Where has this week gone? It’s Friday night and I’ve not yet begun on this week’s slush pile stories. Too busy watching Olympics and CPAC. Guess which I find more ridiculous (hint: commonsense conservatives fighting for freedom in one breath and Guantanamo in the next, looking over their shoulders in nostalgic contemplation, with a side order of God, God, God!)
Story 1 (6500 word SF): This starts out quite promisingly, with a hint of near future complication, but soon begins to stretch into a simpler tale that lacks the substance to support so many words. There’s some interesting world building, though it feels faintly reminiscent of Children of Men (the movie, at least). There’s not enough newness to carry the idea and not enough narrative to carry the length. Plot elements are a little obvious in places. The actual writing is good, often very good, and the voice engaging. Pass to second read.
Story 2 (3916 words fantasy): The story begins with dialogue from an unnamed protagonist. This is not an auspicious beginning. Scanning the story reveals that it’s dialogue heavy, another red flag. I’ll read it, however, to be sure. The setting is sketchy. A nice paragraph on the first page, with some intriguing hints. I begin to figure out what’s going on about a fourth of the way through (at which point the story begins moving forward). We discover what we should have known in the first paragraph. The story seems to drag even though it’s mostly dialogue. The reason for this is that it’s basically an idea rather than a story. The dialogue is just biding time until we pull together the concept. The protagonist may as well be Joe Schmo, though there is an heroic effort to earn is place in the final few paragraphs. Overall, this is a potentially interesting idea that should be developed into an actual story with a protagonist we can identify with and obstacles and complications that escalate the initial idea to something greater. Reject.
Story 3 (5400 word fantasy): It must be my week for longer stories. This one also begins with an unnamed protagonist. Very dreamlike and borderline pretentious. The second scene is one huge paragraph so dense I have to make myself work through it. It features a second unnamed character. Joy. I’m utterly confused halfway through it. I think the character is named at that point, but I’m not sure. A bit further along we encounter another endless paragraph, this one without capital letters (very e.e. cummings, i suppose). This is apparently a sort of Norse epic told in largely symbolic language. Very slice of life. Not really a story. Reject. [update: Yes, I can see how this comes across as disrespectful. With this in mind, I'll add that while this isn't really a traditional story, there's a sense of the author having extensively researched the topic; it's not that the writing is "bad" it's that it's way too experimental for our needs; is it pretentious? From my perspective, yes, but that hardly means another editor won't love it]
Story 4 (4500 word SF): What is it with tonight? Another unnamed protagonist (and unnamed secondary character). Don’t people realize this makes it difficult for readers to identify? It also tends to yield an arch (usually pretentious) mood. Shortly thereafter, the story starts rolling along very nicely, some strong dialogue and good prose. It’s an interesting situation, though the omniscient beginning does detract from us identifying with the protagonist for a time. A couple of engaging scenes. Then we reach the scene that kills the story for me. It’s basically a prolonged explanation of the idea. To top it, this features pretty much the same core idea as two of the stories we’ve purchased. It’s just delivered less dynamically here. The story relies heavily on summary and explanation rather than narrative and dramatic scenes. Reject.
Story 5 (4500 word fantasy): This is a story that sort of succeeds on a superficial plot level, but the character is not developed enough for it to truly succeed in that regard. I was left feeling unfulfilled. It felt long for the payoff. Pass to second read.
Story 6 (460 word SF): This reads like a rumination rather than a story. The theme feels tacked on. Reject.
Story 7 (4000 word Fantasy): This story feels both too sparse and too long. The idea is not really complicated, especially given the understated ending (actually a non-ending), but the development still feels rushed because time and characterization are both compressed. The part of the story that is told is not actually the part that interests me. I’m much more interested in what happens after this episode concludes. Pass to second read.
Story 8 (2500 word SF): An interesting bit of satire. The main problem is that it’s mostly an idea written down rather than an actual story. There’s a feeling of repetition in a couple places and the end is not particularly satisfying, primarily because we have no reason to care about the character’s outcome. Pass to second read.
Story 9 (1593 word horror): This one doesn’t work. The tone is flat, the viewpoint all over the place, and the payoff not really worth the word count. Reject.
And this week’s slushy goes to — drum roll, please — Story 1. It’s too long for its idea, which is not really novel enough, but it features an intriguing hook, engaging voice, and smooth delivery that set it apart from the others this week.