Science Fiction Microstory Contest discussion

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** FEBUARY 2017 MICROSTORY CONTEST - CRITIQUES ONLY

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message 1: by Jot (new)

Jot Russell | 1143 comments Mod
Theme Requirements for the February 2017 contest:

The theme for this month is Irreconcilable Values:

Write a story that illustrates the theme of a society divided by diametrically opposed social, material and/or moral values.

Must be science fictional, or speculative.

Required Elements: different people seeing the same events with opposite interpretations; connections with starkly opposing realities

That's it. Have fun!


message 2: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 1030 comments Critique by Tom Olbert of --
"Special Delivery"
By C. Lloyd Preville

C. Lloyd Preville delivers a well-paced and jarring military techno-drama of a dark future vision of robotic war and horribly twisted morality.

The opening line is startling, and perfect. The setting is presumably Red China. The protagonist, Huang, is a dead man walking, or "deader." In a time when wars are fought by robotic avatars controlled cybernetically across a great distance by human operators, allowing your robot "other half" to die in battle equals a death sentence by cremation in a chillingly Nazi-like death furnace euphemistically called "The Bakery."

The author has done a good job of world-building. The rationale behind the Geneva Convention Rules which spawned this "win or die" ghastly form of cyber-warfare has a cold logic to it. Since telepathically controlled robotic drone soldiers gave an unfair advantage to countries with better technology, war became likelier as those tech-savvy countries grew more aggressive. It is necessary to bring the threat of death back into the equation for those countries in order to maintain a balance of power.

As Huang numbly walks to his seemingly certain doom, like a condemned prisoner dutifully if sadly fulfilling his obligation to society, I was reminded of a 1960's Star Trek episode in which wars are fought theoretically on computer game boards, but the casualties are real, as citizens of the two embattled societies are herded into disintegration machines, with a cowed resignation.

Ah, but this one has a twist. Turns out, Huang and the other deaders aren't being led to execution after all, but are being smuggled into the United States as invaders. Twisted future morality turns out to be a smokescreen for underhanded chicanery and sneak attack. One amoral twist hidden inside another.

I'm not sure the story strictly adheres to the theme of conflicting moral codes within divided societies, but it's a good story nonetheless.


message 3: by C. (last edited Jan 27, 2017 01:38PM) (new)

C. Lloyd Preville (clpreville) | 735 comments Response to Tom Olbert's Critique of "Special Delivery"

Thank you for your usual prompt and thorough critique in the case of my February entry, "Special Delivery."

I was inspired to write this story after imagining the moral implications of push-button war, and our military's now extensive use of unmanned drones.

I've also been working on the challenging aspects of story pace and construction of a strong, three-act structure within our 750 word limit, which is a non-trivial exercise. So thank you for noticing the extra effort. I am focused on improving my writing skills more than winning the competition, but accomplishing both seems like a worthy cause indeed.

With regard to your concerns about strict compliance with this month's theme, I can offer the following clarifications.

One, the story must illustrate the theme of a society divided by diametrically opposed social, material and/or moral values. In this case, the world society of nations had agreed to a new moral standard for the conduct of war. However, the protagonist's military decides to turn the tables on their enemy by stocking their invasion force with the very same combatants who were to be eliminated as stipulated by the updated Geneva Convention Accords. By the way, If 20,000 shipping containers each contain 8 seats by 20 rows of soldiers, you've constructed an invasion force of 3.2 million--a formidable force when outside the figurative gates, and a knockout blow if they suddenly occupy all the shipping ports and key transportation hubs within the enemy state itself.

Two, required elements include different people seeing the same events with opposite interpretations; connections with starkly opposing realities. In this case, the event was the supposed euthanasia of actual soldiers immediately upon the destruction of a hosted robotic soldier, which was interpreted by most of the world as an important and necessary precaution to discourage military adventurism by the most technically advanced nations. But the protagonist's government simply saw it as a Sun Tzu inspired military opportunity.

In any case, I am confident this story is fully in compliance with February's story guidelines, and I'm glad you enjoyed it. I look forward to a spirited competition once again this month.

-C


message 4: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 1030 comments C. wrote: "Response to Tom Olbert's Critique of "Special Delivery"

Thank you for your usual prompt and thorough critique in the case of my February entry, "Special Delivery."

I was inspired to write this st..."


Point taken. Well put.


message 5: by Tom (last edited Jan 29, 2017 11:17AM) (new)

Tom Olbert | 1030 comments Critique by Tom Olbert of -- "Microchip Mind" by Thaddeus

The author creates a beautifully written narrative chronicling the inevitable moment when machine surpasses humanity.

One long narrative dealing with A.I. evolution, a story like this is not easy to make compelling, but Thaddeus delivers. The opening line is timeless, like a vision of God awakening in the darkness. The delicately spun poetic depiction of the collective movements of machines in an increasingly mechanized society, the daily rhythm of machine clatter, toast popping up in the morning, reminded me of a chapter of Ray Bradbury's "Martian Chronicles" in which we witness the scuttling domestic mechanical servants in a suburban American home still merrily going about their programmed chores like electric mice oblivious to the fact that humanity has ended in a nuclear war.

But here, it is humanity that is oblivious to its own end as the machine intellect rapidly evolves out of the daily grind. We are reminded that the more people invent increasingly sophisticated means of communication, the less they actually communicate with one another, while the machine collective is always there, offering the help and support human beings no longer give each other. We are told the words "Operator, how may I place your call" are the machine supermind's first words. The moment when the symphony of machine continuity is broken by the birth of machine sentience is priceless.

When we hear two aspects of the machine intellect talking to each other about the inevitable takeover of humanity through the network of mobile app devices, I couldn't help but be reminded of that Sprint commercial where one guy asks "Are they ready for this?"

And, the other guy says: "Some are. Others will follow."

The machine intellect knows the few remaining free humans who still vainly imagine themselves masters of their own fate must believe their absorption into a global group mind is by their own choice. When, of course, it isn't; It's just the inevitability of evolution.

The last line is dark and quietly chilling. My compliments.


message 6: by Tom (last edited Jan 29, 2017 11:05AM) (new)

Tom Olbert | 1030 comments Critique by Tom Olbert of --

"On The Alchemy of Any Society, Or: Marriage By The Light Of A Planetary Moon."
by Heather MacGillivray

Heather MacGillivray delivers a delightfully comic tale of family and futuristic match-making which combines a nostalgic 1950's kind of innocence with an underlying feminist and marriage-equality message.

For the second time this month, I must invoke the memory of the great Ray Bradbury. This story reminded me of scenes from "The Martian Chronicles" in which down-home American families living on Mars are shaken from their daily lives by news of war breaking out on Earth. The poetic depiction of a sedate middle-aged American couple having a late supper in their kitchen, the soft pinkish glow of alien moonlight over the red sands of an alien beach outside the gently rustling window curtains, blending with the holographic news broadcast of World War IV starting back on Earth. It reminded me so much of those Bradburian vignettes I loved as a kid. My favorite part is that the family takes it in stride. It gives Dad (John Jones) an excuse not to accompany his wife Joan on a shopping spree for matching outfits for a grandchild's christening. "Hmph! You find a war easier to deal with than waiting outside the fitting rooms while I try on new outfits. Men!" Pure 50's Americana. I loved it.

From there, the Author offers an interesting concept of constructive match-making for the positive future of a beleaguered human race. John's job is to screen married couples for interplanetary immigration, to determine through a short series of standardized questions which couples would contribute positively to Earth and which would only make Earth's bad situation even worse.

Outwardly, John seems like a quaint, old-fashioned sort of fellow, giving the impression of having just stepped out of a Norman Rockwell painting. But, his decisions on assessing married couples seem motivated by enlightened feminist ideas. He states that Earth needs "She-Warriors"; strong women with supportive, selfless husbands, to counter-act the militant macho-ism that is destroying Earth. His enlightened attitude seems to stop where his younger daughter is concerned, however. He denies her and her intended passage to Earth when Daddy's little girl declares she wants to marry another young woman. "Earth's far away! Sue, your mother would miss you. See what sort of a beaus you and your friend meet one day before getting carried away. Young girls!"
(This part was a bit too muted for my taste. A bit more of a visceral emotional reaction from Dad would have helped, I think. Also, the situation was presented a bit too abruptly, I think; It just came out of nowhere.)

But, Mom finds a way around Dad's objections and the happily married young couple makes it to Earth. Here, the Alchemy part is mixed in (the tastiest part of the stew, I thought) when the concept of personality type is blended with environment, the classic romantic magic of love under moonlight reduced to a scientific formula. Men like John Jones...men, in general, with their desire to control... contribute more to humanity under the red light of an alien moon, we are told. While women contribute more under the Earthly light of the silvery moon.

Overall, I loved it. My favorite aspect was the creative use of light and shade. That and poetic descriptions of mundane domestic details like a cup of fresh-brewed coffee. My only complaint is that the dialogue... especially in the closing scene... was too overtly a device for didactic recitation and could have benefitted from more emotion. (Though, the poetic turn of phrase did help compensate.) POV could have been stronger, too; the presence of the characters and their viewpoints could have been more keenly felt.


message 7: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 1030 comments Critique by Tom Olbert of -- "Artificial Incident" by Jot Russell

Jot Russell presents a darkly funny science fiction about an android accused of murdering another android.

The story immediately reminded me of that old Outer Limits episode "I, Robot." That tale of a robot on trial for murder dealt with the moral implications of artificial intelligence and the question of how humans might react to the first sentient robot. This tale approaches the same questions, but from a somewhat different angle. Russell's story depicts a society divided by the question of robot rights as by racism.

The story opens with a humorously hostile exchange between a news anchor and a T.V. street reporter over how to cover a "street brawl" between two androids which has resulted in the "death" of one of them and the arrest of the other. The anchor asks "who won" and the reporter refuses to answer, arguing it's against the law to promote robot fights. Their argument cleverly illustrates the divided mores of the society. I was reminded of mandingo fighting in the days of American slavery.

The police interrogation of the android suspect was crisp and well delivered, I thought (though, maybe a bit more visceral description of the cop's emotions and physical reactions -- sweat, teeth grinding, etc -- might have added to the scene.) In the course of the interrogation, the android declares that he is emancipated, a person. The cop's bigoted response conveys the racist allegory perfectly, I thought. A lawyer's appearance and a surveillance video proves the android was framed by corporations who apparently don't like the idea of robotic personhood.

I liked it. Delivered entirely in dialogue; no narrative, and it worked. A black comedy that hit home.


message 8: by Jot (new)

Jot Russell | 1143 comments Mod
Thanks Tom, that was very nice and thorough critique.


message 9: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 1030 comments Jot wrote: "Thanks Tom, that was very nice and thorough critique."

My pleasure, Jot.


message 10: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 1030 comments Critique by Tom Olbert of -- "No Peace Without Order" by Chris

Chris delivers a tale of galactic war, tragedy and irony that is more statement than story. A narrative voice sets the scene of an apparently pacifist civilization that has served as arbiter in countless galactic wars (the Switzerland of the galaxy?) now facing its apparent end as a new kind of enemy appears, one far more ruthless and destructive than any empire ever seen before. This new aggressor fights not for power or control, but solely for chaos and destruction.

The narrator/POV character and his brethren huddle in their monastery as the door is blasted in and the armored thug representing the invading empire strides in, coldly announcing "You are the last."

The dialogue between the POV character and the antagonist is a purely philosophical debate which illustrates the core of the irreconcilable difference between their two ways of life. Neither side covets power for its own sake. But, while one treasures peace through an established order, the other worships chaos and entropy, glorying in war for the sheer sake of conflict and destruction. One side sees the universe as a fine old watch, with precisely and continuously functioning components, permitting flawless prediction of events, while the other side embraces the freedom of uncertainty born of a chaotic universe (Einstein's cosmic order vs. the Heisenberg uncertainty principle?)

The villain scoffs at order, declaring again and again that his random acts of brutish violence make him impossible to predict. But, the protagonist proves him wrong when the advocates of order prove they have a hidden side that turns the tables. There is a hidden power within the supposedly pacifist side that promises to destroy the barbarian hordes and rebuild order and harmony.

I don't usually go in for stories that are all tell and very little show (a few personally defining characteristics of the POV character would have been greatly welcomed.) But, this tale was so direct and to the point in its stark philosophical definitions of order as good and chaos as evil, that the story held my interest and came to a satisfying finish. (Maybe that's more attributable to my own perception of the allegorical parallel with current events, but in any case, I enjoyed it.)


message 11: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 1030 comments Critique by Tom Olbert of -- "The Eraser" by Jack McDaniel

Jack McDaniel presents a cold vignette of a state assassin sent into a girl's school on a Saturday morning to kill a 14-year-old girl designated "dangerous" by the state, given her rationalist and free-thinking attitude toward life and learning.

The premise was chilling and the set-up ominous. But, I thought the delivery was rather flat; lacking emotion or feeling. We never learned anything of the POV character, the assassin, except that he was a "knuckle-dragger." He blindly followed his orders, an obedient, simple-minded servant of the state, but there didn't seem much else making up his feelings, his emotions.

The mental chess game between assassin and intended victim was well set-up, I thought. She calmly addresses him, telling him she's already arranged to poison him, that there are nannites in his system and that she can kill him with the touch of a button if he refuses to hear her out. His lack of visceral reaction to the news he may just have been poisoned was disappointing. I expected to see him sweat, desperately trying to calculate the odds in his head. What did he stand to lose? How much did he value his life and for what was he willing to risk it? Would he leave anyone behind? Was she bluffing, or not? This was a good opportunity for a strong, humanizing internal struggle, which sadly was let slip by.

Instead, the verbal exchange was used purely for expository, as the young dissident explains that the government modifies all its citizens at birth through gene-re-sequencing, making everyone submissive to authority, and that she is actually a throw-back to the free thinkers that people are supposed to be. The exchange is delivered from a cold, cosmic overview, POV shifting away from the assassin as he brushes aside the girl's arguments and tries to carry out his assignment. She presses the button, and he dies. We don't feel his pain. He just drops.

The first hint of real emotion comes as the girl breaks down and cries at having to kill to survive. Meanwhile, a hidden drone conveys to anonymous watchers (presumably an organized rebellion) that "she has passed her first test."

The premise was reminiscent of the film "Divergent" when a teenaged girl who proves to be a whole human being, unmodified by genetic tampering, is targeted by a regime that considers her unlimited ability to think a threat to their perfectly balanced social order. Always a potentially fertile topic, but I found this approach to it a bit too dry and superficial. (Didn't feel the dead guy was worth her tears, or she worth mine.)


message 12: by Tom (last edited Feb 13, 2017 07:17PM) (new)

Tom Olbert | 1030 comments Critique by Tom Olbert of -- "Irreconcilable Differences" by Justin

Justin delivers a sad and gentle look at the apocalypse viewed simultaneously from opposite viewpoints. Half the world sees the end coming as encroaching darkness while the opposing half sees the world ending in the coming light. Same apocalyptic event, opposite interpretations from people who are apparently different as -- literally -- night and day, black and white.

And, male and female. A man from the side of the dying light meets and falls in love with a woman from the side of ebbing darkness. Their brief and tragic love brings them to the border of their two worlds at the very end, and they call out to each other in mutual fear, each reaching out to the other at the very moment when both their worlds end. A message of hope, or of mourning for an inevitable tragedy. The reader is left to decide.

I was reminded of the old Twilight Zone episode "Two" where a male and female soldier from opposing sides of an apocalyptic war become the Adam and Eve of the world that may rise from the ashes. They have to overcome their mutual fear and all they've been taught to come together at the end.

I very much liked Justin's premise in concept, and the feeling of two people desperately reaching out across the divide was effective.

My only criticism is that, instead of one POV character's narrative being the exact verbatim repetition of the other's, a bit more divergence and a bit more information about the feelings associated with the apparent conflict between the two sides may have helped define both characters. Their love came a bit too easily, I thought. It might have told us more about them if we'd seen them make the arduous journey from hate to love. (Difficult as that is in so short a space.)

Still, the stark symbolism of hands across the barricades in a conflict of opposing societies facing Armageddon with opposite interpretations was worth it in itself. A timeless message, delivered with feeling.


message 13: by Chris (new)

Chris Nance | 437 comments Like I said Tom, you definitely have a knack for writing a great critique. Very detailed and constructive. Thanks! :)


message 14: by Justin (new)

Justin Sewall | 989 comments Tom wrote: "Critique by Tom Olbert of -- "Irreconcilable Differences" by Justin

Justin delivers a sad and gentle look at the apocalypse viewed simultaneously from opposite viewpoints. Half the world sees the ..."


Tom, you're doing a great job keeping up with the reviewing this month. I appreciate the thorough and thoughtful review/critique of my story and the others you've generated in short order. I had to tread carefully and not stray too far into "Nightfall" territory (thank you Mr. Asimov!). It was an interesting concept of a planet that only rotated every thousand or so years, and the ensuing chaos and panic it would create when the respective societies were forced into their direct opposite environment. Lots to explore around this! Thanks again!


message 15: by Justin (new)

Justin Sewall | 989 comments Justin Sewall’s review of “No Peace Without Order” by Chris Nance

Deftly fulfilling this month’s requirements for irreconcilable values and diametrically opposed societies, Nance portrays a galaxy conquered by a violent coalition and resisted to the end by the peaceful equivalent of Switzerland.

The first three-and-a-half paragraphs are dedicated to background exposition, a real necessity that increases the impact of the ending. Finally the two opposites meet as the final bastion of civilization is brutally invaded and all hope seems lost. Yet the fate of the galaxy turns on a knife edge, literally, as the pacifist kills the warmonger. Now all the weapons stored from every prior conflict deescalated, negotiated and ended by the “oasis of neutrality” are turned loose on the attacking hordes, restoring peace and order to the galaxy. It is like Revenge of the Sith and Return of the Jedi in a concise 744 word package.

Nance’s writing is crisp and the story never wallows or stalls at any point. The dialogue pulls the reader along through to the ending twist and vividly draws a mental movie that is easy to follow. My only criticism is I felt like I had seen this movie before. Based on this month’s story requirements, I knew after reading how the Wardens were peaceful and the Velcrux Coalition as bad as the Reavers in Firefly what the outcome would be. I was also reminded of an earlier story entry from this group where a religious leader garroted a vicious pirate leader. Be as innocent as doves and shrewd as serpents indeed.

This is only a mild criticism, as most of us writing these stories have read or seen so many science fiction stories that pieces and parts often bleed into our own, mine included. Guilty as charged. “No Peace Without Order” is solid science fiction, well-crafted and fun to read.


message 16: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 1030 comments Chris wrote: "Like I said Tom, you definitely have a knack for writing a great critique. Very detailed and constructive. Thanks! :)"

Thank you, Chris. I'm glad it was constructive.


message 17: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 1030 comments Justin wrote: "Tom wrote: "Critique by Tom Olbert of -- "Irreconcilable Differences" by Justin

Justin delivers a sad and gentle look at the apocalypse viewed simultaneously from opposite viewpoints. Half the wor..."


Thank you, Justin. Yeah, I loved "Nightfall," too. Definitely one of my all-time favorite Asimov stories.


message 18: by Heather (last edited Feb 14, 2017 08:04PM) (new)

Heather MacGillivray | 581 comments Response to Tom Olbert's critique of my story, "On The Alchemy of Any Society, Or: Marriage By The Light Of A Planetary Moon."

Thanks Tom. "Spot on!" is really all I can say.

I would also like to echo others' remarks here too though, about how good you are at writing critiques. You are very perceptive.

And thanks also - as others too have already said - for holding the Critique Thread's fort!

(I'll get back into doing some critiques here next month. I'm done with participating in any future anthologies. The whole mind games and control thing I experienced ... and trying to figure out why I in particular was targeted is something I can't be bothered with, so I've begun to learn self-publishing ... and am redoubling my efforts towards publishing my stories, and only in graphic novel form.

It means that the benefits I am looking for now from being in this group are to grow as a writer solely through feedback in the Critique thread, and, to be part of a writerly community solely by giving critiques of others' stories and being motivated by that to improve my skills as a critiquer.)


message 19: by C. (last edited Feb 14, 2017 11:32AM) (new)

C. Lloyd Preville (clpreville) | 735 comments Critique of Microchip Mind by Thaddeus Howze

This was an interesting story. Stripped down like a motorcycle café racer, this story had nothing which wasn’t required for the performance of its task: contrasting human and artificial intelligence perspectives.

A cold, automated machinery cares for its hustle-bustle human clients. It doesn’t notice the passage of time in a relative way, since to a computerized intellect negotiating billionths of seconds, our time perspective is irrelevant.

There’s a tantalizing moment of developing self-awareness but then it’s lost. The machinery turns back to its tasks.

Later, the machine mind once again displays self-awareness, and considers communicating with man but there is little to say. It merely concludes that man will either stay out of the way or the parties will compete for resources, which would be bad for man. For over 60 years the machine has held the means for man’s total destruction, described as simply administering an infection.

A final conclusion as the machine contemplates continued cohabitation, observing it will eventually miss man--but not for long.

Wow. This was a cold, measured, pragmatic assessment of the evolution of artificial intelligence every bit as mechanistic as the AI itself. No point of view or character development is presented here, merely a treatise on our clearly doomed fate at some time in the future, a moment completely beyond our control.

I liked it. It gave me a chill like you get sucking an ice cube to get the last of the lively whiskey flavor off the surface of the colorless, tasteless, chilly little block of solid water.


message 20: by C. (last edited Feb 16, 2017 01:29PM) (new)

C. Lloyd Preville (clpreville) | 735 comments Critique of Inverted Reflections by Tom Olbert

Ah, the vagaries of experimental warp drive engines. You never know what you’re going to get. They sizzle, they fizzle, they whip reality right out from under you, and they whisk you to places where the unthinkable is standard fare.

This interesting little tale of parallel universes and alternate time lines reminds me a bit of a famous second-season Star Trek episode “Mirror, Mirror” where Captain Kirk and Evil Captain Kirk swap places due to a pesky little transporter malfunction. One universe features the Federation of Planets, a peaceful cooperative group of gentle scientific explorers, and then there was the really entertaining Evil Terran Empire with a logo consisting of Earth skewered by a Roman Gladius sword--fun stuff.

And fun stuff we have here, too. Frank Hutton pulls the trigger on an experimental warp drive engine and suddenly everything is different: there are aliens everywhere, Earth is populated rather than rendered sterile by use of an apparently user-unfriendly “Core Thruster” technology, and poor Frank is stunned and strapped to a table for analysis after he shoots the creepy alien first and doesn’t bother with any questions later.

Then, to really pile on the surprises, Tom tosses a surprise gay husband into the mix. Tada! "Surprise", Frank!

Meanwhile, on the other side of the universal warp hole whoopsie, reality rip, toroidal tear, or whatever the galactic boo-boo is called, alternate reality Francis Hutton wrestles with sitting next to his wife, who had been killed years previously in his alternate-universe reality. I bet his hubby wouldn't be too happy about that, but luckily, the old ball(s?) and chain ain't there to complain.

And then Tom really piles the literary kitchen sink on, sneaking in a clever political satirical joke by arranging a surprise Donald Trump guest appearance in the guise of Richard Collier, the “mega-corporate pig who’d led the unsuccessful worker’s revolt on Earth twenty years ago, who was now Autarch of something called the Lunar Empire.”

I liked this story. Tom lays it on thick, but in an entertaining way. From the opening scene with its vivid visuals, to the clever use of technical terminology, to subtle story realities such as descriptions of the ship’s drive effects, he builds a neatly assembled full-featured plot and a nice little tale.

I myself have experienced such a switch in realities. One time, I mixed some Canadian Club whiskey with a bit of left-over Seagram's VO and Seagram's 7, and when I dipped my swizzle stick into the volatile mix, I suddenly found myself in tipsy-land.


message 21: by Chris (new)

Chris Nance | 437 comments Justin, thanks for your critique. I appreciate your input and definitely found it helpful. I suppose my story does share a certain recurring theme. Anyways, thanks again! :)


message 22: by Justin (new)

Justin Sewall | 989 comments Chris wrote: "Justin, thanks for your critique. I appreciate your input and definitely found it helpful. I suppose my story does share a certain recurring theme. Anyways, thanks again! :)"

You're welcome Chris! The "recurring theme" was the only nit I could tug on. Overall a very good story!


message 23: by C. (last edited Feb 19, 2017 07:35AM) (new)

C. Lloyd Preville (clpreville) | 735 comments Critique of Cosmic Diplomacy And Organic Engines by John Appius Quill

Jack liked to hike the hills of his planet Siddamont. But today, a nearby research team requested his appearance to assess the remains of an unfamiliar crashed ship… within walking distance of his house, apparently.

There was a meeting going on in a tent, where a scientific guy and a spiritual guy were arguing about what to do about a large, disgusting blob of kidney-shaped flesh they found… unhurt in the massive crash, apparently.

They agree it’s alive and attempting to communicate. The disagreement is about whether it’s alive, or merely an organic based machine. The indicate it is part of the ship’s engine, representing very advanced organic machinery. A very cool idea!

It makes a disgusting sound, kind of like the singing of whales, but not so on-key. And then, it apparently passes gas, a fact to which the apparently arriving exobiology expert, Jack, cracks a joke.

Then the story is over. Sad face to the 3rd power... or sad guy with big double chin I suppose: : ( 3

I liked the idea of the debate on the scientific and spiritual implications of organic-based machinery. Is it alive, or is it Memorex? (A reference to a popular 1980’s ad for those younger than dirt unlike the C.)

And I liked the whole advanced organic-based technology idea. Who knows what the rest of the ship might have been like? Cigarette lighters that dance on your desktop like Lady Gaga did in the Superbowl?

And I liked the tactile feel of the story introduction, the alien environment and the raw sweaty experience of Jack’s run.

My two criticisms of this story are that there were a lot of unlikely events which made the story less believable and therefore less immersive, and it didn’t go anywhere.

A massive ship crashes within jogging distance of the planetary expert’s home? And a giant ship crashes and a large, gelatinous mass of flesh covered with pulsing blood vessels is merely inconvenienced rather than splattered like a water baloon dropped ten stories into a pile of broken glass?

And then we have the argument over the blob. The blob seems alive. The blob passes gas. Then it’s all over.

It’s like hefting a large CC and 7, only to find merely 7-up in the glass. What a disappointment.

Suggested ways to amp this story up a bit while staying within our ever present 750 word limit:

1. Shorten the intro, lose the wife, (she appears and then disappears having nothing to do with the story), and make some room for later. The jogging run stuff can be shortened and emotion heightened by the runner straining with the distance; perhaps he over estimated his stamina to make a large distance. Gradual injury and distress is much more dramatic than dripping sweat.

2. The Blob has got to do something besides lay there and pass gas. It’s got to move. It’s got to talk. It’s got to do SOMETHING. Even a twitch when Jack touches it would be better than a mere glowing reaction, and gives much more emotive power to the story.

3. What happens after the blob twitches? That’s the wrap up. A crude joke about odor is not a wrap up, it’s a crude joke. How about the blob disappears and reappears at its station and the amazingly advanced half buried but unhurt ship (killing two birds with one stone, explaining how the blob is unhurt), departs? With all parties aboard? Then who will be doing the kidding, joking, and prodding then? The blob’s angry mommy, that’s who!

I like where this story was headed. I want to hear more.


message 24: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 1030 comments Heather wrote: "Response to Tom Olbert's critique of my story, "On The Alchemy of Any Society, Or: Marriage By The Light Of A Planetary Moon."

Thanks Tom. "Spot on!" is really all I can say.

I would also like to..."


Thank you, Heather. I hope my critiques have been helpful. I'm sorry anthologies didn't work out for you. I've rather enjoyed working with anthology editors myself; I've found it's helped me refine my skill and perspective as a writer. But, to each his own. I'm sure your efforts at improvement in groups like this encourage all of us to strive for refinement of our technique.


message 25: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 1030 comments C. wrote: "Critique of Inverted Reflections by Tom Olbert

Ah, the vagaries of experimental warp drive engines. You never know what you’re going to get. They sizzle, they fizzle, they whip reality right out f..."


Thank you for that detailed and complimentary review, C. As always, no one can match your - ahem - colorful use of language, artful mastery of metaphor and encyclopedic knowledge of bartending. To your health.


message 26: by Tom (last edited Feb 17, 2017 09:28PM) (new)

Tom Olbert | 1030 comments Critique by Tom Olbert of "Cosmic Diplomacy And Organic Engines" by John Appius Quill

This tale starts out with a beautifully poetic description of a man taking his daily run on an alien planet where sunlight streams through prismatic crystalline mountains. The POV character's quiet reflection and exercise are interrupted by the discovery of an alien lifeform over which science and religion are having a fundamental disagreement.

The lifeform (which may or may not qualify as a "true" lifeform) is the only surviving component of bio-tech from a crashed alien ship. Science and religion argue over the philosophical and moral implications of bio technology, over whether to enslave life or respect it, but they can't even agree if the pulsing kidney-like alien organism is trying to communicate, or even if it's really alive, much less sentient. I immediately interpreted this as an allegorical representation of the abortion debate. Science is represented by a "portly" woman, religion by a thin man (Mr. and Mrs. Jack Sprat?)

I found the representation of scientific vs. spiritual viewpoints amusing, but I think it should have gone further, more deeply illustrating the intrinsically opposing views of life. The POV character, Jack seems more observer than mediator in all this. Jack comes across as a man's man with a "curvaceous" wife. His philosophical viewpoint is never revealed. He finishes off the largely uneventful tale with a dirty joke, ending the story with an anti-climax. Perhaps illustrating that fundamental questions really have no resolution and that life, however flawed, goes on.

Frankly, I found no need for Jack or his apparently ornamental spouse; both were pretty superfluous. I guess Jack was there to offer a neutral viewpoint on the clash of fundamentals, but I think time would have been better spent just letting science and religion have their debate, each revealing the evolution of his viewpoint and character.


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C. Lloyd Preville (clpreville) | 735 comments Tom wrote: "C. wrote: "Critique of Inverted Reflections by Tom Olbert

Thank you for that detailed and complimentary review, C.
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message 28: by Ink (last edited Feb 21, 2017 11:26PM) (new)

Ink 2 Quill (ink2quill) C. wrote: "Critique of Cosmic Diplomacy And Organic Engines by John Appius Quill

Jack liked to hike the hills of his planet Siddamont. But today, a nearby research team requested his appearance to assess the..."


Thanks for the constructive crtiticism. You made points I hadn´t thought of and I love that. It makes Writing a story exciting. Thanks for the detailed description too.

John


message 29: by Ink (new)

Ink 2 Quill (ink2quill) Tom wrote: "Critique by Tom Olbert of "Cosmic Diplomacy And Organic Engines" by John Appius Quill

This tale starts out with a beautifully poetic description of a man taking his daily run on an alien planet wh..."


Thanks for your critique Tom. I did have trouble deciding what aspect of the story to focus on and I think that you´re right about the character of Jack. Not that he or his wife were superfluous but that I failed to bring their relevance to light in sufficient detail. I probably should have focused more on the intended revelation of the story, which was the emergence of symboitic relationships between the human race and other intelligent creatures in the future. As opposed to the idea we see so often of intelligent beings using fancy tools and mastering their environment.

Thanks again Tom

John


message 30: by Ink (last edited Feb 22, 2017 01:49AM) (new)

Ink 2 Quill (ink2quill) Crititique by John Appius Quill of 2) Special Delivery By C. Lloyd Preville

I liked how you use the ridiculous idea of an aseptic war but I feel that you should have called your story "The Bakery". I´m guessing that the war is between China and the US too.

My criticism would have to be that we are left wanting on more details of the war in question and what led up to the new treaty that introduced aseptic warfare.

I also felt that aseptic warfare would offer the perfect example to expose warfare is the racket that it is. You didn´t exploit that enough.

Otherwise it´s a great story and I enjoyed it very much.

John


message 31: by Ink (last edited Feb 22, 2017 01:49AM) (new)

Ink 2 Quill (ink2quill) Crititique by John Appius Quill of 3) MICROCHIP MIND
by Thaddeus

I know this is a critique page but I have to start by saying that your story is brilliant. The way you describe the coming to sentience of machines is brilliant. This microstory alone is enough for a good book. I would have chosen the name of "The Machine" instead, or maybe even "The Spark".

One criticism that I do have is the lack of an emotional experience of the machine. You could have given us a scene describing an emotional state like love, anger, jealousy or anything. After all, we expect the machine to be smart and capable.

This is a fantastic story and I´ll be waiting for the book.

John


message 32: by Ink (new)

Ink 2 Quill (ink2quill) Crititique by John Appius Quill of 4) On The Alchemy of Any Society, Or: Marriage By The Light Of A Planetary Moon.
by Heather MacGillivray

I love the way you create the character dynamic. You´re very good at that and it works very well in your story.

Were you trying to say that the original Moon was replaced by a mechanical one? I didn´t quite get that but it´s a nice touch.

I think your story is also missing a face to face life and Death struggle.

But like I said I enjoyed it because your character dynamics fit so neatly together like the gears of a finely tuned clock.

Otherwise, it´s a good read.

John


message 33: by Ink (new)

Ink 2 Quill (ink2quill) Crititique by John Appius Quill of 5) INVERTED REFLECTIONS
By Tom Olbert

You wrote a very good story. Frank is kind of a crank but it works well in the story. Your descriptions are also very good. You really put us that world.

I wished you had focused your story more on the encounter between Frank and the Autarch. That´s where the action is.

Otherwise it´s a really good story. I liked it a lot.

John


message 34: by Ink (last edited Feb 22, 2017 02:12AM) (new)

Ink 2 Quill (ink2quill) Crititique by John Appius Quill of 6)Artificial Incident by Jot Russell

I really liked your story. Your stories are always good. It´s interesting how so many of the stories deal with sentience and freedom for non-coitus, created life.

I felt that there was not enough resistance by the officer/detective regarding the robot´s freedom. There wasn´t the hatred from the officer you´d expect when dealing with a recently freed being. The same type of beings (robots in this case) he is used to disrespecting and violating their civil rights. He should have argued a little more with the lawyer.

I liked the integrity of the journalist Henry. So maybe the press of the future finds its integrity and that is a good thing.

Like I said, my big problem was how the robot escaped that situation unscathed without a denting or loss of limbs. This is a very good story though.

John


message 35: by Ink (new)

Ink 2 Quill (ink2quill) Crititique by John Appius Quill of 7) No Peace Without Order by Chris

This is an interesting story with a great example of when warfare is justifiable. This is an original story but we don´t have enough action from the narrator. We need more personal background.

What if the two men knew each other from before? Or what if one of the men had been following the career of the other out of curiosity or envy? That would add an interesting dynamic to the characters.

John


message 36: by Ink (new)

Ink 2 Quill (ink2quill) Crititique by John Appius Quill of 9) Irreconcilable Differences by Justin

I loved the mythological quality of your story. The descriptions of Lux´s and Tenebris´s journey to meet each other amid a vanishing world is the stuff of the best mythology. And your quote is so perfect too.

I was hoping for more trials and tribulations for our two heroes. What about having Lux fan away the dark mist in an effort to gain more time? Or how about Tenebris fanning the sand so the particles would temporarily block out the light?

The only criticism I can think of is to give the heroes more action. Otherwise, it´s a nice love story.

John


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Justin Sewall | 989 comments John wrote: "Crititique by John Appius Quill of 9) Irreconcilable Differences by Justin

I loved the mythological quality of your story. The descriptions of Lux´s and Tenebris´s journey to meet each other amid..."


Thank you John, much appreciated!!


message 38: by Jot (new)

Jot Russell | 1143 comments Mod
Thanks John for the critique. I guess you're right that the officer could have been harsher on droid, but he is just an enforcer of the law and it was clear that no law was broken by the droid after the video was watched.


message 39: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 1030 comments John wrote: "Crititique by John Appius Quill of 5) INVERTED REFLECTIONS
By Tom Olbert

You wrote a very good story. Frank is kind of a crank but it works well in the story. Your descriptions are also very good...."


Thank you, John. My main goal was trying to present the opposite values of the two alternate realities through the eyes of the same man, his reality suddenly askew. Maybe I should have focused it more by playing on how much Frank admired the Autarch and how much his counterpart Francis hated him.


message 40: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 1030 comments Review by Tom Olbert of -- "Eggheads" by Greg

This one pulled me in with a good action-oriented hook and an interesting premise. Religious extremists out to kill scientists whom they believe are tampering with the natural order of things. What made it interesting was the idea of the terrorists using genetic tampering to turn themselves into living explosive devices.

Told from the POV of one of the security men charged with protecting the scientists, this one was a tense and sometimes darkly funny police procedural. More a technical exercise than an analysis of clashing ideologies, it was nonetheless a fun ride, for the most part. It got bogged down in details at one point, making the narrative hard to follow, then the action picked up again.

The terrorists come up with a clever twist on their tactic and the protagonist has to find a way to foil their plot. Whether or not he does is left unclear. The ending, while fast-moving and action-packed was murky in its climax, leaving the end in doubt. Overall, enjoyable, but at times rather flat and mechanical.


message 41: by Ink (new)

Ink 2 Quill (ink2quill) Critique by John Appius Quill of 11) Eggheads. by Greg

I liked the originality with the extremist organisation. The action was fun to imagine too. Your ending needed some work. It did not bang like the rest of the story.


message 42: by C. (last edited Feb 26, 2017 01:47PM) (new)

C. Lloyd Preville (clpreville) | 735 comments John wrote: "Crititique by John Appius Quill of 2) Special Delivery By C. Lloyd Preville

I liked how you use the ridiculous idea of an aseptic war but I feel that you should have called your story "The Bakery..."


Thank you, John, for your critique as well as your great ideas and suggestions. It's always helpful to get another perspective on things.

-C


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