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Archive for May 2nd, 2011

See my previous post for disclaimers. Wherein I continue to advance through the ranks of hopeful stories for possibly inclusion in Triangulation: Last Contact. My sincere apologies to those of you who have been waiting patiently for decisions.  At this point we’ve officially accepted 15 stories (40,000 words). I’m going to try to move faster today. I have to finish the slush reading this week so that I can move on to the Parsec Short Story contest next week.

Story 274 (3/15/2011 SF 1380 words)

Reader 1:  “In this story, a man tells about his parents having a lab in the basement, and about the day he played with something he shouldn’t have and gave himself powers to melt people. This is an okay idea, but the story is too simple and all summary.”

First person introspective. The opening is breezy, but fairly glib. I’ve seen a hundred stories like this.  Background. Explanation of idea. Lively writing that doesn’t move forward, but settles for an engaging voice.

Scene two may be the inciting incident. It’s still background from the perspective of where this story is being told from. Consequently, it lacks some immediacy, though it does move forward within the backflash and is engaging to some degree.

Interesting development at the end of the scene. Why oh why couldn’t the story begin with the inciting incident and move forward? It would be much more interesting.

Final scene returns us to initial frame, with first person MC ruminating some more.

Basically, this is an explanation of idea rather than a story. As ideas go, it’s fairly simple and not explored, but I could see it forming the basis of a more ambitious story that explored the consequences for the character and the emotional terrain, etc.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 3 A simple SF idea told in retrospect. A lack of character identification and forward movement hurt this one.

Story 275 (3/15/2011 Fantasy 5000 words)

Reader 1:  “I really liked the core idea, but this story runs from the implications of the MC’s abilities instead of embracing them. The MC should have been faced with tough moral choices, but the need for decision making is taken away from him by a deus ex machine ending. This is a story that should have explored the nature of justice (retribution versus redemption, justice versus vengeance, etc.) but instead it was mostly dedicated to flashback and explaining the nature of his powers. The writing wasn’t bad, but the time simply wasn’t taken to explore the consequences of the interesting core concept. A real shame as I thought the idea could be the seed for a great story.”

Reader 2: “This story  starts with [MC] meandering through the woods for two pages. Then he visits a judge he knows from school. The story meanders too much. There is no goal for the POV until half way through. It doesn’t really fit the lost contact theme very well. ” (plot spoilers removed)

Opening is solid. It’s atmospheric while providing a vivid context and viewpoint. First person introspective, which doesn’t have me thrilled for a 5000 word story, but so far so good. Shifts to more immediate perspective on page 2. This is welcome. The writing is good.

It takes a little too long to get to the point. It’s an interesting concept once we do. Though I do wonder how it really matters what the MC sees here. She’s basically asking him to tell her what she will do. The backflash on page 8 seems unnecessary. The story is taking too long to move forward. Cutting this would be one way to speed it along.

More background. Now I feel like I’m reading the idea rather than a story. I’m glad to see that this author at least frames background material within a dramatic scene. It’s much stronger than an infodump this way. However, the actual fore story has barely budged forward in 10 pages. That’s too slow. If I were revising I would distill this down to the actual story and build it back up, adding just a touch of background where absolutely necessary for characters to interact with their situations.

More background.

At the end of page 12 we return to the story, although it’s basically just a restatement of what we’ve already garnered.

More background.

On page 14 the story lurches forward. A complication (though it’s really the same issue expressed many pages earlier). We have what feels like a climax scene; it quickly devolves into more background.

We’re rehashing the core issue again on page 18. It’s not repeating, but it’s the same basic argument.

What a letdown this ending is. Some nice observations though.

Yes, this is an interesting idea, but it’s also got its limitations. Exploring the deeper implications of it might deserve 5000 words, but showing this fairly superficial side of it does not.  Sorry to say this as I do like the writing and the characters are well fleshed, but 5000 words describing a straight-forward concept one one twist? Not going to work. It needs a greater exploration of the idea and, most of all, a complete story experience. Try this from third person, would be my advice, and do not permit more than a couple pages of background information in the entire story. That should force the story to either become much shorter, or add complication and nuance.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 An interesting  story based on the fairly typical concept of future sight and its moral implications. An overabundance of background and lack of story complication work against it.

Story 276 (3/15/2011 Horror 4500 words)

Reader 1:  “There is an interesting idea buried in here but the story focuses on sex and cocaine. The animals come in at the end, which was pretty predictable. The story meanders too much. There’s a mystery, but the characters are more interested in the sex and cocaine. There is no POV goal. The point of view switches at one point toward the end of the story. I just couldn’t like any of these characters and I could care less what happens to them. “

Love the prose here. Specific detail, flowing cadence. We have context and voice. No inciting incident, genre, or character yet, but that’s okay for now.

The writing pulls me along. We have a romantic triangle, some relationship tension, a hint of something strange going on in the woods. So far so good, though it’s pretty leisurely for the anthology.

Now this is true mystery; we’re exploring something that is mysterious to the viewpoint character and not simply feeling the “mystery” of information withheld by an author. Nice. The scene escalates gradually and in interesting ways.

This is such a comfortable story and that comfort works to heighten the subtle sense of dread. We’re lulled into complacency, but something bad is coming.

Ah, dang. The story falls out of balance with the appearance of the genre elements. This breaks it into two halves for me – the literary relationship half and the cool genre half.

Such gorgeous writing. The final scene seems to go on without adding much to the story experience. This feels more like a book at this point.

Well, I loved reading this, but it doesn’t feel like something we can use for the anthology. The slow literary buildup is nice, but doesn’t really ignite my genre passion, then the second half, which does interest that part of me, settles for an obscure literary point.  It’s an ambitious and mostly successful story, but not for us, I’m afraid.  Were I to revise FOR US, I would cut most of the opening half and focus very quickly on the strange room and the animal situation, then escalate to the very interesting merge between these issues and the characters.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 7 A well written dark fantasy about our animal nature. While mostly successful, the abrupt delineation between literary and genre sections is a bit discomfiting.

Story 277 (3/15/2011 Fantasy 1500 words)

Reader 1:  “Arrrrrgh!This is six pages of [someone doing something] because she doesn’t want [someone] to leave. On page three, we find out he’s going to war. Then he leaves. “

Opens with dialogue. It’s not particularly effective here, as it doesn’t provide context. It does provide (fairly generic) character and motive. And it turns out this isn’t even the viewpoint character. That’s jarring.

The dialogue is slightly stilted, but it does build tension, which is the difficult part to do with dialogue. Kudos for that. The problem for me at this point is that the story is relying on false mystery. The MC knows what she means when she says these things; so should we. If she’s mad at him for some reason, we ought to know the reason, not just that she’s mad. If revealing that makes the story fall apart, consider that perhaps there is no story.

They’re still arguing the same points three pages later (without telling us what the point is, precisely). There’s no escalation; it’s more repetitive. Ah, at the end of page 3 we get the actual reason for her anger. It’s told as a summary thought. It’s short enough that that’s okay. Some fairly touching character background.

There is an interesting relationship twist here. I wish the story would have been crafted to explore that issue rather than dwelling on this single point. Don’t go. I have to. Don’t go. I have to. I won’t wait for you. I have to go. Don’t. I have to. There is a story to be had here, but what is on the page now is basically a static vignette. The real story begins with his decision to leave (not simply the argument, but what he does, what she does, what it means to her). Ideally there will be an additional complication, perhaps the relationship between the MC and the girl. If it were more awkward, less loving, there would be another layer of tension. And I have no idea when or where the story is set. Is it modern day Ohio? It makes a difference.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 A simple fantasy about how decisions affect relationships. The story suffers from a lack of forward movement and some repetition.

Story 278 (3/15/2011 Fantasy 2139 words)

Reader 1:  “This start’s with an interesting hook. The story then proceeds to be a long backflash about [MC] growing up and meeting [someone] and sleeping with [someone] and creating a song. Then after the half-way point, we are back to his songs not being liked. By then I was having trouble paying attention. Nothing was happening. It was mostly summary.” (plot spoilers removed)

The writing is good, breezily descriptive with a strong voice.  But, yes, it is all summary narrative, lacking immediacy. The focus is as much on prose as on story.

I’m not connecting with the character or situation. I wish the story being told to me were being experienced instead. It sounds interesting. The prose is more immediate later in the story, but I never feel connected to the characters. This is a narrated tale, like Goldilocks or Red Riding Hood, but I just don’t feel particularly connected to the telling. In any case the anthology is more into story experience than narrator voice.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 A fantasy tale delivered in summary narration. Lack of character identification and specific scene works against it.

Story 278 (3/16/2011 SF 3775 words)

Reader 1:  “I listed this as SF, but it’s more of a romance. The science part assumes that we can’t kill bacteria and that we would be susceptible to an alien virus. This is unbelievable for me. The magical cure really takes this to the realm of fantasy. When the girl gives her life, I didn’t get much feeling of sacrifice. We never really know her. Her only goal in life is to get married. I guess this is really a romance. “

The opening is efficient. It provides a character in context with motive and suggests genre. Where did her father come in? I’m a little disoriented in the scene. There’s a good sprinkling of specific detail, but I feel like important elements keep getting left out or underemphasised. How big is this auditorium? How many people in it? Meeting? Milling colonists? Setting, but no ring? It’s just little things that keep me from feeling immersed here. Kind of weird really because the overall level of specific detail is just about right. It’s that sense of larger stage that is vague.

Ah, then the infodump of background disguised as a speech this time. To its credit, it’s not very long, but it’s not terribly effective either. I still feel like a viewer rather than a participant in the story. Cliffhanger ending for first scene. I don’t feel particularly connected to the character so it doesn’t really do much for me.

What sad news? This feels like a withholding to amp up drama. Better to simply begin with the bad news and move forward from there. This is the inciting incident. It probably comes too late. We then move through a fairly interesting complication. The story shifts to an alien contact theme. Not sure how this fits with the opening. Maybe start here? This seems a rather familiar setup. We seem to get one or two of these stories every year. It will have to go somewhere other than I expect.

The plot seems pretty mechanical. This part of the story seems to be following the basic rules – inciting incident, complication – but it feels staged. Maybe because the native guy comes in on cue to deliver a message that moves the plot, then exits on cue.  It’s an art not a science, unfortunately. I think it would work okay if we began with the native visitor.

Yep, this is just too easy, I’m afraid. Problem posed. Decision made. Problem solved. I do like the scene where she leaves the compound, the screeches and such.  I’m not really connected to this character, which is unfortunate. This is the point of high character tension and I just don’t care. Interesting twist on page 14. That wasn’t what I expected.

Oh well. It was what I expected after all.

Well, this is a serviceable plot that deserves a much deeper exploration of character. It is a familiar theme, which means it will succeed or fail on the strength of what makes it unique. Right now, the only thing that stands out is the bird angle, and that’s minimally addressed in the story.  If I were revising, I’d bite the bullet and turn this into a full-fledged short story with a couple of layers of meaning and fully believable characters. It’s a decent enough idea that feels kind of dashed off.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 An SF story about sacrifice. Lack of character identification works against it.

Story 279 (3/16/2011 Horror 980 words)

Reader 1:  “Yeah, a story I liked. This is about nothing…haha. I enjoyed it. I hope everyone else does too. “

Well it’s a reprint from the author’s collection. This doesn’t work against it as far as I’m concerned. I don’t mind generating some buzz for a worthy author’s collection. But it will have to be very good indeed.

Unnamed characters. Are they archetype? Could be.

It’s a very odd reaction I’m having. This breaks all the “rules” I’ve been harping on about, yet I’m with it so far.

This is an interesting flash about the dissolution of purpose and self. Nicely paced, good details. I think the ending is overplayed just a touch, but it works. We’ll see what the others think.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 8 A compelling flash about dissolution of self.  It may go on just a touche too long.

Story 279 (3/17/2011 SF 600 words)

Reader 1:  “This is a neat idea about [something neat], but the POV doesn’t have any real goal. The writing confuses more than clarifies the situation, and it’s difficult to tell what’s happening.”

Definitely a clever idea. Will it go anywhere? Sort of, but not with purpose. The first half of the story glories in the neat ideaness of this; the second half sprouts a small story arc.  It’s more clever than keen, unfortunately. I suspect with some refashioning and a touch of social commentary it can be very good. The war here is superficial at present but it need not be.

At minimum, begin with the inciting incident and move forward. At maximum, do this and add a layer of social observation beyond the obvious. It’s a cute story; make it more.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 An interesting idea rendered into flash. Clever, but a slow opening and lack of deeper development hurt it.

Story 280 (3/18/2011 Fantasy 3019 words)

Reader 1:  “This is mostly a chase scene. There is about three pages of description and background given at the beginning. Told in sort of an omniscient POV. I skimmed through most of this. The characters were just names on the page. They didn’t have much of a goal and half-way through the story, we find that one of them has seen [something] before. This doesn’t seem to fit the last contact them. I feel that they are going to see [something] again. “

The opening is effective at presenting characters in context and a sense of genre. Good specific details. The motive seems generic, however. The diffuse viewpoint and numerous characters introduced in the opening page work against me identifying with anyone. Which leaves me standing outside the events, hearing a tale being delivered to me. There’s a good deal of world background and some character activity, but it’s not a specific scene per se. It’s not a motivated character or group of characters facing complications, but more of a description of what they do. The story has not captured my attention in other words.

On page 3 we settle on a specific viewpoint character. He’s just a name to me, but it helps. Then we switch perspective. Last time? That really reduces the stakes in a short story. If it’s just one more time something happens rather than the time something important happens that changes the world (or at least the character), it’s not nearly as compelling.  The more I read, the more I sense this is part of a book idea. It’s more about the world than a specific character.

It’s a decent fantasy setting, but the story is a whirlwind tour that does little to endear me to the characters or even the world.  If I were revising I would find a character to carry the story and develop him or her much more deeply. When these events have specific, personal, meaning in a way that makes me care, it should work.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 Epic fantasy distilled to a whirlwind tour. A lack of character development and emotional arc limit this one.

Story 281 (3/18/2011 SF 585 words)

Reader 1:  “This is short and simple, but the idea isn’t surprising. The writing isn’t that good and I don’t think it adds anything new to the genre.” (plot spoilers removed)

When you write at this length it really is more about the actual writing than usual. Each word choice gets magnified; every sentence should be accomplishing two or three things at once.

I like the sparse opening. It sets me efficiently into scene with a motivated character and true mystery. Good so far. I don’t like that I can’t see anything, but must infer from dialogue. Why would “barren” evoke “tomb” for example. There’s a cairn? Where was it earlier?

In the next scene (mid page 2) the writing shifts from sparse to overwhelming. Sentences trying to describe a long sequence of actions in superficial fashion, etc.

Then we get an explanation of the idea, a moral if you will. This isn’t a story, but an excuse to deliver message. That seldom works these days.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 An SF flash about technological advancement and primitive urges. A lack of sensory detail and story/character arc harm this one.

Story 282 (3/20/2011 SF 4000 words)

Reader 1:  “The writing and voice in this story are good. I liked the voice a lot but the story didn’t escalate. In 4000 words, the only thing [MC] did was put off telling [a character] the reason he’d come, and then he left [character] behind without much thought. It’s too bad this doesn’t work better. “

I love the opening sentence; however I saw it as one character approaching another rather than what it actually is. This made me stop and go back.  That said, the opening paragraph works well to establish me in scene, in character and in genre.

I like where the second paragraph takes me, but it’s just a little confusing at a time I’m longing for crystal clarity. He’s approaching this place, which may be the seat of government or an outpost for all we know, and he’s thinking how he’s been tasked with delivering a message.  Is he delivering it here or returning from delivering it elsewhere? I mean, I can certainly figure it out, but it stops me unnecessarily, keeps me from really inhabiting the scene. I’m a little tentative about committing.

Good specific details in next part. A few too many adverbs. I really like the feel of this and the astute character observations, but it’s moving a little too leisurely for me. Five pages in and we’re still saying hello in a sense. We’re learning about the interesting world and characters, but the story is not escalating.

Wait a minute. This is not the message he said he was delivering. It shifts gears from large stakes to personal stakes. Now we’re touring the colony. I’ve a feeling story was not the priority in planning this out. The writing is excellent for the most part (though it could be streamlined in places), but the story isn’t really advancing as it should.

I think it amounts to an unmotivated protagonist, really. I like the way these people react to story stimulus. It feels real. But I can’t get past that the actual flow is somewhat aimless. I thought we had a motivated character in that opening paragraph but it turns out the story, or at least this part of it, isn’t about that at all. What I need is a stronger sense immediately what the MC wants/needs and maybe what he worries will prevent it, then his attempts to get it and the complications he overcomes (or doesn’t). Keeping the story arc moving will compel me. The world building and character building can support that wonderfully, but cannot (for me) stand on its own.

The section around page 10 goes to the heart of the matter, I think, but the early story has not framed this issue. It seems to come out of nowhere now. For a story to release great power at climax, it must build power steadily first.  I would also point out that this more vital story arc occurred in the past, not the present. Maybe that’s the story that should be told here. At the least the foreground story has to exceed it in terms of the stakes involved.

I’m trying to imagine this story opening with the section on last half of page 12. There’s your motivation; there’s the start of complication. Some of the tour could be supported in exploring this issue (as well as the personal issue between them – if those threads can escalate and resolve together, all the better).

I like how this ends. It doesn’t deliver the emotional punch it should, but only because the prior story isn’t well structured to build that power up. Opening with the physical plot conflict (p12) then using the personal conflict as complication and interweaving the two escalations should turn this into a powerful experience. The writing is Asimov’s SF quality. The story is not (yet).

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 An SF story about commitment and duty. Slow development and uneven escalation work against it.

Story 283 (3/20/2011 SF 3300 words)

Reader 1:  “Overall the story seems way too long for the event. There is a lot of telling about the world that could come in during the action in just a few sentences. As it is, it’s presented in info dumps that stall the story line. The story is too one-dimensional. The POV only has one memory of the past. This event revolves around [something], but the character isn’t changed by the event. The POV has no goal. The [event] gives him an immediate challenge, but he doesn’t have any response to it. The rest of the story is very generic.” (plot spoilers removed)

Very good opening hook. I’m concerned that it’s first person retrospective. We see so many of those and most of them never really get out of the head.

This is better than most. It’s active and not overly reliant on voice, though I don’t think the first person is doing it a favor either. Everything is filtered through that perspective, which is just one more layer between me and immediacy.

We get some world background. Interesting enough; a bit glib. Where’s the inciting incident? I’m getting hungry for the story to begin by page 3.  A little more background. Some philosophy. No story.

Page 5 brings a possible inciting incident. I do like the rapture stuff. A little too much clever for my taste. Story does begin to move, though.

Well that was unexpected (page 7).  It caught my attention. I don’t buy the physical action. No force? No momentum? It’s so cerebral. Plus I have to say that when she does this the first time we (i.e. the MC) ought to see it for what it is. Withholding that is false mystery.

There’s a good complication here, but the actual plot and pacing seems kind of slapdash. It can’t decide whether it’s about the voice, the cleverness, the actual plot. Consequently it’s not quite strong enough in any category, though it’s pretty good in all of them.

The section on page 13 is even more blatant withholding. He calls a character over and points at what he’s found, yet we don’t see it. That’s more likely to build frustration than suspense in me.

And onward to something of a joking end (yet even it has an interesting undertone that could work in a more focused story). I come away feeling this was something of a throw everything at the chalkboard and see what sticks story. Which is a shame because the actual writing is solid. If I were revising, I’d go to close third person (which would force me to move away from relying on the clever voice), and decide which sort of story this should be. Serious? If so, what is the underlying issue I wish to explore and how can I craft these events to play that up. Humorous. If so, vamp it up even more (and good luck selling it).  Satiric. Okay, how do I write it as a sharp commentary on social trends? Then I would lay out my motivated character and throw him into this situation in a way that forces him to react and pay a price, etc..

None of this is bad and it might even be picked up somewhere, but it’s not focused/deep enough for the anthology. This one gets a full critique, so I’ll get to work on that as soon as I’m through with slush reading (which has taken far longer than I wanted to believe it would, alas).

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 An post-apocalyptic story about the powerful sway of recollection. An uneven escalation and diffuse focus work against it.

Story 284 (3/20/2011 SF 1950 words)

Reader 1:  “This story is interesting. But I had trouble really knowing what was going on. The author relies too much on dialog and has little internal reflection. The dialog is too chatty and doesn’t take us very far for the word count. In the end, I’m not really sure what was happening. But I was skimming toward the end.”

Opens with unattributed dialogue. I’m not a fan, primarily because it emphasizes technique over story (usually). I’m hanging in limbo waiting for context.

Got one? I’m also not a fan of intentional withholding, which again emphasizes technique over story. I like the characters fine, but I’m not fond of waiting for clarity.

There is some very nice dialogue here, to be sure, but the story is eclipsed for the most part. A shame because this really is an intriguing idea and situation.

The story arc gets interesting on page 7. Too much conversation after that slows it again.  This is a very interesting world and a nice idea. The execution depends on false mystery and an over reliance on dialogue, however. If I were revising, I’d cut down the opening scenes significantly and play up the danger of the active scene a bit, then work on the character’s emotional arc throughout. Right now it’s limited by the fact that the story wants to hide his purpose from us.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 An interesting SF premise in the Judas vein. An underdeveloped character arc and an over reliance on dialogue hurt it.

Story 285 (3/20/2011 Fantasy 925 words)

Reader 1:  “I think this is a view of the Cinderella story, but I had trouble figuring out what was happening.”

The opening places me in mid-scene and establishes a character. I’m not as fond of her screaming before she feels the coldness (stimulus->reaction is more natural). It seems overwrought.

I do like the writing. First person is okay here, but I don’t know that it’s doing any great service to the piece. There’s a good pace to the forward action, but the bits of background disorient me for the most part.  This stream of consciousness does justify the first person approach. It’s not actually compelling me, but it remains interesting enough to keep reading. Intriguing concept on page 3 about the trunk.

Interesting ending. I think the story is a little too obscure for us, but it’s a neat followup to a classic fairy tale. I wish it had been more accessible, because there’s real teeth in this ending, but I probably wouldn’t have gotten that far if it weren’t my job.  I’ll pass this on and see what Jamie makes of it. Personally, I would have preferred this to be a more direct story, rather than relying on clever clues. I wouldn’t even mind if it were quite a bit longer so long as it focused on the more concrete elements of the idea (still ending with that killer line, however).  There’s power here to be had; the story settles for cleverness in a way.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 A clever follow up to a classic fairy tale. Lack of focus and clarity of theme hurt this somewhat.

Story 286 (3/21/2011 SF 4480 words)

Reader 1:  “This has some really good descriptive passages and the feel of the story is nice (with good interior characterisation and voice for a 1st person story), but this falls apart once the women return. There’s also a lack of clarity in some of the earlier passages and what the ultimate cause of all this. What should have been a good (if pulpi-sh) adventure story loses its potency because the potential story choices (which is a fairly standard zombie-type moral conundrum, but these tropes are still damn effective) can’t be made because the main character essentially doesn’t have any kind of capacity for moral reflection. If the MC had moments of agony or was forced into difficult choices, this story would have been a lot more effective. He justifies his actions after he’s done them, but this one is missing the protagonist facing any kind of difficult choice. “

Reader 2: “This post-apocalyptic story is a first person narrative that is overly repetitive, telling the reader the same facts multiple times. Any escalation is diluted by having the POV know that the women have been “infected”. The POV says they are the last hope for humanity, but at the same time said they were all sterilized so they couldn’t have children. Well, it seems to me that they are no hope then. There is a lot of fighting at the end, but I really don’t care who wins at that point. I’m also wondering why the POV hasn’t been infected. “

This opens well, dropping me into mid-scene and establishing a clear motivation and hinting at genre.  First person isn’t doing this a huge favor. It’s handled well, but we have the usual filter between us and the scene first person creates. The opening is nicely active anyway, but once we get to describing the scene, the filter comes into play. Instead of  “Sand stretches to the horizon, black as ash.” we get “I see sand stretching to the distance, black as ash.” It’s not a huge difference, but the effect is cumulative. Sometimes first person is necessary to a story’s telling. It may be here as well, but I’m reporting my real time reaction.

Good specific detail. Active writing. The story is moving forward. I’m still getting my bearings, but not dissatisfied. I’m less happy with the building sense of withholding I’m getting. The first time I hear there’s something wrong with the women, it’s okay. I assume the POV doesn’t know what is wrong with them and is being general. As she gets more specific, but still doesn’t divulge the reason (symptoms, appearance, something), it starts to feel like false mystery. I’m being seduced by mood rather than story at this point. To be specific, “It’s been twelve days since I noticed the change” What change? Something isn’t right. Okay, but why does he believe this? He’s observed or felt something specific to trigger such a reaction.

Another example is the sand. The MC seems to understand it’s properties when he wonders if others do, yet he doesn’t disclose those properties to us. Am I being set up for a reveal?

This is an eerie landscape. Nice. I also like that characters react to each other and their situation, rather than simply dumping background.  Page 4 does begin to sound repetitive. The survival motif repeated. More detail here, but no real escalation.

On page 4 we get specifics for the sand. Good, but late. Consider leading with this instead. Try not to focus so much on setting up reveals, but instead on characters exploring the mystery and fighting the environment (and their own rationalizations perhaps). Right now the story is a bit static, with characters reacting to the environment but not really moving within it or advancing their goals. Their reactions become an excuse to give me background (it’s better than just giving me background, mind you, but not as good as story movement that generates stimulus for them).

I’m on page 5 and we’re still waiting for the situation to come to us. We’re worrying about what might happen, what has happened, what we’ll likely do if… but the story is not advancing. A protagonist needs to act, even if it’s in small ways; A motivated protagonist needs to act with purpose, even if the situation limits him to small acts. Thus, rather than standing here waiting, maybe the characters could do something in preparation? Or maybe the story should simply start later, with the women’s return.

Which happens on page 5.  Yes, I could see us beginning here.  Good conversation.

On page 8, what stuff? What’s it look like? On page 10, I’m liking the tension here, but it bugs me a little that the MC knows what’s happened to these women but I don’t (they’ve tasted blood, they’ll turn on us soon – why? what precedent?)

On page 12, I like the action, but not the pause to think how the MC has prepared for this. Action should be active, quick, to the point. Good action scene, though I think first person present tense gets in the way a bit. It’s handled well; I’m just not sure it’s the best choice here.  It does add some resonance to the irony of the final few lines, but at the expense of distancing me a bit from the story experience, particularly in the action scene. I’d like to have a little objective distance there, a chance to watch the action shifting. Third person provides that; first person keeps us tightly in the head, which limits our “action” perspective. Not a deal breaker by any means, but something to consider.

So, this is a decent story, especially the second half, and I like how it ends. I’m not getting enough emotional arc, though. It’s pretty monotone in that regard. He’s worried in the beginning, he’s worried through the middle, he’s afraid in the end. I think a greater development of his relationship with one of the women might help, or his relationship with his comrade, or simply a little more of his internal struggle when the time comes to act.  His reasoning never wavers, which reduces the chance to escalate the emotional thread. Maybe he should start out sure of himself, then really doubt, rationalize, etc. when confronted with the choice to shoot. There ought to be a climax point before he pulls that trigger, rather than simply a surprise for the reader.

It’s a good story, really riveting in places, but it starts too slowly and the climax is a little shallow (plot climax, but not much emotional climax). Good action, good irony at the end. I’m not quite connected enough with the MC to be blown away.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 7 An SF story about the price of survival. A slow opening and underdeveloped emotional arc work against this.

This catches me up with the readers, so I’ll stop here for tonight.  No candidates (well, possibly one short one), but some pretty good reading all the same.

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