Science Fiction Microstory Contest discussion

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APRIL 2018 MICROSTORY CONTEST - CRITIQUES ONLY

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message 1: by Jon (new)

Jon Ricson (jonricson1) | 61 comments The following rules are from Jot Russell, moderator for this contest:

To help polish our skills and present a flavour of our art to other members in the group, I am continuing this friendly contest for those who would like to participate. There is no money involved, but there is also no telling what a little recognition and respect might generate. The rules are simple:

1) The story needs to be your own work and should be posted on the goodreads (GR) Discussion board, which is a public group. You maintain responsibility and ownership of your work to do with as you please. You may withdraw your story at any time.

2) The stories must be 750 words or less.

3) The stories have to be science fiction, follow a specific theme and potentially include reference to items as requested by the prior month's contest winner.

4) You have until midnight EST on the 22nd day of the month to post your story to the GR Science Fiction Microstory Contest discussion. One story per author per month.

5) After, anyone from the LI Sci-Fi group or the GR Science Fiction Microstory Discussion group has until midnight EST of the 25th day of the month to send me a single private vote (via GR or to author.jotrussell@gmail.com) for a story other than their own. This vote will be made public once voting is closed. Voting is required. If you do not vote, your story will be disqualified from the contest. You don't need a qualifying story to cast a vote, but must offer the reason for your vote if you don’t have an entry.

6) To win, a story needs at least half of the votes, or be the only one left after excluding those with the fewest votes. Runoffs will be run each day until a winner is declared. Stories with vote totals that add up to at least half, discarding those with the fewest votes, will be carried forward to the next runoff election. Prior votes will be carried forward to support runoff stories. If you voted for a story that did not make it into the runoff, you need to vote again before midnight EST of that day. Only people who voted in the initial round may vote in the runoffs.

7) Please have all posts abide by the rules of GR and the LI Sci-Fi group.

8) For each month, there will be three discussion threads:
a) Stories - For the stories and the contest results only.
b) Comments - For discussions about the stories and contest. Constructive criticism is okay, but please avoid any spoilers about the stories or degrading comments directed towards any individuals. If you want to suggest a change to the contest, feel free to start a discussion about the idea before making a formal motion. If another member seconds a motion, a vote can be held. I will abstain from voting, but will require a strong two-thirds majority to override my veto.
c) Critiques - Each member can provide at most one critique per story, with a single rebuttal by the author to thank the critic and/or comment to offer the readers the mind set of the story to account for issues raised by the critique. Critiques should be of a professional and constructive manner. Feel free to describe elements that you do and don't like, as these help us gain a better perspective of our potential readers. Remarks deemed inflammatory or derogatory will be flagged and/or removed by the moderator.

9) The winner has THREE days after the start of the new month to make a copy of these rules and post a new contest thread using the theme/items of their choosing. Otherwise, I will post the new contest threads.

**********

Theme: Time Travel

Requires elements:

1) A Joke
2) Charity


message 2: by Chris (new)

Chris Nance | 437 comments Review of : King of the Universe by C.

The protagonist of the story, who is never given a name, is a computer programmer with a novel idea – create an artificial intelligence capable of adding more and more computing power to its own ‘brain.’ Increasing in intelligence, its ‘father’ then sets it to various clandestine tasks, including increasing his own wealth and solving the mystery of avoiding death. The AI’s solution to immortality includes transferring its creator’s consciousness into earlier versions of himself. But, there’s a catch. For each reincarnation, the universe contracts by half, ultimately leaving the man as a sole survivor of a doomed universe.

What I loved: I loved the concept of the story. I really think it was a new approach to immortality I’ve never seen before and it was applied effectively.

What I liked: I really liked the idea of the universe shrinking because of fewer uncontrolled events at each return. An interesting idea.

What I didn’t connect with: There were two things actually. I think the protagonist needs a name, of some sort, maybe in the family scene. Silly, I know, but I think it would allow the reader to connect with him on a more human level, rather than just a programmer with a scheme. I was also left wondering, if the AI could solve the problem of immortality, why didn’t the protagonist ask his creation about a solution to the shrinking universe? Then again, I suppose it may require more than 750 words to incorporate that element.

Final Impression: I really enjoyed this story and the approach to the immortality puzzle was definitely creative.


message 3: by Chris (new)

Chris Nance | 437 comments Review of: No Good Deed by Tom

Victor, a member of the royal family and the younger brother of Armand, is set about a task to secure a fortune. He need only complete a series trials of varying difficulty through history. Failing at the final task, he forfeits the wealth and is, instead, given the choice of one of two objects which may save a potential life - a dagger to prevent an assassination or a lump of coal to warm an innocent. Thinking himself clever, Victor chooses the coal and travels back to the beginning of the Earth, depositing the nugget and tracking it through time. Rediscovered as a diamond eons later, he becomes far wealthier than the fortune he’d sacrificed. But his brother has the final laugh, tricking Victor in to saving the life of one of the most evil men in history.

What I loved: I loved the twists in this story and thought the ending was particularly effective.

What I liked: I enjoyed the character of Victor and his relationship with his brother was very effective, kind of a Thor-Loki type relationship.

What I didn’t connect with: I thought the trials were a bit short, though I suppose it would be difficult to supplement those with the limited word count, without taking away from the rest of the story. Also, I was distracted by the word repetition in the beginning, particularly the word Neanderthal. Maybe there’s a substitution for that? Caveman, subhuman, savage, primitive…etc?

Final Impression: An effective short story with intelligent plot twists.


message 4: by Chris (new)

Chris Nance | 437 comments Review of: Bill’s Plight by Kalifer

Bill is the son of a deceased president with acknowledged flaws. Hoping to correct his father’s mistake and preserve his legacy, Bill hopes to travel back in time and correct past errors. But, inorder to do that, he must travel into the future for the energy he needs to go backwards. Sent ahead, he discovers the future is not what he expected, including his father’s legacy. The bigger problem is that he’s unable to return home, trapped in a future where he’s ultimately doomed. Defiance setting in, it’s revealed that the whole trip was a prank, Bill never having left the warehouse and his chief engineer creating an elaborate AI rouse to discourage the trip.

What I loved: I loved the ending of the story. I really didn’t see it coming.

What I liked: The future concept of the Great Ruler being an artificial intelligence network, a collection of absorbed minds built on a personal assistant infrastructure, was frightening and poignant. Incorporating Alexa and Siri made the story so much more relatable.

What I didn’t connect with: There were a couple of grammatical errors in the beginning that were a bit distracting:
The term ‘you know’ used twice the same sentence, second sentence in.
The second paragraph includes dialogue from two separate sources, his helmet and then Bill, in the same paragraph.

Final Impression: A thought provoking story with an ironic twist.


message 5: by Chris (new)

Chris Nance | 437 comments Review of: A Lesson Learned by Karl

A time traveler from the future visits our time and shares with us the secrets to ending human suffering. Ironically, there’s one concept she cannot understand - humor. Despite our protagonist’s attempt to explain the nature of a joke, humanity has lost enough of itself to forget comedy. So, she departs with the discovery of a Vaseline gag, which comes back to haunt humanity several weeks later.

What I loved: I loved that this story was so effective, yet well under the word limit.

What I liked: I enjoyed the irony of humanity’s attempt at self-improvement, resulting in taking some of their humanity away.

What I didn’t connect with: I suppose it’s a small detail but a lack of humor, for me, implies emotionlessness, apathy, or even unkindness. However, charity generally implies kindness, an emotion. Maybe include something that explains the charity offered involves preservation of the human species, a strictly logical decision?

Final Impression: A very succinct, effective story. I enjoyed it.


message 6: by Karl (new)

Karl Freitag | 69 comments Hi Chris. I never thought about the charity/kindness connection, either in the story or real life. I've always looked at charity as sort of an obligation we have to contribute to the greater good (not to mention a tax write-off). I visualized the future having the greater good being the prime motivation to give. Looks like I learned and grew as a person from my own story thanks to your great review.


message 7: by Chris (new)

Chris Nance | 437 comments Review of: Hack by Jot

Hack, an alien with little sense of humor, and his partner, a human, are law enforcement officers, defending the city from time-traveling thugs. When an incursion is detected, they jump away to apprehend their perpetrator but Hack is wounded in the process. Our protagonist, who remains unnamed, is left to rescue his partner and put down the mark on his own.

What I loved: The balance between the two main characters was very effective. Hack was a very convincing counterbalance to his more relaxed, and less serious partner.

What I liked: I really enjoyed the effective description of the action in this story. I also thought the jokes were incorporated into the story successfully.

What I didn’t connect with: It felt like there were some elements missing from the story and I was left with some unanswered questions:
1. What is FTP and what is their role? In other words, what is their jurisdiction and responsibility?
2. Is the story taking place in present time?
3. What is the invader and what are they protecting the earth from?
There are a few typos here and there that a thorough proof-read would address.

Final Impression: Hack is an entertaining action story with fun, likeable characters.


message 8: by Chris (new)

Chris Nance | 437 comments Review of: Five Days in L.A. by W.A.

Los Angeles is doomed, sure to be destroyed by an imminent asteroid in a matter of moments. Play It Again Tours has capitalized on the tragedy by offering five-day tours of the last moments in L.A. Tourists from the future, each traveler is provided with a sum of money to distribute to a lucky recipient in the past. Minutes before the impact however, their tour-guide, Marko, guides their customers back onto the bus and they return to their own reality, a mere second before the cataclsym.

What I loved: I really enjoyed how effectively the scene was describe. I was really able to see the patrons of the bar and its environment. I also thought the concept of the story was very original.

What I liked: I really thought the character, Craig Walker, was a convincing one. He was definitely well developed and relatable. Your story is also nicely written and an easy read.

What I didn’t connect with: I thought the story was just a little fractured, almost told indirectly from two competing perspectives, Marko and Craig Walker’s. While Craig’s character was fairly engaging, Marko’s was a bit flat and I think the story might be more effectively told with from a more focused perspective, probably Craig’s.

Final Impression: This is a nicely written, though tragic tale, with likeable characters against a well-developed scene.


message 9: by Chris (new)

Chris Nance | 437 comments Review of: “Surprise” by Jon

In the back of a dusty second-hand shop, a young man discovers a forgotten book. Missing several pages, he discovers it to be a first edition about the composer Joseph Haydn. Shuffling though the pages, some of them missing, an envelope falls away, which turns out to be the program for a centuries old performance. Showing the old leaflet to an aged professor of his, the man takes the student back in time to the very same performance described in the envelope – the “Surprise Symphony”- and discovers the roots of the “surprise.”

What I loved: I loved the historical elements woven into the story. It was a nice touch.

What I liked: I really like the scene with the discovery process, the old thrift-store and its forgotten treasures.

What I didn’t connect with: I was a little confused about the relevance of the old man and then the introduction of the old professor, wondering if they were actually the same person. It was a bit confusing on the first read through. Perhaps if the characters were named or given more physical attributes, it would make the differentiation clearer. I was also a little distracted by the time travel element, which seemed a little too brushed off, a bit too casual for this type of story.

Final Impression: This is pleasantly written story, incorporating historical elements to weave an interesting tale.


message 10: by Chris (new)

Chris Nance | 437 comments Review of: Circle by Marianne

The front porch on a cold autumn day, our protagonist sits in the morning sun and watches the passersby. She engages a man named John, walking his dog as usually before continuing on his way. Then, struck by a migraine, she flees though her house into the back yard, stopping at an old cherry tree, before succumbing to hallucination or dream. Waking suddenly at the foot of the tree, she brushes the leaves away, heats a new cup of coffee, and returns to her porch. But things have changed. John is now her husband and joins her on the porch.

What I loved: The writing for this story is impeccable, very well written.

What I liked: I enjoyed your description of what your protagonist was feeling, sitting on the porch…the wind, the headache. My favorite sentence was: ‘Winter whispered of death, making me shiver.’ Excellent.

What I didn’t connect with: The writing in this story is so finely done, complex even, and my little brain was not up to it, first read. The style is tightly woven and intricate, a definite plus. So, I don’t think it was necessarily any problem with the story, but my feeble Hun-like brain’s ability to wrap itself around the tale on my first go-round. ;)

Final Impression: This is an excellently written story with a subtle twist. Very nicely written, Marianne!


message 11: by Jot (new)

Jot Russell | 1148 comments Mod
Thanks Chris for mine and the other reviews. I think it adds so much value in helping writers to understand how their work is perceived.

As for your questions, FTP stands for Federal Time Police, but I guess it could have helped to provide the full version of the title. Since I describe the remains of the old Freedom Tower (replacement to the WTC), I was hoping to convey that the story was based at least a 100 years in the future. Didn't have enough to words left to get into the politics of the raiding alien, but sometimes things unsaid can cause the reader to believe the worst.


message 12: by Jon (new)

Jon Ricson (jonricson1) | 61 comments Chris wrote: "Review of: “Surprise” by Jon

In the back of a dusty second-hand shop, a young man discovers a forgotten book. Missing several pages, he discovers it to be a first edition about the composer Joseph..."


Thanks Chris. Yeah, my “Musicologist” stories are light on tech, and more about story (at least I hope, I’ve only written a few shorts on it.) The Musicologist is kind of a Dr. Who of Music History, and there’s no way to tell that in 750 words. He has “surprised” a few students and grad assistants throughout the centuries.

It’s certainly a much larger tale and broader world. I thought the old man sleeping was delineated from the professor, but you know how it is. In my mind...


message 13: by Kalifer (new)

Kalifer Deil | 301 comments Chris wrote: "Review of: Bill’s Plight by Kalifer

Bill is the son of a deceased president with acknowledged flaws. Hoping to correct his father’s mistake and preserve his legacy, Bill hopes to travel back in ti..."


Thanks for the review. Fixed the errors. I always have the feeling that English is my second language. I don't have a first.


message 14: by Marianne (new)

Marianne (mariannegpetrino) | 352 comments Thanks for the comments, Chris. Time travel themes open my brain to odd thoughts. This idea, such as it was, began after watching a recent episode of The Big Bang Theory. Time as having multiple dimensions, as does space, led me down the rabbit hole of thinking about multiple circular time. Time in a single never ending circle might be limited but changeable along points on that circle, infinite changes of a fixed set. I played with this idea in my November 2016 Microstory "Bubble". That story looked at Space/Time as a giant bubble, so only one dimension of time we could slip slid across. For this new story, I saw Time as interconnected circles or as a cylinder which might be traversed in the right form. If the Universe and Space/Time exists only because we, as infinite energy, decide to observe it, we might only be aware of our observations in the current circle of Time we have chosen to observe by filtering our energy in material form. Like the transition state required for a chemical reaction, the process of death, gives our liberated energy the freedom to condense into any layer of a time cylinder or connected circles we choose to observe. We get released from here and get attached there in a new circle at any point on that new circle. Until our energy settles into matter, our old matter thoughts might exist for a few minutes until our new reference frame kicks in. Infinite Akashic Records on Infinite Record Players. One of my other microstories looked at the notion of time as a flip book, another linear interpretation. Does that help any? Like I said, Time does strange things to my brain. :)


message 15: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 1032 comments Chris wrote: "Review of: No Good Deed by Tom

Victor, a member of the royal family and the younger brother of Armand, is set about a task to secure a fortune. He need only complete a series trials of varying dif..."


Thank you, Chris, for all your painstaking, eloquent and systematic reviews. I agree with Jot; It does help to see how readers react, emotionally. The group owes you a debt.

Yeah, I was concerned about the word repetition as well. I just didn't know how else to describe the ice age hunters. And, I didn't want to use words like 'savage' or 'sub-human.' Kind of nasty, I thought.


message 16: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 1032 comments Critique by Justin of -- "A Comfortable Extinction" by Justin

A very enjoyable and unusual domestic trek through the wilds of time.

A husband and wife are the last "temporally fixed" humans in a future in which all their contemporaries have chosen to flee into the past via time gates. They've apparently lived for centuries due to advanced medicine (I found this point a bit vague) and have all the luxuries and conveniences futuristic technology can provide.

The story opens with an ominous moment at the breakfast table when the wife presents a small box and announces she's fed up with bothersome pests from the past; medieval warriors and dinosaurs always ruining her day. The husband tries to quell her dissatisfaction, without success. At first, it sounds almost like an impending suicide. As it turns out, as the world is about to end in a flaring sun gone nova, the couple finally joins the majority and escape together into the past. From all possible moments throughout time, they choose the moment they met, in a science lab when he saves her from a dinosaur.

The story was almost all tell and little show (though the scene at the breakfast table had excellent atmosphere and imagery.) And, a few of the technical points regarding how and why time aberrations from the past kept popping up were vague (maybe I missed something.) Yet somehow, none of that mattered. It was both funny and dramatic and held my attention unwaveringly. My favorite scene was when they stood together at the time gate and in a dramatic moment turned their keys simultaneously. The time shift was very well described.

Overall, excellent concept and a well-executed story.


message 17: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 1032 comments Critique by Tom Olbert of -- "Fortune" by Chris

A very amusing tale of a lucky but naïve man named Dan and his bizarre odyssey through a Chinese restaurant where he believes he's getting messages from his future self through fortune cookies.

After initial skepticism causes him to miss two gigantic business opportunities, Dan starts following the fortunes religiously (even to the point of saving them in his wallet) and achieves enormous success and wealth by investing in electric cars. He contributes generously to charity and practically lives his life in the Chinese restaurant. In a delightful closing twist, we discover the restaurant owner's son has been slipping fake fortunes to Dan, who remains in blissful ignorance.

A very enjoyable story, overall. The domestic bickering between the restaurateur and his wife gave it texture and humor. I would have liked a bit more fleshing out of Dan, though. His back-story, his motivation. His part of the story, while amusing was somewhat shallow. I wanted to know more about what made him tick, how he felt about his luck and his life, and what motivated him towards charity.

Overall, an enjoyable comedy.


message 18: by C. (last edited Apr 21, 2018 11:04AM) (new)

C. Lloyd Preville (clpreville) | 736 comments Chris wrote: "Review of : King of the Universe by C.

The protagonist of the story, who is never given a name, is a computer programmer with a novel idea – create an artificial intelligence capable of adding mor..."


Hi Chris,

Thank you for your comprehensive review, and all the hard work you put into thoughtfully reviewing all the stories this month. I'm afraid I've been MIA for reviews the last couple of cycles due to being really busy launching a new video production business.

I appreciated all your input and compliments. As we all well know, that 750 word limit comes up as fast as an onrushing truck on the interstate. And the challenge is not just staying within the word limit, but also balancing the story beginning, middle, and ending. Since this was a hard science fiction tale, there were lots of set-aside lower priorities including more character development as you observed, and the wonderful but missed opportunity of the back story pertaining to the death and resurrection of the protagonist's brother.

Thanks for stepping up! Your critiques are valuable contributions indeed.

-C


message 19: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 1032 comments Critique by Tom Olbert of -- "Hack" by Jot Russell

An entertaining, action-oriented tale of two futuristic "time cop" types, one a human, the other an alien, whose job it is to investigate and control temporal incursions. A fun shoot-on-the run romp in the tradition of "Men in Black" and "Alien Nation."

Comedy relief comes in the familiar guise of a grizzled human street cop trying to relate to an alien partner who just doesn't get his working class Teran humor. The action moves along at a fast pace as a call comes in of an apparent "fracture" (apparently an unauthorized visitor from the future.) The action was very entertaining, like an action movie or tv series, our two heroes chasing the time jumping perp from place to place, time jumping through the ruins of an ancient futuristic city. Comedy relief appears again as they inadvertently time shift into a woman's bedroom, and she immediately falls for the title character, Hack, the alien guy, much to the jealous dismay of his partner.

Suspense builds as Hack is wounded and his partner risks his life shooting it out with the bad guy, finally discovering him to be an alien invader, and shooting him dead.

The plotting and humor were perfect. My only complaint was lack of detail. I couldn't really 'see' what was going on. I didn't know what Hack looked like. The ruins of the "Old Freedom Tower" helped build futuristic atmosphere a little, but not enough to adequately envision the world I was in. Description of the alien invader, the Polarian soldier, would have helped too, I think. Also, I felt the tech jargon should have been clearer. I wasn't altogether sure what "jumping" or "fracturing" meant. The "segment" and "line of sight" references were also a bit unclear. Maybe fewer scene breaks and more description of how a time jump actually works would have made the set-up more clear and more vivid. (It helped when the hero time-jumped Hack to safety, but it came a bit late.)

Overall, I give it a thumbs up.


message 20: by Justin (new)

Justin Sewall | 990 comments Tom wrote: "Critique by Justin of -- "A Comfortable Extinction" by Justin

A very enjoyable and unusual domestic trek through the wilds of time.

A husband and wife are the last "temporally fixed" humans in a ..."


Thank you very much Tom for taking the time to review my story. I've been remiss in being able to critique others, so your work on mine, and everyone else's stories is greatly appreciated!

Chris, great reviews of the other stories as well.

Good feedback from you both for the rest of us.


message 21: by W. A. (new)

W. A.  Fix (wafix) | 13 comments Chris wrote: "Review of: Five Days in L.A. by W.A.

Los Angeles is doomed, sure to be destroyed by an imminent asteroid in a matter of moments. Play It Again Tours has capitalized on the tragedy by offering five..."


Thanks Chris for the well thought out review. I think most of your impressions are spot on and designed to help develop the craft. FYI, the original version (850 words) had Marko far more
flamboyant and interesting. Ahh, but for another 100 words. But we all know I would be saying that if the limit were 1000 words.

Thanks again and good job on the others as well.


message 22: by Chris (new)

Chris Nance | 437 comments W. A. wrote: "Chris wrote: "Review of: Five Days in L.A. by W.A.

Los Angeles is doomed, sure to be destroyed by an imminent asteroid in a matter of moments. Play It Again Tours has capitalized on the tragedy by..."


Seriously, that 750 word limit is the biggest challenge, by far. But that's what makes this contest so interesting!


message 23: by Justin (new)

Justin Sewall | 990 comments It has certainly helped with my business writing at Boeing. Cut, cut, cut, and cut.


message 24: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 1032 comments Chris wrote: "W. A. wrote: "Chris wrote: "Review of: Five Days in L.A. by W.A.

Los Angeles is doomed, sure to be destroyed by an imminent asteroid in a matter of moments. Play It Again Tours has capitalized on ..."


And, so rewarding, I'd say. Iit's helped me develop a stronger instinct for "trimming the fat" when I write.


message 25: by Jot (new)

Jot Russell | 1148 comments Mod
Thanks Tom for the thumbs up. As Chris says, the 750 word limit is a challenge, causing plot, detail, characters and theme to fight each other for words.


message 26: by Karl (new)

Karl Freitag | 69 comments I never had a problem with the 750 or even when it was 600 words. I'm trying to write a 10,000-worder right now. For me that's a novel.


message 27: by C. (last edited Apr 25, 2018 01:44PM) (new)

C. Lloyd Preville (clpreville) | 736 comments The 750 word limit puts our beloved little contest into it's own class of art-form. It's like comparing Haiku to poetry, drag racing to formula one car racing, or badmittan to tennis. . .
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aFGLX...

Or tequila shots to wine tasting. Lol

-C


message 28: by Justin (new)

Justin Sewall | 990 comments THIS CALLS FOR TEQUILA!

The finest tequila!

Astral.

Tequila.

(watch the ads on Youtube...)


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