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Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


RADIOACTIVE DUST SURGE DETECTED


I gotta write more so I'm gonna do this writing thing.

In.

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Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


RADIOACTIVE DUST SURGE DETECTED


Solstice
1264 words

It was a senseless death, for what else can the death of a child be? But it was not a simple death. It was a death that started long ago, but seemed to come abruptly. It was not unique in this sense.

It was a cold walk home for Esrela, beneath a pale, open sky that kept leaving patches of frost around. Her hands were sore again from weaving, and her feet sore from walking. The chill made the cobblestones feel harder somehow. She sensed something was wrong as she approached her weary cottage. Normally, the front shutters were open, and there was a candle lit. Her daughter Tayka loved to watch for her by that window after a long day of play and chores, loved to move her hands over and quickly through the candle flame. Normally, the smoke from the chimney was thicker. Normally, the things did not seem so silent and still, but perhaps that was the winter, chilling the world so that it slowed.

Esrela entered and saw Tayka curled up by a fading fire, wrapped in her wool blanket. At first, she thought to scold her for letting the flames get so low. Tayka was normally such a responsible girl. But there was that pit in her gut. She knew.

“Tayka!” Esrela hurried over to her and knelt down.

Her daughter’s face was pale, and her flesh clammy. It took her a moment to open her eyes. “Mother? Is that you? I feel all dizzy. And cold… why is it so cold?” She began to mumble, then her eyes closed again and her head fell back heavy.

Esrela added two logs to the fire and gently lay her own blanket on her daughter. She stroked Tayka's hair, then busied herself about the cottage, dicing up what little food they had into a pot for soup. As it was cooking, she looked through her pots and chests, checked the back of her battered shelves, scoured about for anything and everything that was coin or could be sold.

The merchant who delivered the wares she made to the city had never paid them much. Esrela had always been a bit bitter, watching as the tanners, smiths, and craftsmen left with far more coin for the same day’s work. She’d managed to save enough copper here and there over the years, but every time she did it seemed to evaporate on the winds.

This year, the taxes had gone up again to pay for the war. She’d heard of grand battles in Solamoth and Kiresmalt, faraway places south and west of the capital. The names meant nothing to her. One of her fellow weavers, her friend Silsa, had watched her son march off two months back. There was no word from him yet.

She would have had enough, still, but the cloth and garments they’d made one week hadn’t sold. “Fashions have changed. No one wants these now,” the merchant said, unloading the cart’s leftovers onto the dirt. That meant their next batch was a waste too. Two weeks of wages, gone.

So there was nothing left when she searched. Esrela already knew that. She searched her cottage anyways.

In the morning, the town doctor turned her away. “I can’t work for free,” he said. “I have a family to feed too.” He’d threatened to have her arrested when she begged and pleaded.

Esrela didn’t try the moneylenders. No one would lend to a woman, widow or not. Such was law, such was tradition.

There was a plant that had grown by the river when Esrela was a child. Her mother had taught her what to look for; the twelve waves around the leaf, the silky stem, and the sweet smelling milky-white sap that came out. When she’d been sick as a child, her mother had picked the leaves and boiled them, then stirred the sap in with a bit of sugar. She remembered drinking it by the fireside, the warm feeling it gave her.

The rest of the morning she scoured by the river for it. But it was not to be found. The river was low, and had a sickly color to it. Perhaps the color came from the tannery, or the mill, or the waste water from town, or from the farms up north. It didn’t matter. The flora by the banks were withered, and her mother’s plant was nowhere to be found. Not that day, nor the others she searched.

She went back to her daughter. She built the fire up. She prayed.

Three houses down, she begged the old widow Yuma to check in on her daughter. “Please. I can’t afford to stay. I need the work today, I need money for medicine.” She agreed, and Esrela went to the looms, heart sick with worry. All day, she felt hollow, and her hands kept trembling as she worked. That night, she cried softly while she prayed, and slept without a blanket so her daughter could have two.

It went on like this.

A caravan coming from the northern farms with fresh food was set upon by bandits, and another from the south redirected by order of the King to support the war. So there was little enough money for food, never mind medicine. She begged, pleaded around the town, but times were hard. There was little anyone could lend, less that they could spare. She offered her body, but it fetched a poor price. A traveling merchant offered her a special potion, but it did nothing but sap away the last of her coin.

She watched her daughter wither. Day after day, she grew lily-pale, more like the ice on the river then any semblance of the life-filled girl she had raised.

On the eve of the winter solstice, Tayka’s heartbeat stilled. Her breathing stopped.

Esrela cried and held her love, held her everything. She clutched at her daughter’s soul. She howled at the faces across the veil that were grabbing at her daughter, and pulled with all her might. She pulled against the celestial God, pulled against the endless armies of angels and spirits, pulled against the might of death, screaming defiance. It took all the legions of heaven to pull that soul away from her, and it was a slow, torturous ripping. Then at last, she stood empty handed, feeling less.

Of course, that never happened. She merely felt like it did, but it might was well have happened. So it did happen, after all.

There was no one person, no one thing to curse, so she cursed the world, cursed fate, cursed death, cursed God. They had all stolen her daughter. How many others had been snatched away before their time? How many more years of life had they stolen, those stoic things that ruled the cosmos? What right did they have?

She spat maledictions at them all. Perhaps for a moment, they shivered at her words. They were spat with a hatred and sorrow that only the sundering of love can release. Perhaps God on his throne felt remorse for what he had done.

***

They lowered her daughter into the frozen earth, and the few people that came offered their condolences. A priest offered a short prayer. Some men offered their spades to pile the frost-bitten ground back where it had come from. After that, Esrela was left alone next to a bare patch of scratched earth and the thin whisper of the cold winter breeze, and silence.

What else was there to say? It was, after all, a senseless death.

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


RADIOACTIVE DUST SURGE DETECTED


Each of the critiques I’m going to post is structured so that it hits first impression, summarizes the story, names a distinctive feature, then goes over some strengths and weaknesses. Ideally, this shows each writer what one idiot reader (me) got out of it. I am implicitly assuming each author had something important to say. Sometimes, I might miss something other readers find obvious. Hopefully it’s all helpful; the goal is to be constructive but honest.

***
Crit of Rite of Passage by curlingiron

My first impression was that this girl was dead and in some sort of hell/purgatory. I thought we might find out more about her and why she was here, but it seemed she would be trapped in lifetimes of various miseries forever and we learned nothing meaningful about her. That left me with the thought, “well, dang, that sucks I guess.”

The precipitating event is that Dani is in this purgatory place and wants to escape. The goal is escape. The story seems to imply she started this journey willingly. Her punishments are our rising action. The climax seems to be her encounter with nothing, needing to come to terms with the non-existence death brings (which seems to be contradicted by the fact that there is an afterlife, however torturous it may be). We end with the her opening another door, and given the rest of the story, this presumably leads to either a place she’s been before or another punishment, not escape. This is probably deliberately left open. The message I get, then, is that death is a rite of passage, and there is no resolution to death. Nothing is resolved in this story, after all.

The setting is interesting enough. The descriptive language is solid and creates a surreal place with an atmosphere of slow despair. The weakness is that we know nothing of the main character, learn nothing of her, and nothing is resolved. This pointlessness could be the point of the story, but if so, it’s not very satisfying. The Collector delving through Dani seems like a place to revisit part of her story that came before this so that the reader can connect to her, learn about her, and perhaps learn about why/how she must change in this purgatory place to get release (whether exit to heaven, embracing non-existence, or whatever), but that opportunity is missed.

***
Crit of You Can't Enter Heaven Until I Enter You by Mercedes

My first impression came from reading the title, which implied non-consensual sex as payment for entry to heaven. Perhaps the innuendo was unintentional? I suspect not. My next impression was that I was reading a parody of, uh, something, akin to Dogma but with a lot of emphasis on lovely action sequences. The precipitating event is Black Jesus trying to save Sebastian. Sebastian’s goal is not really clear beyond “do what the story around me is doing.” He seems more dragged along for a ride. The rising action is the demon attack. The climax is Sebastian playing the demon guitar. The falling action is that Black Jesus set it all up, retroactively undermining the already weak sequence, and that they’re all going to fight evil together. The message seems to be that anyone can be redeemed, including evil guitars. The redemption arc, then, seems more focused on Sebastian’s musical instrument than him.

The strength of the story (and what distinguishes it) is when the narrative plays with the flashback, and the main character is slapped out of having one. That’s a genuinely funny moment that I think speaks to the attempt of the story to play with the structure of narratives. There’s another attempt to do that when Sebastian is knocked unconscious instead of embracing the Hollywood action trope of being just fine despite a horrific blow (but then he’s fine anyways). However, the rest of the story is confusing. I don’t buy into the action, because at no point do I give a poo poo about any of the characters or what happens to them. It’s also often hard to tell what’s going on. Black Jesus, sinister talking guitars, demons, and the battles of heaven and hell with references to all sorts of weird poo poo are a lot to dump on the reader such few words. The story has a distinct structure and passable dialogue and description, but the banality of the content and non-connection to the characters is a large weakness.

***
Crit of cage by SurreptitiousMuffin

My first impression is that the author has something genuinely poignant to say, but doesn’t know how to say it yet. That description runs in parallel with the main character, I think. I don’t think I can assign a meaningful story structure here. The goal of the main character is to hide her bloated tummy, which is metaphorically and literally her pain.

There’s are two strong descriptions with “grasping roots, a strangling vine, a monstrous blossom” and “hurt is, in general, woven through me like highways through a nation, like mineshafts through the earth, like bones through a carcass.” However, we never find out why the character is in pain, why she must hide it, why her pain is manifesting literally. Not all of those “whys” need to be answered, but we do need at least some reason to care about him/her. The story has plenty of potential; our society is full of toxic structures that encourage people to suffer in silence, be lonely, hide our feelings, etc. It could be a story about toxic masculinity. It could be a story about a tragedy. It could be a story about body image. It could be a story. It would need specifics, characters, and conflict first though. It isn’t a story yet.

***
Crit of UNSAFE by newtestleper

My first impression was mixed. Partially I was confused by the setting, the fact that everything was in dialogue tags, and things like “why cassette tapes?” I also got the distinct impression by the end that this was one man’s way of coping with tragedy, a death from an earthquake. It makes a sort of sense to respond to the destructive waves of an earthquake with the similar but audible waves of sound.

The precipitating event is the earthquake, which we learn about earlier, but for our purposes it’s the quest to create sound. The goal of the main character—Cooper, not the narrator I’m thinking—is to create a tribute of sorts. The rising action is the increasingly bizarre actions taken to create this tribute, going from breaking and entering to killing insects to grand theft auto. The climax is the revelation of what this project is for. As revelations go, it makes sense, but is not very dramatic. The conclusion is the final recreation of that event.

There’s some strength in the descriptions like “tuning fork hum of freshly split rubble,” and “private security waved lazy torchlight up and down the black rows of overgrown hedge.” The narrator’s voice is established and consistent. The setting is probably the strongest part; we get a distinct impression of old rusting rundown places full of broken down cars; a setting of forgetfulness, decay, and ruin that parallels the ruin from the earthquake event. A major problem, however, is that I think we need a better reason for grand theft auto than ‘art is supposed to be hard.’ Why? All Cooper’s friends just go along with it all. But who died in that earthquake? What is the narrator’s connection, what is Cooper’s? We need to know that connection for this story to work, need to know why they need to recreate the sound of the quake so badly. What about them requires the catharsis of sound? There’s also a lot of characters, but they’re just background noise, indistinct, mostly. Quite the conspiracy, jacking cars and all, and no conflict within the group about how to handle the tragedy. Why is the group so united? Implicitly, there must be a common connection. And who is the narrator talking to? There doesn’t even seem to be a hint. We need reasons, motivation, and more real characters. The conflict is also just sort of glossed over, so there’s no tension in the story. Never are we worried about the fate of these characters. What resolution do they come to, having recreated the traumatic event? Basically, there’s a lot of questions the reader has, and I don’t think the point of the story is not to answer them.

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


RADIOACTIVE DUST SURGE DETECTED


Much appreciated. Thank you.

More crit:
***
Crit of Spider by sebmojo

My first impression was that the story was about isolation, and exploring the mindset of someone with an atypical brain navigating through life. The exploration is achieved rapidly by using the anomalous event. There did not seem to be a resolution. The precipitating event is the disappearances, and the rising action the continuance of it, and the climax his brain (and it’s metaphorical spider)’s reaction to the now-empty-of-people world. Having reread it, I still don’t think there’s a resolution.

The strength of the story is in the voice, and I like the spider metaphor. As an introvert, it connects with the way I view social interactions. It’s also a nice metaphor for how people construct schema of the world and interpret it, and the strong visual of the spider hunkering down because it just has no clue how to interpret what is essentially a nonsensical event (in that it doesn’t make sense, given all previous knowledge) is apt. The lines “I had always had a spider in my head watching everything and making sense of it and weaving a web that explained it all and I could feel it watching now, puzzled, pedipalps twitching, anterior tarsus poised, waiting to draw a conclusion that didn’t exist” and “The spider curled its legs in close and hunched down like a puppy outside the kitchen door” are the strongest in the story, so the title works. That is also where it’s made clear that the narrator is atypical in some way, not because his brain works so very differently than anyone else’s, but because of the metaphor which reinforces his rather blasé reaction to the supernatural events around him. You also have generally strong sensory descriptions throughout the story.

As a specific critique, the descriptions of the narrator’s life as falling down a mineshaft and hitting the floor of the mine are too far apart, especially because the strength of the spider metaphor distracts from remembering it. In the end, the narrator seems both killed by the isolation (bottom of the mine, terminal) and relaxed by it (letting out his breath, slowly). The message, then, seems to me that only when alone, free of others, can we be who we are and relax. I’m not really sure, though. As I said, I don’t feel like the story has meaningful resolution. It’s also hard to point to any conflict, since the narrator seems to take the end of the world in such stride. It seems like a real event though, not just a figurative one, which makes it confusing as to why someone like his wife is taking it in such stride too (just before she disappears). I get the feeling the story is commentary of our society of some sort, but I’d be hard pressed to say of what.

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


RADIOACTIVE DUST SURGE DETECTED


More crit

***
Critique of Flush with Cash by Erogenous Beef

My first impression was, “What if American Gods had been about piss and poo poo instead all that other stuff?” The precipitating action is the interrogation. The rising action occurs as the plot to make money unfolds. The climax is the leprechaun getting saved from being dunked in piss. The falling action and resolution comes from the new friendship.

The world and setting are memorable. The dialogue and descriptions serviceable. The foreshadowing is deliberately seeded throughout the story. The plot has a solid arc; all the fundamentals are there. In the end, though, I don’t know why Gerald decided to save the leprechaun to secure friendship rather than wealth. The fact that the main character has changed is good; that we have no idea why he changed is troublesome. All the characters seem like they’re the same, with a small effort made to differentiate Saint Nick. Everyone else just swears and goes with a modern dialect, malapropos as that may be for, say, the virgin Mary. In the end, the entire plot hinges on a pun about pots of gold and rainbows, so the short is clearly trying to be humorous. However, good humor needs more than just piss jokes. The funniest scene is the one where the elves take the lovely band tickets, but it wasn’t funny enough to make me laugh out loud. I don’t know how to make it funnier because I’m not funny, so goonspeed.

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


RADIOACTIVE DUST SURGE DETECTED


I'm in

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


RADIOACTIVE DUST SURGE DETECTED


Prompt: "500 years in the future, a ragtag crew travels the universe. They are looking for work but always find trouble."

The Eyes of Eris
1399 words

“Tell us a war story.”

Alecta looked up from the contract on her screen. “No.”

“We’re bored.”

“Amuse yourself. Play yourself at Go again.”

“We’re doing that right now. We’re still bored.”

“Emmy, bother Elkay Nine. It’s not like it has any repairs to do.”

“We’re bothering it too. It told us to bugger off. Well, it’s binary equivalent.”

Alecta sighed. Emmy, also known as the Minor Miracle, was the insatiable AI of their ship. It was currently drilling tow-cables into an asteroid. And talking. It never stopped talking.

The star system, a fairly standard binary consisting of a main sequence star and a companion white dwarf, was still building new space colonies. The new pair of O.N. cylinder stations, Eyes of Eris, had contracted them to drag several nearby asteroids over. Alecta thought it was poor form to name your orbital habitats after a goddess of discord, but hell, what did she know? Not that she was superstitious. “Look, I’m checking the positional coordinates from the contract. You remember what happened last time we just assumed the first asteroid we came across was the right one. I want this job to go well.”

Emmy hesitated. “Okay Alecta. I will bother you less and Elkay Nine more. For now. Oh, tow-cables are anchored and fission drive is prepped. Pulse drive is bringing us to towing distance. Bye now!”

Alecta went back to the contract. It was funny, almost. She could see polarized light and everything from infrared to x-ray with her enhanced eyes, but the brightest light never gave her headaches like legalese.

A few minutes later, there was a subtle shiver that ran through the ship as the tow cables went taunt, too soft for a non-enhanced human to detect, but as always, she felt it. Alecta made a face at the contract. “Yeah, this is probably the right rock.”

“Oh! Alecta, there’s a ship incoming. It’s a big one, signature says it’s a demilitarized frigate. Except, it’s definitely not demilitarized.”

“poo poo. Thanks Emmy.” Alecta boosted off the nearby wall and floated into the piloting module, where all the safety gear was. She strapped in. Cythea was both strapped and plugged in, a rat’s nest of thick cables buried in her body, bridging her to the ship.

Cythea didn’t turn. “I’m prepped for a quick detach. Hail’s incoming. Do your thing.”

“Ah yes. Diplomacy. That thing I’m best at.”

“It’s not the thing you’re best at.”

Alecta rolled her eyes. The screen in front of her unfurled, and she was staring at a pale-skinned humanoid with a glowing red cybernetic eye. She liked Cythea’s azure eyes better. Much classier. Still, Alecta gave the screen her most genuine smile.

Red-eye glowered. “This asteroid is ours, and you are in a breach of system protocols. Submit your ship for inspection.”

“Please forgive us. We’ve been contracted by the Eyes of Eris, and the system database has their claim on this. With no competing claims and no marker-buoys, I’m puzzled as to which protocol we’ve violated.”

An orange light flashed. “Frigate weapons charging,” Cythea whispered. “Railguns and flak from the looks. Emmy, you’ve got the mining laser for point defense.”

“You are mistaken. Submit for inspection or be destroyed.”

Alecta continued to smile at the screen. “Sir, I’m happy to contact an independent arbitrator to—”

The screen went black.

“—resolve… that went well.”

“Hey, Alecta. Scans show they’re all cyborgs over there. And point defenses are minimal. As are internal defenses.”

She glanced at Cythea. “No. gently caress that, and gently caress you.”

“I’m plugged in, we can’t gently caress. However…”

Emmy gave a happy chime over comms. “Oh Alecta! Are we going to do a Break’s Burrow? Are we?” As the AI spoke, the ship jerked. Alecta was slammed into her seat. On the viewscreen, she saw the bright flash of their laser and the violent lurching of the stars around them. She felt several impacts on the hull armor. “Please please please—”

“Fine!”

“Weee! Launching in three… two…”

The Minor Miracle, fusion engines arcing bright in the void, passed within a few hundred meters to the unnamed not-really-demilitarized frigate, laser flailing about, then zoomed off. Alecta clanged to the hull of the frigate a few seconds later. There was always a brief moment, when she was being fired from the ship in a modified escape capsule, that she just knew she’d miss, or get picked off by a defense laser, or something horrible. Emmy and Cythea made a good team, though. They’d only ever missed once.

The frigate was firing maneuvering thrusters, which meant she had a few seconds before it accelerated after the Minor Miracle. Alecta grimaced, then placed her mouth on the ship—and vomited. She kept her mouth as a tight seal on the outside.

It took moments for the military-grade acid to eat through the metal hull, creating a jagged cylinder. Alecta compressed her body structure and squeezed through the hole like a fleshy python. As she exited, she left a thick membrane on the hole so the ship wouldn’t detect the breach. Of course, a modern military ship not run by morons would have had at least a dozen countermeasures, but if there was one thing Alecta had learned, it was that trigger-happy idiots in second-hand spaceships spared no expense on big engines and bigger guns, then skimped on everything else.

Not that many mining ships carried veteran bioweapons like her.

The first thing she did was grow out her carapace and charge her hands, then she went for the command room. With her enhanced hearing, she could hear the crew chatting about the pursuit. The ship was pitch black, but the latent heat was enough for her eyes. The frigate accelerated. She let herself be pressed against the wall, then started to climb against the gravity of the acceleration.

There was an internal defense drone, but Alecta sniped it with a pneumatically fired tungsten-carbide fingernail. Then she slithered through a ventilation shaft into the command room. All three cyborgs were busy staring at screens, saying poo poo like:

“…forward cannons locked on engine.”

“Firing solution arrived at. That’ll avoid their lovely loving laser.”

“Weapons charged—”

She would have to move fast. The cyborgs were plugged into their chairs, facing away. Alecta snarled, and let lightning crackle between her hands. She grabbed the neck-wires of the two closest crew. The lights in the room flickered, and a siren blared. The air smelt metallic with highlights of burnt flesh and melted plastic.

Red-eye turned around, in time to see Alecta’s razor fingertips close around his neck.

“I’m here to reestablish diplomatic negotiations, rear end in a top hat.”

***

Emmy was humming a jaunty tune, which is to say, the Minor Miracle was broadcasting annoying music through every comm channel it had. “Yes! Hail from the frigate!”

“Alecta here. I’ve got their ship.”

“She did it again! Can you patch me in? I want to romp around in their files like a baby in a pie factory!”

“Emmy, that makes no—never mind. Hey, Red-eye. Give me the code or I spit in your eye. By the way, my spit dissolves eyes.” Short pause. Screaming. Longer pause. “Got it.”

“Yay!” The annoying music continued. “Hmm. Oh. Oh my. You’re not going to guess who sent this frigate. But the data logs are clear…”

“It was the Eyes of Eris.”

“It was the Eyes of Eris!”

Cythea chimed in. “So what should we do with the asteroid?”

Alecta thought about it. “I still think we should give it to them.”

“Really?”

“Really. Emmy, I’m going to need you to calculate a trajectory.”

***

Several hours of acceleration later, the Minor Miracle detached from the asteroid it was towing and turned off together with a not-really-demilitarized frigate. The asteroid continued on its merry way, heading for the Eyes of Eris. The pair of stations, only just under construction, had none of the defenses typical of cylinder stations. A demilitarized frigate might have stopped it, but the constructor drones never stood a chance.

The rock pierced the Eyes of Eris, creating twin blossoms of rosy fire. There was a special beauty to destruction in space, as vented atmosphere ignited, as metal shards glittered in double-sun light. Alecta found herself smiling softly at it.

“That was fun. Hey Alecta. How about a war story?”

Alecta snorted. “Oh, alright. What haven’t you heard? Ah yes…”

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


RADIOACTIVE DUST SURGE DETECTED


Obliterati posted:

I will not be submitting, as it turns out words make hard when your jaw is infected by bacteria unknown and incidentally you are heavily hosed on opiates which are nowhere near as good at pain relief as Trainspotting makes out

I will enter and submit on time next week

I will also do two line-by-lines on request for submissions from this week, first come first served

I'll take it, and would also be willing to do one of yours.

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


RADIOACTIVE DUST SURGE DETECTED


I said I'd crit the first five stories posted, so here we go:

Some Crits of Week 234: Binging on Bad Words
***
Crit of The Resurrection Men by The Cut of Your Jib

My first impression was that this was part of a longer story. The ethical conundrum the characters are in doesn’t seem very powerful, but it does help define two distinct characters.
On my second readthrough, we have the goal and motivation established pretty quickly (get the body back for study). Early on you have Bell thinking “he knew this was necessary”, and Clay is established pretty quickly as willing to get his hands dirty for his practice. The tension with the rings is fine, and does a good job differentiating the characters. However, I think a bit too much time is spent developing their slight differences, especially when words are at such a premium. For example ““Don’t get pouty, Bell. I’m not going to come back and steal the old woman’s jewelry.” / “The greater good doesn’t feel very good. You don’t have to be so cavalier about it. That isn’t helping.”” could easily be cut. We have rising action with the lanterns and rifle shot, the climax is about dealing with Clay’s wound. The first names part seems unnecessary. We get a resolution with Bell’s hope the other doctor survives. Technically, the conclusion is trying to show Bell growing as a character, now willing to do what is necessary, even when difficult. However, this character growth is undermined by the fact that it felt like you’d already established he was willing to do that early on. I think the primary thing you need to do is increase Bell’s reluctance early on, be brutal on trimming superfluous dialogue or actions (once it’s established they’re graverobbing, take shortcuts on the process, unless it’s say, Bell’s reluctance to take the feet of a dead woman), then work on the tension and inner thoughts of Bell so that he’s willing to change only because he now realizes he’ll lose a friend otherwise, and the concrete situation has forced him to act rather than consider abstractions. I think the reason I initially felt the story was a fragment was because it didn’t actually feel like Bell changed, but the story hinges on his growth as a character. Overall, the dialogue and descriptions are fine, and I think a few small changes will strengthen what you already have.


***
Crit of The Job by Twiggymouse

My first impression was that nothing happened. We have the start of a job, and we don’t even know what the job is, only that our stereotypically reluctant curmudgeon came out of retirement for it. Even if the flash rule can be considered part of the story, I can’t figure out where the murder is, what they’re sleuthing, and the only mystery is what the plot is.

Going through it again, the story definitely spends too much time on Jameson being reluctant. With 1400 words, you don’t have 765 words to have him bickering with his old friend, especially since it establishes nothing but the fact that he’s reluctant, reads, and is in the rear end-end of nowhere. It doesn’t even establish the setting very well. I don’t know the time-period we’re in. It’s presumably somewhere in the US where cowboys were a thing, but it also threw off my sense of the genre. I thought I was going to be reading a western of sorts. Normally, I would specify what the motivation of the character is and what the hook is, but I still don’t know that. There’s no rising action because there’s no conflict yet (Jameson deciding he is bored after all and wants to do things is not a conflict). Why is there such a huge crowd in this hotel? Clearly, Jameson couldn’t have been too far in the rear end-end of nowhere. Then, as John and Jo (pilot) are introduced, it feels like maybe the genre is actually a heist. It also threw me, because, again, I’d been assuming this was a western and that generally doesn’t include planes. At this point, the story is over, and I still don’t feel like there was ever any conflict. The story is not character driven, because Jameson hasn’t really changed. We don’t know what the job he’s doing is. I don’t even know what the hell he’s so good at. This is not a story yet. The writing is technically fine, like, it’s grammatical and your dialogue is okay for differentiating characters, and descriptors like “he was assaulted by a thick cloud of smoke and whiskey” are good for establishing a room. It’s possible I’m missing something you think is obvious, but a reader shouldn’t have to work hard to find the story. I don’t care about the characters, I can’t find the plot, and I don’t even know what genre I’m supposed to be in.


***
Crit of Ears by Veomous

My first impression was it felt a bit flowery and, like the previous story, I was confused as to what the actual job was. There was too much dialogue, and maybe fewer lines need to do more heavy lifting. It felt like the main character was trying to save the other from something, but what exactly that was felt too vague.

On my second read through, I noted you spend the first section of the story establishing the characters through their interpretation of art. The closest we get to establishing a motivation or precipitating event is “I’m just here to make sure you don’t gently caress things up.” gently caress what things up? It seems like Ricky wants to try to touch or steal the Mona Lisa (or anything), but that’s not the plot. The narrator keeps referencing their other job and that Interpol is after them. He keeps suggesting they’re being watched right now, even though they’re in the middle of a noisy crowd that no listening device could penetrate. Okay, so maybe he’s paranoid. Also “shut up the walls have ears” is way more suspicious than “yeah I went to prison once.” Are they on the run? Wanted felons? Who the gently caress knows.
Midway through the story, the narrator decides he needs to save Ricky from a life of crime, even though he’s already been to prison for grand theft auto. Then, he’s willing to tank their job (we still don’t know what the job is) for the chance to get Ricky on a train to another country. But why? Does this solve anything? What the gently caress is Ricky going to do in Austria or wherever when he has no food, job, house, etc.? Why is he totally fine with that? Then he kills himself because… why. I have no loving idea. And, again, I’m at a loss for any sort of plot. It’s supposed to be a character-driven story, but the only motivation I see is that the narrator doesn’t want his partner in crime to follow his criminal path. But why not? The story is missing concrete details. It’s too vague. Even in a character-driven story, you need a plot that helps the characters develop and change. We also need reasons. And it doesn’t feel like “put guy on train, kill self” solves even the single conundrum faced by the narrator. The grammar is fine, the use of language to establish Terry and Ricky is fine (Terry seems a bit overdone, and I have no idea anything about accents), so you’ve got that. But the story itself needs a lot of work.


***
Crit of The missing ingredient by Chernabog

My first impression was that excitement was indeed the missing ingredient. Presumably the vomiting scene is where the viewers are getting their thrills, but the reader never has a chance to worry about the character because they already know it’s fake. Also I don’t care if their show gets canceled because they’re bad people.
On my second read through, I immediately started picking out things that need work. Don’t tell me that they have a bird. What kind of bird? A macaw? Cuckoo? Is this the Amazon rainforest? Or are we in Cameron? Madagascar? Indonesia? You have a chance to establish a much more concrete setting with a few details, like what kind of bird or who the locals are. Google is your friend here. The hook is weak, but you at least establish the conflict early (will they get canceled or not?) and the main character as fake early on. It seems like the conflict is then immediately resolved: “We’ll mix it up!” and then he proceeds to do exactly that, but with some filler inbetween. Also, again, don’t have Wayne pull “weeds and plants.” Give us something concrete like “a wavy edged leaf with ominous yellow spots” or “a plant with a thick, white snaking root.” Do these plants exist? Who the gently caress knows, no one here is a rainforest botanist. Anyways, the climax is him vomiting, but I’ve already said it has no tension because we know it’s fake. I guess the thing you have going for you is that it’s meta-commentary on how life is boring and stories need to have lots of things real life doesn’t, and also reality tv is far removed from reality. This commentary is successful because the story is boring and lacks tension. “Let’s hope you get away with this.” (Note: He got away with it. Now he has guests, uh, join him in whatever forest he’s in.). I don’t really know what to do with this story.

***
Crit of Small Dog by Chairchucker

My first impression was this was a funny and good story. It clearly communicates the humorous intent and (cultural? genre?) signalers, so the nonchalance towards the aliens and the stereotypical UFO stuff is appropriate and works. The character interactions and dialogue are funny, and the title is perfect.

The precipitating event is the UFO, and you set up the hook quickly, both making us care about the character and his motivation (mentioning Kath) and introducing the conflict (UFO). The main character’s goal is quickly stated (get dog back), and by using the line “and was squirming around and yapping as she slowly, gently, levitated towards the hatch at the bottom of the UFO” you’ve signaled clearly that you’re not doing anything special with UFOs, so you can let the reader’s knowledge of the ‘genre’ (there’s another word I’m looking for but I think you know what I mean) do the heavy lifting. The humorous exchange between the dad and son further cements the story as humor, so it leaves the reader safe to focus on the jokes. The rising action is literal as the Dad goes on the roof, then the climactic fight begins with Ian telling his mooks to kill the dog. Since the dog is a symbolic of the Dad’s memory of his wife, the conflict has importance. The goal is attained, and the story is wrapped up quickly because, again, we all know the intelligence services of the country can clean up the technical mess (whatever Australia’s equivalent of the FBI is). You give us a solid emotional conclusion.
To recap, you’ve done a good job establishing the genre and letting it do work for you, you’ve attached emotional significance to the objective and made us care about the Dad and dog, the arc is solid and we get a resolution, and I thought the humor was well done. The weaknesses of the story are mostly nitpicky. I would use more exclamation marks and dialogue tags besides “said” for Joan of Bark to really communicate the ridiculous fury small dog’s have. For example ““Yeah, that’s it, my mate’s here, youse blokes are stuffed now,” said Joan.” I might change to “Yeah! That’s it! My mate’s here, youse blocks are stuffed now!” she yipped, dancing back and forth on the floor, peeing slightly as she did.” Get us more action with the dialogue. I don’t think you can really overdo it, because the point is that small dogs already overdo it. That’s just one idea, but what do I know I’m a sentient piece of trash. Basically, I think an editing pass with increasing humor and action could bring more of the strengths out. It’s a good story though.

----
Wow. That was some words. Well, hopefully we all learned something. I guess the lesson here is "make sure your story has a plot, because plots are good and even character-driven stories need them so we can learn about the character through their actions and not just have them think about a nebulous past that doesn't matter for the story." Or maybe we learned another lesson. Who knows! Enjoy the crits.

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


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Benagain posted:

I vow to do significantly better next time.



jon joe posted:

*bows to the crits*

Thank you.


Tyrannosaurus posted:

-- info will go here --

Only registered members can see post attachments!

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


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I'm in

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


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Entry One
Who Holds the Walls of Byzantium?
383 words

Empress: The court is dismissed.
[Exit Court]

Empress: Oh, but I tire of their schemes!

The court chatters away like gossiping husbands! Vacuous, hollow as their ambition. All the aristocrats, from the patrikias and magistrissa to the lowest kephale—they are too busy clawing up, crawling up the stairs of power to have vision. They peer so intently at the next step, that they cannot cast their eyes beyond the daggers they plan to bloody. They have not gazed from the ramparts. They have not seen as far as I.

Would that I could unearth all their petty secrets and plots. They are sinners who defy my divine right. They would cast down God for twenty-nine silver less than Judas and spit in Her eye if they thought it would gain them a copper coin more. But, I fear if I dug up the roots of hell, I might topple the spires of heaven. For it is stability that strengthens the empire, and doubt that cuts at its foundations. So I must leave them to their games, and smile as I lift my poisoned chalice.

And I must acquiesce to their demands, and make Ionnes strategos of the south. A male general. A male general! Shall the court abandon the other gains of civilization? Perhaps we should embrace stone tools and cannibalism as well, or ask our barbarian neighbors for high culture! Men are fair on the eyes, their shapely figures fit for depiction with marble statues and oil on canvas. They are not fit to command, any more than they are inclined to figures or reading! History has proven that well enough. It was not merely the Fool Paris that damned Troy with lust, but the man-kings of Greece who then followed with equal blindness, so insecure in their honor they could only prove it with sword and fire. No, they are irrational, beastly things. I pity the soldiers that must follow that male. But I must grant the court their symbol, their token.

The empire will endure, not from force of arms, but from the alliances I have forged, through the pride of its citizens in their Sovereign, from the great works that I have commanded. They shall remember in time that it is I that keep the walls of Byzantium.

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


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Entry Two
Lovebugs
303 words

The stupidest species in the world? Plecia nearctica. Lovebugs. They—no, gently caress you I haven’t had too much to drink, gently caress off! So lovebugs, they’re loving idiots. Seriously, baffling. You ever seen ‘em fly around? They don’t fly. They waddle through the air. Like they’re constipated. Like they—gently caress off, she asked me about stupid species and I have to study the drat things so I should know. I’m cut off? You’re loving cut off!

Anyways, these fuckers, maybe you know ‘em as March bugs, they waddle through the loving air and just crash into poo poo. Ever seen it? This fat little bug, red dot, slow as hell, just doot-doot-dooting around and it’ll just run into you! Like my grandma when she hit pops, car was going two loving miles per hour but she just couldn’t stop it until bam! Knocked him over, shattered hip. Dumb as hell, I tell you. These little buggers, they should be extinct they’re so dumb. But they ain’t. There’s so many of ‘em they’re a public nuisance, they can swarm big enough to clog the radiators of cars and cause accidents. Like how this guy right here accidentally made my drinks with half the vodka he should have. Yeah, you think I didn’t notice?

And the mating. Know how lovebugs have sex? They have to look away from each other. Asses touching, eyes in opposite directions. Ain’t that loving a metaphor for something. So there’s the stupidest species, right there. They’re called lovebugs, but don’t know a drat thing about love, either. Just big bumbling idiots that gently caress up people’s cars, can’t see eye-to-eye on anything, just too stupid to live. Wouldn’t know love if they ran head first into it, and god knows they run into everything.

But they just keep going. They just keep going.

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


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Everyone should crit more.

I don't really know much about monologues, and they're sort of hard to critique in isolation. Instead of the usual critique pattern I've been doing, I'm going to use this structure:
1. Genre, First impression
2. What emotion is prevalent in the piece?
3. What kind of person is the protagonist?
4. What larger story does this allude to?
The goal is (I think) to have a strong emotion, something developed about the character, and hopefully not fall into typical stereotypical speeches that characters who are women inevitably get. It also, I think, should only allude to a story, not try to be one.

Chernabog posted:

Princessdom
Genre: dramatic. This monologue tries to attack sexism head-on and turn the "princess" stereotype around to some degree. I thought it was sort of corny and not very inspiring. The emotion I get is "reflective", since it's a person reminiscing about their career. The protagonist is clearly defined as a compassionate person. I don't know what kind of story surrounds this. "Person talks about why they made certain life/career choices," maybe. I disliked this because it felt stereotypical and like it reflexively had to address sexism, which is a reason you get so many monologues about surprise sex/childbirth/abortion in the first place. This isn't really just about yours; a lot of the monologues did this. To some degree, it's hard to avoid because sexism defines people's lives in so many ways. The reason I think a lot of men's monologues are so memorable and interesting to people, though, is because they seek to define a character on their own terms; they don't need to be reactive. Of course, to completely ignore sexism risks ignoring the unique experiences of women, but I've rambled on this tangent long enough.

newtestleper posted:

Admit that this problem can't be solved with a spreadsheet.
Genre: comedy. I liked this because it developed a really funny character with an interesting way of looking at the world. It's all very business-like, but totally ridiculous, and is both funny and achieves a critique of cultural structures through the comedic parts. The protagonist is analytical, honest, and clever. The story could go a lot of directions, but it seems like a comedy about a dysfunctional office. It feels like it would be a fun speech to give.

BeefSupreme posted:

No War But Lass War
Genre: dramatic. Pun: bad. I liked that this hinted at an interesting story, and disliked how... it sort of felt like a bond villain monologue, in that it did too much explaining. The primary emotion is resolute fearlessness. The character is obviously dedicated. I think a play or story that followed the Soviet women who fought in World War 2 would be really interesting. At the same time, it feels like this monologue is repetitive. It just says "haha you foolish Germans don't let your women fight, us Soviets do, you're dumb as heck" and repeats that several times. It also seems like it's either telling the Germans something they already know, or revealing intelligence to no gain. Maybe don't tell the enemy how the agents in a village killed four of their soldiers? I think a way to play up the strength of the monologue would be to focus on the "Am I making you nervous?" bit, where you start to build the sort of powerless-person-feels-powerful vibe, the kind you see with from Loki in Avengers or Hannibal in Silence of the Lambs.

Benagain posted:

Death and the dog
Genre: dramatic. I liked this one, because I like people who know poo poo yelling at idiots for being idiots. Very cathartic. Obviously you've got anger and frustration coming through, but because of the subject it also defines the character as someone who cares a lot, and so we feel sympathy for them, and someone experienced, because they've seen this all before. This could either be about the vet or the person they're yelling at, but with a line like "you never thought about a goddamn thing past your own happiness" you have a strong theme implied. It also defines the character on its own terms, and is fun to read.

sebmojo posted:

Potential
Genre: Dunno. This was an interesting story, and a neat way to show the compatibility (or lack) of a romantic couple. It's a poo poo monologue, though. There's no dominate emotion because you've written a short story instead of a monologue. This is clear because you have back and forth dialogue, and dialogue within a narration. That it's in first person doesn't change that. I don't feel like you've defined the protagonist as anything but 'regrets hooking up with a guy, sort of'. Well, anyways. "Feel out of grace with electricity" is a good line. I also don't think you were the only person to write a short story instead of a monologue.

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


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.

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Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


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Magic the Gathering, eh? Sounds like some nerd poo poo to me.

Gonna on my entry just in case I need elves or space ships, or elven spaceships.

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


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GenJoe posted:

some dang fine crits

Thanks!

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


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Post-Contest Edit: I'm gonna try and do stuff with this story since apparently is was okay and stuff, so now "The Arena" is here.

Uranium Phoenix fucked around with this message at Mar 14, 2017 around 02:33

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


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Thunderdome Week #CCXXXVII: A Way for the Cosmos To Know Itself

Science fiction is not really about predicting the future. It may occasionally seem to precede technology with concept, but it’s record of prediction is really just awful. It’s more of a way to explore things, like different ways people and society could be, investigate questions of ethics, and explore human nature.

  • Your story should feature an extraterrestrial. It should not be humanoid, because aliens aren't going to be anything like humans, and humanoid aliens are boring. Through this extraterrestrial—and it could be a thing just as much as an organism—explore something about people. Your story should probably challenge some assumptions, and explore something interesting. Hopefully this is specific yet vague enough to inspire something. Note: Your story does not actually need to be sci-fi. It could be a medieval mystery, or a myth, or a western, I don’t care. The extraterrestrial thing might not even be super obvious.

  • Extra rule: Your protagonist should not die at the end of the story. Break this rule at your own peril.
  • Word limit: 5000 words. Feel free to go way shorter, I don’t think most people will need that many.
Regular rules of no erotica, fanfiction, rants, etc.

Flash inspiration: Can’t think of something neat to base your extraterrestrial off of? Request a critter and I will give you a picture of some weird-rear end organism on Earth to inspire you. Use it! Or don’t.

***
Deadlines: Signups close 11:59 PM Friday Pacific Time. Submissions close 11:59 PM Sunday Pacific Time.

Judges:
*Uranium Phoenix
-sparksbloom
-sebmojo

Sentient Stardust:
-flerp
-Dr. Kloctopussy (with critter!)
-SkaAndScreenplays (with toxx)
-Thranguy (with critter!)
-Jay W. Friks
-SurreptitiousMuffin
-BeefSupreme
-Djeser (with toxx)
-newtestleper (with toxx and critter!)
-Okua (with critter!)
-Obliterati
-Metrofreak (with critter!)
-Hawklad (with critter!)
-a new study bible! (with critter!)
-The Cut of Your Jib
-Solitair (with critter!)
-GenJoe
-Twiggymouse
-Deltasquid (with critter!)
-Killer-of-Lawyers (with toxx)
-Chernabog
-llamaguccii (with toxx and critter!)

Uranium Phoenix fucked around with this message at Feb 17, 2017 around 23:48

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


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Dr. Kloctopussy posted:

In and I want a critter

You get the peacock mantis shrimp!

Only registered members can see post attachments!

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


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SurreptitiousMuffin posted:

if you write a story where a historical figure turns out to be an alien trying to intercede in humanity's development so as to help us elude the cataclysm that befell his own race, then the judges are gonna loving hate you
Correct!

Also if aliens turn out to be responsible for almost all major technology and there's like an orb that just helps people invent cell phones and the internet I will send cyborgs to hunt you down irl.

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


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Thranguy posted:

in and flash critter me.

You get Ophiocordyceps unilateralis (zombie fungus)!

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


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newtestleper posted:

IN, , critter please

You get the Leafy Seadragon!



Okua posted:

In, with critter.

You get the Turritopsis dohrnii (immortal jellyfish)!

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


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Metrofreak posted:

Thank you for crits, thank you for critters.

I'm in.
(Critter me)

You get Armillaria solidipes (humongous fungus)!

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


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Hawklad posted:

Uranium Phoenix, I read your story and it was legit awesome, and well deserving of the wIN!

I'll take a critter please.

TY and you get Axolotl!


a new study bible! posted:

I'll take a critter.
You get tardigrade!


sparksbloom posted:

I'll judge.

sebmojo posted:

yeah, im judge too
Okay cool thanks.

Solitair posted:

Let me in and give me a thing, please.
You get Slime mold!

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


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llamaguccii posted:

IN with a because apparently I suck at time management these days...

Also, critter me please.

You get Eastern Emerald Elysia!

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


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Pro-Click, and thanks for the crits!

Edit: Also thanks to the person who got me the kickin-rad avatar!

Uranium Phoenix fucked around with this message at Feb 18, 2017 around 00:08

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


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Signups are closed, in case that's a thing I need to say.

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


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Submissions are certainly closed at this point. Those poor souls with no story yet, redeem yourself!

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


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JUDGMENT
All stories were read in Judgemode, though obviously I could identify a few people based on the pictures that I remembered and stuff.

Dishonorable Mentions:
  • The Long-Winded Shortness of Breath by llamaguccii - This was less a story and more a diatribe. The prose was fine, if a bit overdone. It tried to have a different perspective, but didn't really say anything interesting. I think it could have, if it had been a story.
  • More Human Than Human by BeefSupreme - This read like an attempt at sci-fi by someone who has never read/watched sci-fi. It was not interesting, was missing good characters, had a nonsensical story, and lots of other problems.
  • Landings by newtestleper - It was a confusing mess, and as soon as the single interesting thing in the story happened, ended. This really came off as rushed (and probably was), and probably wouldn't have ended up here with a good revising and editing pass.

Honorable Mentions:
  • Colorado Star by Djeser - This story had good humor, fun characters, good voice, and a strong message.
  • Shells by Dr. Kloctopussy - Here is something that really hit on the human side of contact, with sympathetic characters and strong emotions.

    Both of these stories were well written, concise, solid, had well developed characters, and both were strong candidates for the win. In other weeks, they probably would have won.

Loss - Loud Until Silent by Jay W. Friks - The prose was atrocious, and it was riddled with errors. It didn't know its own setting well, didn't have much interesting to say, and was confusing.

And the winner is...
Win - Five Years After Christmas by Thranguy - This was not the strongest in terms of writing; it's characters needed some work, and it needed some revising in places. However, out of the all the stories, this was by far the more interesting and memorable. It explored contact in a way I hadn't considered before, and really engages the reader to think in terms of conceptual changes. Finally, it also nailed the ending in a satisfying way, in a story that was not easy to end.

The middle varied widely. I'll be critting all stories, including the above, in more depth in a separate post.

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


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The format for these crits is:
-Prose: Brief mention. If there’s not a lot here, it’s mostly because your prose is fine/good.
-Prompt/Ideas: Lots of words
-Story: Lots of words
-Bottom line: Quick summary, then anything else I feel like ranting about that I didn’t cover.

I wrote these all before reading what other people had to say in their crits (judges excepted), so chances are if I’m saying the same thing as you got in one of your other crits, you should maybe listen. If I’m saying something totally different, I’m right and they’re wrong. Fact. Okay here are the

Week #237 - A Way for the Cosmos To Know Itself CRITS

***
Bob
-Prose: Rewrite your first sentence. You’ve made it too complicated, and that undermines its effectiveness as a hook. Actually, rewrite your entire intro, or cut most of it. It rambles on a bunch. Your prose is functional (grammatically, mostly descriptively) but not very engaging. You also need to work on trimming your words down to what they need to be; lots of sections have a lot more dialogue or exposition than necessary.
-Prompt/Ideas: If you’re going to have scientists examining an alien, they need to do science things. Showing the alien movies seems stupid and unscientific. You also have several sci-fi characters recite some sci-fi 101 poo poo about assumptions to each other, again, on day 16. So, what, they haven’t talked about it ‘till then? To skip ahead, the idea of the alien appearing everywhere to this guy is fun, and the speculation about it being a preparatory mechanism to get other creatures to acclimate to it is nice commentary on how people will get used to just about anything—and Garvey shortly does get used to it. You seem to have intended the nature of Bob to be mysterious, but you really only introduce one plausible explanation for the dreams/hallucinations, so there’s no mystery to it.
-Story: With aliens, a government is probably going to recruit top scientists. These guys sound like morons who don’t give a poo poo about anything, only 16 days into first contact. These are, like, the shittiest scientists ever, then. Next, your intro sections are really boring and don’t add anything. Cut the hell out of your first section. What do we really need to know? Or, rewrite it to make it exciting. A bunch of boring characters being bored makes your reader bored, and you don’t want your reader bored. Have them doing. It doesn’t need to work, but protagonists should be doing things, even if they fail. These are scientists, allowed exclusive access to communicating and observing an alien; can you imagine anyone at NASA who would go “well, this is boring now” after 20 days? Hell no!
-Bottom line: The idea of an alien that starts to appear to people (in dreams, in reality) in contact with it is interesting. The story surrounding it is mostly boring.

***
Aquariums
-Prose: Here’s another hook that needs work. I would go from the protagonist getting the job and asking what happened to the last server right into the “not ill, just… Unwell” part as soon as possible, because that’s your hook. You have some solid descriptions that give us a sense of the setting without overdoing it.
-Prompt/Ideas: The best I can get out of this is some light commentary on consumption and excess of humanity. I don’t think that’s all you can do with this; you’ve implied this isn’t the only alien that can mess up people’s minds. There also might be something interesting in exploring what happens with people’s internal voice is uncontrollably verbalized. As it is now, I don’t think you did much to explore human nature.
-Story: You do the rising tension well, steadily showing the protagonist’s insanity, but not drawing it out too long. The ending is okay. It resolves part of the conflict (fish are trapped; they’d rather die), but not in a way that’s especially interesting or revelatory. It does not explain why all the other restaurant employees are immune to the fish, or so similar (in knowing to dogpile the newbie, all the waiters looking similar with their pencil mustaches). You implied something strange going on with the people in the kitchens, but didn’t resolve that part. The setting is fun and serves its purpose.
-Bottom line: A serviceable story, mostly solid, but lacking more than that.

***
Five Years After Christmas
-Prose: Solid.
-Prompt/Ideas: Wonderful ideas. I like the idea of a broadcasted, cultural Von Neumann machine, and the idea that other species might propagate their own culture, adding to a sort of strange amalgam of culture and experiences that mix together. It’s a very different way that other species might connect to each other in the cosmos, but intriguing, and it immediately makes sense, given the difficulties of space travel. If you haven’t watched Arrival, I’d recommend it since it has some parallel ideas about language—you’ve already got that thinking in a language changes the way people think, but it might give you some more ideas. Anyways, you’ve got linguistics, geo-politics, some hints about the society-changing technology in the broadcasted code code
-Story: First tip is clean out the intro. The hook wasn’t all that strong, and it seems to go on a bit with the exposition. Focus on trimming that down, maybe use that time to establish characters as well as they discuss the changes or setting. That’s the case for the first few sections too, I think. The weakest part of your story is the characters. They all seemed bland, to the point where we don’t even care all that much when one dies, and when they do die, it seems like for a really stupid reason. The bit about the twins being genetic clones wasn’t relevant. If you expand the story, I’m sure it could be, especially with how it could connect to your themes of individuals/groups/codes spreading themselves, but it was a revelation no one cared about here. What you do well is academics. These seem like real, interested students talking to each other about a topic they’re passionate about, and what I also like is that there’s not one right answer, just possibilities and evidence. Things like “post-Chomskian” are great because they sound exactly like the kind of language or term you might here in a linguistic-focused program at a university, and lend credence to the setting. You could easily keep going with the story, exploring the conflict you’ve set up between the people who essentially want to broadcast Earth’s culture and those that want to remain independent. However, your ending is excellent, and wraps it up, remaining ambiguous but still satisfying.
-Bottom line: This story took risks and aimed high, and was the most intellectually engaging of any of the stories.
-More: Initially, the judges were saying that you could just cut the murder part completely, because a murder happens and as readers we all didn’t really care. However, thinking about this, I think there’s a lot of potential here. One theme you can interweave in the story is the destruction of the individual (among other things), so a single death happening could be contrasted with making the reader really feel something for the death of a group. Or, keep with the idea that as long as a group is 3+, they’re fine. I don’t know how intentional it was, but the characters are pretty weak for the most part, and we don’t really care about what happens to them. You could try and make us care less about individuals, and start to think of the groups as people (perhaps through how the characters act as members of that group). Better yet, shift it from us caring about a character to caring about their entire group and its functionality. It would all be tricky to do, but could parallel your themes and conflict of moving from individuals to groups and how language and society change.

***
LEGION/MANY
-Prose: Serviceable. No problems here.
-Prompt/Ideas: My first thought was this was the slime-mold inspired story, since you have intelligence that grows with numbers. This isn’t a new idea, but it is one worth exploring. However, this is less the point of view of a collective species and more an omniscient narrator, who remembers everything and knows everything. The narrator knows how many asteroids were successful at landing, it remembers the lives of even small spores that must have forgotten a lot since they were reduced by chemical warfare or fire. The narrator knows what’s happening to spores in other solar systems, and that they’re all doing the same thing now (hiding in ships before growing). In that sense, you’ve completely avoided the actual interesting idea, which is exploring a continuous living organism that can grow and shrink in intelligence, persist, but not keep all of itself; fragment, but be able to rejoin. Since you had 5000 words, you could have tried to tell a story like that. The other idea, that life we encounter might not consider us sentient or anything other than fuel has also been explored, but again, you don’t have enough here to say anything interesting about that, from either perspective.
-Story: This isn’t much of a story. Alien planet dies. Spore-guys journey, some hit Earth, they try to colonize it and accidentally fight a war with humans, escape on human spaceships, persist. Technically you have a conflict and resolution, but not an interesting one. The story lacks tension.
-Bottom line: You have ideas worth exploring, but you didn’t explore them. There isn’t much of a story, and it was short and boring. Other people liked this more than me, though.
-Also: Meteors don’t have fiery tails; those are comets. Also, “meteor” as a technical term refers to an object entering Earth’s atmosphere; a meteorite is one that has landed, and a meteoroid is one of the bits moving around the solar system. Yes, I know no one uses them correctly. Also the poem doesn’t really do anything for your story.

***
Stasis
-Prose: This was fine. You did kids well enough. You had some nasty descriptions of sores and stuff that were appropriately gross.
-Prompt/Ideas: This reminds me of alien terraforming stories, where an alien decides to make Earth habitable for themselves and doesn’t seem to realize there’s a living thing they’re destroying (or doesn’t care). That part is left deliberately ambiguous, and you use that to set up a survival post-apocalyptic story. This genre of stories tend to say something about humans. Basically, people either band together or attack each other for resources is the usual trope. You appear to have done that here (she helps her family, brings the shotgun out for others), which I’m not enamored with.
-Story: The hook and intro implies something’s wrong with time, that the kids can’t age, and the problem is that things aren’t changing. This implies the end will be a significant change. Instead, the story morphs into being about the kids dealing with their own disease, the black sores and worms. Either Chelsea and everyone else is dead, or maybe a bunch of kids randomly messing about with pharmacy drugs figured out a cure! The latter doesn’t seem likely to anyone but a 10 year old I guess. The part about time stopping is ignored, and I don’t see the big change the story promised at the start. I think the other judges also mentioned the ending as the weak point of this story.
-Bottom line: Your story shifts from its initial promise to the ending for a different story, one about trust, not change. If you can deal with that major problem, and maybe ditch some of the cliché dystopian stuff, I think you’ve got a solid story.

***
Colorado Star
-Prose: This is good writing, that creates distinct characters with their own voices, establishes their motivation, with accompanying dialogue and description. You quickly establish the setting and tone.
-Prompt/Ideas: This struck me as a parable, which each character rooted strongly in symbolism. We have the character with simple regrets and wants (teeth, then meteor), desire for ignorance through bliss (Billy), fame and fortune (Maddy), and then your protagonist, who is looking for purpose beyond that.
-Story: We feel sympathy for the protagonist because of how quickly Sally is abandoned by he companions, and that she’s willing to treat this alien object like an equal, not for her own greed. The motivation of both the star and Sally is told, not shown, but within the genre that’s fine; they’re off to find belonging together.
-Bottom line: Concise, developed and sympathetic characters, seems to do exactly what it sets out to do. Good stuff.

***
Collective Soul
-Prose: Fine. The alien is a bit hard to parse (obviously), but the surrounding exposition and dialogue usually made it pretty clear what X was saying. However, reflecting on the comments below, I feel like since X’s language is so ambiguous, you could introduce misunderstandings and conflict through that. A great example of a translation ambiguity/error causing tension is Arrival, if you haven’t seen that movie.
-Prompt/Ideas: The idea you had was the strongest part; it created an interesting character (X) who can’t really conceive of individuals. When it sees a human causing other humans stress, it sees them as we might see cancer; a part of a whole to be excised less it threaten the whole. Then, of course, it doesn’t understand how that creates more stress. You do run into some problems here: How could X possibly understand the conversations it heard before the linguists taught it anything? Also, I can buy that it might be able to, say, smell cortisol and so know what humans are stressing other humans, but how does it know bad/good? I guess that becomes a bit nitpicky, but that threw me a bit. There’s also things like “It didn’t understand names” but then it understands the name of a town, and can name a collective (Area 51). I get what you’re doing, though. Also, X is super-obviously sapient so I don’t know why Jensen even questions that.
-Story: This is where you run into problems. The conflict is “why did slime mold alien kill some humans?” and that is resolved; it was trying to help. The story lacks tension, because basically everyone is cooperative and nothing goes wrong in the story itself. No characters really ‘change.’ The story engages on an intellectual level, but no more. Since I’ve been reading some Isaac Asimov, I’ll note that the dude was nerdy as hell and loved his thought experiments, but he also made sure to put characters in danger, have them disagree, and create lots of tension and problems that keep the story engaging on multiple levels, and you might consider looking at some of his stuff to refine doing both. I did like the resolution; that the mold still wants to help, and wants to know how to solve the ‘dysfunction,’ but Jensen can’t even conceive of a way to “solve” the problems humanity has so doesn’t really understand the question and assumes a failing on X’s part. That’s good stuff.
-Bottom line: Interesting ideas, boring story, good resolution.

***
Two and the Same
-Prose: Serviceable, mostly, and a bit confusing in other places. I need more specific details, visuals, and
-Prompt/Ideas: You have the potential here to consider a profoundly different form of life, but they sound like a conversational human. You have the potential to explore God, afterlife, and the union of two consciousnesses, but don’t really do anything with that. Ideas are mentioned, but not explored. Also, your world is inconsistent: “While I have the means to send information faster than the speed of light…” gets contrasted with “I can’t fix radioactivity” and “I can’t bend the laws of physics.” Okay, but you just told us humans don’t know the laws of physics, because this creature already ‘breaks’ one.
-Story: Why is Khatri collecting samples in some vague tropical climate right next to a mountain when there was this nuclear threat? What was the nuclear threat? One big bomb? A full nuclear exchange? This is left too vague, whereas the characters seem absolutely sure Earth is doomed. There’s a whole lot of confusing things going on with anything related to this apocalyptic event, so your setting needs work. Also, to nitpick at details, there were several things that broke me out of the story because I’m a huge nerd. The nuclear blast is close enough to hit them with the shockwave, but not incinerate them? The tsunami is close, but they have time to scramble up an entire mountain? How high? How long does it take them? Because they’re partway up a mountain (enough for you to describe Nate as on the ‘lower part’ of it later) and still get hit, which tells me the size of this nuclear blast must be enormous, but only now do I get the information to deduce this. And again, how did they know there was going to be nuke that ended the world? What the hell is so important they’re sampling? Basically, you need concrete details here. They’re sampling crabs. The nuke detonates a mile off the shore. They’d thought the reports of tension between X and Y were overblown so now it was a desperate scramble to avoid the tsunami before it hit them in a matter of twenty minutes. Of course, none of this matters because it’s just a setup for a universe-tentacle to monologue at someone.
Some other things: Your protagonist is a dolt. “Ahh, a infinite being is descending from the sky *trips and falls*. She also doesn’t talk like a scientist, or seem to think like one. “Hey I can save your consciousness, otherwise you’re going to die.” “NUH” *crosses arms*. The protagonist annoyed me, which is not good because you need us to like them in order to make the ending where she reunites with Nate emotionally resonate. But I never at any point gave a poo poo about either of those characters, so that needs a bit of work.
-Bottom line: The core of this story is about two people who love each other and are going to die, who are united in mind to live. There are better ways to tell this story, and I hope you have something interesting to say about what that might be like. There’s potential, but right now it’s bogged down in a huge mess of flaws.

***
The Long-Winded Shortness of Breath
-Prose: Fine technically, but feels rather pretentious/overdone. It does give the leaf-aliens a voice. Things like “clawed tentacle” and “peel our spines” are vivid descriptors, functionally find, but you need adequate context for the specific details to do things. You have descriptions, but no setting. Monologuing, but no conversation. A structure (sentence/paragraph repeat), but no plot.
-Prompt/Ideas: Meh. You’ve announced intention to critique humanity’s need for purpose, curiosity, pride, and belonging, but you haven’t done actually done it. I hate to use the phrase ‘show don’t tell,’ but… yeah. You also (I hope) attempted to make the aliens a narrator with their own biases. However, this is just an alien ranting for a bit, ironically, about things it apparently can’t know about.
-Story: Non-existent mostly. Humans are experimenting on a thing they found. Why? Where? What? Who knows. Nothing is explained. There’s no protagonist, antagonist, action, or conflict.
-Bottom line: Next time, write a story. I think exploring the ideas above would be interesting, but you have to explore them through a story, not have a leaf tell us people suck for 300 words. Also, vibrations are sound. Don’t tell me they can’t hear sound then tell me they communicate by vibrating.

***
Expansion
-Prose: This was fine. You define the fungus and Eric’s voice distinctively enough
-Prompt/Ideas: I guess it has something to say about racism/classism/prejudice, but doesn’t say much. Initially I missed that commentary and almost gave it a DM because of that. I don’t even think the prejudice thing is very consistent through the story; Eric doesn’t like Cyrrovaen because it’s a mushroom, but the guard is both rude (don’t give a poo poo) and respectful (tips his hat, I’ll get the scraper—unless that’s supposed to be a slight?). Is the mushroom representative of an underclass or ethnic group, or a stand in for… what?
-Story: Crap. This just wasn’t an interesting story on any level. Guy in jail with fungus. They talk. Fungus gets out. There’s just so little there. You had plenty of room left for a story, but didn’t tell one.
-Bottom line: Almost offensively boring.

***
Loud Until Silent
-Prose: This was a confusing, seemingly unedited unrevised mess. There were errors all over the place, and the formatting problems make an already hard-to-follow story even harder to understand. Quote someone else’s story to see how they formatted it, then do exactly what they did for dialogue and paragraphs, because wow. Your descriptions are good in places.
-Prompt/Ideas: The only redeeming thing here is turning the “alien abduction” trope on its head, and having the protagonist go willingly to brain examinations because that’s better than going back to a dead family and war-torn country. You explore this thematically through the contrast of noise and silence. This breaks down because the story itself is difficult to follow, and the grammatical and formatting problems are extremely distracting. The thematic problem of noise/silence I’ve described in “Also”; also, you only explore this in a shallow way. That’s true with your other ideas too.
-Story: Extra-dimensional aliens who have been studying humans take Omar and examine his brain, with his permission, removing him from the war. His brain is examined, and he goes to live with some folks. The end. One of the biggest problems is that your protagonist makes a single decision the whole story; otherwise, he does nothing. This is not good. “Protagonists,” in the words of Brandon Sanderson, “need to protag.” This just a bunch of stuff happening to a guy, stuff he has no control over and he never sets out to try to control. You could be going for commentary on the powerlessness of individuals in the face of catastrophes—like war—that they have no power over, but in order for that to work your protagonist still needs to be trying to do stuff, even if it fails.
-Also: I haven’t been following the Syrian Civil War too closely, but it’s really clear that neither have you. I can say this: It doesn’t depict life in Aleppo. I’m pretty sure you just googled to find a neighborhood of Aleppo and then made up the rest. Maybe I’m wrong! But that’s how it came across. As writers, I think we have a duty to do honor to the lived lives of others, and so if you’re going to depict Aleppo, you need to do enough research that it feels real. As it is, the experience of your character does not line up at all with the experiences of the people who have lived there that I’ve read about. People are not making elaborate fume vents and pipes for their poop; the food (and Aquafina water bottle!) you describe is very western. War in general is long periods of silence punctuated by short bursts of incredible noise. A better war to set your story in would be World War 1, where bombardments in some areas went on for days or weeks.
-Bottom line: A confusing mess of formatting with shallow ideas barely explored and critical pieces missing.

***
Sound
-Prose: Perfectly fine prose. Good descriptions.
-Prompt/Ideas: The idea you seem to be tackling here is people trying to do the right thing, even if they realize that in the end their single decision will not be the one that matters; They abandon the planet and its riches, knowing that someone else will come and take them, probably without the same moral constraints. This could easily be read as commentary on colonialism as well, so there’s plenty of idea to go around. The idea that these are creatures made of sound and hurt by sound is… well, I’ll set aside my disbelief.
-Story: This has a fine arc. I guess Jim is the protagonist, because he’s the one that changes, and the narrator stays static. One of the problems I had was the relationship between Jim and the narrator is implied to be close to equal, and only later is it revealed Jim is the narrator’s boss. The “the guy took all my money/everything so I shot him” felt a bit corny. I don’t really know how important the ‘narrator killed a man’ part even is. I’m having trouble elaborating on why I felt the story feels weak. The dialogue rambles on a bit, and could be trimmed. The narrator’s interaction with the Bible felt shallow, and not especially relevant to the core of the story. The narrator immediately grasping that their sounds hurt the sound creatures (and even that there are sound creatures) felt convenient. Other things, like “cops”, printouts, a fire in the engine (combustion engines?), and the modern tone of the dialogue made it feel a lot more modern than its implied setting, which felt off.
-Bottom line: A lot of small problems in the story detract from what is otherwise an okay piece.

***
The Grand Escape From Humanity
-Prose: The prose felt a bit overdone in places. The voice of the narrator felt too modern for a Spanish conquistador. It really didn’t feel like the 1500s though, which was a problem because that’s your setting.
-Prompt/Ideas: I didn’t really feel like I ~got~ this story. Maybe I’m a huge idiot! Well, that’s definitely true, but the basic message I got from the story is “humans are bad at taking care of pets, I guess.” Or maybe it’s, “what if idiots let a really big jellyfish into the ocean and it ate everything?” Okay, I guess you were going for a horror angle. But it mostly reminded me of how dumb people in Florida released their pet pythons, lionfish, and other exotic creatures out into the wild because they were too incompetent to take care of them and created an invasive species epidemic, and now lionfish threaten the entire Gulf ecosystem. So I really, really hate your protagonist because of that. I had trouble seeing any real purpose behind the story. What is it trying to tell us about people? I couldn’t figure it out.
-Story: I didn’t understand the character’s motivation. Test it, I guess? Then get high off it. I don’t know why he was in that temple ahead of the soldiers, or how he found out about it, or why he kept it so secret, or why he was stupid enough to take it to the harbor. The story itself is well organized, but I think I just need more a reason to care about this character and his passions, which means you might need to add something to the beginning, or some good this creature could do that makes us want to root for him taking good care of it. His decision to take it out the harbor would be better if it was a desperate attempt to save what he thought was a dying jellyfish. Or maybe it would have died, and so his dooming mistake was made of compassion rather than idiocy.
-Bottom line: I guess this is a pretty solid horror story, but it didn’t resonate with me. I think the biggest thing its missing is a good reason to care about the protagonist.

***
Shells
-Prose: This was probably the best overall prose, with good dialogue that does work, concise descriptions, and minimal exposition that still gives us a good idea of the setting. You’ve intentionally littered your prose with specific language that reinforces the themes and ideas.
-Prompt/Ideas: This story was about exploring the human side of contact, the lives that might be changed in less expected ways. You explore loss, relationships, and obsession. By focusing on the minute, rather than the grand, I think you help build our connection to the character; the perspective they’d see this from is much like the one we might see a similar event from. The characters speak in such a way and are recognizable in our own lives.
-Story: The protagonist wants her husband back, wants things back the way they were even though that’s impossible (a good analogy for first contact). She tries to talk, then she tries art. They drift farther apart. It’s clear that even with her project, they’re done. I did get annoyed at Heather; but as much as I dislike people who cling to failed relationships, it happens all the time. And the ending seems to give her some peace of mind, though it’s not quite satisfying.
-Bottom line: Excellent overall writing with the strongest characters out of any of the stories. Good stuff.

***
Eternity
-Prose: No problems here with the descriptions.
-Prompt/Ideas: So this story is about loneliness and the need for connection. Those are extremely human needs, projected onto a planetary intelligence. I’ve seen this idea before with the Gaia hypothesis, a crappy Orson Scott Card story, and plenty of ancient mythology. Inevitably, human values sort of have to be projected onto the planet-organism so that you can deal with something that makes even some sense. The question, then, is how well is it implemented?
-Story: This is another piece I felt was less of a story. It has the basic structures: planet is lonely, people land on planet, get scared, return, communicate. Woman communicates directly, merges as her body explodes, she gets out, goes to a ship, planet is sad, woman builds moon, they marry, basically. This technically follows a classic narrative arc, but so much of it is just listing events and emotions. Imagine if it was a romance between two people. A story written about two people like this would be awful to read. We need to connect to the two principal characters, and the biggest thing this story is lacking is that. I don’t care about the woman; I don’t know anything about her. What do they say? What is at their cores that so dramatically changes both the planet and woman? You need to get into the details, I think, because otherwise the story is too vague to really connect on an emotional level. I almost think it would be better to explore this from the perspective of the woman and why she falls in love/obsession with the planet in the first place.
-Bottom line: This explored the idea of planet-organisms, but wasn’t implemented in such a way that I cared much about the protagonists. With that missing, the story felt lacking. This story has also been done a lot; in almost every ancient mythology, in sci-fi, and a million times in other forms. The implementation has to be a lot better for this not to get lost among all the other stories like it.

***
Last Flight of the Konstantin
-Prose: This was okay. It had some good descriptions interspersed. The ending part where Baran is shooting the farmers, suiciding his ship into the corporate base, and stealing the shuttle to the other ship was really confusing. There is some significant bloat. For example “Baran ran his hand through his greying hair and felt the thin stripe of a scar on his scalp. It couldn’t be. “How dare you. This isn’t right.”; cut “It couldn’t be.” and “How dare you.” There’s a lot of repetition like that.
-Prompt/Ideas: Corporations are bad! They’ll harvest animals for useful parts! Okay. Technically this follows the prompt but it doesn’t have any interesting or new ideas, and it sure doesn’t say much about people.
-Story: I really disliked this story the first time I read it. It felt like it drew from a host of clichés: astronaut wakes up from stasis into a new world has been done to death in sci-fi. The colonialist narrative has the outsider Baran as the savior of some indigenous species (also done to death in a variety of genres) and then amnesia to top it all off, which felt like a way to avoid answering a whole bunch of questions about the holes in the story. Holes like, how the hell is a 1000-year old museum-relegated ship able to fly, never-mind deal with a vessel 1000 years more advanced (and why was that not employed, nor have any sort of defenses or more than 2 crew)? The two farmers basically put up no resistance, and Baran pretty much just murders them because he was getting mad. Baran is not a likeable character. Why he doesn’t remember jack-poo poo/was frozen/was woken up/where he got his antenna implant is not explained, so not only does this story have gaps, it also doesn’t even feel like a complete story (reinforced by the fact that Baran is leaving on another adventure).
-Bottom line: This was a bland, cliché story with a bunch of unanswered questions for no good reason.

***
More Human Than Human
-Prose: This was serviceable. Many of your descriptions are bad because they reveal that you know less than what middle-school children are supposed to know about space (literally, based on the Next Generation Science Standards), which is pretty dang harmful to the story.
-Prompt/Ideas: This is where I’m going to put my critiques of the genre. The story has its own issues. Okay, one, don’t start your hook in a sci-fi story with a list of a few extremely common space objects. It’s like if I said “The vacuum cleaner contained every kind of garbage you could imagine: dust, hair, more dust, and dirt.” Then, you tell me about “undiscovered chemical elements,” that you have pictures of. Well then it’s not undiscovered, is it? The glass of spaceships is not called a windshield. Also, please look up how far away things are in space. 100,000km is nothing. It’s 384,000 km between Earth and the Moon. Next, if this was sci-fi written in the 1930s, I could forgive you for having an Earth-like planet with trees and grass just like Earth and a blue sun, but this is just lazy. The aliens can sort of look like people, apparently, and are quick to stab things. We learn nothing else about them; no mysteries are solved, no aspect of human nature explored. You might as well have not included them because they serve no purpose.
-Story: The entire premise of giving refugees an infinitely-replenishing warp-drive equipped space ship because that’s cheaper and easier makes no sense, nor does the idea that, like, 4 people is just too much to accommodate for the UN’s presumably innumerable space stations. Also, books and music are digital, presumably even easier to get in the near future and… well. I could go on. None of your characters are sympathetic. ““Whoa poo poo is right,” I said. I hadn’t cursed since my childhood. I’d gotten slapped by my mother for that.” was one of those lines that made me cringe and lose faith in the goodness of humanity just a little bit more. Then your unlikable characters stumble onto the planet they found and act like complete idiots, then get away. The end. The massive problem here is that your entire plot is about resolving their refugee status, and you never do that.
-Bottom line: The only thing that saved you from a loss was the fact that it wasn’t riddled with errors and confusing, and had a plot, even if it was all-around-bad.

***
Landings
-Prose: The descriptions are good, you’ve got some nice sensory details here. The biggest problem here was how confusing it is. “Navigation was by flattened trees, each beech trunk a compass needle straining for the point of impact.” is a hard hook to lead with, because it doesn’t make sense until you realize the trees are splayed out like at Tunguska from an explosion, which takes a bit because “meteorites” are mentioned in the third paragraph. You also jump around in time in the first few paragraphs. There’s also strangely worded and ungrammatical sentences to worry about, like “As much as she kept one hand tight on Muzz’s skinny shoulder, and one eye on the sky.” That’s your ending line, it should be jarring.
-Prompt/Ideas: It’d be cool to have a story about discovering a strange object/alien from the Kuiper belt. However, you didn’t do that. You mentioned it as a thing, then the story ended. You do have something about people, who will try to exploit even the destruction of their civilization to get money. Your alien-rock: Would it be able to see the constellations like we do from Earth, or would its distance cause distinct differences? I feel like the view would be different enough. How does the alien-rock know English?
-Story: As far as I can tell, you might have the start of good story here. The premise is great. Aliens are attacking the Earth by slinging comets, asteroids, and other poo poo at Earth. People, even as their cities are being flattened, go “that’s good money, harvesting these asteroids that are killing us all!” It does run into problems—people aren’t going to be able to get very much metal by hand, and the markets for the materials would all tank, but eh, it works. I guess I’m assuming its aliens throwing asteroids at them. It could be Space Companies, rebels in space stations, or mining companies that don’t know how to aim, but maybe it’s aliens? I don’t think you ever explained who was throwing the space rocks at Earth though. That seems, uh, important. Who owns the helicopters? What else is going on? All these interesting questions, potential plot points, or sources of conflict are ignored. There’s not really a story, just the start of one, and you had plenty of words left to try and tell it properly.
-Bottom line: This could be a good story if it wasn’t done at the last minute, and explored the interesting element it introduced. Oh and Kuiper belt objects are mostly going to be ice, but this is an alien-rock thing so it doesn’t need to follow the rules.


Edit: My eyes were glazing over by the end of this and I maybe forgot to proofread a crit or two. Let me know if I screwed yours up and I'll fix it.

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


RADIOACTIVE DUST SURGE DETECTED


I promised to do some crits from the week before. Most of these were written before judgement, but a few (Concrete Divide and Hard to Blame) were finished just now, though all crits are based on first-impression notes I took my first read-through and a second closer reading.

Week 236: 3-Card Prompt: 6 Crits of some stories, 2 many words
Format: First impression, strengths, weakness, other stuff

Change by Okua
My first impression was that it was good, it conveyed a sense of sadness, and it was about learning to move on. It has lots of little sharp details I like, like the crumbled invitation that she keeps, the rhinestone bras, and the red rope give a good impression of the setting with sparse language. There was also a clear theme of gambling, and the goal of the main character is clearly defined. The weakness is that it didn’t feel like there was much tension. Things had been settled already, and it’s just the main character coming to terms with that. It seems like the narrator does, but it’s not totally clear. Has the narrator changed? It’s a solid story, though.

You Can’t Learn That On YouTube by Twiggymouse
My first impression was it was bad. “Guy screws up hunting boar; dies.” There. The story. What is it trying to accomplish? It has a narrative arc, it has passible description, but it felt like the story didn’t have a purpose besides “make sure I got all 3 magic cards in it.” Why do we care about the main character? We don’t. Why did you kill him? What is the point? It’s an easy way to end the story, sure, but not the best one. This could have been something about recovering from a mistake and a tense survival story, but it just felt like a sequence of things that happened.

Concrete Divide by Kenfucius
My first thought at the end of the story was “dang,” and that there was no real resolution to the problems of the story, but that seemed to be the point. As a disclaimer, I’m not familiar with the historical references in the story, so I’m reading it from that lens. The conflict was built well, and the title, subject matter, events, and symbols all keep hitting on the them of divide. I like the journey through the years that shows how these societal divides propagate. It also shows that prejudice can be both learned and unlearned, as we see with Kieran and Mick. The snapshots of the story, that frame the conflict but not really anything beyond revenge and harassment, seem to put forward the idea of the pointlessness of the conflict. Eye for an eye makes the whole world blind, and all that. With the sad smile between divided friends, you do offer us a bit of hope at the end, but at the same time, the fact that (I think?) Mick is helping build a permanent wall through the town as a “solution,” implies it will go on a lot longer. I think the major work to be done in this story is pruning the pieces here and there that aren’t strictly necessary and don’t play to the story’s strength, like shrinking Kieran and Mick’s conversation about getting a job, or adding key details (is Mick helping build the wall or not?) that reinforce your theme. Here and there you might also prune some exposition. Overall, though, enjoyable read, and an interesting story.

Interrupted by Benagin
My first impression was, okay, guy gets hit by car on delivery, gets a concussion, then, um, goes and gets the tube, which apparently he had the whole time, and delivers it. I got that the tube is symbolic, that while the accident crippled him, he was able to discover a part of his old self that hadn’t changed, but I feel like there’s a better way to do it. “Things were different. He was different…” implies a lot of time has passed, like months, so I got hung up on why the hell he still had that tube and how he’d kept it. Since it’s distracting, I think maybe ditch the courier part and just keep his attachment to the bike, and keep the self-revelation there. Finally, solid descriptions; I liked the sentence “a wide gap in his memory opened… blood” a lot.

The Sharing Economy by WLOTM / a new study bible!
My first readthrough, I enjoyed the heck out of this story. Well, first paragraph I didn’t like, because I was thinking of Uber and rolling my eyes, then it became clear what was being shared and I was hooked. It’s a neat concept and the tension ramps up really high. I cared about the main character, because she’s an underdog being forced to sell herself to pay rent, and that’s the kind of person I want to root for, and you make Marlene unlikeable enough quickly enough that I needed to root against her. Ren feels in danger, and that kept me engaged. You have good descriptions (swamp bubble giggles, the way you describe Tom and his knife). The resolution felt a bit weak. I wanted something more; Marlene escaping makes it feel like part 1 of 2. If you wanted, this is a story that could be expanded a lot. If it was, you’d have to address some of the things that sort of don’t make sense when you think too hard about them, like why this industry is so poorly regulated and all the other ways society might have changed because of this technology, and how riders get in and why what they use can’t be tracked like any other device. But overall, I enjoyed the ride, and it had the most intense tension of any of the stories I read.

Hard to Blame Eve by Chili
-When I got to the end of the story, I thought it would have been nice to see a second temptation the narrator falls for before he realizes how long he’ll be in there for. The other thing is that this is a pretty sadistic jail, and I think the big thing to hammer it home is we need is to feel more sympathy for narrator. Best way to do that is show his best side when he’s on the phone with his sister, I think. They you can imply he’s there for good, and it’s more impactful. I felt like the voice in the story was a strength, giving the narrator personality through dialogue and description. The weakness is our lack of sympathy for the narrator, and perhaps the other inmates. These are all old men who should have been out, but they all seem pretty blasé about it all. The message I got was sort of a critique of the addictive nature of consumerism, with perhaps commentary on the nature of our prison system and how it works to keep people behind bars, rather than to reform them. An interesting idea, an overall solid story that will be stronger with a few key revisions.

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


RADIOACTIVE DUST SURGE DETECTED


In. I'll take a flash rule and

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


RADIOACTIVE DUST SURGE DETECTED


Sacred
1106 words

“Call off the hunt,” the messenger wheezed. “Another child’s been abducted near Aberfirth.”

Ingram did not look up from the fairy-circle he was examining. There was a faint print on the soil that smelled of foxglove. Another farm boy too stupid to watch the skies. “We’ve been tracking this aos sí for a week. We cannot lose her trail now.”

“Lord Betram has ordered it, Sir Ingram.”

The knight sighed loud enough to make sure everyone could hear, then glanced at his three companions. His page, Percival, shifted nervously. “A drake snatched the child, I assume? There will be no way to track it. By the time we find the boy…” Ingram shrugged. “So what is the point?”

“The nest of this drake is known. Three miles north-west, in the crags near the bend of the river. You are the only party close enough.”

“Will you be riding with us, then, good messenger?”

The man winced. “I rode my steed hard. He will need rest.” The messenger dismounted, and patted the mane of his pony.

“Very well.”

Percival blurted, “Who was it?”

No doubt worried it was one of his friends. He needs to harden his demeanor.

“A child by the name Theobald, from the village.”

Sir Ingram started and snapped his head around. “What was the name?”

“Theobald, sir. Brown hair, five years of age, I think—”

Ingram was already on his horse, kicking her flanks. “To the crags. Ride!” he called. His startled companions started after him moments later.

***

It had been three weeks since Ingram had last seen his son, Theobald, playing at sword-fighting with sticks over by the east green of the village. One week of tracking, the week before spent in Lord Betram’s court, and the one before that competing. He felt bile in his mouth as he rode. He thought that he must have stopped by Aberfirth to see his boy before setting off to track the aos sí—but no, that conspicuous absence of memory told him he had not. He tried to think of there were any other boys of the same name near Aberfirth, then tried to convince himself he’d heard the name wrong, but no self-deception could sooth the chill in his blood or the drums in his heart.

Just in sight of the crags, the knight found himself sprawled on the ground, mud coating his leather cuirass and his crossbow nestled in a bush, the bolts scattered about. His horse was screaming, her front left hoof twisted at a sick angle, caught in a shallow burrow hole. drat! Ingram scrambled to retrieve his crossbow and several quarrels. Dimly, he realized his companions were not just behind him, as he thought they’d been. But he had no time to wait. My boy, he thought. My boy is up there. With luck, it was a mother drake feeding its young. Otherwise, Theobald had already been devoured.

Ingram caught sight of the woven stick nest, and scrambled up the jagged rocks, sending chips clacking down in his haste. And then, there his son was, face a pale lily, blood smeared about from countless scratches and talon holes. There were two baby drakes, the size of beagles. They started to yip loudly.

The knight heard the heavy pounding of wings. He saw a shadow flicker.

With a roar, he turned and fired his crossbow as the mother drake descended on him. The bolt pierced leathery wing, and then there were talons shredding at his cuirass, wings buffeting him. He raised his arm as the drake bit at him, giving it a mouthful of steel bracer. The knight cried out as the drake wrenched at his arm, and he felt his muscles tearing. He drew his arming sword and stabbed at the face, clipping its maw once, twice, then drawing a gash through the scales of the beast’s nose.

The drake let go of his arm and roared, beating her wings with such force that Ingram found himself being pulled with her. The claws were still embedded in his armor, he realized—and the struggle was wrecking the nest. He found himself slipping. He threw his sword at the beast, then grabbed for his son. He felt cold flesh in his hands, and they were falling. Ingram twisted in the air, trying to protect his son with his body from the fall. There was a moment, as he fell, where he knew he would hit his head on the rocks and splatter his brains about, leaving his son to die. Then they hit. He felt the scaly body of the drake beneath him, and the bony weight of his boy on top. He saw his left ankle, twisted much like his horse’s, and thought maybe he felt bone jutting into his boot.

Ingram scrambled back, ignoring the hot pain, lugging his son away from the beast. He set him gently down on the moss-covered forest floor, then drew two knives. He had to clench his teeth to keep from screaming, but he stayed standing, facing the drake as it flailed and righted itself, then stood.

The two stared at each other, eyes burning. The drake roared again, and Ingram answered it in kind. Then, he saw the drake glance up at its nest, and heard the soft yips of the hatchlings above. Ingram took a step back. Then another. The drake stayed.

The knight sheathed his knives, and picked up his son, eyes still locked on the beast. Slowly, he backed away. Each step was agony, but he kept going. Then, when at last the creature was out of sight, he collapsed to the ground. He held his hand atop his son’s heart.

It was a faint thing, but it was a beat, slow and steady.

Ingram felt hot tears, and heard himself laughing. Then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw movement.

A woman, barefoot, clad in clouds the color of dusk, with two stars for eyes, was looking at him. Aos sí, he knew. He smelled foxglove. Sir Ingram opened his mouth to beg the sacred being for its favor, ask it to interpret the omens of the heavens, tell it to take him with her and show him the otherworld—but then he closed it, and looked down at his son. When he looked up, the fairy was gone, and only the faint smell lingered.

He began to bandage his boy, tearing apart his own clothing to create the cloth strips. In the distance, he heard hoofbeats, and recognized the shouts of Percival and his other companions. He thought, perhaps, that Theobald would live.


FLASH RULE: Man vs Beast

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


RADIOACTIVE DUST SURGE DETECTED


I'm in.

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


RADIOACTIVE DUST SURGE DETECTED


The Cut of Your Jib posted:

First person to enter gets to subtract 300 words from another entrant, to be used before submissions close on Friday or forfeited.

I've gone mad with all this power bestowed to me, and so now that we have enough signups, here's how I'll choose the victim of this most horrid fate:
  • Post at crit of another person's story from previous weeks to become IMMUNE to the WordCount Curse
  • Alternatively, toxx yourself to do at least 2 crits of this week's stories, to be completed by Friday the 17th
  • A random person who has not posted a crit or toxx by the signup deadline for this week shall be chosen to suffer!
Get critting, domers!

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


RADIOACTIVE DUST SURGE DETECTED


Uranium Phoenix posted:

I've gone mad with all this power bestowed to me, and so now that we have enough signups, here's how I'll choose the victim of this most horrid fate:
  • Post at crit of another person's story from previous weeks to become IMMUNE to the WordCount Curse
  • Alternatively, toxx yourself to do at least 2 crits of this week's stories, to be completed by Friday the 17th
  • A random person who has not posted a crit or toxx by the signup deadline for this week shall be chosen to suffer!
Get critting, domers!

Okay this didn't work at all. But a few people did stuff. Of the remaining, the RNG has chosen GenJoe to lose 300 words. Take that.

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


RADIOACTIVE DUST SURGE DETECTED


Once Forgotten
1356 words

Liam groped around in the dark, trembling as his hand scraped against the wet, slimy walls. He felt water dripping down. Beneath the damp mildew was the grit of sandstone, grooved by years of erosion.

“Hello?” he called, but his own voice was all that echoed back. He was sore all over, shaking after the fall he’d taken. Stupid, he told himself. Stupid to have been out in Cairo at night, stupider still to have panicked and run when he’d seen the protestors, as if they cared about some random high school nerd from America. He’d ducked inside a door and then…

Then what? Liam couldn’t remember. There were no rungs leading back up, so he started forward.


An hour later, he was sure he was going to die. The sandstone passages seemed to never end, and he heard scratching noises in the pitch black. They sounded too big to be rats. When he stopped to listen, he thought he heard distant growling. I hope mom and dad aren’t worrying. Liam wondered if there was anyone looking for him yet. How far from the hotel am I?

He started moving faster, then tripped and felt his palms scratched open by the rock floor. There was a squeak and skittering, and a dark shape shot past him.

I saw it, though. That means light.

Leaking through the stone ceiling was a tiny trickle of moonlight, enough to see shapes and silhouettes. It was a room, with a round object on a large table in the center. He felt a thin breeze. He touched the object. Something was carved into it. Hieroglyphs, he realized. And something waxy above them, but brittle. As he touched it, it crumbled into dust. A jar, he thought, and then the lid fell open. Liam stepped back in surprise. He smelled rotten eggs and smoke.

Then there was a bright light, and waves of heat washed over him. Liam cried out and covered his eyes, stumbling back until he was sitting in the corner of the room. An ethereal, human-like shape hovered above the jar, pulsing with umbral fire. It said something in Arabic. The fiery light illuminated the walls, showing elaborate stories carved in hieroglyphs, marble figurines, and skulls. There were a lot of skulls.

“Oh god,” was all Liam could manage.

The spirit’s eyes met his, orange embers that bored into him. “Is that all? Usually I hear much more elaborate prayers.” Its voice reminded Liam of a crackling bonfire.

Liam looked around, trying to remember any part of Bible study that talked about this. Nothing came to mind. “W-what… what are you?”

“A jinn, you might say. A marid. Plenty of older words, but I doubt you’d know them. Human memory is… fickle. You forget so many things, and once forgotten, they are gone forever. The greatest tragedy of your kind, I think, is all the wisdom that has died, despite your best efforts to preserve it.”

“I thought marid were water spirits.”

The jinn laughed. “And why would you think that? You see what I mean about wisdom. Even your words are temporal things.”

Because the Monster Manual says so, is what Liam thought. He realized it was too stupid to say out loud.

“I wonder why I shouldn’t kill you. You’re powerless to stop me.” Liam saw the jinn’s eyes brighten with flame. “Oh, but this is interesting… you already know about powerlessness. You’ve already felt the terror of it.”

Liam had tried to forget, but the memory was rooted in his mind like claws embedded in flesh. He remembered Mark pinning him down in art annex after school, knees on his arms, looming over him, waving the X-Acto knife in front of his face. “I could kill you,” he’d said, then just stared at him. Then he’d just walked away. Liam had vomited into the trash can after he’d left.

“People are powerless all the time, though. What if your bus driver decided to drive off a bridge? What if a server decided to poison you? A random car could crush you. Your heart could fail—they do that sometimes, you know. No warning. Your government could decide you’re an enemy. That’s happening above us, right now, to many people. Some will die because of it. You don’t live in fear of any of that, though. Just him. Because he exposed the façade.” The jinn laughed, belching cinders. “What an absurd world you live in.”

“What do you want from me?” Liam whispered.

“Some wisdom. Give me that, and I’ll grant a request of yours. A request—not a wish.” The jinn paused. “You remind me of another boy who came here. I told him of power, and he told me to make him a prince. Didn’t do him much good, in the end. No imagination.”

Liam remembered standing in front of class during precalc, the way everyone had stared at him as he tried to remember how to multiply matrices. What the hell do I know that’s wise?

He remembered Mrs. Mallahan bubbling on about how math was the language of the universe. There was Mr. Jones, who spent all of one class ranting about the cultural changes in a group of baboons when most of the males died, and its implications. He’d read a lot of stories about how important courage, friendship, or love were, but none of it felt like wisdom.

“I don’t really know anything.”

“‘A fool knows everything, a wise man knows nothing.’ I’ve heard it too many times. Give me something new. Not someone else’s wisdom. Yours.”

Liam blinked and scrunched up his face. He could feel his mind working, trying to dredge up old memories and make sense of them. He thought of the sky when he’d been hiking up in the mountains, how he’d seen the cloud of stars that was the milky way for the first time. He thought of Olivia, crying into his shoulder after her parents had divorced, and the damp patch it had left on his shirt. He thought of his Grandma Lucille, lying in her deathbed, picture of grandpa facedown on the nightstand, sighing and saying, “I wish I’d traveled more.” Then he thought of Zainab, talking about when she was growing up in Iraq, how she and her mom would play a game where they pretended certain cars had monsters hiding under them, and they had to zig-zag around in the streets. His mind was a jumbled scrapbook. What did it mean?

“Anything can become normal. The stars being blotted out. Fighting. Servitude. The fear of death.”

“Hmm,” the jinn said. “Not original, but at least you’ve made it yours. So what will you request of me, child who still fears death? What change do you wish to enact on this world? A last chance for true wisdom.”

Liam thought of his parents again, worrying. Then the protestors in the street above. He thought again of Mark holding that blade in front of his face. He wondered what would happen if he told the jinn he wanted Mark dead. Probably nothing good. Nothing good from asking to be powerful, either; the jinn had told him the prince hadn’t fared well. Could he ask to forget? Was it a test? His mouth felt dry. What would happen if he failed?

“I want things to be the way they were.”

The jinn faded, and again it was pitch black. Then the world brightened, and he was standing in a hallway, faded red carpet and fresh painted walls.

He heard the jinn’s voice in his head, the crackle of a distant fire. “What a pity. Too blinded by your own eyes. No imagination either. You could have done so much more…”

But he was back in the hotel. The protests had quieted, and he could smell a succulent kabab cooking on the street below. He could hear the baritone of his father, the laughter of his mother. Family. Some normalcy. Was that so wrong? He put his hand on the doorknob and felt the cool brass. He took a deep breath and opened the door.

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


RADIOACTIVE DUST SURGE DETECTED


In. This is a good prompt. Unless you're a Grinch. Cardiomegaly is no joke.

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Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


RADIOACTIVE DUST SURGE DETECTED


Some dang fine crits. Ty all.

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