Today, from a secure remote location, I do my best to provide real time reading comments for stories in the Triangulation: Last Contact slush. See my previous post for disclaimers.
Story 12 (11/28/2010 SF 5800 words)
This one is a little long for us and it’s also a reprint, two strikes, but not an automatic out. The story was passed on to me by another editor, which means it’s got some promise, so…
We begin in epistolary mode, with a letter written by our likely protagonist. It delivers story background efficiently. I’m not exactly compelled, however. Midway through page 2, I’m still on background. Worse, it’s something of a talking heads episode, with the writer telling his correspondent things he already knows for my benefit. Page 3 and I’m still reading background. It’s an interesting time in history, which keeps me going, but I’m not compelled. The voice is very good and I love the emotional passage regarding Mira, but there’s rather more telling about story background than moving story forward at this point.
By page 6 the telling is more active and it’s an interesting situation. I’m still hung up on the fact I’m reading one humongous letter, i.e. being told about a story. As letters go it’s pretty vivid and I wouldn’t mind getting a letter from this guy. As stories go, the technique is slow and distant. My main concern is that this story requires such a telling.
Page 7 segues into actual dialogue and more immediate telling. It’s a welcome change.
Page 8 gets downright evocative. I’m like the fantastic element. By page 12, I’m feeling a little edgy. This seems to be taking a long time to develop. Glad to see smells utilized.
Once we get to the iron horse, the story is quite interesting, the writing often wondrous. From this point forward, I do feel compelled. The ending is strong and does justify the epistle approach (at least marginally – I would be even happier had I read this story from within scene, though it would certainly provide a different mood in that telling).
This is a difficult one in that I really like the overall story and the voice is consistently strong. It starts too slowly, carries more words than events support, and is a reprint. Thus, I’ll vote No, but pass it along to the other editors. If they like it, I’ll be happy to relent, but will want something done with the slow opening and talking heads sections.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 8 The story largely accomplishes its goal, which is to provide an alternate history with an interesting speculative element. The voice is very strong and I have a very real sense of the period. The overly slow opening and talking-heads sections work against it, however.
Story 13 (12/05/2010 Fantasy No word count – 5 ms pages)
This one has been read by two editors, one favorable, one unfavorable. Let’s break a tie.
This starts with an interesting concept (good hook). I’m troubled that the writing feels very distant. Past perfect tense, a lot of passive structure. “as he was” “he could feel” and other such phrases remind me that I’m outside character, watching the story unfold. This isn’t necessarily a problem for some stories, but it may be here, as this seems to be a character story.
It’s a really quirky, interesting idea. I wish the character were more involving. I find the text shaping (text arranged into visual patterns on page) more distracting than helpful. The concept is escalating. Emotion is not.
Cute ending. The story has an idea I could definitely support, but settles for cuteness over depth. This is potentially a commentary on the human condition, but without human emotion comes across as an exercise in technique. Unfortunate. I have to vote No.
Were I to rewrite this I would focus more strongly on the character’s emotions and on a more immediate telling (not necessarily present tense, but less summary prose, more active). I would also look to sharpen the various scenes such that each more clearly (and powerfully) makes a point about our human condition. Alternatively, this idea might be written as a very short prose poem, in which case the text structuring might be useful. There, too, the sharpness of the word choices and images will be paramount.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 A really quirky idea played out to logical extreme. The problem is in its emotional arc, which is basically missing. Points for concept; points off for execution. With a shaper satiric point, this could be wonderful. Hopefully, it will be after some revision. I don’t feel confident enough that a rewrite will solve the problems, to suggest one, however.
Story 14 (12/09/2010 Fantasy 3464 words)
Opens with a scent, which is a nice change of pace. Unnamed protagonist, not so much. No hint of speculative element on the first two pages. Very mainstream, good observational detail, but no story momentum at all. Skimming.
Unnamed love interest shows up on page 5. At this point, there’s enough story movement to justify maybe a page of prose. The writing is solid, even excellent at times, but not at all what we look for in Triangulation. Too much attention to detail that does not promote story and a hint of pretentiousness in the unnamed characters.
The first scene could be summarized in a single sentence. He played a spellsong and the animals came, and she came too. Seven pages to show this action is too much (for us; not necessarily for a lit mag).
Next scene is a dream, which feels dreamlike, but adds nothing to the story’s momentum.
Next scene: more animals. She is there as well. Interstingly, “she” is never described in other than generic terms. Am I being set up for a twist? (and is my suspicion as to what it is, correct? Stay tuned). What I’m NOT being, is drawn into the character’s perspective. I do have a good sense of his mood and memories, but when he looks at someone without seeing any detail, it pushes me right out. There is some story movement in this scene.
Another(?) unnamed woman appears. We get some dialogue on page 11. Love the line about mirrors. This scene has some story movement – enough to support its word count. I’m still a bit lost, but in a good way.
I’m grateful it did not go to an expected place, nor was the twist simplistic. The ending is resonant, but would be even more resonant, I suspect if the first woman’s details were not so obscure. And I’ve no real idea why the characters should not be named. An argument might be made that they’re “everymen”, but the loss of specificity in a story so obscurely told, is bothersome.
The writing is observant enough that a lit mag might like the story. For us, it’s too obscure and much too slow to develop.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 7 As a literary ghost story, this works reasonably well. The writing is observant and often evocative and the ending feels resonant. I think the story would be more effective, however, with more concrete details, especially of the first woman, and fewer esoteric inferences. Shining moments shine best when contrasted with gritty concrete. In a sense, this seems to be trying too hard, at least for my taste in literary fiction.
Story 15 (12/10/2010 Fantasy 3800 words)
This opens with a simple declarative paragraph that provides us with a character in context. Effective, not flashy. I like that. I’m a little put off that the secondary character is static for two paragraphs, almost as if waiting for his cue. I’m also feeling slightly disoriented, because when the main character looks around, he sees nothing. Is this desert? Forest? There’s talk of “other houses”, but where? I would need one, possibly two small details (in the initial paragraph, perhaps) to set a stage to hold the details that emerge. I do like where the opening scene takes us. We have a speculative element, a sense of true mystery (i.e. something mysterious to the viewpoint character). It’s setting up as a three wish scenario, or perhaps a careful what you wish for. The details are different enough that I’m fine with that, but I do need it to go somewhere fresh in the end.
Second scene is similarly sparse. Mostly effective, but once again I could use just a hint more stage setting. I’m not having a good feeling at this point. I’m expecting this to go to a familiar place. If I’m wrong that will be excellent.
Third scene throws me off balance in a very good way. Liking it. Stage setting is strong in this scene. That makes for an interesting contrast with earlier scenes. I would still want SOME stage setting in the other scenes. They can be sparse, but not empty. I’m fully engaged at this point. Previous concerns have evaporated. Why? Because this scene takes me someplace totally unexpected, yet feels valid given the opening scenes. I do need to see the connection between the scenes by story end, but I’m looking forward to it now.
Both the woman and the man come off as a little to accepting of their fate (their transition from opening scenes to this new place and situation). It’s not a deal breaker, but a hint of … I don’t know… shock? doubt?… could potentially help, especially if each character reacts a little differently, thus differentiating them further.
Scene on p10-11. I’m not convinced by the man’s reaction to the woman. He’s definitely too accepting of his situation now. I do like his questions to her on p 11-12. I like her explanation of the medical supplies, but her suggestion that his skills will come in handy here brings me back to feeling that she’s too accepting of her situation.
The next scene comes too abruptly. The idea is fine, but I need more of a sense of transition. The ending, while interesting doesn’t quite satisfy. The woman’s situation resolves, but the man’s seems too pat. Overall, the good parts outweight the negatives for me, but not enough so that I would recommend purchase. I will, however, send the story around to the other editors and see what they think. Maybe a rewrite, though I’m worried that the man’s story needs an inspiration. An alternative could be to tell the story completely from the woman’s point of view. In that case the man’s “wish” is not so center stage and can be reported second-hand (i.e. rather than us seeing him make his wish and knowing exactly what he said, he could report it in a way that gives some wiggle room, e.g. Oh, I told him I’d like to be well off, you know, money, land, that sort of thing.”) I can see why the trickster character would pick these two people for the tasks at hand, but it’s not clear that he’s tricking them, which makes me think he’s granting their wishes. For the story to fully work, I suspect we need to come away understanding WHY the trickster did what he did when he did it. I can infer that he did this to save the children, but WHY? And why did he really need a carpenter and medic? If the story has to be expanded to include this facet, I’m for expanding it. I wouldn’t need a lot, just enough to understand.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 7 The story plays to our expectations, then changes them in good ways. The middle story, in particular, is quite vivid. A somewhat rushed and imperfect ending keeps me from rating it higher. This is one of the rare stories that leaves me wanting for a little more word count, especially in transitional scenes near the end, and in the characters’ emotional transitions after their shift to the alternate world. In particular, I want to come away knowing why the instigator did this.