Posts Tagged ‘Unreliable narrator’

Wherein 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 8 (12/6/2010 SF 1800 words)

This begins with a summary paragraph. As a frame hook it’s okay, but reads a bit flat. Second paragraph continues in summary flashback. This is not a good sign. Not only do I have the gauze of summary separating me from character identification, now I have a flashback as well. First person is not helpful either. Contrary to common belief, first person is a difficult viewpoint to draw a reader into. It generally works best with an unreliable narrator (where the unreliability is necessary for story effect) or for a character with a colorful, vibrant voice (wherein the reader is drawn to character through the exuberance of his/her voice). Of course this is only a guideline. The actual rule is that first person works where first person works, and not where it doesn’t.

I don’t believe it’s rare for a father and son to share a favorite baseball, football, team. I imagine it’s rather common. The PA announcement seems emotionless, which doesn’t help the feeling of seeing this story at a distance. I can’t help imagining reading this story from within the events, the startling emotion of it, the sudden wonderment. That doesn’t come through in summary; all we have is an intellectual explanation.  I do like that religion is brought into the mix, but it’s not a very deep view of the issues involved, which makes it feel glossed over (summary).  Skimming.

I like that music plays an important part in this. The problem is that intellectual music does little for me; it’s the emotional context that matters. The intellectual puzzle here would be fine in support of an emotional story line.

The Jerusalem setting comes out of nowhere. Makes me wonder from where this story is being told. I should know that early in the telling. More summary. Explanation of the idea.

The story ends with an emotional moment, but it’s doesn’t feel all that new to me. The idea really isn’t all that new and since the story is told almost completely in summary, I’m not left with a sense of story power either. I’m afraid this one doesn’t work for me.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 3 The idea is classic SF, which means it’s a bit “been there” for me. The story is told almost completely in summary in a journalistic style. Consequently, it comes off as an explanation of the idea, rather than a story involving a motivated character facing obstacles and succeeding or failing in an important way.

Story 9 (12/7/2010 SF 1800 words)

This one comes from an author who is obviously full of himself. I try not to allow cover letters to impact my reading one way or another, but you do yourself no great favor by bragging in a cover letter. A simple list of credits and awards is plenty. If you’re an author whose work I recognize or you’ve been published in Asimov’s etc I’ll probably give the opening a bit more leeway, but the story still has to work.

The story opens strongly. Effective hook, efficient set up of character in a setting and an implication of story background (and importance). I’m on board. The story begins struggling just a bit against itself by the end of the first page.

The second page doesn’t seem to be advancing the story. Technically it’s showing the concept, which is good, but the events seem somewhat superficial to me. The idea of a cop assigned to personal surveillance due to a union requirement is kind of a hoot. These ideas feel a little old fashioned, though (I would like to see them made relevant again, but this isn’t doing it).  I do like the top of page 5.

I’m having issues at this point, though. The story seems to be evolving as a brainstorming exercise rather than a story with an actual point. We’ll see how it ends.

The co-opting on page 6 is nicely done. That drew my interest back to the page.  The scene on p7-8, however, seems like more free form plotting. I don’t sense escalation of idea or emotion, just cool ideas thrown out there to see what sticks. It’s unfortunate because I love the prose, efficient and vivid.

I really like the core concept here; the execution is turning me off, however. When there is an actual plot element it comes across as an explanation of plot; when the prose becomes involving it’s mainly meaningless action meant to intrigue or provoke. Page 10-11 is a good example. This is plot background explained to us via a talking heads device.

Another new idea on page 14. It could be escalatory, but I’m betting it’s not.  Page 15-16 is more explanation of idea. I like the end of page 16.  Nice imagery on 19.

Ends well enough. A little Adam and Evey for modern SF, but it’s more than that too,  so that doesn’t bug me too much.  What does bug me is that there’s some really nice throwaway ideas here, some great visuals and a wonderful core idea, yet I don’t get a sense of story at all. There’s no real sense of a motivated character encountering obstacles and succeeding or failing in an important way. Technically, the obstacles were faced before this story began, the character succeeded and failed before this story began, and what we see on the page is pretty much inevitable rather than compelling.

I’d love to see a revised story based on this core idea, but I won’t suggest it. Past experience suggests this author will not be receptive. It’s a shame.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 I like the writing here, but the story arc is relatively flat, lacking escalation. Instead we’re given a series of active scenes with little relevance to plot escalation, interspersed with dialogue that tells us about the idea and story background. While I really like the core idea and the way it’s implemented within character, I don’t find myself caring much about the outcome. It strikes me that this character is fully formed at story opening; the obstacles he’s faced took place before this story, his success and failure took place before this story. This leaves the experience feeling more inevitable than compelling.

Story 10 (12/8/2010 SF 991 words)

This begins with a fairly dull hook. It’s okay, but doesn’t really grab my eyeballs.  Then we come to unnamed characters, which can be a problem for me. It generally comes across as pretentious unless there’s truly a reason to populate the story with unnamed icons. We’ll see.

The opening page is presented reasonably and does make me think. The story action, however feels a little repetitive and I’m not engaged with any particular character yet. Page 2 names a character, which makes the unnamed character on page one more annoying (to me). We then get an argument second hand.  In a story starving for on-page drama, this seems the wrong choice here. I feel as if I’m being told the idea, with story action as a filler between points.

Where’d the elevator come from? By the end of page 2 I’m finally identifying with a viewpoint character. The memory adds a nice texture here. A clever bit on the bridge; I like the switching cars detail as it characterizes the protagonist and adds some on-page action. However, I don’t feel any real escalation of emotion yet.

Okay, this goes to a kind of interesting, ironic place, a choice between the past and the present as the world ends. Truthfully, though, the story doesn’t do enough with this idea. The first three pages read as a setup for the final action, rather than a story escalating and changing its character. Even flash fiction requires a sense of change, preferably in the character as well as the situation. If I were to revise this, I’d begin with a clear viewpoint character, show the actual argument, and push the character to run to the cemetery, then have something there trigger his regret. It’s all a little too pat as the story stands now. We don’t witness any real drama and the idea is logically delivered, rather than a consequence of story arc.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 While I like the irony of this situation, the story itself comes across as a delivery mechanism for the idea. We don’t particularly empathize with the main character until halfway through, and then it’s a fairly simple hop from his initial state to his end state. I didn’t feel that the story pushed him there, partially because the argument is held off page.  This story will likely work best as a very close character study rather than a summary of an afternoon.

Story 11 (12/9/2010 Horror 3000 words)

Okay, another cover letter devoted to braggadocio. This author does not come across as bragging, but a letter listing 20 or more credits and a review for a different story strikes me as overkill. There are a few markets out there that ask for this nonsense, so I’ll not be too critical (but still a little critical, eh?).

Anyway, the story begins with a character in an intriguing situation. I identify with him almost at once. The second paragraph, which mainly belabors the point, could go and I wouldn’t miss it.

Page 2. So he can read, but he can’t see other than to notice the light is dimmer? That rings false. I’m having a little problem with the passivity of the prose. Stuff keeps happening to the protagonist; he doesn’t seem to act upon his world at all. Red flag there. I’m quickly losing sympathy as this page goes on describing small details with extreme attention. Are they the precise details we need? Do they advance story or character? It’s kind of hit and miss so far.  Yet, when I NEED a specific detail (say a face or a voice) I get generic.  The mix is off to my reading ear.  For example, when a character looks at a face he knows without seeing a single detail, I’m certainly not fully in his perspective.  When characters react to the stimulus of the scene, they become real. When they react without that stimulus it usually comes off as an intellectual exercise, as it does here. To be fair, the story never says he’s “reading” the novel (I went back and re-read), but that’s what stuck with me because that’s a first level assumption from the evidence. I’m being a little tough here because I think the story has some potential to be sharp and involving, but settles too often for mushy detail and introspection.

On page 4 “when he was thrown off”. All these passive indicators are piling up on me. This character needs to DO something.

Top of page 5. I have a prediction where this is going. Hope I’m wrong.

I’m feeling more involved as page 6 begins. There’s a realistic conversation, some specific details. If this is going where I expect, the story should have begun with the ghost that popped up at the end of page 2.

It gets more interesting on page 8. Some effective horror bits.  It doesn’t end quite as I expected, which is good, but it’s a fairly typical horrific end, without a lot of character exploration. On the horror level it succeeds fairly well, though it’s too long for the payoff. On the character and idea level, it doesn’t do enough to stand out from other stories I’ve read.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 7 While there’s an effective horror ending here, I felt the story opened and developed too slowly and didn’t offer much beyond a standard horror payoff.  The protagonist’s extreme passivity was also an issue for me.




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