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Author Topic: The World Not Taken
Member # 8617

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The AI kept sputtering as the Irukandji’s shuttle dropped through the atmosphere. Macha, visor down, cufflinks lit, shuffled the virtual information and cast commands but nothing was working. Every time she manipulated the data streams to revive the AI, her code was dismantled or blocked. Alarms rang and Boaz, the shuttle’s pilot, asked for an update. “I can’t see a damn thing in these clouds,” he said. Lightning sparked off the portside wing as turbulence rocked the craft. “Get the AI working before we pound crust.”
“I’m trying,” Macha said, “but the system is crashing. I’ve sandboxed the AI as much as I can, but if the firewalls don’t hold we’ll lose the ship.”
Boaz grabbed the shuttles controls and switched to manual

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I must say that hard sci-fi isn't my thing but I can't see anything that would stop me from reading on.
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Little nits you might think about.

I would replace sputtering with a stronger word or word set. Something more appropriate to electronics than plumbing/water--engine sputtering visual unless that's what you meant. Sputtering tends to bring up old Model-T combustion engine sounds in my mind.

I like the name Macha but in trying to decipher her opening sentence i first thought it was a typo of mecha. this sentence is very choppy and hard to read. A good rule of thumb I try to kick myself with now when I write is not to sacrifice clarity for action.

Another nit. I kinda wanted to know how she was trying to get the AI working. I don't mean the process but is she using her hands? Or is it a voice command system. What is she physically or mentally doing to enact the process. So she is manipulating the data streams but how is she doing it. I can't see in my mind her process to get it done. Is she sitting? or running around to multiple data banks. Is she in an engineering compartment of the shuttle or sitting in the second seat, close to the pilot. Are they talking over coms? Is she seeing display on her visor? Is her visor down for crash or technical reasons? Since the AI is down I am assuming voice command is not functioning but is she testing it as she continues to reboot? I don't mean bog it down. It is an action scene but you need a little something to help give me the reader an idea of what is physically happening with Macha. What is she physically seeing to tell her things aren't working yet.

I understand your use of sandboxed over bypass or reconfigure but this goes back to clarity. Sandboxed stalled the action for me because I had to take a moment to figure out how you meant it. I like the term just not so much in an action scene.

Port wing, not port side wing. Just like, left wing, not left side wing.

Overall I like where you're going and the scene has good potential. I look forward to read what you do with it.

like I said these were just small nits.


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I had trouble picturing this scene in my head. Cool action scene, but I couldn't see it. One or two well-chosen visual descriptions would help, in my opinion.
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Disgruntled Peony
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I got confused about the importance of rebooting the AI, mostly because it's not clear exactly what role the AI fills when it comes to the functioning of the ship.

Well, okay, I suppose it is on a re-read; the AI helps with navigation and the pilot can't see, so he wants to know where they should go. I didn't get that on the first read-through, though. Not sure why.

I'm also not familiar with what sandboxing is, and that threw me a bit off-balance as a reader. Overall, despite some confusion, I do find myself intrigued. I would read further.

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A space vehicle's control system AI fails and a Yaeger crash is imminent.

"The World Not Taken" title invokes Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken's" straight, ironic, and combined reads. For general information, the poem is about encountering a choice between two somewhat close differences and neither at the moment of much significance though could matter at some future time: the proverbial decision between two evils made into a trivial though at some future time critical decision and regrets about not fully an examination of both at leisure and make a more informed decision and of an indifferent "such is life" emotional mood.

If that above or similar is what this story is really about -- no clue in the fragment what the story is really about -- then I'd eagerly read on. As is, my curiosity is aroused a tiny degree. However, the fragment lets my initial impression expectations down.

An in media res opening, if realized in all of its criteria, in the middle of the action, appreciates the external, tangible, and otherwise superficial action is a container for what the action is really about -- the perhaps internal, external, and both, intangible and meaningful action about the moral human condition. Intangible action shown here is a technology crisis from a perhaps external or internal force: the gods, an enemy agency, equipment neglect, a fickle AI, though not known or per se knowable at the moment of the action by the agonists.

That point of revelation, of course, could come later, or the agonists do know at the moment and regret not paying more attention to maintenance or whatever imminent peril they untimely dismissed. The latter, to me, could then exhibit what the story is really about: sloth and consequences of shirked diligence. I'd like that because I'd know what the story is about from the outset and because that parallels the Frost poem's meaning.

Not to mention, then the agonists are themselves self-involved with the cause of the crisis, not some random, unknown, mysterious external force. A, to me, stronger sort of opening, if not the strongest appeal possible opening type of all. The agonists' personal, private wants and problems drive the action and satisfaction efforts of the complications external and internal. That way, the tangible and intangible action remain local to an agonist or agonists. This is unity of action, events, settings, characters essential for short fiction appeals: One melded external and internal complication action, limited number of characters, limited settings, limited events, apropos of a small container, and of a sufficient emotional appeal magnitude, and universal to the human condition, for a short story's length limitations.

The fragment to me feels rushed and forced, partly because I see only an external complication imposed by an unknown cause. A signal this might be so is a number of motifs introduced without proportioned and timely development of their significance at the moment of their introductions. Plus fused sentences also signal rushed and forced action. Of course, a middle of a crisis demands dramatic rush and force, though to me the fragment is unnaturally forced and rushed: The action transpires for the purpose of setting the plot into motion, plot movement functions only. Plus a few thoughts about voice, areas where the language is unnecessarily static.

"The AI kept sputtering" portrays an ongoing action -- an -ing participle verb -- that holds open an indeterminate, nonfinite time span -- static voice. An infinitive-like verb -- continued to sputter -- of a present participle formation. Grammatically, a multi-clause verb sentence sequence starts with a simple tense, then a participle tense follows as warranted. The second clause's verb "dropped" is simple past. Sputtered, by itself, sufficiently leaves open the action. Then the shuttle dropping is adequate verb sequencing. However, the "as" used as a coordination conjunction warrants identical verb tenses. If the actions are simultaneous, a different conjunction is warranted. This is, after all, the start of the story and where robust, dynamic, significant, and natural language is a best advised practice.

"the Irukandji’s shuttle" is the first motif that could warrant development. "Irukandji," or Yirrganydji, are an Aboriginal Australian nation native to the Palm Cove coast area at the north shore of the continental island. Because the name is of a people, and a toxic box jellyfish, the use is unclear.

"Irukandji" could mean a little thing that packs a painful, fatal wollop, urban meaning, or in the Irukandji’s language could mean the true human beings, or simply seacoast people, etc.

Perhaps Irukandji is a diplomat or other personage, or the shuttle is owned by a space-faring group or transports them. Maybe one word would clarify, though another thought is why whose shuttle it is matters at the moment. If the Irukandji is a personage on an important mission or the group are in peril, that raises the stakes: not just Macha and Boaz are imperiled. Plus, that then supplies a reason, a first cause why this situation develops.

Of course, that reason the shuttle is there could come up later, though through a flashback or other recollection. Timelines jumped around warrant a rhetorical reason for readers to track nonlinear time flow. Regular reasons are late revelation to agonists, matters to the action later, and organized for plot, character, event, setting, and emotional arc movement.

Two "as" used as coordination conjunctions in the fragment. "As" strongest and natural conjunction use is for correlation connections. While or when, etc., are natural time and event coordination conjunctions. Generally, though, events and such are rarely, if ever, simultaneous. For best advised flow, such fused sentences are separated into their single ideas, events, actions, etc., and doing so benefits causality's logical sequence, that serves reading and comprehension ease. In any case, use of nearly invisible "and" coordination conjunction could be more apropos. Some emotional charge is warranted, too. For illustration: //The AI stuttered gibberish _and_ the shuttle dove headlong into rough atmosphere.//

Other motifs that could warrant development: "Macha" is a traditional given name from Irish folkore, means the plain, the landscape feature. "Boaz" is likewise ethnic, Hebrew, means quick and strong of mind. They along with Irukandji might signal an international pluralist milieu, for example. For motif development, that could sublimely signal the human condition here, a choice between the lesser of two evils, is universal, though could warrant clear and strong implication.

This is rushed and an important motif, one that if clearer could be a promising strength, that warrants clarity for event, setting, and character and milieu development: "visor down, cufflinks lit, shuffled the virtual information and cast commands". After several reads I realized Macha uses a heads-up display and her hands -- the cufflinks -- through a wireless connection to input and manipulate a virtual control console. My imagination sees the scene now, though only after a careful analysis effort unwarranted at the moment of first read.

I'm of two minds about "sandboxed." The noun used as a verb implies mixed messages: containment, the inevitable trickle of sand through any opening, and child's play. The term could be part of Macha's nature and such, and, as such, speaks to character and setting development. By itself, though, also takes a mite of untimely effort to interpret, again, feels rushed, forced, and unnatural. If a pre-positioned setup came before, the verb would be clear and appealing. Possibly, something with "visor down, cufflinks lit, shuffled the virtual information and cast commands" that could enhance both motifs, Macha shoveled and cast command grains and data cards, punched input icons, for example.

The motifs themselves are a strong suit, only somewhat disruptive to me from their fast and furious introductions. I would read on, to see if the Frost poem comparison materialized, though encourage consideration of more up-front development of that or whatever the story is really about. In and of itself, superficial action is stale to me. And I don't mean superficial to be emotionally charged: the neutral denotation of location on or near a surface and influences only the surface.

[ November 24, 2015, 12:26 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Grumpy old guy
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We open in the midst of chaos: Why? What vital bit of information must you impart in such a manner? I don't see any.

This is a cliche in medias res opening. In fact it isn't even original. I have several novels that open with a crash landing due to AI malfunction. And this all adds up to me not reading past the first line.


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Thanks everyone for the feedback.

Extrinsic, I copied and pasted the text and when I did, the italics used for the Irukandji didn't translate over. Would that make a difference at all? You have the implications right. Everything you mentioned about the possible meanings of the term were reasons I chose it for the name, but in the end, it is just a name.

Also, you were right about the title. It comes up later but I don't think the draft delivers on the promise. I toyed with it, got scared, and backed off. I'm going to dive back in and work on fully realizing that promise. Thanks for the insight.

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A small piece of "Irukandji's" mythology and meaning development at the moment of introduction trumps any emphasis italics format might mysteriously imply.

If the Irukandji is an individual, what? Diplomat, master thief, military commander? An added title detail could do what's wanted for the moment. The Irukandji Pimperall (The Scarlet Pimpernel). Maybe a word taken from Frost's poem and transformed, the Irukandji Yellowed traveler, or Two-Road Boxer. If a group, why does the group go to this place? The Irukandji refugees, tourists, army, miners, diplomatic mission, etc. If a little thing that packs a wollop, like the box jellyfish, a brief adjective phrase might suffice for the moment, say, Irukandji death stingers(s). Or some of each in one motif or even a few modifier words.

Later development could flesh that out, too, only a small identity essence and influence cue at first, rather than once and done up front in a heated rush. Actually, I'm usually more satisfied when mythology develops over time and word count, somewhat repeated, substituted, and amplified, transformed, for later and later instances.

[ November 25, 2015, 01:01 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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