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Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I won a rosette in the Thunderdome


Sure, let's do this. In.

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Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I won a rosette in the Thunderdome


Thranguy posted:

You two gonna kiss brawl or what?

poo poo, let's make this a thing. Let's him and him fight!

Exmond, Jay: if you want to throw down, up. I'll judge since it's my prompt you're arguing about.

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I won a rosette in the Thunderdome


Exmond posted:

From the previous thread


Since we all must suffer in TD, I'm only if the setting of the brawl has to be in META YORK CITY, the same setting as my DM-Breaker "Death Of A Story"

Nah, you're ing if you're brawling, period. At least, I'm not judging without es on the table.

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I won a rosette in the Thunderdome


Jay W. Friks posted:

Alright. Let's do this. (I'll till you drop eggsman)

Exmond posted:

I have no idea why JayFriks takes offence to my crit (Maybe he should post some more) but sure, Im in

finally

Your Brawl prompt is to write a story that begins with the following sentence, verbatim, because I assigned it for Lytton week and am disappointed it didn't get used:

"Because they had not repented, the angel stabbed the unrepentant couple thirteen times, with its sword."

1000 words. Deadline is Wednesday, January 17th, 11:59 PM Eastern.

NB: I loving hate Meta York City and using it in a brawl I'm judging alone is ill-advised.

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I won a rosette in the Thunderdome


Against Oblivion
1695 words

Six days after I stole Agnes Hunter's stepson, and four days after the changeling I left in his place met its end, Agnes followed my tracks for miles back to the ops center. Even with the unseasonably dry weather, it couldn't have been an easy job; I checked it with drone surveillance, just to make sure I hadn't left something behind, but the only traces I'd left were a few stray footprints where my path diverged from the main road. That was the first sign Agnes had talent.

I was on night watch when she showed up in front of the op center, standing just outside the semicircle of stones that delineates the "elf-hill." (Superstitions sometimes work.) It took me a second to recognize her from the pre-mission surveillance footage; after a while, locals start to look alike. Once I did, though, I started putting on my Redcap gear and getting ready for an encounter. The family we'd stolen from this time were tough, village-edge people, one bad season away from raiding. The stories of the Fair Folk weren't going to scare this one off.

When I got outside, I knew I was right to be careful. Agnes was young, weedy, scraggly-haired, and heavily pregnant, but her stance was ramrod straight and her fists were balled. The translator earpiece in my cap could barely keep up with her once she started to speak, all rapid-fire nerves. "I demand to see the Lord of the Fair Folk. You took our William. I demand to be heard."

"The Lord of the Fair Folk is far from here," I said, which was technically true; our site supervisor was back in home time on corporate business. "Your son is in our land now. He cannot be returned." Also true; William had left the op center for his new home time the day before, and by now he'd have a new family, who would no doubt crow about "rescuing" him from the kitchen accident that the historical record says killed him. We'd done the rescuing, but they'd paid enough to have the credit. Kid was on the way to a better life than I'd ever have.

"Not my son. My husband's son. I know you won't give him back, and that's not why I came. My husband thinks I killed him -- that I was jealous, because William wasn't my own, and I wanted to make room for my baby. He's right that William knew not to touch the cookpot, but he doesn't believe me that it was a changeling that did it, that the thing didn't know better. Now he says he's casting me out as soon as his child's born. The Fair Folk did this, and I demand the Fair Folk's mercy."

Agnes stepped closer to me, close enough to trigger the record hub under my cloak. The thing scanned her in and projected its judgment onto my HUD. Agnes Hunter, wife of Roger de Mill. Dies June 24, 1292, in childbirth delivering stillborn son. Indirect genetic line extinct by 1400. A green indicator light popped up on my HUD. A viable target for abduction-adoption, if she'd been a baby and not an angry woman. I blinked, and my HUD reminded me of the current-time date: May 5, 1292. Agnes had six weeks to live.

"Come inside," I said. "We will consider your petition."

***

The green light in my HUD meant that Agnes was on the wrong side of history, the side that our business model at Chronodopt depends on. It's based on the simple fact of genealogy that, after a certain point, everyone shares a broad entangled ancestor pool. Once you go far enough back from a given time point, 80% of the people alive will be the ancestors of everyone at your future point -- insanely distant, in most cases, but there are starving academics all across the timeline mapping it all. ("The Codex of Humanity," they call it. "Nobody Forgotten." Great project, but the pay's garbage.) The other 20% of the world are nobody's ancestors, the losers of the all-or-nothing game. When you combine that genetic oblivion with a sob story about dying young, you have Chronodopt kids. We abduct them a day or two before death, replace them with bioroids designed to take the fall, and send them off to the future for people with a savior complex. The kids get new homes and new fates; the parents get to feel like they've changed time; we get paid. It's not exactly philanthropy, but sometimes I can convince myself it means something more than a paycheck.

The core principle of time travel is that time eats us all. When the Basement Revolution nerds started screwing around with their prototype machines, they learned fast that you couldn't change history; what happened was always going to happen, and the most you could do was watch it or affirm it. The key to Chronodopt, and a thousand sister timecorps, is that you can trick history. Coroner's records tell us that a two-year-old named William, son of Roger de Mill, died on May 1, 1292 from overturning a cauldron of boiling water onto himself. We can't change that, but once we got bioroid tech good enough to make plausible dead humans (and mostly plausible humans for the day or two it'd take for them to die), we could start making the switch. William the historical figure sinks into oblivion, but William the human being cheats fate. We do it for kids because there'll always be a market for it, but why couldn't we do it for adults?

I don't know what made me want to give Agnes a way out. It was probably the fact that we'd been on skeleton crew and I'd been spending too much time alone in the bunker, reading paperbacks and playing peg solitaire. (No recreational electronics, no stray signals. Good cross-chronological citizenship.) The more I think about the doomed 20%, the more I suspect I'll be one of them. Even if I get out of the cross-time trade with retirement-grade money, I'd need a place in home time and a decent partner to even think about kids, and stability's never been my strong suit. I don't even have Shakespeare's way out -- never was any good at art, or science, or anything else that'd make me immortal. (Should have signed on with the Codex and gotten a few author credits, maybe.) Oblivion's going to take me, and the record said it was going to take Agnes, but her I could do something about. We don't do adult bioroids often, but if we're hiring on local-time field agents, we can get authorization. I knew Agnes was talented. I just had to get the brass to agree.

I didn't tell her any of this, though. She didn't need to hear me go on about the future as she stood there in the root-and-earth reception room, surrounded by elven chairs she wouldn't use. I just told her that the truth was complicated, but that the Lords of the Fair Folk wanted to know her mettle, and then I paged Parvati in the lab module to get a pre-employment health and ability inventory together. I sent Agnes deeper into the elf-hill, to face the trials of the Fair Folk, and I started drafting an email to my supervisor.

***

I knew it was going to work out when I got my copy of Agnes's health report. It had already looked good from her ability inventory -- high general intelligence and spatial/mechanical reasoning skills, quick enough uptake to be up to speed on a surveyor or technician role within a year -- but health reports always made or broke local-time hiring. Nobody wants to do the paperwork on a time bomb, especially with a death readout like Agnes's. I read it over and braced myself.

Overall health average for space and time, the report began. Standard wellness/endemic-infection treatment and nutritional supplementation should suffice. Patient currently approx. 29 weeks pregnant with healthy female fetus.

The record hub had said "stillborn son." It was a blip, the kind of tiny fingerprints you can leave in the closed timeline. I knew that wasn't a slam dunk; there were a thousand explanations that still put the real Agnes right back on schedule to die. Intersex conditions. Birth defects. Hell, just plain bad records, a coroner misremembering the sex of a dead baby. That said, the bioroid fabricators would be working off of that record and a blood sample, not the real-time vitals. If they went off the records, the bioroid substitution went through, and then their work became the record... a neat, closed loop. Maybe too good to be true.

Time-displaced field work isn't for optimists. Idiots think a closed timeline means room for fuckups, but just because nobody ever finds your body doesn't mean you get out of this alive. I didn't hope too hard, just started planning. Agnes went home, sworn to secrecy about her day with the Fair Folk, and I kept writing emails, looping in trainers and HR. Maybe it was the kind of planning you do when you get hopeful, but I never let myself think the word "hope," not until I didn't need it anymore.

Yesterday, Agnes met me at the elf-hill door, and I let her into the changing room -- the real one, the same brushed-steel walls as the rest of the bunkers, no more of the chintzy elf stuff. She got her own set of the Redcap gear (and attached the cap's monitor electrodes on the first try, which I didn't even manage), and then we picked up the bioroid. I'd never handled an adult one before; it walked under its own power, but Agnes and I flanked it to keep it on the path back to the house. She guided it into her bed, where Roger de Mill slept oblivious, and then we stole back as twin Redcaps in the night. Nobody in corporate history's ever delivered their own changeling before, and I doubt anyone'll do it again.

She's got real talent. It's almost enough to make an optimist out of me.

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I won a rosette in the Thunderdome


And now it's time to double-post with Crits for TD Week 282, A Lyttony of Sorrows!

Aesclepia, "Brad Henessey"

This is an intriguing piece, but it's also a very confusing one, and ultimately the lack of clarity or answers sinks this. Like CantDecideOnAName already mentioned, all three of the judges had a different interpretation of what the real story was here and what the important elements were. Is it Brad's time travel power and the people who have told him not to use it? Is it his anxiety about his health, possibly being caused by his power? Is the ultimate point that Brad is delusional? There are a lot of questions and no answers, and it creates a story that's ultimately unsatisfying, even though I feel like the character of Brad himself is better rendered than a lot of similar unreliable narrators. If we'd just gotten even a few clues about what should be focused on with Brad's story, I think this could have been pretty strong.

Exmond, "Vampire's Night Out"

This is a fun enough read, but it's pretty shallow. The supernatural elements aren't particularly deep or interesting, which isn't necessarily a killer; urban fantasy can work with fairly shallow supernatural/worldbuilding elements as long as the human core to the story is sound. I can see the bones of that human story here -- the concept that Cordelia and Murphy are going out to confront their insecurities, as much or more than they're going out to pick up guys -- but they feel a bit stapled on, especially since they come later in the narrative. (Murphy's daughter shows up way too late to make any impact, in particular.) Try and work on finding the human core of your narrative earlier and making it a stronger part of your stories.

Jay W. Friks, "Letter From A Concerned Colleague"

This story is a good concept buried in way too much filler. Basically the entire conversation between the narrator and the witness is clumsily-written and uninteresting, just to get to the point that the meteor has fear-manifesting powers and then to get to the punchline. It's a good punchline, but surely there was a quicker way to get there and some more interesting ways to explore the premise? (I yield that the crater vampire setup is pretty dire, and if you don't really want to explore it at any depth I can't blame you, but even focusing on the action over the witness conversation would help.)

Tyrannosaurus, "In the Blood"

This is a very deft story with a strong emotional core, and that's what ultimately gave it the win. The relationship between the main character and Joao feels real and moving even though the story is obviously quite stylized; my major critique about this story is that the prose style does feel a little overworked over-stylized, either to echo the weird cadence of the initial sentence or to be South-American-prose-y, but I feel like the relationship still comes through even as the prose holds the reader at a slight distance. Very good work.

I want to make a special note of the use of AIDS in this story, which I think is very deft. It's very easy for HIV/AIDS to feel like a cheap plot device, but this story uses it with clear precision and thought; it's important for the flow of the story that Joao be dying of something that makes the MC press him for confessions, so using AIDS feels appropriate, but the story also realizes that the disease isn't really where the story lies there. Ultimately, it doesn't matter how Joao contracted HIV -- that's not what matters about him, either as a person diegetically or as a character in the story. This is a good handling of a difficult subject, in my opinion.

apophenium, "Gobolinks"

This was my personal favorite of the week. As the prompting judge, I really appreciate the way the prompt sentence is embraced; it feels very natural and cohesive with the character voice for the rest of the story. In general, the character voice is pretty satisfying. I feel like this is a good use of the unreliable/ill narrator, since we get enough from the narrator to have a good idea what's going on and why the events of the story represent a meaningful change in their state. The end is particularly interesting in this regard; I find it kind of touching, in a weird way, that this character has found a method of harm-reduction and asserting control over their life, even if it's weird and artistically questionable.

Disclaimer: freaky body-horror weirdness is a guilty pleasure of mine, and I suspect that's why this story worked better for me than it did for the other judges. The content of this story is definitely a matter of taste. But I liked it!

Yoruichi, "Hope Springs Eternal"

This is a generally enjoyable story with a strong concept, good (and topic-appropriate) use of visual imagery, and a decent character arc overall. My major complaint is that I found it sort of dry, although that may be an issue with Ernest's narrative voice; what we got was good, but honestly, this topic could have lent itself to a lot more lushness. The other issue, and one I believe has already been discussed in other crits, is that Ernest doesn't quite feel consistent. I imagine the intention is that stress and falling behind in the competition is making him less stable, but it goes a little too far towards delusion, and his failure is almost laid on a little too thick.

flerp, "Distance"

This was a difficult losing pick, because I don't think this story is incompetent, just... not really much of anything. There's nothing wrong with character vignettes, and I think there's something interesting about Peter's desire to be more interesting and exciting than he is, but the overall dynamic of "adventurous girl and boring dude" feels kind of trite, and I don't feel like there's a real reason we're seeing this moment of Sara and Peter's lives. I realize this is partially my fault, because I gave you some pretty boring sentences, but this story is just way too low-key to register as being meaningful.

Benny Profane, "From Below"

Overall, I found this to be one of the most successful pieces in the week and a well-earned HM. It's a touch worldbuilding-heavy, and there's something of a feeling that this is pulled from a bigger piece, but there's also clearly a story here -- maybe the beginning or middle of a bigger story, but there's a throughline. I do wish Asa was slightly less of a cipher than she is, though.

Thranguy, "Beautiful and Terrible as the Dawn"

Well, prompt a weird sentence, get the weird story? The good news is that I'm more or less aware of what's going on, although I'm still not sure why we have a multiple protagonist aside from that initial "we"; the bad news, though, is that I know what's going on because this story is basically all characters talking to/expositing at each other. A murder happens, characters talk about it, this leads to negative revelations, and... end of story? The weirdness ends up feeling very surface-level to cover the fact that there's not much interesting going on here. The atmosphere is kind of fun, but the story needs more meat.

The Saddest Rhino, "Waste"

Oh, lord, what to write about this? This piece is actually pretty good, up to the point that it very deliberately dives off the cliff. It's really hard to work up the energy to crit or care about a joke, though, especially a strenuously topical joke that's clearly going nowhere but Thunderdome, so... mission accomplished?

Sham bam bamina!, "Floodplain"

This is an uncanny style parody of the initial sentence, but in a week where the goal was to write non-crappy fiction, this is not a good thing. Some of it even feels like you're backsliding a bit from previous progress you've made with your prose in TD; phrases like "I creakingly woke one morning" feel like echoes back to an echo back to the "bleeding mouth moaned horizontally" days of 271/272. I get that you were trying to revel in the over-the-top badness of your prompt sentence, but as mentioned above, "write crappy" wasn't the goal. It's a shame, because I feel like the core of this story -- a main character who has lived a long and successful life, is faced with a crisis as the consequence of his actions, and fails over and over to deal with it -- is a good core of dark comedy. Even the ending is really good in this regard! Just... the prose, man. The prose.

sebmojo, "In Veritas"

I feel like the story structure of this piece, where two characters stand there and talk until one character kills the other, is always going to read like a shaggy-dog story, and it doesn't do this any favors. There are some very pretty images and turns of phrase here (although "important truth treasure" is laying it on a little thick), but the characters never quite become interesting enough to really make this add up to anything, and the whole thing feels a little facile. To be fair, this may be a case of prompt sabotage, since it's not like this first sentence could lead to anything non-facile.

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I won a rosette in the Thunderdome


From IRC just now:

[01:24:48] <Antivehicular> MOTHERFUCKER
[01:24:59] <Antivehicular> my loving song got sniped

Anyway. In, and I guess if I can't have The Stranger Song, I'll take "Take This Waltz."

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I won a rosette in the Thunderdome


sebmojo posted:

that sounds like a villainous act, anti-v you probably want to get some satisfaction

750 words, the worst heist by the smartest criminals

due 18 Jan 2018 2359 pst

up and face to bloodshed

Sure, let's do it. I DEMAND MY SATISFACTION

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I won a rosette in the Thunderdome


Thanks for the crits, apophenium!

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I won a rosette in the Thunderdome



Thanks for the crits and for the fun week!

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I won a rosette in the Thunderdome


A Newcomer's Guide to Afanasi
1191 words
Prompt: Take This Waltz

There are many roads to the city of Afanasi, but only the chosen walk them. The city does not advertise itself to tourists, and while it supports itself with trade in textiles and jewelry, it is no merchant mecca. Those who come to Afanasi are almost all immigrants. For these hopefuls, Afanasi has many nicknames; traders call it the Polished City, and refugees the Welcoming Hearth. One of my guides, when I first arrived, called it the End of the World. I have always preferred to call it the Kind City, for Afanasi is built on kindness.

The first thing a new arrival will notice about Afanasi is its fine stone architecture in older European styles, several preserved only within the city, which has been spared the indignities of war. The local stone of Afanasi is a uniform dark grey, with the smooth finish of great age. Many say that the city looks careworn, and if that is true, it matches its immigrants well.

There are two sections of Afanasi. The Inner District, with which this guide is not concerned, is the home of the city's natives and said to be the center of its industry. I have never stepped through the gates of the Inner District, but these rumors are borne out by the sounds of life beyond: the bells of factories and churches, and the laughter of children. There are no children in the Outer District, where immigrants arrive and which most will never leave. For those who drift to Afanasi, worn and ruined by life, the Outer District is their haven: an infinitely gentle world, of limited responsibilities and endless patience. In Afanasi's Outer District, those who need kindness will have their fill.

The Outer District of Afanasi runs on a simple code of garments worn in two different colors, unique to the city's textile mills: a dark, brassy gold and a pale, silvery sky blue. When you first find lodging in Afanasi, your innkeeper or landlord will provide you with a simple set of garments in these colors, most likely the skullcap-and-scarf set that is most enduringly popular. These colors must not be mixed, for wearing one indicates the role you wish to take in the emotional economy of Afanasi. Wearing the brass-gold indicates that you want to receive care and kindness, without any particular intent to return it; wearing the silver-blue suggests the opposite desire, to offer kindness to others without expectation. What a wearer of brass-gold requires, a wearer of silver-blue will provide. To those who have lived lives without a moment's sympathy, or to those who have yearned to be kind and never had the opportunity, this exchange provides solace. The businesses of the district are focused on service at a languid pace -- coffee shops and light restaurants, bars with soft music and little dancing, the sort of bookstores that are more designed to facilitate conversation than to sell anything -- places where those who need to be kind can serve those who need that kindness. One works when one's whims allow it, and businesses hire overflowing rosters, understanding that only those who feel sufficiently silver-blue that day will attend work. For those who do not, there is the brass-gold and a languid day of being cared for by the world: taking breakfast in a coffee shop with an attentive server, say, and then wandering an art gallery whose silver-blue-skullcapped curator speaks to you of the artist's influences without ever suggesting a purchase, and then a night at a bar where every disconsolate drinker has their own patient bartender, dispensing schnapps and sympathy in equal measure. If even that day does not appeal to you, you can stay in your rooms. Even the shabbiest rooming house in Afanasi will provide a good coffee pot and a broad kitchen window, the better to watch the polished grey vistas of the city and hear the distant bells of the Inner District towers.

Life in the Outer District is comfortable, and over time, a resident will develop friendships with those fellows who mirror their own patterns of need -- the ones who offer kindness when you need it, and accept it when your heart demands that you prove your worth. It is best not to expect much beyond this. The Outer District life does not lend itself to intimacy, let alone passion, and those who find love here will usually find it with old acquaintances they knew in more troubled times. Such rekindled loves can be great comforts, but one must maintain realistic expectations. I think of my Sofia, whom I knew in my youth and whom I found again in a secondhand store in Afanasi, browsing a shelf of fine antique brooches. We had been dear to each other, in our old world, and what bloomed again was an echo of that -- no great love, but adequate, especially in the shining careworn streets of Afanasi. We spoke, on occasion, of something more. One day, though, she was gone, and her landlady would not answer my questions. Such is life in Afanasi; the residents of the Outer District have been wounded by the world, and they refuse the depth of intimacy that might wound them again.

For most immigrants who come to Afanasi, your life will fall into a comfortable rhythm of kindnesses offered and received. Most will find that they prefer the brass-gold or the silver-blue, and some will remain flexible, serving or being served as the city around them needs. As I have said, it is comfortable, and it is a fine way to live a life here; as a guide for newcomers and one who favors the silver-blue, I find most of my days here very satisfactory. Others, though, will find it less satisfying. For those, the city offers options. Some simply leave, of course, but it is fewer than you might think; those who find their way to Afanasi rarely consider the remainder of the world palatable. Many who have come to Afanasi as a last resort, and find even this life more than they can bear, choose suicide. There are soft-voiced apothecaries who sell formulations for that purpose, efficacious and said to be painless (but who can testify to that?), and discreet funeral parlors that will make arrangements for the removal and disposal of your body after your final moment has passed. For those who desire monuments, the Outer District of Afanasi has several excellent graveyards, where the world's wealthy hermits have paid the city's stonecutters and undertakers to memorialize them far from the site of their failures.

Some say there is another way to leave the Outer District of Afanasi: that, for those who have grown beyond the need for transactional kindness, the powers of the city might offer a key to the Inner District and whatever life it offers. This is beyond the scope of my expertise. Perhaps it is a better life, one worth the striving, but if I had the will to strive for the unknown, I would never have sought out Afanasi. Whatever life you seek, I wish you luck; may you find all the city can offer you.

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I won a rosette in the Thunderdome


Sitting Here posted:

this is why interprompts were invented

interprompt:



200 words interprompt or shut up (unless you're saying thanks for the crits [and nothing else])

Investigation Report: Puzzle Box 368-A, filed by Agent Skreeaw

Agent received report from civilian nesting on adjacent structure about suspicious box similar to known Terrestrial puzzle-based food storage boxes. Civilian stated that she suspected "serious food, the real good stuff," but was unable to attempt the puzzle herself due to nesting duties. Civilian was rewarded beak's worth of Terrestrial carbohydrate as thanks for service to Great Nest.

Agent found reported box, designated Puzzle Box 368-A (see addendum for magnetic navigation coordinates), and investigated. This agent's belief is that there is little chance of food or puzzle with this box. Puzzle was entirely sealed in hard-cold Terrestrial material, with no obvious apertures or manipulator tools available. Additionally, location is not readily accessible to Terrestrials, suggesting infrequent visits and thus probably no fresh foodstuffs stored there. Agent did not pursue further work on the puzzle.

I'm not quite ready to say this was a wash yet, but this one is going to need a way better puzzler than me. I'm only a 2nd-ranker, after all. Is anyone good at breaking hard-cold? -- S.

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I won a rosette in the Thunderdome


Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I won a rosette in the Thunderdome


In

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I won a rosette in the Thunderdome


Antivehicular vs. Guiness13 Leonard Cohen Song Selection Grudgematch 2k18 brawl post

Heavy Machinery
745 words
Prompt: the worst heist by the smartest criminals

Driving a forklift isn't like riding a bike, it turns out; it is't coming back all that quickly, and going faster sure as Hell isn't making it easier. Jackson's warehouse-work days are longer ago than he realized, and the science-supply warehouse is way overstocked, with tight corridors and teetering pallets. An OSHA inspector would die on the spot. Jackson's not sure he's getting out alive, either, as he carefully negotiates the maze, trying to keep his cargo steady.

The linchpin of the plan is the goddamn glassware. Professor Partridge's formulation is a sure winner: a euphoric, slightly sedative hallucinogenic, Baby's First Acid for the weed crowd. Not close enough to anything scheduled to be on the radar yet. The synthesis is a little tricky, but Jackson agrees with Partridge that that's a bonus -- keeps the kitchen chuds out of the market, hopefully for long enough for them to stack bank and get out. The reagents are all common and cheap enough that they can order them by the bucket on the Chem Department's dime without anyone blinking. But the glassware? Stuff for tricky synthesis, mostly -- too expensive to casually order, too esoteric to steal and write off as breakage from 100-level labs, and too regulated to just buy without sellers demanding permits. Partridge is not interested in loving around with shell companies. They've already wasted so much goddamn time in academia. Jackson got volunteered to lift it once Partridge heard about his undergraduate warehouse work, and he's trying to tell itself it'll be worth it once the darknet sales start up.

LabStar Science Supply has a good selection and lovely security, the kind Jackson was able to buy off with a bag of prototype party powder, but they package like poo poo. Even as Jackson slows down and keeps the forklift steady, he can hear the crate of Erlenmeyer flasks at the bottom of the load clanking against one another. God knows how the Soxhlet extractors are faring. Christ, Jackson wishes he'd blazed up for this. The cold fry of anxiety is making his hands shake on the forklift controls, even as he rounds the last corner and sees the loading bay in sight, with the rental truck in position. Thank God. One last straightaway...

The glassware clanks. The shelves creak. Jackson's heart hammers. He drives the slowest, longest 100 feet of his life across the floor and up the loading ramp before he deposits the pallet of glassware in the truck. Partridge has already half-stocked the thing with Chem Department salvage, and there aren't any load straps left, but he manages to get things wedged in somewhere. Only five miles to the lab site, right? Once it's loaded and he's parked the forklift, Jackson climbs into the cab, anxiety dissolving into a runner's high. "Hey, Prof. We're good to go."

"Fantastic," says Partridge, and gets the rental truck lurching back to life. This thing is way too loving big. Why rent a tall panel truck when a U-Haul would have done the job? Maybe in a couple of trips, Jackson thinks as he stares out the window and listens to Partridge's GPS chirping out directions, but it's probably better if the university stuff shrinks slowly. They've got the goods, they've got the plans, and they've got all the time in the world. Now they just have to...

The GPS calls out a direction, a turn that sounds familiar. A Youtube video of a low overpass. "Um, Prof? Did you check the clearance on this thing?"

Partridge glances away from the road, pushes his glasses up his nose. "This is a heavy industrial traffic district, Jackson. There's no reason to assume --"

The roof of the truck hits the overpass, and the overpass wins. There's a crunch as metal shears away and the truck jerks to a stop, and then the thumps and crashes of the cargo following Newton's laws. No load straps. Jackson closes his eyes and tries to forget the sound of a dozen Soxhlet extractors breaking at once.

"Goddammit," says Partridge, with a cold calm that Jackson knows from years of failed experiments. "I'm calling the emergency line."

"If you do that, we're going completely to jail --"

"They're not going to look back there! Stay calm, Jackson." Partridge starts dialing, and Jackson bites down on his lip and tastes blood. Every instinct tells him to run, but reason wins out. What's he going to do if he runs? Find another thesis advisor?

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I won a rosette in the Thunderdome


Jay W. Frixmond Unrepetant Angel Fight -- Results and Crits

Whatever else you can say about this brawl, it definitely involved angels with weapons. Jay W. Friks wins for pulling off a story with some degree of meaning from this completely asinine prompt. Nice work, Jay.

Crits!

Jay W. Friks, "Perdition"

This story is a slow starter, with some early proofreading issues that took me out of the story initially (missing apostrophe in "Bernards," some clunky comma splices), but it really warmed up as it went. The material with the lash angel is gory but strong, and it gives more weight to what could be a pretty clumsy expository passage; a lot of this story is based around a single idea, but there's enough action that it doesn't feel like a talking-head-expository story at all. The end is particularly strong, and the last paragraph gives a really strong and evocative mental image. Really nice work.

Exmond, "Tempered Sacrifice"

In terms of overall structure and effect, I feel like this story is the opposite of Jay's: starting with its strongest point and gradually becoming weaker and more confused, until the ending feels a bit of an anticlimax even though objectively the events are cataclysmic. The concept of gaining a boon from Heaven via surviving a ritual sin-smiting is legitimately sort of interesting (like, why would God do this or let this happen?), and the visual of the Jupiter-Wrath sword is nice; unfortunately, the recitation shortly thereafter kind of undercuts the tone with a sort of self-conscious cleverness ("thrust with Lust," really?), and I feel like the desire to build something clever and complicated kind of overwhelms the story from there. There's a lot going on here, and at 1000 words, I think it'd be more sensible to trim and focus. We probably don't need the necromantic bolts -- honestly, do the protagonists need to be necromancers at all? The trick they're playing on God here seems largely magic-agnostic, and the "take up necromancy to revive a dead loved one" trope is extremely predictable. Just too much stuff. Also, too much paragraph spacing.

Small side note: this is your third consecutive story with a theme of mothers suffering child loss, although this is the first one where it's actual child death and not just signing over custody. I respect that you're trying to get more human/emotional themes into your writing, and I think it's a good direction, but I would be cautious about reusing this plot device, especially as a motivation for female characters. Women in fiction often get pigeonholed as either love/sex interests or mothers/caretaker figures, and it'd be nice to see female characters have problems that don't relate to either of those roles.

Another small side note: I didn't want to DQ you for the Garth Nix references, because I wanted to make it clear that these brawl results were based on story quality and not "oops, someone DQ'd," but I do want to talk about it a bit. I know this was intended as a throwaway reference, and I suspect it was a bit of fun for you writing a story you've been open about being nervous about, but you should really try to avoid this sort of thing in TD entries. Copying very distinct flavor elements from other stories, however minor their use, can rip readers out of the story and make it all feel less creative and original. You don't need to prop yourself up with fanfic elements. Please don't use them in the future.

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I won a rosette in the Thunderdome


Thanks for the crit, sebmojo!

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I won a rosette in the Thunderdome


Another Turn of the Wheel
1575 words

When the news from the Academy arrives, Ariantha is in her sanctum, reading her diary of her decades with her fourth family. The glassy pages collect condensation from the humidifier, whose thick steam eases the pain in her creaky coral bones, letting her focus her mind on trying to remember. Those had been good years. The husband was attentive and unambitious. The child had been a success, founded a lineage, and died old. Ariatha had even made graphite sketches of their faces in the margins; why did those faces slip away from her so easily when she tried to picture them? How could she read their names and not remember how she'd said them?

There are three rapid knocks at her door. Kesh. Ariatha reaches to flip off the humidifier before croaking out "come in." It's been too long out of the water, and even her voice is beginning to betray her. Kesh steps inside, wings and manipulator-limbs folded neatly even as his fur bristles at the damp. Of all of her people's servitor races, Ariantha is glad that Kesh's people were the ones to inherit the Earth; the Delvers are studiously polite, even when visiting the most inconsiderate hosts. Kesh is often too good for her.

"Matriarch Ariantha," Kesh says. "Have I interrupted you at reminiscence?"

"What else do I do these days?"

"It's your right." One of Kesh's wings twitches -- a sure sign he's got bad news, or what he thinks she'll think is bad news. He's transparent. It's a blessing.

"Well? You've come here for a reason, Kesh. You might as well say it."

"The Academy's sent us a commission. There's been a discovery in Whitestone Gate -- child playing in the old sewers, broke a bas-relief, found a door -- they think it's a Designer relic. They want us to do the initial report. How should I phrase the disinterest letter?"

Of course the Academy wants her, and of course Kesh thinks she'll want to exercise her right of first refusal. Ariantha's next, long-delayed sea pilgrimage begins in two weeks, and Kesh knows her well enough to know what kind of pain she's in these days. Ariantha remembers the Whitestone Gate sewers, though. When she'd been a child, it had still been in use, like so much of the old Designer infrastructure. She'd started her second doctoral dissertation on the day they'd shut it down, and they'd spent years trying to maintain it as a "sacred culture site" before the Designer-worshipping holdouts had finally given up. Nobody ever mentioned a door, or a structure beyond it. Had the Designers placed one of their mosaics over it, one that was in time replaced with her own people's bas-relief and then shattered by an inheritor's rock? Always the wheel turns, but this is a new path. It's about time for one.

"Tell them I'm interested," Ariantha says, "after I return from the sea. Six weeks' time. They'll wait for me." And the site would wait, of course. The Designer's cities had outlived their race, and the inheritor race they'd made, and seemed just as likely to outlive their inheritors' inheritors. Her bones would crumble long before the site did.

***

The Whitestone Gate sewers are clean-polished and skeletal, and stepping inside gives Ariantha a strange frisson of nervous excitement; she hasn't had living nerves in centuries, but her mind can still produce phantoms of feeling, especially so soon after a pilgrimage. Ariantha feels very nearly alive again, and as she strides down the narrow paths of the sewer, she forces herself to avoid overtaking Kesh in front of her, who has the map and the natural caution of a Delver. To Kesh's people, these tunnels have never been anything but their current shells, the Designers' elaborate filtration membranes long gone, the layers of artwork chipped or faded or entirely lost. Even Ariantha was never here in the flesh in its better days. The images she holds onto are memories of textbooks and little more.

The door was deeper in than she'd expected -- quite a child vandal, to get this far -- and the door opens on a smooth, broad ramp descending into darkess. A vehicle entrance, more than likely, or something for maintenance carts? It's a rather gentle descent, but Ariantha forces caution to the forefront and takes careful steps. "Not just a maintenance nook, then," says Kesh brightly. "Something meaningful down here. Why a branch of the sewers, though?"

"Sewers were about purity," Ariantha replies. "The Designers revered the sea and clean water; the sewers were for filtration and renewal, not disposal. They weren't exactly public civic areas, but there was no taboo." The darkness is growing deeper as they descend, and Ariantha turns on the headlamp mounted in the forehead of her mask. "Still, this is a concealed structure. One does wonder why. They weren't shy people."

"Mm," says Kesh, clicking his own lantern on. "Think it's levelling off, Matriach. Be careful."

"I'm trying, dear, I'm trying."

The ramp ends in a smooth, circular expanse of floor, of the same white stone as the sewers and ramp -- no, Ariantha realizes, not quite. The stone is inlaid with glazed ceramic, a design of tesselating triangles, a sunburst in a gradient from gold-orange at the center to blazing red at the tips. It is fine stonework, unfaded by time, and it forces a memory to the surface: Ariantha's second year of school, a special art lesson about Designer mosaics, the guest teacher trying to explain their symbolism of color and shape to the children. It was the first time she'd heard "tesselation" and "gradient," and she can hear the teacher with bizarre clarity. To the Designers, red and orage were the colors of pain.

"I think I know what this is," Ariantha says. "A quarantine-hospital. For their last plague."

"What? Do you mean..."

"The Designers believed that the dead deserved privacy. They took their sickest people to facilities like this. Dignity, they thought."

"So they hauled the dying through their city waterworks? Matriach, that doesn't make any sense."

"No. It doesn't. They... made mistakes." It's easy to make mistakes when your race is dying. Ariantha was generations from being born when the Designers died out, but she remembers her people's own end times: the famines, the heat and the dust and the receding seas, that sent her to the Preservation Center to accept coral-boned eternity. She'd left her -- sixth? Seventh? -- family then. Three children. No diary to record their names, no sketches of faces. Mistakes are easy. "This must have been early, if they had time to decorate it. Let's keep going."

Kesh doesn't protest. Delvers are practical, and the Academy doesn't offer much work to people who care about respecting the dead. The two of them step forward into the broad atrium, and their lamps catch the gleam of a rainbow of mosaic shards. A masterwork, intact. Small figures of Designers kneeling in groups of three, pain-red in their feet fading to clear teal purity and then the deeper blue of holiness in their upraised faces, receiving waves of blue sacrament from a central... figure?

Ariantha realizes, with a rush of something that she thinks might be joy, that she can't recognize the mosaic's central figure at all. It's a tall, slender thing with a narrow triangular head and three rows of long, tapered arms, each hand surrounded in sacred glow. It's tiled in the violet blue that's reserved for the holiest of holies. Its eyes are shards of mirror. On the forehead is a Designer logogram she can't quite make out at this distance.

"That's," says Kesh, and then stops. "What is that? Another caste of Designer?"

"They didn't have castes. They didn't have six arms or silver eyes, either. It's got to be... something mythical?" It's not a likely hypothesis; the Designers had few myths, and none of them were pleasant. Ariantha closes in, craning her neck to read the logogram.

UPLIFTER. A shoddy translation, but a difficult term to translate: someone who carries another upwards, nurtures their growth to a higher state, provides foundation. Used for beloved parents, honored ancestors, mentors, and... creators.

Ariantha laughs. Her body is ill-suited to laughing, but she simply can't help it. There's been so much speculation for so long about where the Designers came from, but it's all the same old cycle, isn't it? The Delvers had been made by her doomed people; her people had been made by the doomed Designers; the Designers had been made by these doomed silver-eyed things, so long gone that the last trace of them is in in their inheritors' prison-hospital, a mural to comfort the dying. Were those creatures the first civilized beings, or were there more cycles of progenitors, deeper and deeper? The wheel has always turned. Will they ever know who or what set it turning?

Ariantha's mind is ablaze with possibility. She beckons Kesh closer, noticing that even he has cracked a toothy grin, a mark of truly uncommon exuberance for both his people and for him. "Kesh," she whispers. "Isn't it beautiful?"

"It's strange," he says, and bark-laughs. "It's so strange. Wonderful."

"More than you know." More than a mortal can know. After endless centuries of subsisting on memory, there is something new for Ariantha to discover. There will be work that isn't trivial, experiences worth recording, emotions that aren't ghosts. For the first time in more years than she can count, she'll need a diary.

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I won a rosette in the Thunderdome


Exmond posted:

Flash rule: Your story must include a ghost instructing you on puberty

sebmojo posted:

Interprompt: write a story about this in 200 words

Certain Facts of Life
197 words

"Why have you summoned me, Jason? After all these years, why now?"

My husband stared up at me helplessly from his position at the edge of the pentagram, sitting cross-legged with his bloodied wrists bared to the air. "It's Tracy," he said. Our youngest. Our only daughter.

"What? Is she all right?"

"She started her period yesterday. The nurse sent her home with a few pads and some tampons, but..." He trailed off and grimaced. Goddammit, I thought, with the force only an exile from Heaven could muster. Thirteen years with me, three girlfriends after my death, and he's still repulsed by feminine hygiene?

"You sacrificed five years of your life and hauled me back from the dead just so I could show my daughter how to put a tampon in?"

"It's gross!" said Jason, sitting next to his blood pentagram, corners marked with hand-dipped lamb's-fat candles, air thick with butcher-shop scent. "And she needs her mom right now."

That much was true, at least. Tracy figured out tampons on her own, but the year on Earth that Jason's sacrifice bought me has given us time to talk, mostly about how her father is an idiot.

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I won a rosette in the Thunderdome


gently caress it, dude, let's go bowling. In, and I lay my life on the line.

Also, a slightly less punitive flash rule would be nice.

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I won a rosette in the Thunderdome


The Soft Touch
1499 words
Flash Rule: When your protagonist is called out, as inevitably they will be, they will calmly explain "When he reached the New World, Cortez burned his ships."

The kid who ransacked my changing room made his share of mistakes, but the first was calling himself "Phantom Thief Golden Swan." There's nothing wrong with rolling changing rooms, when work's thin on the ground, but you can't put on airs about it. The kid left goddamn calling cards. Neat little swan, gold ink. Might have cost more than he netted, because his second mistake was going in on a dead day. October's always our off season, and we'd only had a handful of visitors to the hot springs that day; that afternoon, it had been the crop of old guys my wife calls "the Usual Suspects," a few employees, and exactly one new guest. Slim pickings for loot, but more importantly, a very short suspect list. My employees are honest kids, and the Usual Suspects are well past their floor-creeping days. The kid didn't realize how neatly he'd pigeonholed himself.

Mistake #3 was leaving Kenta's combination lock on a strange number. I've done enough changing-room walk-throughs to know that Kenta always leaves his lock on 24, the last digit in the combination. When I went in to tidy up that day, it was on 5. It's an easy mistake to make, but it's sloppy, especially when the rest of the job was so clean. If he hadn't hit my place, he'd have gotten away with it. Mistake #4: heading to a new town and not having a quiet word with your fixer first about which of your targets have owners in the business.

Once I saw Kenta's number was off, I closed the changing room "for cleaning" and popped the locks. Sure enough, all of the Usual Suspects had lost their bankrolls. Kenta'd lost his wallet, his cheap little phone... and the ring box. Of course. Kenta'd been telling everyone in earshot about his engagement party the coming week and the ring arriving in the nick of time. He'd gotten Momoko white gold and a diamond, American-style. He's my best maintenance guy, but Kenta's the biggest mark I've ever met.

I can see what was going on in "Golden Swan"'s head. He'd been here three days, maybe doing a circuit of the local hot-springs inns, and was probably realizing just what a dead little detour this was. If I'd gotten caught in Beppu in my hungry days, I'd have been discouraged too. Then he overhears an employee talking about an engagement ring, and he goes for the score. Who could blame him?

I could. Kenta's a mark, but he's a good kid, and he's my responsibility. "Golden Swan" made a mistake rolling my place, but he made a bigger one loving with one of my boys, and I decided on the spot I was going to make it right.

Once the changing room was back in order, I headed straight for the front desk and my wife. "Yumi, you seen that kid who checked in on Tuesday? He check out yet?"

"Ten minutes ago. Looked like he was in a hurry."

"He was. He just rolled the changing rooms." I flashed one of the calling cards, and Yumi sighed.

"A golden swan? He was wearing a gold swan pin on his lapel. Idiot."

"Just makes it easier for me. Tell the old guys I'll have their money back by tomorrow, and if Kenta asks about his ring, stall him."

"All right," said Yumi, "but be quick. You've got work in Osaka tonight, remember?"

poo poo, I'd almost forgotten -- Tanaka'd set me up with a crew in Osaka for tonight who needed a good hand with locks for a few art-gallery jobs. A little easy money in the dead season. I'd thought it was good timing, but in this business, good timing always goes bad.

"Don't worry about it," I said. "I'll see you tomorrow morning."

"Don't get in too much trouble, dear."

"I'll try." I stepped out into the street. It was a chilly afternoon, and steam billowed out of the sidewalk grates from the hot-springs cooling systems. Beppu's got a lot of little hells, and "Golden Swan" had stepped into the wrong one.

***

Catching up with the kid was so easy it's almost embarrassing. He was waiting on the train platform for the Kokura express, wearing his stupid little pin and carrying a backpack and rolling suitcase. Mistake #5: doing remote work and not packing light. I tailed him onto the Kokura train, then to his connection to Hakata, where he headed for the remote wall of lockers where security was the weakest. Mistake #5 1/2, in my book. Hakata Station's big enough that you can stay safely anonymous everywhere, so why seek out the dark corners?

I waited at a coffee stand long enough for him to lock up the backpack and race on to another connection, then gave it another fifteen minutes. Mistake #6: the kid used one of the old 100-yen key lockers. Less trackable than electronic, but child's play to pop. The backpack had a nice heft to it; the kid'd been on a decent spree. I slung it over my shoulder and checked a station clock. 6:32 PM. I'd made reasonable time, but was "reasonable" good enough?

I did the math. Tanaka's guys wanted me at the rendezvous in Osaka by 10:00. If the next train was within 15 minutes or so, I could make it on time: tight, but on time. I had my tools. All I'd be doing was following orders. I'd stay the night in Osaka, spend five hours on the train in the morning, and be home by lunch. Then again... I could make an excuse and make my way home, maybe upgrade from coach to the green car. I'd be home for a late dinner, and if Kenta had stayed late, his ring'd show up in the Lost and Found before he left work. No sleep lost for him. The payday in Osaka would be nice, but we'd get by without it.

I flipped my burner open as I started walking towards the terminal to Kokura. Tanaka picked up on the third ring -- busy night for him. "Tanaka, it's Kobayashi. I can't make the Osaka meet. Family emergency."

"The gently caress does that mean? Your kid crying on the phone?" I'd dropped a job once for a phone call -- my boy Makoto having a bad first semester at Waseda -- and Tanaka'd never let me forget it. He probably wouldn't let me live this down, either, but there were more important things on the line.

"Long story. Just get a local guy for your job, all right?"

"You're cutting yourself off from Osaka work. Cutting me off, too, if this goes on."

"Makoto didn't lose us jobs. This won't either. Make it work. That's your job, isn't it?"

Tanaka hung up on me, which was his way of saying he'd solve it. I bought myself a can of coffee and sat down to wait for the Kokura train.

***

A week after the jaunt to Hakata, Tanaka showed up at the cafe across the street just as I was having my mid-morning coffee. He looked pissed off, but when didn't he? I sipped my espresso and waited for him to unload.

"You burned bridges back there," he said. "There's only so many times I can sell people on your being 'exclusive' before they decide you're just a flake. Don't you take this seriously, old man?"

"It's like this," I said. "When he reached the New World, Cortez burned his ships. He knew what he wanted, and he had it, and he was willing to make sacrifices to keep it. The work's all right, but what I want is right here." I looked out the window, at the steaming vents and rows of inns and bathhouses, and at the mountains beyond. I thought of Kenta's engagement party up on Mt. Tsurumi, and the days he'd spent raving about the view from the ropeway; I decided I'd take Yumi there soon, before the weather took a turn. "I had to get home and set some things right, that's all."

"Do you have any idea how much the Osaka job raked in? Expensive act of charity."

"It wasn't pure charity. Let's go back to the inn and I'll have you look at a few things..."

"Golden Swan" made some serious mistakes, but he'd had good luck before he hit Beppu. The backpack was loaded with gold watches and flashy mistress-gift jewelry, the kind of stuff that pawns nice and easy. Tanaka took a heavy cut "for his time and trouble," but he smiled. I guess I owe the kid that, and if he shows his face in Beppu again, I'll slip him Tanaka's number. Maybe he'll have learned his lessons by then. If he hasn't, well, at least I'll have a replacement for #1 Pain in Tanaka's rear end, and I'll owe him for that too.

Good deeds can be their own reward, but it's always nice when there's a little extra.

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I won a rosette in the Thunderdome


Tyrannosaurus posted:

This sure is some slow judging huh

It's not their fault that the judging results are locked behind a steel vault door and the thermal drill broke down.

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I won a rosette in the Thunderdome


In, and I'll take a Flash Rule, please.

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I won a rosette in the Thunderdome


This is pretty late, but I've been meaning to type this up and the weekend is finally here, so before I have to go knee-deep in TDome entry writing, here's a crit for Unfunny Poster's "My Last Day" (with some minor digressions about the same author's "Choon-Hee and the Gweomul")

Some of the issues with this story have already been covered thoroughly here: the use of sexual harassment in a "feel-good" week, and the lack of detail/interest in a "setting should pop" week, both prominent issues with this story and already discussed in other crits. Instead, I'd like to focus on the problem of the passive main character in the story, which was also an issue with "Choon-Hee." The major piece of advice I want to give you is to think more specifically about your main characters, both to make them greater sources of action in the story and to bring out what's interesting and unique about them.

Let's talk a little bit about Sarah. Sarah's primary feature, evident from the title and the second sentence on, is that she doesn't care about her job and her surroundings. She's done, she's checked out, it's over. This isn't always a good approach to a main character -- stories improve when the characters have stakes in the action -- but in Sarah's case, I think there's a lot of potential here that just didn't get used well. Sarah's checked-outness getting her in trouble is a good start, although I think it'd help if the story didn't treat her like a complete victim here when she actually did gently caress up; I'm no expert on casino rules, but I'm pretty sure a dealer who can tell a fight's brewing at their table is supposed to alert someone, not just let it happen. That aside, though, it's good that this trait of hers is moving the plot, and I wish you'd carried that forward and thought about how it would influence the rest of the piece, instead of just using it as the impetus to get Sarah in Greg's office.

Think about it this way: Sarah's in Greg's office getting the shakedown/the harassment. You have Sarah react like any rational actor would in the situation, which is acceptable... but it's not the same person we saw being established here. What I wanted to see here was Sarah using her lack of caring as a weapon against Greg. He'll fire her if she doesn't sleep with him? Sure, whatever, she's leaving anyway. Blackball her with the state Gambling Commission? Okay, who said she wanted another dealer job, or another one in this state? Greg's trying to wield power over her, and I think this story would have been a lot stronger if she'd countered by making it clear he was powerless, based on the character trait we already had established. You'd create a stronger persona for Sarah, it'd be clearer that she was driving the action by her own decisions and traits instead of involuntary reactions, and overall it would create a more interesting piece than the much more stock interaction we have here.

A note about Greg: in short fiction like this, it's inevitable that supporting characters will get the shaft a bit, but Greg is still way too much of a stock character for someone who gets as much page time as he does. When you're writing characters like this, I think it might be useful for you to think of a single striking or different detail about them, something that suggests to readers that there's more there. I think you tried this with the bit about bad sandalwood cologne, which is a nice touch, but "wears bad cologne" is still kind of a stock trait of this sort of guy. Try jumping off from your first idea and thinking of variations on it -- maybe something like "Greg wore good cologne, but it didn't help" or "Greg'd started wearing a much nicer cologne than his usual Walgreens crap" (foreshadowing that he's been stealing from the till, maybe?), or something else that's a surprising or telling detail. It can help round out a character a lot in a short word count.

On one hand, I feel like Sarah as a main character is an improvement over Choon-Hee from your last piece, who is nearly entirely passive and whose only character trait is "curious child"; Sarah feels like she has some kind of distinct approach and attitude towards the world, but that attitude really needs to be carried through the whole story instead of used as an initial plot propellant. I'd work on being mindful about the design of your main characters and trying to think through how the person you've designed would react uniquely to a situation.

Antivehicular fucked around with this message at Feb 4, 2018 around 01:26

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I won a rosette in the Thunderdome


Magpies in the Black
1473 words
Flash rule: Niu Lang and Zhi Nu (Chinese mythology)

Fengxia's husband is half a star system away, and yet she feels his presence everywhere. Each morning, as she wakes and dresses, her gaze moves in turn to her mementos: her last family portrait, then the smooth stone from their garden, then the portrait again. When she takes her meals in the engineers' commissary, each soy cutlet reminds her of Tsung-Dao tending the vats and hydroponics, and she thanks him silently as she adds peach preserves to her golden congee. On her walk to work, as her path takes her past the entrance to the Academy, memory and association work in chorus; she thinks of her days alongside Tsung-Dao within the Academy cloister, and she thinks of her children hard at work there, of their luminous dark eyes inherited from their father. The children favor Fengxia, but she is grateful they have Tsung-Dao's eyes.

Memory of Tsung-Dao follows Fengxia to work every day, but in her workshop, the past is overtaken by the present. There's her work, the constant thrum of little projects that makes up every day for a Midpoint Station engineer, but there's also the calendar silently counting the days on Supply Planet Epsilon. Today is the fifth day of Epsilon's seventh month, high summer; Fengxia remembers the taste of dust from the summer storms. Tsung-Dao will be reinforcing his greenhouse walls and checking his irrigation systems. She has cable testing to run, budgeted for eight hours' work time, in reality not more than six. Two hours of freedom, she thinks, will be enough to prepare the magpies.

Fengxia's marriage, and the "eccentricity" left by her time on Epsilon with Tsung-Dao, is an open secret to her colleagues. After the departure of the old senior climate-control head, who'd called her "Dirt-Digger" until he'd received his orders to spend four years working planetside systems on Supply Gamma, nobody's mentioned or asked about it or about the magpies. She isn't the only one with a downtime project, after all, or with "eccentricities." One day, Fengxia would like to work up the nerve to speak and to ask. For now, she is content to work in silence.

Fengxia thinks of Tsung-Dao walking the rows of vats, and she borrows his diligence to work through the cable testing. She tries not to think of the communications arrays the cables are bound for, the cross-systems comms that justify Midpoint Station's existence but that allow only basic shipping/receiving notices and emergency calls to the supply planets. How little of the arrays' power would it take to call Tsung-Dao twice a day, a simple "good morning" and "good night," and why will she never have it? It makes her think of her mother's stories about Earth: how the planet was covered with undrinkable water, so one might die of thirst in the middle of the ocean. Fengxia is that thirsty castaway, adrift on a sea of comms that only make her lonelier. Instead, she has the magpies, and the one day a year that she can launch them to reach Tsung-Dao on Epsilon. Her thoughts have grown heavier as the day has grown closer, and when she finally finishes her tests and takes the locked box from under her work table, she cannot bear to dwell on it any longer. To happier work.

The magpies are named for another one of her Mother's Earth stories, about cheerful black and white thief-birds. They're black and silver, all bright metal and dull power panels, and every one of them is a theft from the materials stores of Midpoint Station. This year, there are seven -- fewer than she'd like, but all that she could afford, and hopefully enough that at least one will survive to reach Epsilon. She spends her two hours nervously double-checking connections and reinforcing solder joins, and when she's mostly content, she withdraws seven data sticks from her pocket and snaps each into place in a storage compartment on a magpie's back. Each stick holds the same set of video diaries from her and from the children, the stories of their lives to send across the gulf of space to Tsung-Dao. If the magpies survive, the data sticks surely will. It's the new module she's worried about.

It's an experiment, an illegal and treasonous experiment: a signal hijack for the shipping/receiving comm line to provide unauthorized video uplink, perhaps ten minutes' worth. The components require stronger shielding, more metal scrap, and infinite risk. Years ago, Fengxia might have been afraid of the consequences, but now her only fear is mechanical failure. If this works, it's worth it. If it doesn't?

She refuses to consider it, not when she's still got so much to do. Fengxia packs each magpie carefully away in her carrying case before tidying her workbench and starting on her way to the cargo bay. An engineer with a toolcase is always well-camouflaged, and nobody questions her stepping into a probe-dispatch bay. Fengxia glances behind her, where the cargo workers pay her no mind, and tells her thundering heart to quiet. This will all be worth it, soon.

Fengxia opens the probe-dispatch chamber, then her case. She picks up each of her magpies in turn, kisses it on top of its "head," then places it in the chamber. When they're all assembled, a little nest of hopes, she closes the chamber, enters the coordinates, and presses the button to launch. There's no viewport, but she can see them in her mind: her magpies flying through the blackness, towards Epsilon, towards Tsung-Dao.

Fengxia exhales and waits for the rush of fear that comes with sending the magpies on their way. This year, it doesn't come. After seven endless years without Tsung-Dao, after six dispatches of messages and love and hope, after months of finding a new way -- she simply has no fear left. If there's shame and exile in this for her, or simply disappointment, she's beyond caring. Only the hope matters.

The magpies will be a day in transit. She'll see him soon.

***

Tsung-Dao's wrist monitor beeps in late afternoon, just as he's finished the day's maintenance on the greenhouse irrigation lines. In summer, the task is endless, but it's easy, comfortable work. He's always had a knack for that sort of dirty necessity; as he wipes the grime off the face of his monitor he's smiling, even before he reads the message. DRONES LANDED, the display scrolls; NORTH SPIRE.

Tsung-Dao presses the "acknowledge" button and starts jogging towards the ruins of the northern comm spire, left to corrode in the winds after the facility's construction. In the shadow of the leaning mass of plastisteel and glass fiber, the battered shapes of the drones huddle, as if to escape the wind. Fengxia's programming.

Tsung-Dao knew it was the day for her drones, but he hadn't dared to think about it. It's better to forget them and be surprised than to anticipate them and be disappointed. Now that he can see them, though -- three this year -- the anticipation is killing him, making his hands shake. He scoops up the drones and cradles them to his chest as he hikes home.

Tsung-Dao sets the drones down on his mudroom table as he changes clothes, shedding dusty work clothes in favor of something fresh and soft, and runs a hand futilely through his grimy hair. It's stupid -- Fengxia can't see him -- but he doesn't want to greet her looking work-filthy. He feels that acutely enough when he watches her video diaries, where she's pristine and perfect against the bright metal walls of Midpoint Station, and he's dustier and more weathered every year. Maybe it's best that she can't see him now.

He brings one of the drones inside and opens the familiar bit of its casing to withdraw the data stick. He slots it into his vidplayer, and the screen is filled with Fengxia, warm golden skin glowing in the silvery light of the Station. "Hello, darling. Before we begin, could you press the blue button on the magpie, please? Press and hold for ten seconds."

Obediently, Tsung-Dao flips over the "magpie" and holds the button down. A hatch on the thing opens, and a black-and-white holoprojection springs to life from it, of... Fengxia's quarters? He can see her dressing table, with the flat riverbed stone they'd found together, just after they'd made landfall. There are footsteps, and then Fengxia comes into view, hair bed-tousled.

"They made it," she says. "Tsung-Dao. It's you."

It's live video, he realizes. It's live video, and if she can see the wear in his face, she doesn't care. She's aglow with delight, and warmth floods Tsung-Dao's chest. It's her. It's her.

"Fengxia," he says, the only word he can think to say. "Darling."

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I won a rosette in the Thunderdome


Thunderdome CCLXXXVIII: Standing Outside a Broken TDome With Flash Rules in My Hand



I've had the music of my adolescence on my mind lately, and for this week, I'd like to read about your musical nostalgia. Sign up with the name of your favorite song from when you were 13 (or 12, or 14, or whatever, as long as it's something from around there); that song becomes your prompt for the week. Use it as inspiration, however you feel fit. As your additional theme for the week, I'd like to read stories about the spaces between, whether literal or figurative. Get all liminal on me.

Unlike most music weeks, this week I'm not limiting each song choice to one writer; if all of you somehow had the same favorite song at 13, hell, you can all write about it. However, anyone who signs up with a song someone already picked will automatically receive a flash rule, which will be one of my personal favorite middle-school jamzzz. These will also be available upon request, if you're the kind of person who can't go without flash rules.

Standard song-week rules apply: don't just write fanfic of the song/rewrite the song's narrative, and don't just write about someone listening to/performing the song. Standard Dome rules also apply: no fanfiction, erotica, screeds, etc. Other than that, go nuts!

Word Count: 1250
Signup Deadline: 11:59 PM Eastern, Friday, February 9th
Submission Deadline: 11:59 PM Eastern, Sunday, February 11th

Judges: Antivehicular, Fuschia tude, and Bad Seafood

People Standing Around Awkwardly At The Social:
1. apophenium, "Go To Sleep" (Radiohead)
2. CascadeBeta, "In the Presence of Enemies Pt. 1" (Dream Theater)
3. Thranguy, "West End Girls" (Pet Shop Boys)
4. flerp, "Swing Life Away" (Rise Against)
5. Jay W. Friks, "Pyramid Song" (Radiohead)
6. Unfunny Poster, "Regulate" (Warren G feat. Nate Dogg)
7. SurreptitiousMuffin, "Rumors of My Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated" (Rise Against)
8. chili, "Original Prankster" (The Offspring)
9. curlingiron, "Everything You Want" (Vertical Horizon)
10. Sham bam bamina!, "Comin' Back" (Crystal Method)
11. Ninjalicious, "Crystal Skull" (Mastodon)
12. Benny Profane, "We Will All Go Together When We Go" (Tom Lehrer)
13. Ironic Twist, "Blurry" (Puddle of Mudd)
14. Djeser, "King Henry" (Steeleye Span)
15. sebmojo, "One of These Days" (Pink Floyd)
16. Fumblemouse, "Welcome to the Machine" (Pink Floyd)
17. spectres of autism, "Salad Days" (Minor Threat)
18. Yoruichi, "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (Part 1)" (The Flaming Lips)
19. Exmond, "Absolutely (Story of a Girl)" (Nine Days)
20. Obliterati, "Everywhere" (Michelle Branch)

Antivehicular fucked around with this message at Feb 10, 2018 around 06:05

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I won a rosette in the Thunderdome


Just under 16 hours until signups close

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I won a rosette in the Thunderdome


Signups are closed. Just two days 'til the Hi Teen Carnival!

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I won a rosette in the Thunderdome


Submissions are closed. I was hoping for a few more stragglers from my impromptu deadline extension, but oh, well. Time to write sad poetry in my math notebook judge!

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I won a rosette in the Thunderdome


Tyrannosaurus posted:

In honor of our esteemed head judge Antivehicular, I give to you your interprompt:

"Someone is staunchly and weirdly anti-vehicle. Why?"

150 words.

The City's Last Traffic Cop Has A Bad Day
148 words

The latest car-freak suicide is a multi; there's so little traffic these days that it must have taken some planning. Trees and guardrails weren't good enough for this one. The old cameras show him waiting at the intersection in his ugly, low-slung "sports" thing until a commercial van crossed, then plowing ahead into its passenger side; Frank thinks he could make a good case for criminal charges, if the driver weren't too dead to matter.

Frank can't work up the energy to be sad for car suicides. There are only a few hundred personal-use licenses left in the city, and every one of them is a menace. If they see their era ending and choose not to live past it, he can't say he minds.

The ambulance is gone, and the cleaner trucks are incoming -- the site's clear. Frank closes his eyes and teleports back to the station.

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I won a rosette in the Thunderdome


Thunderdome 288: The Results

This week was kind of like adolescence: a lot of very high highs, very low lows, and not a ton in between... and also my making judgment calls that might alienate my peers. drat good times.

First things first: Yoruichi's story is DQ'd. Sorry, friend, but this is way too fanfic-y. Pretty decent! But fanfic.

Anyway. Your winner this week is curlingiron's bittersweet, lovely "Promise of the Sky." HMs go to Benny Profane, Thranguy, Ironic Twist, and SurreptitiousMuffin. There were other candidates, but four HMs is probably enough.

On the other side of things, your loser this week is Ninjalicious's crystal skull thing, which had extensive mechanical problems to give it the anti-edge over the rest of the low end this week. DMs go to Jay W. Friks, Exmond, and apophenium.

Full crits will be up when I'm not phoneposting. Curlingiron, the floor is yours.

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I won a rosette in the Thunderdome


I'm in.

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I won a rosette in the Thunderdome


Call and Response
490 words




Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I won a rosette in the Thunderdome


Thunderdome CCXC: Fiasco Week 2: Return to the Chicken Hut



For this week, I'm stealing/recycling a prompt from Thranguy from Week 197 (thanks/sorry, Thranguy). The short explanation is as follows: Fiasco is a roleplaying game about powerful ambition and poor impulse control, in which players act out the doomed schemes and awkward fates of low-level criminals, small-town lowlifes, and other people you might find in a Coen Brothers film. The game uses "playsets" to structure character relationships and narrative elements. For this week, I'm going to be using Fiasco playsets to assign narrative elements for your story.

When you sign up, post the name of a Fiasco playset from the post that follows. (For those who know the game: core book, Companion, and Anthology playsets are in play.) If you just post "In," I will choose a playset semi-arbitrarily, and you might not like it. I will generate the narrative elements of a standard three-player Fiasco setup from that playbook for you: three character relationships, a location, an object, and a need some character has, plus a Tilt (plot twist or shift in action). Use those components to craft your story. Note that you don't have to keep things as tight as a Fiasco playset might -- you don't need to concentrate everything in the hands of only three characters -- and tone and genre is up to you; Fiasco playsets tend towards low-level crime stories and black humor, but you're not required to go that route if something else suggests itself. As with Thranguy before me, I will not be judging harshly based on absolute use of everything you're assigned, just on general "can I see some part of the prompt here?" You'll be getting a story toolkit -- make of it as you will.

No fanfiction, erotica, screeds, Google Docs, quote tags, etc.

Word Count: 1500 (please do not make me regret this)
Signups Close: 11:59 PM Pacific time, Friday, February 23rd
Submissions Close: 11:59 PM Pacific time, Sunday, February 25th

Judges:
Antivehicular
Unfunny Poster
??? someone else ???

The Ambitious and Impulsive:
1. Crain (The Ice)
2. sandnavyguy (Lucky Strike)
3. MockingQuantum (Back to the Old House)
4. Djeser (White Hole)
5. Flesnolk (Nice Southern Town)
6. Thranguy (News Channel 6)
7. Fuschia tude (De Medici)
8. Chairchucker (Touring Rock Band)
9. Deltasquid (The Penthouse)
10. Bad Seafood (Tartan Noir)
11. apophenium (Manna Hotel)
12. CascadeBeta (Last Frontier)
13. Hawklad (Home Invasion)
14. sparksbloom (News Channel 6)
15. Lazy Beggar (Tartan Noir)
16. QuoProQuid (Boomtown)
17. BabyRyoga (The Zoo)
18. starr (Jet City)
19. Chainmail Onesie (Mission to Mercury)
20. Tyrannosaurus (Salem 1692)
21. cptn_dr (Pen Show)

Antivehicular fucked around with this message at Feb 24, 2018 around 01:48

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I won a rosette in the Thunderdome


BIG LIST OF FIASCO PLAYSETS TO CHOOSE FROM:
A Nice Southern Town
Boomtown
Tales from Suburbia
The Ice
Fiasco High
Regina's Wedding
Vegas
Mission to Mercury
Lucky Strike
Reconstruction
Flyover
Manna Hotel
1913 New York
Transatlantic
Dallas November 1963
London 1593
Dragon Slayers
Objective Zebra
The Jersey Side
Quest for the Golden Panda
News Channel 6
Town and Gown
Break a Leg
The Penthouse
Horse Fever
Red Front
Camp Death
DC73
The Zoo
Los Angeles 1936
De Medici
Havana 1953
White Hole
Hollywood Wives
Salem 1692
Home Invasion
Flight 1880
Saturday Night 78
HK TPK
Heroes of Pinnacle City
Back to the Old House
Living Dead
Tartan Noir
Touring Rock Band 2
Rat Patrol
Last Frontier
Gangster London
Touring Rock Band
Nut People
Pen Show
Jet City

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I won a rosette in the Thunderdome


Since these prompts are long, I'm going to be doing them in groups of five to keep the posts manageable. If you're confused about context, please check Fiascoplaysets.com for your playset!

Crain posted:

IN, The Ice.

Relationship: The only survivors
Relationship: Dorm room bunkies
Relationship: Clandestine collaborators
Location: Inside Mt. Erebus, above the lava lake
Object: A dead seal
Need: To get even with a scientist
Tilt: Magnificent self-destruction

sandnavyguy posted:

I must defend my tarnished honor, IN. Dealer's choice, only thing wild is the narrative.



Your playset is Lucky Strike!
Relationship: Secret murderers
Relationship: Fish-out-of-water farm boys
Relationship: Poker buddies
Location: Beneath the auditorium stage
Object: Colonel's war booty, secured in an oddly heavy crate
Need: To get out of the war, which is driving you insane
Tilt: Cold-blooded score-settling

MockingQuantum posted:

In, Back to the Old House

Relationship: Cleaner and dirt
Relationship: One heard the voices, one made the plan
Relationship: "It made us from the same old bones"
Location: "Feeding paraphernalia" room
Object: Instruction manual
Need: To be loved by the mourners
Tilt: Someone is watching, waiting for their moment

Djeser posted:

In with my old highschool nickname White Hole

Relationship: Honor among thieves
Relationship: "We discovered the thing together."
Relationship: "Medal or not, I know you were a coward."
Location: F7 Ax'Tularian blood worm chamber
Object: Metal cylinder containing a scalp
Need: To be exonerated, so you can go home
Tilt: Misdirected passion

Flesnolk posted:

Nice Southern Town

Relationship: Distant/unusual/unofficial relatives
Relationship: Civic volunteers (election officials, chambers, clubs)
Relationship: Former spouses
Location: Chicken Hut, fast food restaurant
Object: New pickup truck
Need: To get respect from your lover by taking the fall
Tilt: Something precious is on fire

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I won a rosette in the Thunderdome


Thranguy posted:

in, News Channel Six

Relationship: You and the dude who got fired last week
Relationship: Faked family
Relationship: Odd couple room-mates
Location: In the big sinkhole behind Buddy's garage
Object: Lucky couch
Need: To get laid by the local celebrity or politician
Tilt: Somebody develops a conscience

Fuschia tude posted:

In, De Medici

Relationship: Relic peddler and religious zealot
Relationship: Protector and protected
Relationship: Chaste, yet burning for one another
Location: The medicinal garden at Cosimo's court
Object: Newborn bastard
Need: To defend Florence from her own ungodly vanity
Tilt: A dangerous animal (perhaps metaphorical) gets loose

Chairchucker posted:

in gimme a thing
Your thing is Touring Rock Band!
Relationship: Public enemies, private friends
Relationship: You owe him your life
Relationship: Former member of the band/tour personnel
Location: Above the stage
Object: Trailer full of theatrical lights
Need: To get wasted with some cool local teenagers
Tilt: Greed leads to killing

Deltasquid posted:

In, but the Fiasco lingo might as well be gibberish to me. Spell it out like I'm a child please

I hope it's a bit clearer now? Anyway, you got The Penthouse.
Relationship: Grave robber and dealer in antiquities
Relationship: Friendship ended after one humiliated the other
Relationship: Heartbreak
Location: Supply closet - rusting barrels are stacked to the ceiling
Object: Life-size pink marble statue of Superman
Need: To get out of this fire
Tilt: Death, right on time

Bad Seafood posted:

In with Tartan Noir.

Relationship: One-night standees
Relationship: Doctor and patient
Relationship: Neds with a proud set of ASBOs
Location: Backpackers' hostel
Object: Bottle of rat poison
Need: Tae get home, 'cause you've got no loving clue where you've woken up
Tilt: Someone panics

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I won a rosette in the Thunderdome


apophenium posted:

In, Manna Hotel

Relationship: Manna high school football
Relationship: Stepchildren
Relationship: Insane jealousy
Location: Tornado shelter, its steel door rusted thin
Object: Mercedes with a rotten smell
Need: To get rich enough to buy your safety
Tilt: Confusion, followed by pain

CascadeBeta posted:

In, Last Frontier. because I can't get myself to keep deadlines.

Relationship: Current boat crew
Relationship: Cheerful competitors
Relationship: Distant relatives through obscure lineage
Location: Alaska Magic gifts and cards
Object: Purebred Weimeraner with an ear tattoo
Need: To get out of this town, because you have big dreams
Tilt: The wrong guy gets busted

Hawklad posted:

IN, hit me with whatever.

You get Home Invasion!
Relationship: Husband and husband
Relationship: Treasurer and thief
Relationship: Home business partners
Location: Long-occupied house without a stick of furniture in it
Object: Calcination chamber, fully prepared
Need: To get over nameless fear that may soon have a name
Tilt: A frantic chase

sparksbloom posted:

In news channel 6

Relationship: Moonlighting as thieves
Relationship: You and your counterpart from Action News 11
Relationship: "We've been through hell and high water together"
Location: In the control room
Object: "Happy Bear" costume
Need: To get rich through a secret I learned at work
Tilt: The thing you stole has been stolen

Lazy Beggar posted:

In. Tartan Noir, please.

Relationship: Mates since school/college
Relationship: Ex-spouses
Relationship: In-laws
Location: Under the city in Mary King's Close
Object: Passworded laptop
Need: Tae get payback on ma/daw for what they did when you were young
Tilt: A stranger arrives to settle a score

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I won a rosette in the Thunderdome


QuoProQuid posted:

boomtown and because im an awful flake, i'll in

Relationship: Grew up together back East
Relationship: Tradesman and customer (wheelwright, barber)
Relationship: Siblings
Location: The hanging tree, out in the hills
Object: A mortician's black bag and a jug of phenolic acid
Need: To get laid by an ambitious and beautiful saloon girl
Tilt: Pain, followed by confusion

BabyRyoga posted:

I'd like in with The Zoo

Relationship: The last two who know what really happened
Relationship: Volunteers hired as scapegoats
Relationship: Ape Escape keeper and Monkeyland keeper
Location: Steam tunnels under the zoo grounds
Object: Ill-trained raptor without its hood
Need: To get even in a way the whole city will appreciate
Tilt: Two people cross paths and everything changes

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Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I won a rosette in the Thunderdome


Thunderdome Week 288 (Middle-School Jams Week): Crits

Before I do specific crits, I want to talk about a few mechanical issues that came up repeatedly last week. These are (or should be) old hat, but seeing them in multiple stories made me want to mention them again:

1) "It's," with the apostrophe, is an abbreviation for "it is." "Its," with no apostrophe, is the possessive of "it." I know this mistake is extremely easy to make when you're writing quickly, but "it's/its" errors are intensely irritating to me, especially when there are multiples of them. Please be careful with this.

2) Let's talk about dialogue tags and formatting, the TD issue that never dies! There are two big things here. First, if you're moving from dialogue to tag, please use a comma (or question mark or exclamation point, if appropriate) before the ending quotation mark. Don't use a period unless the sentence is actually ending without a tag, and don't just end the quotation without punctuation. If any of this is unclear, there are many good resources online for dialogue grammar help; please use them.

Second: when writing a conversation, every new speaker needs to be speaking in their own paragraph, however short their dialogue is. When the speaker changes, the paragraph changes. However staccato this makes the rhythm of your story, it is infinitely more readable than a giant paragraph of back-and-forth dialogue from multiple characters.

Yoruichi, "The Sun's Last Light"

The elephant in the room: this piece is basically fanfic. I respect that you've done your own interpretation of some of the elements of the song, but this is way too much of a rewrite of the narrative of your prompt song. Sorry.

The actual story, I think, is decent enough, if in a decidedly melodramatic mode -- I feel like I've read this "character tries to 'protect' a character who doesn't need/want protecting via a complicated misunderstanding, drama ensues" dynamic any number of times, and it'd be nice if there were a little more going on here than this well-trod ground. That said, if you accept that this story is not really dealing with emotional realism or novelty, I think it's a decent enough read. I appreciate that it's a dynamic story, with a lot of stuff happening and characters making decisions, and that things move along briskly. That said, there's way too much exposition in the first paragraph; it might have been better to show the way the EMP batons work in a fight scene, both to cut the exposition and increase the narrative heft of the action segments.

(Why are Yoshimi and Haruki sparring with live EMP batons, anyway? That doesn't seem like a good idea.)

Ninjalicious, "The Crystal Skull (etc.)"

Dialogue grammar. Dialogue grammar. Dialogue grammar. This story has a fair number of problems, but the issues with the dialogue are what really took it from being mid-low to being the loser. The entire section with the hiker and the hippy really sunk this; the dialogue is exposition-heavy, and the mechanical issues make it hard to read or parse, especially when you have a book title in quotation marks in the same paragraph with dialogue. If you're not clear on the mechanics, please, read up and get a grip on them before the next TD entry that has two characters talking to each other.

The other issue with this story is that pretty much nothing actually happens. This kind of shaggy-dog story, where a potentially interesting thing is set up and then doesn't happen (or turns out to be a dream -- "it was only a dream!" is considered a cliche bad ending for a reason), is extremely hard to do in a way that isn't irritating to readers, and I honestly don't think it's worth the effort. Note that "nothing actually happens" and "the skull isn't really magical" aren't synonyms here; you could easily have the skull just be an object and the vortex thing be bullshit and still have the hiker have an interesting or life-changing experience in the process of exploring them. It just didn't happen here. This story needed more of a presence from the main character, some kind of internal conflict or growth to contrast with the lack of any external development.

On that subject, a minor pet peeve: as one of the other judges pointed out, why exactly is the main character unnamed? If you're writing about someone in the third person, it helps the reader a lot to give them a name, even if it's not important.

On the positive side, I think there's some good descriptive language here, although I would caution you to use it in moderation. Heavy descriptive language works best when it's a spice, not the whole meal. The line about blazing sun reflecting like earthbound starlight should probably have been cut; it's a lot to lay on a reader before you try to describe the skull, which should be the focus. That said -- I really like your setting descriptions a lot, and I think you can do good work in giving a sense of place to your stories. I'd just like to see you shore up your characters and plot.

Jay W. Friks, "Heaven"

Here's the thing about this sort of complicated metaphysical story: there's a much higher burden on the writing to keep the reader interested and engaged. Esoteric material is naturally harder to follow, so the writing has to be better to compensate -- both to help the reader follow the story and to help the reader maintain focus and interest. What this means is that lines like this kill your story dead:

I erased itís sound so I didnít have to hear itís whines.

Two "it's/its" errors in one sentence, early in the story, would be bad and dangerous for anything, no matter how engaging the premise. For a complicated premise that requires a lot of investment, and where I need to have faith that the writer will match my investment with their own skill? Fatal. I'd have stopped reading there if I weren't judging this week.

The other killer with this story for me is the POV changes. Changing first-person narrators, and then changing between first and third, can be tricky at the best of times, but when the action and characterization is already opaque, it's just too drat disorienting. I shouldn't be putting mental energy into figuring out who the hell is talking in a story that wants me to think about deeper things.

The action is a little confusing, but what I can piece together suggests it's also kind of threadbare. You've got the man, who has ascended (how?) into a sort of godhood that's either fundamentally limited by his nature or limited by his personal mental scope (which? how? why?), and his shadow-self, which he casts away from himself. He whiles away forever loving with his old self and environs, eventually failing to recognize that his subject is himself, and then his shadow rises up out of exile to pull him down into the dark, the end? There are some neat-ish ideas here, and I'm kind of curious about what's going on with this guy's godhood, but I'm not convinced it really adds up to anything aside from an incredibly basic story of hubris. If you want to go complex, go authentically complex; don't cloak very simple things under elaborate format screws.

Ironic Twist, "Spit in the Ocean"

I like this piece a lot. I feel like there's a very good use of the "spaces between" concept here -- both in terms of literal geography and in terms of the protagonist's emotional state. The end of relationships and romantic alienation is a pretty common theme, but this piece uses it well and feels real.

On a meta-crit level, I want to comment a bit on this story's use of twist/anticlimax compared to the Crystal Skull story above. On the surface, you can make an argument that this has the same problem as the Crystal Skull does: that the apparent buildup (the skull is magic, Gerry dies) doesn't actually come true, and the reveal (the skull magic was a dream, Gerry's alive and the bottle is filled with cigarette ash) is mostly a return to status quo. The difference, though, is that the events in this story matter and have meaning for the protagonist, even if they're not what we expected. (It helps that the reader's expectation and what actually plays out have a clear thematic connection -- Gerry being literally dead vs. Gerry being metaphorically dead to the protagonist.) We also get the interlude with the jogger and the ashes on the bridge, which is legitimately worth reading on its own, instead of the anticlimax of the nameless hiker just walking away. This story is a really good lesson in how to do this sort of limited-action/anticlimax story well, with strong themes and characters to carry the piece.

Exmond, "Story of a Muse"

This story is the trickiest of the low end for me, because while I think there's more good here than in the rest of the negative-mention pile, it also has a lot of different problems, some of them very fundamental. I found reading it to be a pretty frustrating experience, especially towards the end.

Let's begin by talking about Sara. My major issues with Sara can be summed up in one phrase: "Manic Pixie Dream Girl." The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is a popular if oft-derided fiction archetype of a quirky, cheery female character who exists to bring joy and magic into another (resigned/cynical/tired, almost always male) character's life, generally with no personality beyond quirks and no character arc of her own. Sara fits this archetype uncomfortably closely. She has a dream, but it's extremely abstract and really only serves in the story to get her into the protagonist's orbit and justify her relationship with the protagonist; she has some broadly-defined ideals, but no real emotional depth, needs, or development. She's more a prop than a character, and it's impossible to get emotionally invested in her relationship with the protagonist when she's obviously just there for the protagonist's development. It doesn't help that her backstory, what little we get of it, is mostly confusing. She and the protagonist have a history, apparently, and she was the one who first inspired him... but she doesn't have any talents of her own? The other inhabitants of this whimsical homeless camp have to train her? What?

(Incidentally, I am not a big fan of the "whimsical homeless camp" thing. It's straight out of the cliche factory, right down to the extra-whimsical homeless person named Ol' Somethin', and it romanticizes a very real and painful societal problem. I realize your setting is a metaphor, but it ends up being more clunky and distracting than it needs to be.)

Sara being such an abstract non-entity really comes into focus during the scene where she and the protagonist are talking about the Big Ideas of the story. This scene is intensely tell-y; we've basically got the protagonist expositing his viewpoint, then Sara expositing hers, without any real characterization or attempt at demonstrating the ideals with concrete details. If the protagonist actually told the story of the dress and the seamstress, and Sara actually had a concrete goal to share to demonstrate why she wants to go to the city, the scene would probably be salvageable -- and those stories could be used for the making-the-jacket segment, as well, instead of the weird digression about laughter on Mars that as far as I can tell has nothing to do with anything else going on. It's a shame, because the jacket-making and the "tailor of tales" concept is the most interesting part of this story, and it'd be nice if it was more closely connected to the whole.

And then, of course, we have the ending, where the Manic Pixie Dream Girl becomes a Manic Pixie Dead Girl. The first issue here is that this is another manifestation of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope, which frequently involves the girl being terminally ill or otherwise disposable once she's changed the male protagonist's life; killing off Sara demonstrates very clearly that the story doesn't really care about her or her dream, just the effect she had on the protagonist. The next issue is that this really isn't foreshadowed at all. There's no implication prior to this that the alley inspiration exchange process is dangerous, so Sara getting shot there comes out of nowhere, and it creates that uncomfortable and stereotypical "welp, wrapping the story up, someone's gotta die" Thunderdome ending that many others have commented on before. Finally, Sara dying undercuts the themes of the story really badly. Sara has a dream, and she offers inspiration to a tired and cynical protagonist... and then she dies painfully and meaninglessly, nothing comes of it, and the protagonist's cynicism is vindicated. The end, no moral? Or is the moral "don't try and don't get your hopes up?" I know you mentioned in your livecrit that it's supposed to be about the process of creating and discarding ideas, but Sara doesn't read as an idea being discarded to strengthen a whole; she reads as a creator being killed by an indifferent world. Shades of the worst parts of Meta York City, the nasty bitterness and the sour grapes. Not a good look.

I have to be honest, Exmond -- like I said in that crit, I really am not sure the meta thing is working out. Writing about art and writing to an audience of writers, who all have their own opinions on art and craft, creates a very hard sell, and I feel like focusing on this sort of meta thing is distracting you from the emotional core of stories. If this story were about what's happening on its surface -- a world-weary character encountering an old friend/love who's trying to rise in the world again, finding inspiration from helping them, and then having to deal with their success or failure -- without any trace of the meta, it would be much stronger! (You probably don't want the dreamer to get gunned down, still, but ignore that for now.) Focus on fundamentals. Focus on selling a good story on its own merits, not meditating on Big Ideas About Art. Focus on character and arc. You can do better work than this.

SurreptitiousMuffin, "Fire-gilding"

To get the obvious out of the way first: this is more a vignette than a story and is more or less plotless. Reactions to this vary a lot, and I think that's fair, but personally, I think this works very well. It's a very brief piece, but what you have here gets across an intriguing setting and a few good snippets of character; I appreciate that the throughline of the old woman probably wasting the life she was so worried about isn't hammered in, because it works better more subtly. (I also appreciate, sincerely, that the Bad Clocks are just bad and not malevolent or spooky; it would have been very easy to go with a standard creepy beat here, but the fact that you didn't makes this story more interesting and subtle.) I enjoyed reading this, and it stayed with me; there's a lot to ponder and mull over in this short piece.

Chili, "I Am Melinda"

This is a story with a lot of nice little parts, but I'm not sure it adds up to much. I feel like a problem with it is that the setup fundamentally prepares the reader for a puzzle story -- what's going on with this weird narrator? What exactly is the deal with Melinda and her illness? Wait, is Melinda the symptom and not the sufferer? -- when the story itself isn't actually concerned with the explanations for this. The lack of explanation feels unsatisfying to the reader, because in a way we've been misdirected about the story's intentions. It really isn't considered with what's going on, just that Kima is starting to find herself and recover in a supportive therapeutic environment... which is nice, but it's not what the reader was hoping for. There are still some parts of this that I'm not sure I get -- the color perception issue? The lightning? -- and I'm not sure if they're red herrings or not.

Little bits that I liked: the bit with the balloon is clever, and I appreciate that the fat bully/adversary characters gets a name and a little sympathy. (In general, it's nice to see a psychiatric facility depicted as generally positive and caring, although I'm not surprised by this given that you're a professional in the field.) The "omniscient" Melinda voice is a little flaky and half-assed, but I think that's appropriate given the fact that Melinda isn't really omniscient, just the persona of a scared and overwhelmed adolescent. The animal facts do seem like things a kid would fixate on to demonstrate intelligence and global awareness, so I think that works.

Benny Profane, "A Te Deum"

This one left me a little cold initially, although I think it's a technically strong piece. To repeat my thought from above (which may become a refrain), I think I was expecting different things from this story than it was intended to deliver. I was expecting some kind of twist (which we sort of get, but at the midpoint) and for the Admiral to get some sort of comeuppance, since I found him so instantly unlikable... but, much like the Tom Lehrer song it's inspired by, this is really a story about illustrating a distasteful/scary concept, not about subverting it. Once I came to grips with that, this piece worked a lot better for me.

To me, the highlight of this is the well-observed small details. I particularly liked the chief cargo cultist's shell "medals" and the description of the sacrificial "observational" boats, but there's a lot of nice descriptive language throughout. It gives the story some character when it would be very easy for it to turn into cardboard.

Thranguy, "Options"

To continue with weird crit refrains... like "A Te Deum" above, this is a well-executed piece that initially fell a little flat for me. Also like "A Te Deum," I was looking for a twist, but in this case I'm a little more disappointed that it didn't come. The scenario here is very stock, and I felt like the options the protagonist was being given were also quite standard for the setup, as was his ultimate decision to walk away from both. I still worry that this story doesn't really bring a ton new to the table.

That said, Thunderdome is not always about novelty, and this story earned its HM on the strength of the execution. It's a good model of working at a good scale for a Thunderdome entry, which is slightly a cliche but also works: a small cast, a single evocative situation, and a meaningful choice to make. Not really any ambitious creative decisions here, but the creative decisions are probably the ones that are most appropriate for a tight-deadline flash fiction contest, and the actual execution is pure skill.

spectres of autism, "Chrystostomos"

The prose in this story is lovely, and I think it would have been a contender for a positive mention if I had been able to wrap my brain around the plot. This one stuck with me, and I gave it a lot of thought, but ultimately, I'm just still not sure what happens. The basic beats are semi-clear -- the protagonist, presumably Nahuatl, is fleeing from an enemy that has routed his tribe; a friend/kinsman saves him, only for them both to be killed/"killed?", then they're teleported to... an arena, or something? And made to fight? And they do? And the enemy is sort of described like they could be Spanish conquistadors, which would fit with history, but the conquistadors were not known for having interdimensional arenas? I really wish I could tell what the last half-to-third of this story is about, or what it means, because there's a lot of intriguing stuff here. The detail of the protagonist being driven by a "divine" voice that turns out to just be messages from his hunters/tormentors is particularly sad and evocative.

Man, I feel really stupid writing crit that's basically "I don't get this one," but I really don't get this one. I wish I did. What I get, or think I get, I like a lot -- it's just not enough.

curlingiron, "Promise of the Sky"

Boy, I like this one, and I'm worried I don't have a lot of concrete crit to mention about it. I like the striking visuals, and while I didn't want to make this explicitly an adolescence-themed week, I appreciate the way that the characters' age is used here -- the way that the events of the story parallel the progression of first love, from initial excitement and fear to that sinking feeling when you realize that your beloved is still a separate person from you, the magnification of differences until every one of them is a crisis, the way that things resolve or fall apart almost beyond your control. "Not everything happens for a reason," indeed. It feels very emotionally real, even as the situation itself is far from it. For characters who are mostly just broad sketches, Shannon and Ami have enough characterization that they feel realistic and their reactions feel appropriate and natural.

If I have critique of this story, it's mostly that I wish we'd seen a few moments closer up, instead of the broad overview that we get. It'd be nice to have some dialogue or a few more concrete actions from the girls. The treatment of time is also slightly wonky -- if they lose track so quickly, why do we then get a concrete reference to "the seventh day?" Better to go without, I think, or to have time more rigorously tracked throughout. (Or have that be a conflict -- something else from the old world that Shannon is holding onto and Ami thinks she would be better off discarding?)

That's all a little nitpicky, though. This story has beautiful surreal imagery and emotional realism, and that's delightful.

Fumblemouse, "The Edge of the Machine"

Of the two Dean and Simon stories this week -- and let's be honest, I'm not going to be able to crit either of them without alluding to the fact that they're clearly a pair -- this is the one that I think is worse-written but more independent as a piece. It works as a largely successful character sketch, although I feel like the humor occasionally falls a bit flat (the gag surrounding Simon's death is kind of wooden), and it feels a bit surface-level, albeit in a way I'm not sure isn't intentional. At least, I'm assuming that one of the points here is that Dean and Simon are living unexamined lives and often suffering for it.

There's a definite refrain of machines here, as a sort of framing device for the vignettes, and I'm kind of grappling with it because I'm not sure if I'm reading it properly. The impression I get is that, while Simon and Dean probably believe themselves to be trapped by the "machine" of society to some degree or another, a lot (if not most) of their problems are really of their own making -- the products of drifting through life, making bad alcohol- and drug-related decisions, and scraping by. If that's intentional, great! If the intention is more that their problems are caused by outside forces, you might want to reinforce that more, possibly by giving them more troubles that aren't "oops I got sloshed and hosed up" or "oops I'm drinking to forget that I live in society."

Overall, it's a decent piece, but I think I would have appreciated a little more depth. I get that Dean and Simon aren't quite the type to get philosophical, but if these are meaningful moments for them, why not show that off a bit?

apophenium, "Peak Performance"

This piece is a bit rough around the edges in general, but it's the ending that really sunk it. I'm of two minds about the ending, myself, but mostly negative. On one hand, I do appreciate that the protagonist doesn't die, which would be the easy cliche way to end this story... on the other hand, the way it ends is way too low-stakes, where the protagonist has a weird but generally positive/trivial experience. I feel like we honestly needed something in the middle, where the protagonist is meaningfully changed by his encounter with Equus Ferus Theater, and not just in a nebulous "they might call you back for more weird lucrative experiences!" way. A story can have teeth without being fatal. This needed teeth.

Other issues: the pacing is kind of strange. Why do we spend so much time on the buildup to the location? To establish that this thing is weird/far out, okay, but there's still too much emphasis here. I'm also wondering what's up with the monologue our protagonist gives, what's so important to him about this squire story that it's his big method piece, and that comes to the problem that the protagonist is a complete blank slate besides "ambitious (?) method actor." If you want a Twilight Zone story like this to work, the main characters have to have really obvious personalities and desires -- better to go too big and broad than to write ciphers, because nobody really cares what happens to ciphers in stories like this.

Finally... seriously, what's going on with the Equus Ferus director here? There's clearly not an actual show being cast, so is the point just to collect entertaining puppets? Is this all just about jerking people around? "Creative type goes to elaborate ends to jerk people around" is maybe a little on the nose for Thunderdome, I think, and it's also not really all that compelling. Twilight Zone antagonists don't necessarily have to have novel motivations -- hell, half the time they're just the Devil -- but they should feel a little clearer and less arbitrary than this.

sebmojo, "Boarded Up on Memory Lane"

This is another hard piece to write crit about, because in my opinion, its biggest weakness is that it's paired with the other Dean and Simon story and has more problems standing up on its own. Taken as its own story, it's decent enough but has some pretty weird leaps of logic, especially at the beginning, and ends in a somewhat disbelief-straining coincidence... but taken as the sequel to Fumblemouse's piece, presumably taking place on the day of Simon's funeral, and everything clicks into place, from Dean's nausea to Simon's convenient arrival at the end of the story. It offers a lot of the introspection that the other piece failed to deliver, too. As part of a matched set, it's brilliant. As its own thing, it's occasionally confusing, and there's a definite feeling of the reader not quite being in on the joke.

While I don't think the story is as successful as it could be, I do really love its response to the spaces-between prompt and its general musings on memory and old friendship. As with curlingiron's piece before it, there's something very emotionally real, but at the other end of the spectrum: a long-established connection that's more about shared history than about the present, as opposed to new connections and epiphanies. This one, curlingiron's, and Twist's pieces this week really hit what I was hoping for with this part of the prompt, so thank you for that.

Antivehicular fucked around with this message at Feb 22, 2018 around 03:49

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