Science Fiction Microstory Contest discussion

July 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 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 family road trip

Required elements:

1) An unexpected detour
2) A mechanical failure
3) "Are we there yet?"

message 2: by Paula (new)

Paula | 955 comments Hey Tom, that story is sweet! Really well done, and actually invlving, and--in the jump back near the end--and in fact in most the story--you do in 750 words what S King used a whole book to do in 11-22-63. But you know this, right?
I think I'd have liked a little more sense of how the neutrino-black-hold-time-ripple process worked--or rather, some articulation that would give it a bit more substantial a sense. But this is a minor quibble. A terrific, professional-level story.

message 3: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 1099 comments Paula wrote: "Hey Tom, that story is sweet! Really well done, and actually invlving, and--in the jump back near the end--and in fact in most the story--you do in 750 words what S King used a whole book to do in ..."

Thank you, very much, Paula for that very flattering review. King? Really? Wow. Nobody's ever said my name in the same sentence with his, before. (I was more inspired by R Serling, really.)

I didn't give much emphasis to the mechanics of the time ripple, (partly due to limited space) but mainly since it was only a means to an end. (It could have been anything; aliens, a government experiment. Anything at all.) I was just trying to make the point that each moment shapes a life, and each life, though a drop in the ocean has its effect.

I'm very glad you took the time to review, and I hope to read your fiction again.

message 4: by C. (new)

C. Lloyd Preville (clpreville) | 736 comments Tom,

Great story this month! You really pulled all if it together in 750 words! My only suggestion is the ending could be a bit harder hitting, for example, spend a paragraph at the end showing him later in the office of his brother, perhaps with a shaking hand, asking about the job offer rather than just asking his wife to set up the meet.


message 5: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 1099 comments C. wrote: "Tom,

Great story this month! You really pulled all if it together in 750 words! My only suggestion is the ending could be a bit harder hitting, for example, spend a paragraph at the end showing hi..."

Thank you for the compliment, C. Maybe that would have been more direct. Always better to show than tell. But, I don't think it would have made the best use of limited space. I thought the statement of intent, while limited, made the point without sacrificing action.

message 6: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 1099 comments Critique by Tom Olbert of -- "Tripping" by Chris

A funny and entertaining tale of a seemingly normal American family on a road trip through California which takes them through a small, out of the way hick town. They partake of the simple, old-fashioned local pleasures, manage to buy the spare parts they need to repair their faltering vehicle and head home. The parents remark that the townspeople are reacting to them strangely, inexplicably shaken. It's not until the very end the family is revealed to be extraterrestrial visitors. The closing line, delivered from the POV of a child was perfect, as the kid dimly recalls hearing sirens as their vehicle lifts into the sky.

The humor and small town 'flavor' of the story made it very endearing and the pace held my attention. My only complaint is that the revelation of the true nature of the tourists could have been delivered with a bit more punch. Maybe, if there had been a bit more of a physical connection between the family members and the story, so it would be more show and less tell. Something like "I licked the ice cream off the tip of my tentacle while all six of my sister's eyes flared at the end of their stalks."

Overall, I give it a thumbs up.

message 7: by Chris (new)

Chris Nance | 456 comments Tom wrote: "Critique by Tom Olbert of -- "Tripping" by Chris

A funny and entertaining tale of a seemingly normal American family on a road trip through California which takes them through a small, out of the ..."

Tom, thanks so much for your time and review. I really appreciate your input. I agree with your assessment of the end and probably could have given it a little more oomph. Honestly, when I started with this piece I really had no idea of where it was going to go, so was just thankful to at least figure something out in the end - lol. :)

message 8: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 1099 comments Critique by Tom Olbert of -- "Vacation Escape" by Justin

An unusual tale of a family escaping the imminent destruction of their world.

Two parents pack for what they tell their two small children is just another road trip. The tension and suspense build as the father lies to his kids, trying to protect them from panic while saving their lives. His nerves frayed as he hurriedly packs, the seconds tick down to launch.

My favorite scene was a brilliant white light flashing through the house as the escape ship's engines fire. It reminded me of something out of Bradbury's "Martian Chronicles." At the time, I felt that should have been the closing line; it was a perfect "goodbye to home" moment.

From there, the mood seemed to shift from a suspenseful domestic farewell to something harder to classify. When the wife appears in a caped, armored costume, it felt rather satirical, like a "Star Wars" parody. I felt it broke the suspenseful mood.

From there, the suspense builds again (though not quite as well as in the opening scene, I thought; too much husband/wife squabbling) as one unsuccessful launch attempt follows another. It becomes clear only very slowly what the apocalyptic danger is: apparently an invasion from space by some undefined enemy. They finally launch and escape through a dimensional rift in space. Only then is it revealed that it's all a fantasy in dad's mind as he reaches a highway off-ramp.

The comedic closing scene pretty much makes the story work, I'd say. The suspense and visceral physical reactions help move the story along to its conclusion.

message 9: by Tom (last edited Jul 19, 2018 09:09PM) (new)

Tom Olbert | 1099 comments Critique by Tom Olbert of -- "Are we there yet?" By C. Lloyd Preville

C. Lloyd Preville presents another chapter in the adventures of space entrepreneur Davis Kelly Cole and his shape-shifting alien bride Ruby.

Cole and Ruby have returned to Ruby's home planet to ask her "people" to help them conceive a hybrid offspring. The concept is very well thought out and conjures a bizarre and beautiful panoramic view of multiple colonies of nano-robotic life-forms floating in the clouds of a gas giant planet, collectively forming a single gigantic intellect.

The ensuing exchange between Cole and the anthropomorphic avatar of the collective computer-like alien mind is cold and purely intellectual, matching the virtues of pure, focused intellect against those of multiple viewpoints. (I was reminded of Captain Jean-Luc Picard giving one of his trade-mark lectures on the human condition.) Cole all too easily wins the argument and convinces the group mind to create a daughter forged from his qualities and Ruby's.

The meeting between parents and child is as cool and intellectual as the rest of the story as Mom and Dad invite the newly conscious hybrid to join them on life's journey. The punch line is perfect, summing up the parent/child relationship as the child asks "Are we there yet?"

The story is delivered from a cosmic POV; events recited by a dispassionate off-camera observer. The story lacks the fun and wackiness of previous Cole/Ruby stories, the characters coming across as two dimensional and rather mechanical. The concept and the closing line were the strongest elements, in my opinion.

message 10: by C. (last edited Jul 20, 2018 01:03PM) (new)

C. Lloyd Preville (clpreville) | 736 comments Hi Tom,

Thank you for taking the time to review "Are we there yet?" This was an evolutionary tale for me, adding a child to the already volatile Davis Kelly Cole/Ruby team.

I'm glad you found some redeeming qualities in my work.

This is a story that I might later develop into a novel, not just a 750 word micro-tale. That will give me the real estate to properly develop the comedic and character attributes without such economy of language. Also their daughter's ongoing personality development just screams for attention.

Unfortunately, 750 words is all we get, and describing a floating super-colony of nanorobotic advanced life forms takes a hefty nine words for mere identification. Maybe I could abbreviate the description to FSCONALF? No, I don't think so. It sounds like a medicinal soda drink additive.


Ps. I bet the FSCONALF would really dislike thunder storms.

message 11: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 1099 comments Critique by Tom Olbert of -- "A Guy Called Alm" by Jot Russell

A strongly paced blend of action, suspense and humor set in an outlandish alien world.

Alm seems a typical guy on a road trip with his wife and kids in a less than perfect family vehicle. Except that Alm is a talking lizard and this is not a road trip, but a perilous underwater excursion in a submarine with deadly flying gigantic predators lurking in the world above the water. An alien planet? Earth in the distant past or future? We never find out.

But, it doesn't matter. The laughs and thrills keep coming as the bratty kids keep driving their poor dad nuts and his wife keeps him from going off half-cocked when the sub-marine equivalent of a road-hog cuts him off. This is a story that could as easily be taking place on a highway interstate in the United States, but the humor is priceless as we see stereotypical human behavior transposed onto lizards with meter-length lashing tongues.

Well-timed humor turns to action and mounting suspense when a wreck on the underwater highway forces our scaly patriarch into a dangerous detour to the dreaded surface. Despite screeching warnings from his spouse, Alm takes the chance and finds himself between deadly aerial predators and a persistent road hog. ("Lost World" meets "Duel".) He cleverly manages to get out of the path of danger in the nick of time, letting the two problems eliminate each other.

The pacing was great, the action and suspense marvelous and the humor perfect. The POV jumped around wildly; a daring approach, but skillfully navigated.

My only criticism is that the editing and sentence structure could have been tighter. And, the use of all caps and multiple exclamation points was a bit excessive.

Overall, a definite thumbs up.

message 12: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 1099 comments Critique by Tom Olbert of -- "Funny Bone" By Jon Ricson

A witty and darkly disturbing family outing which begins with a light touch and ends with a shuddering surprise.

A typical upper-middle class family of an apparently bright high-tech future attends a science park lecture where a distinguished professor addresses a huge crowd on the subject of artificial intelligence. The old man is coughing and apparently quite ill. The parents begin to worry as the professor has every ten-year old in the audience stand up and twist their funny bones. The parents are shocked when their kids simply shut down, like mechanical dolls whose "off" switches have been thrown (every parent's dream?) Turns out, it's a design flaw built into that generation by a designer with a bad sense of humor, and a recall has been issued. Yes, not only are the kids robots, but everybody is. A race of robots designed to mimic human beings, and having no idea. The professor has just enough time to make his great revelation before his allotted life span ends and his head drops off.

The POV is detached and lacking in emotion, though behavioral quirks and witty exchanges keep the reader connected and the story moving along. I would have liked more of an emotional response when the prof's head dropped off, though the ghoulishly funny closing line wrapped the story up nicely, just the same. One criticism: The opening line should have set the scene of a bustling, crowded auditorium. I wasn't sure at first if the family was actually there at the event, or in a hotel room watching it on TV.

Overall, effective.

message 13: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 1099 comments Critique by Tom Olbert of -- "Future" by Marianne

A beautifully written, comical, bitter-sweet tale of parental death and self discovery.

Finding herself orphaned by her father's death, a young woman honors her father's dying wish by making a pilgrimage to the sea-side carnival fortune teller who predicted her parents' marriage a lifetime before. Her mother, we're told, had died two years earlier attempting to re-locate the mechanical prognosticator, which had disappeared in a strange lightning-related accident.

Now, the modern-day oracle has mysteriously reappeared and our heroine is determined to honor her parents' memory by checking it out. Her journey is a delightfully eccentric, humorous ride through local color, culminating at the base of the mechanical seer, whose seemingly supernatural powers appear all too real. The statue recognizes her, calling her by name and apparently coming to life. Our heroine's logical mind assumes her father set it all up, but decides to play the game anyway. A second lightning strike occurring, she finds herself swept away by the fortune teller machine, beyond the Earth, to the stars, embracing a new future and a new destiny.

The sequence of events was a bit difficult to follow at first, in the introductory part of the story, requiring a few re-reads, but once I had it down, it was a marvelous and magical trip. I loved it.

message 14: by Marianne (last edited Jul 23, 2018 11:45AM) (new)

Marianne (mariannegpetrino) | 401 comments Thanks for the comments, Tom. Boo Quark's thoughts can be as chaotic as mine, very non-linear ;) Glad you liked. The story came out of a recent trip to Rehoboth to visit a sick friend. In the evening, I walked the beach and the boardwalk. On the boardwalk, they had a Zoltar, so he was the inspiration for Zanzibar and my story :)

message 15: by C. (last edited Jul 22, 2018 12:13PM) (new)

C. Lloyd Preville (clpreville) | 736 comments Marianne,

Loved, loved, loved your story. What an artful mix of vivid imagery, sarcastic humor, dramatic tension, and a great ending.

This story reminded me just a little of "The Last Starfighter" who's protagonist was seduced by an outdoor pay-to-play computer game that doubled as a Starfighter gunnery officer training system.

Reading this story was like going to the beach and spoiling my dinner by eating a large slice of fudge with nuts from a wax-paper wrapper--a rare and delightfully sinful and messy pleasure.

Masterfully done.


message 16: by Marianne (new)

Marianne (mariannegpetrino) | 401 comments Thanks, C. Funny you should mention Last Starfighter. I used to play Tailgunner, and I was good. About 2 years before the movie appeared, I joked with my husband that maybe it was an alien test machine. So yes, definitely a tip of the hat to that movie too :) But the rest of the story would be more of a "she's an alien too" variety. I kept hearing Ghost Quark in my head, and that is how I came up with her name. Definitely ET material, I think.

Now, I just need to get a Zoltar tee shirt for my next visit to my friend in Lewes. And fudge ;) I already got the taffy.

message 17: by Jot (new)

Jot Russell | 1278 comments Mod
Thanks Tom. Your critiques as with others is a wonderful part of this contest. Thanks for the kind words for my story as well as the honest analysis. Always a pleasure to read your reviews.

message 18: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 1099 comments Critique by Tom Olbert of -- "What I did on my Summer Vacation…" by Greg

A wacky, humorous satirical outing by an alien family on vacation having to make a forced landing on Earth to make repairs to their flying domicile.

The funniest part, I thought was when their ship is spotted by a Midwestern hick and one of the kids scans the disbelieving human and classifies him as a terrestrial breed that compulsively gives opinions without knowledge.

The kids gamble and get into a bit of trouble here and there. A bit of action ensues when one of the parents has to rescue one of the kids from Area 51 and makes a narrow escape, just as the ship lifts off. In closing, we find they've left a number of loose ends behind them, including an impregnated human, a nuclear reactor about to explode and a lost tool box which could accelerate human technological progress considerably. The parents all tell their kids not to tell the other parents. (And, they wonder why the kids get in trouble.)

The pacing was good, the humor well timed and entertaining. The ending was spread out and felt rather anticlimactic. Not the jarring punch line I was hoping for. A bit flat.

Overall, effective.

message 19: by Greg (new)

Greg Krumrey (gkrumrey) | 200 comments Thanks for the feedback. Good to know where I can improve.

message 20: by Marianne (last edited Jul 26, 2018 11:13AM) (new)

Marianne (mariannegpetrino) | 401 comments Tom -- On your story. The thing that did not work for me was this: Why were the man's wife and kids not affected by the time ripple? Did their experience, if they had one, not matter? Stronger story if they all had this shared experience. Or did I read it wrong ( comprehension issue on my part)

What did work was vivid description :)

message 21: by Jot (new)

Jot Russell | 1278 comments Mod
From Sharon:

Wonderfully imaginative stories with a wide scope of perspective as usual.

Here's my vote:

1. Tripping by Chris- a complete illusion of an everyday family vacation until the reveal at the end with the 9-volt batteries.

2. Where the Road Meets Tomorrow by Tom O.- a good solid scifi reason for it not to feel like a dream to venture into the future fantastic; well grounded when it comes 'back to reality'.

3. Future- by Marianne- lures me in with the storytelling and the quirk of a procedural POV character. The Zanzibar draws on the "BIG" familiar, but then twists to make it new.

message 22: by Jot (new)

Jot Russell | 1278 comments Mod
From Tom:

1) "Future" by Marianne -
Fantastic idea. Rich, beautiful color and humor, inspiring imagery.

2) "A Guy Called Alm" by Jot Russell -
Great action and suspense, strong pacing, twists and turns, endearing comedy relief.

message 23: by Jot (new)

Jot Russell | 1278 comments Mod
From Marianne:

All the stories were good :) Road trip was a great theme. :)

My choices from first to third:

First: Jot : A Guy Called Alm -- It was the Gremlin ;)
Second: Chris : Tripping -- Liked the twist
Third : Greg: What I Did on My Summer Vacation: The true chaos of the road.

message 24: by Marianne (new)

Marianne (mariannegpetrino) | 401 comments Jot : I like the comments from voters :) Still dig the Gremlin.

message 25: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 1099 comments Marianne wrote: "Tom -- On your story. The thing that did not work for me was this: Why were the man's wife and kids not affected by the time ripple? Did their experience, if they had one, not matter? Stronger stor..."
'Glad the description worked, Marianne. I'd thought it was clear that it was a shared experience; the kids shrieked, the wife screamed. I guess I should have stressed it more.

message 26: by Marianne (new)

Marianne (mariannegpetrino) | 401 comments Tom: After the ripple passed, it seemed only the husband was affected because the wife was calm and the kid half asleep and it seemed only he remembered what had happened. That is what I meant. The kid should have shit his pants and the wife and husband should have been hugging each other for dear life if they all recalled the events. The ending was too calm for what just vividly happened, imho. Consider the repentant groveling of Scrooge. :)

message 27: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 1099 comments Personally, I think Dickens went a bit overboard at times, but what do I know?

Best of times, worst of times...

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