What a lazy day, I’ve spent. I did do some thinking about my Golden Heart of the World serial. Sue set me straight on several fronts 🙂 but progress was made.
I’m reading Aftershock (Robert Reich). Apparently four books at one time is not enough. Sigh. Anyway, it’s a great book about the problems we face after the Great Recession of 2008. I’ll give a review when I’m done.
On to the slush for today. See my prior post for disclaimers.
Story 7 (12/8/2010 SF 4400 words)
This one has a very large strike against it even before I start. It’s going to be published in a fairly prominent SF magazine in the spring, making it a reprint to us. It will have to be absolutely incredible for us to take it.
The story begins with unattributed dialog, but it’s handled well enough that I don’t object. The second paragraph feeds off the statement to characterize in an interesting way. The viewpoint is omniscient, which worries me a bit. The situation is pretty dry and I’m not anxious to read 4400 of detached viewpoint. We like characters in our SF, hard or otherwise.
By page 2 the scene is feeling very much like talking heads, with one character explaining an idea to the other. It’s not talking heads, however, as the second character is a reporter and would need the idea explained in some detail. The problem for me is that I’m not a reporter and I don’t really want to read an idea; I want to read a story that utilizes an idea. Still, the writing is pretty good. The dialogue reads naturally, etc. I’m not skimming yet.
We get a sudden barrage of direct internal thought. This does help to define a protagonist (reporter) and add some character. I do feel pulled in to a degree. There’s no real sense of this character off the page, but at least he’s got a discernible mindset on the page. The thoughts themselves are pretty trivial and don’t add much to story tension. The reporter doesn’t care for his interviewee’s attitude. Since we don’t really know the reporter’s motivation, beyond writing a science story, this may or may not be relevant.
The next few pages are a demonstration of the invention in question. It’s handled pretty well. The problem for me is that it’s not really story, but description of idea. This is a pretty big idea, but I don’t get a sense of consequence to the characters at this point. It’s kind of a “isn’t this a cool idea” story; we’ve seen these in Analog and in many of the pulps and still see them today in places. Nothing wrong with cool ideas. For the anthology, though, we focus on the effect of technology on characters, on story arc and tension. Ted Chiang would do more than show me a device operating as designed, he’d use the device to comment on the human condition. That’s the sort of thing we really want, though we do take a few fluffier pieces and straight adventure, etc. to balance the anthology a bit.
Anyway, back to this story. The device gets a catchy name (though it’s not really that catchy) and what it does is cool. It’s not like Earth-shattering or anything, but it’s interesting. I doubt most SF readers will be all that awestruck, however, as it’s a fairly straight-forward application of quantum concepts and semi-unlimited computational power. For me, personally, the demonstration takes too long for what I come away with.
The story proceeds reasonably enough to determinism, and resolves around that idea. An unhappy ending for our stalwart reporter, I’m afraid. Since I didn’t much care about him, I didn’t much care for the ending. There’s nothing really wrong with it, other than that it pushes into sheer speculation (but what SF does not?) to create its twist. The twist doesn’t do much more than add on to the original “what if” in a semi-random way. What if determinism is correct? Well, what if it isn’t? Since there’s no objective evidence in the story beyond the made up device and experiment, it doesn’t really do much to push my thinking one way or the other. Of course I could be missing some important nuance. I just wasn’t all that interested, unfortunately. Reject.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 7 The story is written well enough to convey its idea and contains enough characterization that the people are not cardboard cutouts. For a simple SF idea story, this is fine; kind of reminds me of early Asimov, though with less nuanced thinking. If I were revising, I would look to complicate the story arc and connect the idea to larger issues in some manner (what will it mean to society to be able to predict future events?). But it’s actually a decent exemplar of this “type” of story. It’s not a good fit for the anthology however.