for hours was desperation sweat, his own and Jeff's. Jeff hadn't moved in the passenger seat. As Shep eyed him, he stared through the windshield at the lit windows of the diner. "First sign of life I've seen in miles," Jeff said.

"It'll do," Shep said. "Good thing, since it has to."

As he stepped out onto the glass-smooth lot, Shep was very much aware of the Colt shoved through his belt, digging into his back. He was just as aware of his empty wallet. He slammed the car door. For a moment, the sound interrupted the synchronized chirps of crickets getting ready for nightfall.

Jeff shut his door more quietly. Shep made for the diner entrance without looking back at him, because the last things he needed from his partner right then were hesitation or any attack of conscience.

Cool air slapped against his damp shirt once he was inside the place. A few people sat in booths, and as one, they glanced up from their plates at him. The girl behind the cash register was looking too. Shep fought back unease and brought out a smile for her. Her expression didn't change. The other customers lost interest in him, though, all at once, and the skin at the back of his neck crawled a little bit less.

"Sit where you like," said the girl.

He picked a place at the counter, and Jeff sat beside him long enough to order coffee, then slipped away to check out the restrooms. Shep hunched on his stool and sipped from his own bitter cup when it came. Behind the counter were a door marked 'Employees Only' and stoves at which two cooks flipped burgers with identical motions, identical timing: a pair of Rockettes lifting spatulas instead of legs. Aside from the sizzle of the meat, the diner was silent. Shep heard the crickets again in his mind, punctuating the show. Flip. Chirp. Press. Chirp.

He swiveled the stool slightly and glanced at the booths... which had emptied. Convenient. Several waiters wiped down the tables in unison.


He looked for Jeff by the men's room door. Jeff caught his eye, nodded, then moved for the exit; as he walked he slid his hand under the collar of his shirt, toward his shoulder holster.

Shep pulled the Colt from his belt and aimed for the girl at the register. "I want your money!" he yelled at her--the words came out high. "Give it and I won't loving kill you!"

The cooks didn't even turn around; they went right on making damned burgers.

But the girl snatched at his gun with unnatural speed. His finger spasmed on the trigger, and the bullet hit her in the shoulder, but she still had her hand on the barrel and when she pulled, the gun was hers. Then she had a smile for him. Shep hit the floor, and Jeff shot his revolver at her--

A waiter seized Jeff's arm. Broke it. Shep heard the bone crunch before Jeff screamed. The man snapped Jeff's left arm, too, and other waiters abandoned their tables to converge on the armed outsider.

Shep scrambled around the side of the counter and then to his feet to run through the employees-only door, expecting gunshots and pain, but none came; he was in a storeroom, and on the other side of it stood a pair of stainless-steel doors. Surely no escape, but Jeff was still screaming and the sound was nearly soprano. Shep could only think of hiding. He flung himself into the freezer.

Meat hung on hooks in there, legs of beef and pigs that looked whole except for their skins and heads. Naked chickens dotted the steel shelves. Long shapes wrapped in paper, bound in twine, were stacked on the frozen floor. Six feet long, some of them. Two living men and one living woman stood in there, unblinking. Shep saw it all before the doors shut and left him in darkness.

He clawed at steel. He pounded. He shrieked, but neither God nor man answered him. He dragged air into his lungs on reflex. It wasn't cold, though that took him time to notice. Every gasp brought the heat of lava into him, the rasp of smoke, the burn of sulfur.

His fists fell away from the doors. In the dark, there was no struggle. No sound. No need to do anything but breathe the fire in.

The doors opened at last. Waiters brought in the corpses of Jeff and the bled-out register girl. The living unrolled butcher paper and prepared the shells for later use; anything else would be pointless waste. They moved with perfect synchronicity.

When the task was done, one asked another, "Who am I?"

Shep answered: "I am Legion."

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.
Congratulations, Dr. Kloctopussy! Though I tried to win, I see your victory as a comma-studded thumb in the eye of James Joyce, and I am content.

Sitting Here posted:

Kaishai gets an honorable mention, and is also the winner of the three-way brawl with Fanky, who came in second, and Canadian Surf Club, who came in third. This was honestly my favorite part of this week, because it was interesting to see three takes on that story. All of them improved on the original while taking sufficient creative license to make them distinct from each other.

Yes, sweet victory. I raise my rapier in salute to my opponents, both the one who slapped me in the face with a gauntlet and the one who inadvertently smacked the backs of our heads as she went by. I enjoyed the challenge this week. Good prompt.

Thanks for the generous crit, Erogenous Beef!

Kaishai fucked around with this message at 09:03 on Apr 17, 2013

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.
Critiques for Week XXXVII: Everybody at Once for a Change

I ended up being the judge behind Door #3, so here are my crits. Whoever told so many of you that stories don't need to have conclusions is a goddamn filthy liar. Whoever tried to teach you about verb tense consistency should probably be pitied.

crabrock, "The Case of the Elusive Keymasher":

Your piece is a twelve-hundred-word-long Thunderdome joke. Think about that for a minute.

You know it wouldn't stand alone or make sense anywhere else: you tip your hat to that in one of the several wink-wink-nudge-nudge, isn't-it-clever? moments that shoot the humor dead. You know the phrase 'mugging for the camera'? That's what this story does, textually. The lines are self-conscious and self-aware. Occasionally a decent joke slips in (I was mildly amused by 'He let out a sigh, lost in exposition,' and I got half a smile out of the stuff between 'The End' and the last line). Fewer words couldn't have hurt it. Worse than a heavy-handed joke is a heavy-handed joke that drags on.

While it's early to be certain, I have a feeling you may be in trouble. (Later note: You should bake Voliun a cake for diving onto that landmine for you.)


CantDecideOnAName, "Modern Day Monster Hunter":

You haven't done full justice to the prompt: because Martin's working for his grandmother (I presume), his task comes off more as a household chore or favor to family than the work of a licensed professional, even though he's getting paid. If it weren't for the title, what his profession is wouldn't be all that clear. Does he hunt chupacabras specifically or predators in general, and why did he try and push the job off on John? Is John a licensed monster hunter too?

Also, the 'night sight' is a throwaway detail that makes the creature less frightening. If it were only a flash of teeth and eyes in the dark, then a brush of scales on denim, it would increase the suspense and my worry for Martin. Save the details of its looks for after it's dead!

Your action was blunt and to the point, and your dialogue moved right along. The pacing's off, though. There's a long wind-up for a problem that's solved in one paragraph. Less set-up and more fight in the chupacabra would make the story more exciting. I like it as-is more than I liked your last two pieces, but I wouldn't count on it standing out in the crowd.


kazakirinyancat, "The Mystery of the Silent House":

Ow ow ow, the tense shifts--I'm in agony, and I'm not even Fanky Malloons. You have serious grammar problems. The tenses are the worst of it, but there are other issues too, enough of them to make a bad impression early. I'll get back to this.

The first section of your story--half its length, or nearly--describes nothing happening. Empty rooms. Banal choices. Nothing interesting. The second section is so tepid that the ghost is dull. Nothing continues to happen, and learning that 'nothing' is the point and things are boring for a reason doesn't really help; I appreciate the idea, but it comes too late. The prose and plot have less life in them than does Gerard. The last line is a small saving grace, a nice slap of violence that gives your protagonist a hint of personality.

Going back to your grammar, your prose is staccato with too many short, unpunctuated sentences packed end to end. Don't shun your friend the comma so; it's cruel. Remember that when a conjunction joins two independent clauses, a comma should come before it, like so: 'I worked with ghosts and convinced them to move to other places, so I should have been relieved that there was no one there.' Some of your sentences are awkward as sin, like 'Everything built atop the graves of past generations and this house should be no exception yet there it was'--what I think you mean is 'Everything was built atop the graves of past generations, and this house should have been no exception, yet it was.' I don't like that last clause at all. Something like 'yet I could sense no presences' or 'yet I felt nothing' would be at least a little more active.

But those tenses are your major issue. The bulk of the story is in past tense, but you shift into present frequently. Sometimes within the same sentence. 'Living space was for living people and the dead have to make room'--augh! The dead had to make room. The dead outnumbered the living. That had happened a couple of times before. Etc. I strongly suggest taking this to the Fiction Farm and asking for help with the mechanics.

Keep in mind, your idea wasn't bad. A house that's not haunted because it devours ghosts? That could have been cool. You needed either fewer words or a different focus, though, and you definitely needed less description of things not happening.


Nubile Hillock, "Mark Zak: Douchebag Detective":

I knew when I saw the title that this would be magical. :allears:

So, okay, I laughed a lot, but you know this isn't a winner, yes? We're clear about that? All right. For enjoyability, you get high marks. For almost everything else... yeah, not so much. Your grammar is a hilarious mess that entertains in a way you probably didn't intend, and I have no idea what the Museum is or what Cossack fighting trousers are. I'm quite perturbed you put magical Cossack fighting trousers in only at the last minute. The whole premise is impossibly stupid. But you know that, and it's half the charm anyway.

This is no less a long joke than crabrock's, but it doesn't point to its own absurdity to make sure the reader notices. It's just gloriously dumb. If you'd tried even once to be serious, it wouldn't work on the level it does; the whole thing would fall apart. Good thing you didn't!

But can we talk about '“And this is Detective Zak, Bromicide Specialist and Chief Facepunchologist” Said the older one with the serious Burt Reynolds ‘stache'? How about 'as Marked stepped out of his truck'? Polish and proficiency still matter. One reason I loved sebmojo's spider story for the three-way brawl was how well he wrote about the rear end spiders. Learn from the rear end spiders, Hillock. Learn from them.


Erogenous Beef, "Border Patrol":

Your premise is murky. I think I get most of it, but I can't tell where Howard is or what border he guards, whether he's in Hell, processing visitors from Dreamland; in Dreamland, processing visitors to Hell; or in Purgatory, and Hell has nothing to do with it. The stormtroopers' guns smell of brimstone. I would expect Alyssa to see Hell in her dreams. But if Hell is involved at all, why would there be a regulation against spinning nightmares there? I can't work out why Alyssa is dead, either--overdose, I suppose, but then why does Howard say she was gonna kill herself? I'd like to be caught up in the otherwise effective suspense of this story, but the nagging confusion won't let it happen.

On the other side of the coin, you have wonderful ideas and good pacing; the intentional mystery unravels well, and I only wish I hadn't spent my first read scratching my head. Your consistent technical skill is always a pleasure. This is worth working with further if you're so inclined.


Nikaer Drekin, "The Prayer Steward":

You've found a comfortable balance between your humorous touches and your more serious plot! I think the happy ending helps, but your characters' situation is still grim enough that it's impressive you pulled this off. You've ended up with an enjoyable piece of soft science fiction, my favorite of your entries to date.

You handwave your SF elements to a high degree, though, particularly the superlight/hyperspace bit. When the ship wrecks against 'starmatter,' I'm bemused. Iron? Carbon? What? How did a spaceship get damaged that badly and not blow apart? And 'any plausible reason for the ship to keep moving' is probably a bad choice of phrase, since (assuming I understand the physics, admittedly) stuff that's moving in space doesn't stop unless it has a way to cancel out its own velocity. Say 'any plausible reason for the ship to make it home' or something and you'd have the same basic sentiment without making fussy people squint at you.

That's not quite a nitpick, since the climactic miracle would be stronger if your science seemed more solid, but it doesn't ruin the piece. Your made-up profession is well done, and I like your interpretation of mystery. Good work.

(But: 'a voice like a warm, bubbling footbath'? So it's full of dirt and feet, then? Yech.)


Voliun, "Office Pains":

I'm at a loss.

Again, your story doesn't end so much as stop. Again, it doesn't make any sense. You've created a mystery, sure, but 'what in the name of Zeus is happening here' doesn't meet the spirit of the prompt. I can't spot your fictional profession, since cops and thieves both exist in our world. Your prose is raddled by technical errors; you imply at one point that a folder seeps sloppy joes; you've got a store selling broken glass; 'obseration' is not a word. You put a pitchfork-wielding mob at the mall. And why linger on the clot of vomit? Stephen King can get away with that, gods know why, but you can't.

I'll say this: there's much less needless detail than in "S.O.S.," and if the errors were ironed out and your odder sentences untangled, your first section would be interesting. You've got me curious about Momo and Roscoe's relationship, why he drives for her when he seems to despise her. Not sure what a beard has to do with anything. Your middle section drifts into buddy-cop territory, but I'm still following along. But the last section sputters and dies; I can only throw up my hands. You had over four hundred more words to use. You should have used them! Taken your plot somewhere! Anywhere!

Look at this sentence: 'A glance at his watch was not enough for Roscoe to wash away his disdain, but his voice remained its gruff part though.' I don't know what you want to say. He was still disdainful after glancing at his watch, but his voice remained gruff? As opposed to what? Gruff and disdainful aren't exclusive; maybe 'His disdain lingered as he glanced at his watch, but his voice remained neutral' would work. Give this some kind of ending and then take it to the Farm to get more help with your sentence-level mistakes. They are legion.

Next time you enter, include a conclusion in your story. Preferably a logical one. It would improve your chances of not losing eleventy-billionfold.


Little Mac, "A Beating Around the Bush":

Entering despite technically missing the deadline, eh? I like the cut of your jib.

This is cute, too. It plays with language in a fun way. I'd read a series of stories about Nick Bedelia, Idiom Detective... assuming they had endings and resolved the case at hand instead of finishing on a joke that opens a whole new, also inconclusive plot. Good grief, that's such a bad stumble I'd be worried for you in another week. It wouldn't hurt either if your verb tenses were consistent! You go with first-person present for the most part, but everything after the first sentence in your first paragraph is set in past tense. The past tense crops up again with 'Someone had beaten around the bush.'

While I'm on the subject of technicalities, you should never let a sentence like 'She pauses, furrows her brow, and then she's gone with a breathless "you've got 48 hours"' escape your keyboard. There should be a comma after 'breathless,' and sentences within dialogue start with capital letters just as any other sentence would. The same goes for '"you crack me up."' You're missing plenty of commas in general.

Your story is much better than Voliun's, but you get the same advice: endings. Have them. Add one to this entry in particular, because you've got a clever idea that deserves a complete story.


CancerCakes, "Tempting Icarus":

Oh, come on, you didn't have to drink the tense-failure Kool-Aid that's so popular this week. 'I was sitting in my spot, preparing myself for action, when this dame runs out the darkness.' Ran out of the darkness, you mean. Your protagonist sounds like a cheesy cliche noir detective pretty much throughout; it's tricky to imagine him as a Space Station Director General, but then, he wasn't a very good one. I'd still lose 'dame.'

'[...] slowly spiralling closer to Tau Ceti like a fly with a flaming hard on'--do flies even have those? Why would a fly that wants to boink a star spiral slowly? Thunderdome makes me ask the strangest questions.

I followed your plot without trouble, and while the ending hit me as a flat note the first time, I see it as fitting now. This isn't the story of the protagonist's escape from the cataclysm that's coming but of his total failure and loss of everything through his own actions, piece by piece and toe by toe. (That said, 'The arsehole did some more shearing' is a ridiculously blase way to describe the protagonist being maimed.)

Your opening is very confusing if the reader isn't familiar with event horizons. 'It'd be years before we fell into the star' would say the same thing. And let me reiterate that improper tense shifts are godawful and you need to stop. 'I was still reeling from the situation so I don’t make quick with an answer: I get a kick in the ribs.' How do you do that without giving yourself an aneurysm? 'I was still reeling from the situation, so I didn't make quick with an answer: I got a kick in the ribs.'

The noir cheese is too thick; you need polish; you chose a good title; it's a complete story in a round in which those are mysteriously lacking. Your new avatar is safe for another week.


systran, "The Obfuscator":

There are some elements of your premise that are slightly muddled for my taste, such as why tens of millions of people suffered the effects of the Words when governments collapsed. What did the Words have to do with the collapse; did they cause it; were they a weapon used in a fight that had already started; why use them on the people? It's a shame to have something like that right up front, since I never wholly stopped doubting that I understood how the Words worked. You could cut the first reference to studying twelve years to not understand languages, I think. The protagonist brings that up again later, and postponing it might enhance the suspense regarding how he's translated these Words without ill effect.

Regardless, I really like this one. It's another fine example of a mystery that doesn't need to be solved for the story to be whole. Your false profession is so good, and your ending is perfect--I do wonder whether the client ever realized the obfuscation did nothing for him, whether China knew they didn't have useful Words. Without the uncertainties you'd be my clear favorite, but as it stands you've got some competition.


Jagermonster, "The Mysterious Lawman vs. the Untouchable Kingpin":

...But don't you only have to license songs and characters for public or commercial use?

Take this story, this exact premise, and have the party be televised. Live-streamed. Something like that. You've got a clever idea kicked in its teeth by a plot hole, but that would be easy to fix. Find another title while you're at it, because the one you've got is a groaner.

I hate to say this, but I think you flubbed one of the prompts. Your protagonist is a cop; serving in a nonexistent division isn't the same as having a nonexistent profession. He's not solving a mystery, either, but his plan to take Hernandez down is a mystery to the reader, and that probably counts.

Your use of present tense is solid. Your prose is solid too, except for a couple of travesties: 'The crowd joins in, “birthday to you!”' Treat 'birthday' like the beginning of the crowd's sentence and capitalize it. I don't know what the reasoning was for 'I lean in close, “next time, license the rights to ‘Happy Birthday,’ motherfucker,'" but 'next' needs a capital letter too. I remember grousing about your technical errors a couple of weeks ago; there aren't many in this piece, so you get improvement bonus points.

You're in the upper middle of the roster, and I truly do like your twist.


Auraboks, "Shady Affair(ie)s":

That is a completely terrible title. Petty complaint, you might say? Sure, but I don't have that much else to complain about. Work with me here.

Your choice of profession is charming. The Tooth Fairy is a lighthearted and silly concept, and you've come up with a very different explanation for it that holds on to just the right amount of silliness. ('Fruitpip,' 'ToothTime Corporation.') It's a fairly dark story, really, and the flecks of light serve as contrast. Your easy, polished prose keeps the story tripping along. Suspense builds up around what will go wrong with the fairies' run. The twist isn't telegraphed; you created a false happy ending and then pulled it away, and for me, it worked.

Just one thing: '"But the teeth...," I began.' Why, God, why? There's no comma after an ellipsis!

I daresay you can tell you're in my top tier. systran's compelling ideas won out in the end, but this is still fine work.


Jeza, "Excerpt from Transcript of Preliminary Investigation – Case #200384":

You've got an immediate issue that leaps out as soon as Van Der Haart starts talking. Namely that he's supposed to be talking. His words sound like the opening of an autobiography, not like something a person, even an educated, pompous, self-important person, would say in an interview or otherwise. Is the mystery supposed to be why Sandler didn't tell him to shut up sooner? Once the transcript starts to cover their conversation instead of Der Haart's exposition, I can believe it--it's still exposition to the very end, but it's more gracefully handled, and some personality comes through for both parties.

Technicalities: the phrase 'us Resolvers' should be 'we Resolvers,' and 'the two parties to which I was contracted to' has that redundant preposition on the end. 'The earlier crime scene was also compromised in that firefight' is missing a period. My overall impression of your technical skill is good, though.

(Oh, hey, you edited after I wrote the crit. At least you see what you've done. YOU OUGHT TO REGRET IT, SIR.)

The missing badge is clearly meant to be significant, but I'm not sure I see its meaning; my guess is--assuming this interview takes place shortly after the crime--that he wasn't at the shootout in his official capacity. Maybe he even set the whole thing up to get the money? I wish I knew. Without a firm answer, the story teeters on the edge of the no-conclusion trap.


zakucat, "Murderous Dreams":

This is another one that didn't end up making sense. One reason is that the last line--an answer? A twist?--depends on knowing what the Scrivener's job is all about. Writing things? Recording? That's important how? I'm left guessing that the Scrivener's probably the murderer, but only because your final beat is completely empty otherwise and not because it's a logical conclusion. If that is the answer, I still have no idea how or why the murders were done.

It seriously reads as though there's a whole section missing, if not more, between the second and final sections. There's no flow. There's a lot more attention paid to gore than to plot. This isn't a story, and that's a shame since your profession, setting, and the ideas of dreamthings and their murder are all strong, deserving of better treatment.

Though it's a minor concern in comparison, your grammar's sloppy. 'The Archiver crinkled her nose as the pungent, musky stench filled her sense of smell; or at least, what was perceived to be.' What? What does that last clause mean? What was perceived to be her sense of smell? You might want to tighten it up: 'The Archivist crinkled her nose at the pungent, musky stench.' Sometimes you capitalize the 'The' in the Archivist's title, and you probably shouldn't, but you definitely shouldn't be inconsistent about it. You use semi-colons when you want commas, commas where you want semi-colons. Your tenses aren't consistent either. '[...] her dark blue cloak faded around the hemlines and what used to be a loose fit around her silhouette was replaced with a formless piece of material that only served to cover her and not much else' should say 'faded around the hemlines, and what had been a loose fit around her silhouette had been replaced by a formless piece of material that served to cover her and not much else.' Actually, I don't understand that sentence anyway. Wouldn't a formless cover-up be a loose fit? 'Archivist' is the word for someone who maintains archives.

Your ideas are good, so you should take this to the Fiction Farm (though maybe you should clarify that ending first) and ask for further critique. You might be able to turn this into a longer, complete story worth keeping.


Kleptobot, "What the Good Book Says":

Is the protagonist a real Inquisitor, as in that's a serious licensed profession in the story, or is he an unsanctioned zealot? I couldn't quite tell; apparently he was sent by the Board of Education, and this Tyson person is working against the Board to 'correct' books. So is Tyson a criminal? If so, why would a lawful Inquisitor go to jail for raiding him rather than the guard going to jail for assault? So many questions. You're light on mystery too, other than those questions, and I don't think that's the kind of mystery Dr. Kloctopussy had in mind.

I'm not even sure what it's trying to say about the editing or censorship of textbooks, since the writing conveys that the Inquisitor is wrong, wrong, wrong, but the premise would seem to suggest that he's a lawful man doing his legal duty, and Tyson's men are defying whatever it is the Board of Education wants. Maybe you just need more backstory to explain whatever's going on with the BoE.


sebmojo, "Doing our bit":

You can do better. The dialogue designed to obscure is more annoying than effective here, as you've pulled the trick of a character not quite saying something too often. The rhythm of your sentences is over-choppy for my taste. You come perilously close to the mystery of the piece being 'what the hell is this about,' and this is one of the occasions when your habit of slapping stuff together at the last minute shows in your proofreading.

I liked the story rather more when the premise clicked in my head on a second read. The choice not to define what Alastair is doing or why works, as it turns out. His attitude is cheerful, harmless-seeming, and he's a Toll Inspector of all dull things, so the reaction of the family doesn't appear to make sense; I had to look harder (and it helped that I came back to this one after a break from reading) to make out the shape of what they fear. It's a good trick. That start-and-stop dialogue was not the way to do it. It's unpleasant to read and shows your hands moving behind the curtain.

The piece is certainly stronger than I first believed, and if you could manage the ambiguity in a manner that didn't read as contrived, you'd be in business.


Noah, "The Coffin of Henry Wick":

You chose a profession plausible enough that I did a quick Google search on 'coffin inspector' to make sure that's not really a thing. Apparently it isn't. That's kind of disturbing. I buy Miles as a professional doing his job; I'm intrigued by the strange grooves he finds in the coffin... but then Henry sticks a pen in him. Things don't go so well from there.

Killing a man over and over for the sake of a company-stamped seal of approval is cartoonishly extreme, and I can only guess that there's something special about the coffin--something to do with the grooves?--that resurrects Miles every time he dies. I have no idea what or why. I don't know why Miles wouldn't agree to give Henry the seal after two or three deaths, much less countless. It all seems like a lot of bloodshed, horror, and effort for something so mundane. The premise almost needed to be used for comedy.

Maybe the problem is one of a story too big for the week's limit. If you had more room to explain Henry's psychosis or the deal with the coffin (it shouldn't be explained altogether, but more hints would be nice), and/or if you gave everyone involved stronger motives, this could work out.


Fumblemouse, "Rub me the wrong way":

You took the 'odd' part to heart, and how. It doesn't quite work for me. I'm weirdly intrigued by this guy who obsesses over Thomas the Tank Engine enough to turn people into train faces--that's crazy creative if nothing else, and it could work for a quirky horror piece or a dark comedy. I think you were going for at least one of those, but which? I can't tell. That's a sign your two tones aren't blending well.

Your conclusion involves letting a mass murderer get away with his crimes, and it just isn't funny even before one considers the body-horror element of the son and father being locked in one body. On the other hand, if it's not supposed to be funny at all, I don't follow why the protagonist let Toppham Hatt (good grief) go. It's too complex a problem to be handwaved away in a serious piece.

You've got some unnecessary fantasy elements in the setting: dragons, elves, and dwarves have nothing at all to do with the story at hand, and bringing them up when your world is otherwise 'Earth with djinns' provides distraction. What's a Fat Controller? Does it matter that Toppham is one? Smaller nitpicks: you're missing at least one period, and British ought to be capitalized. It's 'Teletubbies,' not 'tellytubbies.' The amalgam of Hatts uses 'me' in place of 'I' as though it/they were a caveman. It's strange.

It's pretty strange too that the Thomas the Tank Engine guy is my favorite thing, but there it is! There are other good elements: I enjoyed most of the dialogue, the genie concept, the handling of the prompts, and the protagonist's genealogy joke. The prose is competent. If you work further with this, I suggest either toning the zaniness way down or amping it up.


perpetulance, "The Invokers":

perpetulance posted:

I had problems with this prompt. My writing is bad and I should feel bad.

If you already know, I won't be telling you much that's news!

Your story isn't bad, which is the critical thing. The concept of peace achieved through everyone's lives being run for them is nothing new under the sun, and I saw the end coming, but you've got an original choice of fake career and a very personal 'mystery.' You'd be comfortably in the middle in a stronger round if your writing were better at the sentence level. (You're in the middle this week because a lot of other people did worse. That's not the ideal reason.)

'“No, please, don't kill me!”, the woman cried.' That comma is an abomination. 'The crowd watched the man drop the ax the ground'--you're missing a word. 'Realizing that their own self interest would never allow them to negotiate fairly, the armistice that ended the third world war was written not by man but by their child of silicon.' You're telling me there that the armistice(s?)'s self-interest wouldn't allow it/them to negotiate. (Notice also the hyphen in 'self-interest.') Many of your sentences are awkward even when they aren't technically wrong, such as 'The lights dimmed on the stage, with the closing curtain separating them from the crowd.'

Like half the 'Dome this week, you misuse verb tenses. The line about the armistice I quoted above should say 'had been written,' because it describes a past occurrence within the past-tense story. 'At twenty two, he received him assignment of Invoker.' Auuuuugh. 'At twenty-two, he had received his assignment of Invoker.'

This is a good example of a story that's decent at its core but marred significantly by insufficient proofing.


Bad Seafood, "Ammit Inc.":

This time I twigged to your inspiration when Sergei started weighing things; it came together with the crocodile, I did a quick search on 'Ammit,' and voila. She's a companion of sorts to Anubis, the Egyptian judge of the dead who weighs the hearts of men against a feather. I think the story stands whether or not one gets the reference, although you don't directly explain the purpose of the scales. One can guess. I suspect there are other references I'm not seeing; the piece works anyway, except--is Dresden a superhero? If it weren't for his cape, I wouldn't get that. I'd probably think he was recently dead.

There are proofing and sentence structure issues. 'And he, too good natured to refuse' needs a verb; that comma doesn't work as a stand-in. '[...] her right hand extended as tough in an awkward attempt for a handshake.' Ouch. Try 'as though for a handshake'--she's probably not intending an awkward attempt, so describing her purpose that way is weird. 'Dresden flipped the card over as though expecting to see something' doesn't work because we're in Dresden's perspective, so none of his actions should involve the phrase 'as though.' He knows whether he expects to see something, and so should we. 'Dresden signed and extended his arm.' Wrong verb. Etc.

Except for the is-he-a-superhero question, I like everything about this on the plot level--and I like it if he's a superhero, I just want to be more sure. It's more a quibble than a significant concern. The sentence level is a mess, but your verb tenses are correct, and at this point that's almost worth bonus points.

Kaishai fucked around with this message at 06:23 on Apr 24, 2013


Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.


You don't let yourself think about what you're doing; with Grace in such danger, your brain barely works anyway, and her frightened face is all you see as you launch yourself at Ms. Gannet. You slam into the teacher with as much strength and speed as adrenaline can give you. She jerks the gun around and fires, but the bullet only rips through the edge of your anorak, and then you're both on the ground and you're pinning her gun arm to the dirt. "Get it!" you shout at Grace, and your little sister stomps on Ms. Gannet's wrist until her fingers spasm and let the weapon fall.

Grace grabs the gun and takes aim. Ms. Gannet stills and lets you get to your feet, then into the car. Grace keeps the gun trained on the teacher as long as she can, then she's in the passenger seat and you're driving in reverse as fast as you dare. That's not very fast. You have time to see Ms. Gannet scramble for your cell phone before that part of the trail is out of sight.

As soon as possible, you turn the car around and make slightly better progress. "You have to hurry!" Grace yells right in your ear. "She'll call the cops or something!"

"I can barely drive and we're on a mountain! Shut up!"

You know she's right. It will take the police some time to arrive, but what will happen to you when they do? Do they throw minors in jail in China? Your hands shake on the wheel.

But strangely enough, the path smooths out after the next turn. Your tires no longer crunch on snow. You could swear you hear music--and then you hit the brakes on the rim of a beautiful well of green spreading out below you: a valley. Shangri-La.

You and Grace walk into its warm air hand-in-hand. People wave as you pass through orchards; they offer you sweet fruit. A man in a yellow robe meets you under an apple tree, and his face is neither old nor young, though his beard is white. "Please, child," he says to Grace, "will you throw your gun away?"

Grace flings it as far from herself as she can, and it vanishes into the grass. The man says, "Thank you. We sensed your desire to flee from violence, and so we opened our haven to you."

You and Grace take turns telling him the whole story. He shakes his head in sorrow at its end. "The woman was right. She could not have entered Shangri-La. But if she had, she would have found no wealth here she could understand. What will you do now, children? If you wish, you may stay, and share the treasures we possess."

"Our mother--" you begin.

"She would be welcome to join you."

Grace beams and pulls her phone from her pocket. "Ms. Gannet didn't take mine. I'm calling Mom right now!"

Your mother catches the next flight to China, and soon your family is together again in a magical place of beauty, harmony, and peace. Although you didn't find Mr. Zopper's treasure, you've discovered greater riches--and in Shangri-La, you have no end of time to enjoy them.


Kaishai fucked around with this message at 04:11 on Jul 15, 2013

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