Science Fiction Microstory Contest discussion

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JUNE - 2020 - MICROSTORY CONTEST (CRITIQUES ONLY)

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message 1: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 984 comments Theme: Military Service
Required elements:

1) Veteran families
2) Honoring the fallen


message 2: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 984 comments "The Victorious Dead" by Dean Hardage

A retrospective tale of a futuristic asteroid colony honoring the memory of the fallen heroes who defended their young society against mercenary troops serving unscrupulous forces attempting a hostile takeover.

The story begins with a solemn ceremony at a wall of names reminiscent of the Vietnam veterans memorial. An opening quotation seems archaic and a bit cliched. The POV of the protagonist is intense at first, but then lapses into memory which is told almost entirely in dry, distant cosmic overview with little sensory contact, making it very difficult to connect emotionally with any of the characters.

The closing scene of the combat flashback is a bit livelier, with suspense building towards the final explosive exchange of fire and the heroic sacrifice that decides the day. The shift from past to present lacks any defining jarring sensation. The closing, when we learn the protagonist and his civilian ally are both ex-mercenaries wasn't as effective as it might have been, lacking emotional preparation.

I think the story would have been better told if it had focused on a first person visceral experience of the battle, concentrating on character motivation, background interwoven sparingly as the action progressed, and then a closing scene commemorating the hero's death.

There were times it felt more a cold historical recitation than a heartfelt story.


message 3: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 984 comments "The Hero" by Kalifer Deil

A humorous exchange between a soldier and a crooked politician at a public memorial service for a fallen soldier of questionable heroism.

The politician, a future Secretary of State, is trumpeting the call of blind patriotism in Earth's ill-advised war against a considerably more advanced alien race which has just vaporized Chicago. The gung-ho war-mongering Earth govt claims the disaster was deliberate, though the evidence shows it was an accident. The soldier arguing with him is the voice of reason. The dead soldier, who plunged his ship in a kamikaze-like ram into an alien mother ship during a supposed peace mission is the topic of argument. To the Secretary, he's a cause celeb, to the soldier, he's an idiot.

The conversation starts out as quite funny, the political allegory quite blatant, as when the soldier has to suppress a laugh when the obnoxious politician explains how he avoided military service due to bone spurs. The allegory continues, with the Secretary threatening to jail the soldier for treason, just for speaking unpatriotically and citing evidence refuting the government's position. The story ends with a humorous twist as we learn the soldier has been recording the conversation with a hidden microphone, hoping to expose the folly of a government war policy which could end with humanity's obliteration.

The story has it's humorous moments, but it is just about 100% expository presented as dialogue. Virtually no action, and also light on visual. There are a few striking visual images, like the gold coffin shaped in the image of the fallen soldier, reminiscent of a pharaoh's sarcophagus, shaking on its magnetic levitation field, as though symbolizing the flaws of an arrogant war policy doomed to failure. And, the humorous details of the conversation, like the politician's thick tinted glasses and facial contortions. But, beyond that, the conversation was pretty much in sensory limbo. I never felt like I was at that parade, and I couldn't really see the world beyond it.

Also, one technical problem I found striking. First, we're told the dead soldier's body is actually inside the coffin. But, later, we learn he rammed his spacecraft into another spaceship which exploded. How could there be anything left of him to bury?

Overall, the story gave me a laugh or two, but even a satirical farce should show more than it tells.


message 4: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 984 comments "Final Mission" by Greg

A well-paced and tragically moving tale of an ordinary man trapped inside a war machine and cursed with immortality and the unwanted title of "hero."

The story opens with a beautiful illustration of moral contradiction as a man suits up for futuristic high-tech warfare while reciting a prayer for self-betterment and the service of his fellow man, the activation of each killing device followed by another line of prayer.

The story follows his life into old age, his body and much of his mind consumed by war while the cybernetic battle armor into which he is eternally locked holds his consciousness prisoner in a living purgatory. In an interview (Stars and Stripes?) he dispels the illusion of his supposed heroism, stating he's just an accountant trapped by the circumstances of war, the killing machine that has consumed him his prison of immortality.

In the next scene, a retired soldier grants him the option of suicide, and he takes it.

The closing scene is a beautifully melancholy glimpse of a military funeral service by the dusty first light of dawn (reminiscent of the closing of one chapter of Bradbury's "Martian Chronicles.")

The details of the created world and its inhabitants are absent, but it doesn't matter, since the themes are timeless. The struggle and the suffering are internal, and the reader shares the tiny prison of the protagonist's mechanical body.

Well done.


message 5: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 984 comments "Epsilon Two" by Jot Russell

A story of a wife and young son suffering the loss of a heroic fighter pilot husband and father who sacrifices his life defending a futuristic star colony against alien attack. In the closing scene, the moral context of the heroism and familial mourning is seriously challenged when we learn that the humans are the invaders and the public cheers the ruthless genocide of an essentially peaceful indigenous race.

The strongest part of the story in my opinion was the suspense and blow-by-blow battle scene. The death of the pilot could have been stronger, though. I honestly wasn't sure until the next scene which ship had exploded or if he was still alive.

The POV jumps around a bit, making it hard to get a solid connection. The narrative in places seems to waver between first person POV and cosmic overview. By the closing scene, it's total cosmic overview. The surviving, grieving mother and son have pretty much faded into the background. We see what's happening, but we're not getting anyone's feelings or personal viewpoint on it.

Good concept, but I felt the delivery should have been stronger.


message 6: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 984 comments "Clarity" by Marianne

A haunting, melancholy requiem delivered by a widow recalling her life with a husband lost to war.

The story is told like a diary passage or personal history. Light on visual detail at first, heavy on summary. A few personal mementos, like photographs pinned to a bulletin board to mark the way.

Nevertheless, it has a beginning, middle and end, albeit told after the fact. We don't experience it with the protagonist; she just tells us.

In the end, a curious twist, as a former colleague (and, romantic rival) of the late husband carries out the widow's wish in implanting her late husband's eye into her head. Through some kind of residual neural impulse, she witnesses her late husband's death on the battlefield again and again, sees his final moment of selfless heroism, and then apparently witnesses the arrival of an angel come to take him to heaven. At the story's end (present tense...the beginning?) she awaits her own ascension, confident she will be with him again.

It read a bit dryly at first, I thought; no events, just recitation of summarized developments. The vision at the end was potent, though a ghost image. A gentle shifting of light and a gentle passing, even in the wake of war and carnage. In the end, love survives all.

A tribute to the human spirit in the darkest of times.


message 7: by Marianne (new)

Marianne (mariannegpetrino) | 352 comments Thanks for the comments, Tom.


message 8: by Dean (new)

Dean Hardage | 82 comments Tom wrote: ""The Victorious Dead" by Dean Hardage

A retrospective tale of a futuristic asteroid colony honoring the memory of the fallen heroes who defended their young society against mercenary troops servin..."


The original version was much more connected but I had to edit it down and lost a good deal of that personal narrative. I'm sorry you found it lacking in that regard.


message 9: by Paula (new)

Paula | 835 comments Wonderful story, J.F.! I love it. --And, btw, it needs every one of those words, 400-over-the-line or not.-- Beautiful piece, and nicely ends at the exact point where it should.
Let me ask you, this is a pointy reference, yes?--"Durwood Hock's Ft. Lauderdale resort, Pinto-del-Fuego, the portly owner sat at the only..."--? Again, a fine, well-worked-out, powerful story.


message 10: by J.F. (new)

J.F. Williams | 175 comments Paula wrote: "Wonderful story, J.F.! I love it. --And, btw, it needs every one of those words, 400-over-the-line or not.-- Beautiful piece, and nicely ends at the exact point where it should.
Let me ask you, th..."


Thanks, Paula! The character of Hock is a pointy reference but sometimes you have to take a shortcut for developing a villain by alluding to a person in history.


message 11: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 984 comments "Baby Steps" by J.J.

A simultaneously humorous and horrific man vs. computer story.

A prototype A.I. takes over a military bunker, and a soldier with programming experience receives the unwelcome assignment of re-programming the haywire thinking machine.

Attention to sensory detail (scent, light) and a humorous Terminator reference help move the story along. Random personal recollections in the course of the action help define the POV character in a fluid way.

The confrontation between man and computer is jarring as the A.I. bombards our hero with a ghastly parade of humanity's worst moments through history, while the computer speaks in mono-syllabic infantile demanding questions reminiscent of the 1930's Universal Frankenstein monster, as it tries to comprehend the human condition. The hero must act as defense council for the human race. The protagonist's visceral reaction to the hellish images is potent and heartfelt. He finally saves himself by recalling personal memories that provide him with the answers he needs to unite the disjointed images and justify the human condition.

He saves the world, then focuses on saving his marriage. The ending felt a bit abrupt, but overall I thought the story was excellent.


message 12: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 984 comments "The Wrath of GOD" by Justin Sewall

Temporal war. A grieving, guilt-ridden father and a cosmic suicide/genocide.

Striking military memorial images open the story, the emotions potent and direct as an angry mother accepts a folded flag from her military husband who has just sent their son to his death. The father/commander is enraged, his anger turning both inward and outward. He laments that God was not there to save his son.

In the course of the story, it becomes clear that "GOD" is an acronym for a new super-weapon of mass destruction. (Worship of war? Weapons becoming deified?) He hopes this new weapon will win the cosmic war raging between humanity and an alien race that can move outside of time. (I found the exchange between the commander and his chief scientist reminiscent of Commander Bill Adama talking to Dr. Gaius Baltaar.) When told the weapon has to be fired manually, the commander immediately volunteers, apparently feeling he has nothing left to live for but revenge. He destroys an entire world, and himself.

A bleak, rather nihilistic finish, yet a very human one.


message 13: by Kalifer (new)

Kalifer Deil | 281 comments Tom wrote: ""The Hero" by Kalifer Deil

Thanks for the review. I'm glad you pointed out the error at the beginning. I intended to fix that, then forgot about it. I'm in the middle of a house remodel and my office looks like Fibber Magee's closet. I'm probably the only one in the group old enough to know about that closet.



message 14: by Jack (new)

Jack McDaniel | 219 comments Kalifer wrote: "Tom wrote: ""The Hero" by Kalifer Deil

Thanks for the review. I'm glad you pointed out the error at the beginning. I intended to fix that, then forgot about it. I'm in the middle of a house remode..."


That's pre-me!


message 15: by Greg (new)

Greg Krumrey (gkrumrey) | 169 comments Thanks for the review, Tom! Even when a review doesn't point out a mistake (and there are always some that get by) it is helpful to get solid feelback on how a story comes across. Even though I've gotten very different perceptions of the story, it "worked" each time. That's the challenge of the 750 word limit: strip the story down and make every word count.


message 16: by Jeremy (new)

Jeremy Lichtman | 247 comments EVERY CRAB FINE DEY HOME - Jack McDaniel

I really liked the colloquial tongue (you gave the characters voices that really express their personalities), and the slight rocking back and forth in time (which fits very well with the informal storytelling style of the story).


message 17: by Tom (last edited Jun 23, 2020 08:31PM) (new)

Tom Olbert | 984 comments Kalifer wrote: "Tom wrote: ""The Hero" by Kalifer Deil

Thanks for the review. I'm glad you pointed out the error at the beginning. I intended to fix that, then forgot about it. I'm in the middle of a house remode..."


I know about Fibber Magee and Molly. Best of luck with the remodel.


message 18: by Tom (last edited Jun 23, 2020 06:28PM) (new)

Tom Olbert | 984 comments "Five, Redux" by Jeremy

A dark, dreamlike glimpse of future war, seen through the eyes of a clone soldier; one bred to die again and again.

A burial described in minute, haunting detail. A dark, rainy night. The red, muddy soil. You smell the mud and the death. You feel the rain sliding down your face. The anger. The loneliness of being different in a time when life itself is cheap. And, they hang on that much tighter.

A brief nightmare that touches the heart.


message 19: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 984 comments "The Swap" by J.F. Williams

A dark, ironic tale of a tortured soldier who makes a curious devil's bargain with a corrupt plutocrat, swapping one memory for another, and finding out the hard way that men of conscience carry the burden of their sins, while men without conscience simply revel in them.

The story opens with our guilt-ridden veteran meeting with his case worker. The scene makes good use of intimate detail...a close-up of a face, drawing a cigarette from a pocket as the conversation continues. When the therapist suggests the idea of a court-ordered swap of memories with a famous white-collar criminal, the dialogue drags a bit through technical detail. Then, the trap is sprung as the soldier takes the deal, only to learn the new memory which replaces his own recollection of war and the destruction of innocent life, is actually worse. A supposedly innocuous memory turns out to be the rape of a child.

The next and final segment of the story is told from the POV of the evil memory donor (who is so obviously Trump) and here the story is almost pure allegory with a chilling current of evil running through it. Our villain is luxuriating at his golf club with his lawyer (so obviously Guilliani) and it turns out the memory swap helped him beat the rap, since the events with which he'd been charged no longer exist in his memory. And, the hellish recollections of war that were to have been his punishment have become a source of morbid voyeuristic entertainment.

It looks like the scoundrel has eluded justice altogether, until our hero comes to pay him a visit, presumably with murderous intent. We're left only with the promise of impending vengeance.

The expository is a bit thick at times, which weakens the "a-ha" moments slightly. Overall though, very good.


message 20: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 984 comments "BDA" by Jeremy McLain

A cold, mechanical autopsy discerns an inhuman force threatening the human race.

Inch-by-inch analysis of a mysteriously destroyed military vehicle reveals some non-human agency is attacking military drones, forcing an international alliance to investigate the mystery via A.I. At the very end, we catch a glimpse of emerging sentience in the A.I.'s.

The telling is dry and distant; purely technical detail followed by disembodied voices. We never find out for sure who or what the enemy is. Is it the machines themselves, and if so, what's their game? Are they trying to trick humanity into putting aside its conflicts to unite against a perceived common threat, and becoming more dependent on machine intelligence in the bargain?

The closing shot almost made it worthwhile. But, without discernable characters to connect with, the story didn't have much impact with me.


message 21: by Justin (new)

Justin Sewall | 969 comments Tom wrote: ""The Wrath of GOD" by Justin Sewall

Temporal war. A grieving, guilt-ridden father and a cosmic suicide/genocide.

Striking military memorial images open the story, the emotions potent and direct a..."


Thank you sir, much appreciated as always!


message 22: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 984 comments "EVERY CRAB FINE DEY HOME" by Jack McDaniel

A man with a thick Jamaican accent narrates and stars in a story of an interplanetary voyage to deliver a fallen soldier's last memories to a computerized archive for a wealthy family. The POV character's captain has a pathological hatred for society's obsession with heroes.

We find out why at the end, when the captain is swept up in the computer memory of his late brother's death in battle. We discover it's not grief that is driving the captain mad so much as pride. He cannot measure up to his brother's heroism.

The story had a bit too much historical expository disguised as dialogue. The action was light. Not much really happened until the end. Vision and sensory were also light. The punch line was effective, but a bit too late. Overall, it really didn't suspend my disbelief.


message 23: by J.F. (new)

J.F. Williams | 175 comments Tom wrote: ""The Swap" by J.F. Williams

A dark, ironic tale of a tortured soldier who makes a curious devil's bargain with a corrupt plutocrat, swapping one memory for another, and finding out the hard way th..."

Thanks for the very kind critique, Tom. I agree that the hand-waving was overdone. Draib should not have gone on about boron isotopes to his client.


message 24: by J.J. (new)

J.J. Alleson (goodreadscomjjalleson) | 105 comments Thanks for that insightful critique Tom, with some very helpful comments.

Yes, my AI was confused by man's inhumanity to man and wondering if this continuation of misery was, as it was informed, the way to progress.

And yes, squeezed ending to meet the word count, but I wanted to round it off with hope for someone somewhere.


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