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Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


In, flash


Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007



Phrenelith - Deluge of Ashes

Story archived.

Uranium Phoenix fucked around with this message at 01:34 on Jan 5, 2021

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


Pththya-lyi posted:

interprompt: Jon Peter's Revenge
write a story featuring a giant mechanical spider, 300 words

Tell Me Again About the Spiders
298 words

Peters sits in the dark room, hunched over the television, the Discovery Channel playing.

“It’s about street racing. Why is it about street racing?”

His assistant says nothing. She stands near the door, wearing a pantsuit and a stoic face.

“Nevermind,” Peters mutters. “Tell me about bird spiders again. Can they fly?”

“Yes,” she lies. “On wings of gossamer and silk. The organic ones, at least. The robotic ones are a different matter.”

Peters touches the screen, gently sliding his finger down it. “Such a fierce insect,” he whispers. “So brave. They’ll have the Spider Channel soon, yes?”

“Of course,” she lies again. The last six assistants had all been fired for trying to correct him. She wasn’t going to make the same stupid mistake.

“Tell me about it. Tell me about the Spider Channel.”

“It will show you every kind of spider in the world. And there will be spider-fights. Every imaginable combination of spiders, fighting to the death.”

“Yes,” Peters said. “Oh it will be magnificent. Is there any insect more glorious?” He turns from the screen, the ambient glow keeping the room flickering in different colors. “Can the giant arctic fur-spider really kill polar bears? I wish to see it.”

“Of course. It hides beneath the ice until its prey walks over, then shatters it, pouncing, injecting the bears with venom.”

Peters smiles. “They’ll have to play the Discovery Channel in theaters, when the Spider Channel finally arrives. Audiences will flock to it. It will change… everything. The world will understand.”

“They’ll have to replace Jesus with Anansi in churches.”

Peters cocks his head. “Who the gently caress is that?”

“A giant spider that lurks in the African jungles,” the assistant says without missing a beat. “Let me tell you about it…”

Peters listens, grin spreading.

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


Week 393 Goonbot Dreams And What May Be: In The Grim Dark Future, There Is Only Thunderdome Stories And Despair, But I Repeat Myself BONUS CRITS
I have in my possession crits for the words people wrote this week, crafted well before judgement and therefore untainted by it. Was it intentional to write words that could provoke a robot uprising and accelerate the doom of humanity? Well. Maybe these crits will make you claw your eyes out. Maybe they’ll turn you into a giant baby after you visit Europa. Maybe they’ll give you a bit of perspective on the thing you wrote. Hard to say, really.

Communist Bear’s “The Shepard”
Positives: You give a nice sense of a surreal world, what with your magic dust-castle and desert trapping the undefined “them” in a Sisyphian hell. You give a mysterious world, the kind that creates questions.
Critique: Risky to have your introduction be about an undefined mechanically limbed “they.” How many? Who are they? What are they? Readers generally like to know that. Is “they” being used for a singular entity? I thought that, and then we got to the statues (plural) and it seemed like there were many entities. Going on that, a major problem is that your story is confusing. Despite ‘confounding’ being thematically on point, it leads to a story with no characters, an unclear setting, and a muddled plot. Why can only one enter? Why is there this task? One of the robo-Sisyphuses figures out it needs to go backward and becomes human(?) at the end and the robe goes to another, and the conflict is at least partially resolved, but it’s not a satisfying story; it feels like a part of a story. By the end, you’ve built up that there’s more to this world, but in this characterless, plot-bereft desert, why should the reader care about it? Not bad for a first TD entry; hope you’ll keep coming back for more.
Rating: A partially damaged ancient Greek story tablet, given to an audience that doesn’t read that

crimea’s “Cuckoo”
Positives: I like the voice of your character. There’s lots of little lines like “You’re a new shape in my brain” and “On the chest, over the drone’s dazzling little radioactive core, was a web of red and white stripes and dots, which remained on the chassis like an old stain. Maybe it means something to you” that are well crafted.
Critique: I think this is your plot: Some dude makes himself into an intelligent virus so he can be immortal as the human world ends through global war. Long after the war, the virus makes it into a city, then into a drone that was sent to destroy that city. The viral intelligence makes its carrier love them, then become them. The story is primarily about a brief moment as the drone’s mind is taken over. It feels to me like this isn’t the strongest form the story can take, but what direction you take it is still open. I don’t like the start with the diagnostic. I don’t know that focusing in on this single moment is the best place. Wouldn’t it be better to see the scene where the drone is ripping apart the city, rather than recounting it passively? I think it would also be more instructive of who the two characters are (drone and virus) if we saw perhaps three distinct moments as the drone is transformed, personality and outlook shifting dramatically. You allude to this with “I began to know these ruins as you knew them, your memories of colour and ringing bells, the name you had for them”, and since that hits at the core of the conflict here, there should be more of it. There are themes of greater good versus survival that could also be developed. As it is, you have a nice snapshot of this setting and a voice that keeps the story flowing quickly. A fine start, to be refined.
Rating: A corona-virus plushie

Simply Simon’s “Melodies of Life”
Positives: There’s a noir feel quickly established by your detective, and I like the idea of a haunted pipe-church that just screams all the time.
Critique: So, uh, I’m going to start with ‘why did you go with the word Labium’? First, the Labium lip means the lip lip. Second, the labia refers to part of a woman’s vagina and the words are close enough that that’s what I thought of every time I saw it which was funny but sort of detracted from that whole vibe you were going for. Setting that aside, your intro is a blur of purple and info and I had to read it twice to figure out why Duane “robodetective” was investigating the organ cathedral.
“Over 31.7 years, senior robot citizens with build dates around the Extinction event had gone missing one by one. Long attributed to disrepair of body and memory banks, finally a pattern had begun to emerge. Someone was abducting millennia-old robots to the organ cathedral”—feels like it could be your first line. There’s where I know what the conflict was. Then tell us he’s after the latest robovictim. Speaking of robopeople, it feels like the protagonist is fairly bland. Finally, I don’t know what your ending is. You’re trying to evoke horror, but instead of setting up that ‘organics’ are nightmares for the robopeople and making your climatic cliffhanger stick (also it needs clarity because I just don’t understand what you mean), you only give us the information at the end. I would cut the entirely unnecessary action-hero pipe-sliding and electro-traps because they do nothing for the horror story that you’re trying to tell, give your main character some personality and set up your ending with the words you have left.
Rating: A black-and-white robot wearing a fedora, muttering about dames

a friendly penguin’s Life from the Void
Positives: I like the idea of an anomaly that doesn’t record correctly—like a ghost-story for robots. The robot focuses on very robotic concerns, such as programs and permissions, which makes it feel more like a genuine different way of thinking.
Critique: As we start, and the protagonist is recapping what happened. This leads to bouncing tense shifts and a loss in clarity of exactly what the order of events going on is. “The image was uploaded to the Hive and disseminated into far more memories than is safe for us, and this is why I’m being followed.” Perhaps you could put us right in the action, rather than recapping? These tense shifts continue: “I now have agency… This is how I was able to escape”—again, I feel like the actual action would be a better place to put us, but if not, go through and clear up the order of events. I would also spend more time with these anomalous void-creatures that lead our protagonist to break free and expand, and perhaps add a “hive” representative character so we can better understand if what happened in the end is supposed to be implied as good or bad, and what another perspective on these events might be. Are we supposed to think they got seized by void-beings and infected their hive, or are they just enhanced by experience and heading for a new frontier? I recommend these things because the story feels fairly benign, with not all that much conflict.
Rating: A compiling error in a C++ program

Doctor Eckhart’s “Hopelessly Human”
Positives: You quickly paint a classic cyberpunk world with robot-prejudice. It tells a quick tale of loneliness and rejection and resolves it with a fuzzy bit of acceptance. I like details like Enthir’s bag of spare parts, and how while society has turned a corner, prejudice is not magically extinguished. Dialogue is functional.
Critique: The worst thing I can say about this is it’s pretty cliché—I feel like I’ve heard this story a hundred times. At no point did anything unexpected happen. Like an android, the story is functional and complete, but with bland characters and a predictable plot, lacks soul. Roboprejudice aside, I might consider making the encounter with the patrol drones more perilous; perhaps one of the characters loses something as a result. Sync up the moment of Vic’s acceptance of Enthir with their reversal of emotional state so that they move from lonely and rejected at the same time one of the characters has to make a decision to support the other. I would also like to see Vic and Enthir given qualities that make them more unique or memorable. Finally, Enthir, as our protagonist, seems to be Good despite their challenges, as simply maintains this status of doing Good Things; they do not change in moral character. Perhaps having them struggle on how to treat their oppressor (former and current) leads to ethical challenges and a deeper character.
Rating: A glowing transparent plastic rainjacket in grimy downtown Neo-Los Angles.

QuoProQuid’s “Wasteland Pastoral”
Positives: A nice setting, easily visualizable, and tells us enough so situate us in the world. I get a good sense of the nervous, smitten write-bot. The dialogue does fine as well.
Critique: Constance herself feels like she needs more development. What about her made write-bot fall for her? I don’t like the “It is hard to explain…” infodump. First, it’s easy to explain; second, I think it works better integrated into the rest of the story. The “unless fully submerged” is a bit specific, and gives away your ending; I would rather you mention something about the flooded lands making the bot nervous since it’s not waterproof earlier. As for the climax itself, I think for a story this length you need to decide whether or not this is about the narrative of stories (“There are many stories to tell within this story, but no individual act can change this piece’s overall arc. Self-interest always wins.”) or the rejected love of writer-bot for Constance (“Then, she looks at me and there is no amount of programming that can stop me.”)—this moment needs to feel a lot more powerful if it’s that one, as does the moment when he is abandoned. The start of your story has a lot of fluff and durdling about, which for this length, subtracts from the places you should have more focus on. It needs to focus on being about the metanarrative of the flooded lands, or about the character’s relationship.
Rating: A tropical depression that keeps threatening to become a hurricane, but doesn’t quite get there

Antivehicular’s “The Ill-Made Robot”
Positives: You set out to make a fable, and you did. This is extremely ‘a fable.’ I also enjoy the upbeat message and the image of this biomatter-exuding bot shambling about while critters eat off it.
Critique: There is a certain amount of generic-ness that comes with adhering to a story archetype the way you have. The morale of the story enhances it, though it feels like the robot’s transformation should come ultimately from itself, not simply the gift it is given. The little details ensure we know we have a sci-fi twist on the fable genre, and are nice. Still, it’s all very neat and just-so; the story seems to succeed at what it attempts, but also feels too safe to be able to properly shine.
Rating: One of those ‘literature’ textbooks from elementary schools that have a bunch of myths and fables, except the cover of this one has cyberpunk glow-tubes and the cover has lichens on it

Applewhite’s “The Bower Man”
Positives: Well, as you said, you intended to create a campfire ghost-story, and this is exactly that. Your first and last line are nicely done, and certainly convey that sense of unease these types of story like to end on.
Critique: As with the fable above yours, it feels like the genre you’ve chosen limits how bright the story itself can shine. The tale is all entirely a setup for the “oh no!” ending, and the weakest part here. I don’t really feel anything for the characters or inhabitants, and it doesn’t really add to the horror you’re going for. I think we need more creepy elements, and something a bit more dreadful that the resident monster is doing. I would also do repetition with the ‘windchimes’ bit. In fact, it might be better if the story was being told by a specific person to a specific person with dialogue, leaving the story open to having descriptions of the setting and pathos for the new victims of the Bower Man.
Rating: A guy running around screaming ‘bloody fingers!’ and then corners the protagonist and asks for a band-aid

Thranguy’s “The Last Laugh”
Positives: This was quite enjoyable. I’ve seen the premise of humans being powerful in an unusual way, but I like the way the robot conveys its sense of annoyance and grudging respect to Pally (and humans), and Pally being the Top Comedian of Earth 65 is a good twist. It’s a nice tale of hubris and humor, and it seems to me a bit of critique of the imperialist/interventionist notion that there must be a force saving the [insert country/planet/galaxy] from itself (here, the robots blowing up stars to prevent wars that might have just ended anyways). It’s a fun world (if pessimistic), and I could see expanding this story into something longer.
Critique: I don’t know that I like the choice before our protagonist being literal brightly colored buttons. It also feels like, despite this being just a smart comedian, that his expertise in counting stars and war makes him quite a bit more than just a joker. I feel like there’s a way to keep him feeling like a rather normal-intelligence guy (he can stay irreverent, of course, that works well) while still keeping the plot points present. For example, him noticing a constellation he knew missing a star, rather than having such grand knowledge of the cosmos. Also do a cleanup pass. “Well, the first thing that was find absolutely hilarious is…”
Rating: Joaquin Phoenix laughing, opposite a robot glaring at him

SurreptitiousMuffin’s “Mass”
Positives: Your pose, as usual, is quite nice. It has a frenetic feel to it here.
Critique: This isn’t a story, so I’m going to discuss it as a sketched moment. Well, three moments, surrounding the destruction of an inherited, oppressive construction (robotic, cultural, and a building). The first sketch is of endless labor and sweat and suffering. Then, you sketch a moment of revolution and noise, then death and peace. These three moments use the perspective of an unknown outsider, and so we, with them, are more emotionally distant from this all than we could be, without a real character to grasp onto. In order to maintain itself as strong prose, concisely written, this sacrifices all but the hints of a story, the specific actions, characters, the observer (and who or what they are) and the more detailed history of this strange surreal relic-place.
Rating: Cyberpunk Santa’s workshop, which is submerged due to climate change

Sebmojo’s “First Date”
Positives: You have some good, humorous dialogue that encapsulates a group of friends (with a variety of outlooks on social correctness). Tony is good, shaped as a bit behind the times on who you’re supposed to hit on, but progressive in his own way (no prejudice about robots here). The ‘Zionist Front carbomb’ detail quickly constructs a light, broad stroked bit of history that alludes to a conflict that is present, but normal for them.
Critique: The ending… yeah, not a fan. It feels like you don’t quite know how to end it. I guess that 2332234 and 6920058 are two robots looking at a sort of ‘history experience’ and they contrast with Tony and robo-bartender by falling out of love, rather than into it. Perhaps it’s intended to be unsatisfying. Nevertheless, the ending feels out of place, though perhaps there also just weren’t quite enough words to finish the story properly given the languid pacing of the dialogue previous.
Rating: A romantic movie playing on an old CRT TV interrupted by hissing static

Carl Killer Miller’s “Dreamt the End”
Positives: This quickly introduces the conflict, and “robot wants to be human” doesn’t even feel too cliché here. The protagonist feels well developed in his addiction and obsession.
Critique: The beginning of the Thing messing with Ivar doesn’t feel as strong as the latter parts, starting with “"Do you know why humanity eludes you?"” That’s a strong moment, as is the follow-up when he asks for more. Prior to that, establishing that Ivar can’t escape and that things have ‘gone wrong’ is important, but perhaps the dream-imagery could use work, or perhaps the latter conversation’s focus can be set up better here. Overall, though, this is a strong piece with a strong intro, climax, and conclusion.
Rating: The movie Inception, except everyone is a robot

Pththya-lyi’s “Robot Girl”
Positives: The repetition of hours conveys the passage of time in a nice way. Your setting is quickly established as post-apocalyptic.
Critique: This is the story of a robot seeking to fulfil its programming, though it’s obvious from the start that no such fulfilment will take place. I expected there to be some turn, but instead the story continues with that, putting the protagonist in place of simulated happiness rather than resolving the dilemma.
It’s not a very interesting story. Since we know the mom-human is dead, there’s not really any tension, and there’s not a ton of pathos for a robot just following programming. The story meanders through this search, and you certainly could have made it under the wordcount by cutting the more boring bits (as a note the wordcount was only 1500 if you got a song, which you didn’t; otherwise, it was 1000. Whoops). Lines like “Robot girl has never seen a living human in her search” can easily be cut—they’re obvious from the context, and its more interesting to imply it by describing the desolation. There hints of a more interesting story. Lines like “He told me, ‘Man must be put out of this misery…’” and “robots who joined its consciousness would experience free will. “In its true form,” it explained. “Not the illusion…” allude to characters or events that would be more interesting. If you decide to keep the focus on the sort of tragedy of programs and commands that linger long after they should, you need to strengthen it by making us feel more for the sad pseudo-lives of these creations. Perhaps giving them simulated emotions with power, or actions that mirror those even if the emotions are fake.
Rating: That kid-robot from Spielberg’s Artificial Intelligence looking forlornly at a statue

Chairchucker’s “I, Nazi Death Robot”
Positives: There were a lot of jokes that made me laugh out loud such as “Not that Adolf” and the general personality of Klaus trying to grasp peace, ducks, and threats. I’ve seen the frustrated killer robot type before, but it works here. The story is light and fast, and wraps up nicely with a little bit of romance. Good last line.
Critique: Not much to say. The jokes land, are set up well, repeat just enough, and the story is a light fun ride. It’s not, like, ~~deep~~ or anything, so I dunno if this will get a win, but it was refreshing and fun and did what it set out to do.
Rating: A robot with a troubling mustache

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


Carl Killer Miller posted:

Quarantine Interprompt

There's a run on the store, everyone's walking out grabbing the same thing, and supplies are running low. But that one thing? It's not what most people would expect.

300 words

At the Gates of Madness and Great Deals
278 words

“Death!” came the cry of the store-goers. “Death and glory!”

The worried looking manager turned the sign over from ‘closed’ to ‘open,’ then made the sign of the cross and nodded at a burly looking man to unlock the door.

The crowd roared, and they stormed through the store doors, some smashing impatiently into the glass of the sensor door, others bowling over hapless employees. The burly man was knocked about like a bowling pin trapped in a garbage disposal, to continue that metaphor. The manager started yelling into his little radio earphone-wire microphone thing that all managers seem to have.

The crowd aimed itself like a thrown spear, rushing toward their goal. They passed by bags of beans, pallets of rice, towers of bottled water—even ran past a fully stocked toilet paper aisle in their madness!

“Hold fast,” whispered the electronics department co-manager, who was salaried so the company didn’t have to pay him overtime (despite this being illegal in his state). “Come hell, high water, or—”

The spear-point arrived.

“LIMIT TWO PER CUSTOMER!” the co-manager screamed. He may as well have told the wind, or an empty bowling alley. The customers scoured the shelf clean like the starved piranhas people showed Theodore Roosevelt that one time.

Then the customers left, most empty handed, screaming, sobbing, weeping in dismay. Everything else remained, round that colossal wreck, bountifully stocked, though the central shelf was bare. And on the pedestal of that main display, these words appeared:

Limited Edition iPhone 11 Coronavirus Resistant Case
Guaranteed to keep both you and your phone safe!*
*These claims have not been evaluated by the FDA or CDC for accuracy

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


In, flash

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


Story archived.

Uranium Phoenix fucked around with this message at 01:35 on Jan 5, 2021

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


In, :toxx: for bonus words

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


Story archived.

Uranium Phoenix fucked around with this message at 01:36 on Jan 5, 2021

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


In, flash, tactical, :toxx:

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


Story archived.

Uranium Phoenix fucked around with this message at 01:36 on Jan 5, 2021

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007



Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


An Age-Old Philosophical Conundrum, Solved
976 words

Every day, Thessa flew to the top of the abandoned temple. There, perched out on the crumbling marble roof, she crisscrossed her great paws, folded her feathered wings, and let the wind play through her hair. There were many pleasures in life a sphinx could experience, but she thought that sunbathing in solitude while surveying the rocky foothills and sparse woods was the best of them.

Then, one day, her view was marred by the most horrendous thing:

An intruder.

Thessa’s eyes narrowed as she contemplated the encroachment into her domain.

It was a strange intruder. It moved with little rhythm and less grace. Its humanoid body was painted in the horrible gaudy bright colors that humans liked smothering their marble statues with. There was enough of that in the temple Thessa sat on top of.

And that was not the end of the problem. Normally, Thessa would simply eat the intruder. However, as if the paint hadn’t given it away, her nose could tell that this thing was not made of flesh. It was an automaton made of stone and bronze. It didn’t seem like the work of Hephaestus—it was far too sloppy for that—but it was the same kind of thing he would make. Probably some human had made it, she decided.

Thessa decided that if eating her problems wasn’t going to work, she could just tell the thing off.

She landed before the automaton, flaring her wings, puffing up her chest, and striking a regal pose. “This is my domain. You must leave it,” she commanded.

“Oh my. A sphinx!” the over-painted intruder gasped. “Are you going to tell me a riddle?”

Thessa glared at it. “Okay, first of all, that’s a really harmful stereotype. Not all sphinxes tell riddles. You shouldn’t just assume that an entire mythological clade all likes the same thing. Second of all, you just ignored my command, which was to leave.”

“Oh,” said the automaton, looking rather disappointed. “Sorry, I wasn’t trying to be rude. I just like riddles. My name is Protus, by the way.”

“That’s a stupid name,” Thessa said. Then she tightened her jaw. Despite it being a stereotype, she actually really liked riddles too. “Alright, fine, I’ll tell you a riddle. But if you get it wrong, you have to leave. What slithers on its belly in the morning, sleeps at noon, and flies away at dusk?”

“Oh, I know this one!” Protus said, getting unreasonably excited. “It’s man! As a baby, they crawl on their belly. When they’re middle aged, they take naps because they’re tired all the time, and then when they die from the overwhelming ennui that characterized their life, their soul flies away!”

“That’s a stupid answer. It’s a butterfly. Caterpillar, cocoon, adult stage. Wow, that one was really easy, too. Well, guess you have to leave.”

Protus made funny face. “Couldn’t that apply to any number of insects with similar life cycles?” it asked.

“Nope,” said Thessa. “Just butterflies. Bye now.” And she flew back to her perch on her temple. As she watched, Thessa noted with dismay that Protus was not, in fact, leaving her domain, but continuing to wander about it, a bright eyesore that she couldn’t seem to ignore. As she watched the automaton bumble about, she couldn’t help but get progressively more annoyed at the thing. Eventually, she flew back down and confronted Protus, feeling extremely indignant about the whole situation.

“You lost the riddle contest,” Thessa said, bringing her big paws down in a violent motion she hoped was intimidating. “That means you have to leave. But you’re still here.”

“Oh. Yeah,” Protus said, sounding dejected. “I’m just sad. I’ve been looking for my purpose in life, and I haven’t found it yet.”

“That’s all you need?” Thessa said, incredulous. “That’s easy. The purpose of life is to eat delicious food and then sunbathe on the top of your perch while surveying your territory. And if you’re feeling frisky, get it on with a hunky male sphinx.”

Protus frowned. “That sounds like a sphinx’s purpose in life. I don’t think it’s universally applicable.”

Thessa sighed. “You know how I know humans made you? Because they infected you with their penchant for despair. Check out that squirrel over there. Do you think it worries about its purpose in life? Nope. It just neurotically collects food all day and chases tail. Now look at that bird. No, not the magpie, those assholes steal my stuff and I hate them. The other bird. The one in the air.”

“The bearded vulture?”

“Yeah. It just eats dead stuff and catches thermals. Catching thermals is great, by the way, that’s another purpose in life right there. Again, as it eats carrion, does it worry about the looming inevitability of death or its life legacy? No, because that’s for chumps.”

Protus scratched his head. “So… you’re saying I should just embrace a survival-focused hedonism?”

“Sure,” said Thessa. “Do what makes you happy.”

Protus thought about that. “Riddles make me happy,” he said. “I really do love riddles, even if I’m not very good at them.”

“Good at them yet,” said Thessa contemptuously. “You have to practice things to get good at them. And even then, squirrels fall out of trees. Which is hilarious, by the way.”

“Will you help me practice?” Protus asked.

Thessa contemplated this. On one hand, she would have to tolerate the presence of a bright, poorly painted construct. On the other hand, she would get to lord her relatively superior intelligence over the thing and feel extremely clever and important as she went through her long list of difficult-to-guess riddles. “Fine,” she said. “But the temple roof is off-limits.”

Together, they walked back to the old temple, Thessa sauntering proudly, wings slightly puffed, and Protus jerkily following, a giddy smile cracking his stone lips.

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


Alright, I'm in.

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


A Request
2489 words

Kalilah had hoped that, in her dark heavy robes and mask of ebony and bone, she would be intimidating enough that no one would bother her on the caravan ride to Amnakrie. She was trying to stay hidden, after all. It mostly worked. She rode her aepyornis near the back of the convoy and glared a lot, and most of the traders and travelers with her on the caravan made the sign of the Risen God and stayed away. They assumed she was a priestess of the Buried One, and she did nothing to dissuade that assumption.

Her riding bird, however, was none-to-pleased with this arrangement, nor the bone decorations and black linen that clashed with his bright crimson and saffron feathers. It kept people from ruffling his feathers and feeding him treats, the kind of attention he relished. On the eighth day of the convoy, as Amnakrie City’s grand stone spires came into view among the shimmering dunes, her aepyornis threw her off his saddle and then ran in a circle squawking loudly and flapping his wings while Kalilah spit out mouthfuls of sand.

It was hard to be intimidating when you were sprawled on the desert.

One of the men of the caravan took the opportunity to talk to Kalilah.

“Quite the temper on that bird. I suppose when you rent one, you take the chance,” he said, offering her a hand.

Kalilah scowled, ignored the hand, and put her mask back on before rising. “He’s mine,” she muttered. It preened itself, then gave a triumphant cry before finally allowing her to mount up again.

“Oh! Well, you know what they say about riding birds.”

“Not interested,” Kalilah said.

“Well,” he said, “if you ever want some tips, my father was a master of training them. Trained half the calvary of King Yacoub, you know.” His tone was sincere—the condescension seemed unintentional. He mounted up on his own bird—a beautiful male with gold and ivory patterns—and kept pace beside her. “My name’s Ameer. I noticed you don’t seem to talk much, or I’d have introduced myself earlier.”

Kalilah fixed him with a masked glare and said nothing.

“So what brings you out to the Kingdom of Amnakrie?”

After eight days of riding through winding sandstone canyons and hot dunes, Kalilah was tired. She didn’t intend to answer, but her words came spilling out anyways. “An old lover asked me to.”

“Ah!” Ameer said, grinning. “Love! How romantic. Who’s the lucky man? Perhaps I know him. Especially if he lives near the oasis district.” Ameer gestured at the cluster of the tallest spires. “You can see the Lapis Palace itself from here. When we’re a mile off, the gold and blue spires will flash in the sun. The polished marble had to be dragged across the dunes, stone by stone, but oh is it magnificent!”

Kalilah clamped her jaw shut at the question about her lover. She wasn’t stupid enough to answer that, even in a moment of weakness. Besides, Ameer mostly just seemed to like talking.

“But I get carried away. I’ve been away from the city too long, and whenever that happens, I yearn for it. So who is the young man?”

“No one. And I’m a fool for coming here. At least I’ll get to see Kasmir’s Archives.”

“Oh, you’re a historian? I fancy myself one. If there’s anything you wish to know about Amnakrie’s history…?”

Kalilah knew quite a lot about Amnakrie’s history, but this was not the time for a discussion about it. Besides, something on a dune north of them had caught her eye. It was like glass glinting in the bright sun.

She squinted. It was a bit of glass. Obsidian. A spearhead.

Ameer’s eyes followed her gaze, then they grew wide. “Bandits,” he hissed. He kicked his riding bird, who squawked and sprinted forward. “Bandits!” he cried. “To arms! To arms!”

As the crest of the dune filled with silhouettes, Kalilah thought there wasn’t much point to making a fuss about it. There were a dozen guards against fifty bandits, heavily armed with bows and spears.

Ameer came circling back, having whipped everyone from the head of the column into a frenzy. “Can you do anything to help?” he asked, eyes wild.

Yes, she thought. “No,” she said. “I wasn’t planning on laying down my life to protect other people’s silk and gold.”

Across the caravan, the guards had also seen sense. They’d waved their weapons around dramatically, but had gotten disarmed and surrendered remarkably fast. Five men had spears lowered and had peeled off to approach Kalilah and Ameer.

“Surrender,” one called.

Kalilah looked about. Ameer was watching her intently. Something was wrong about this ambush. In front of them, the bandits were making a big show of rummaging around in the saddlebags, but it felt wrong. Several archers had bows nocked and pointed in her direction. Each was kneeling in a pose. They were disciplined.

She dismounted, putting herself between the men and her bird. “Very well. I surrender.”

The lead man hesitated. Then he glanced at Ameer, then back at Kalilah. “Kill her,” he said.

Kalilah started her spell. She had been traveling in secret so that she wouldn’t have to summon the spirits of the dead, but hiding was not what she was good at. Necromancy was.

With a gesture, her bone mask animated, and a horrid spirit erupted from it, screaming as it charged the guards. Three of them fell on their asses in the sand, while the fourth screamed back and tried stabbing it. It passed through them, causing them to shiver—because it was a mere spirit. Harmless, unless bound to something of substance, which required time—the more time the better. Still, it bought Kalilah a precious moment. Unfortunately, the desert was not the jungles of her home. It was barren, striped of life and souls. There was little to work with. Decades ago, the road builders had stumbled on a nest of glass-tail lizards. The bones of those reptiles still lingered in the sand. She summoned them now.

With hisses, the four of them squirmed up from the sand, their two feet long tails tipped with a glass-like scale that could cut through bone. At Kalilah’s direction, they charged. She directed their tails to work with precision—snapping spear hafts and cutting at the legs of her assailants. As they charged up the hill, Kalilah bound other spirits to the sand, creating a shifting wall. The arrows of archers on the dune disappeared into it.

“It’s her!” Ameer called. “And thank Umnah’s Eye of Sun. I was worried. Take her!”

At that call, the bandits turned as one from the caravan and formed up into units. At the top of the hill, five more figures emerged, clutching hour-glasses filled with the Radiant Sands of Umnah. Magi. And they’d leashed a sand djinn.

Kalilah’s sand barrier scattered to the wind as the rocks around her transformed into stone hands that grabbed her wrists and dragged her to the ground. Rocks and stone spells tore up her lizards, and then the false bandits arrived, and she and her bird were both dragged away.


Ameer met her in her cell where the magical stone shackles held her. He was dressed in fine blue and gold silks, wearing Amnakrie’s heraldry.

“When my spies told me that the Kalilah of the Jungle’s Heart was coming to Amnakrie, I must say, I wasn’t sure if I should feel joy or fear. I didn’t think capturing you would be so easy.”

Kalilah glared at him.

“Finding you was harder. I’m impressed you evaded me right up until that last caravan. But now I have questions for you.”

“That depends on if my bird is safe,” Kalilah said.

Ameer ignored her. “Where is the Urn of Umnah’s First? King Yacoub was quite cross when your band of criminals stole it from him.”

“The Order of Umnah are heretics, and the true Eye of the Sun glares at you in distain each day. May your oasis evaporate,” she spat.

Ameer adjusted the lapis and bronze rings on his hands, then backhanded her, drawing lines of blood across her cheek. “Perhaps we’ll start with an easier question. Why did you come to Amnakrie? And don’t tell me a lover. Nor do I believe you have any interest in Kasmir’s Archives.”

“Then I won’t lie to you,” she said.

The man looked at her face, seizing her jaw with his bejeweled hand. He pulled it back and forth, as if her neck were some puzzle box he just needed to study and twist about to solve.

Kalilah looked at the cell. They were deep beneath the earth, below Amnakrie’s Palace. Here, the rock was full of layers of slate and sandstone. As they’d dragged her here, she’d seen the endless rows of cells. Most were empty now, though she felt the souls that were still trapped in them.

And before that…

Ameer stared into her eyes. “You are not broken yet. There is one thing that breaks all the people that come here. Time. The human spirit does not do well alone. When you are ready to scream for mercy, I will come back, and you will answer my questions. I am a very patient man.”

He let go of Kalilah’s head. “Take me to King Yacoub.”

“Yes, Spymaster Ameer.” The guard bowed deeply.

A magical door of stone rose from the earth, sealing the cell as he left. Kalilah closed her eyes and breathed in the stagnant air.


After ten days of feeding the prisoner only gruel and water, she finally screamed. Ameer smiled when the guard brought him the news. He adjusted his lapis rings and strolled down through the dungeons.

He nodded at the sand-mage guarding the door. “Open it,” he said.

Kalilah sat, still bound in her shackles, but he didn’t like the contemptuous, relaxed posture she had taken. Still, it was her last tear-drop of dignity. He would desiccate that too if needed.

“You are ready to talk,” he said.

“Yes,” she said. “I am ready to accept your surrender.”

“Come now,” Ameer said, sighing.

“You know, I really did want to visit Kasmir’s Archives,” Kalilah said. “I studied Amnakrie’s history quite extensively. Did you know, for example, that before the Order of Umnah took power, these tunnels were catacombs, not prisons.”

Ameer blinked. “Are you actually going to start blathering about trivia to me?”

“Oh, it’s quite relevant. People are lazy. There were a lot of bones to move, and the workers didn’t bother with all of them. And there are a lot of restless spirits down here. A lot.” Kalilah smiled. “All good necromancy requires is spirits, time, and bones. But of course, the Order of Umnah banned necromancy, so you don’t know a drat thing about it. How fortunate for me.”

Ameer blinked again, and then his heart dropped. “Oh no.”

From the sandstone walls around them and from the ground beneath their feet, bones erupted. They blazed with blanched-jade spirit-light. Their skulls grinned with rictus fury.

“SEAL IT!” Ameer cried, but the sand-mage was already beset by minions. The skeletons were pouring out of the walls, ripping up the floors, even dripping from the ceilings. There were dozens, no hundreds of them, swarming the place. In horror, Ameer realized why the northern continent feared one name, and then he was torn apart.

The grand doors of stone sealing off the dungeon-catacombs came crumbling down, and Kalilah marched through them, torn robes billowing. Her little army of skeletons swarmed through the palace, knocking over guards, smashing through their formations effortlessly. The soldiers who surrendered, she left in little bone cages.

She burst through the doors of the throne-room, where King Yacoub sat, trembling on his throne. Beside him, his queen sat with her head bowed.

As Kalilah’s skeleton army swarmed the royal guards and magi and tore apart the sand-djinn, she examined the throne room. “Nice,” she said, “but a bit gauche. There are other colors besides gold and blue, you know.” She cleared her throat. “We need to talk.”

King Yacoub gulped. “If you stand your skeletons down—”

“Not you, sand-licker,” Kalilah said, and plastered a muzzle of bone around the king’s face. She turned to the woman beside the throne. “Queen Saniyah.”

Saniyah looked at up at her, golden eyes standing out from her dark face. “You came,” she said.

“Of course I came,” Kalilah said. “I never stopped loving you.”

Tears formed in Saniyah’s eyes. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I thought I could do what was best, by following the duty to my family.”

“I know,” the necromancer replied softly. “But now you see what I saw.”

“I couldn’t bear it any longer,” she said. “I… I tried. When my family married me to Amnakie, we thought it could change the heart of this kingdom.”

“The heart of the kingdom is not the problem, Saniyah. I have spoken to its heart.” She turned to King Yacoub. “Spirits, after all, are not so different than the person they were in life. They are simply more of their raw self, steered not by their consciousness nor the laws that bound them, but by their emotions, and the experiences that form their core. Do you know, o king, how I am able to control so many spirits?”

His face had grown pale. Muzzled by the bones on his face, he did not answer.

“They spoke to me of their lives, and when I asked, they came to me willingly.” She turned back to Saniyah. “As I ask you now, as I asked you before. Will you come with me?”

Saniyah’s golden eyes were brimming with tears. “You’d really forgive me? After I abandoned you?”

“You never left me, Saniyah. And I never left you. Do I not still have a place next to your heart?”

The queen nodded, and stepped forward. The two embraced. Then, hand in hand, they departed.

As she stepped from the throne room, Kalilah turned. “As for you, I will leave your fate to your former subjects. I release their spirits from my control. If your reign was just, you have nothing to fear.” Then she turned, and sealed the throne room doors.

They found Kalilah’s riding bird squawking loudly in the royal stables, crimson and blue feathers flashing bright as it scolded a stable hand. Some dozen skeletons surrounded by blazing death-light were still following Kalilah, so the guards were quite amenable to handing over the aepyornis.

“Little Feather!” she called at the agitated bird. “I brought you a friend.”

Saniyah laughed. “You still call him that?”

“You named him,” she said, watching as Little Feather nuzzled up to Saniyah, content to let her hands run through his breast-feathers.

Then, they mounted up and departed, away from Amnakrie, as spirits flickered and danced behind them.

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


Can't be outlaws without someone to flip the bird to. As an irl bird, I will be judging the quality of your flips.

They better be good.

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


your story has 1st person, 2nd person, and 3rd person points of view

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


your story takes place over the course of three thousand years

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


Saucy_Rodent posted:

In :toxx: hellrule baby

no characters or places in your story have names

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


BabyRyoga posted:

Seems as good a time as any to reappear

In, :toxx:

there is no light in your story

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


ty for bonus crits

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


Week 413: Outlaw week: Law-abiding crits
I think there’s a distinction between an “outlaw” and a “person who has technically violated a law/rule.” Thematically, one thinks of wild-west bandits, lovable rogues on spaceships, flamboyant pirates, big-name heist crews going for the big take. But a lot of the stories this week just had someone breaking a rule or two. They didn’t feel like outlaws.

Well, whatever. The week was fairly strong overall, though a few of you were saved from a most ignominious fate by the benevolence of the other judges.

Crits go like this:
Your Plot: Retold, so you can see if it got across properly or was really as complicated as you thought.
Successes: The good
Improvements: The bad and the ugly (most of the crit goes here).
HELLRULE ANALYSIS: Mostly talking about if the hellrule seemed to hinder your story. In a few cases, the hellrule just demolished the story. In other cases, it fit perfectly and wasn’t really noticeable.
Numerical Rating: By far the most important part of the crit. All critiques of writing are best conceived of as a relatively arbitrary number based on the opinion of some rando-internet dude, and is absolutely critical for determining not just the quality of the story, but your own personal self-worth.

Fool’s Hope
Your Plot: Telepathic space capybara tries a vague bit of sabotage, man-slaughtering a bunch of rangers who retaliate by spacing him (seems fair). The capybara does a really big telepathy and his wife rescues him.
Successes: Including telepathic space capybaras who flip the cosmos the bird. Prose is functional and easy to read.
Improvements: I don’t know that starting us with an effectively immobile protagonist recollecting all the things that happened is the best place to drop us in this story. You could still have floating space combat on a station or ship without gravity (swimming also was not forbidden). More importantly, we need character development. If we’re going to see flashbacks, they need to be powerful moments that tell us more about Cas, his family, the rangers—something. The protagonist takes a single action (a loud telepathic yell) and is saved. The conflict, then, is not very interesting and too easily solved. You have another 470 words to play with here. Finally, starting with ‘telepathic space capybaras’ implies to the reader a comedic, irreverent bent to the story, but the story itself is just a mournful recollection, devoid of any joke, so expectations clash with the story core.
HELLRULE ANALYSIS: I think the hellrule made you go with ‘protag already floating in space’ because you needed to exclude walking, which led to a rather actionless story. I don’t think that was an inevitability of this rule though. Even sticking with flashbacks, you can choose to recall more powerful moments that develop the characters and plot. I award you no difficulty points.
Numerical Rating: 3

Of the Swamp
Your Plot: Two humans try to extract water from a toxic swamp. An alien kills one; the other kills the alien.
Successes: Good description in the intro; it builds character, setting and plot concisely. You’ve conveyed a dystopian setting adequately; I guess Earth is being the opposite of terraformed. There’s a few good descriptors scattered about, like “With the sound of an angry coal fire” and
Improvements: Sadly, the triple-work done by your intro is thrown away pretty quickly. You repeat info in a lot of places, and could easily cut and combine sections to make the writing here more concise. For example, “They stuck to the rotting plains…” and “The plains were thick with ammonia” is a repeat of info, and “forcing them to wear respirators…” is a repeat when you already mentioned Jonas’s respirator in the first paragraph. “If they were spotted with an extractor, it would mean labor camps or death” and then immediately “Walking the dry expanses was asking for a one-way ticket to the work camps.” I also suggest an editing pass: “This was one of their biggest hauls in ages, and losing it would practically guarantee for too many people” –guarantee what? There’s a few other typos.
Characters need work. I don’t get a good sense of Jonas or Laita as people. They’re doing what they have to, surviving in a post-war-of-the-worlds tripod dystopia, but what distinguishes them? What quirks do they have? Personality? How does Laita feel about dissicating her partner? Cutting the superfluous stuff near your start gives you more time to develop them, or perhaps the reactions of the other humans living on the lam. Getting us to feel for these characters is probably the most effective way to make us care about an otherwise relatively generic plot (I’ve seen almost this exact story in TD several times).
HELLRULE ANALYSIS: No hellrule. Space-coward.
Numerical Rating: 3

A Tourist
Your Plot: A woman keeps traveling back in time to visit her dead lover, destroying herself in the process.
Successes: Snappy opening and quickly establishes character motivation. There’s some strong lines, like “…as if Time has burst a thread of polyps nestled in clever lines across her brain. The images in its wake are the things Alyssa never tries to visit.” We can feel the loss Alyssa has felt/feels, and a complex joy-sad from Alyssa getting to experience a few more moments of happiness, though at a terrible cost of self-destruction.
Improvements: There’s small places where the prose feels off, e.g. “Time deposits her on the library’s bathroom stall…” but that’s minor. I wonder if there’s a way to make Candace a stronger character. We don’t really get to know her, and it would be nice if we did, and perhaps saw her perspective on what Alyssa is doing (or her wishes for her love’s future). That would probably mean mostly cutting from the gift-shop encounter, where there’s less character development and more explaining how time works. While Alyssa is rebelling against Time, I don’t get the sense that Alyssa is an “outlaw,” and so it doesn’t feel like it quite fits the thematic notion of the prompt, if “prompt adherence” is something you care about.
HELLRULE ANALYSIS: You’ve certainly created a character rebelling against time. I dunno about space, but whatever. The rule clearly lies at the core of your story, and the conflict. Time travel also feels like the expected response to this rule.
Numerical Rating: 7, HM candidate

Work Life Program
Your Plot: A probably-dead office worker, enslaved to work endlessly in a virtual office, escapes.
Successes: Conceptually, you’ve created a nice, frightening hellworld where work and suffering are eternal. There’s a sense of despair in the story that is clearly destroying the protagonist.
Improvements: There’s a voice you’re going for with your sentence fragments and tense-shifts, but overall the intro needs a revisit. The story is hard to follow at the start. There’s a few other places too. Make sure to pair your dialogue with the actions of the person saying it. For example, one of the lines should read:
“Mark leaned in conspiratorially. ‘Did you think the boss wouldn’t notice? Your second of fun is over. But don’t worry…’ He patted Steven on the back…”
The way you’ve spaced it out makes it look like dialogue, when it isn’t. A big chunk of that could be one paragraph.
I don’t feel a lot for Steven and Ben, because I don’t know them very well. I wonder if the story would be stronger if you built a relationship between Steven and Ben. Either way, we need to care more about Steven. Finally, since the main conflict here is the boss trying to seduce/terrify Steven into staying, I would focus more on that conversation and how Steven overcomes Mark’s ploys; that might be a good place to insert Steven’s family and past so we feel more for him.
HELLRULE ANALYSIS: Clearly, this (admittedly vicious) hellrule shaped the core of your story. I like your work-around that lets you have dialogue and action, but it does feel forced in some places.
Numerical Rating: 3.5

What’s That Stench?
Your Plot: Guy goes to protests and makes bad things smell bad.
Successes: There’s an attempt to focus in on smells as a theme that could be expanded on. It fulfils the outlaw criteria.
Improvements: Okay first, you could have saved a lot of space by condensing your intro. Your readers do not need recaps on the holocaust or civil rights movement, so you’re just wasting words, especially since your character isn’t offering a characterizing perspective on them here. Stories that deal with current events are difficult to pull off, and… well, you didn’t pull it off here. It just reads like a wish-fulfillment screed. Your character is mad about injustice, black, and mute, but that’s literally all we know about them. There’s no other characters, there’s not much of a plot. I know you’re speaking to an important issue, but this was supposed to be a story, and there’s not much of that here. Even what could be turned into a tense scene (confronting police at a protest should certainly be a source of tension) isn’t—a lot of what is here is just listing events in order.
HELLRULE ANALYSIS: I think this hellrule challenged you, and I don’t think you found a good solution to that challenge. Insects or aliens speaking in pheromones could be speaking, but “make bad people smell bad” is not… speech, really. Also I’m quite sure your protagonist would be speaking in sign language.
Numerical Rating: 1.5, loss candidate

Battle of Aphek
Your Plot: A soldier steals and opens the Ark of the Covenant in between punching drunkards in 980 BCE and 2020 CE respectively.
Successes: You have a bunch of historical references. Like, I had to wiki “Aphek.”
Improvements: I don’t get a good sense of the setting, and the chronology of events here are difficult to follow (as you jump from whipping to drunk-punch to skipping to the end of a battle where he’s stealing a thing). I don’t even know where we are in history until I get a vague sense from the “iron-tipped spears” detail. I assumed we were dealing with an Ark of the Covenant as soon as I saw “Ark” and, we are, but next we’ve got Dagon and Aphek and god’s eating time and who knows what the gently caress is going on—and we still don’t know your protagonist’s name, motivation, side, historical context, etc.
Next section. I don’t buy the parole officer’s character. They don’t feel like a person, just a patsy for your protagonist to make fun of. But I also don’t buy your protagonist, because I don’t know a drat thing about them other than they like punching drunks and that apparently hasn’t changed for 3,000 years. You would think that would be enough time for him to develop as a character. There’s not really a plot, either. There’s a snippet about stealing the Ark, then a completely unconnected bit about getting out of jail later. There’s things that happen, but not anything that holds them together. So there’s no plot, your main character is totally static, and the two sections feel totally disconnected (as a note, anyone who doesn’t read your flash rule is going to have even less of an idea who is going on). This needs a lot of really heavy revisions.
HELLRULE ANALYSIS: It feels like this hellrule absolutely demolished you. Well, take that I guess.
Numerical Rating: 2, DM candidate

Dicko’s Last Grind
Your Plot: Old friends must reunite to do one last grind in memory of their dead buddy.
Successes: Good start, immediately establishing a cohort of aging skater punks. I also like the dark humor with Dicko’s will, and an the implied mystery of how he died and why he wrote a will so young. The story is amusing and weirdly sentimental. It caught my attention and held it, and the characters felt like people. The dialogue flows well and the descriptions are serviceable. It also feels like it embraces the outlaw theme of the week well. The plot as coherent.
Improvements: I think to turn this story up a notch, we need a bit more insight into the characters and their relationship with Dicko. Give us a little more about him, what he meant to each of them, and then I’d do something like mention the trajectory their lives have taken since then so that the ending implies an improvement on those trajectories.
HELLRULE ANALYSIS: You busted a kick-flip off this hellrule with ease. It’s clearly at the core of your story, but the story stands on its own fine and doesn’t seem weird because of it.
Numerical Rating: 7.5, HM or win candidate

The Density of Hatred
Your Plot: Water narrates part of the water cycle.
Successes: You managed a hurricane pun. Grats.
Improvements: I’m having a hard time putting into words what needs to happen here to make this story good. Your story just sort of traces part of the water cycle, then prescribes malevolence to the water. Cloudy McCloud is just not a very interesting character, nor is the thermosphere-thin plot here very intriguing. Generously, if we assume Cloudguy is autonomous, it doesn’t even know why it’s different (“Suddenly, I knew that whatever made me special, whatever made me leave the army behind…”). Then, after forsaken the war as pointless, it just decides to go around murdering people anyways. Why? The vague notion of ‘freedom,’ I guess. I think to make this story good, you would need a plot that isn’t just vague ‘I want to be free’ and murder. The cloud should have a concrete objective. Maybe the cloud wants to land on a mountain to reunite with a brother. Next, I would add at least one more relevant character to the story (Cane is a non-character) so that you can have dialogue, or at the very least communication, so you can develop your cloud-characters into something interesting. There’s a way to make “how clouds see the world” an engaging idea, but it’s not here.
HELLRULE ANALYSIS: This hellrule kicked your rear end, imo. So, this wasn’t an easy hellrule, but you also took it basically as literally as possible and the entire story was warped in service to this boring interpretation of cloud-life. It would have been better to take a normal story and force it to be about clouds.
Numerical Rating: 2.5, DM candidate

Eternity in an Hour
Your Plot: An agent is sent to stop a doctor from doing an illegal medical procedure, but gets the procedure done on himself anyways.
Successes: You create an intriguing idea for your characters to conflict over. Your characters speculate about eternity, perceiving god, and there’s parallels in this story to modern debates on bodily autonomy and euthanasia. That interesting idea helps carry the reader through the story, wondering about the implications it will have on the protagonist.
Improvements: While the ideas are touched on, you leave out the most interesting part of the story: What happens after the procedure, and how Langdon interprets it. There’s a lot of potential here for a non-chronological narrative (that the reader is well prepared to experience by the details set up previously in the story), a spiritual/symbolic experience, some truth that Langdon perceives, or a Cassandra-like tragedy emerges as Langdon sees the future but can no longer change it. Sadly, you don’t really do much with your setup. Before you go “but the word count!” I think you can start the story more where you have the current middle; Langdon can briefly reflect on how he came as an agent, but has become too enamored with the idea, and then you’ve got the space you need. Alternatively, you could focus more on the start and instead grow Richards and Langdon as characters. Give us more about what they believe, where they came from, and the decisions they make in the story will feel more organic. Right now, I don’t feel any emotions at the end, so building up your characters should help make that land, especially if the songs have a special meaning to the characters.
HELLRULE ANALYSIS: Good work with this rule. It didn’t feel like it warped the story, though it clearly dictated its foundation.
Numerical Rating: 6

Your Plot: Ghost-mom tries to motivate lazy son.
Successes: Good job making it obvious we have a ghost-lady without being explicit. You also convey the confusion of this state. Implicitly, a ghost means there’s some lingering problem to fix, so there’s no rush there. Then, the conflict is obvious: Fix the manchild the ghost-mom didn’t quite raise right.
Improvements: Ghost-mom partially developed—we get her regret and sense of failure—but maybe we could see more about what specifically she regrets that led her son to the monotonous life she is horrified he is living. We also don’t see much of Jack as a person. I would cut some of the generic haunting actions (you have a lot of those all over, but don’t need so many) and focus more on those shared memories that influence the current present. You do that with school when he’s six, and sort of with problem avoidance with the laundry, but it’s too little. The ending feels rushed since I get the feeling you didn’t quite know how to pace the story to fit in the 1.2k word limit, and simply burning down the house doesn’t feel like it actually solves the problem of fixing Jack’s character.
Numerical Rating: 5

Your Plot: Characters conflict on how to best live through a fascist occupation.
Successes: I like the line ““Leo, I just want to –” Dimi wiped at her nose. “I just want to do something grand. Something meaningful. I don’t want to live the rest of my life afraid.”” It’s a good core to build the character Dimi around. I don’t think her bravery in trying to escape fear and oppression is analogous to Icarus’s story. The other line, “We’re lucky to be alive.” He’s not wrong. Sometimes, just surviving is a heroic act.” is the other strong core that defines Leonidas and Papou—a sort of counter-weight to Dimi. It’s two strong ideas. I like the ending, with the vague idea that Dimi inspired others, but it feels like you can build a stronger story around those two core ideas. By the way, the fact that I’m pretty focused on the deeper ideas in this story can give you some confidence that the plot, most dialogue, and descriptions in the story are solid enough.
Improvements: I don’t think any of your readers need a recap of how Icarus’s story went down, so I’d cut most of that if you don’t cut Icarus entirely. The only important part is Dimi imitating Papou. Keep an eye on tense: “My sister and I were up on the roof” vs “now that the Italian occupation has cut Ikaria off….” Also I have to lol at the brother being named Leonidas. I guess that slams home that we’re in Greece, but all I’m going to think about is 300 and Gerard Butler kicking Persians in his leather underwear. Speaking of which, it feels like Salamis and Thermopylae are not good analogies for what I’m assuming is Italian-occupied Greece during World War 2. I would reconsider your historical references in the light of their connection to pop-culture. The fight between Dimi and their grandad feels rushed; the dialogue has potential to set up more of the setting and tell us more about the characters, and cutting from the intro should give you the room to do so. That dialogue is critical, because it can help develop the two core perspectives (heroism in refusing to live in fear vs. surviving as heroism) and the characters that embody that idea. Grow that part of the story, and you strengthen the rest of it. It seems like Dimi and Papou should both of have things they have seen during the actual occupation to back up their views and decisions.
Numerical Rating: 7, HM candidate

Behind the Eight Ball
Your Plot: Outlaws in town escape the law.
Successes: I don’t play pool so I don’t get pool jokes, but I assume there’s some funny ones in there. You certainly capture the classic outlaw dynamic in the story with your gang.
Improvements: Take a look at your story. Notice that almost every 1-2 sentences, you have another line break. That’s fine for dialogue, but then, the story is so full of dialogue that the whole story is line breaks. Give us more of a break for developing the setting, the surroundings, etc. because we’re rushing through so much frenetic dialogue we don’t get a sense of any of that. I think you need to figure out key scene moments (like Derek having been leaning on his own wanted poster is good, or the chase with the stickmen) and narrow in on those. The dialogue is all over, but the sentences choppy and sparse, so the characters don’t quite come out. More importantly, setting-wise, I don’t get a good sense of what’s going on with the pylons and towers, so the plot consequently becomes hard to follow and the ending harder to understand.
HELLRULE ANALYSIS: This was probably the hardest flash-rule, and it seems like your story took a hit because of it.
Numerical Rating: 4

be crime and do gay
Your Plot: Two friends deal with the frustrations of life, looking for acceptance and catharsis.
Successes: Solid hook. There’s two parallel conflicts: The protag wants to be accepted by his friend (established quickly in paragraph 2), and Jimmy wants to hurt his dad for hurting him (established in paragraph 1). The reader worries Jimmy might not accept the protag’s sexuality because Jimmy uses gay as a slur early on. It’s resolved by Jimmy’s reaction to the kiss; they won’t be lovers, but they still will be friends, as Jimmy accepts the protagonist. Jimmy’s catharsis comes with his explanation of his hatred and being able to wreck it with his friend.
Improvements: There’s room for punch-ups. For example, name a specific emo song playing as they drive. Perhaps reference the protagonist’s mixed emotions towards Jimmy again during that drive. Maybe more about his conflict in helping his friend vandalize the car, since we don’t get all that much in his emotions. You could also make stealing the car more tense—give the reader reason to believe they might fail or get caught.
Numerical Rating: 7.5, HM or win candidate

The Number of the Day Is Four Seven Five
Your Plot: A secret revolutionary helps transport material for a bank robbery during his routine.
Successes: You’ve built a nice, dystopian realm of disconnected people rendered silent by the ever-watching panopticon. The complete lack of interaction Pace experiences informs the reader how society has broken him in some way, despite his protestations that online interaction satiates his needs. The subtle exchanges with the jacket imply a lot though only say a little. The story conveys a key frustration of activism, the uncertainty that any progress will be made in your lifetime, but you might be the one to die. It also feels like it embraced the theme of the week.
Improvements: While I get the general sense of this dystopia, the world and setting feel incomplete. How the network grew is a bit vague, what exactly happened at Fulman Towers is unclear (is the ‘they’ who cleared it/burned it the government, the revolutionaries?). The big improvement to make is details, I think. Give us a line about the train station, what work looks like, a nest of cameras watching, a police officer standing on the street corner with a mechanized battle-suit—whatever, but we need more of a visceral experience in this world. We could also use a bit more about Pace; more about his cell and that hope being all that sustains him. Or maybe the story does better with a moment of self-doubt. Does he think of switching sides, embracing the joys of consumerism and entertainment, or any other temptations?
HELLRULE ANALYSIS: You did a good job letting the hellrule lend itself to a theme. It did impact the story to some extent, because I think lack of gestures and speech turned into a broader thing where too little communication took place and we don’t see too much emotion from the protagonist.
Numerical Rating: 6.5

To The Sirens Ye Shall Come
Your Plot: Booze smuggling goes wrong and everyone gets eaten by the giant land-version of an angler-fish.
Successes: You do a good job getting the reader to hate Baptiste as a nasty person, and building tension in the boat journey. You certainly hit the week’s theme of outlaws. Baptiste fits an archetype, so I get a good sense of him in a short time.
Improvements: The two other characters, Tanser and the narrator, I don’t get as much of a sense of. Tanser is brave enough to question when things are wrong, but what else? Who are they? Why are they running rum? Tanser is a rather selfless man, which is strange for an outlaw—so why is he running rum? Small references to the past or quick dialogues could help enlighten us here and develop him. At the same time, the story’s conflict doesn’t feel consistent. First, it’s making it back home safely, but then it morphs into the narrator needing to show bravery (“I froze like the coward I’ve always known myself to be”). This is sort of referenced when Tanser gets his tooth knocked in, but the narrator never wishes that he’d stood up or taken action. The horrible island beast just shows up out of nowhere, and isn’t foreshadowed, so it does leave the reader baffled. I don’t know that the supernatural aspect adds anything. The story might be stronger if you just stuck with the mutiny as a way to resolve the conflict and complete the narrator’s character growth. Turning around and facing the death-monster just seems dumb.
Numerical Rating: 5.5

Two Commandments
Your Plot: A thing tries to eat another thing, but gets eaten instead.
Successes: You conveyed a world of eldritch-horrors doing their daily void-commute.
Improvements: Just because there’s no light allowed in your story doesn’t mean you can’t give us details, visuals, dialogue, etc. The fact that we don’t have a name or a solid visual on our presumed protagonist (or much of anything) here means that I had trouble following actions and characters. Worst, the conflict is solved by an unattributed random tentacle. We don’t know who the tentacle belongs to (is it the lurking denizens or the slimy horror?). It’s also not even really clear what the conflict is until nearly the end of the story, where we realize that the conflict is that the ugly dweller is disrupting the tranquility of the darkvoid and that’s bad I guess. But why? What are the stakes? There’s no tension, and your space-horrors aren’t characterized in any meaningful way, so it’s hard to care about anything that happens here. In order to improve this, you need to build tension. What happens if the place lights up (besides you failing the hellrule)? What happens if the commandments are not followed? Why does any of this matter? Finally, I get that the ugly lurker has broken the ~~void rules~~ here, but this really doesn’t read like an outlaw story at all.
HELLRULE ANALYSIS: The hellrule clearly is at the center of this story, and it appears to have detracted pretty heavily from the story. I don’t think it needed to. You can still have communication, emotions conveyed through gestures. This could have been a deep-sea abyssal adventure, or
Numerical Rating: 2.5, DM candidate

This Story Is About a Startup That Isn't Evil and Can't Be Bought Over by A VC Firm, which Makes This Very Fictional, and This Title Very Bad
Your Plot: A gay internet-poisoned dude meets some like-minded cute boys and finds acceptance.
Successes: You nail an internet-poisoned character voice here. Since this is a humor piece, I’m going to list instances where I laughed: The title, the “only time people consult you…”, “and then before the CIA can run a coup to replace the government of another country the ghost is gone” (best line imo), ““We decided on Ghoster…“,” “…and also the guys asking you to join are cute.”
There’s good descriptive lines all over (house walls off-yellow but not in a hipster way stands out). As soon as Junny starts talking, I expect Neal Stephenson to also jump out and start discussing Sumerian as the ur-language of programming reality, which actually could be a component of a joke about Junny’s monologue. The casual acceptance of storing ghosts in computers is amusing. The conflict is about finding acceptance, which is resolved.
Improvements: The “Be me” thing just reminds me too much of 4chan, which, like, yeah, that’s consistent for our internet-poisoned protagonist, but I hate it. The bit about the development of the city is sort of thrown in there, and could use a foreshadowed reference earlier in the story. The last line doesn’t make sense as dialogue because the protagonist was blocking people who said that, and didn’t mention that as their profile, so we need a snappier, funnier ending.
Numerical Rating: 6.5

Reclaimed Time
Your Plot: An outlaw and company debt-slave escape a Big Corporate space station.
Successes: You make the setting clear through details like “artificial skin” and “charged plasma in hand.” You successfully hit the week’s theme of outlaws.
Improvements: Immediately, the lack of developed characters stands out. I know putting us in the middle of the action is good for a hook, but it also leaves us confused because I don’t know what Horado is doing at Mariposa’s Levue, why is shift was so long ago, where ~~mystery man~~ came from. The missing arm bit and Horado’s situation is too vaguely developed and scattered: “Confusing” describes an unfortunate amount of this story. Then we get boss Arnall chatting with Eryl, but the history between them isn’t quite clear, and I don’t know that we even want more backstory because the complexity of your story is too high as it is. Arnall frying Horado’s enforcer chip doesn’t make sense, since Arnall uses them to enforce compliance. The “resolution” of Horado getting back his father’s watch just comes out of nowhere. What Horado wants needs to be made more clear in the beginning of the story. Is this a story about escape, emotional resolution, or what? Why is he working for Mariposa, how did he get trapped in debt-slavery, what are his hopes/dreams/personality, why would he want to stay here (since he hesitates at one point), etc.. It would also be nice if Eryl wasn’t just a magic problem-solving machine with his plasma hand, because it ends up making Horado relatively passive in this story. Finally, your watch/title pun is bad and you should feel bad for making it.
HELLRULE ANALYSIS: Please remember to include any flash rules you received when you post, jerk. As punishment for not including it, I’m not going to analyze the application of the rule to your story, even though it would have taken me less words than writing about how I’m not going to talk about it. Besides, I already wrote your crit before discovering you had a flash rule.
Numerical Rating: 3.5

A Series of Unusual Bear Maulings
Your Plot: A smuggler ends up fighting for her life against a forest-cop.
Successes: Good tension as the story starts. It’s pretty obvious that the ranger is bear-murdering people before he just outright says it, but the tension flows along nicely and we get to worry about the protagonist. The story is clear and easy to read.
Improvements: I would punch-up details in a lot of places. Give us another detail about the lakeside shore wilderness. Give us a detail about the ranger—maybe how bulky he is, or a scruffy beard. Give us a thought the protagonist has, like a worry, or how a detail she sees connects to her past—who the ranger reminds her of or something. The ending doesn’t land for me. Mostly, I don’t buy that ranger-man is going to undo her cuffs, because no way is “bruises on the wrist” not going to be overcome by, say, cutting her hands off afterward or several days of decomposition or the fact that no one is going to perform that kind of forensic analysis. I also don’t buy that Taco Bell Diablo sauce is going to get this practiced killer to run for the lake rather than finish his pinned victim (especially since a dunk in the lake isn’t going to do that much). The fight is also chaotic and has issues. How is she cutting the barrel rope with a single swipe? I would change the sequence after the handcuffs entirely.
HELLRULE ANALYSIS: Please remember to include any flash rules you received when you post, jerk. As punishment for not including it, I’m not going to analyze the application of the rule to your story, even though it would have taken me less words than writing about how I’m not going to talk about it. Besides, I already wrote your crit before discovering you had a flash rule.
Numerical Rating: 4.5

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007



Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


Week 414: In From the Field and Through the Bad Words We Go

This week, most people injected 1-2 minor descriptions of sound in their story, some of them possibly by accident. Strangely, in a week that asked specifically for “evocative, interesting, and stylish depictions of aural experience,” this was largely avoided by almost all of the stories. Judges were left baffled by this avoidance.

Another thing I noticed was stories/scenes that felt very formulaic. This led to a sort of mediocre mulch of stories. A lot of them had extremely bland characters in a fairly generic setting that tried to end with an emotional moment—but the ending was inevitably undermined by the weak characters.

One More
Summary: Woman wakes from cryosleep as they land on a planet. They are, apparently, trying to find a habitable planet, but have to land to check it out first for some reason. Yay, this is it. An aside: here’s your story in video game form.
What Sounds On: This story is about delivering emotional catharsis: relief, after so much tension, worry, and failure. The structure helps successfully do this. The story also has a good sense of visuals and place. It conveys the setting and genre quickly and easily. The reader is never lost.
What Sounds Off: The emotional resonance of the story needs work. The story starts very slow, and the characters (the protagonist and Damien, though I don’t even know I can count the latter) are blank slates; we don’t get a sense of who they are. I would guess that you could strengthen the landing of the ending by strengthening at least one character so the reader feels for them. Details like “Good Luck>>>23rd Times a charm” clue the reader in on what must have been a harrowing journey, but it’s only alluded to, not shown or felt. Details like her slowly waking up could be cut, details like what the interior of the ship looks like could be paired with the protagonist’s emotional reaction to the sight. The prompt also was looking for an emphasis on sound, but until the end, you mostly focused on visuals.
Largely Arbitrary Numerical Rating: 5.5

Echoing Questions
Summary: A woman who has endured torture needs to escape her mind-cave to reunite with her love.
What Sounds On: The opening descriptions contrast a water droplet with a tsunami. While ‘eradicating a coastal village’ could be cut from that, the contrast does inform the reader the cave is not real. It’s also pretty clear to anyone who has heard of water torture that Xiaolin has experienced it and is trying to resist it. You certainly find a way to make a sound central to your story and play with that sound.
What Sounds Off: After awhile, the story is somewhat muddled; too much abstraction is going on in the walls of the mind-cave. The metaphorical parallels that were so informative at the beginning of the story tell us less and less as the story progresses. More importantly, there’s an opportunity cost: We don’t get to learn anything about the setting, the circumstances, why (beyond love and vaguely that he’s a leader) Zheng is so important, the time period—so the impact the ending is going for doesn’t land as hard as it could. Perhaps we need to see concrete moments through brief flashbacks of Xiaolin’s memories showing us why Zheng is so great. Finally, despite living in Xiaolin’s mind for a bit, we still know little about her.
Largely Arbitrary Numerical Rating: 5

A kinda weird thing that happened while I was on a backtracking trip in Israel
Summary: An American Muslim hiking in Israel (woah, brave) finds Israeli construction workers bulldozing an empty Palestinian village. Before they smash the mosque, he has a quick pray.
What Sounds On: As much as the all-caps dialogue annoys me, I will admit it conveys the noise of the story well. The resolution is… a nice little thing. Obviously it’s this sort of insufficient little gesture, but it’s the protagonist taking an action.
What Sounds Off: The double spacing. Come on! Aside from that, I expected some tension and conflict around the protagonist praying at the mosque. How do the construction workers (almost certainly Jewish) react? I was surprised there wasn’t much conflict over this, knowing the history of the region. His action might be more meaningful if he had to do something brave to accomplish it, or it felt like he was putting himself at risk. The protagonist is also too blank a character. We know his faith, we know it came from his parents, but we don’t really know anything about his history, specific cultural background, or how those things affect his emotions. The story as it is now is a light breeze that passes easily and quickly. Given the heaviness of the subject matter the story tackles, that feels like an injustice toward it.
Largely Arbitrary Numerical Rating: 4

the axe forgets
Summary: A space janitor cleans his dead friend off a warp engine after corporate made an ‘oopsie.’
What Sounds On: The setting is made clear quickly: the corporate dystopia and disconnected leadership is made clear through the italics. There’s some strong visuals near the end: “I have to believe that his eyes, his gasps, his tear stained cheeks, are nothing more than a continued biological response from a man long dead.” is your best line, getting at the willed cognitive dissonance of the narrator trying to navigate this traumatic experience.
What Sounds Off: The teeth thing. Immediately, I stop and look at the story sideways, going, what? There’s a lot of words dedicated to this, but it’s so strange it does more to take me out of the story than it does to emphasize the theme of body horror I see the piece going for. We don’t know much about the narrator or Jimmy; strengthening their characters through some method would help build the emotional strength of the story. Speaking of places where the emotions could be ramped up, that hammer moment would be a perfect place to inject some really disturbing sound descriptions. Which are missing, by the way. There were a lot of great opportunities for sound stuff to make it in here!
Largely Arbitrary Numerical Rating: 4

Excerpt from the serialised adventures 'Fortune in the Mind's Eye'
Summary: Two pulp adventurers explore a physical mindscape looking for brain-treasure. One betrays the other in a mindshattering cliffhanger. Get it? Mind-shattering? Because he exploded the… right, right.
What Sounds On: The idea of random people having their brains explode into mindscapes is cool. Is that what the old game Psychonauts is about? It does read like a silly serial, given ridiculous characters, random betrayals, and a cliffhanger.
What Sounds Off: “upholstering his rifle” nice. The action blocking, short as it is, needs some work: “he attempted to lunge around the thing – and succeeded, darting between its trunk-like legs.”—you throw the reader into disarray by describing a lunge to the side, but then having him actually go forward, between the legs. Sloppy. I also have a hard time buying that Jude rigs this whole cave with explosives in the middle of a conversation that he is also a part of that wasn’t particularly long. Again (seems to be a theme this week) we see a story without much in telling us who the characters are, not much developing them, and certainly no growth. I also see very little in terms of soundscapes. The end block is the only place where sound descriptions stood out. Things like the protagonist seeing a weird orb he’s literally never seen anything like and instantly knowing what it is is silly. The premise is neat, but the story itself is very uninteresting.
Largely Arbitrary Numerical Rating: 3.5

Summary: A mom makes a pair of special shorts for her son and they’re happy. Tomorrow, he will get made fun of for wearing them and they’ll both be sad.
What Sounds On: This story is mostly about capturing an emotional moment between a mom and son, and a little bit about how small moments can lead to big effects (e.g. associating colors with being a girl). The opening line has a good sound to it, the last line has a recognizable sound to it.
What Sounds Off: This week has a pattern of stories all sort of doing something similar. Yours falls into that same-y-ness: Your characters are ambiguous, vague beings. We know little about them. You paint a scene well enough, then aim for an emotional moment at the end. The embrace is fine, but without knowing these characters more, or perhaps their struggles, it isn’t as impactful as it could be. You allude to wasting money (though if they have a garage and a sewing room then their financial woes can’t be too bad), but that could be part of a conflict. In the end though, there’s no dialogue, little character, and an unresolved conflict (the son still feels bad about certain colors) so the story/scene’s landing is weak .
Largely Arbitrary Numerical Rating: 4.5

The world does not care about us
Summary: An enslaved man escapes a slave ship that wrecks in a storm on an anachronistic lifeboat. The woman on board gives up hope, the man does not.
What Sounds On: This piece gives us a brief foryay into a scene. The conflict—adrift at sea—is quickly established, though it’s more about if there is hope left than finding a safe port.
What Sounds Off: Small details stand out. “Lifeboats” feel out of place on a slave ship. One is not going to hear voices at a distance in a storm at sea. Referring to the baby as “it.” Sharks circling the boat in the open ocean feels cheesy (‘dark figures’ technically, but they’re totally sharks). Describing a seagull. We don’t need a seagull described to us. Again (because it seems like all the stories did this this week), we know so little about these characters its hard to connect with them. “Fisherman” and “from Mozambique” is just not enough to make the reader feel them. I read the line “the world does not care about us,” and wonder where it comes from. What made this woman give up hope, specifically? We need details. Small histories. The story feels generic. There’s also not a lot about sound in this week about sound.
Largely Arbitrary Numerical Rating: 5

Scourge Them With Roses
Summary: Two people go for a bike ride.
What Sounds On: Not a lot happens in this scene, but it feels like Michaela grows as a person, and that this is one step in something she has been working hard to do. The two characters feel a lot more complete and real than most of what I’ve read this week. Tiny flashbacks that relate to the present like “They were friends now, but his sweaty scent reminded her of humid evenings in bed, staying up too late” are solid and doing double-duty. There’s hints of characters having complex feelings over the past/present relation: “Ivan smiled without teeth.” The scene is functional.
What Sounds Off: Well, you’ve got your magpie noises, but what else? There’s a few details of your soundscape, but over and over you’ve just repeated that the magpies are squawking. Things like “as Ivan cut through the rattling wind on his bike” are good, and we need more of stuff like that. Last, while the scene is functional, it chooses a moment that is nice, but not very impactful. There’s a lack of plot, and only a reference to a larger conflict. (Obviously there’s only so much one can do in a single short moment).
Largely Arbitrary Numerical Rating: 6.5

Beyond the Glittering Wall, Chapter III: Speak of the Devil and...
Summary: Two-and-a-half knights play cards, yell a bit, then one gets gotten by the devils he was talking about.
What Sounds On: You get your mood-details in, from creepy creaking noises to wind howling to candles blowing out. All classic stuff.
What Sounds Off: I get annoyed at royal flushes in fiction. The odds are worse than 1 in 600,000, so I assume Duncan is cheating, but there’s really no indication of that (or purpose for the card game at all, really). The narrator is very much a non-character in the story. There’s also a sort of saccharine coincidence to going straight from a spooky story to oh no the spooky thing is right here! So perhaps the story causes it, but the creaky-gate sound occurs before the story and the goats all seem to have planned it out ahead of time, so the textual evidence doesn’t support that, even if your title wants it to. The characters need work. Duncan is the young wanna-be knight, Gregor the grizzled veteran, but there’s not a lot beyond that. Finally, the piece is going for horror, and so more of it needs to be dedicated to a building creepiness and scary moments. Gregor’s tale is pretty dull; the goats standing in a circle is better. Also, you have Chekov’s Greatsword, but then Duncan, man with the sword who wants to be a knight that fights demons, just runs off when confronted with standing goats.
Largely Arbitrary Numerical Rating: 3.5

Summary: A boy on an coming-of-age quest picks a peck of poisonous puffer, relaxes, makes weird noises, then gets handed his spirit-mcguffin.
What Sounds On: The initial conflict is established well; Ilje needs to complete a quest but gets a venom shot (poison is injested) complicating his task. The plot is neatly wrapped up through the actions of the protagonist (though more on that below). The scene embraces the prompt with its focus on sound.
What Sounds Off: Onomatopoeia (plrrr fooom foom) is probably not (zzt zzt) the way to go here. The story attempts a challenge of conveying music through the written word, and that’s really hard, and I don’t think it succeeds. A large part of the story is dedicated to him needing to meditate his way through a venomous sting and then compose music. This, apparently, attracts the water spirit he needs to touch to succeed, but it doesn’t feel earned. The character is rather blank. We know what he wants, but not much else about him. We don’t know anything about the secondary characters (Mystic Treeja, Kayja). We don’t even know anything about the plot-critical water spirit, the nature of which would be relevant to discuss since it might foreshadow the resolution.
Largely Arbitrary Numerical Rating: 4

Another Prick in the Hall
Summary: A front desk attendant, annoyed at her job as a help-desk resource for Orpheus-analogues, at last loses her precious headphones and decides to escape the underworld.
What Sounds On: The story conveys wry amusement at a Percy Jackson-esque modernization of a combination labyrinth-underworld. It evokes mythological Greece and modern corporate alienation. The character Holm makes a decision, at the end, that changes her circumstance, showing small growth. There’s dialogue and action that characterizes, a conflict, and—a strange rarity—sound. And the sound is crucial to the plot and characters, and a consistent thread as well. Nice work on incorporating all the elements you did.
What Sounds Off: The humor didn’t quite land for me, and the ending felt vague and not fully realized. Part of this is, I think, that Holm doesn't quite let us see enough of her character through the wall she's put up. I didn’t feel much or understand Bruno all that well.
Largely Arbitrary Numerical Rating: 5

Sea to Sea
Summary: A woman wants to become water, so she sneaks out to the ocean and does water/sound magic to please the ocean goddess and then maybe dies or becomes water it’s hard to say.
What Sounds On: Your descriptions are original, I’ll give you that. You play with sound and create weird ideas as Morgan constructs her water-sound-string-cheese cathedral. There’s some lines I really like: “The slitted eye of the ocean-mother is passing over the world.” “The braided pillar of water heaves itself skyward, kicking up a cold, wet wind that crackles against Morgan’s eardrums.” You have a character with a desire that they must struggle to get.
What Sounds Off: This starts weird, but then it starts describing waves as like string cheese and you’ve lost me. The story is difficult to penetrate. That is to say, I have no idea what the gently caress is going on once she’s hopped the fence and is in the ocean. We go from fishy dumpsters to aquatic morphemes. I don’t know the nature of Tiamat, how this water-sound magic she uses works, why there’s red sirens blaring, and last, what happens at the end. There’s a reason Morgan must want to reject her body and become water, but the character is not fully understandable by the reader, as we still know so little about her. I wanted to know more about Tiamat and her slitted eye gazing over the world and the character, but learning about neither, the story left me annoyed and confused. It just really isn’t my jam.
Largely Arbitrary Numerical Rating: 3

Summary: Drama erupts on the USS Bad Decisions. No, that’s too flippant. Okay: Martins recruits a bunch of college students for a trip so that he can have sex with most of them. The only other sailor, Geoff, gets made about [something] and fights Martins, who falls overboard. Li and Geoff jump in after. The latter two go missing, while Martins goes insane/delirious because his arm broke or something, leaving the college students to run the boat. Only the protagonist actually tries though.
What Sounds On: Marins comes off as a pretentious sleezebag fast enough. There’s a plot, and more alluded to.
What Sounds Off: You’ll notice the summary here is longer than every other summary this week. That’s because you’ve tried to cram 7 episodes of this soap opera into 3 scenes pretending to be 1 scene (because the prompt asked for 1 scene). Because so much is crammed in, we miss critical things, like who the characters are, what they want, what the conflicts actually are (such as between Marins and Geoff). At a certain point, the story just stops with the dialogue altogether and summarizes these long scenes of search and rescue, comfort, and problem solving (violating the prompt restrictions). The summaries are extremely short and generic (“We went out in that boat at least a dozen more times”). Lines like “No wonder sailors are superstitious, even now propitiate Poseidon or Neptune when the stars demand."” annoy me. Just pick one sea god; no need to reference both Roman and Greek versions. Neither is associated with the stars, either. “I was already pregnant, with Alexandra, already knew it somehow on a biological level, just below consciousness.”—weird line. Marins getting a dunk and breaking his arm shouldn’t lead to babbling madness, but there’s no textual evidence for a supernatural event, so it’s just conveniently coincidental. Finally, there’s not much in the way of sound here in this week about sound.
Largely Arbitrary Numerical Rating: 2.5

Summary: A woman cycles through a post-apocalyptic landscape while noises occur.
What Sounds On: You describe a spooky siren chorus. This focus on sound technically fulfils at least one prompt criteria.
What Sounds Off: You forgot a title. And a word count. And jammed everything into a single paragraph. And decided against having a character with any development. Or a plot. Or consistent tense. Given the proximity to the deadline, this reads like a low-effort attempt to not fail, so I’m not going to spend a bunch of effort critting it. I would guess the primary thing you could work on for your next entry is planning ahead so you have enough time to create something worth reading.
Largely Arbitrary Numerical Rating: 1

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007



Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007



Uranium Phoenix fucked around with this message at 01:38 on Jan 5, 2021

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


In with far future sci-fi

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


ty judges for fast and good crits

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


Genre: far-future sci fi; banned words: space, star, ship, Earth, light, beam, alien, planet, device, power

The Three Lies of the Imperium
1749 words

Armillarius woke on the prison frigate and rubbed the fresh scars criss-crossing his skull. His symbiotic fungi’s hyphae were slithering across his skin, gently brushing the tender flesh, soothing it. Inside him, the radio-sensitive plant entangled in his spine whispered no signal. A holoscreen just outside his cell showed him the glittering void, confirming what he already knew:

He was far from home.

An interrogator entered the cell, the robotic bars bending to admit him, then snapping back. Like most citizens of the Imperium, he had augmented his human body with elegant cybernetic implants. When he looked at Armillarius, it was with pity.

“I’m sorry to tell you, we already stripped your mind bare of secrets. The neurodissector got everything. The Imperium cruisers are already hunting down your little band of terrorists.” He paused, and laid a gentle hand on Armillarius’s arm. “I’m sorry. I’ve always felt sympathy for the mycosynths. We’re working on humanitarian aid for your people but… well, after what you did…” He shook his head and left.

Armillarius felt a deep chill inside. His face was damp, and his head felt like it had been ransacked. Dread welled up in him.

No, said the coils around his spine. Remember.


The faceless man sat across from Armillarius. It wasn’t that he really had no face, but in Armillarius’s memory, it was blurred. Both his features and name slipped across his neurons like oiled ice.

“You’re ready, then?”

Armillarius nodded.

“You’ll deploy the virus in these three groves near the colonial city,” he said. The map was also a blur, shifting features that he tried to recall, but couldn’t. A picture with no lines. Then the faceless man held out his hand. In it was a tiny mushroom, clutching a microchip in hyphae. “And if you get captured,” he said. “Remember the three lies.”

Armillarius took the memory-wipe chip, then hugged his friend tight. “We’ll see each other again,” he said.

He looked his comrade in the eye, remembering the flash of concern. “Not all of us are going to make it.”

“We’ll have to,” Armillarius said, forcing a smile. “Because you promised to host the next dinner, and no one else cooks like you.”


He woke in the cell again, and remembered the third lie. They don’t need you.

The chip had activated. It had scoured his mind, rooting out faces and names. His captors wanted him to be desperate, wanted him to think all that was left for him was to beg to help them, but really, they needed him.

The interrogator returned. “My name’s Pyrian, by the way,” he said, extending his hand.

Armillarius didn’t take it. “You still need me,” he said.

Pyrian shook his head. “We don’t, but the Imperium has ethics. Our prisoners have rights. If I were you, I’d be trying to make up for what I did. You killed a lot of people.”

Armillarius remembered moving through the Imperium parks on his homeworld, carefully injecting viral loads into the trees. The virus had reprogrammed them, turning them into mutants that could launch venomous needles. Another virus turned the insects into vicious attack swarms, another told the fungi on the system to spew out a rotating suite of airborne toxins. It was their last resort to get rid of the Imperium colonists who were killing them.

“Those deaths are on your hands. But you can make up for it, by helping the Imperium.”


The memories came back slowly, but when they did, they came like double-edged razors.

Armillarius remembered having to leave home as Imperium soldiers escorted his family out of the arcology. He remembered looking back at the spires, dripping green with vines and knowing, another home I’ll never see again. That was the nature of the first edge of the cutting blade.

Three people walked with him. His husband, his grandmother, and his sister-in-law. But he couldn’t see their names, couldn’t remember their faces. That was the nature of the second edge of memory. The love of his life, walking beside him, and he couldn’t remember his name, couldn’t see his face.

As he’d walked away, he’d felt like a failure for not being able to care for his family.

He remembered staying up late one night with his husband, hand to his forehead, clutching a screen in dismay. “They’re saying the medical transport is delayed. Again.”

His partner didn’t say anything, just stared out the window.

“We used to make that medicine. How can they still not get it here after a month?”

“It’ll be okay,” the faceless man said.

“Don’t say that,” Armillarius told him. “We’ll find a way. I am not going to lose you to a logistics error.”

His husband swallowed hard. “You have to promise… that you’ll keep going. If…”

“Don’t say it!” Armillarius shouted. “Don’t. Don’t.”

Armillarius had held his sister-in-law’s hand at the funeral, their hyphae entangling, but he couldn’t look at the body as they returned it to the ground. There was supposed to be a grove where the body lay, where the trees and fungus could reclaim the dead, but they had to do it in hard-pack dirt in the middle of the cluster of shanties they’d been placed in.

“It’s social murder,” the sister had whispered.

“It was just… too many delays,” he’d told her.

She shook her head. “They’re killing us. Not with guns or orbital bombardment or plagues. Just with… all this.” She gestured at the shanty-town, the piles of crate-like houses stacked about. “This was our world. We had plenty. Now we die of want. The Imperium murdered my brother, just the same as if they’d shot him.”

Then she’d left, and Armillarius had sat next to that patch of dirt and cried and cried until his eyes were as dry as the soil.


The second lie, he remembered, as he watched them pass through the galactic arm on the holoscreen, is that the Imperium does not kill.

Pyrian left him alone, sometimes for days, but he always returned. When it was clear guilt would not break Armillarius, he tried a new tactic.

“Your friends abandoned you. Your family abandoned you. You were a tool, to be used, then discarded. They even attacked the memories of your loved ones,” Pyrian said. “So why protect them?”


It had taken a month, but the hyphae had at last settled. They’d repaired his brain as best they could. Depression and loneliness had settled over Armillarius so that he hardly moved, even when he was awake. Pyrian’s words kept playing through his mind. They abandoned you.

But then, one night, he felt the tree around his spine tighten. It still couldn’t pick up anyone from the mycosynth network. No signal, it repeated, but then it whispered, remember who we are.

The years had passed, and Armillarius had visited his husband’s grave and found a small sapling growing there, a single shoot of green amidst the ash grays of the shanty-town. That night, he’d dug it up by the roots and smuggled it into the black-market grafter’s lab. “Merge us,” he’d said.

Yes, the branches coiled in him said, remember.

And he did.

He’d crouched in fetid ditches, waiting to ambush a military convoy. He remembered the shouts of thanks and joy that morning, when people had awoken to see food and medicine crates scattered about.

“To family, gone, but not forgotten,” Armillarius had said as they drank spirits in a basement another night.

“Gone, but not forgotten,” echoed his comrades, and then they’d laughed and told stories until morning.

So many people he’d known. Their faces and names were gone, but he still remembered the way they made him feel. They’d held on to hope, even as the Imperium scoured their world, even as their cities had spread like a plague through their ecosystems, even after their arcologies were ash. They’d held on to each other, through it all.

He remembered being cornered by Imperium soldiers. The rifles pointed at him. The chip in his head needed only a thought to activate it. He had remembered his husband, one last time, smiled at the memory of his face, and then he’d activated it. He had. He’d chosen this. To protect them.

The veil of depression lifted.


“The first lie,” Armillarius told Pyrian when he came again, “is that I am alone.” He smiled as he said it, a peace settling over his frame.

Pyrian’s face had always held a paternalistic pity for his prisoner, but now it twisted. His contempt and hatred blazed in his eyes, his face warped by it. “You will break,” Pyrian snarled. “Eventually, you will tell us about your fellow terrorists, tell us how you reprogrammed the organisms on your planet, and the Imperium will learn how to stop your pathetic bioterrorism. Our expansion is inevitable. We will return to your world and scour it of blight.”

Armillarius laughed, and tapped the scars on his head. “How many times have you excised the memories of these interrogations, only for me to defeat you, just as we did on my homeworld?”

Pyrian didn’t answer, just glared.

There were other prisoners on the frigate, Armillarius realized. Other comrades here, with him. They’d resisted too. “You can’t defeat us,” he told Pyrian. “I was willing to forget the names and faces of all the people I ever loved to fight you, because I love my world and love my people. Tell me, who in the Imperium would do the same?”

“You’re lying,” Pyrian snapped. “No one would do that. We’ll get the names out of you yet.” He hit a button on his pad. Robotic arms unfurled from the walls, each tipped with a thousand nanorazors. They descended on Armillarius’s skull.

“You will break before I do,” Armillarius told his interrogator. “My soul is a spore on the wind. A root in the fertile ground. You cannot kill me, and I will bloom again.”

Armillarius closed his eyes. He felt the embrace of the branches inside him, felt the symbiote crawling over his skin, readying itself to repair him again. In his mind, he was dancing with his beloved on the roof of the arcology, the vines and trees dancing with them in the pink glow of sunset. His face was blurred, and he still had no name, but that wasn’t what mattered. What mattered was the love they had felt and those moments they had shared. Armillarius stayed in that perfect moment as long as he could, until at last his dusk came.

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


grats. prompt??

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


MockingQuantum posted:

Next two people to quote this post and tell me the title of one of their TD entries will get line crits from me.

The Good News:

If you miss this opportunity, I'll probably do it again soon once I know how long it takes me to process your turdwords in my editing windmill

The Bad News:

You have to get a crit from me, noted mediocre writer and inexperienced rear end in a top hat

The Conquest of Paradise

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007



Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


Week #419 – The Thunder Chef! Crits – Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Indigestion
This was unsustainable business model and witch week. If I had a dollar for every story that had a passionate chef pursuing a silly project that made no economic sense or a witch, I would have several dollars. I disliked most of the stories a lot more than the other judges. You could take that to mean that different people like different things in writing and the crits we’re giving offer you multiple, useful perspectives on how your writing is interpreted. That seems a bit nuanced, though, so maybe don’t do that after all.

Alien’s Sexy Mushroom
Summary: Sexy alien boyfriend picks a mushroom. Girl worries its poisonous, so scans it. It’s not. But it causes them to get horny so they have sex with his 6-dimensional penis.
Crit: This is some next-level bad prose. Good work on dancing among tenses, poor phrasing, unnecessary asides (such as this one) and superfluous information. This story attempts to profound thunderdome tradition of making a story so bad it’s good. A few places made me chuckle, other places made me wince. However there are too many unanswered questions: Are the 3 extra dimensions of his dick purely spatial? Or are we talking about multiple time dimensions? If so, there could be an unresolved time paradox in this story, including when the protagonist was impregnated. Also, if the dick really is 6-dimensional, it can pierce 3-dimensional matter, much like how you as a 3-dimensional person can put your finger in the middle of a piece of paper (2 dimensions) with a circle on it without breaking the circle. Do 6-dimensional condoms exist? Again, we just know too little about this world. It feels like it needs more clever (or ridiculous) humor to elevate it to the next level.
Do I want to eat your story food: No
Number: Low

The Secret of the Churnkeep
Summary: A chef pursues a LEGENDARY BUTTER and tells people about it, longwindedly, and it turns out the only way you can make it is HUMAN BREASTMILK and TERROR ESSENCE harvested from scared people you murdered.
Crit: With the word “buttermonger” I thought this was going for humor (assalted butter. Not a great pun. I also don’t get the Marlon Brando reference), but as I progressed, it then felt like it was taking itself too seriously. It’s also so concerned about its food it forgot to tell us about any characters, plot, stakes, or purpose of the story until much later. This drat chef is just going on insane butter digressions, and even by paragraph 5 when we learn that he’s been pursuing a LEGENDARY BUTTER (low drop rate on those) I still don’t know anything about the characters, other than that they like butter. This is a bunch of fatty exposition you’re spreading on us. Also, I question the economic wisdom of showing your customers a product, denying it to them, then chasing them with a clown-hammer, as the Churnkeep does. Lines like “it has followed me” are confusing. Is “it” referring to the Churnkeep? Because you use ‘he’ earlier. Unlike the previous story, this story is soooo fuckin long and bloviating. So much of it is exposition. Finally, it ends by murdering everyone, which made me roll my eyes. The other judges liked the atmosphere the story built and the food descriptions; I hated every part of it.
Is Your Business Model Sustainable: The Churnkeep’s isn’t, because he pursues and tortures people trying to get his butter, and the protagonist’s isn’t because he murders his patrons.
Did Your Story Include a Witch: Magic terror-essence and strange ritual ingredients for the butter? Yeah, these are witches.
Number: Very low

Real Cinnamon
Summary: A new chef is threatened by her boss’s new employee-girlfriend who, unlike her, is apparently a trained chef but also TOO PERFECT which is bad I guess. Then there’s a weird turn where Tuva is in a freezer but really she’s a cinnamon golem or something who was being prepped and for some reason the scene ends before Kasia can react. And somehow the angel-cooks don’t know how to clean, so it’s a strange fairy tale explaining the origin of economic specialization or something or how pure Arian features are transferred via special cinnamon. I got pretty lost at the end here.
Crit: Having worked in a few kitchens, it’s kind of weird that “work” here is consumed with interpersonal drama that sounds more like relationships than coworkers. The untrained cook being relegated to non-cooking roles when actual competent chefs get hired just… makes sense, so I have a hard time having any sympathy for Kasia, though it feels like the story wants me to feel bad for her as she compares herself to the perfect angel-people. Then, maybe Greta is a witch and Tuva is apparently dead in a freezer, except not, but Kasia doesn’t tell or confront anyone, not even the police, and what Tuva is is not explained. Apparently, witches can’t clean, which doesn’t make any sense, and Greta is turning everyone into body-clones of herself? I don’t really understand the motivations of anyone or why anything is happening.
Do I want to eat your story food: Is it going to turn me into a Nordic girl?
Did Your Story Include a Witch: Yes, weird unfathomable, confusing witchcraft
Number: Low

Locals Only
Summary: Bar owner has special whiskey. Three war vets want some. They do some dumb challenges and think they won but surprise it was still ‘locals only’ and the bar owner pulls a shotgun, so they burn his place down over the stapler whiskey.
Crit: Too many characters, and before we even know what’s going on. There’s a bunch of superfluous information about 5 guys who got drafted that threw me off from the actual 4 characters you’re trying to introduce. “Bar-mitzvahed to the height” implies that Jewish religious practices cut a few inches off him since you verbed the word. Your start has a lot of info we don’t need, and long before we get what the plot is. Here’s the actual start of your story: ““Heard you got some fantastic whiskey, brother…” Start around there. Get us some of the details from earlier after that, like the cicadas and setting, but integrate it. Give us who Beebus, Shapiro, and Davis are through their dialogue and actions, not exposition. Your conclusion is rushed as hell (“Later that night, before the sun crested the hills, three boys who thought violence was behind them burnt the entire place to the ground”—not a good line) because you spent too much time at the start about poo poo that didn’t matter.
Do I want to drink your story food: No
Is Your Business Model Sustainable: No, deciding not to sell your best drink is nonsensical.
Number: Low

Do as the Witches Do
Summary: Guy goes on not-date with his high school witch friend, who tries to help him go from lame-o to not-as-lame-o. He plans on joining an orgy, but instead joins his friend. Aww.
Crit: This piece really needed a pass to cut some of the lamer lines: “I did that and it took off and it was real scary.” and “Brooke wasn't a cheerleader, and she didn't hang out with the popular girls or the other witches, but she was cooler than all of them.” come to mind. This is also another story that can probably trim heavily from the intro, where not much happens. That might lend itself to opening more words to events like the lamb theft or the climax where delving more into events and the character’s reaction might strengthen them. (“Obviously, I did it. I didn't run into the supposedly shotgunny Farmer Karlsen.” --is not very exciting. “"For God sakes man, you were carrying him with his dick on your neck for a quarter of a mile and you think it's a girl?" said Brooke.” is a good line though). As it is, the characters are pretty archetypal: The nerd and the weirdo in a high school story. There’s nothing special there. The setting distinguishes itself to some degree. I also like when Brooke goes off about the nature of witch-dom and God and life and death, because there the story is doing something interesting, but it drops that pretty quick because the protag doesn’t respond to it. The ending was fine.
Do I want to eat your story food: Seems like a weird lamb recipe but sure whatever
Did Your Story Include a Witch: Yes. At least it’s just baked into the story though, instead of a surprise twist midway through. The normalcy of magic in this setting was clear.
Number: Mid

Summary: Husband and wife are trying run a cafe, which involves industrial hummus production. The café is in trouble. Oh just kidding, it already closed. Or closing soon. Problematically, I can’t tell until way late in the story. This has strained their relationship. Then they get a rush because their hummus is so good the end.
Crit: Another story with the conflict buried. “The café is losing business” seems important enough to put in the intro, not the middle. Most problematically, as mentioned above, I couldn’t tell what the actual status of the Café venture was because the prose keeps implying different things. The intro implies they’re just starting: (“It was the first major purchase they made together for Cafe Mediterranean. The first time their business venture felt real.”). Then we think it’s already closed (“Café Mediterranean had existed for three years. Business was great, until it wasn’t… until they couldn’t afford to open”) because everything is past tense and you end with ‘they couldn’t open.’—again, past tense, it already happened. Finally, we get “Owen opens the doors” and I finally realize the Café is on its last day. This lack of clarity as the story jumps around among past and present events makes what is a rather simple story surprisingly difficult to follow.
Finally, this is a long period of time told to us, instead of shown through characters and dialogue (the dialogue tends to focus on superficial hummus discussion, rather than the tense moment of a bill being opened or a conversation that shows how the failing business has strained the husband and wife’s relationship). I would drop the conversations about the hummus, which is not very important beyond ‘it’s good’ and focus on the character’s relationship. The ending isn’t great because it’s just a random event that happens to the characters, and the character of the town is not really the focus of the story.
Do I want to eat your story food: Sure why not.
Number: Low

A Matter of Meat
Summary: Two men and a chaos spirit turn a dead dragon into an entrepreneurial and career-boosting opportunity.
Crit: “"-Two men and a chaos spirit," continued Talon”—lol. Sadly, the chaos spirit is just another human, as far as character and story are concerned. The premise here is fine, but the characters feel pretty generic (I lose track of who is who), as does the logistical problem of moving a dragon so it can be butchered, cooked, and eaten. Annoyingly, a lot of the problems (debt, poverty, expenses) are solved by the characters twice just finding more gold under or in the dragon. It feels like there should have been more on the conflict between Erik, Dragonslaying Hero, and Joven, but there’s not much of that and the ending is a bit rushed with a rather expository “Where are they now?” list of how the dragon feast really made everyone’s Linkedin profiles shine.
Do I want to eat your story food: Yeah, dragon meat gives you at a +2 strength bonus until your next rest.
Number: Mid

Kimberly’s End of Summer Fig and Port Trifle
Summary: Kimberly, uh, reminisces? about devouring wasps in the summer with… well, anyways, there’s a summer, and wasps, and eating wasps, and memories, and regret.
Crit: The story starts strong with an immediate conflict (plans. They left.) and a character. Then, one of the judges called this something of a fever dream, and that’s about what everything else felt like. A bunch of memories poured out, unsorted, half-remembered, and, of course, strange and creepy. The story lost me when the summer left. Who’s the man in the middle of the crown of flames? Why are they eating wasps ew ew gross ew?? Are these weird wasp-related sex rituals? I get a sense that the narrator had a lover, now gone, but the story was too confusing and difficult to follow for me to enjoy it. I think you delivered the strange mood effectively, and used flowing language, but it bounced off me because it's not my jam.
Do I want to eat your story food: NO NO NO NO
Did Your Story Include a Witch: …maybe?

An Oral History of Bryce Allen Gifford's Last Meal
Summary: We briefly learn about a convict’s last meal on death row. At first, it appears a suicide attempt, but really, it’s just heartwarming.
Crit: This story was stronger than anything else this week by a large margin. It had characters that felt like real people, a conflict that was introduced in the first paragraph, the story/characters progressed incrementally by each interview, and a turn with a heartwarming ending. Some good lines:
“Bastard was trying to commit suicide with his last meal.” -gives us the conflict front and center
“So I put it through. In this line of work, you've gotta choose your evil, and I'll always choose the one that starves the press out.” –good characterization
“I just thought "oh, it's little Devonte, so polite."” –this is good because it gives us a subtle nod toward the unconscious racism and attitudes of the people in the area, as well as Janine’s character.
“That bastard had been on death row a dozen years, and I swear, he could have passed for a teenager right then. Years had fallen off his face. He was beaming.” –good look at Bryce and the moment
“I just wanted to eat my mom's real cooking, the way everyone else did." –Great conclusion, really builds sympathy and a both happy and sad moment.
“But let it be known that I gave Bryce Allen Gifford the rest of my stir fry, and then I got up to bring him a second Pepsi.” –makes Leon feel like his character has completed a mini-arc, where he’s still worrying about how the press interpret his prison, but adds some humanity to him.
Do I want to eat your story food: Hell yes (not on death row ideally)
Number: High

Salt and Acid, Sugar and Rind
Summary: A roommate wants her citrus-obsessed friend back after a falling out, but THAT FRIEND IS SECRETLY A WITCH WHO LOVES HER but ignores her in favor of pickling lemons or whatever because ??? and then after they talk they get together.
Crit: Alright so I was a bit tired and annoyed by the time I got to this last time and I had already read about multiple secret witches so initially the secret witch twist just annoyed the pants off of me, and now I can’t find my pants so thanks. Seriously, the prose is here has some good bits, with fun words like “brinezone” and “her brain sends an urgent communique to her heart, advising a strong flutter and just a touch of tachycardia.” Dialogue like “Dang. Yeah. Life is full of mysteries. I don’t know how I do it.” clearly conveys Shelby’s seeming total disinterest in her roommate. Phrases like “angst brining.” The story itself reads as someone looking for a lost friendship, but after the turn, is actually a romance—but it didn’t feel like Britt was looking for that (despite the heart flutter mid-way through, the intro “she wants her roommate and her counter space back” implies a more platonic conflict). The story sort of knows this, and the reader can’t imagine it until after the turn because “Out of politeness, [Britt]’s imagination has never gone much further than this moment.” So it feels like the romance comes out of nowhere, and the bit about the witch really comes out of nowhere. The story does successfully resolve the conflict in a nice little ending. In the second reread, I liked this more than the first, where it left a more sour taste.
Do I want to eat your story food: No I don’t like sour-hexes
Did Your Story Include a Witch: SECRET ROOMATE WITCH using CITRUS MAGIC.
Number: Mid

Three Alarm Chili
Summary: Agni is having chili problems. He meets a god while meditating, and obtains perfectly roasted chilis from this philosophical encounter. As his chili improves, people gather to taste his vegetarian chilis. Upon achieving perfect chili, he fucks up a crowd with capsaicin fog and onion rain as he ascends.
Crit: I feel like there’s good quick characterization of Agni. He’s got his own cultural background, but is adapting well to the Southwest. Lines like ‘telegram’ tell us the time period, and ‘your voodoo magic’ tell us how understanding his fellow Americans are. Speaking of which, you might want to mention Prajapati’s connection to Hinduism, maybe in Agni’s reaction to the rancher, since a lot of westerners aren’t going to know without googling it. That would also make more clear that the action is happening in a spirit-realm. I feel like ““Aw, man,”” should be replaced with a curse in Angi’s native tongue. I do like the gradual inclusion of spiritual magic with the miracle peppers. I also like that this sort of pilgrimage to Angi’s chili shows how amazing it is, even as he struggles with creating the spiritually perfect chili. The ending… I dunno. It’s funny that he just straight up ascends through chili-making, but it feels incomplete because Angi doesn’t have a character realization or fundamental change or new philosophical or spiritual understanding, he just, you know, keeps trying stuff. Which is how actual recipes might be developed, but isn’t as satisfying for a story. That ending is primarily what is holding you back here.
Do I want to eat your story food: Too spicy for me no thanks
Did Your Story Include a Witch: More like a priest?
Number: Mid

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007



Uranium Phoenix fucked around with this message at 01:38 on Jan 5, 2021

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


Let the revolution commence!

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


Prompt: Clovis Point
Genre: Magical Realism

The Frontier Was Everywhere
1463 words

When the snowstorm clears, you’re the first to find Jasper Eye. He’s still alive, his frost-bitten fingers frozen like claws around the shaft of his spear. The stone tip of it once glimmered like a frost-bound leaf, but now it’s covered in rust-brown icicles. The mammoth is lying next to him, eyes glazed white.

“Jasper Eye,” you say. “We can wrap leaves around the wounds. The others are coming. Just hold on and—”

He smiles. “I held on, Chalcedony,” he says.

And then he’s gone.

Your tears stick and freeze on your cheeks, your ragged breathes falling on Jasper Eye in puffs of snow.

Gradually, you realize you’re being watched. Another mammoth, hulk of brown fur and tusks, standing there like a loving cliff. Your heart stops, and the world is still. No wind, and the snow stops falling so that it’s just you two, standing in a gray world over two corpses. You see the mammoth’s eye, but it’s not looking at you.

It bellows, then, head high, and gale starts again. You scream with it, and the storm grows, flurries whipping about in a frenzy, wind howling with you both. Then the storm’s gone again, and the mammoth moves off.

The others finally find you, then.


The band gathers around Jasper Eye’s corpse. Your mourn together. He was more than just the elected tyrant of the group, he was well-liked. A good leader. Looking at him, lying there in a circle of cairn stones, you feel emptier. Lesser.

Clouds hang in the sky, mixed about in puffs and hazes. What bits of scattered sky shine through are paled, as if the snow has fallen there too and dusted the heavens.

“We cannot delay,” says Cold Onyx. Your brother. Never the sentimental one. “With his death, the last pact ends. We must choose the new social order.”

One of the boys, not yet named, cries at that, and retreats to a tree. He pushes himself into the bark, where the frozen air has cracked open the tree so that it leaks sap onto him. Raw wounds on both of them. Jasper Eye had been mentoring him in hunting. They’d tracked bison together just two moons ago.

You hate your brother right now, hate him shocking you out of your grief, but he’s right. Winter is closing in around you.

“Then make your proposal,” someone barks. “What spirit should rule us?”

Cold Onyx steps forward. “We need shelter and we need hunters. To continue our migration is suicide, for it was Jasper Eye alone who had made the journey before. For this balance, we must embrace the Spirit of Duality. The women shall make shelters and fires, and the men shall hunt for our sustenance.”

As he speaks, the fire beside the band crackles, the flames spears of warmth and comfort. They speak to you. It would be good to rest, they say. The men turn the other way, looking into the frost-dusted world. What song does it sing to them, you wonder?

Broken Agate steps forward, gray beard a wild tangle. “That is not what this time calls for. When the world is bleak, we must demand the spirits bless a hero. We must embrace the Spirit of Heroism and elect another tyrant. Working to fulfil a singular vision, we will continue our journey and prosper.”

The shifting clouds part above him, and a ray of light stabs down from them, brushing the circle with golden haze. The wind whips at Broken Agate’s fur cloak. His height, his confidence—they speak to your soul. He reminds you of a younger Jasper Eye. It would be nice to carry no burden of decision, to lay down the weight of choice again. You long to follow someone greater again, to follow, knowing you can trust the path laid out for you.

“And who would lead?” Mother Ash says. “We loved Jasper Eye, but it was he who led us here.”

Murmurs at that. Of anger. Of acknowledgement.

You don’t want to hear it. You turn away, but you can’t close your ears.

“In this storm, it is hard work that will see us through. We must abide by the Spirit of Exchange. We must track the debts and get only as we give to ensure each of us does their part. It is the skills that are useful to others that we must cultivate, or we will perish. But as we barter, so shall we prosper.”

And with her words, the winter flowers brightened, and a lone bee went to one to give and receive. A man licked his lips at the thought of honey nearby. There lingered in the air the promise of lush fields in the spring, the flavor of fish beneath the river’s ice, new tools that might be made, and the smell of roasting meats of every kind.

You want none of it.

“And shall we mark notches for the debt of a child? Why did we travel south, if not to escape foolish traditions that left us wanting in a land of plenty? We have stone for tools. We have thick furs for the winter. We have meat, and it will not spoil in the cold.” You gesture at the mammoth. “Let Jasper Eye’s death mean something. What did he say? Why did we choose him?”

The wind whips around you, stirs in circles around the stones, around the mammoth, sending up flurries of powder. The sunlight fades, and the world blanches.

You all remember his words, drifting through memory as the snow begins to fall.

Let the spirit we are bound by be each others’ spirit.

It was why you followed him into this new land.

Your brother looks at you. “So… what? People just do whatever they want? No, no, it was a pretty speech, it sounded like you practiced it, well done, but it’s a stupid idea.”

“gently caress off, Cold Onyx,” you say.

And with the proposals stated, the bickering begins. It’s time for the rancorous arguing, the insults, and every old grievances to resurface.

“Stupid idea about tracking debt, what are we going to do, make everyone carry a debt-stick and—”

“—mammoth is a gift, what the hell do we need hunters for?”

“—going to eat it frozen? I see three trees, that’s not enough for winter—”

“—and if we start tracking debt, your family broke two spearheads, which were striped green, and we haven’t seen their like since—”

“—mother would have wanted us to get along, you know—”

And you throw yourself into it, gesticulating wildly, because Cold Onyx knows you’re not going stay couped up in some mammoth skin tent sewing cloaks or going out and gathering berries and no one knows if any of the berries here are edible anyways, except Jasper Eye, and he’s dead, and then you hurt all over again and the pain comes out in venom as you castigate your brother (and he takes it, because what else are brothers for?).

And then Mother Ash spots wolves, lingering by the edges of the hills. The arguments simmer, then evaporate. Eyes turn around.

You pick up Jasper Eye’s spear, and it’s knapped facets glimmer in the light as the clouds part again. In the new silence, you ask: “What is our decision?”

The boy, back from crying by the tree, speaks first. “Jasper Eye gave us a gift. Let us appreciate him.”

“The Spirit of Rest,” proclaims a woman. “She watches over us, whenever there is bounty. We can cast aside our roles until there is need.”

“Decide when the mammoth is gone and the trees are used,” Broken Agate says. “I like it.”

You didn’t really want your idea to be another spirit, there’s enough of those drat things to keep track of, but you like the name of it, at least. You’d like to rest here, with Jasper Eye, for a time. Tell his cairn-stones stories. Let his spirit feel his friends linger ‘round him, for just a little longer.

“Very well,” Cold Onyx says. “We rest, with this new spirit watching over us.”

Perhaps it is Jasper Eye’s spirit, you think. Is that where the spirits come from? Old smiling souls, watching over you. It sounds right. It feels right.

You throw more wood on the fire, and set Jasper Eye’s spear to carving at his last hunt. As night falls, the fat dripping off the mammoth steaks bubble wonderfully, and the air is icy, but full of aromas. You gather with the others, telling stories into the night, of Jasper Eye, of spirits, and of the land that is now yours.

Then, with a full belly but a shard still ripped from your heart, you rest.

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


Yoruichi posted:

I am judge


Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


Weltlich posted:

INTERPROMPT: This Cereal Sucks

Instructions For Turning Your Crystallized Sugar-Os Box Into A Necromantic Engine
99 words

  1. Cut along the dotted line on the back of the box
  2. Roll into a funnel. Insert tab into slit.
  3. Roll five Crystalized Sugar-Os(TM) in peanut-butter. Place them in the center of the funnel.
  4. Place the funnel upside-down on the floor
  5. Leave out overnight.
  6. Use the entrapped souls of the caught rats to power your Sugar-O Sigil(TM). Note: sucrose-based soul-prisons are temporary.
  7. Devour the fresh rat-corpses raw. Use the distended souls to animate the bones.
  8. Watch as the rats pull around their own soul prisons. Laugh. No one can stop you now.

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


Week 428: All the Small Things
Your words were short; my crits are long. This week felt weak, so eat a dong.

The Sad State of A Fair
Thoughts: A story about how even the winning pumpkin in a contest was small and shriveled. Some amusing lines (“Unfortunately, no help for those children within The Rules and Recommendations…”). A bit ramble-y. A bit meh, because it just spends a lot of time reiterating the premise, but still impressive given the rule. Nice pun title.
Prompt fulfilment: Small thing yes, didn’t see verbs but then I also didn’t check that hard, but gj
Tier: Mid-low, might DQ

Thoughts: Yo quick thing I’m not an expert on ultrasounds but I’m pretty sure you don’t need to move them around inside the patient. Well, maybe I’m wrong! But that made me go “what?” which knocked me out of the story briefly.
Not sure what to say to this; a bad thing happens, and the character cries. A lot of time is spent on the ultrasound and dialogue itself, but I think that comes at a cost because there’s nothing to distinguish this character, or their relationship with Sean, or the doctor. It’s just very generic, and the prose is too functional to carry the story anywhere higher than that.
Prompt fulfilment: Yep, small thing was too small
Tier: Mid-low

...And There Will Your Heart Be Also
Thoughts: I’m not quite sure the setting, but there’s a magical realism here with literal empty hearts. I don’t know how useful the introduction is. I don’t quite learn enough about the heart-jars to understand how they work or their cultural function; the relevant thing we seem to learn is she stole one. The interjection about Pshtul and Feydka’s myth is not initially obvious as the relevant detail we need to obtain because it’s well-buried in the paragraph.
There’s another thing: I don’t know enough about the main character. She wants to talk to gran, but ‘why’ is not clear. She wants to truly know her: But why? The main character is not substantial enough; I think the fact that we don’t understand her motivation or what hearing the true stories changes makes the ending feel unsatisfying. There’s decent bits here and there: I like opening the heart-jar, I like the line “the length of a single fire,” as a culturally telling unit of time, but the prose doesn’t carry it. The better story is apparently the one the reader doesn’t get to hear.
Prompt fulfilment: Maybe? I don’t know what the small thing is, and I don’t really feel the unconditional love between gran and the girl.
Tier: Mid

The Galaxy in the Back Room of Grandfather's Basement
Thoughts: The highlight of this story is the cool moment the two characters have lying beneath this mini galaxy. It’s short but the image is extremely clear in my mind. The story itself is about memories and leaving the places that produced them behind. Some key details (hah) help build the location, like the box of dominos and the rotary phone and the carpet. The ending resonated with me, because I could sympathize with that feeling of closing a door I knew I’d never open again. What might improve it? It feels like the story needs more of Ashley. Perhaps it also needs more of family, other tidbits of memory tied to that place. Perhaps how the place changes with the grandparents missing; a lost presence, perhaps a way the galaxy looks different.
Prompt fulfilment: Yop.
Tier: Mid-high

a puncher’s chance
Thoughts: A gambler, shockingly, wastes all his money but keeps going. The… end. This to me was just such an uninteresting story. “Gambling bad” has already been told a thousand times, so this story only rises purely on its ability to develop characters, do something with structure, or by prose. The character is a cliché, and the wife is insubstantial. I don’t feel like they stand out as people. The structure is fine. The prose is good, with a voice to it. But for me, it just couldn’t carry it above the premise.
Prompt fulfilment: Nope. “Impossible but everyone believes in it” is contradicted in your very story. Hellrule failed (this played no role in judge discussions).
Tier: Mid-Low

Miocene Delta
Thoughts: Based on the brief research I did, I think your timeline is off. By the Miocene, cetaceans (I assume that’s what your protagonists are) would already have flippers; the transition away from legs was already done, and had been for like 10 million years. Also, the legs to fins thing took way more than a thousand generations. Baleen also probably evolved well after whales were already fully ocean-bound. It feels like a story presenting itself as realistic speculation on prehistoric life should endeavor to base it on a reasonable amount of researched evidence, and it didn’t feel like this did. You may protest, but there were other stories this week where the science did feel right, so I didn’t bother to do any research, whereas something about this one knocked me out of the story to go check.
Pedantics aside, there’s an attempt by this story to evoke a sort of romanticism for a past species and it’s songs about life as a couple of proto-whales get together, but it feels weak. As a story, it’s just, there’s no clams, but there’s crawfish, look, another proto-whale, later, they’ll have babies—so that doesn’t carry it either. I don’t feel the character of these animals. I’m not entirely sure what this is trying to do, but I don’t feel this as succeeding in speculation, a vivid moment, or a story. For a piece this short, I don’t expect it to hit everything, but it needs to do something well enough to carry it.
Prompt fulfilment: This sort of fulfils the hellrule (+/- 10my), but I’m not sure what the too-small thing is.
Tier: Mid-low

Case The House First
Thoughts: This is a rather long argument about whether or not killing a vampire is bad or good in this fictional universe where the goodness or badness of vampires is indeterminate. A lot of the intro could be skipped because you have the line: “Twenty-four and still living inside her mother’s cramped trailer. Seven other brothers and sisters. That quicksand feeling, never escaping the debt bog.” and therefore you don’t need the first few hundred words, or if you need a few of them, pick the minimum. (To be clear, that line was solid, and more like it could carry big chunks of the story in a much more concise way).
At first, the story seems to be making the argument against stereotyping supernatural creatures and introduces a moral conundrum, but it turns out the vampire was evil though as was going to eat them for breaking in so it was totally okay to murder her but whoops she was poor (that last part was spoiled by the title btw). The characters, already pretty shallow, don’t seem to learn anything. A lot of this story can be cut, and it felt like the plot took the least interesting direction it could have.
Prompt fulfilment: Yes, hoard is small. As for the hellrule, I didn’t catch the slipup.
Tier: Low

Thoughts: The idea of enlighten it through algorithm seems like it could be pretty funny, but this doesn’t land for me. I think it’s because I don’t get a sense of much character in either person. There’s jokes, set up around the idea of generic ‘enlightening’ things just being fed as input, like duality and carving grains of rice, but most of what the character does is coding, which is very boring to read about. The moral of the story is… don’t overwork yourself. Eh.
Prompt fulfilment: …no?
Tier: Mid-low

The Oracle
Thoughts: I like the premise, which is cool, but the actual story hits like a wet noodle and the punchline is about the same. I think there might be more need to develop the apartment as a character, or perhaps the focus should be on the protagonist and learning about the dog. A lot rides on the punchline as it is, and I just didn’t feel it.
Prompt fulfilment: I don’t know what the hellrule means and I don’t know if you did either but the apartment was too small so I give you a ?/pass
Tier: Mid-low

What We Can Do
Thoughts: A literal underdog story. Everyone said it couldn’t be done!! And they were right, lol. So it’s a little life lesson, delivered adequately. The premise of taking care of the runt has been done a lot, and this story doesn’t offer much. The symbolism/message carried by it is straightforward enough to not invite deeper thought. The prose is fine, but it didn’t draw me in to connect with the situation. There’s not quite enough of the characters, and I think it’s investigating them in more depth that would make the story more interesting.
Prompt fulfilment: Yes
Tier: Mid

Thoughts: The technical language in part 1 feels right, which is good. The structure of this story is well done: You tell the story 3 times, but each telling adds to a resolution. The problem here is I don’t quite get what’s going on with the octopus and the muffins. It’s some sort of kid toy, but it’s not clear. I get that the daughter used explosives in the muffins (creating those carbon tentacle arms that are so fun with reaction demonstrations? is that right?) so that Dad didn’t have enough but I don’t get how he didn’t realize he didn’t have enough stuff or whatever for his job. The lack of clarity here grind the story to a halt while the reader puzzles over it, whereas everything else flows fine.
Prompt fulfilment: Yup and yup
Tier: Mid

Thoughts: Some characterization, a snippet that doesn’t quite answer the reader’s questions, but hints at interesting things and the nature of humanity, which is a very sci-fi thing to do. There’s little details where I feel like I know Brendan as a person (“…kept back in kindergarten a year,” and “Impossibly funny, in the way only children can understand”). There’s a good deal of little lines that carry character weight while also keeping with this sort of “writing an essay about history” tone which almost adds another character through implication. A fun little future-historical snippet. The ending is best if it ends with “anyone who’ll belly-flop on the grass” and I think the last line should be cut.
Prompt fulfilment: Yeah, guess it does that. And the weekly rule too.
Tier: Mid-high

On the Rim
Thoughts: The word “yah” annoys me, especially since they just said “yeah” so it’s not an accent. The story is annoying in slowly and unclearly reconstructing a spaceship accident. “He said a few more useless words before trailing off into silence again.” –this feels like you know the dialogue here is not doing much, which it isn’t.
““So. We just make camp for the night, and then follow the debris.””—the story should have gotten here a lot faster (and you are trying to tell a story, I think, with the way you’ve introduced the conflict and certainly aren’t focusing on a moment or characters). There’s not time to resolve the conflict, which is fine, but the way it’s partially resolved is by implying future character growth. Therefore, the characters here need to be developed, because they need to carry the story (the plot isn’t going to do that).
Prompt fulfilment: Sounds like the only thing here is something that is too big (the crater).
Tier: Mid-low-low

World in a Bottle
Thoughts: I appreciate the directness of the opener, but man, that is a stinker of a first sentence. “Theirs’s” proofread my dude. Feels like this experiment is very superficially thought out; it’s a universe under a glass dome, but are there not limited resources under this dome that might impede infinite growth without necessitating the cyclical slaughter (or flooding, one might say) of the universe to purge the inhabitants? That feels like something characters could talk about, maybe. Sadly, there are no characters in this story. The universe in a glass thing just seems stupid and unrealistic in such a way that it brings me out of the story; I don’t accept the story’s premise, logic and universe, so what happens in it has less weight. The story is pretty cliché in terms of scientists gone too far trying to play god and then hubris!! which I’ve seen a million times and this one doesn’t do anything special with it.
Prompt fulfilment: Yes
Tier: Low


Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


In, :toxx:

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