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Author Topic: Gray Queen Homecoming
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I was wondering if anyone here has read this story (Gray Queen Homecoming) in the WOTF anthology and had any thoughts on it. I really enjoyed the story but thought the structure was rather unusual. The way it is written leaves the reader rather lost a lot of the time and yet somehow not as frustrated as one would think. Why did it work when it seems it shouldn't have worked? Why was I inclined to go back and read it again? I would be interested in discussing it here if anyone is interested.


[This message has been edited by tnwilz (edited April 26, 2010).]

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I would love to discuss this with you.

I did a review of the anthology on Dave Steffens online writers magazine. Here it is...


This is what I had to say on Mr Zackman's piece. This is published so hopefully does not violate the 13 line rule.

Gray Queen Homecoming by Scohn M. Zackman. Third quarter third place.

Soliste Louzon and his AI mate, Alissa are all that makes up the crew of the starship ‘Wander of this Sea of Stars’. The travelers have returned to the Sol system, eager to see what has happened to Earth after all these years. The reception they receive is an icy one. They are instructed to an orbit around Saturn’s moon of Titan. The two people that board their ship have revealed much since they have been away. The Solar system has no place for Alissa’s kind, but needs Soliste for it to survive.

The real story of Gray Queen Homecoming is the delightful interaction between Soliste and Alissa. Their telepathic connection, and long life together, made for one very good ‘Odd Couple’ sci-fi angle. I found the relationship between the two believable and enticing. The author’s ability to provide information on what happened before in the middle of a conversation is first class. Although I really did like the relationship of the two main characters, the story itself wasn’t as grand. Without providing too much information, the betrayal I could see coming from a mile away.

Gray Queen Homecoming is a solid story. My only complaint about it is the ending didn’t live up to such a finely crafted piece.

Grade B+

I really considered placing this one a grade higher but the story felt hollow. I thought more could have been done with the idea. The strength of the two characters is what carried the day for me. Strong prose, not so strong plot. I can see why KDW picked it and why it placed in the competition.

I did liked others better in the anthology. The winning story is the one that had me mystified.

[This message has been edited by snapper (edited April 26, 2010).]

[This message has been edited by snapper (edited April 27, 2010).]

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Snapper is Frank...
It's all starting to fit into place now.
The bus I ride to work each day is shorter than most.

This story has a great gimmick. Several actually. I've mentioned that in a few of the critiques I've done. Get a gimmick, it helps.

I don't mean that in a negative connotation type way as I realize the word can sometimes be used. I just mean something standoutish beyond the hook which should be done in prose.

I don't have the story in front of me, but I remember the flutterers for her and the multi-colored robot things for him. He risked his life on planets and got smashed to bits, she brought him back. There were a bunch of great elements threaded through this story which had four characters and took place in a small physical area, but was aboard a ship traveling the stars which made it feel bigger than the stage it was on.

I would imagine you kept coming back to it because of the numerous gimmicky elements? Plus the picture for this story was outstanding which I'll admit assisted in my liking it a bit more.

p.s. to add I agree with your assessment of the grand prize winner, Snapper. The gimmick: frog computing. After that, fairly small story over a brief period of time. Well written, but not grand prize well written.


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I read this story fairly recently. I tend to agree that it had some interesting ideas and the characters are what really pulled me through. But the parts that were unclear bothered me to some degree. I don't mind a good mystery but don't be obtuse just to try and create one. I didn't find it compelling enough to read again.

tnwilz can you tell us more about what intrigued you and what puzzles you about that?

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p.s. to add I agree with your assessment of the grand prize winner, Snapper. The gimmick: frog computing. After that, fairly small story over a brief period of time. Well written, but not grand prize well written.

Thanks Axe. For me the gimmick was the world without governments. Either way Emery didn't make them the focus of his story. Dave traced a thread where they commented on my review. A few thought I attacked him personally. I didn't think so. You could have argued that I was with Jordan but all I was doing was illustrating a point.

As far as Gray Homecoming Queen, what made it special for me was the dinner scene. I loved how two conversations were happening simultaneously, one vocal the other telepathic. Zackman worked out a backstory, and the characters thoughts on it, all in that scene, excellently done. I don't believe I ever saw that done before. Very original. Loved it.
It was the last half of the story that dulled the luster of the piece. I think the author could have done better.
Only my opinion.

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Another opinion. This is from John Rogers, published on the Asimov forum on 9/5

(Illustrated by Tobias A. Fruge)

Whenever I read this title, I'm reminded of Gray Lady Down, the old submarine pic with Heston and Carradine. Not remotely similar - except in the sound of the words.

This breezy, cavalier romp has more than a teaspoon of Rod Garcia in its recipe, and at least two heaping tablespoons of Tracy-Hepburn. Funny to read yet another treatment of the "basically average guy teamed with a super woman" theme. Here, human biologic (as in real man, if you will) Solstice ("Sol"), a "daydreamer, [and] aimless traveler" hooks up pre-story with Angelissa (mostly shortened to Alissa), a "brilliant" AI in human form. Both apparently share a wild wanderlust. The brief first meeting of the two, on Olympus Mons, is fascinating - not so much for what happens but for what doesn't happen. We're never told how or why Alissa the AI already knows who Sol is. A system-wide database scan, looking for a free spirited "soul mate"? Kismet? It can't, or shouldn't, be telepathy. Alissa isn't telepathic - otherwise she would have been able to tell what Jez and Dare were up to right off the bat. Her italicized thought-communication with Sol throughout the text is some kind of electronic mind-net, not telepathy.

The use of the capitalized "She" for Alissa (only once, at Olympus Mons), had an almost-creepy H. Rider Haggard, reverential quality.

The story is about our bickering, love-hate couple returning to Sol system (and Sol's system, eh?) after centuries of real time star-traipsing. They've come back more or less out of boredom, to see what's shaking on the home front. A big mistake. Some bad poo-poo has gone down in their extended absence. Turns out a war was waged some years ago between synthetic and biologic humans. It ended in a drab, nearly hopeless truce. In their desperation, the humans released a semi-sentient virus called Gray Queen. It, along with the Synth's version - called Red, ravaged the entire system - and, in an act of tremendous collateral damage, all but eradicated the solar system's once vast AI community (housed mostly in their mysterious Core, a place never directly described). The synths and the biologics have all been infected with Gray Queen - which killed billions. But the death rate is now held at bay by using the DNA of returning space wanderers to rejuvenate humanity's genetic material. I may have missed some of that, but you get the general idea. So, in a nutshell, the Human Protectorate, which now runs things, wants to grab Sol's DNA for species-wide revitalization purposes, and wants to shut down Alissa because, I guess, it fears she will get infected by Gray Queen, go bonkers, and, well, do something awful.

That's all well and good. But it's the interplay between Alissa and Sol that is the backbone of the story. It does indeed have a Tracy-Hepburn feel. Alissa is sharp, angular, dismissive, acerbic, borderline-insulting and oh-so refined. Sol is coarse, earthy, loves to cook, is a good artist (hmm - like a certain EuroCop in Risqueman), gets by on instinct, does stupid (and downright suicidal) things. Now, of course, it's never explained why this AI, Alissa, would have a feminine-slant - why AIs in general, anywhere, would have genders, period. Or would have emotions, for that matter. But, who cares? It works nicely.

The structure of the ship, the colorful furnishings and accessories, the interesting support 'bots (the tumblers and the flutterers) - all of that was reminiscent of Rod Garcia, just without the swashbuckling.

Clean, superior SF. Good work.

The illustration by Fruge on p. 283 - showing Sol's awakening just before contact (and just after, one supposes, yet another undisclosed death-by-stupid-chance-taking) - definitely catches the eye. The Sol lying on the med bed is exactly the Sol I imagined. Nice job. However, I'd like to see a vastly different illustration - crisp, elegant, intricate, sparkling, glossy - in the vein of this anthology's glorious cover - of Alissa, and the ship.

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