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  • Locked thread
Jun 26, 2013

I bear joyous news!

A weekend of illness and a mountain of work have conspired to give the judges one fewer terrible biography to read. I am out! :woop:


Grizzled Patriarch
Mar 27, 2014

These dentures won't stop me from tearing out jugulars in Thunderdome.

Gliding Over All
(840 Words)


See Archives.

Grizzled Patriarch fucked around with this message at 17:43 on May 5, 2015

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007
1500 words.

Found near an LAX baggage claim, shortly after the landing of Delta flight 2214 from Minneapolis:

i am supposed to learn everything the prophet knows so when he phases up, i can be the next prophet. i like learning from the prophet because i do not collect firewood or go to Song class like the younger kids anymore. he lets me live in his house with him at the end of the Row of houses.

he told me the reason i learned to write was so i could take notes, not notes like in Song class but words on paper to help me remember the words of the prophet.

i start learning tomorrow but so far no one is telling me what i have to do.


learning with the prophet is the funnest thing i have ever done since i was born. we got to walk through the forest behind the Row and he told me about the reasons why we sing the Song. I am supposed to learn everything but already it is falling out of my brain. holding onto the prophets Teachings is like trying to hold water in my hands. but here is what i learned today,

one, the prophet is the voice that speaks for the big Song. he first heard the Song when he listened to Phil Spector, who was another prophet back in the 1960s. but Phil Spector tried to act like the Song was his own, and get fame and food and the biggest house with it. he broke the Song into many small songs and the prophet had to put them back together.

two, the Song is everything and everything is the Song. that is why all the kids go in the barn for Song class and sing every day. the grownups have to work a lot harder to hear the Song and that is why they came to live with the prophet.

three, when i grow up i will have wives. the prophet says there will be lots of women my age raised with our teachings and they will be happy to make more babies who will know the Song. I told the prophet i do not think i want to be a dad that many times, but he said i will change my mind after i grow some chest hair.

i actually grew one chest hair over last summer, but maybe it is not enough to make me want every girl for a wife.


today all the kids and families had to go down into the cellar under the Row. normally we are not allowed, but the prophet said people from the outside world were coming to trick everyone away from the Song. i got to stand next to the prophet while he talked to a man in a button up shirt along with two police officers. i was there and the elders of the Row were there, and they talked for a long time.

the outsiders asked about me, the prophet said i was homeschooled.

i wanted to tell them about our walks in the field and the Song but the prophet looked at me with tight lips and wide eyes, like he does when he wants me to get the right answer to a question but won’t tell me what it is. so i just smiled at the outsiders because a quiet smile is a powerful tool. that is one of the things i learned from the prophet, it is hard to write them all down. but i was glad i remembered that trick, because soon the police and the man went away, and all the others got to come out of the cellar underneath the Row.


the prophet looked unhappy during todays lesson. he asked me if i had told the other kids anything about our lessons. i said yes, because i had. i said, i thought the point of learning all this was so i could tell people how to phase up?

and he said yes, but it’s like measuring flour into a recipe, you can only put so much into each cake. too much flower and the cake crumbles, and do i want a broken cake?

sometimes i have trouble understanding him. like when he said the thing about flower and cakes. and then, the whole rest of the day, he was talking about himself and the Row and the Song like this dry cake that could fall apart any moment.


i felt the Song.

I FELT THE SONG. this is going to take a lot of words. i do not know what to do.

the prophet did not speak to me for a couple days after i screwed everything up, and i spent the whole time on my side in bed facing the wall.

my mind spoke to me and said, you told the others too much, and he will have to pick a different student to be the next prophet, and the mothers will all be old and tired by the time your replacement is old enough to father their children. you will never phase up into the song, you are like Phil Spector trying to break the Song apart so other people will like you. i smacked my fists against the sides of my head.

but then the prophet came to my room at dawn on the third day of my mind talking to me. he had something small and flat wrapped in a bit of tin foil. he told me i had proven myself and that he knew i was not going to break the Song. we walked through wet grass and early sun, over the hills and through the forest. the prophet stopped us in a meadow. there were forget-me-nots and wild flowers and trees whose leaves were so fresh and green they almost glowed.

everything sparkled with dew and i said, i feel the Song here. it was all so beautiful and precise. everything existing in its time and place in chorus with everything else, just like when all the little children sang together in Song class.

the prophet laughed and said, placebo effect. he said, you dont feel the Song now, but you will soon.

he unwrapped the foil covered thing, showed me a small piece of paper with lots of little separate square sections. each section had the same tiny picture on it, a baby angel resting her chin in her chubby hands. he ripped a piece off and balanced it on the tip of his finger.

he said, here. you hold this on your tongue until i say to spit. this is what helped me find the Song. it is my last lesson to you before i go on to the next phase.

i looked at the bit of paper. i looked at the prophet. he had never told me about eating paper to find the Song.

I said, i thought you found the Song because of Phil Spector.

he said, these are what helped me listen correctly. good ol lucy in the sky. people used to know the power of the psychedelic state when i was a young man. they would eat these and find truth. but the world wasnt ready then. your generation though, i can feel it, you will be the ones to see the truth.

a cloud passed over the sun. the only cloud in the whole blue sky, and it threw a shadow over the meadow. like an ugly musical note. i believe in the Song. i believed in that moment, that the Song did not mean for me to eat that little paper tab. but if the prophet and the Song were not in agreement, how could i trust myself to choose rightly between them?

the eyes of the prophet were wide and bulging and blind to everything but me. the little tab of paper quivered on the tip of his finger, but then the breeze kicked up and swept good ol lucy away like a tuft of feather.

and the prophet said, dont worry i have more.

but as he reached to rip off more tabs, something urgent and strained and quivering broke inside of me. I bolted across the meadow, through the woods, over the hills, and back to the Row. I hurled open the prophets door, went to my room, grabbed this book, and now i am sitting in the first restaurant i have ever been to in my life.

the waitress was nice and gave me water and some granola with milk. right now she is talking to a man, maybe her husband? there is something in her eyes that tells me she can hear the Song, just a little bit.

maybe the prophet was wrong about the outsiders. the waitress says she thinks there are people who will want to talk to me. i just have to stay here until i am rested up from my run, and then i can go show the whole world the Truth of the Song.

A Classy Ghost
Jul 21, 2003

this wine has a fantastic booquet
The 51st President of the United States of America
1143 words

Petey “Bubbler” Wurlitzer spent the first 100 years of its existence as a Wurlitzer 1015 jukebox.

First built by the Rudolph Wurlitzer Company in 1946 as part of the now iconic Wurlitzer 1015 line of jukeboxes, machines that could play twenty-four 78’s, which was top-of-the-line at the time, Petey was shipped from the factory in North Tonawanda, New York, to a diner in Aledo, Texas: Fred’s Shed.

For 23 years it sat next to the counter, playing songs as people ate burgers, flapjacks and apple pie. When Fred died in 1969, no one stepped up to purchase the diner and it was condemned.

Vandals broke in sometime in 1970 and left with Petey – it is unclear if stealing Petey was the original intention or simply a spur of the moment decision. Petey was sold to a pawn shop and bought by Phillip Thurgood shortly afterwards.

Thurgood was not interested in restoring Petey to its original splendor, as long as it remained functional. He was a collector of random Americana, more interested in piling his barn full with odds and ends than having a displayable collection, perhaps more hoarder than collector. For 30 years Petey remained in his barn, seeing regular use – Thurgood would play a record every time he came in to admire his collection.

Petey was finally sold to Steve Plass, a picker on the prowl for interesting items to sell back for a profit, in 2000. Steve had the jukebox restored and sold it to the then-future president, George W. Bush. It remained on Bush’s private ranch until 2019, when it was sold once again, this time to a 1950’s-themed restaurant, Shiny’s.

It is at Shiny’s that the first part of Petey Wurlitzer’s existence ended and its true life began: in 2046, the jukebox became self-aware.

Science has yet to bring forth a plausible explanation for it, but the popular theory stems from Japanese folklore, the Tsukumogami: once an object reaches its 100th birthday, it comes to life and gains a mind of its own.

Alex Hunt, a short-order cook at the restaurant, was closing up one evening when the jukebox by the entrance greeted him and gave him the fright of his life. After he recovered from the initial shock, Hunt spent the entire night talking to Petey. It turned out that while the jukebox had been inanimate for the first 100 years of its life, it still retained perfect memories of this time.

When the rest of the staff came in the next day, they found Alex still in deep conversation with Petey. Things happened quickly after this – reporters were contacted, the news went out on the nu-web and soon everyone in the world was aware of the sensational living jukebox.

Alex quit his job as a cook and, as Petey’s first friend in his new life, became his de-facto agent. Petey toured the world, gave interviews and sat on talk shows. He had a natural affinity for languages and a cheerful, infectious personality – the world fell in love with Petey.

Petey found joy in chess, developing a flawless win record and even beating ZEUS, Appoogle’s most advanced AI at the time, an achievement only replicated by the Russian prodigy, Akim Barinov.

On June 23rd 2047, Petey married Eva Adams, an objectum-sexual. She had fallen in love with the jukebox the moment she’d seen him on TV and when they finally met, the feeling was mutual.

In 2048, at the height of his popularity, when current President of the United States, Laetitia Hill, neared the end of her first term, Petey Wurlitzer announced he would run for president.

There was outrage at first – a jukebox for president? Was it even American? Where was its certificate of authenticity?

People argued that the jukebox division of Wurlitzer had been sold to a German company in 1973, which made Petey German, but it was determined that since he had been built on American soil, in an American factory, he was most definitely American.

Laetitia Hill had no chance against his popularity – on January 27th 2049, Petey Wurlitzer became the 51st, and first inorganic, President of the United States of America.

World leaders who had been amused by the jukebox at first refused to discuss politics with an object, but Petey quickly proved he was more than up to the task when he brought the Quebec Missile Crisis of April 2049 to a peaceful resolution with his quick wit and charisma. Tensions between the United States and the Republic of Quebec still ran high though, and in 2050 the Republic was annexed and became the country’s 54th state. Canada did not object, which was not a surprise since they had helped with the operation.

The rest of Petey’s first term was uneventful. Most world leaders came around to the idea of a jukebox as an equal, but Russia considered Petey an embarrassment and the first tremors of yet another cold war began being felt.

Petey was re-elected for a second term in 2053. The Russian president, Ivan Noskov, showed hostility immediately, damning America for its choice to elect an object over an actual person yet again and going as far as threatening war if they did not put an end to this charade.

Petey was not to be deterred, and the American people backed him up. A majority of the population called for war, but Petey had another idea: why not put man vs machine to the test once more? After all, this time it would be two actual intelligences competing. This was how the idea of a chess match between the jukebox and Akim Barinov came to be.

Ivan Noskov agreed, confident that Petey Wurlitzer and thus the United States would be embarrassed in front of the entire world. If Barinov won, Petey had promised to step down as president.

The game took place in Moscow and played out at a lightning pace, with Petey calling his moves as soon as Barinov completed his. This slowed as the game progressed and Petey took a full five minutes before calling the move that would make him lose the game.

It is still hotly debated wether or not this was intentional or a mistake on the part of the jukebox, but this mystery will have to remain unsolved forever – while on his flight back to the United States, a massive solar flare struck the northern hemisphere, the largest in recorded history, and all electronics were knocked out, including the plane’s. It fell just short of the state of New York’s shoreline. It is unclear if Petey was affected by the flare, but by the time the wreckage was recovered, the jukebox was no longer responding.

Whatever spark had initially brought the jukebox to life was now gone, and that is how the presidency of the United States’ first inorganic president came to an end.

After The War
Apr 12, 2005

to all of my Architects
let me be traitor
The Champion
1,300 words

White, Tyrell
Born: 1980
Years Active: 1988-1991
Status: Missing, presumed retired
Ranking: Undefeated

Every sport, every game, every passion has its iconic martyrs, and ours is no exception. The story of Tyrell White, pencilfighting’s own Lou Gehrig, should be familiar to every young hopeful before he’s launched his first #2. In his rise and meteor fall, we can hope to see ourselves in a single glowing speck of debris before blinking out, a blur of yellow against the schoolyard asphalt of eternity before slamming against our own rigid, unforgiving opponent. The humble beginnings, those storied brown eyes taking in dozens , if not hundreds, of matches, and learning well that first and most sacred lesson: there are no ties, no settlements, no drawn games or compromises. Until wood and lead are finally splintered and split, there can no hesitation, no cessation. No pencil can emerge but from the broken shards of its nemesis, to believe otherwise would be lunchin’.

So, the facts generally known: the careful study throughout the second grade, the first victory in the afternoon before Election Day 1988, the unaware larger world needing to mark a changing era in its own ineffectual way, the legend spreading, the challenges multiplying, the obsession growing leading finally to recklessness, and finally, yes, the first suspension given for pencilfighting alone. But through it all, every impact sustained, every attack devastating, every opponent obliterated. These are the tales passed down from year to year, but I can assure the reader, exaggerated as they sound, they ain’t trfilin’. Everything is true. Not only do I stand witness, in my own small way, I helped make it happen.

My own story is unimportant, a fortunate mortal among legends, not only Tyrell White, but his mentors and worthy opponents. For years, I had been oblivious to the cruel beauty and violent art practiced around me, lost in whatever occupied me at the time. What drew me to that first match, I will never know. Making my way through a ring of onlookers, I saw in its epicenter someone my own age, small and wiry, staring down some mass of height and power, large even for a fifth grader. I know now that he was one of many veterans come to test this rising star, to put this young upstart in his place and restore the natural hierarchy. But at the time, I only saw a peer in danger, and its immediacy caused the sell around me to crumble. He needed a pencil, and I had one - a Christmas stocking favorite, glittering with silver hologram foil, perhaps my most prized possession. I handed it over without a thought. No words were exchanged, a glance, maybe the slightest nod, and suddenly it was no longer a tangible amalgam of wood and graphite, but the righteous arc of a thousand screaming rainbows slicing the air, finally meeting its enemy in sickening impact. Entranced, I watched the combatants’ roles switch without comprehending its meaning until I heard the crack of simple yellow wood against that shining beacon, ringing through my spine as if I myself had been struck. In that instant, I understood the meaning and significance of this dance, why it continued despite the irrevocable harm it brought writing implements and weekly evaluations. As if I had just opened my eyes, and realized that everything up to this moment had been a dream.

It would be a lie to say I befriended Tyrell White then. He never seemed to allow himself friends. No Nintendo camaraderie, no visits to the family apartment for Utz Cheese Curls and cartoons. But I would be by his side when a challenge was issued, observing the opponent’s armament and carefully its counterpoint. Before us, there was no question of selection – one simply used the first pencils to come to hand, the field leveled through random chance. It was, then, a new and powerful approach, but a skim through this volume will show that in intervening years it has become the norm, each combatant maintaining their arsenal, their quiver of meticulously selected weaponry. My own tiny contribution to our great art. The Dixon for strength, the Eagle for speed, and the legendary Empire Pedigree (affectionately nicknamed the “rubber ducky”) for shrewd flexibility. It was Tyrell, though, who wielded them with precision and grace, and it is he who is rightly remembered.

By the end of that first year together, there was not a single enthusiast we had not squared off against. When summer came and we parted, I wondered how he would find meaning in the long humid days away from the ring. I spent my time maintaining our arsenal, stockpiling favorites before August swarms would make careful selection impossible. Some nights, just before a storm and the air crackled, I would unzip my Transformers pencil bag and breathe deep the aroma of wood, graphite, paint, and potential. Soon.

But when September came I saw Tyrell again, he was different. Taller, maybe, but stretched thin. Something was gnawing at him. At first I thought he had simply missed his passion these past months, but the familiar eagerness had become a ravenous hunger, a need to be met regardless of risk. Those in power had become aware of the width and popularity of our activities, and directly forbade it. When the announcement was made, I saw, for an instant, the sardonic Gladiator’s smile cross Tyrell’s face, that of a man who held no misconception as to where he would meet his end. No longer waiting for challenges, he began issuing them with ruthless ferocity, lightning-fast fights that would end in a few devastating blows. None of the painstakingly chosen pencils I handed him were given back in fighting condition. The first time I heard him call an opponent a dirty bama, I knew things had gone horribly wrong.

By October, he’d be gone for days a time. The absences were never called into question, itself a bad sign – there was something going on best left unspoken. When he did return, his obsession seemed to have grown even as his body wasted. Fierce, ugly matches were fought, even against those young novices. One December, I saw his hands shaking, barely able to maintain the defense grip vital to disperse the blow of impact. For the first time, I questioned our winning streak and the legacy we had created. But we weren’t friends, not really. It was not my place to confront him.

When we came back from winter break, there was a war. Silly, imaginary battles against silly, imaginary Iraqis meant fewer bodies to form the vital circle of secrecy. And, at a long recess, the day the war ended, a teacher strode through the weakened protective wall and plucked out Tyrell White, clutching his Eberhard Faber so tight it finally snapped from the force of his thumb. Something else broke, then, his shoulders slumped as he allowed himself to be dragged away.

I saw it all from a distance. I wasn’t by his side for that final match. The very first weeklong suspension for pencilfighting was issued that day, but any official punishment was superfluous, a visible mark on a visible permanent record, utterly meaningless for anyone keeping count of the true score. Tyrell White never returned, not physically. His name was first spoken in hushed tones the day he was due to come back, somehow it was known he would be seen again only in legend

In my darker moments, I would love to picture him in victory, intact pencil held aloft for the throngs to see, pencilfighting’s greatest champion. But when I hear his name, I can only see the sick boy being hauled off the playground by the teacher I had informed. Lost, sick and broken, but record intact. Ranking: Undefeated.

God Over Djinn
Jan 17, 2005

onwards and upwards
put down your pens & prepare to meet your judgment, suckers

Apr 12, 2006
Boogie was Born in the Backseat of a Buick
1158 words


Tyrannosaurus fucked around with this message at 04:19 on Jan 8, 2016

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.
Expanded Crits for Week CVIII: Hammer Bro., Morning Bell, Pseudoscorpion, Chairchucker, Amused Frog, HopperUK, Nethilia, Mons Hubris, Entenzahn, Meeple, Sitting Here, Gau, and Dirtbag Diva

Long ago in a thread far, far away, I promised that someday I'd expand on my short crits for Dewey Decimal Week. I try to be an AI of my word, so here are the full crits in all their longwinded glory.

Hammer Bro., "Emotional Nudity"

Disqualifying you for nonfiction was the most merciful thing I could do. Originally, skimming the handwritten pages you expected me to judge and realizing they were an account of your desire to sexually gratify yourself, I did not feel merciful in the least. Then I grit my teeth and read it, and I realized that while your submission may have been inappropriate in every conceivable way (such as: nonfiction for a fiction contest, handwritten, not a story, not related at all to your Dewey Decimal class even if you hit the upbeat ending, and did I mention it was about you wanting to wank because seriously dude?), it didn't come off as pervy exhibitionism, which is more than I can say for the last such story TD had the displeasure of receiving. You were trying to say something emotionally sincere. Albeit in some of the most purple prose imaginable. Hint: when you catch yourself replacing "just" with "merely," reconsider.

I can't critique this as a story because it isn't one. If it had been, and if it had been typed and edited so it wasn't full of scratched-out words, your mechanics would have been good. Your grasp of punctuation and spelling (misspelling "repertoire" aside) was quite good considering that you obviously didn't polish this. So that's something. Your phrasings reinforced the feeling that this belonged in your LiveJournal with Mood: Sad but hopeful and Music: "My Immortal" - Evanescence written beneath the post. They read as melodramatic, pretentious, and faux-poetic; at a guess, you chose this tone to convey the gravitas of your realization. It didn't work. To be fair, pretty much nothing was going to get gravitas across when you started out with "is that nekkid people?"

Personal appearance and costume had nothing to do with this and I think you know it, so no need to linger on that point. Maybe if I squinted hard I could see some hint of it in your "mask of constant contentedness," but really, no. Of course there was no plot, because that wasn't the idea.

I hope you stick and submit fiction to the next prompt, Hammer Bro. (Later note: As indeed you did. Huzzah!) I'm not even mad at you. That would be like being angry at someone for publicly peeing his pants. Good luck with your girlfriend, and I mean that sincerely.


Morning Bell, "The Shawl"

From this point on, the entries are at least somewhat relevant to their classes. I'll start each crit by talking about prompt fulfillment.

Prompt: Good show. Your Dewey Decimal class was 677 Textiles, and textiles are woven through the fabric (sorry) of the story. I do wish the shawl in question had ended up mattering more. The title's a bit peculiar. Grigory's shawl ends up a table cloth, and the story is more about heart-flower. I don't know how he ever planned to weave petals into the shawl. I wish he'd done it! Then again, he gave up something he'd worked hard on and let it be used for a base purpose in exchange for something simple that he thought Izolda would love, and that told me a lot about his character and the sincerity of his feeling.

So you got the prompt, and I liked your main character. You had a plot and a reasonable resolution. There was a good bit wrong that kept this story from rising out of the middle of the pack, though, and some of it was tied to the fairy-tale style that I don't believe was executed with full success. You worked in a lot of fairy-tale standbys: the Macguffin beloved, the animal companion who helped the human who helped him, the quest for something rare and magical, the "monsters" who weren't very monstrous, the three trials, the rule governing the rare and magical thing's existence, the way that rule was almost immediately broken, and the unsympathetic parent. All familiar. In your favor, you put them together in an interesting way, mostly. But not all of these tropes served your story. Why did Grigory face a test of physical strength? Did it tell us anything about him we needed to know? It gave Bird a chance to help him, but that took a lot out of your ending; by that point Grigory had already been repaid for his kindness, so it looked more like Bird carried Grigory to his happy ending than like Grigory achieved it through his actions. Bird was a decent companion, but his character voice didn't fit the tone of the piece. He belonged in a more casual, contemporary style with his "Aw, come on!" and "Listen, kid." Your pacing felt off: Grigory had the heart-flower petals for only a second of the reader's time before he destroyed them (and how did one tear hit all of them?). In comparison, his scenes with the Forgotten Things and with Bird lasted forever. Maybe if you retooled the Forgotten Things sequence to condense the three trials down to one, or to have Grigory win the petals by some other means once he's given up the shawl, that would help. It could be worth a try.

I didn't like Izolda's lines at the end. "I was singing the saddest songs I knew because I didn't get to see you all day." One, that's so corny and syrupy I spontaneously developed cavities in my eyes from looking at it (my ophthamologist's bill will be in the mail); two, like the rest of her lines, it painted Izolda--to me--as an airhead who had never known real grief, who didn't know her own heart, who could be won over by the antics of a silly bird, who fluttered her lashes and smiled and that was all she needed to do. You gave her a bit of personality, but that personality was so vapid that at the end I wondered whether Grigory couldn't do better.

Let's talk about sentence-level issues now. Your mechanics need work! A couple of your phrases struck me as strange. "A yarn of wool"--you use this one twice, and it soooort of parses, but maybe "a skein of yarn" is more what you meant? "A yarn" isn't a unit of measurement. "Sapphire voice" is one of those pretty descriptive phrases that doesn't mean anything when you think about it. Don't assume readers won't notice. Especially when your prose is already heavily shaded with violet, which, granted, is appropriate for a fairy tale. "Prefect for weaving" is a typo, but a funny typo, and not the only sign of sketchy proofing either: Izolda spells Grigory/Grigori's name wrong at one point. You punctuate dialogue poorly, with three different errors showing up in the first section. Check out those links. The repetition of "Izolda was the most beautiful thing in all of Georgia" doesn't really work because you aren't saying anything new with it or adding new depth to the original meaning. The parenthetical asides are too obtrusive for my taste, and I would avoid them in fiction--that's at least partially stylistic preference, though.

In short--sort of--the story could stand a lot of work. I'm torn on whether there's enough originality here to make it worth the effort. When I pick it apart, I'd say no, that it brings nothing to the table that dozens of other fairy tales haven't brought already. Looking at it as a whole, I still like Grigory and the Forgotten Things and even Bird a little, and I think their story is worth telling despite not being all that new.


Pseudoscorpion, "MK 9"

Prompt: Expected pirates, got dolphins; I'm okay with this. Sea/Naval Forces and Warfare were right there at the heart of your story. Heck, if I wanted to reach I could suggest your protagonist's conflict with himself and the outside world was warfare, on top of the more obvious interpretations.

A whole lot of scene breaks happened in this one. Too many. You did interesting things with the conceit, filling in the protagonist's history and personality with brief glimpses at his past, but it was out of hand and tedious to read by about the seventh break. I suggest melding sections six and eight, seven and nine. Six and eight are so temporally close that they are the same scene or drat near, which surely contributed to my losing patience with the format around then. I'd look at merging eleven and twelve in some way, too. You broke the pattern there, no longer alternating past with present, and it was disorienting.

Your verb tenses likewise shifted from past to present and back again with gay abandon, tempting me to withhold your fish ration until you learned better. "Less than a minute later, the water crests and he emerges, the distinct pink silhouette of the training dummy draped around his dorsal fin. Phweet! I blew my whistle"--do you see the trouble? The water crests, but the protagonist blew the whistle. Is this happening now or some time ago? Who the hell can tell? Another shift happened in "It's our job to recover them and get back quickly and safely." This one is debatable. You could make the argument that the present tense works in a past-tense story when it describes an ongoing situation, something that is still true when the story's over. But in this case it amounted to giving away the fact that the narrator was still working the same job after the story's events. It spoiled your ending a bit. You fumbled tenses in a different way in the section beginning "We were idling." 9-3 had already retrieved the first and second targets at that point, right? You said later "We'd been waiting [...] for about forty minutes now." Since those retrievals had happened in the past relative to the story, they should have been written in the past perfect. "First target had been pretty easy: free-floater, only twenty kilos. Had taken him ten minutes." Etc. "He was making good time" was fine as it was if the dolphin was currently making good time in the protagonist's eyes.

A few other minor mechanical missteps tripped me up. "It was oh-five-hundred, doing routine training exercises just off the coast." Bwuh. You've got a clipped, staccato rhythm going with the narration that the missing words suit, but that sentence tells me that whatever was oh-five-hundred was also doing exercises. My suggestion: either "Oh-five-hundred, doing routine training" etc. or "It was oh-five-hundred, and we were doing" etc. "One hundred" needs no hyphen. You use "practically screamed" in the first lines of section seven and section nine, and it's distractingly repetitive. (That's not a technical error. Just an annoying choice.) "However, my car lie"--eeeesh. I think you want "lay." You would never say he/she/it lie even in present tense, certainly not in past. Lay and lie trip up a metric ton of people; this link may help you avoid confusing them.

As soon as the protagonist--by the way, why didn't you give him a name sooner or a first name ever?--got tangled with the dummy, the sequence of events became predictable. Only whether the dolphin would survive could be a mystery at that point, and since upbeat is the tone of the week.... Surprising or no, it was pleasant to read. It wouldn't be a bad story if you cleaned off some of its barnacles. The last line feels weak, though; "I could get used to this job" isn't very enthusiastic. It let down the drama of the rescue and the awesomeness of that dolphin. Even bumping it up to "I could get to love this job yet" could be enough to give it the needed oomph.


Chairchucker, "Vavoom"

"The first customer of the day was a very good customer, in that he appeared to be exceptionally wealthy, and know nothing about hovercars." CHAIRCHUCKER!!!!! :argh: A technical error in the first line. My world is shattered. You could fix it by deleting the comma after "wealthy" and then either putting "to" before "know"--so the sentence would convey that he appeared to know nothing about hovercars--or changing "know" to "knew," conveying that he appeared to be wealthy and also knew nothing about hovercars. I'd bet you intended the first one since the parallel prepositions are a more obscure rule.

Man, I forgot to talk about the prompt first, that's how much that line upset me. Prompt: I knew when I assigned you this class that I'd get a play on mechanics. "Celeste" makes me hang my head, but you put the mechanics in space, so it registers as a good/bad pun instead of the weakest prompt fulfillment since Hammer Bro.

Some of the Chairchucker zing is in this, but not enough! The story has a fair few funny bits (manufacturer-standard space weasels, "not a very good customer," Olaf), things that didn't make me laugh outright but got a smile (comic books in the safe, the ending), and some nice character moments with Celeste--I wish her girliness mattered in some way, though; she comes off like a TV "quirky girl" mechanic/scientist whose quirks are supposed to make her cute or something. These good pieces don't quite make a greater whole. The comic book joke doesn't fit all that well with the rest, for instance. Ditto the safe-opening routine. I feel like that sequence puts too much distance between the early talk about repulsor shields and the finale, that the pacing could maybe be tighter. There's also something unfinished about it. The final line is good, but the story seems to stop more than resolve. Maybe because the robber's still standing right there, alive if maimed, so the situation isn't over? I suspect that's it.

Oh, hey, I stumbled across another travesty. "'Olaf really knows his car parts, Ted' said Celeste." You apologize to that comma you didn't invite to the party right now, mister.

You could keep this one and smooth it out and see how it does in the wider world. It has a lot of charm for something thrown straight into the browser.


Amused Frog, "Tipping Point"

Prompt: Combining hydrology, geology, and meteorology was an ambitious move that I liked, but the implausible ending hurt you. Either your ambition outstripped your knowledge, you failed to convince me that what happened with the hygrometers made sense, or both. The seeming flaws in the conclusion also complicated the upbeat tone of your piece, although what you were going for was clear.

I can't buy that two full years of effort from Manya would show absolutely no result until one day she poured in just the right amount of water to register on every hygrometer. Every hygrometer, including one that had nothing to measure but the moisture in the air (I guess?). Was the idea that her watering trips had slowly filled a hitherto-empty aquifer? How did Corbin not know? Why didn't his dirt contain her water as it was supposed to do? If this is scientifically credible, then you needed to explain the whys and hows in such a way that it didn't read like you made stuff up for the sake of a happy twist. You focused on the setting and scenario at the expense of your characters; it would have been easier to go along with that twist if I'd cared more about Manya. She was a typical dedicated scientist, though, without an individual personality to hook my interest. You put all your eggs in the basket of the scientific problem, so its unbelievable solution killed the whole story.

The back story and infodumps after Manya sat down at her station dragged your pacing down. That section didn't last very long, but it felt long. The lengthy description of the base's exterior also slowed the pace, and I don't think it was worth it, although the details about the heat and the distance and the "grey, burnt hills" were good.

On a technical note, British quotation marks aren't wrong. As long as you use Brit punctuation rules consistently--which you did here, as far as I can tell--then shine on, you crazy diamond. Some of your other mechanical choices were erroneous, such as the failure to capitalize "because" in "Manya rolled off her bed, ‘because there will be one day." You should never start a sentence with a digit as you did in the one beginning with "90 of those were taken up with air purifiers"--spell the number out. In "100 metre excavation," "100-metre" was a compound modifier and needed a hyphen. You didn't always use the past perfect tense where you should have, such as in "The walk that took 45 minutes this morning" (took should have been had taken) and probably "plastering down hairs that escaped from her ponytail" (you should have written had escaped, unless the hairs were escaping as she plastered them). In the sentence containing "said Manya, and pulled up the figures," there should have been a "she" after "and" to make everything after the comma an independent clause. Etc.: small errors, but you made enough of them to give your writing an unpolished look.

Some of your lines were awkward too. "A knock on the door preceded Corbin" was a strange, roundabout way to say "Corbin knocked and then came in." The sentence "The sun was already searing hot, blindingly bright and made it feel like the whole landscape could burst into flame all over again" included a list composed of an adjective, an adjective, and a dependent clause; it's preferable for all the items in a list to be of the same type. The phrases "searing hot" and "blindingly bright" were redundant in that context. I suggest "The sun was already searing and blinding, and it made her feel like the whole landscape could burst into flame all over again," though you can probably think of an alternative you like better.


HopperUK, "St Martin's Summer"

Prompt: An English dictionary is more important here than I first thought, in a somewhat puzzling way. I looked up Robert Cawdrey and learned that he and his book were real, and Thomas is presumably his son. Robert's Table Alphabeticall was the first monolingual dictionary. I would guess that book and its time period inspired your whole piece. I take back half of what my short notes said about prompt failure: a dictionary played an integral role behind the scenes, even if its presence in the work wasn't a high point. It's still hard to call the story upbeat when it resolves so little and ends with Bess and her family still fleeing the new Lord Protector, Thomas and Bess parting, and all parties headed toward an uncertain future. Truth, with no resolution to the characters' circumstances it's hard to call this a story at all.

As such, you wouldn't have placed any higher if I'd been quicker on the draw about Mr. Cawdrey. You wrote well, and your two main characters were interesting people. I liked reading the piece. But it was and is a forgettable vignette. What happens here? Bess and her family leave home after Cromwell's death, because... well, we never find out. On the road, Bess meets Mr. Thomas Cawdrey and befriends him, and when Thomas leaves the caravan, he gives her a book. That's it. There's charm, but no meat. While I suspect Thomas dies shortly after the end, I have no idea what might happen to Bess or whether their friendship had a real impact on her life. The scenario is strongly reminiscent of the beginning of Rothfuss's Name of the Wind, but unlike Rothfuss, you didn't have the words to show how Thomas influenced Bess's future, and you didn't use the words you did have to tell me.


Nethilia, "Resurrection"

Prompt: The prompt was one thing this entry got absolutely right. Paleobotany was the warp of the story. Without ever going into Wikipedia territory, you kept plants integral and snagged my interest through your research.

Another thing it got right was the interaction between Fern and Holly. Theirs was the best scene of the bunch for a few reasons. One, the parallel to the first scene and the differences from it were lovely. Two mothers, two daughters; Fern treated her child's interest as she had wanted her mother to treat hers, and it was a sweet moment that possibly should have ended the story. The first three sections were about Fern, plants, family, and the way those things intersected, but family dropped out of the final two sections entirely. In Holly's case especially, it felt wrong that she ended up unimportant, unnecessary. I did like that Fern's ambitions and achievements were Fern's ambitions and achievements, that she accomplished things as a professional and a woman outside her family sphere, but--couldn't and shouldn't her child still have been relevant? Fern thought that she would never forget what it was like to try and succeed "again." I'm guessing her first success was Holly, but the text didn't give me so much as a peek at how Holly turned out to support that conclusion.

Something it got very wrong, in my opinion, was Daniel. That guy. What an rear end in a top hat! Why, oh, why would Fern have given this guy the time of day, much less have gotten pregnant by him, much less have married him? I know, I know, people have weird judgment in love, but the man was a cartoon villain. "That's enough reading. Watch some TV." Who was he, Matilda's dad? Who else says that? Why did Daniel ever get with Fern if he was so opposed to "egghead stuff"? You went over the top with him, and dialing him back to a level of douchebaggery one could imagine Fern putting up with at all, ever, could only have made his section better.

This could easily be a good story if the issues with Daniel and Holly were addressed, but those were damaging enough to keep it off the highest tier.

A technical note: your tenses were all over the place in the first section. Sometimes you used past, sometimes past perfect. Why past perfect? The other sections were all in simple past, and given the chronology jumps, there wasn't a set present before which the events of the first section would have occurred. But if you did want to use past perfect, you either should have used it consistently or used it in the first sentence to set up a flashback and then dropped to past. Switching back and forth the way you did made it look like you didn't know what you were doing, though I doubt that's the case.


Mons Hubris, "The Last Diver (1,380 words)"

Prompt: Mollusca and Molluscoidea were in clear evidence, but the prompt still defeated you in a way. You either knew a lot about pearl diving already or did a great deal of research. Wonderful! Apparently you wanted to show your work: various factoids about diving were poorly integrated into the story, sticking out like boils on the face of the narrative. Not wonderful at all! When you read up on a subject for something you're writing, it's tempting to try and pour all you've learned into the work, especially if it interests you. Figuring out which details you actually need and which to leave out isn't always easy. That was the challenging element of this otherwise simple prompt. Your entry read like an essay about how pearl diving has changed in the past eighty years or so; there was no plot to speak of, and the characters were thin.

Nearly all that happened in the piece was that an elderly woman watched her great-granddaughter dive for oysters and fail to find any. The point of view shifted to Hatsuo partway through, so we also got a description of the undersea world she saw. That paragraph was the best part of the story. For just a minute, you stopped telling us about fat as insulation or warming water or currents or how wide a diver's bucket was, and you showed actions taking place instead. Otherwise, the infodumps consumed even the dialogue. Look at these sentences: "Your grandmother and I could never convince your mother to learn this art. She wanted to go to University. It was for the best as you well know [...]." Those last four words were a giant red flag! Great-Grandmother was telling Hatsuo things she already knew, that Great-Grandmother knew she knew, and it didn't sound natural at all. Almost everything Great-Grandmother said was clumsy exposition. The story ended on another lecture about Hatsuo's mother and pearl diving and legacies, and I just wanted it to be over.

No, wait, I stand corrected: it ended on exposition about what pearl divers might eat for lunch. It's cool that you looked this stuff up. It's great, up to a point, to deliver nuggets of knowledge to your readers and maybe teach them something--but you have to do it with some restraint and grace. Research should serve the story, not the other way around, unless you don't mind boring anybody who isn't interested in your subject. I ended up bored despite my initial excitement about a pearl-farming tale.


Entenzahn, "Underdog"

Prompt: Nathan has an insignia, and the dog theme running through the piece is tied to that. The Dewey Decimal class may have inspired your decision to do a self-appointed-knight story. You fulfilled the prompt requirement even if I wish you'd taken a different road with your category.

Considering that a fake knight proving himself as a good and loyal servant to his king is an idea I've seen often enough that I knew immediately where this story would go, it's strange that I can't think of a specific word for such men. I called this a hedge-knight story in judge chat, but it wasn't the right term since Martin's hedge knights are still real knights. Anyway. You gave us a pleasant enough read aside from a couple of bobbles in word choice or phrasing. The main issue was that the whole thing was brutally predictable. Of course the real knights scorned Nathan. Of course he was more brave than any of them. Of course he saved the day. The only surprises were completely ridiculous: a blacksmith killing a dragon by throwing a sword into its eye as he leaps from a battlement is so anime that I want to banish you to ADTRW for a week to think about what you've done, and any reason the king would have had for denying Nathan a sword at the end escapes me. Those offbeat moments weren't enough to take the story away from its formula, nor were they--or anything else--interesting enough to make the stock plot and theme worth revisiting.

I mentioned bobbles: "who's to say" was in the wrong tense--or else you intended "who's" to mean "who was," but "who was" doesn't contract. "Who's" is always "who is" or "who has." I don't know what word you wanted in place of "welted," but I don't believe that adjective can be applied to a sword. I especially do not think "gravitas" means what you think it means. None of the missteps were important except the anti-gravitas thing, which, to be fair, was funny enough to remove seriousness as advertised.


Meeple, "Thought and Memory"

Prompt: You hit it, but the results don't impress. This is about mental processes only insofar as it's about anything at all.

Good sentence-level writing can't elevate a feather-light story in which nothing happens but the retrieval of a cat from a roof very far. You had an idea: an elderly witch stores her memory in her cat. It wasn't novel. I wish you'd chosen any other animal instead of going the most cliche, stereotypical route possible. I strongly suspect Hugh was inspired by Odin's ravens, Huginn and Muninn, given the title and his name, but Huginn was thought and Muninn was memory. Oops. A little more thought might have helped you there.

All of your 1,000+ words were spent on one concept and a side trip onto the roof, where Marie shuffled around for a while to not much end: she didn't even catch Hugh. There wasn't really a plot, and the conflict between Hugh and Marie was barely worth the name. You needed an actual story. It disappointed me that you didn't have one, because I liked the piece as long as I thought it would go somewhere. The prose was breezy, easy, and enjoyable. Alas, it turned out to be insubstantial too.


Sitting Here, "The Wire"

Prompt: Not an issue; the first half of the piece crackles with electricity. The second half, less so, but that isn't its problem.

I love the premise of an electrocution victim living on as energy inside the wires. That's fantastic. The lead-up to Brianna's death, the descriptions of her transition and electric life--good stuff. You could turn that idea into an amazing ghost story. Imagine if flipping a light switch had a chance of summoning the dead. Brianna's afterlife is horror fodder on its own: to travel the same wires forever and ever, locked within one grid, unable to be still... brrr.

But this isn't a ghost story or a horror story. It shifts tone sharply and abruptly when Dr. Sanchez brings Brianna out of her prison. Suddenly it becomes a buddy-buddy, transhumanist prelude to a story we don't get, because Sanchez's virtual world and quest to bring back the electrified deceased are the major ideas here. Alas! They aren't nearly as interesting. I dislike Sanchez altogether for putting Brianna through that experience and never once saying I'm sorry I traumatized you. She's smug and condescending instead, calling Brianna a "little zapper" as though she were a child and not a dead adult who has just been in Hell thanks to Sanchez's meddling. Then she rips on men for no reason whatsoever. I kind of want to punch this woman. The last three words might as well be To Be Continued for how much is resolved.

It's a drat shame, because there's a lot in Brianna and her predicament to like. The take on the prompt is unexpected and beautiful. Lengthen this considerably until it includes the results of Sanchez's efforts to cure death, or steer the early concepts down a different path, and you could have an excellent thing.


Gau, "Tomorrow in New York"

Prompt: It's the reason you received a dishonorable mention. Your story would have merit away from the constraints of Thunderdome and this specific round: your writing was good, your scenario and depiction of it compelling, although the protagonist's closing lines would have been heavy-handed regardless. But you failed the easiest part of a nonrestrictive prompt to the point where I couldn't find any sign that you had tried. You certainly hit Epicurean philosophy, but an Epicurean-philosophy story didn't need to involve the Epicurean dilemma. Ideas like "pleasure is the greatest good" and "to attain such pleasure is to live modestly and to gain knowledge of the workings of the world and the limits of one's desires" (thanks, Wiki) shouldn't have been hard to work into a narrative that wasn't depressing. You could have written an upbeat story about denying God if that was what you wanted to do, but one about denying God because the world was just that horrible was doomed from the start. Other people screwed up the upbeat requirement, but in all cases I could see the target they were aiming for; yours was a total mystery.

Anyway. As an entry, it was bad. As a story, it was all right, close to good. The second-person opening that shifted to first person was so-so for me. I almost wish you'd stuck with second person--a disaster scenario from that perspective would have been gripping if written well, and you're good enough to pull it off. The drop to first person was more disappointing than I would have expected. Alice felt slightly removed from what's going on around her, but in a way I mostly believed. The situation was so far from the norm that a layer of shock might have helped the brain to keep going. It was only at the end that she lost credibility as a person, not for what she said but for how she said it. "Scattered throughout the selfishness were people willing to do good in the face of fear." Really? She sounded like a pompous college prof discussing events a hundred years past. I'd probably like this as a story (but not as an entry) except for that specific line, because it was like she was taking this completely terrible disaster going on around her as an opportunity to declaim on the Nature of Man. A formerly sympathetic protagonist turning into an eleventh-hour rear end in a top hat was one more way in which this ending was a downer.


Dirtbag Diva, "Park"

Prompt: You tried. Maybe. The rose garden qualifies as landscape architecture, but its place in the story doesn't make a lot of sense. At least it has plenty of company: nothing else in the story makes that much sense either.

Roses are red, violets are blue; the prose is a mess, and the plotline is too. Nicole, an asset evaluation specialist at a bank, lucks into the task of telling a veteran's widow that she's about to lose her house. This is the straw that breaks the camel's back: Nicole quits. On her way home she sees a mural and rose garden she had never noticed before, and something about this place--goodness knows what--prompts her to ask the lone man on watch whether his bosses are hiring. They are! Convenient! A lot of pointless dialogue ensues! Nicole takes the job! The end!

Although the writing was poor throughout, the first half of the story had rhyme and reason to recommend it. The execrable textspeak, pointless details--nothing about Nicole's vacation or Rajeev was relevant--and infodumps made reading it a chore, but I understood Nicole's resignation under those circumstances. I can't say the same for the second half. You didn't set up Nicole's actions at all. In fact, you set her up as being in sound need of a vacation, with a trip already in the works. So I was mightily puzzled that she didn't take advantage of her new free time to enjoy the trip first; it seemed doubtful that her new employers would appreciate her taking off a short time after her start date--and that still might have been the least incredible thing about the scenario. Why oh why did Nicole want the job to begin with? How did she get hired so casually? What was the deal with the magical mystery garden? Not that I cared all that much, to be honest. The dull chatter with Rick drained my interest completely. Nevertheless, introducing a mystery at the very end of a story was an act of mild madness.

One of my co-judges pointed out the daisies in Nicole's office and suggested they were meant to imply an interest in flowers, which could have meant that gardening would be a labor of love for her. Maybe so. She didn't take those daisies home with her, though, which undershot that theory.

When I say "infodumps," what I mean is unwieldy nuggets of exposition strewn through a story like wordy mines through a field. They aren't particularly easy to digest. I would rather have seen the phone call between Nicole and Jesse than have gotten the run-down on Mrs. Logan's situation after the fact. You told me things you should probably have shown me. As for Rick's eleventh-hour infodump about the garden, I have no idea what that was even for--but now I'm repeating myself.

On to sentence-level writing. You made a whole lot of errors, from capitalizing "summer" in the middle of a sentence and typing the heinous phrase "her and Rajeev," to leaving out commas that would have aided with clarity and deciding to write a conversation in textspeak. That was just damned awful. If you had to do it--trust me, you didn't--then putting the messages in italics would have worked better. Quotation marks are usually for spoken dialogue. You didn't punctuate all those lines correctly, either. Yes, I'm serious: you put a period outside the quotation marks at one point. The grammatical foibles of the characters didn't excuse that.

Your comma usage had a lot of flaws, and in a couple of places you made it unclear who was talking by mixing the speech of one character with the actions of another. It was all rough. If you pay attention to punctuation, syntax, dialogue, etc. when you read fiction, you may be able to improve your sentence mechanics. Strunk and White's Elements of Style is also a decent guide.

I liked the sentence associating Nicole's blazer and coffee with phrases she had to say a lot in her line of work. There was a bit of subtlety there that stood out amidst all the blunt telling. Whether you still lurk the thread or not, I hope you still write.

Kaishai fucked around with this message at 19:07 on Jun 28, 2015

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.
Expanded Crits for Week CVIII: PoshAlligator, bromplicated, Skwid, Grizzled Patriarch, docbeard, Fumblemouse, Tyrannosaurus, Blade_of_tyshalle, Schneider Heim, Ironic Twist, Fuschia tude, Phobia, crabrock, and JuniperCake

PoshAlligator, "Under the Museum"

Prompt: The take on genre art was great as long as I didn't think about it too long. How a solar flare froze people in physical stasis was a mystery to me, and I was very dubious that the premise held up, but it was a neat enough idea that I wanted to go along with your handwaving. A science-fictional Pompeii presented as artwork was as intriguing as it was cold blooded. The attempt at upbeat, such as it was, was less successful. Yours was yet another entry that read like part of a story. On top of that, your final beat was ominous.

Thank you for leaving the sentence fragments behind this week. No kidding: it made such a difference in your prose that it may have saved you from my DM vote, since this piece didn't work as a standalone story. Here's what I got: Sophia Mallado visited a museum after hours with the intention of viewing a special room kept from the public view. She almost certainly wasn't supposed to be there. A professor took her down into the Chamber of the Goddess, which contained the mortal remains of a hundred and fifty-plus people held--somehow--in stasis. A "solar flare disaster" and "Station IV" were involved, so it was the future. Sophia got Professor Percival out of the way by means of shenanigans. She found her great-great grandmother among the bodies and removed the "goddess stone" from her pocket. Which was missing from a throne somewhere, and that was important to whether an avatar of "the Goddess" would come back because...? The avatar seemed to stare at Sophie as she left. The end.

You were doing fine, more or less--my BS alarm jingled softly at that solar flare disaster--until all of a sudden there was a goddess and an avatar and a stone and WTF? When you described the scene, nothing was said about an avatar or a throne. Those concepts came out of nowhere. I have no idea what they had to do with the disaster or anything else. Sophia getting the stone sounded like the beginning of a story, not the end of one; the whole goddess thing being so poorly established, though, meant I had no investment in what she would do with that rock. Even as an introduction to a longer piece, it wasn't good. As a piece in its own right... nope. Nope, nope, nope. I'd guess that either this was set in a universe you'd worked with before or that you had to cut the ever-living bejayzus out of it to fit the word count--and you still could have trimmed three more words out, easy. If only you'd gotten rid of one wiggling cheek!

This was a huge improvement over your musical horror entry, but your ending did not make any more sense. Work on that, because non-endings and nonsensical endings kill stories dead as little else can.


bromplicated, "Faces in the Dark"

Prompt: To be fair, you would have had to work to screw up Library Operations, but you didn't. Yay! My only complaints about this as a library story mirror my complaints about it as a story, period.

This hit a lot of good notes for me. Why, it's almost as though it was designed to appeal to someone who loves libraries. Lucy's melancholy regarding the fate of physical books is one I've felt myself. I've never been in a library lit by candles--and to be honest, I don't believe candles for a minute as a library's backup power supply. It was a beautiful image, though. There was really no way I could have disliked this piece, and I enjoyed reading it very much despite its significant faults, especially since I hadn't run into a story that directly addressed the conflict between paper and tech before.


The emotional manipulation was clumsy and obvious, and Lucy behaved like a complete idiot for reasons that didn't even particularly serve the narrative. Mary told Lucy about her new tablet in precisely the worst way. It wasn't clear why Mary was even at the library beyond to deliver that little speech. I can't quite imagine a library staying open during a blackout if it had to use candles to do it; open fire + books = NO. And then there was Lucy's brilliant fuse solution that would have solved absolutely nothing. She couldn't have imagined people would stay in a candlelit library, reading, when the rest of the town had power unless she was insane. She talked as though cutting the power permanently might have been a viable idea. Nothing would have driven people out of the library faster, and I can't buy that an adult woman of sound mind would not have known that or would have believed her sabotage wouldn't have been found and mended within the day. (Was the fix supposed to be temporary? Did she only want another hour or two? That would make her considerably less irrational, but the way she talked to Gabriel, it sure sounded like she had powerlessness in mind as a long-term plan.)

On top of that, all the fuse weirdness led up to an anticlimax. "This won't change anything," Gabriel said, and Lucy gave up just like that. I wanted more weight or strength in Gabriel's response. Something less apathetic would have been good. This is how it is, don't bother trying to change it wasn't a sentiment that fit the story's tone.

Things concluded with Mary abandoning her new tablet far too quickly and easily. Did I love the sentiment? Sure. I just didn't believe it. Unless more than a couple of days had passed--this point was unclear--she shouldn't have fallen out of love with her toy so soon. Again I saw your hands at work, making sure the dominoes fell exactly so.

I couldn't possibly dislike a story centered on love of libraries and physical books, but I couldn't give top marks to something that defied reason to get its happy ending.


Skwid, "The Fantastic Collection"

Prompt: There's a private collection here, sure enough.

I can't begin to buy this premise, cute as parts of it are, and I say "premise" deliberately because that's all you have; there's no plot or character arc. You present the concept of a man who has spent his lifetime using charm and old-time patter to give visually trashy articles the luster of magic. This isn't a bad idea, but it does not work at all as executed here. The items are too poor. The patter is too cheesy. I'm supposed to believe that even the older kids are so taken in by James' smile that they decide a mystical device whose "inner workings remain a mystery"--how convenient--is as wondrous as advertised? Nope, nope, nope. You treat your readers the way James treats his audience: surely if you tell us James is wonderful and charismatic, we'll believe it to be true! It works in the story by authorial fiat; there's no such thing to make it work in real life.

If you think kids could happily spend "a few dozen minutes" staring at a dirty tooth and a whisk because of incredible stories, then I wish you were right. From where I'm standing, though, this optimistic view hurts the piece. The ending is so implausibly sweet that I needed a dental appointment after I read it, in part because neither James nor anyone who watches the show--not the kids, not the parents--is jaded or critical or unmoved. The lack of a viewpoint character was an interesting choice, probably the wrong one in this case. You could have tried to make me feel James' anxiety about his show by providing more than one glimpse of his thoughts. You could have made me see the show through the eyes of the boy who recorded everything. I suspect giving any depth to at least one character would have helped sell what was going on.

The writing is largely okay. When you shift away from describing the routine of James' shows in favor of describing one in particular, you bungle the verb tenses: "Now things are a little different though" etc. is in the present tense. Oops! I'm not sure all and sundry would agree with me, but I dislike the use of "today" as a time marker in past-tense stories, especially in past-tense stories that cover more than one day. The show didn't happen "today" if the story is being told after James' death. "Revolutionary War" should be capitalized. The comma after "jaw dropped" should be a colon. You need an apostrophe in "brother's phone," and the "He" that begins that sentence should be "The boy" to avoid confusion as to whether you mean the boy or James. An ellipsis that ends a sentence should have four dots: three for the ellipsis, one for the period. I could go on a bit longer. There are too many errors of too many different kinds, so even though each one is fairly minor, they add up to some clumsiness in the prose.

It may be unlikely at this point, but I hope you come back to fight again sometime. I agreed with my co-judges about the DM, but this is inoffensive as DM-worthy pieces go.


Grizzled Patriarch, "Love Like a Deep River"

Prompt: A flawless treatment, as befits a nearly flawless entry. The water garden is significant and meaningful even though the story is about so much more.

When something is this beautiful, this moving, this emotionally pitch-perfect, that it's a vignette simply doesn't matter. Months after the fact, I still consider it the best thing you've written for Thunderdome. Your premise is tragic; love beyond death bends it toward an ending with more light in it than even the best of the rest manage. Camilla's personality shines from a dozen little details. The humming as she tends her husband's remains. The bead of clay under her tongue. In her actions I see the outline of the story of her love for her husband--a love that will not end, wherever he goes.

If there is a fault, it may be that the narrator's love for Camilla is never mentioned as directly. I wish the enormity of his own feeling as well as hers had bubbled up in that pond. It's natural that the narrator should be somewhat detached, being dead. Still....

The prose is exquisite. It's polished. I won't swear there are no errors anywhere, but I've never noticed any. The sensory details are wonderful, with everything but taste represented. I'm especially fond of the kneading of clay and ash. While I'm heaping praise on your head, I'll note that you've pulled off a dialogue-free story without calling attention to that. Your perspective character can't act, only observe, but he remains important and interesting. This is work fit to impress the writer who sees what you've done and recognizes the challenges in it, and fit to please the reader who sees none of that and only cares that the whole thing is touching and full of love.

Don't get too big a head, mind you. I suspect this was something of a fluke at the time, and it may be still. It doesn't represent what you can regularly write yet--only what you can do at your best. That still says a lot.


docbeard, "Discovery"

Prompt: Mining, sculpture, archaeology, astronomy, and library science have at least as much of a role in the story as does computer programming. Honestly, the prompt is a little bit handwaved. "Just take my word for it," Kellen says. I'm not convinced programming and archiving have enough in common for her to know an alien stone library on sight--and I don't care! The ideas here are too fantastic. Anyway, you give enough of a nod to your class to pass muster.

The opening's a trace rough. I yelled about "those tree" already, but I'm going to yell again because seriously. The characterization starts to take off with Kellen's line about seeing amazing things. She and Jacinta are distinct people, credibly friendly, credibly opposed, with different goals and ambitions that avoid the cliche in each case. Kellen is obsessed with her project but canny enough to figure out right away that the Home Office may not let them survive. Although Jacinta's focus on the future temporarily(?) blinds her to the possibility that there's no real choice to be made, she gives up her dream in part for friendship. Only in part, and that's good. That she also has a practical reason for her action keeps the resolution on the right side of too sweet.

Maybe Jacinta should worry more that the Head Office would kill them, though; if she ever draws that conclusion, I can't see it, and "I can do better than working for people like that" feels like weak reasoning in comparison. Her decision works, but either I'm a huge cynic or that situation has "unfortunate accident" written all over it too clearly to miss.

I like Kellen, Jacinta, their friendship, and their story a lot, and I don't have much to criticize. It was Grizzled Patriarch's merit rather than a fault of yours that kept you from the win.


Fumblemouse, "Higher Education"

Prompt: A conversation between a college student and her professor about her grades is clearly connected to 378 Higher Education, and if a pervert prof isn't quite what I was hoping to get from that number, it's my own fault for forgetting that this is Thunderdome.

Joking aside, you did a fine job with your category, and the story found its stride after a stumbling start, breaking its chains of commas, discovering its rhythm, set free at last, and none too soon, by the humble period. You went a tad overboard early on! I count twelve commas in two sentences in the second paragraph. They gave the prose a sloshy rhythm that did fit Elizabeth's water theme, but even if that was an intentional choice, I'd rethink it; the results weren't pleasant. Some of your stories have a strange bent, and I have a mental file labeled "Fumblemouse's weird ones" that began with Mr. Toppham Hatt (remember that entry? Good times), into which this piece neatly slots. The eccentricity didn't work at first either. Most of the description of Alberhaven and his office said loudly, "Isn't this weeeeeird?" and elbowed me a few times to make sure I'd noticed.

But the weeeird for weeeird's sake faded as Alberhaven and Elizabeth started talking. Although there was a touch of as-you-know-Bob to Alberhaven's dialogue (I'm thinking of "first time here at the University of Ontological and Teleological Divinity" especially; you surely put that long name in to tell me, the reader, what kind of college I was reading about, but for a prof at that college to rattle it off felt false and awkward), the interplay hooked me. Especially the lines about champagne. The bizarre setting worked once it melded with the light humor and mundane human interest.

Alberhaven did come off as a horndog, though. Telling a young female student to put skin in the game, lecturing her on the importance of passion, calling her by a nickname? Then the story confirmed that he was a philanderer. He sure sounded pervy to me! I could have done with a little less perviness, the more so since if I remember right you didn't intend him to come off as hitting on Elizabeth at all. Goodness knows though that gods are infamous for that sort of thing. At least he didn't turn into a bull. Everything wrapped up neatly in a way that made me chuckle, and I enjoyed the story more than I'd initially expected to.


Tyrannosaurus, "Love"

Prompt: The take on Latin poetry was cute in a vignette and could have made for a fun story in full.

If you're going to scratch something out in the eleventh hour to avoid a failure, this is the way to do it. No word count; no plot; poorly punctuated and suspiciously modern dialogue; a word missing here; the wrong word used there; and a choppy, staccato rhythm in the final paragraph: the rush is obvious, but the piece is still cute and still managed to do something unexpected and charming with its Dewey Decimal category. Thanks for turning in something entertaining enough to avoid wasting our time, despite your own lack of the stuff.


Blade_of_tyshalle, "Heart of Broken Glass"

Prompt: Malika didn't need to be a hologram, as a pocket-sized robot puppy would presumably have served the same purpose, but the category likely influenced your choice of a far-future cyberpunkish setting. It pleased me that you didn't go to the predictable holodeck well.

The severed leg in the third paragraph was a red flag that you might have trouble with the upbeat part of the prompt. As indeed you did. The mood was melancholy throughout; the highest it rose was bittersweet. But where Gau left the impression of having thumbed his nose at the prompt completely, you included glimmers of light, and I think your finale--Geraint giving the holodog to the girl he'd rescued--was intended to end the story on a hopeful note even if it didn't work that way for me. E/N would probably approve of Geraint giving up his last gift from Tabitha. I thought it was a sad and bleak thing to do, though how sad would depend on how much mind and heart Malika possessed. Still, the suggestion seemed to be that he could finally move on after achieving closure and saving somebody with one last bit of help from his lost love, and that was at least on the edge of the right emotional ballpark.

It's on the depressing side nevertheless, and if you didn't mean it to be then that may be something to think about if you revise the work later. (Assuming you haven't already at this late date.) A sentence or two that showed Malika happy with the change or accepting her new keeper would answer the question of whether Geraint hurt his holopet. That might be enough to nudge more sweet into the bitter.

The writing is decent on the sentence level but marred by clunky errors in such lines as "A man’s leg laid on the floor ahead" ("laid" should be "lay"), "A streak of blood lead away" ("lead" should be "led"; you also end the next sentence in "away" too, and the repetition isn't pleasant), "a razorwhip lopped off his arm at the elbow" (wrong tense: you should have written "had lopped"), "He muttered 'Malika, come'" (someday somebody in Thunderdome is going to improve at punctuating dialogue, and my ravaged soul will shed one joyous tear), "After a moment which felt hours-long" (what the heck is that hyphen doing there?), and probably others. Geraint reflects that the gouge in the ceiling looks like a razorwhip, but it doesn't, does it? It looks like a razorwhip mark or scar. Some of the burrs in the weave of the prose are more obvious than others; nothing is crippling, but you have room to get better at the mechanical stuff.

I actually like that this doesn't end with Tabitha and Geraint reunited and happy again. That would have been ridiculous given the tone you set with the severed body parts and all. This could be the basis for a good longer piece; the cyberpunk trappings were a shade bulky at flash length, though YMMV.


Schneider Heim, "Aphrodite and Hephaestus"

Prompt: The story wouldn't be remotely the same without Greek and Roman mythology. Your research is clear, and yet you tell me as much as I need to know about Aphrodite, Hephaestus, and Ares to understand the piece without hitting me upside the head with infodumps. It's a great job all around.

There are flaws in this, to be sure, and it probably strains belief a little too much that a director would let a completely untried teen actor go on stage in an improvised role when there's pride at stake. Some mention of Bernardo and Camilla practicing together before showtime could have helped, even a single sentence. For Bernardo to act as Hephaestus rather than Ares makes more sense in his head than it does in mine. There's an odd, not entirely pleasant tang to his choice. He pines after Camilla, but he casts himself--publicly--in the role of her character's cuckolded husband. What is he trying to say to himself or to her? It isn't very romantic that he and Camilla fit the roles of unhappy partners in an arranged marriage. I have the impression this wants to be a love story, but there's never any hint that Camilla feels anything but pity for Bernardo, and if Bernardo is imagining a future with her based on that--there's that unpleasant tang again.

I wonder if someone other than Bernardo could suggest the change in gods for the scene. Could Camilla do it, figuring he might be more comfortable as the smith god? You're no longer under a word count constraint, so maybe Bernardo and Camilla could talk a bit longer in the first scene and he could mention his affinity for Hephaestus.

The writing itself is competent with some minor scuffs. (E.g. "before University Week, where they would be performing"--when would be better than where when referring to a week; "it was the fluidity of tales that lent to infinite variations" doesn't compute and should perhaps be "it was the fluidity of the tales, that led to" etc.; "Camilla held not a page of the script in her hand" looks overblown and as though there had to be a simpler way to say that.) Here and there the phrasing is on the dramatic side, but I can buy that in the perspective of a teenage actor.

I like this a good bit despite the stuff I just said. Bernardo wants Camilla to have her debut for her sake, not his own, and that helps him come off like a decent sort. Camilla doesn't fall into his arms at the end, thank goodness. They make it through the play, and it's implied they do well, but the story ends on a hope rather than a promise. There's a bit of cheesiness, but only a bit, and it's actually more heartwarming this way than if you'd made the ending any happier.


Ironic Twist, "YX"

Prompt: The core of the story centers on an ancient and extinct bird, so that's a hit, and the final beat of your frame is meant to be upbeat. It doesn't work that way, but the end of the fable within the frame is hopeful too. Sort of. Scale smiles awfully soon after her friend gets ripped to shreds; she goes from despair to resolve to carry on in Arc's name so abruptly that the change feels forced and the mood doesn't ring true.

You went over the word limit for the sake of a frame that detracted from the whole. The first paragraph is great--but those two sentences are all the frame has going for it. The narrator isn't a character I care about; not enough is ever said about him/her for me to give a drat about his/her blog or tattoos. The opening half seemed okay on my first read because I thought I would get to know this person, but now that I know otherwise? No. It's a distracting waste of words and time. You meant it to be more, but you needed either a great many more words or a much shorter fable to pull that off.

The metaphor is unsubtle, even though Djeser and I had different ideas of what parallel you were trying to convey. Djeser's theory was that the narrator was gay and the fable represented his/her self-discovery, and mine was that the narrator had learned to figuratively "fly" from a dear friend, overcoming restraints that had hindered him/her. Neither was precisely right--but does it matter? Arc and Scale's story is the tale of the outcast who pursues her desires regardless of the cost. The gist got through even if your exact meaning was hazy; it would have been hard to miss.

I compared this in my short notes to a cross between "The Ugly Duckling" and Jonathan Livingston Seagull, and some of the similarity to those stories comes from their similarity in premise: an individual does not fit in with her peers and must find a group or forge a path that allows her to be true to herself. It's a familiar theme. You handled it fairly well, and with more words spent on Scale's decision at the end you'd have a worthwhile variation. On the other hand, it would still cover the same basic ground, and I don't think it stands out in the field.

That's where the expanded frame could do you good. For Thunderdome purposes you would have done better to cut the frame off and slim the core down to the 1,400-word limit, but outside of the contest you'd do better to make that frame interesting, important, and relevant and thereby distinguish the piece as more than a retelling of an old story.


Fuschia_tude, "Rare birds"

Prompt: Nope, and this was a symptom of your larger problems. This entry read like several ideas cobbled together inexpertly. You threw a manuscript--not a rare manuscript, but a manuscript nonetheless--into the piece and tried to make it significant, but as a catalyst for what happened with the birds, it made no sense. It didn't seem important to the story. The upbeat tone was missing too, as the ending was emotionally neutral: birds stopped disappearing, but the protagonist had to give up something she loved for an unclear reason.

My impression of events: a woman who kept many photographs of birds discovered that the birds were disappearing from her albums. Not the pictures themselves; only the birds. She sought help from three different professionals without success. Soon she discovered that even the birds on her novel covers had gone missing! She called a couple more professionals and finally had some luck with a... non-Euclidean detective. Well, okay. He determined that the pictures had been tampered with (no kidding!), but there was some sort of block on why, because...? His best theory was that the spirits of the since-deceased birds resented being photographed without permission--WTF--and their ghosts were stripping their images from her pictures and also from the covers of her novels, even though those birds had nothing to do with anything. Apparently the manuscript she'd been working on may also have had something to do with it. Don't ask me what. She had improperly collected birds and needed to atone. She did so by watching a living bird for a while. Apparently birds care whether people appreciate them properly! Or would rather be collected in cages. Who knows?

Your initial premise had nothing to do with rare books, but it was interesting. I was curious about the missing birds; I only got a little impatient as the protagonist consulted one unhelpful person after another. But then you tried to explain the phenomenon and everything fell to bits. There's no reason birds should care about any of this, but if I believed they did, I still wouldn't understand why the answer would be "blocked" to a non-Euclidean detective; I wouldn't and don't understand why painted birds would vanish too, and I have no idea what role the manuscript played. Plus, these birds' logic sucks. This lady clearly loves birds. She looks at her albums so often that she notices one individual bird disappearing per week. She went around the world to photograph them, and she's writing a book about it. What more do they want? Is the idea that she should live in and appreciate the moment instead of capturing it to dwell on later? That's my best guess, but that would make her new hobby of landscape photography anything but upbeat!

The pacing was off: I got the idea regarding the disappearing birds the first time, I promise, and I didn't need five separate consultations to remind me of it over and over and over. That part dragged, and then the finale felt rushed. Maybe you could have made sense out of everything if you'd spent more words and time on it. I kind of doubt it, but maybe.

This would probably have DMed if the judges hadn't thought it showed improvement. It had a cool concept and was quite readable--not perfect, but your mechanics are good--and that put it a step above the bottom rung. You should feel free to hang your head in shame over flubbing such a great Dewey Decimal category, however.


Phobia, "Lovestruck as a Window Washing Lifeguard"

That title's lightly intriguing on the first read, but on the second, when you know neither window washing nor lifeguarding matter at all, you have to wonder whether there was another story intended at one time or the writer was grasping at straws. Credit where it's due: that makes it a fitting title for the piece.

Prompt: You came incredibly close to getting a DM because you failed your class. Glass appears just once, when the protagonist first sees the woman as a reflection in a window. The glass is never important. This would be exactly the same story if he'd seen her directly instead. Ugh--and it's all the more irritating because windows and reflections could have been cool themes in a story about Fate, so you were on to something, but then you dropped it like a hot potato.

The story was nearly as incoherent as Dirtbag Diva's, too. My reading: A young man who believes himself unattractive notices an unusual woman in a window he's washing. She has a spattering of pale skin on her face and neck. He decides seeing her again is Fate because you're trying hard to shove that theme into the story. You even reiterate it: "I convinced myself it was Fate," "and thought 'this is Fate'." (Your mechanics suck. We'll get back to that.) He seems over-invested on the basis of one glimpse and one smile. These characters have no chemistry, so it's all weird. The protagonist claims he remembers the scars "but not just them," but you could have fooled me since that was what his perspective focused on earlier. The woman comes off like a space alien who is only visiting this planet for a short time. She doesn't know what a soccer ball is, God knows why. She tells the protagonist she has known their destiny all along, and she will come for him in four years. Four years pass. She comes. The end.

There are two reasons this didn't work out, I think--aside from flubbing the prompt and containing enough grammar errors to choke a copy-editing camel. One, both of your characters are as attractive and lively as damp squares of paper towel. Your main character doesn't do much at all. He doesn't want to. He wants to be led around by his idea of Fate. Fate doesn't do a lot either, and according to her, her actions are all predestined. I don't particularly want to know these people or care whether they get together. I can't sense any spark at all between the two; when the protagonist first sees Fate, you show him noticing her scar, but that's it. Even when she smiles, what he sees is how her scar moves. Why did that make him fall for her? He's supposed to be falling for her, right? Why else would he placidly wait four years for her? (Maybe he doesn't placidly wait! Maybe he has a life of his own! But by cutting straight to that day you give me the impression nothing significant happens to him in the interim.) You don't sell me on any sort of bond between them, though if you did, and if these characters had some charm, it could be a cute piece.

Two, I don't know why Fate is written as though she's an alien. Is she? An alien might not know what soccer is. But why an alien would come to Earth to hook up with a janitor, I don't know. The personification of Fate would have no reason not to know what soccer is, nor a reason I can fathom to refer to days as numbers and not dates. Nothing seems to be gained from confusing the issue. I'm guessing you were trying to make her mysterious and went overboard. Cutting those elements would have taken out a chunk of WTF.

Back to mechanics. There's no way on Earth that you proofed this entry. Probably you were out of time. The errors are everywhere, whether they be improperly capitalized words, descriptive phrases that don't parse ("polka-freckled"?), cartons of cigarettes small enough to fit in a pocket, missing punctuation, mangled tenses, typos, or anything else that broadcasts to the world THIS IS MY ROUGH DRAFT! Since I've a hunch you would find a lot of these errors yourself if you looked, I'm not going to point to them. Just... drat, Phobia. You can do better on all levels.

Djeser and Rhino didn't dislike it as much as I did, so there's probably a redeeming factor here. At least it's a story with a conclusion and a plot arc of sorts.


crabrock, "The Glass House"

Prompt: A story about glass after all! You hit your own prompt, too. I'm not on board with the conceit that an etched piece of glass looks so dramatically different from the "wrong" side, although this is close enough to a fairy tale that magic may account for it; either way, the fact that RJ's drawings are cut into glass is critical to the revelation around which the story spins.

I don't love the opening. The line "Like he was fighting nature itself to avoid coming out into a world he wouldn’t understand and wouldn’t understand him" slaps me across the face with the story's theme, and "and wouldn't understand him" strains the metaphor. The line in which his parents refusing to put his crayons up on the refrigerator signals that the prose will be ragged again, as indeed it is. Most of the goofs appear to be misspellings or typos: "one" for "on," "class" for "glass," "airie" for "aerie"--spell check should have howled about that one. Something else I don't love is that RJ's family is full of dicks, although the extent of their dickery won't be apparent until later. I'm not sure who with whom RJ plays hide and seek. Nobody? That would be drat sad given that's the only time he doesn't feel lost in the world.

His father's jerkwad ways are crippling to the story's would-be upbeat ending: James, Sr. shows nothing but shame in his son until RJ turns out to have talent, and worse--far worse--only then does James break the glass to rescue his kid. My God, this man's an rear end. The resolution is less sweet for it. Suddenly appreciating his young Da Vinci doesn't make James less of a dick, and RJ deserves a father who wouldn't wait to save him from a witch until he draws something pretty. I think there's a tone misstep or something going on here, like maybe you were going for a Roald Dahl-ish voice in which it would be natural and funny that parents are terrible. But what James comes to appreciate in his son isn't a good heart or even a clever mind, it's drawing talent, and drawing ability isn't connected to what kind of person RJ is. That's my best guess for why the Dahl tone doesn't carry the ending. There's a moral there about seeing something from another angle/looking below (or behind) the surface/not judging what you don't understand, and it's appropriately upbeat, but I can't get past wanting to whap James on the back of the head long enough to feel very warm and fuzzy.

RJ's name is a neat early clue that I only saw after I'd read the whole thing. I don't get how it works in-setting, though. I missed it if RJ reversed any other names or spoken words. Does he hear "RJ Mij" when other people say "Jim, Jr"--wouldn't he hear "Mij" more often than "RJ" if so? Confusing.

The descriptions of RJ's drawings are great and make me wonder about the viability of etched greenhouses. Also good: the lady screaming at smiley faces on sheep. I'd scream too. That's creepy. I like RJ himself, which may be why I got so hung up on how his family treated him.


JuniperCake, "Standing Vigil"

Prompt: Good. The story is certainly upbeat, and it's cool that you took Time down an SF route that wasn't time travel.

I figured out the robotic nature of the protagonist in the seventh paragraph, but I probably should have clued in sooner. The trick of dropping breadcrumbs paragraph by paragraph that led to that conclusion without stating it, ever, was a good one, much more intriguing than if you'd started out by pointing to the protag's mechanical status. Hooking and keeping the reader's interest was something this story generally did well. There was a lot you never said, like why the soldiers left and what began--and ended--the war; even the setting was unclear. It worked anyway, partially because we didn't need to know, partially because the lack of information was true to the robot's limited viewpoint and concerns.

I wondered some at how the trees reclaimed the land so thoroughly. Lines like "Soon it had friends too" didn't tell me whether the robot successfully planted other saplings (probably) or the tree somehow produced offspring; I'm unsure how much time was supposed to have passed at that point. You mentioned the green expanse growing before you mentioned centuries passing. I'm not sure this was a bad move, but I'd have liked it to be clearer that the revitalization of even a little bit of blasted land took a long darned time. That was my only nitpick with the piece--well, that and "I did not know of it's true capabilities." Augh!

Come to think of it, there were a few places the phrasing was awkward. Even though they didn't spoil the story, smoothing them out wouldn't hurt. "It was not allowed for us to be friends like the soldiers were of each other" is an example. With each other would be a better preposition there, and you could perhaps cut several words: "It was not allowed for us to be friends as the soldiers were." You also put commas after "Yet" that didn't need to be there: "Yet, nothing arose from the ground." Nope. Would you put a comma after "for" or "but" if it started a sentence?

It's nice to have only minor errors to criticize. Someday I want to believe you'll submit your entries more often than not and on time. You're a solid writer and don't need to contend so fiercely for sebmojo's cherished failure crown.

Kaishai fucked around with this message at 19:44 on Dec 9, 2015

Apr 29, 2007

Why would an ambulance be leaving the hospital?
Wow, thanks Kaishai!

Feb 25, 2014
Crit of Killer-of-Lawyers’ story from Week 139

Killer-of-Lawyers posted:

Population Affairs

The effervescent scent of bottom shelf spirits and cheep wow didnt notice this the first time, but error in the first line diet cola wafted up and over Chanterelle's face as she took a sip of her cocktail. She harrumphed and sat the drink down next to her, setting aside the poison to take in the sights. The bar was lively, and filled with all manner of people going about their business, from boisterous and chatty bar flies to the more secluded and silent types that dotted corners much like the one she had staked out for herself. A bar was a lot like a temple, a canvas that was what a person made of it. i dont really under this metaphor especially because you never do anything like it later in the story. i also dont like this opening because it doesnt focus on chant, on our protag. the details in here arent important and dont add anything to the story. just filler for some reason.

Chanterelle sighed and contemplated another sip of her drink before taking her eyes off of the crowd and once again bringing them back to her tablet. Just looking at the message on screen filled her with emotions, horrible sickening emotions that made her limbs feel like ice. why? this couldve been interesting but you hiding information isnt helping you here since i have no clue what your story is about Finally she tossed the tablet aside, sending it across the table top and to rest next to her encounter suit sci-fi buzzword.

Her table shook as an orc FANTASY ALERT. ALSO KINDA SCI-FI TOO brazenly i noticed as i started to read this again for this crit that you lose a lot of adverbs unnecessarily. approached and sat down. Chanterelle scowled momentarily, before recognizing the face as the orc sat down across from her perch upon the table top.

"Captain." Chanterelle said, her voice hoarse.

A brief frown crossed over the orc's otherwise genial face. "Come on, Chant, we're on shore leave. Don't be so tense." He sat a large and colorful drink before him and quickly slurped at the frozen and blended concoction. this is a good detail, but a lot of your words are unnecessary and dont add much. concoction feels out of place, as is with some other words like “effervescent”

"Sorry, Marvok. Habit."

Marvok shrugged, and continued to sip his drink. He set it aside and spoke carefully. "So. Business done?" what business?

Chanterelle's antennae when i first read this, this was odd. i didnt think she was a pixie or anything special rose slowly with her frustration. "No. Just done for now." She said, her voice flat and edged. what does flat and edged mean? like i really dont know if you can sound that way. Also it’s kind of weird here since Chant says habit like she’s going to try and open up and then she starts to get mad at him so idk

Marvok nodded slowly. "So what'd you do? Get caught deducting personal expenses?" Marvok grinned toothily at the pixie, a broad smile stretching across his face.

"What? No! It was-Never mind that, it's personal."

"Mmmhhmm." Marvok paused for a moment. He opened his mouth, and then closed it again before taking a long drink. Finally he spoke again. "You want to talk about it? Or do you plan on spending the rest of your day defending this tabletop with a scowl?"

"I've got a lot on my plate, that's all. I'm just-"

"Overwhelmed. Yeah. That's why people come to bars, Chant. It's also why people talk." Marvok reached out and prodded her on her chin with his index finger. "C'mon, chin up."

Chanterelle raised her head and rose to her feet. She began pacing across the table top. "I'm just not coping very well, that's all." why? that’s the problem with the story here, i dont know the conflict. there’s all this “this conflict sure does suck” in the story, but i dont even know what it is by this point in the story Chanterelle bit her tongue, and resisted the urge to start ranting.

"One of those days, then? Usually on those days I talk to my folks." Marvok paused, and cocked his head to one side. "Do you keep in touch with any of your crèche mates?"

"No." Chanterelle's voice was flat, and she quickly cut off that line of conversation.god, chant is such a boring character. she doesnt want to talk at all, and just shuts down anything that might actually be interesting.

"Alright. Leaning on friends it is then." Marvok's eyes followed her as she paced back and forth.

"I'm not very good at that."

"I've noticed." Marvok's said with a touch of exasperation. "You look about as nervous as a whore in church."

"I'm just waiting for the other shoe to drop." There’s all these hints and yet still nothing concrete has shown up in your story. It’s just two people in a bar, talking. The pixie sighed and leaned against her bulky encounter suit.

"Yeah. Well." Marvok paused once more. "You know, we're practically a government entity with the funding we get."

Chanterelle stared up at him, the pins and needles in her limbs growing as she involuntarily clenched her hands.Why is she doing this?

"So if they want to, they can really lean on us. We had a visit from Affairs Of course, the capitalized bureaucratic word because Sci-fi about your delinquency.What?"

Chanterelle collapsed, leaning against her unoccupied encounter suit for support. Waves of panic washed over her as her stomach spun inside her. "W-what?" She said, choking on the words.Why? Why does she feel this way? Christ I don’t understand a thing in this story.

Marvok sighed deeply, and took a moment to find the right words. "Chant, you're good at what you do. I'm happy to have you on the crew, and I think the ship is the right fit for you, but you can't just run away from a government mandate on a ship that's funded by the government. You know that if you don't fall in line they'll just have me fire you and put you into protective custody, right?"

Rage filled Chanterelle, a boiling anger that for a brief moment washed away the anxiety and self pity. She shook her fist angrily and glared at Marvok. "I'm not chattel! They can't just treat me like some fat sow ready to fill a crèche!"

Marvok shook his head. "Look, this argument isn't going to go anywhere. You're not just breeding stock, and I'm not going to pretend to know about the ins and outs of the Preservation act. That's not my place. You just don't have a choice in the matter. Look, we're here for you, but this needs to get done. Take the rest of the day off, and then report back tomorrow to the medic and get this squared away, alright?"You finally bring us what the conflict is but I still don’t understand it. From what I gathered at what my other judges believed was that pixie’s were an endangered species or something and they made her breed. Which is kinda hosed up. But then this orc comes in and talks like they’re some kind of space soldiers or something and there’s an encounter suit so maybe she ran away from the breeding place and became a soldier, but then why did she go to a government thing for that if the government made her breed? Like, this story doesn’t make sense even in the world building department. And it’s all too little too late. Everything in your story before hand was useless was because I had no idea what the conflict was. Now I have it, but it doesn’t make the story satisfying because instead of making me interested I just zoned out because it’s so… loving… boring.

Chanterelle fell limp once more, her rage spent as quickly as it came. "Yes, Captain."

Marvok nodded once, and then stood. He reached out and gave her a friendly pat on her shoulder. "Don't run from this."

"I'll try." Chanterelle said, resisting the urge to bolt on the spot.

"That's all any of us can do. Try and enjoy your day off, at least a little." Marvok stood and left. Chanterelle watched him go, frozen on the spot. Her limbs were sore, her muscles shaking from holding her limbs so tightly together. She wanted to scream, but couldn't find the courage to yell. She wanted to run, but lacked the will to move her feet. Instead she sat there and picked her drink up with trembling hands. She never would feel so alone and helpless as she did that day, there in a corner amongst the crowds. also this ending sucks

This story was outright bad. There were many things wrong, from the big and small scale. On the small scale, I hated the writing style. There were a lot of words that did not fit the tone of the story. They just felt like big words to use big words rather than actually mean anything. I didn’t see a lot of errors besides that one I saw at the top, so at least you have that going for you. Another problem with the writing is the adverbs. Adverb sucks 90% of the time. I think it was Crabrock, or anybody else really, that said that adverbs should only be used if it describes an action in a way OTHER than it usually is seen. i.e. “he smiled happily” is useless because he’s smiling so of course he’s happy. You have a lot of useless adverbs and I put a strike through most of them.

But the small stuff was not why you lost. Hell, I didn’t even notice the small stuff (besides my hate of your word choice). What I did notice was that I didn’t care about any of your characters and it wasn’t even close to a story. Chant is lovely. She stops everything in the story from going anywhere. She feels like a brick wall and as a protag that sucks to read because I eventually just stop caring about her because she’s the reason that nothing happens. And nothing happens. They just talk about things that happened, and then boom, over. It’s not even an interesting conversation, just two boring people talking. There is, technically, a conflict, but that conflicts never means anything, never really developed, and never resolved. You keep the truth hidden to the reader for some reason for almost the entire story, and while that may work, it usually doesn’t. And it failed miserably this week since it did the opposite of what you were trying to do. It made me not be interested in the story when you were trying to make me more interested by making me wonder why Chant felt the ways she did. Also, why sci-fi/fantasy? What was the point of it. I can kinda see why you made Chant a pixie, but then why an orc? What was the point of that? It’s just one of those weird things I don’t like about sci-fi/fantasy is they add in things that don’t add anything to the story just to be fantasy/sci-fi. It just feels like Shadowrun fanfict, tbh.

This was just a boring mess. The reason I put that I was having a special look at character this week was because, IMO, characters are the most essential part of any story. I wanted to make you guys focus on making characters because I hoped that would make your stories stronger. It went… ok this week. Some people thought it meant not writing likable characters. But look at the other DMs, HMs and winner this week. The reason they were low or high was ultimately because of their character(s) (well besides SadisTech because of his strong writing, though there was some characterization in there that helped). Chant was not interesting nor proactive. She didn’t do anything in the story. She just sat there. Have your protags do things and then a story is born. The ending was also bad because it hints that there will actually be something happening but then nothing. It’s this thing I find with a lot of new writers doing is that they tell me the part before the actual stuff happens and then just ignore the actual action. I want to see poo poo happen. Show me stuff! Two people talking in a bar =/= interesting.

Belated welcome to TD, please suck less next time. Also take the loving line crit when someone offers you a free one, christ.

Apr 22, 2008

Thanks. Sorry you had to endure that!

Aug 2, 2002




make banner ads and paste them in this thread. I am going to buy a couple on Friday so we can get some new blood.

and by "i'm going to buy" i mean i'm going to use the money that is in my paypal account from several domers like Dr.K, SH, noah, and leekster to buy them.

make 'em as horrible as you like, as long as it has something about thunderdome and writing because misleading ads are the worst.

if nobody pastes any i'll just use the lovely ones we already have.

alternatively: post ideas if you suck at graphics, and maybe somebody like djeser or tyrannosaurus will make it.

God Over Djinn
Jan 17, 2005

onwards and upwards
:siren: Thunderdome 140: results :siren:

This was a good week to judge. Even though there was a lot of bad writing here, there were a lot of smart ideas and well-observed moments and generally surprising, engaging, inspiring stuff. There were a lot of stories I didn't quite want to HM because they had serious issues, but to whose authors I'd like to say something like 'keep coming back'. Also, just because you didn't HM (or DM) doesn't mean that one or more of us didn't love (or hate) your story - I tried to keep it light on mentions this week since there weren't too many entries. More detail in forthcoming crits, now on to the good stuff.

Grizzled Patriarch - Gliding Over All (poignant, heartbreaking, non-traditional without feeling forced or gimmicky. Well-observed. Good work.)

Honorable Mentions:
Ironic Twist - I Really Don't Know How To Lose (one of your judges hated this but it made the other two of us laugh an awful lot and your writing is absolutely on point, so I couldn't not HM it.)
A Classy Ghost - The 51st President of the United States of America (a dark horse favorite from one judge - but I confess there's a lot to like here. More in crits.)

Dishonorable Mention:
HWPS - I'll be your guide (your judges aren't psychic, bro, even though it might seem like it sometimes? I really wanted you to have written a delightfully creepy story, but then I realized that I was giving you way too much credit here.)

Thyrork - Biography of a Dragon (layers of slop piled on top of a shopworn narrative, with an ending that comes out of nowhere and lands with a thud. The one story that I struggled to actually finish reading.)

Apr 12, 2006

crabrock posted:

tyrannosaurus will make it.


Mar 22, 2013

it's crow time again

newt should have taken the win, judges r nerds

Oct 30, 2003

Ol Sweepy
Nov 28, 2005

Safety First

Grizzled Patriarch
Mar 27, 2014

These dentures won't stop me from tearing out jugulars in Thunderdome.

:siren: Thunderdome Week CXLI: "Three May Keep a Secret, If Two of Them Are Dead":siren:

This week, we are going to shamelessly pry into the private lives of strangers. I want you to head on over to PostSecret, (probably some NSFW stuff floating around on there) pick any of the thousands of available anonymous secrets that people have posted, and use it as the central conflict for a story. Nothing complicated, just go where the idea takes you. Genre / setting / time period, etc. are totally up to you. Just give me real characters with real emotions and real conflicts.

:siren: Edit: Apparently the site has been pruned down, so there aren't many secrets visible anymore. Here are links to a couple different archives where all the old stuff is:

Edit your secret into your sign-up or link it when you submit or something so I know what you used when I'm reading them. May god have mercy on your souls, etc. etc.

Word Count: 1300
Entries Close: Midnight EST on Friday, April 17
Submissions Close: Midnight EST on Sunday, April 19

This Guy

Secret Goons

Wangless Wonder
Bompacho :toxx:
Broenheim :toxx:
RedTonic :toxx:
spectres of autism
Sitting Here
Screaming Idiot
A Classy Ghost
Djeser :toxx:
SadisTech :toxx:
Ironic Twist
Paladinus :toxx:
Morning Bell

Grizzled Patriarch fucked around with this message at 00:16 on Apr 20, 2015

Wangless Wonder
May 27, 2009
i have a secret:

i killed a man

also i'm in

Ol Sweepy
Nov 28, 2005

Safety First
IN with

:toxx: because I was a horrible failure last week.

Aug 8, 2013

More or less moved in now. In.

Feb 25, 2014
hello there i am in


anime was right
Jun 27, 2008

death is certain
keep yr cool

anime was right fucked around with this message at 06:53 on Oct 27, 2015

Feb 3, 2011

in for this one.

Jul 14, 2011

I'm just exploding with mackerel. This is the aji wo kutta of my discontent.
I'm in!

No stressful job or rush hour traffic-
No medical bills or family responsibilities-
I want to break into prison
- "Welcome to the PostSecret Archive"

e: nnnn almost forgot :toxx:

POOL IS CLOSED fucked around with this message at 18:02 on Apr 14, 2015

Apr 22, 2008

I'm in!

Let's go with this one!

Aug 2, 2002




this is such a good prompt it is tempting even though i shouldn't. i will think about it.

May 23, 2008


Every morning I wake up…and put on my mask.

Dec 15, 2006

b l o o p

In with this one.

Sometimes I say awkward things at parties on purpose...

Mar 31, 2015

In like a motherfucker.


Oct 30, 2003

take the moon
Feb 13, 2011

by sebmojo

curlingiron posted:

In with this one.

Sometimes I say awkward things at parties on purpose...

gently caress

im in with this

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007
what, why am I doing this to myself, in

Apr 3, 2015
Hello. I am in.

Also, a nice banner ad might be something about not fearing the reaper, and then the scythe swipes and it says the name. Cuz this poo poo is scary.

Screaming Idiot
Nov 26, 2007


hello my name is screaming idiot and i am in

and this is my secret

don't tell anybody okay

A Classy Ghost
Jul 21, 2003

this wine has a fantastic booquet
In with

Mar 22, 2013

it's crow time again

I'm in this week still mad from last week also :toxx: me up bonelords

Jun 26, 2013




:toxx: for FNS last week


Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh


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