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Jan 27, 2006
Thanks to everyone who posted early. For the rest of you lummoxes, I know you wanna swamp the judges at the last minute so you can spend all day Monday angrily mashing fjgj and fogging up your monitors with Cheeto vapor, but how about not?


Jan 27, 2006
Crits for Week 352 – Do You Know? 나쁜 글쓰기

Never have I seen three judges so far apart in their initial nominations. I think it must have been because nearly every story was middling this week; so choosing among them was like selecting which brand of beige paint to roll onto your wall.

1. Saucy_Rodent - The System Knows I’m Grateful

- Thank you for having submitted early.

- Please render your story titles in bold and include a word count with your stories.

- It’s fun that The Algorithm is its own character who speaks through StaffSync shift workers. The manipulative notifications are a nice touch, like “Your injury may have been much more severe had you been controlling your own body during the incident.” Same thing with The Algorithm’s cold insistence on gratitude.

- You seem to be more invested in making your social commentary come to life than your characters. Trust me, social commentary is stronger when it is subtle and indexed through the lives of characters in whom we are emotionally invested.

- The mystery that propels the piece—precisely how did the protagonist get the injury—just gets dropped because the protagonist gives up. That’s a problem.

- This piece has potential with major revision. But in its present form, it’s a heavy-handed anecdote about how your vehicle for social commentary works. I mean, I agree with much of it politically, but the piece doesn’t present well as art; it’s wanting for aesthetic value. So the politics come off ham fisted. You can do better than this, I believe in you. Focus on character and plot more than theme. Theme shines through a good story, but doesn’t make a good story in and of itself.

You win: North Korean propaganda about South Korea from 1994.

2. crimea - I Close My Eyes and I Drift Away

- Thank you for having submitted early.

- Please avoid clichés, they are banal (“Paging Doctor Freud!”). Inversions of clichés aren’t clever either (“Every day has its dog”). I realize you’re writing clichés in order to give your narrator a glib voice, but there are more interesting ways to be glib than that.

- This story is decent, if a bit bland and forgettable. It certainly picks up in the second half and that is welcome. The conflict that the sleep-paralysis-dream-demon has with the dreamer is interesting because of how the demon unmoors the dreamer from lucid dreaming, temporarily anyway. The characterization of the unlikable protagonist is pretty good as well.

You win: Korean-imported candy but you can’t read the label and it just tastes like plain gelatin.

3. Doctor Zero – Afflictions with Benefits

- In the beginning some of your prose doesn’t match the fantasy setting, like “insanely dangerous.”

- The protagonist’s voice, while not unique, is still strong enough to make the character come to life.

- The physics of this story are fun to read and think about.

- “A glance told him that one alleyway to the right was free of the Salamen that to poured out like half frozen slush down a spring stream” Awkward writing. Even if you deleted the superfluous “to” before “poured”, the simile here is misplaced. We’ve already known how the Salamen move since early in the story and we’ve already gotten a sense of them pouring out prior to this point, so it’s too late for the comparison with slush to add much of anything to the story.

- This story has good, exciting action. It’s impressive that you could make slow-motion this compelling for this long. Tareth’s hubris is well illustrated. The ending is not bad, but it is too predictable.

- The biggest problem with your story is that the language is too basic. It’s rather flat, inelegant, out of step with the moving, ornate verbiage one hopes to find in fantasy writing. That doesn’t mean you should complicate the language merely for complication’s sake, however. Maybe read more fantasy with attention to how good fantasy writers punch up their prose.

You Win: Almost getting a bronze medal in archery at some Korean-hosted Olympic games.

4. Anomalous Amalgam – Sunrise in Gangneung

- There’s something poignant about the little things mattering even at the end of life / end of the world.

- I appreciate the dark comedy of this piece. There really is so much wonderful irony here. There’s James’s lack of attentiveness to what Karen wants, even though Karen could really argue she has the more pressing needs. There’s the final scene and all its ridiculous contrasting imagery. There’s the absurdity of a sunrise mattering amidst the zombie apocalypse. You could have gone straight horror here, but it is a better use of your prompt and a more interesting story to create dark comedy as you did. I spent much of the time laughing, and I enjoyed the story well.

- If I had one criticism it’s that your characters are flat. If James and Karen had come to life more as characters (no pun), had been developed in a deeper, more intricate way, then the reader would be more emotionally invested in them and the story would have been much stronger.

You win: The South Korean Demilitarized Zone border, the North Korean Demilitarized Zone border, and the Cardassian Demilitarized Zone border.

5. Simply Simon – City of Masters

- This isn’t terrible. The plot is okay, Min’s characterization is adequate by TD standards. My complaint is that you tread on territory that is all-too-well-worn. I feel like I’ve read this automated techno-dystopia piece a thousand times. Nothing really feels fresh, creative, innovative, or compelling about it. I was really hoping for some sort of new spin on a story of this type, maybe a subversion of the genre. Sadly it is too common, too cookie-cutter, and likely too forgettable.

- I’m not sure the story’s message resonates all that powerfully. I read this thinking, “you know, the dystopia as described doesn’t even seem that bad relatively speaking. The setting has its downsides, but I’ve certainly had to work jobs that made for much greater suffering than Min’s ennui.”

You win: South Korea fifty years ago and North Korea fifty years from now.

6. Salgal80 – Blind Date

- Clever use of your prompt. I had never heard of blood type dating, but your story led me to look it up. It’s an odd yet interesting premise, but at heart this is a simple morality tale that works fairly well. My one complaint is that you could have developed this more. Nothing wrong with a vignette per se, but you had plenty of opportunity to be more ambitious with this piece. Still, there’s enough here to like. And the premise will make it somewhat memorable.

You win: A Type O negative match in small town South Korea.

7. Lippincott – Smiling Dalseo

- When I read how much you had made of the fact that Kim was a gardener with calloused and dirty hands, opening with that and referring back to “carefully scrubbing the dirt from his hands,” I expected it to matter materially in the story. But the whole gardening thing only seems to function as a kind of metaphor that Kim is a “transplant” in a new place. I think this metaphor comes across a bit stilted and is rather unnecessary.

- Kim finds it puzzling that people keep recommending a dentist to him. Why doesn’t he just ask them why? It doesn’t seem any more forward than their recommending one.

- Do South Koreans really schedule initial dentist appointments in person rather than by phone?

- The mystery of why everyone keeps recommending Kim to the dentist does propel the reader forward. That’s a plus; this is an entertaining story. However, that mystery doesn’t really get resolved in a satisfactory way. I mean, we do learn what the dentist does: surgically forces smiles onto people. But what we don’t learn is why the other cityfolk would actually recommend something like that to Kim in the first place. Why don’t they find the permasmile as horrifying as the final sentence implies Kim does? Are they just weirdos who take their city motto too seriously? Have they been brainwashed, and if so, why hasn’t Kim been? Either way, the story seems weaker the more one spends time thinking about it. Still, it holds the reader’s interest, and the permasmile horror does have a bit of impact. This story is pretty mixed overall; I didn’t personally recommend the HM here.

You win: An HM. *insincere grin*.

8. flerp – The City of Closed Eyes

- This piece is mostly good. It is effective at anthropomorphizing the city and building up the reader’s sympathy for it. Your concept and execution are artful; your approach to the prompt is well considered. The piece reads like prose-poetry complete with some vivid images. That is all a plus.

- On the minus side, it is unfortunately pretty first-drafty. It’s a bit repetitive, there’s room for cleanup and paring down. With some editing, this piece could be much more powerful. Still, good job overall.

You win: K-Pop. Successful, but too repetitive.

9. Fuschia tude – Beef Can’t Dance

- There is a great risk in writing bored characters: you may convey that boredom well enough that your reader catches it. For most of this story, that’s the effect.

- After so much childlike simplicity, the dark ending genuinely comes as a surprise. I’ll give you credit for that.

- The piece doesn’t have much entertainment value or emotional impact, but the ending is worthwhile. Would be better and harder hitting if the reader were more attached to Sir Graham Warren-Baker, though.

You win: A Korean BBQ dinner, but you wake up with indigestion.

10. Thranguy – Ribbon

- Nice iceberg method here. There is much to this world and its characters that lie beneath the surface, but you gesture at that implicit content well, and I appreciate it.

- Your use of setting was excellent. Good, detailed world building without getting bogged down by the minutiae of world building.

- It’s not everyday a goon manages to make a three-way romance poignant, not lurid.

- It’s a good story with good emotional resonance. Not much else to crit.

You win: The throne. Congrats.

11. Mr. Steak – “Sunny”

- The shifting from various types of media, scene by scene, was jarring and not well suited to a shorty story format.

- Some of the sections have superfluous details, owing to their being newspaper articles, advertisements, and so on. Others just breeze right through critical details, as if to say ‘yeah yeah the tech vaguely does x, don’t think about it too much, eh?’

- The glib humor falls flat I’m afraid. Humor is the most difficult writing to do.

- The last scene is the only one that really interests me. I imagine how much more interesting the story might have been if it had started there, and then followed James in a plot arc either to try to set things right or hide from his own guilt.

- I don’t know if this was actually a low effort entry, but it certainly read that way, until the very end at least. Most of the story feels so haphazard.

You win: A Korean manga but it’s been scribbled over in crayon.

12. sebmojo – There will be no answer

- The prose is excellent, the imagery feels real.

- There was some discussion with one of the other judges about whether the story was too vague. I didn’t think it was. The way I interpreted it, the iridescent creatures were using people, or maybe their souls, as conduits for (time) travel, which set things out of joint for them. I wasn’t clear on if this was a hostile invasion, or more of a hitching-a-ride kind of thing, but it doesn’t really matter.

- I like how layered the story is. A lesser writer would have been content to play with the time hopping premise alone. But here we have the character elements of the alcoholism, the affair, trying to explain the martial separation to the daughter. I was struck by Susan’s question, “What are we, puppets?” Because here, the people are puppets to destiny, puppets to the creatures, but also puppets to their own souls’ desires. What the discontinuity reveals is how little agency they ever really had, and their powerlessness against what that implies.

- This story reminded me vaguely of The Siege of Corinth and that is nice, but of course I did not factor your prior writing into my judgment.

- Well done, this story turned out great. I had it as my win nomination.

You win: A 12-Pack of Hite, the Korean Beer, redeemable six years ago.

Armack fucked around with this message at 06:54 on May 8, 2019

Jan 27, 2006

Jan 27, 2006

Jan 27, 2006
Beneath The Rust
(1190 words)

The truce with the Valleyfolk would expire soon, and Shaunte thought a cat hunt might distract her from the worry. Plus, if she captured one, she wouldn’t have to stomach another night of Latrelle’s steamed cat eyes. Hunting was an offering to D’hovak Village, so hunters were forbidden to dine on the last sort of animal they brought in.

Before long, Shaunte discovered feline tracks. She followed them past the spring, through the pine forest, then far across the milkweed groves to the greenbogs. Shaunte lost the trail there amidst the sulfurous plumes and burbling pea-green ponds, but her eye did catch a glint in the dirt several feet away. She recognized it as one of Latrelle’s necklace beads. Did that mean…?

Shaunte raced across the greenbogs until she saw movement behind a thicket of trees. There she found Latrelle’s brother, Dante, leaned over and weeping from his cloudy eyes.

“When did it happen?”

“This morning. Choked on roast cat. Tried to help him, but couldn’t see.”

Shaunte felt her heart freeze over. Having lost Latrelle could mean death, for he had been the wisest among them, leader, doctor, and war chief. He’d also been the last who could remember before The Rust. Last except Dante.

“You brought his body here yourself?”

“Set in him these bogs right away. No food for worms, not Latrelle. Bogs will keep him.”

“You shouldn’t be out here by yourself.”

Dante dismissed Shaunte with a hand wave. “I known these bogs longer than you been born. Ain’t nothing here changed since before then.” He walked in D’hovak’s general direction.

Shaunte knew the bogs too, and as she watched Dante set off, she spotted something out-of-place poking from the ground. Something Dante wouldn’t know to avoid.

“Dante! Watch your step.”

“Child, how am I supposed to do that?” said Dante. He kept walking. When his foot grazed the protrusion, he managed to keep his balance. Shaunte caught up to him.

“I think..? Dante, is this metal?” Kneeling, Shaunte dug her hands into the earth.

“Metal ain’t worth a thing rusted through.”

“I don’t see any rust at all.” Shaunte excavated it. “Feel this. What do you think it is?”

Dante took the metal and ran his hand across it.

“Smooth. How the Hell this thing avoid The Rust?” Dante thought for a moment. “Been a long time, but this feels like a pan. A shallow one, missing its handle. But put a fire under this and you could cook a few cats at once. ‘Specially if you had the lid.”

“I’ll look.” Shaunte kept digging. Soon, she found an orange plastic handle, which she gave to Dante. When he held the handle in one hand and the metal in the other, Dante pondered a moment, then scoffed.

“Bury this again,” he told Shaunte. “Better yet, throw it into the bogs.”


“This ain’t no pan.” Dante held the metal and plastic parts away from each other. “Used to be there’d be a part connecting these two, like a wooden stick. Probly rotted away by now. This here’s a shovel, for digging deep holes.” He shook his head. “Ain’t nothing good never happened since shovels got made. Why you think we fight with sticks and stones anymore ‘stead of swords? The Rust came after we dug too deep. Get rid of it.” Dante tossed Shaunte the shovel pieces.

“I fix this shovel and dig deep enough, you think I’ll find Latrelle beneath the bogs? Without him, the Valleyfolk will win.”

“He’s gone, child.”

“What do you mean, ‘gone’? That’s why we set people in the bogs, isn’t it? So they’ll keep in the land underneath. You telling me that’s all made up?”

“Ceremony for Latrelle is tonight,” replied Dante. With that, he walked back toward D’hovak.

Shaunte knew the best way to honor Latrelle was to bring him back, not eulogize him. So she put stone to branch and shaped a stick that would fit both parts of the shovel. Then, she returned to the greenbogs and started digging.

Two days later, the hole was deep, and the bogs nearby had bubbled higher than Shaunte had ever seen. She was resting, drinking water from her flask when Dante called for her.

“You there?”


“Whatchu still doing out here? Better not be digging no holes.” Dante continued, “D'hovak gonna raid The Valley before they raid us. Need every able body. Get back there and join up.”

“Every able body,” Shaunte repeated. “That’s why I’m digging. “We’re gonna need the ones we lost.”

“You listen to your elders, hear me? I know things. I been around. Before The Rust, I worked jobs I ain’t gonna say cuz you wouldn’t even know what in the Hell they’d mean. When I say we need you, we need you. Now.”

“I’m helping the best way I can.” With that, Shaunte got back to digging.

“No telling what evils that lurk in that ground, child. First The Rust. What comes next?”

“If the stories you’ve always told me are true, the dead also lurk there. Why tell me stories if you don’t have the courage to believe them yourself?”

Three days later, the hole was deeper than Shaunte thought the earth went, and the swelling greenbogs threatened to pour into it. Dante shambled up, bloodied.

“The Valley...they came at night. Only let me go with a beating on account of my eyes.”

“What do you want from me?” asked Shaunte.

“Come help! Help fight, help...clean up the bodies, oh god, I can picture it in my head.”

“I am helping.”

“Child, they killing us!” Dante lumbered toward the pit.

“Stay back,” said Shaunte. “I made a huge hole; you’ll fall in.”

“They killing us,” Dante repeated.

Dante tumbled over the hole’s edge. Shaunte had only enough time to dive below the old man to try to soften his fall.

Bones snapped, both D’hovaki groaned. Then Dante rolled forward, fanning an arm out in search of the shovel.

Too injured to stand, Shaunte dragged herself after him. Dante’s arm hit the shovel. He grabbed it. Shaunte pulled close. They grappled for it, its tip dragging against the ground, digging slightly deeper.


Just then, a massive rusting erupted from the pit’s broken floor. The shovel’s head corroded, wasted half-away like ice in early springtime. And the bog bubbled over, spilling into the hole.

She didn’t know how long she’d slept, but when she awoke, Shaunte found herself fully healed, somehow, in a steam-filled emerald cavern. Far in the distance, she heard the chanting of elders. Shaunte made her way through winding tunnels to reach the sound. When she grew close, the cavern opened to a wide furnace, and there was Dante, Latrelle, and countless old men and women sitting on benches, working metal and singing D’hovak oldchant in unison.

Dante cast clear eyes on Shaunte and waved her to the bench he shared with Latrelle. When she got there, Latrelle hooted, removed his necklace, and placed it on her. It was missing a bead, but in its place was a silver cat’s eye. Shaunte clutched it and smiled.

Jan 27, 2006
How could I turn this down? In.

Jan 27, 2006

...all my means are sane, my motive and my object mad.

Jan 27, 2006
…all my means are sane, my motive and my object mad

Art Performance
(820 words)

You’re lying in bed with them, hearing their woes so they can hear yours. Other intimacies will follow, you think. It will transform them. Sex with an artist makes people artists; soon they will be an artist too.

They are sobbing gently now. They are telling you about how their parents ignored them. Never made them feel special. Though there was that one grandparent, their mothers’ mother who spoiled them. She used to hold them and whisper that they mattered, and they felt it back then for the first time. But then their grandmother had a stroke, they tell you.

The all-eating burden calls suddenly. Not now, you think, anything but. You are being so nice. You want very much to stay that way.

Yes, now you realize. The art has beckoned. What comes next will pain you, though not enough to shirk your role.

“Was it a stroke of good luck?” you say with a grin.

They look at you with disgust.

“I hope she died at the stroke of midnight.”

You leave the bed and turn on the light while your stomach sinks. “You can go,” you tell them.

They are agape, breathing in shallow breaths.

“Don’t contact me again, you’re too repulsive,” you tell them. “Keep living though.”

You’re aware you aren’t okay. You can’t be, since okay isn’t art. Instead you must be a character. You must be the one about whom they all say “who does that?” In that way, you will have given them a persona to discuss, to marvel at, to hate if they need to. You will have shared your art with them. You will be the world’s foil, and their focus on you will bring them all together. You will be the ugliness that peddles in the sublime.

You are on the way to your barista gig when you spy a fainted vagrant. He’s stooped in an ally against a dumpster. When you approach, you take in his aroma: brothy, like a sort of pissed-in cream of onion soup. The world ignores this man, but in him you see the divine. He is Apollo cloaked in grey-skin, a godly message hanging from his lips.

“Sir? Sir?” You revive him.

“Piss off,” he says. In your own way, you understand.

You take his face into your hands.

“Shhh. Blessed one, what do you need from me?”

His eyes search yours.


“Come with me,” you say. “My treat.”

Work can wait. You hold his hand on the way to the grocery store. While you walk, he lets you know how people around here don’t care like they used to. “Hardly a community anymore,” he says.

When you get to the store, he tells you he’s not allowed in this one. So you go in alone and buy him two litres of milk. You’re about to hand it to him out front when the all-eating burden swiftly consumes your heart. But he’s thirsty you think. Just this once. Let’s hold off from—

No. The performance demands it. This is your boulder. Now smile; now push.

You pop the cap and douse him with milk. “Better for you to bathe in it. You filth.”

He just stands there, one fist clenched, shaking his head.

“Go on. Leave.”

He shudders, then walks away.

People saw you, you realize, but nobody spoke a word. You’ve done well today; this one will ripple far. You just hope the vagabond will be alright. Don’t look back you tell yourself. A dedicated performance is so much bigger than the both of you.

“You have a mean streak,” your babysitter used to say. But the castor oil nourished your art, the spankings spurred it forward. There have always been trickster deities, but never before did they occupy such a temple as you, so dedicated yet so unloved. Nevertheless, your flourishes will adorn the natural and supernatural alike for all time.

You try to think in paragraphs but you can’t. The performance disallows it. This is your life: a deliberate satire of anyone who would live a life like you.

An artist’s world grows ever lonelier, you’ve noticed. You want to connect with somebody. Anybody. You attend open mics and live theatre hoping to meet a soul who shares your vision. You buy a kitten from a breeder. A grey Cornish Rex. You go to support groups like that guy Cornelius or whatever his name was from Fight Club, even though you don’t like that movie because the blood scared you.

Your task stretches forth. Daily, you capture reality, invert it, and cast it back into the yawning world. And when it’s about the world, it’s really about you, isn’t it? It’s beautiful to think on that. Your infamy connects anyone to everyone, and you’re an everyone like anyone else. Aren’t you?

Jan 27, 2006

Jan 27, 2006
Gotta bow out this week, regrettably.

Jan 27, 2006


Jan 27, 2006
Hellrule: Your story takes place inside a hurricane.

Now that the Porridge Burns
(575 words)

After the stars shifted and the air tasseled with heat—

After the hurricanes, macrophages of a fevered Earth, unfurled their pseudopodia in ceaseless planetary defense—

After the air burst open The World of Forms’s seal, my voice grew stronger than gale force winds.

Dear brother, I haven’t forgotten. Even when the melts released the plagues, and my hands twisted and my nose fell, you tended to me. You were unafraid of catching it yourself. When you left to tend to others, I made you a promise. And now, whether you are live or dead, I will find a way to tend to you.

From my pod inside one hurricane, I make feelers out of them all. I note every minor disturbance in their reach. Every shape, heat source, change in pressure, shift in electromagnetic energy. But swirling here in an eye of this magnitude, space-time itself has warped. That will be better for my purposes. These hurricanes are networked eye-to-eye, for they are a coordinated response from a planet that thinks we’re to blame. The eyes exist in a kind of superposition, and their composite gaze sees all. My pod makes sense of the myriad perception, like that of a dragonfly’s. I can scan for any trace of you, even your soul should a drop of rain fall through it.

Now that the porridge burns Goldilocks’s tongue—

Now that the heavens are wrong—

Now that my life depends on searching for stockpiles of drugs, antibiotics yet to expire, I instead search for you. You are lost out there, and in my heart I know you need me more than I need medicine.

These hurricanes touch the seas, and there’s nothing of you. Likewise the air; there’s nothing of you. Neither are you on the land.

Will I find you in the warped spaces, brother? I search for you in The World of Forms, where only essences obtain. I cannot find you in Beauty, in Justice, in Duty. But when I search for you in Truth, I find Darkness instead.

The eyes fear what they see there, and turn their gaze on the dark places beyond Earth’s orbit. They note the subtle shifts in gravity. There they find the heretofore unknown cause of our calamity. It is mover of the stars: a giant of dark matter, who shifts heavenly bodies. He slides them around as a means of counting. He uses our solar system as an abacus.

While searching for you, brother, I have found an ugly truth instead. The giant’s transparent finger reaches forth; the hurricanes sense the gravity. At this rate we have weeks, not months, before parts of our solar system move again.

When the giant slides our planets back, everything will grow cold. The sky itself and all the hurricanes therein will freeze like dry ice dropped onto iris and pupil.

Until then I will keep searching for you, despite it all. What better a way to spend the end: comforting you, wherever you are.

The eyes, and therefore this pod’s instruments fixate nonetheless on our doomed future.

I see it still, the inevitable sliding planets of our solar system. My monitors express them as digits. When he starts, it will begin with the dwarf.




I will find you brother, somewhere, before this comes to pass. I owe you that.





Jan 27, 2006
I'll judge if you'd like.

Jan 27, 2006
Toxxing to get these Week 371 crits posted in six days or fewer.


Jan 27, 2006
Week 371 Crits

First off, let me say this was a strong week. No stories were terrible, which for Thunderdome is saying a lot. Prior to judgechat, I did not even have any particular story nominated for the loss.

1. Haven – 7 Elks

Summary: Privatization has ruined America’s natural spaces. So when one family seeks a Grand Canyon vacation, their only option is to visit a state-run facsimile. The trip triggers a flashback for the grandmother, who in childhood visited the real canyon and had a close encounter there with an elk. Now in old age, she notes that the shoddy, glitchy virtual elk and canyon don’t compare to her vivid memories of the real place. In the end, she doesn’t have the heart to express to her family how shallow this imitated vacation is.

- The prose is clunky in parts. For example, the repetition of “even” in two difference senses here: “He was young, judging by the fuzz on his small rack of antlers, but even so he would have towered over her on even ground.”

- How did privatization wreck something as enduring the Grand Canyon? Is the real thing somehow gone, or merely closed to the public?

- The flashback scene does contain some strong images of the in-real-life elk, and thus expresses the wonder of the natural world reasonably well.

- The story is very light on character. Except for the grandmother, each member of this family functions like cardboard cutouts labeled “mom” and “kid”. Even the grandmother has little depth of character. What we know about her is she used to cherish natural spaces and now feels guilty that they’re gone. Without much more than that, she’s rather two dimensional.

- This story is little more than the bare bones of its message. Though I agree with that message, it would be stronger if expressed through a submission that was foremost a well fleshed-out story, and only secondarily a basic political message, prompt notwithstanding.

- The ending more-or-less works, but I think you could have accomplished much more with this piece. I recommend reading sparksbloom’s piece this week for an example of a story that does have interesting political and moral implications but is first and foremost presented as a solid narrative above and beyond those mere implications themselves.

2. sparksbloom – Overhead and Southbound

Summary: My interpretation is that in this world, automated drones kill plague-carrying birds. They also coordinate with driverless ambulances to capture humans who may have been exposed, presumably for quarantine—a process that reliably leads to one’s death. A mother, who once lost her partner, Leo, in one such “Event” has trained her children to survive the next one. But the arrival of starlings signals the onset of this next Event at a time when the mother is separated from her children. Risking her life, the mother searches for her kids in the woods, hoping she trained them well enough to survive, when dead birds fall upon her, and a drone finds and captures her. Then the story gets more abstract, but my interpretation is that the plague-birds reveal themselves to have once been human (hence their seemingly limitless number), and the mother, though concerned for her kids, acquiesces to learning the “secrets of the universe”, whatever that means. (Life after death?). I suppose it’s also possible that in a direct or indirect way, Leo is haunting the mother for not saving herself in lieu of her searching for the kids.

- This is good sci-fi; in broad strokes the readers get a sense of how even some initially well-intentioned automation could go horribly wrong. But you don’t beat the reader over the head with that message; rather you spin a compelling tale about a mother’s suffering and resolve. Well done.

- How does the narrator know exactly how long Leo had been stuck on the side of the road before capture?

- At first the narrator thinks “I want to go home” is Michelene screaming. But you haven’t expressed that sentence as an exclamatory statement. In other words, it doesn’t read like a scream, but just a subdued declarative.

- I would’ve enjoyed just a touch more of a hint about what the ending means. Overall your use of subtlety is good though.

- This story has good emotional resonance; the reader really gets a sense for the mother’s concern, desperation, pain, and stress.

3. a friendly penguin – Automatically

Summary: Greg manages working-class human wage slaves in an oppressive watch-making plant. Greg speaks of the humans as if he isn’t one himself, but he story seems to imply that he and everyone else in the manager class is human too. Greg has been fed lots of propaganda about human nature, so he almost envies the worker class, since he’s been told menial work and “flow” accords best with that nature. Then Greg discovers a worker who is demonstrably unhappy. This encounter shatters Greg’s preconceptions. He begins to feel unfulfilled by his work, noticing its cruelties, its banalities, and its meaninglessness. So Greg decides to rebel, apparently by taking up his grievances with upper management.

- In a world with this kind of tech, why can’t the whole watch production just be automated? Why does the company need human workers at all?

- The image of human workers wearing coercive shock glasses is rather arresting. Same with the humans still performing the same arm and finger movements after their shift is done. It’s all very Modern Times. Well done.

- The shift from Greg being 100% on board with the corporate spin to rebelling against it happens way too fast. When a character does a 180 degree shift, either the precipitating event has to be even more stark than this, or the shift must happen more gradually. I do notice you’ve got a story break representing eleven months of elapsed time, but that doesn’t actually count as a gradual shift for a couple reasons. Gradual in this sense doesn’t just mean “developing over plenty of in-universe time.” The reader needs to experience Greg’s transition gradually in order for his change of heart to ring true. Did Greg experience anything else during this period to help shift his thinking? Show us the evolution of those thoughts and experiences. Just hand-waving that entire interim period doesn’t help the reader to track a realistic-seeming course of internal movement in Greg.

- Also, I get that Greg wants to break his routine at the end, but it’s unclear what he thinks going to upper management will actually accomplish.

4. magic cactus – DRIVE TIME

Summary: Jason is operating a self-driving car, whose AI mistakes a ferret for a squirrel. The car runs over the ferret, killing it, since doing so was in keeping with the optimal drive route. Ferrets are powerful, revered creatures in this world, and Jason is now guilty of a capital offense since he was technically the operator of a vehicle that killed one. Jason buries the ferret, observing the necessary ritual, and then calls Marie, who designed the AI. Marie essentially tells Jason there’s nothing she can do, and that the ferrets will demand retribution. So Jason gets back into the car, which drives him into the woods to be devoured by ferrets.

- “The network infers that the human might have death anxiety.” lol, nice touch.

- The car AI editorializing its aesthetic appraisal that “Everything after that is bad theater, grotesque” doesn’t mesh well with the rest of its voice in the story. Aside from this, the AI does have an effective voice throughout the piece.

- Personally I think the story would have been more interesting if the retribution for killing a ferret kit came at the hands of humans bent on punishing that blasphemy. Maybe the car could have been streaming its thoughts or a/v record to some public source.

- I thought this story was okay, but in part because the ending seemed like a missed opportunity to hit even harder, I didn’t personally support the HM on this one. Congrats anyway though, the story has definite strengths.

5. Antivehicular – The Mourning Shift

Summary: A professional mourner prepares for the memorial service and ash-scattering of one musical geriatric. Interestingly, in the narrator’s culture, pro mourners undertake the important job of embodying the world’s remembrance of its recently deceased children. Then the story goes off the rails. The narrator gets approved to ride a sort of modified robo-horse for the ash-scattering. The horse takes the narrator far, and into garden-caste territory (i.e., the home turf of the deceased). There, both horse and narrator spread the ashes and sing some of the deceased’s choral music. FIN.

- Since you mentioned the caste tattoos, I was curious to know what they actually looked like.

- It’s a pity this story goes off the rails after the break; the first section was rather good. But the drop off in quality during the second section was highly apparent.

- This story ends up being kind of scatterbrained and silly, but unfortunately not the clever sort of silly. Still, the first section was intriguing enough to save it from really meriting a DM I think.

6. Anomalous Amalgam – The Fall From Grace

Summary: In accordance with the hellrule, doctors are dogs in this world. This lofty canine career path became possible due to something called “the bio-lift incident” which redistributed human intelligence to other animals, sending humans into blithering idiocy. At present, one doctor-dog, Donovan, drinks away the pain of having been replaced (in all but name) with automated physicians. While drunk on the job, he walks into an operating room where he’s told there’s a pregnant human in need of medical attention. This pregnancy is shocking since humans haven’t been getting pregnant since the whole bio-lift thing. Throughout this process, Donovan experiences the animosity of his ex, Rebecca. Then Donovan watches the automated medical procedure, gets even more drunk, falls asleep, wakes to a human baby having been born, and then begins to worry that canine dominance may be threatened. All this despite the humans still being sea-slug levels of dumb so far as he knows.

- I realize you had a tough hellrule, but even as I take that into account, the story is still weak.

- The piece is ridiculous, and not in a well-crafted farcical sort of way, but in a seemingly low-effort way.

- The animosity between Donovan and Rebecca doesn’t really develop, go anywhere, or get resolved one way or the other. It just feels grafted onto the story.

- The ending has some problems. Yes, a human is being born, but contrary to the narration’s sentiment, there's still no indication that humans can regain their intelligence, nor that they really pose any threat.

7. Thranguy – Fully-Automated Twenty-First Century Man

Summary: In a world in which travel is cost-prohibitive, virtual relationships are ascendant. Colin King, apparently the Don Juan of dating-by-avatar, meets virtually with his sister, Isobel. He tells her how he’s developed strong feelings for one of his dates, Joanne. Having asked him “Are you happy?”, Joanne created a moment that seems to have thrown Colin. In a subsequent meeting with Isobel, Colin says Joanne wants to bear the enormous cost of meeting in person, something that Colin has not even done with Isobel, among other family members. In a final meeting Colin reveals to Isobel that the in-person date with Joanne was a job offer. A company wants to capitalize on Colin’s date-coding skills. Colin still doesn’t seem to know if he’s happy, but with the new job, he thinks he may know in a year.

- I noticed a few typos on a first read-through.

- The tone feels detached, impersonal, matter-of-fact. In that way, the language feels removed from the intimate or at least virtually-carnal subject matter.

- I don’t think this was your intention, but one justifiable reading of the text seems to suggest that understanding the meaning of happiness stems from someone monetizing your work. Irrespective of what I think about that notion, it felt strange to see Colin suddenly express a sentiment more-or-less in keeping with it at the end of a story that had otherwise focused on relationships.

- I enjoyed the piece overall. It was entertaining, the world-building gave the setting some weight, and the use of the prompt was appropriate.

8. Anomalous Blowout – The Next Best Thing

Summary: Neville Skaggs is a disabled firefighter who had to leave the profession on unhappy terms. The guy seems to have a mean case of Divorced Dad Syndrome; he feels worthless and he’s not sure how to earn others’ affection. He does try to connect with Robbie, his college-aged fuckboy son, but Robbie has higher priorities, women in particular. So Neville continues to carry out his life of quiet desperation alone. But then one night his Roomba gets stuck and texts for help. In aiding the Roomba, Neville has felt needed for the first time in a long while. He resigns himself, somewhat happily even, to building a one-sided connection with the inanimate object. FIN.

- The first scene is pretty drat relatable.

- The humor works well, e.g. the braincell bit, the fuckboy bit.

- The piece has great emotional resonance, you bring out Neville’s pathos well. Congrats.

- One the best touches here was Neville’s flashback to Robbie’s colicky infancy. It certainly contextualizes Neville’s desire to feel needed, but just as interesting, it also shows a developmental history for Robbie that might explain what deep seated needs the fuckboy himself is trying to meet.

- Your insight is good: the automation dystopia isn’t science fiction. In many ways it’s our present reality.

- This was an excellent piece; well done!

9. sebmojo – Gravitas

Summary: In this world, people have rendered their minds more machine-like, becoming hyper-rational and eschewing subjective value judgements. Hope, for instance, has no place in the hyper-rational mind, and our protagonist has concluded that absent hope, a reasonable person elects to commit suicide. In furtherance of that end, the protag has brought himself to the edge of a tall building. He is planning to jump when he receives a phone call from Meredith, who is apparently a close friend or romantic partner. Upon learning that the protag is about to jump off the building, Meredith joins him at the edge. She is unable to save him with conventional arguments; they both know this. So she holds him hostage emotionally. She lets him know if he jumps then “I’m going to jump too.” Meredith’s threat strikes a subjective chord for the protagonist and leaves him uncertain how to game out the consequent scenarios. Now endowed with uncertainty, the protagonist is no longer constrained to the strictly rational. Perhaps there is even room for hope. The two decide to keep a lunch date.

- This story’s got some real weight to it.

- Interleaving is a neat concept, and the reader can piece together the sentence fragments well. But it’s a shame it only happens once in the story. I wonder if one of the characters might get interrupted with a conference call and briefly do it again; the concept is too cool to leave dangling all alone like that.

- There are some mixed metaphor issues with the labrador brain aspect. Sometimes when the protag’s brain is described as doing labrador things, its functions are appropriately described in labrador terms, like, “My labrador was panting, uncertain. I couldn’t tell what was going to happen and it was jarring.” But other times when the protag’s brain is being a labrador, what’s happening isn’t described in labrador terms, like “my helpful labrador brain catalogued all her lines of argument in perfect pivot table logic.” Labradors don’t catalogue; maybe use “retrieved.”

- “It looked like she had a lot of other things to say, but they were stopping each other getting out of her brain.” Great line. I like that even for these machine-brain activated humans, consciousness is not really a unitary phenomenon.

- The story has good emotional resonance. It also makes a good case for the value of irrationality and uncertainty.

10. Flesnolk – H

Summary: A mayor enters his office to find it’s rat-infested. A monitor signals for him to sit. He does, and a dentist drill of rats begins to work on his jaw until he passes out from pain. In sleep three figures (representing three supercomputers) appear to the mayor. They tell him his role isn’t what he’s been told, and that in truth, they are the real leaders of the city. They tell him information that he must already know about how much of life has become automated over the years. Then they suggest that politics itself is rather automated and the position of mayor is a duly elected figurehead who helps the supercomputers determine what the people want. They give the mayor a choice: accept his role or leave. He gets a day to think about it.

- The story is mostly a dressed up infodump about how this world works.

- The story is overwrought with dialogue.

- There isn’t much of an ending, rather just a postponement of a decision.

- Although it is a bit silly, the story isn’t awful, I think in a typical week you might not even have DM’d.

Jan 27, 2006

Jan 27, 2006
Having Erred, All Else is Vain
(1200 Words)

The first time Jethro’s polyplants failed, he was saving his best friend’s kid from pulverization or drowning. He wasn’t sure which, since boulders had pinned Linus into waist-high pond water, with more rocks tumbling forth.

For her part, Tina, the boy’s mom, leapt to her feet. Seemingly undazed by the quake, she grabbed a branch and frantically began plying the boulders off her son.

Jethro kept himself from swearing. Sans workable polyplants, he hadn’t the strength nor speed to destroy the rocks careening down the mountainside. But he knew he might divert them somewhat if he stood in their path.


On the ride back from the hospital, Jethro assured Tina, “It’s not as bad as it looks. One cracked rib and a concussion. And my polyplants came back online.”

“What’s a concussion?” asked Linus from the backseat.

“It’s when your brain gets a bruise and you start doing silly things. Like this!” Jethro stretched out his cheeks, exposed his tongue, and, turning to face the boy, rolled his eyes backwards.

Linus shrieked with laughter.

Just then, Jethro’s left earlobe vibrated and his holoscope dilated over his right eye. Pink text appeared over Jethro’s lower visual field:

MCPD Dispatch:

Sorry to interrupt your vacation, Prosthetic Avenger, but we have a situation downtown. Madam Bonepile has cuffed three hostages to the Rickets Ave fire-hydrant. The department has elected not to refer this one to Lieutenant Otherkin: Canine Cop. Can you render assistance?

Jethro turned his head, “Madam Bonepile—”

“—Don’t even think about it,” said Tina.

“But what if she’s gotten back with Baron Didgeridoo? Trust me, this could signal the resurgence of the Evil Leag—”

“—Are you gonna fight Madam Bonepile?” asked Lucas, clapping his hands in unrestrained glee.

“No, he’s not,” said Tina. “Someone else will take care of it. The Prosthetic Avenger isn’t going to fight any more crime until he’s over his injuries.” She glanced at the banged up hero. “Isn’t that right?”

Jethro sighed. “Yeah, I guess so.” After all, his head was throbbing. He tweaked a dial on his wrist to “Decline Job.”

Tina pulled into Jethro’s lot. “You rest up, okay?” She blew him a platonic kiss. “Call if you need anything.”


The next polyplant failures were more benign than Jethro’s first. He had a sudden loss of strength at morning yoga, an intermittent dampening of the senses at a coffee shop, one dropped Spotify track (Toto, “Africa”) at the grocery store. His head still pounded, but he refused to acknowledge his inadequate post-concussion rest. The Prosthetic Avenger was many things, but weak? Ineffectual? Jethro would have none of it.


Jethro never liked when townsfolk would stop and offer thanks for one act of heroism or another. He’d like it even less with a splitting headache, so he avoided notice by detouring through the local campus’s woods. Jethro speed-walked through gorges and ravines. Eventually, he found a young woman, presumably a student, looking over the side of a bridge.

“Afternoon,” said Jethro.

Startled, the student looked up. Then she climbed onto the bridge’s edge and jumped.

Instinct overtook Jethro. He sprinted forward at a velocity only possible via polyplants. He dove over the bridge, keeping his body straight to pick up speed, and caught the flailing woman in mid-air. Then, he sprung from one side of the ravine to the other, slowing his descent on the way down. Jethro hit the ground on his feet, holding the woman in his arms.

“I have a right to die! You have no idea what I’ve been through.”

“Finals week?”

The student looked away.


Jethro couldn’t shake the terrifying thought: What if my polyplants had failed again after I leapt over that bridge?

He knew he’d need a more reliable set. But with their inventor brought to justice, supply was all-too-scarce. So he resolved to do something he’d told himself he’d never do again.


Deep in Jethro’s basement, in a now-unlocked crate behind a false wall, Jethro stared at his old equipment.

From when I a different man, Jethro remembered. It would take some work, but these retro polyplants could be redesigned the way he’d eventually need them to be: beyond recognition.

In the meanwhile, Jethro swapped out his modern polyplants for those retro ones. He figured he’d be fine as long as he wasn’t seen with them in public. Then he went upstairs to bed.

But sleep eluded Jethro. Bored, he holoscoped some social media. Tina had posted some group pics taken shortly before the quake. Jethro responded to one of them, “Typical. As soon as the camera goes off, I blink.” After a while, he nodded off.

When he woke up, his life was over.


News notifications filled his holoscope:

Prosthetic Avenger Revealed to be Wanted Supervillain, Beloved Superhero Doxxes Himself

“Dear God,” whispered Jethro. Those old polyplants had saved the login credentials from his evildoing days. He hadn’t realized he had posted to Tina’s page as “Deathcradle.”

Reposts of Deathcradle’s most serious crimes flooded the internet, some with video. Everyone was talking about the Cincinnati Orphan Massacre.

Jethro stared at the condemnations, wanting to punish his former self with all the flagrant excess he could never show to Madam Bonepile or any other duly processed criminal. His hands were shaking. He tried to breathe deeply through it, but began nervously to talk.

“Lieutenant Otherkin is liable to fetch you at any moment now,” he said to himself. “Life in prison. You deserve it.”

He logged into his Prosthetic Avenger account:

I’ve done horrible things to lots of people. For that I am deeply sorry. I can’t undo my past, but I’ve tried to atone through service. I acknowledge my guilt and accept the consequences now.

Posts flooded in:

Wow, that’s not some self-serving bullshit or anything…

HO-LEE-poo poo, @_ProstheticAvenger thinks an apology can erase CHILD MURDER

(from Baron Didgeridoo, trolling) #ProstheticAvengerCancelled

Jethro knew he deserved all that and worse. But what could he do? He was an awful person who dealt with it by cosplaying as a decent one. He wasn’t looking forward to prison, but what bothered him most was being forever unable to set things right.

“Why is evil heavier than good?” he thought. “All these years saving lives, so many more than I ever took. But I never got close to atoning.”

Just then, there was a knock at the door. Jethro opened it, expecting a superhero or at least a SWAT Team. Instead, it was Tina.

“Give me your polyplants. Quick!” she demanded.


“You’re about to waste away in prison. But I can install the polyplants into Linus. I’ll bring them online when he’s old enough to fight crime. Believe it or not, this was his idea.”

Jethro believed it; this was just crazy enough to have sprung from the mind of an eight-year-old. Still, he began ripping from his body all things inorganic, handing them over to Tina. It’s not redemption, but it’s forward progress. “Visit me in prison. I’ll give detailed instructions on how to install these.”

Tina hurried the prosthetics away. When Lieutenant Otherkin: Canine Cop arrived (with substantial backup), Jethro surrendered. Peacefully.


Jan 27, 2006
Yeah, Thunderdome is a'ight I guess. :allears:

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