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Author Topic: Short Story Discussion Group-Week 1
Phobos
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Well welcome everyone to the Short Story Discussion Group. The inten and purpose of this group is to analyze and discuss speculative fiction short stories published by SFWA endorsed markets. This will benefit us by understanding marketable fiction published in today's market. We have chosen a short story published in Strange Horizons since it can be accsessed for free online and this will eneable anyone interested to participate. We will likely decide upon a printed publication in the next week or two to expand our horizons once we get the ball rolling.

I will begin by posting the first thirteen lines of the selected story on Sunday night of every week. We will discuss the first thirteen lines until Tuesday and on Wednesday, I will post some discussion questions and open up the thread to open discussion of the story and its elements. If anyone can think of some study questions please feel free to email them to me and I will include them in the study questions posted on Wednesday.

Please keep this thread on topic. We are not here to discuss how we feel about a particular publication or editor. No Rabble-rousers Allowed. If you have something off topic to say please feel free to start your own thread to discuss it. Kathleen has enough to worry about besides worrying about monitoring our every move so please act accordingly.


So Here is our first story. Although it is a little old, it is nonetheless a quality story. Elizabeth Bear is a Hugo winning, and very prolific writer. I have read and enjoyed, as well as admired many of her stories.Love among The Talus Will be our first story. Here are the first thirteen. We can openly discuss,critique and analyze the first thirteen much as we would in F&F. I will post some study/discussion questions on Wednesday and then we will also begin open discussion on the rest of the story.

Love Among the Talus
By Elizabeth Bear


quote:
You cannot really keep a princess in a tower. Not if she has no brothers and must learn statecraft and dancing and riding and poisons and potions and the passage of arms, so that she may eventually rule.

But you can do the next best thing.

In the land of the shining empire, in a small province north of the city of Messaline and beyond the great salt desert, a princess with a tip-tilted nose lived with her mother, Hoelun Khatun, the Dowager Queen. The princess—whose name, it happens, was Nilufer—stood tall and straight as an ivory pole, and if her shoulders were broad out of fashion from the pull of her


[This message has been edited by Phobos (edited November 29, 2009).]


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genevive42
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This opening is solid, of course. I haven't read the rest of the story so these comments are only on the first 13.

A few notes:

quote:
But you can do the next best thing.

This is a great hook. It tells you what the story is about but it doesn't actually give any real information away. It made me wonder exactly what the next best thing was.

quote:
The princess—whose name, it happens, was Nilufer

The whole opening says it's a fairy tale but for me this line really put me in the fairy tale mind set. I suddenly had the feeling of being told a story rather than reading one. It reminded me of Princess Bride (the movie). It's an excellent use of an established technique.

quote:
In the land of the shining empire, in a small province north of the city of Messaline and beyond the great salt desert, a princess with a tip-tilted nose lived with her mother, Hoelun Khatun, the Dowager Queen. The princess—whose name, it happens, was Nilufer—

In my opinion this short bit was a little name heavy. Especially so because the names are unfamiliar. I had to stop and reread it to get the names to sound right in my head. I am very glad she offset the princess' name. It helped to separate the character. The one name I won't have trouble keeping track of is 'Nilufer'.

These are just my initial thoughts. I will try to read the entire story tomorrow.

[This message has been edited by genevive42 (edited November 29, 2009).]


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Phobos
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quote:
You cannot really keep a princess in a tower.

I found this to be a very strong opening sentence. An arrangement of nine simple words...one sentence instilled a broader image. I think a gifted writer can do this by drawing from familiarity within ourselves. They draw from a well of beliefs that we accumulate through our lives, especially when we were younger. This sentence in particular reminds us of countless and memorable stories of pricesses and castles we heard as children and immediately our minds begin to paint vivid images of the simple words given us.
quote:
Not if she has no brothers and must learn statecraft and dancing and riding and poisons and potions and the passage of arms, so that she may eventually rule.

This is a well written supporting sentence that starts us in the direction the author intends us to travel. Sharpening, focusing our broad idea into her vision.
quote:
But you can do the next best thing.

Short, direct, and effective. This line sets the hook and gives us a clear indication of the conflict ahead as well as gives us a reason to sympathize with the princess.

quote:
In the land of the shining empire, in a small province north of the city of Messaline and beyond the great salt desert, a princess with a tip-tilted nose lived with her mother, Hoelun Khatun, the Dowager Queen. The princess—whose name, it happens, was Nilufer—stood tall and straight as an ivory pole, and if her shoulders were broad out of fashion from the pull of her

If I had to critisize this intro, it would be due to this segment. A barrage of difficult names and locations made this a little hard to handle in my opinion. 'Tip-tilted' nose bothered me a great deal, Perhaps if it were in a paragragh with less commas and less hard-to-pronounce proper nouns, I might have found it enjoyable since it is a fun adjective, but as it was written, I was more than a little turned off.

Overall, I thought this was an effective intro. If I read this in F&F, I would have critiqued it much the same way. Well shall I say had the same opinion. I have not yet read the entire story. I did this so I could maintain my impartiality.

Based on its own merits I would turn the page, even if I did not know the author or see it in a Pro-Rate publication.

I was surprised to see that the Princess' POV did not arise in the intro. To me distant narration like this seems more common in published novels than short fiction. I guess it is also common in fairy tale type stories, which leads me to believe I will find a fairy tale theme ahead. I wonder if I am right.

Now I will go and read all of your comments and discuss your evaluations. I also try not to read other posts until I have given mine.


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Phobos
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Wow!genevive42, I was amazed to see how alike our opinions of the intro were.
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extrinsic
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I see the opening lines closely imitating fables out of One Thousand and One Nights better known in the West as the Arabian Nights. Due to that comparison, the opening engages me by promising a similar type of story, and in particular due to that foreign secondary world engagement method, the tongue-twisting names of people and places didn't disrupt my reading experience.

Like with fable conventions, though, the opening conforms to an exigesis (exposition, explanation) method messenger scene, where critical facts of the story's setting and circumstances are told up front in a direct address as if by a narrator standing at a lectern.

I'm of two minds with that kind of traditional opening; one, that it's prone to slow openings, though the litotes* "Not if she has no brothers and must learn statecraft and dancing and riding and poisons and potions and the passage of arms" most engaged me of all the story's opening qualities, because of its ironic voice, yet the story was comparatively recently published, in 2006; two, that the conventions of fable ring through in the voice of the opening and promise that that's the kind of story it is, promises a rich and fresh secondary world where, at least, wit, wisdom, a pithy moral, and personifications of the natural world are pertinent to the story's outcome.

I couldn't put it down though, not until I'd read the entire story in one pass. Without spoiling the plot, and of note contained in the opening, suffice it to say that the opening introduces the story's voice, conflict, the dramatic and imaginative premises, and the who, what, and why of the viewpoint character's significance to the story. "So that she may eventually rule."

*Litotes: an understatement where an affirmative is expressed by the negative of the contrary, Webster's


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Phobos
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"So that she may eventually rule."

I failed to comment on this line earlier and I am glad that you pointed that out, Extrinsic. I found this to be a very powerful line. The might of the few simple sentences is chilling. I want to learn how to convey such resonating prose in my own writing.

Extrinsic, You never cease to amaze me. Thank you for participating. I envision you as a sagely, grey-haired professor at home in one of those libraries that you see in the movies that, from floor to ceiling cover every wall and they have those movable ladders that enable you to reach the top shelves. Please don't take offence to that. I just admire and appreciate your knowledge.

quote:
Litotes: an understatement where an affirmative is expressed by the negative of the contrary,

You mentioned this as an example of the device used in this line, "So that she may eventually rule."

Could you describe more how this mechanism works or perhaps give another example? I think I understand the concept, but I would like to have some elaboration.


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philocinemas
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What I notice first in this opening is a rhythm - a sentence that is easy to understand followed by one that is difficult. The rhythm repeats itself in the third and fourth sentences. The first and third sentences (the simple ones) are the hooks. The rest appears to introduce characters and set the tone – I would guess that this is going to be light-hearted, if not comical. The fairy tale quality of the piece is unmistakable – this appears to be the bait (following the hook analogy).

I found the word “really” in the first sentence a little unusual. It suggests to me a narrator that is possibly either unreliable or immature in some way.

The third paragraph creates what I like to refer to as depth – specifics and nuances that make the story “real”. They are not in Messaline, but in a small province north of it. The princess has a tip-tilted nose – this suggests to me two things (snobbery and a comical appearance). I thought the names were also a little unattractive. All this serves to make the story a little more real to me. I would continue reading.

[This message has been edited by philocinemas (edited November 30, 2009).]


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extrinsic
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I am kind of platinum gray haired in the right light, pewtery blond in another.

Another sense and examples of litotes from the Silva Rhetoricae;

quote:
Deliberate understatement, especially when expressing a thought by denying its opposite.

The Ad Herennium author suggests litotes as a means of expressing modesty (downplaying one's accomplishments) in order to gain the audience's favor (establishing ethos). [ethos, better known in this day and age as reader/audience resonance.]

Examples
It isn't very serious. I have this tiny little tumor on the brain. —J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

Running a marathon in under two hours is no small accomplishment.

Related Figures
meiosis
irony
hyperbole
sarcasmus
Figures of ethos
Figures of Refutation

Related Topics of Invention
Contraries & Contradictions
Similarity & Difference


One of my examples of litotes; I'm not all that brilliant, just another 40 watt lightbulb that stays on in a 40 watt lightbulb world.
quote:
You cannot really keep a princess in a tower. [understatement] Not if she has no brothers [understatement] and must learn statecraft and dancing and riding and poisons and potions and the passage of arms [overstatement], so that she may eventually rule [understatement in that it's the protagonist's purpose disguised as a given consequence of being a princess].

But you can do the next best thing. [understatement]


I interpret those opening lines as the context of, and a litotes, and "punchline" of the litotes as a litotes in its own right. As litotes is related to irony, it's an ironic voice for the narrator made more poignant by contrast with the overstatement (hyperbole) of the polysyndeton clause "and must learn statecraft and dancing and riding and poisons and potions and the passage of arms."

There's an additional irony or two in the passage that takes the form of poetic conceit through a subtextual meaning. The conventional fairy tale expectation for a princess sees her pampered in an ivory tower (metaphorically played out later in the story). This princess isn't pampered, per se, in an ivory tower. And ivory tower, a monumental white marble tower actually, close enough for me to see its implied symbolic meaning. A bastion for white male patriarchies. That's rich.

I'd first thought that the use of second person pronouns in the opening lines could be either a generic impersonal address to an implied audience or a reflexive address to the self of the narrator. The latter has me wanting to know the narrator more closely. The ironic tone of the opening had me wanting the narrator to be the story's viewpoint character. But I'm not disappointed to find the former is the case. Anyway, the second person auxilliary voice works in that ironic tone and doesn't then need to be consistent throughout the story. It serves its purpose and fades away.

Of note, the second person auxilliary for what is otherwise a third person story eliminates a potentially passive sentence syntax by addressing an implied audience in subject position. "You cannot really keep a princess in a tower. //A princess really cannot be kept in a tower.// "But you can do the next best thing." //But the next best thing can be done.// Marry her off. Subtle. Hillarious. And on point to the story's central theme and message and an implied pithy maxim.

By directly addressing an implied audience, second person auxilliary engages readers through a subject position, thus preventing a subject position "wound" that would then need to be sutured--repaired. In other words, rather than alienating readers, in this case second person sentence subject position engages readers, then drops away before it becomes burdensome.

Oh, and some interesting symbolism in the term talus related to geology, mining, and defensive fortifications and the story as a whole.

[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited November 30, 2009).]


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shimiqua
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I like the first thirteen, but I found myself skimming the story
for the first two hundred words or so. I probably wouldn't have continued reading, if not for the fact that I wanted to make a comment on how I was skimming for the first two hundred words or so.

The story really got started for me when she meets with the witch for the first time. I found the information I skimmed to be more important and then had to go back to reread.

If I was giving her a crit before publication, I would advise her to use less info dumps, and insert the information in the action. I think I would have enjoyed the story more if she had done that.

After the scene with the witch, the story just keeps getting better. There was real beauty in the prose and really cool moments. The writing was very clean, and didn't feel distant despite the narrator intrusions. I thought it was brilliantly done. Very good work.

Then it ended. I'm kind of sad. The world is gone now, just gone. Good short stories make me sad sometimes, because I wish they were novels.

Could someone tell me who they thought the narrator was? It was the princess, right? After she grew up. It could be the witch, though. I'm still not sure.

Cool story though. I like this group. Glad to see what's been published.
~Sheena

[This message has been edited by shimiqua (edited November 30, 2009).]


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extrinsic
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I have a sense of an implied author narrating the story to an implied audience, not the closest of engagement methods for telling a story. However, I think it's a good choice by way of partially alienating sympathy for the protagonist at the same time as maintaining an empathetic immersion effect, though the story movement stalls during the expositions (description and explanation infodumps), and which speaks to the story's brutal outcomes for other salient characters. The narrator is for the most part anonymous, but not entirely invisible, and at times subjective in tone by taking an attitude toward the story's theme.

The infodumps rigidly conform to a fable convention form for relating relevant circumstances and settings of a story up front and getting them out of the way. They're told to an audience and are told for the audience's sake. In more modern conventional methods, those types of details are interleaved in the action so that they're presented as important to a protagonist and therefore indirectly important to an audience through audience sympathy and/or empathy for a protagonist's situation.

[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited December 01, 2009).]


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Tiergan
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First off this is a great idea, discussing what is published this way. I have of late felt that in my writing i have put too much emphasis on some rules and not let the story be told, especially in the first 13, and in doing so lost my voice. Please don't take my comments as negative, they are not intended to bash any writing, but as like you, an understanding of what sells in todays market.

This first 13 works for me, but by everything i have learned(whether it be right or wrong) this 13 shouldnt work. Its not a scene, and its a distant narative, standing against everything I thought openings should be. The 3rd paragrpah is what I have been lead to believe an "info dump" a summary, a history and if I would put someting similar up would be scolded and told to show, not tell. Perhaps because its a fairy tale story or so i believe it will be, this type of opening is given more acceptable.

I havent read the piece, jsut the 13, but will and offer comments on it in the future.

So, my question is, why does the opening work? My best guess is the one line "But you can do the next best thing." I want to know what the next best thing is. So there in it lies the hook for me.


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Teraen
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sorry to be a rabble-rouser, but why are we only critting the first 13? I know we can't quote more than that, but I don't see a reason we can't discuss various aspects of the plot, characterization, etc...l

Also, in order to keep everyone participating, will we vote on stories to discuss, or change moderators weekly?


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Not rabble-rousing, Teraen. That's a good question.

People need to go read the story and comment on how it fulfills (or doesn't) the promise of the first 13 lines, and on all of the other aspects of writing.


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Phobos
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Tarean,

We will discuss the intro first...until Wednesday that will give everyone a chance to read the entire story and it is important to analyze the first thirteen much as we do here in F&F. Once have a good sense of the style and elements of published stories and intro's we will have a better grasp on how to make ours more publishable.


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Dark Warrior
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Wait...we arent just doing Thumbs Up or Thumbs down?
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genevive42
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Tiergan, you're right about this intro breaking a lot of rules about the first thirteen. But I think because it is being presented in fairy tale form and is following that form as we all know it, it is acceptable. I think this is a case someone knowing the rules and knowing how to break them.

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LlessurNire
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I like this opening, it immediately conveys an original voice and tone and sets the scene for a fantastical story to follow. I have purposely not read the rest of the story yet, and am letting my imagination wander about what kind of story is coming.


quote:

So, my question is, why does the opening work? My best guess is the one line "But you can do the next best thing." I want to know what the next best thing is. So there in it lies the hook for me.

I agree with Tiergan, this is the sort of first 13 I wouldn't try to write, especially after all I have learned so far about writing a good hook here on hatrack. But this 13 works, for me. I too want to know what the next best thing is.

Could how she stands straight as an ivory pole be a parallel to the tower? I thought I read someone mention 'ivory tower' in a previous post but I can't find it now.

1st paragraph: Stand out sentence, grabs your attention in an 'oh, this is going to be that kind of story' kind of way...

2nd paragraph: bam! hoook!

3rd paragraph: The story begins, I like the array of names and description, I feel instantly transported to this far off land of the shining empire

Funny thing is, when I read a lot of stories with this kind of an unconventional tone to them, when I sit down to write I start out writing in the same kind of voice, until my inner editor kicks in and starts correcting all the flaws!


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genevive42
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quote:
I think this is a case someone knowing the rules and knowing how to break them.

I wrote this and then I reconsidered. I don't think the author broke the rules. I think the author simply decided to play by a different set of rules. But she let us know right off that she was using this other set of rules that we are all familiar with so it seems okay to us.

[This message has been edited by genevive42 (edited December 01, 2009).]


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extrinsic
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I concur. The "rules," conventions, principles, structures, and forms for fairy tales and fables and other narrative folklore are as old as storytelling and fairly rigid on most accounts. In my interpretation, "Love Among the Talus" closely, if not rigidly, conforms to the conventions, principles, structures, and forms for fables.

For what it's worth, looking up all the unfamiliar words and names in the story will enhance the story's meaning. They're all defined somewhere online. One is an unconventional compound word, but readily found in its divided words. Knowing their meanings while reading the story gives a stronger sense of the story's milieu and themes.

[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited December 01, 2009).]


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Phobos
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Sorry I didn't get this up sooner my flight home to New Zealand got deleayed twice.

Here are a few questions to get the discussion going. You don't nescessarily have to answer all of them, but it will serve to warm up the brains.

What are the three most predominate characteristics of the MC?

Did the author make good use of details in this story to make it more vivid/believable to the reader?

Did the story demonstrate a traditional plot scheme? What were the elements of its plot

At what point in the story did the plot climax?

Did the ending tie together the theme of this story?

In what ways did the MC attempt to resolve the predominate conflict of this story?

Did the story begin at a proper moment of incitement for its progression?

How was the story’s pace? Were there distinguishable variances in its pace?


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extrinsic
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In my interpretation, by modern expectations, "Love Among the Talus" has an unconventional climax. The two more common features of a climax in this age are; when outcome is most in doubt or when forces in opposition are at their greatest opposition. A third is when a protagonist knows all salient information relative to resolving a central conflict.

The story climaxes when Nilufer learns the Witch is her paternal grandmother. "'I was your father's mother.'" From recognition of her full and true situation (anagnorisis), the turn in the action follows when Nilufer then makes the decision that will lead to resolution of her central conflict (denouement) through a sudden reversal of her circumstances (peripetia or peripety). Nilufer's quest is for information. Once she has all she needs to know, then she can act on it accordingly.

Stories can incorporate all three climax features. And they can occur simultaneously or in close sequence. However, narrative folklore traditionally prioritizes only one, fables tend to favor the recognition-anagnorisis type of climax. After all, there's an implied tersely cogent moral behind the message of this story's central theme.

Nilüfer, meaning water lily in Turkish from Persian Nelofar. Water lilies symbolize pureness of heart.

[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited December 03, 2009).]


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Phobos
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Regarding characterization,I was very much impressed by the MC. I often question a character who seems stronger than their environment would condition them to be. I typically find it unbelievable when a hero arises from mundane parents or environments. Here, being noble born there would be opporunity for a very strong willed character to arrise. Although there was not that much information on the character of her mother, the witch(Her grandmother) seemed could be an adequate advisor, so I was able to believe how much character she had. To me, the characterization of the MC made the story exeptional. Her patience, dilligence, and guile were impressive to say the least. How she didn't or never intend on jumping into any rash decisions, made her stand out. Nobility really shone through and made an interesting and believable charater.

I agree with Extrinsic that this was no ordinary plot and conceed that the discovery that the whitch was her grandmother to be the plots climax. If there were a downfall to this story however, I feel it was that. The discovery felt like a device to me. Why did she wait so long to reveal this to her? What motives would she have to conceal this fact?

As far as the story's pace, This was a very compelling story. I did not put it down once I began reading. This in itself is not a remarkable feat because it is not uncommon for me to read a short story straight through, but I can say that I did so with great zeal. I found the pace matched well with the plot. It increased as the plot climaxed and had a strong finnish and the prose both elegant and comfortable. There were many new words to me but they rested nicely in context i which I could decipher their meaning without comming to a grinding halt.

I recently read an article in F&SF about providing detail to a story to make it more believable. I found the level of detail in this story very well done, yet did not have the heavy taste of excessive exsposition. I found the inciting moment to be spot on considering the style of narration. As this was not a close third person story, I didn't rely on seeing the beginning of the story through the eyes of the princess and therefore I could overlook the generous dose of exposition at the beginning of the story because it wasn't to sweeping. For example it didn't start "Since she was a young child..." In other words we didn't get the once upon a time. Here is the story of Princess yadayada. It all started on a starless night...." So The brief expo at the beginning wasn't too imposing and then it picked up with the MC seamlessly.

The crafting was very well done. So well in fact that I went out and bought one of her novels. I don't think I could ever aspire to writing as effectively in this style.

One of the better aspects of this story were the use of the Talus, both as a metaphore and also to add an interesting speculative element of this story. It blended perfectly of the theme and added the element to this story which many in this genre lack. THe Thalus were integral to the plot and theme of the story. That is to say, you could not remove them(The speculative element) and still have a story. Many times the speculative is just a throw in and the story is just a generic plot with a speculative added.

I rank this story a five of five, a rating I don't just hand out. I think it is the best I have read in months and it has a position in my five all time top five.


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Tiergan
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I'll be honest this was not my type of story so please bare that in mind regarding my thoughts.

I have divided it into 2 parts: 1-my thoughts on the writing/story 2-What I take away and hope to apply to my writing.

The main problem I had with the story was that the entire first 1/3 was an info dump, now it was problably saying important information, but as another reader mentioned, I found myself skimming it. It’s a short story. I should never be scanning, even in a novel, but for sure not a short story. I have been taught that every word must be considered and have a reason.

POV-This could be me favoring a 1, tops 2 pov short story, and liking it established early on. I will be the first to admit that I don’t understand a lot about the narrator and such. As far as the story here, it worked, but because of the limited, distant pov, I had no care as to what happened, no feelings for the princess. No emotions to me is a very big negative, I want to care, to feel, and I didn’t.

The ending: The entire ending after the battle was explaining what happened. I don’t feel this is a legitimate way to end a story(might be normal in fairy tale types I don't know). TI fell it might be told better through a different pov.

The prose was colorful and descriptive, but I felt it slowed the story down. When every sentence has adjectives describing every detail, it bogs down and for me detracts from the writing and some of the previous lines. I did like the way the writing instantly lets me know the scene, the character’s descriptions(very well done in its descriptions) but it began to drag on.

_____________________________________________________
What I take away from this story and want to apply to my writing.
1)I like the way the writing described things, I do feel it went overboard, but that could again be the style with fairy tales. I want to take some of that and get back to some of my original voice, I was once praised for my descriptions of scene, setting and characters and now, it has become sparse, possibly because I am caught up so much on Pov and pov violation.
2)Show don’t tell. I feel I have taken this rule too far, and I can tell a little more. This story had a lot of telling, but in some instances it was effective and not everything has to be shown.
3)World building, for such a short story the writing spent a lot of time/words on world building and in doing so, makes the world vivid.

Overall, I think the story and I didnt click. This is more about me than the writing I feel. I think if I was more widely read, it might be different, once I found myself scanning I think I couldnt get back on track.

I look forward to reading all the other comments and what the future stories might be, it might interseting to read another of this author's stories and see the variation in style from one story to the next.



[This message has been edited by Tiergan (edited December 03, 2009).]


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extrinsic
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It is said in some circles that characters, the dramatic personas inhabiting a story, can be characterized flat or round, static or dynamic in their characteristics. In this sense, no value judgements are meant by flat, round, static, or dynamic, rather how one or another of those factors relates to a story's plot in terms of causation, tension, and antagonism.

Flat characters are simple in terms of characterization complexity, usually depicting physical traits and other external character circumstances beyond the character's influence, like birthright and station, and often seen in stories where milieu, idea, or event emphasis for plot purposes supercedes character emphasis.

Round characters are ones whose characterization might include those external qualities, but also characters' internal self-identification qualities that are within a character's influence--personalities, frailties, failings, noblenesses, virtues and vices, motives and complications, and how other characters perceive those qualities--at odds and complicating a character's circumstances. Viewpoint characters' self-identification transformations are principal features of character emphasis stories.

Static characters do not typically experience self-identification transformations in a story's outcome, but might experience an external change in circumstances, like a princess' ascendance to queen.

Dynamic characters do typically experience a self-identification transformation, like from fickle resistance to compromising acceptance.

Four general areas of static-dynamic-triumph-failure relate to a story's outcome; static characters who resist transformation and consequently triumph, static characters who seek transformation and they fail to rise to the occasion, dynamic characters who resist transformation but are transformed nonetheless, dynamic characters who seek transformation and consequently triumph.

At first blush, I thought Nilufer is a flat, static character. However, examining her for a self-identification transformation and resolving of her central conflict and her outcome, I realized she's a round, dynamic character. Her round and dynamic nature are not in the forefront of the story, though.

Her predominant personality traits are she's headstrong, enjoys her independence, and is judiciously compassionate and compromising in the face of insurmountable obstacles to her desires.

At first Nilufer has a Hobson's Choice, marry or not. A Hobson's Choice's single unpleasant option tends to make no decision an alternative choice. Marriage doesn't appeal to her. Refusal is an option with unstated yet potentially equally unpleasant outcomes. Then she's confronted with a Morton's Fork choice, two equally unpleasant choices, marry Toghrul or Temel. She will be married off whether she likes it or not. She accommodates to that Morton's Fork choice, transformation initiated, and sets in motion her initiation into the full obligations and privileges of adulthood and Khatunhood. She's transformed from a post adolescent self-identification to a full adult self-identification. Unlike young adult story characters' initiation into post-adolescent obligations and privileges, this story deals with the next stage of initiation into adult life.

I found Nilufer's decision choices and outcomes very amusing. She defuses an ambitious mother, allies with a wise advisor, Witch, true grandmother, mother of the Khan who's Nilufer's natural father. And most amusingly, in the process, Nilufer stamps out Temel's ambitions and forges the weak Toghrul, the Witch's grandson, the Khanzadeh prince into an acceptable husband and Khatun king. Wise of Nilufer, defuse mom's ambitions, defuse Temel's destabilizing, chaotic, and mayhem prone ambitions, prop her husband-to-be up in glory, courage, and fame, put some lead in his pencil, so to speak, and win for herself a stable place in the status quo which keeps her in the lifestyle she's accustomed to.

Meddling, ambitious mothers or mothers-in-law like Hoelun are a stock character used in narrative folklore for creating contention and antagonism. The Witch strikes me as posing as a cautious and lowly retainer avoiding contention with Hoelun. She's Nilufer's grandmother, though, they're actually related by blood. However, the Witch has no familial standing in the household. I interpret her concealed identity as biding her time for the opportune moment. Once she knows which way the wind blows with Nilufer, she reveals her true identity.

Temel in Turkish means foundation. The ideogram on Nilufur's easel when Temel arrives in her tower bed chamber depicts foundation. Who summoned who first?

[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited December 03, 2009).]


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Phobos
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Early in the story there was a dialogue between the princess and the witch which was a shining example of superb dialogue. I believe KDW said that we couldn't post more quotes than the first thirteen so I will paraphrase.

Witch:
scribe me a love spell

Princess:
No the ink is to thin. It will spider out on the canvas

Witch:
You must learn in life that you must make best use of the tools at hand

What makes this dialogue great is that it demonstrates not only the actions or happenings of the story, but also the motives and characteristics of the characters. Their is a "Chess Match" being played here between the two characters. THe witch is trying to see where the princess's heart and motives lay and how much she can influence the strong-willed young woman. The princess is making an excuse, metaphorically. It shows not only her guile but also that she is indecisive. She is trying to portay erself as naive, but the witch sees through her.Only when she realises that she can not avoid the prying witch she confesses her true motive.

'I will not marry for Love'

This is a brief example of how impactful the dialogue is in this story, which is a lesson we all can incorporate into our own writing. Effective dialogue should have many purposes.

I do not feel that the narrator could ever be determined in this story. I don't consider myself an expert on the subject, but one poster mentioned that they thought it was the princess. I thought that it could be the princess or the witch. One line offers a clue that it could be the princess. It was the only POV violation I noticed, well I suppose it isn't really a POV violation as this was a distant (maybe Omni?) narration but the line(again I won't quote)

The princess thought but did not say 'She didn't care to be a Kahtan'

this was shortly after the dialogue I mentioned above in response to a statement by the witch.

I am kinda surprised that Tiergan and Shimiqua didn't really care for this story, but then again I can see how some would either love or hate this type of story.


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Teraen
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I don't have much to add to what's been already said about the first 13, but here is my general thought on the story itself.

First off, I can't decide if I like it or not. The introduction, though a good hook, struck me throughout the first paragraphs as too "fairy taley," for lack of better words. I usually don't like those kind of stories. I am preconcieved to think of them as too Cutesy Wutesy, and so I am more critical as I read, and less willing to continue if I get bored.

But despite that, she managed to hold my attention long enough to get into the flow of things (though I admit it was partially because I knew I was critting it for this group...) I think she managed to do that with excellent use of descriptive words. Some, like "tip tilted" nose (what the heck does that mean???) seemed much too... juvenile... for me. But others show an absolute command over English: Glacial virginity, unhappy oxen, etc. We know exactly what the author means, using only two words.

However, the main reason I would say I don't like it is the plotting. At the end, I had to reread it a few times to know what happened (not a good thing to have at the climax, in my opinion). Her final act made sense, but I had no sense of the character's motives. The names became a big jumble. I had to focus to determine what the importance of the witch's relation was, who was getting married, what the armies were, etc. It had an interesting premise, but fell flat to me.

Lastly, I think this could be called speculative fiction in only the loosest sense. The only factors were Talus and witchery, both of which were only side acts and could have easily been supplanted by traditional slaves and sneaking out of a castle. To me, what's the point of inventing another world if it doesn't affect the plot in some way?


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extrinsic
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Another viewpoint transition in the Temel scene in Nilufer's tower, right after depicting Nilufer's sensations of the cold bed chamber floor, depicts Temel's as-perceived sensations of sighting Nilufer's aimed arrowhead, her unblinking eye, her downcast gaze fixed on his throat, his sensations of his eyelids, cheeks, and shoulder blades from his perspective, not from Nilufer's. One paragraph in total from Temel's perspective. In after-the-fact reportorial omniscient narrator access that passage isn't neccesarily a viewpoint lapse, not in an implied author-narrator direct address to an implied audience.
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Teraen
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My guess, the MC isn't the viewpoint character, as we read that she lived to a ripe old age. And, history makes little mention of her...

Seems it was written after she died, to me. Ergo, someone she must have confided in.


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extrinsic
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If I were tasked to write a screenplay treatment for "Love Among the Talus," I'd wrap it with a frame story similarly to One Thousand and One Nights'. In many of the Arabian Nights stories Scheherazade tells the stories to Shahryar for entertainment distractions.

For this story, I'd open with an ancient woman telling the story to a rapt audience of young girls. A Mongol steppe nomads' village of yurts, inside one, the old woman perched on a deeply padded sleeping bench, the youngsters on carpeted floor coaxing her to tell a story of Nilufer. Transition to voiceover narration during sweeping vistas of the Steles of the Sky, zoom into the Talus at work, overview of the castle, into the highest white tower and center on Nilufer working at her easel. No changes to the story itself, voiceover narration for the narration exposition parts that fade in and out from the depiction parts.

At the end, back to the old woman.

The youngsters ask, "Are you the Witch?"

"I am a witch." She spooks the children with a frightening gesture. They scream delightedly. "Nilufer was my great-great grandmother." Perhaps an explicitly stated tersely cogent moral for validation effect. "If you don't think for yourselves, someone else will." --End--

However, when I read the story, I don't need a wrapping frame story to appreciate that that's the kind of story this is, a nested story among a million other stories of the Middle East. Hoelun, name of Temüjin's mother, Ghengis Khan, Khan of Khans, first emperor of the Mongolian empire. Toghrul, name of Temüjin's protector bodyguard.

Lately, I ask why any one story is published and another is not. I've seen my share of stories I wouldn't publish, in print and in workshops. My preferences are mine though. So from asking the question, I'm driven to open my mind to a story's virtues and overlook its vices. That's been my focus for several months, virtues of stories I read. It's also become my focus for response commentary. I was stalled by fixation on vices; examining virtues unstuck my poet's progress.

So why was this story published? Bear had at the time recently won the Locus and Campbell awards for best new writer, she had several dozen publishing credits and her first novel in print. Name recognition says a lot.

But that's not enough of an answer for me. The story's virtues outweigh it's vices, and I could name hundreds of vices in it. One virtue that strikes me is how it's outside the box of conventional expectations by being a pastiche of one of the most ancient of short story forms, a narrative folklore tale. With so much of the usual run of the mill couched in modern forms, its unconventional form is fresh because it's faithful to an ancient, if not original, traditional form. The roots of storytelling thrive in modern stories, more so when a living piece of work revitalizes old ways. Lest we forget our roots.

In and of itself, though, old ways are not by themselves sufficient to rise above the fray. I've read many stories in traditional forms that don't make it over the transom. This one's got that one extra special aspect that saw it through. It's in a modernist feminist art movement form, art--literature--that "reflects women's lives and experiences." Wikipedia: Feminist Art Movement. Feminist oriented stories are underrepresented in the fantastical genres. This one suffices to address that deficiency in some small way.

A headstrong woman central to a story with a specific to women's traditional roles depicted from an original perspective, a strong female character wins through in a stock female role by navigating a treacherous course. And that, for me, makes all the difference.

[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited December 04, 2009).]


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genevive42
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I have to admit, I had to read this story twice to get exactly what was going on. The first time I read for pleasure but my lack of familiarity with the names and such kept me from immediate clarity. The abundant description while nice, sometimes seemed to be a hindrance as well. The second, after reading some of the discussion here, I skipped over the descriptions and focused on the actual dialogue and events.

After that, I too am in flux as whether I like the story. I did like it better on the second read when I had more success at unraveling the who and what, etc. For my tastes, Temel is the most interesting character in the story. So when she double crossed him in the end I didn't get it. But she did say that she would not marry for love.

On the second read I understood better how she built up her new husband, Toghrul so he could be a stronger ruler. But I guess I don't fully understand why she did not choose Temel if there was a chance he could rise to Khagan. He was stronger and the better match for her personally. I realize that she would have more control with Toghrul. Was that her purpose? Or was she trying to maintain the status quo?

I would like to know more about Nilufer's motivations and inner thoughts. Maybe it doesn't suit this type of story form but it would have made it more enjoyable for me. I put this story as interesting but somewhere in the middle as far as preference.


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Phobos
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I am really pleased with the response, though I must admit that I was surprised that most were not that impressed with this story. I thank all who participated.

At this point I suppose we should start thinking about our next story. Strange Horizons is, of course, a good venue since it is readily accesible to everyone, but I would like us to broaden our spectrum at some point. I was thinking that we might do a flash from Flash Fiction online as this would serve those of us who write flash an is also available online. We should tip the writer though or donate to the sites in some way.

I ask that you all cast your vote and perhaps offer a commitment to pick up a magazine such as Asimov's, Analog, F&SF and that way we can discuss a story from one of the Top Three the following week. So cast your vote for this week and also offer a publication with a backup choice for the printed publication for the following week. Thanks again for participating. I can say that I honestly learned alot.

-Finnias

[This message has been edited by Phobos (edited December 05, 2009).]


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Phobos
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quote:
. I realize that she would have more control with Toghrul. Was that her purpose? Or was she trying to maintain the status quo

It took it to mean that she didn't want to marry anyone for position. She prefered her independence and wanted to remain the ruler of her own kingdom. I am not certain but I thought that was her motive.

quote:
I would like to know more about Nilufer's motivations and inner thoughts. Maybe it doesn't suit this type of story form but it would have made it more enjoyable for me. I put this story as interesting but somewhere in the middle as far as preference.

I suppose I felt a real connection with the character and therefore I was able to read into the motives and feelings she had. I admit this story was not clear cut as some, and there was alot left to interpretation. The main motive I took with me was her defiance against; her Mother, The witch (Her Grandmother) Her suitor. In the end she made a brave and cunning move to serve her own purpose.


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genevive42
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Along with the print mags, why don't we consider IGMS. IT's only $2.50 an issue and it's still online so we don't have to worry about whether everyone will be able to get it.

For print though, I'd have to vote for F&SF.


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Dark Warrior
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quote:
Along with the print mags, why don't we consider IGMS. IT's only $2.50 an issue and it's still online so we don't have to worry about whether everyone will be able to get it.

and the first pages are usually free, though I subscribe, so people who don't could at least comment on the first 13.


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Phobos
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Yeah I forgot IMGS. I have a subscription. It is also really affordable at $2.50 an issue.
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Dark Warrior
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If you do IGMS this one might be good to start with. The author is a former hatracker.

www.hatrack.com/forums/

[This message has been edited by Dark Warrior (edited December 05, 2009).]


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Teraen
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For next week, I'd vote for one of these three (being the most recent 3 I have read that I liked well enough to discuss...) All are free online:

26 monkeys, also the abyss:
http://www.asimovs.com/nebulas09/26monkeys.shtml

Marya and the Pirate
http://www.asimovs.com/_issue_1001/exc_Pirate.shtml

Firstborn (cause I like Brandon Sanderson, and thought it interesting he is foraying out into scifi
http://www.tor.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=story&id=10489

[This message has been edited by Teraen (edited December 05, 2009).]


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extrinsic
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I'm so broke I can barely afford to pay attention. So I would not be inclined to participate if there's a cost involved. A $2.50 toll might not seem like much, but seemingly insignificant amounts are prone to add up. That amount buys me a month's worth of oatmeal for breakfast. My subsistence budget would take a hit from any expenditure.

I second Teraen's nomination of Kij Johnson's "26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss" for being an award nominee and winner.
Hugo Nomination for Best Short Story 2009.
Nebula Nomination for Best Short Story 2008.
World Fantasy Award for Best Short Story 2009.

However, like "Love Among the Talus" it's in a direct address third person voice, also somewhat fable-like in its form. I suggest we discuss a story that's in a different voice and form, like in indirect address or one with features outside our comfort zones or one that affords an opportunity for contrast with Talus.

Mike Allen's "Button Bin" is an extreme polar opposite of many run of the mill fantastical stories. It's in second person reflexive, an atypical indirect address voice that's not many readers' cup of tea, and an out-of-category horror story. Published in Helix #6 Fall 2007, Nebula Nominee for Short Story 2008, a competitor of 26 Monkeys. Slow to introduce a fantastical premise though. http://transcriptase.org/fiction/allen-mike-the-button-bin

A story in first person; "Exhalation" by Ted Chiang, published in the Eclipse Anthology #2 2008, Hugo for Best Short Story 2009, also a contender with 26 Monkeys. I haven't yet read it, as I hadn't yet read Talus before this discussion started. http://www.nightshadebooks.com/Downloads/Exhalation%20-%20Ted%20Chiang.html

Of note; "Exhalation" is posted at Nightshade in the format it was submitted for nomination to the Hugo Awards.

[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited December 05, 2009).]


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genevive42
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quote:
It took it to mean that she didn't want to marry anyone for position. She prefered her independence and wanted to remain the ruler of her own kingdom. I am not certain but I thought that was her motive.

She said she would not marry for love. To me that could mean two things. One, she would use marriage to improve her status. Or two, she didn't believe in love. So by marrying Toghrul she actually did remain mostly independent because by him being weak she would have more control.

Another question as to her motivations, did she have the plan in mind to double cross Temel when she went to him and slept with him or was it a Hail Mary after her transgression?

The line where she questions whether the spell will work 'even if she carried another man's child', (paraphrased) seems to indicate that the double cross plan came after the act. It's as if she's trying to correct her mistake, maybe? What do you think?


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extrinsic
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Nilufer's not marrying for love, to me, signified that she acknowledged princesses have an obligation to their people and themselves to marry for stabilizing or upward advantage: political, financial, social, cultural. As politically incorrect as it is in today's cultures, princesses have one purpose, to marry off for advantage. Interestingly, "Love Among the Talus" sets the fairy tale convention of marrying for love on edge and reimagines it in an edgy, fresh, and original perspective. In my view, one of the conventions of fables that distinguishes them from fairy tales is an edginess that comes with a moral lesson.

There's more in the passage that signifies Nilufer's "flaw" than whether she has a child in the womb. She's no longer a virgin. She's spoiled for marriage to an equal or higher ranking man.

I interpret that she gave Temel a chance to be her partner and found him wanting from his disregard for the Talus and the empire. He represents chaos, civil war, and mayhem, and a very real possibility that he would destroy Nilufer's power base through harming the Talus, as he would use the wild Talus as his legions. Nilufer can't allow that to happen. And she has glory and rank enough as wife of Khatun Toghrul and then Dowager Khatun queen to satisfy her needs and wants, and she fulfills her duties to her people, the empire, her natural father the emperor, and the Talus, as well as hers to herself.

[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited December 05, 2009).]


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genevive42
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I agree with you extrinsic but there are a couple of points that may also need addressing.

It is after she talks to Temel and realizes his shortcomings, "found him wanting from his disregard for the Talus and the empire," that she lies with him. Was this her just giving in to desire? If she did not intend to stay with him then why did she lie with him?

Also, if she had chosen Temel, could she have protected the Talus by making it a stipulation of their coupling that he not harm any more Talus?


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extrinsic
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I believe Nilufer dallied with Temel for reproductive advantage purposes. Admirable genetic fitness qualities in him. Toghrul is her half brother. That way lies abomination. I see her as all business and no shenanigans, perhaps she expects or can forge Toghrul's viewpoint to be the same.

Temel has too assertive a personality for Nilufer's motives and ambitions. I don't see him accepting her as an equal under any terms, nor see Nilufer as accepting a subservient role under any man.

[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited December 05, 2009).]


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Phobos
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I third the motion for 26 Monkeys. I just read it at Tearan's suggestion and I thought it was very interesting and could supply much to discuss. Any opposed?
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extrinsic
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As you're facilitator by fait accompli of discussion inaugurator, I bow to and support your decision. It doesn't matter to me which story is on the hot seat as long as there's no cost, my sole limiting condition. I've read 26 Monkeys a couple of times already though.
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Tiergan
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26 monkeys is fine with me.
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genevive42
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26 monkeys seems fine. I just read a little. And I'm fine with keeping it all to free access publications so everyone can participate. I'm sure there's plenty of good material out there.
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