The submission pace has picked up a bit, so I’ll dig right in to this week’s mound.
Story 1 (1500 word SF): This person has been published in major markets which, I must admit, colors my perspective just a bit going in. Nice hook. Moving forward, but there’s a little bit of jerkiness to the prose. I’m not feeling quite embedded in this scene, more like an observer of (neat) information and conversation that seems structured to provide information (not make me want it). This is a fascinating idea, but I would prefer to see it delivered with an actual story. I found myself losing interest at times even though it’s a topic dear to me. It’s also a classic “ask the next question” approach. It’s a good story, but not quite in our sweet spot. I would suggest a more immediate story taking place against this interesting future landscape rather than an internalized summary of action. It’s more philosophy (mostly keen) than narrative. Pass to second read.
Story 2 (7900 word SF): The length worries me, but we’ll give it a go. We begin with two unnamed characters (iconic, most likely) battling over some nebulous matter. I’m mildly confused. The human character is named by inference in paragraph two. I had no idea initially whether this was one of the first paragraph characters or someone new. Another confusion. Paragraph 3 begins to give context, but I’m unanchored to this point and thus questioning everything – is the “room” inside or outside the holo? Where is the protagonist? What is his/her purpose? Onward to more veiled references. It’s one thing to drop me into the middle of a situation, another to intentionally make things murky. It would be relatively easy to establish this protagonist and his/her surroundings, then move on to the matter at hand. Something is mysterious when it’s mysterious TO THE viewpoint, not when it’s simply hidden from the reader. Yes, there is a fine line between divulging too much irrelevant info via POV (using POV to inform reader rather than showing POV reacting naturally to stimulus) and withholding relevant info (not showing information of immediate relevance to the POV). This story has headed down the latter path from my perspective. I’m not anxious to read 8000 words of basically forced mystery, so I’m switching to skim mode. I’ve gotta say that I’m not feeling attached to this protagonist in the least. There’s some characterization a few pages in, but she seems so detached from her own world that I’m not hooking in either. I do like some of the linquistic stuff. Nice alien perspective implied by that. The story engages me once we get to the alien/human interaction (via logged recording). Halfway through, I’m getting into the story. The character remains somewhat flat for my tastes, but I’ve identified with her at least. Some nice, active description of her moving through her world. It’s rare that I slow down after entering skim mode, but this story managed it once it got active. It could be quite a bit shorter, however, and the opening is way too confusing. Better, I think, to begin with the press conference scene, then move to scene with unknown ally appearing and through the active adventure to the solid ending. The reason I think the story is quite a lot too long is that its ending depends on idea resolution more than character resolution. The character does indeed make a choice and take some risk, but I don’t really feel she’s a different person in the end. This is likely because I never understood her starting state, her flaw, etc.. With this additional layer, the story might support nearly this many words (more likely 6000-6500). Without it, I think it should be 4500 or thereabout. Reject.
Story 3 (4100 word SF): This is a reprint. We’re trying to limit the number of reprints we buy. This one was in a fairly minor market and no longer available via web, which is good. The writing is smooth, but I’m not feeling any real narrative tension after the first page. A hint of mysterious dread. My concern is that its meaning is being hidden from me (first person POV should not hide relevant info). False mystery. We get a couple of paragraphs explaining what the characters already know. Another false mystery with the zombie joggers (not real zombies, but the fear having been scared out of them? Huh?) More information presented as dialogue. The protagonist has a mission, but isn’t telling what it is. Something terrifying is happening, but we can’t see what. We’re in the POV’s head, but have no real sense of her experience (some good description of a cloud and a bridge, but what’s all this terror about?) Some sort of confrontation with blue and green men. An extended conversation with terrorists delivering info for our benefit. Devolving into a message. The bridge is interesting in concept, but the story is basically a means of delivering idea and message. Since this is a reprint I won’t suggest improvement here. Reject.
Story 4 (3500 word SF): The opening sentence strikes me as overly dramatic and I’m seeing too many adjectives for comfort. The piece is striving for a noir feel (Pulp Fiction/graphic novel), which it seems to be achieving, though I’m concerned it is overly arch . Active prose gives way to backward motion in the eighth paragraph, reprised in a second person viewpoint technique that is handled well enough. The basic thrust of this story is fine. I think the prose is trying too hard, however. I like the description of the girl – how it changes with distance. Nice. But then we’re back to the overly arch delivery. Final scene explains everything that was carefully sidestepped in the previous scenes. It’s an interesting concept, actually, but not really all that compelling as written. The story is pretty much window dressing for the explanation. I would recommend turning this into a story of discovery instead, with the protagonist risking something to discover the truth of his situation. Right now he’s mostly a victim of circumstance. He does make a crucial choice, but we don’t understand what motivates it or why it’s crucial until the explanatory scene tells us. Reject.
Story 5 (3200 word SF): Interesting opening, particularly the final line of the first paragraph. I’m intrigued. Interesting opening scene. I like the opening of the second scene, but am starting to feel a little repetition soon thereafter. Oops, we’re heading backward. The opening scene appears to be another of those unfortunate frames. Hook me, then drag me through the less interesting background. Losing interest. This is a really interesting idea, but it’s being explained to death in this second scene. Why not tell this background story forward instead? Make it a story of revelation rather than summarizing? The story ends up being an explanation of idea with a hint of a conflict to come after the story. Reject.
Story 6 (750 word SF): The delivery is matter of fact, the subject interesting enough, but I wasn’t particularly grabbed by this. I don’t actually understand what happened in the end, whether this was a designed outcome or somehow random. Nor am I particularly drawn to any of these characters who are consumed without malice or purpose. I do think this could make a good short story, however. It’s just not working for me as flash. Reject.
And the Slushy? I’ll give it to story 1. It’s a classic SF piece that asks the next question rather than settling for the obvious one. It could be more engaging as story, but is more complete than other stories this week.