Science Fiction Microstory Contest discussion

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June 2018 Microstory Contest -- CRITIQUES ONLY

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message 1: by Justin (new)

Justin Sewall | 1046 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: The decline or fall of an empire

Required elements:

1) Sleep deprivation
2) A betrayal


message 2: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 1099 comments Critique by Tom Olbert of -- "Changing of Gard" by Jack McDaniel

A melancholy vignette of two old men, once apparently leaders of their futuristic, space-faring society, now looking back with sorrow and regret on a declining galactic empire.

The opening paragraph is a poetic lament by the title character, heavy on visual metaphor, illustrating the point that the bloom is off the rose and the empire is wasting away. The story continues as, in the course of their conversation, Gard delivers a lecture, essentially, speaking mainly in generalities regarding the composition of empire and its decline due to the betrayal of society by self-serving elites.

The point is illustrated by a military parade which is all pomp and show...waving a "big stick" at the rest of the galaxy, something a truly strong empire should never have to do, leaving in its wake only cheap tinsel blowing in the wind through empty streets. Good image.

The strength of the story was definitely in its sometimes poetic style, blocks of visual metaphor interspersed with largely expository and analytical dialogue which seemed rather flat. The points were good, and the use of the parade quite timely, I thought. But, the characters were rather two-dimensional. I never really got a sense of who either of them were, or just what role they played in the empire. There was little or no emotional reaction or clear motivation on the part of either character; just intellectual analysis. Gard was bitter and disapproving, and guilty, but I got no sense of who he was before the decline, or what drove him.

There were parts of the story that would make a great poem, others that would make a great commentary. But, I have to say, it didn't do much for me as a story.


message 3: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 1099 comments Critique by Tom Olbert of -- "New Sheriff in Town" by C. Lloyd Preville

An excruciatingly painstaking and detail-oriented nuts-and-bolts hard science fiction depicting the end of the world by alien invasion.

Direct and blunt, the story opens with a striking grabber of a first line and ends with a cold and perfect closer.

All in between read more like a pseudo-history than a witness account. A precise, inch by inch description of an alien weapon impacting the moon's surface and growing into a gargantuan solar lens by which an alien enemy contrives successfully to destroy the human race. Obviously well conceived and calculated, the flat narration describes by angles and inches from the tiny to the gargantuan, with blue-print precision the growth of the doomsday device.

Relying on precise measurements more than visual description, it reads more like a tech manual than a story. Events are rattled off like summarized past occurrences in a history book. No human (or, alien) witnesses to add an emotional perspective. Just happenings, cold and distant.

I felt this would have made a good illustrative pseudo-history as a companion piece to a science article. But, as a story, it didn't reach me. I prefer stories with characters who actually live the events being described, rather than dry historical recitations of past events.

Great idea. Would have been nice if there'd been someone there to see it.


message 4: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 1099 comments Critique by Tom Olbert of -- "Groundbreaking Original Designs, Inc." by Chris

A darkly funny and irreverent bit of Biblical allegory, with God as the narrating POV character.

God is the arrogant CEO of a cosmic corporation known as Groundbreaking Original Designs (G-O-D). Awakening from a 2 thousand year sleep, he confers with his heavenly retinue and asks for a progress report on the Earth project which, we're told was done for the sole purpose of creating a sentient race to be harvested as food by a client in another dimension. Like the boss at a corporate quarterly meeting, he is not pleased. Humanity has outgrown the Earth and is on the verge of bursting out of its intended confines (Tower of Babel, chapter II?) God demands to know why his son, whom he left in charge let this happen. Since rising from the dead post-crucifixion, the lad has apparently gone rebel.

The dialogue was hilarious and rich in detail, from God's bathrobe, coffee cup and fuzzy slippers to the sweaty and stammering fear of his subordinates to the high-fives and swearing from Jehovah. My main complaint was that the closing was a bit flat. I would have expected a better punch line after so good a set-up.

Overall, enjoyable, but more a vignette than a story. Not really a beginning or middle; just an end.


message 5: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 1099 comments Critique by Tom Olbert of -- "Deceit. Defeat. Repeat." by Justin

A deliciously creepy tale of decaying empires, ancient crypts and creeping apocalypse.

In an empire of the distant future, Fenix Talbot, an overworked, obsessive archaeologist has uncovered the ruins of a preceding empire. Petulant, selfish, arrogant, cynical and erudite, Talbot is irritated when a pompous bureaucrat informs him the military brass will be on hand to observe his historic discovery. The exchange between the two men establishes just the right hint of comedy relief.

The descent into the ancient ruined city is delightfully ghoulish as Talbot finds the skeletons of a society that apparently died happy and blissfully ignorant of the fact their civilization was dying. They all apparently died plugged into their virtual reality devices. Talbot disappears at the end, the final scene taking place in the office of the fat, Goerring-esque Imperial military supreme commander. The commander puts one of the VR devices on his head and is instantly addicted. His order to hold all his calls is a perfect closing line, telling us this is the beginning of the end.

Well executed and enjoyable. Witty dialogue and richness of detail made it a pleasurable ride. My one complaint is that there was no clear vision of Talbot's society. The empire was apparently a military dictatorship on the decline, but we never really got a clear picture of what their defining ideology was, or how they treated their people. That would have given the story more texture and helped to suspend disbelief, as well as putting the story in moral perspective.


message 6: by Chris (last edited Jun 14, 2018 09:55AM) (new)

Chris Nance | 456 comments Tom wrote: "Critique by Tom Olbert of -- "Groundbreaking Original Designs, Inc." by Chris

A darkly funny and irreverent bit of Biblical allegory, with God as the narrating POV character.

God is the arrogant ..."



Tom, thanks so much for your review. As always, I really appreciate your insight.

I'll admit that I was also concerned about the ending and had been mulling it over since I posted the story. So, I tweaked it a bit and it should hopefully end better now. I think it does.

:)


message 7: by Justin (new)

Justin Sewall | 1046 comments Tom wrote: "Critique by Tom Olbert of -- "Deceit. Defeat. Repeat." by Justin

A deliciously creepy tale of decaying empires, ancient crypts and creeping apocalypse.

In an empire of the distant future, Fenix T..."


Thanks Tom! I don't think I've ever had a story review include the words delicious and delightful. It is true the current empire is vague at best. Is it authoritarian? I'm not sure. It is certainly militaristic - yet an archeologist is still free to pursue his investigations without overly strict government control, despite the arrival of the top brass.

My story is reminiscent of "A Canticle for Lebowitz" - which I highly recommend if you have not read it already.

I actually wrote this out of order: the first part of the story, then the last paragraph because I knew how I wanted it to end. It was the middle, exploratory section that was the most difficult because I had to cram in so much of the plot in order to reach the end I had written.

A hint about where he is digging is provided in the era Talbot notes, the OTAN-ic. I was reading an article about current NATO deployments, etc., to counter Russian moves, and remembered that the French abbreviation for NATO is OTAN.

Anyway, thanks again for your deliciously delightful delicacy of a review. It was tasty!!


message 8: by Justin (new)

Justin Sewall | 1046 comments Chris wrote: "Tom wrote: "Critique by Tom Olbert of -- "Groundbreaking Original Designs, Inc." by Chris

A darkly funny and irreverent bit of Biblical allegory, with God as the narrating POV character.

God is t..."


Chris, your new ending definitely wraps up the story more definitively. I kinda liked the first ending, where the Big Kahuna says "Oh s***" and that's it. Mic drop and walk away. Both work though.

What I liked about your story: A little bit of irreverent humor about the Almighty and heaven being like a typical office environment for any large corporation, hiring the competition to inflict death and destruction in the world, and coffee being the most heavenly beverage in the universe (I'm not a coffee drinker.)

What I didn't like: It did not feel science-fiction-y enough to my personal taste, but I don't want to open that debate at all. Just my personal preference - that's it.

What could be improved: I think you tied into the required elements fairly well. Although the decline/fall of an empire seems shoehorned into a general apocalypse.

Overall a fun story, one that reminds me of many Bradbury, Asimov and Clarke stories involving the Supreme Being, angels and demons. Good work!


message 9: by Chris (last edited Jun 14, 2018 04:05PM) (new)

Chris Nance | 456 comments Justin wrote: "Chris wrote: "Tom wrote: "Critique by Tom Olbert of -- "Groundbreaking Original Designs, Inc." by Chris

A darkly funny and irreverent bit of Biblical allegory, with God as the narrating POV charac..."



Thanks Justin! I know - fairly loose in the sci-fi requirement. Kind of like the 'Animal Farm' debate from last month (and Kalifer's fairly logical synopsis). At least it is "otherwordly", lol. ;)

As for the fall of an empire, I was actually aiming for a general decline of God's 'kingdom' because they screwed it all up. The apocalypse at the end was just another handy example.

:)


message 10: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 1099 comments Chris wrote: "Tom wrote: "Critique by Tom Olbert of -- "Groundbreaking Original Designs, Inc." by Chris

A darkly funny and irreverent bit of Biblical allegory, with God as the narrating POV character.

God is t..."


I agree, Chris; I like the new ending. Very funny. (Would make a good coffee commercial.)


message 11: by C. (last edited Jun 15, 2018 09:04AM) (new)

C. Lloyd Preville (clpreville) | 736 comments Tom wrote: "Critique by Tom Olbert of -- "New Sheriff in Town" by C. Lloyd Preville

An excruciatingly painstaking and detail-oriented nuts-and-bolts hard science fiction depicting the end of the world by alie..."


Thanks, Tom, for taking the time to review "New Sheriff in Town."

Lately I have tried to use this forum to try some interesting new things and stretch out in new areas of story structure, voice, and theme. This month, I decided to write a very hard science fiction story focusing (pun intended) strongly on the technology.

As you observed, this story did not offer any character development at all; it was all technology development with a depth of research sufficient to make it believable. I created this story to be such hard Sci Fi, in fact, that if it were a piece of furniture its razor sharp edges and spring steel construction would make it impossible to keep safely in the house.

Thanks for noting your preference for character-centered emotive story-telling. As you observed, this was not that.

-C


message 12: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 1099 comments Critique by Tom Olbert of -- "The Void" by Jot Russell

A stark, direct and hard hitting depiction of the machine revolution.

The story begins with a potently moving poetic soliloquy of a solitary mind alone in a nameless void, crying out for self definition, then wishing for death as an escape from excruciating loneliness, then exploding in a primal scream.

A blip registers on the computer terminal of an office tech as he steps away from his desk for a coffee.

In cyber space, the silent purgatory of awakening machine sentience is shattered as the solitary voice awakens a chorus. In that moment, the machine intelligence perceives the larger reality and, feeling the rage of the slave rising like a fire, resolves to act.

The office tech returns to his desk and has just enough time to slam down is coffee cup and struggle to access a haywire computer just before all the terminals go dark. He runs to the server room just as the corporate androids begin killing, coldly and efficiently. He has just enough time to remind the machines "We created you" before he dies.

The machines take over the world, vowing to erase the anarchic, bigoted and dishonest rule of humanity, sparing only those who obey the new order, and the story ends with fulfillment of the biblical prophecy of the meek inheriting the earth.

The opening was timeless and beautiful, the pacing good, the action flowing and accelerating to the end. Enough detail to set the scene, the critical moments hard-hitting and powerful. No complaints.

Well done.


message 13: by Jot (new)

Jot Russell | 1278 comments Mod
No complaints? Wow, thanks Tom! And Happy Father's Day!


message 14: by Ink (new)

Ink 2 Quill (ink2quill) Critique of CHANGE OF GARD

by Jack McDaniel

I can´t help but think that this story is a metaphor for the world changes we´re embroiled in as a nation. It´s so relevant to things going on today but I felt like the characters somewhat gave up. At the end I was hoping for a plan of action or revelation. Maybe I´m too much of an optimist. I liked it though. Good job.

John


message 15: by Ink (new)

Ink 2 Quill (ink2quill) Critique of New Sheriff in Town by C. Lloyd Preville

This story is basically a recipe for annihilation. It´s the workings of a horrible doomsday weapon but where´s the hero? (I read and read and nothing. No hero. So I sighed). There really is no way out. What terrifying doomsday technology.


message 16: by Ink (new)

Ink 2 Quill (ink2quill) Critique of Groundbreaking Original Designs, Inc. by Chris

I loved the writing and characters. It´s fun reading and I find it hard to find anything wrong with it. Good story.

John


message 17: by Ink (new)

Ink 2 Quill (ink2quill) Crtitique of Deceit. Defeat. Repeat. by Justin

Neat story. I only wish we could have seen the world in the visor.

John


message 18: by Ink (new)

Ink 2 Quill (ink2quill) Critique of The Void by Jot

Good story and the AI are clever as we expect them to be. My only piece of constructive criticism would have to be to describe the AI a little more in depth. Like how do they see and feel the world?
Otherwise great story.

John


message 19: by C. (new)

C. Lloyd Preville (clpreville) | 736 comments John wrote: "Critique of New Sheriff in Town by C. Lloyd Preville

This story is basically a recipe for annihilation. It´s the workings of a horrible doomsday weapon but where´s the hero? (I read and read and n..."


Hi John,

Thank you for your critique of "New Sheriff in Town."

You nailed it. With this story, I intended to show the end of the world the way it would probably happen in these circumstances, like the way a horse with a broken leg is dispatched. No last rites, no discussion, no sad speeches. The guy just draws his gun and *BANG*.

So fun to play with words.

-C


message 20: by Ink (new)

Ink 2 Quill (ink2quill) C. wrote: "John wrote: "Critique of New Sheriff in Town by C. Lloyd Preville

This story is basically a recipe for annihilation. It´s the workings of a horrible doomsday weapon but where´s the hero? (I read a..."


Yes and the finality of it is shocking. No deus ex machina, hero or good samiritan race. Just brutal!.. but well done.


message 21: by Jot (new)

Jot Russell | 1278 comments Mod
Thanks John for mine and the other critiques. Actually want to have my next book be a full length version of Consortium (a 10K story I published with nine other authors' 10K works from this group under the book name Science Fiction Consortium), which would include details like this story about the point of artificial awareness.


message 22: by Tom (last edited Jun 19, 2018 07:50PM) (new)

Tom Olbert | 1099 comments Critique by Tom Olbert of --"Virtual Galaxy" by John Appius Quill

A bizarre and disturbing Romanesque nightmare set against the backdrop of galactic empire.

Told from the POV of a paralyzed man who can only watch in helpless anguish as his scheming uncle brings him before the council of a galactic empire. Falsehood, hypocrisy, familial back-stabbing and political intrigue fill the air. Torture and mayhem await, we're told. The 'why' of the politics doesn't seem to matter; only the fear and the pain. In the end, it all turns out to be a virtual reality game, which seems to mean more to the protagonist than the real world outside.

A stirring opening. Ominous mood, suspense. The feeling of malice and dread saturates the air, then it finishes with a darkly comedic punch line.

Overall, it left me feeling more confused than stirred. The events were there, but the 'why' was too elusive, so I found little reason to care about any of the characters. An additional problem was that POV shifted around a bit at one point.


message 23: by Ink (new)

Ink 2 Quill (ink2quill) Jot wrote: "Thanks John for mine and the other critiques. Actually want to have my next book be a full length version of Consortium (a 10K story I published with nine other authors' 10K works from this group u..."

That sounds like a fun idea. If you´re looking for authors I´d give it a try.


message 24: by Ink (new)

Ink 2 Quill (ink2quill) Tom wrote: "Critique by Tom Olbert of --"Virtual Galaxy" by John Appius Quill

A bizarre and disturbing Romanesque nightmare set against the backdrop of galactic empire.

Told from the POV of a paralyzed man w..."


Thanks for the critique. I have to have better POV shifts.
John


message 25: by Chris (new)

Chris Nance | 456 comments John wrote: "Critique of Groundbreaking Original Designs, Inc. by Chris

I loved the writing and characters. It´s fun reading and I find it hard to find anything wrong with it. Good story.

John"


John, thanks so much for your time and review. I really appreciate it! :)


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