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 287 (3/21/2011 Fantasy 1767 words)
Reader 1: “I love this one.”
Intriguing opening. Establishes character in context with a hint of motive and a sense of mystery. Technically it would be false mystery in that the MC does know what she means, but she’s not withholding anything. There’s no natural reason for her to think beyond what she does. Very nice use of misdirection.
Second scene is wonderful. A deft juxtaposition of high fantasy and mundane reality. And a concrete (if incomplete) clue to the central mystery to end the scene. I’m on board so far.
There’s a moment of confusion in the next scene as it’s not clear who the “he” she left actually is. The stranger? The husband? It makes a big difference.
Such lovely, powerful writing. Simple words, complex concepts.
This is indeed wonderful. I’ll pass it on. If someone doesn’t like it I’ll reevaluate their taste 🙂 I believe we’ll be taking this one.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 9 A fantasy about matters of living and death and courage in unexpected places. A strong, vivid story.
Story 288 (3/22/2011 Horror 900 words)
Reader 1: “The beginning takes too long and even though we are in her head, the author tries to keep what the POV is doing a secret. ” (plot spoilers removed)
This opening establishes a character in scene. The scene is not very specific and it feels like a set piece rather than mid-action. It’s not bad, but not great. The Internet line is good though.
And now we’re going backward, and carefully hiding her purpose for being here. Not a fan of that. It would be interesting to compare the scene from the previous story with this one. They’re of similar length and both avoid giving up the “secret”, but where the previous story does it by creating a situation where the character naturally does not think of the key point, here it’s pretty clear that the author is intentionally (or semi-intentionally) having the character think around the edges of it in order to create suspense. Similar on the page; very different effect.
We get progressively clearer clues; there’s much less withholding as we proceed. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure this is going to turn out to be a simple reveal of what the character knew in the first place.
Very nice line on page 3. Until today she would have agreed, indeed. Okay, it does go to an unexpected place, more than a simple reveal. Kudos for that. It doesn’t go terribly deep, however, which keeps it from impacting me too strongly. It’s not bad, not great. Might well fit in a more specialized magazine.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 A horror story about motherhood and children who refuse to stay buried. Some withholding early in the story and a lack of deeper meaning hampers it.
Story 289 (3/22/2011 SF 1370 words)
Reader 1: “This was okay, but not a story that’s going to stick with me I’m afraid. ” (plot spoilers removed)
Clunky opening. Dialogue heard over a comm line. It’s hard to figure out who says it to whom at first and the dialogue does nothing to fill in the surround. We do get a character and genre and possible motive. It’s just not very compelling.
Background delivered efficiently (and effectively) in second paragraph. It fills me in but doesn’t really make me care yet. You’re running out of time to hook me.
The situation requires that dialogue carry the story, which leads to a talking heads feel. Nothing much happens because nothing much can happen here. Page 3 gets a little better. What is the motivation here, I wonder. It seems to be mainly a discussion of idea and philosophy so far. The writing is solid enough.
More background delivered via dialogue (talking heads). Nice observation at the end of page 4. Good action scene on page 6 (surprised the heck out of me). Getting interesting on the final page. Settles for a punch line of sorts. I might be interested in reading the story that continues from here, but this one just doesn’t do enough with the idea to thrill me. Not bad, not great.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 An SF story about the dangers of alien contact. A lack of story motivation and movement, especially early hurts it.
Story 290 (3/22/2011 SF 3993 words)
Reader 1: “This is pretty dull all the way through. The characters spend 80% of the time finding and hanging out, 10% running and 10% knowing they are going to die.” (plot spoilers removed)
The opening establishes viewpoint and motivation and genre. It’s succinct and fairly effective and drawing me to the next paragraph.
First person. Have I mentioned I’m not a fan of most first person stories? It’s not that I don’t appreciate a good first person story, but that most of the time it’s not the best viewpoint for the story I’m reading, and that gets frustrating. This one suffers the dual whammy of being first person and summary narrative. It will be difficult to generate much immediacy I suspect.
I’ll give the writer credit. We shift smoothly into an active in-scene delivery after the first page. I’m not sure the first page is needed, but it delivers background efficiently and establishes a voice. I’ll give it a chance.
Nope, sliding very quickly into clever first person voice and aimless banter. Where is the story? What is the motivation? What are they trying to achieve? What’s stopping them? A little banter after the important stuff has been established is fine, but establishing banter first makes me tune out. I’ve seen way too many of these stories that rely on a glib first person voice and jokey banter to build up word count at the expense of actual story development. (We did get a very good example of this technique this year, however. Had it not been a reprint, we likely would have bought it too). So… give it a chance, right?
End of first scene establishes a motivation. Lots of banter still. It’s hard to take the story seriously when the characters don’t. And if it’s not meant to be serious, 4000 words is too long.
An interesting (if unlikely) complication. Good. The story becomes more serious, more interesting. Of course it’s totally unbelievable, which makes me think it’s not meant to be serious. More of a romp through SF tropes. Guess we’ll see.
Lots of explanation of idea. Not much story movement. No escalation of tension to speak of. It’s all very day-in-the-life now, a tour of the surround. Some further complication and a little escalation on page 13. It doesn’t really seem connected to anything in the prior story, but does break up the rhythm. Moves to an active climax. Again, there’s nothing connecting it to character or previous setup.
It gets deadly serious. And then it ends with a promise of more to come. Feels like a piece of a book, perhaps. It’s a simple adventure story without much depth. Not our cup of tea, I’m afraid.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 An SF story about the first contact. A slow start and lack of emotional/character thread hurt this.
Story 291 (3/26/2011 Fantasy 900 words)
Reader 1: “This is a literary piece, but I’m not sure it hangs together. I felt like I was waiting to discover something interesting but it never appeared. Now, maybe I’m being dense, but I didn’t quite get it. It doesn’t help that it’s written in 2nd person. I am supposed to put in the emotional connection to [someone] and I just didn’t have it. ”
Yeah, not a huge fan of second person. It has to be done exceptionally well (and be totally necessary to the story’s telling) for me to bit. The opening is nicely evocative, but a bit pretentious as a result. The second scene is strongly observed.
Good echoing of concepts. Still not a fan of the second person delivery, but the writing is quite good. End of page 2, first line page 3 are quite good.
Well, this is very good literary fiction. It’s magical telling probably places it close enough to genre for us, but the second person focuses too much of my effort on technique over story. I do appreciate having read this, the layering of myth and reality, of reverence and godhood, the return to the necklace at the end. It’s very good stuff, just not for us I’m afraid. I will send it on for another opinion and am perfectly willing to be convinced to take it should others feel strongly. It’s not likely though.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 8 A literary tale about respect dressed as love and a necklace made magic. Well told.
Story 292 (3/27/2011 Fantasy 1750 words)
Reader 1: “I like a lot of the writing here, but the story feels like a longer piece with chunks cut out of it. I don’t understand who the POV is and what this event means to him. The end gives me no revelation on the story. I have no idea what was at stake. This should have interested me, but I had trouble paying attention. I just wasn’t involved with the character.”
Nice, evocative opening. Establishes MC in context. The language is lively and inventive. So far so good; though I have no motive, I don’t yet feel cheated.
The bees on page 2 begins to reach. The language begins to work a little too hard to keep up its antics, rather than settling into a more concrete realm. I’m hooked, now let me get my bearings. Just a blip. The language returns to its dangerous edge of madness and mortar. First person does suit an unreliable narrator.
Nice active climax and the juxtaposition of the ordinary in the next scene works well.
This is very good. I’ll definitely send it on to the others. It is abstract, but once you realize the narrator is unreliable, it’s very well done from his perspective. I love the injured eye and the feathered cloak and the allegiance of clouds. This is another I’d like to take for the collection, provided I can convince my comrades.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 9 A modern fantasy about ancient powers in a modern world. Reminds me a bit of Gaiman, though not quite as accessible. Very nice.
Story 293 (3/30/2011 SF 1700 words)
Reader 1: “This story is a descriptive summary. It was very difficult to plow through and I skimmed most of it. That it appeared in a Steampunk I-phone zine does not help it. Most of it is over written prose and I don’t think most of the science is any good. The character has only this one event in his life and I’m not sure what it means. ”
It is a reprint, which sets the bar higher.
First person retrospective. The writing is active, however, and pulls me along. Lost me. It’s got a hint of Victorian cadence, but lacks the flavor of the best steampunk (for me, at least). I’m laboring to make sense of some of this, though some is also quite interesting visually. The big problem I’m having is that it’s almost entirely descriptive. I don’t feel an actual story taking shape.
And on to the end. I’m left feeling as if I’ve had an idea described to me in mildly stilted English. It’s all about mood and evocative image, and very little about story. I do think this could make an interesting adventure tale, told forward and focusing on events over description (third person would be the better choice unless the character is a bit mad or seduced, in which case first would work). Not a bad story for what it is, but what it is is not for us.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 A steampunkish SF adventure. Lack of story movement and character development hurt it.
Story 294 (3/30/2011 SF 2330 words)
Reader 1: “There isn’t any story here. The POV does no protaging. He just hangs around letting things come to him. The dream has nothing to do with the story. Characters are flat.” (plot spoilers removed)
An interesting opening image, though the writing is a little clunky (too many word repetitions primarily). The character is not names, but I don’t actually miss that yet because the image draws my attention.
It was a dream. That’s way too common in stories we see, and seldom works. I won’t pass judgement yet, because it was vivid here and could actually have a purpose in the story. We’ll see.
Second scene begins with matter of fact scene setting. It’s pretty plain, and the writing remains a little clunky (lots of word repetition here). It’s not good when body parts act on their own. That should be a red flag that we’re not inhabiting the character’s perspective. The writing gets stronger as we go, but there’s no sign of story by page 4.
A lot of background. I wonder if maybe the story happened earlier. What caused it to begin (inciting incident)? What is the character’s goal? What stands in his way?
There’s some good observation here, a nice mood. It feels like novel pacing, though. There’s not much escalation, lots of everyday detail and status background. I still don’t know why THIS story begins where it does, what the stakes are, what the MC hopes to accomplish.
More explanation of how we got here (some of it pretty interesting), but little forward movement. The final scene poses an interesting dilemma, but where is the story arc? We do have some character arc here. What is the plot?
I think this could work at flash length (less than 1000 words) because it does explore a situation and evoke a mood. It’s not got enough plot to carry 2500 words though, and the real story seems to have happened before the first scene. If I were revising, I’d either cut it down to its essential human observation as flash, or rethink where I begin the story (likely on Earth just before departure). I don’t see much story where this takes place now.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 A moody SF tale about duty and regret. Lack of a story arc hurts this one.
Story 295 (3/31/2011 SF 4183 words)
Reader 1: “I am not really sure what this story was all about. Most of the story was telling, not showing. The characters were talking heads. I’m not sure what those heads were talking about most of the time. The story lacks clarity and characterization. Dude. ” (plot spoilers removed)
The opening sounds more intriguing than it is. A more concrete context would be welcome. The first scene is summary. What led us to this point (whatever this point is). It feels like explanation of idea rather than story.
Second scene is more background. It’s lively in places, but not story.
Story begins in third scene. Lots of dialogue explaining what they’re up to. Final line is interesting, though it seems to send us off on a tangent.
More background about another character. Interesting guy. Where’s the story?
Some good observations in next scene and a whiff (or a return to whiff) of motive. Some lively dialogue. A few more asides. Some more explanation of idea.
Aaaand we’re off on another (related at least) topic. Some of the dialogue is hilarious (on purpose) and I do buy these guys talking it up like this. But it’s not a story. It has a few component parts but the labels are all shredded or something.
It’s pretty funny I have to admit. It’s also pretty all over the place and pretty pointless in the end (pointless stated hilariously is still pointless, right?). There may well be a market for this one, but it’s not us, I’m afraid. It could work for me if it were focused more intently on the primary viewpoint and that viewpoint had a more cohesive goal and if there was more going on that a lot of talking and thinking about past credentials. The actual writing is cool.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 A gonzo SF tale about academia gone viral. Lack of a strong enough story backbone to carry the zaniness hurts.
And that’s where I’ll end it tonight. Some candidate stories this session. Forecast is for more slushy tomorrow.