After a very nice day with family, I’m doing my best to catch up on slush for Triangulation: Last Contact. See my previous post for disclaimers. Here’s hoping the eggnog kicks in.
Story 20 (12/13/2010 Fantasy 3200 words)
This comes from a reasonably well known writer and previous contributor. Will that color my reading? A little bit. I generally give such stories a little more leeway, especially in their openings.
The story begins with a quirky hook and speculative element. I pretty much have to read on now. One of those “if the story works it’s great” lines. It’s a comfortable, conversational voice. I’m not getting a lot of density though. It has the makings of a pretty light weight tale so far. Page 2 seems kind of familiar. Page 3 picks up for me. The story starts moving on page 5.
Page 6 makes me grin. Some strong details and lively prose through page 8.
Page 11. Seriously? I guess it’s taking trite and making it (somewhat) fresh again, but it’s not exactly leaping off the page. I do like the protagonist’s voice; it’s the fairly standard sight gags that aren’t working for me. If the story was shorter, I’d be more tolerant, but I’ve invested significant time to see a pretty basic plot skeleton. The story comes full circle, but it’s a forced full circle, in that the device that comes back was forgotten through the middle of the story.
I’ll pass this on to the other editors. It’s written well for what it attempts; I’d rather it attempted more, but we do usually publish a few light stories to balance out heavier ones. I’m willing to be convinced this should be one of them.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 8 As a fluff story, this works well. It takes a speculative element and plays with it in a new way, utilizing an engaging voice and reasonably active plot. The story suffers a bit from an opening that takes too long to get moving and some too easy plot devices. I may not be a fan, but I do appreciate the skill on display.
Story 21 (12/16/2010 SF 5300 words)
This puts us right into the middle of a fight. Sometimes that’s a good way to involve the reader and sometimes it causes problems when the following scenes do not escalate further. Good action. I’d like a little more stage detail. I feel a bit disoriented. I wouldn’t want the detail to interfere with story action, but a few specific details mixed in would help. We have a yellow-suited human, hand claws (that works), red fur (cheats a little, but works), an electro-staff (I’m not picturing anything specific), a narrow opening, a pipeline, a corridor, an access hatch, a comm unit. These are certainly details, but nothing really jumps off the page and I end up feeling as if I’m running through a generic space ship rather than THIS one.
We come to more like the protagonist, “They had gray fur with gold eyes…”. This is sloppy description; does the fur have eyes? In general, I like the pacing of the scene, I like the character so far, I even like the general balance of detail and inner thinking, but it needs more attention to the specific to really come alive for me.
On page 3 I love the distinction between protecting the sword and using it. That’s effective, efficient culture-character development. Humans with electro-rods come down the hallway, yet I see nothing. I mean I can infer their presence and their weapon, but it’s not real to me. There’s not enough specific detail to pull me in.
Better details inside the transport pod. I’m not getting a good sense for the protagonist’s motivation. He does have a distinct goal, which is fine, but the chase scene doesn’t develop it further. I feel like there’s a lot of chasing without a lot of investment in the character (yet). I like the action on page 5 – there’s a good sense of character interaction and I do care about the protagonist’s safety, yet I don’t really understand why this story is important yet.
The pod’s transition is delivered too abruptly. A scene cut might be better. I do like that there’s a complication.
I hope this isn’t Earth. Now we’re moving into a tour of the planet mode. I wouldn’t mind this if the character felt some tension regarding his purpose. This part of the story lacks escalation.
Page 8 provides some welcome context and some emotional escalation. This is good. Back to the world tour. Survival mode. The pacing feels more like novel-pacing than short story pace at this point. It seems part of a larger story than a depiction of an important story. Skimming.
Page 13 provides effective culture, the matrilineal nature is good. The complication of his wounds doesn’t really escalate from prior complications. What is missing in the story is a sense of story importance (Raise the Stakes).
Protagonist meets natives (not Earth – good). They take him in without incident or particular tension. I like the dreamy interlude on page 19. If he has a healing hand, why didn’t he heal his own wounds? Am I missing something?
An attack. Climax. Protagonist must make a decision. Is there a price? Nope.
Story ends with an episodic feel, as if this is just the beginning of the protagonist’s journey. He has learned something, but it came pretty easily – he had no real choice in the matter. The story ends up feeling like a sequence of basically well written scenes that don’t really escalate to an important resolution. What the story needs, I think, is a stronger sense of specific detail early in the story and a much stronger sense of motivation throughout. A short story should be the most important event in a character’s lifetime, one that changes him forever and costs him in the process. Here, we don’t understand the importance of the sword, the importance of the escape, the actual motivation that keeps him moving, other than survival and possible reunion with his kind. What other option does he have, really? Now, if his mission was crucial to his species (at least his family) and it was his imperative to return the sword, such that survival is only a secondary need, and if he has to give up the chance to succeed in that quest in order to achieve this ending (i.e. he makes a choice that costs him dearly) then I think this can be a winner.
I’m not going to request a rewrite; there’s too much uncertainty as to whether “fixing” these problems will result in a spectacular story or simply a better one. I will offer to look at a revision, however, as there’s a real chance it could.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 The writing is active, which is very good for this type of story. The plot moves at a steady pace (except the world tour section, which needs to accomplish more than simply showing the world). The character is likable and does change. There’s a stated motivation, though it’s not carried well throughout the story. Overall, this is actually a decent depiction of an alien in a strange world. As a short story, however, it fails to escalate sufficiently and does not exact enough of a price from its protagonist. There’s good potential here.