quote:STATEMENT OF INTENT This is the story of a mother, and a daughter, and the right to life, and the dignity of all living things, and of some souls granted great destinies at the moment of their conception, and of others damned to remain society’s useful idiots. CONTENTS Expect cute plush animals and amniotic fluid and a more or less happy ending for everybody, though the definition of happiness may depend on the truncated emotional capacity of those unable to feel anything else. Some of the characters are rich and famous, others are underage, and one is legally dead, though you may like her the most of all.
Place this opening in the F & F forum you could just about predict the reception it would receive.
Too distant – too dry - …need to know who the characters are - …lacks an emotional investment for me to care – not hooked
I was turned off by the author’s desire to dictate on how I should feel about the story before I read it. If I were to crit this piece, I would have bet it wouldn’t have sold, and I wouldn’t have been more wrong.
What you have just read is a story called Arvies written by an Adam–Troy Castro. In case you were wondering what it takes to catch John J Adams eye, this is it. Arvies debut in the August of 2010 edition of Lightspeed, an appropriately titled magazine considering how quickly Mr. Adams sends back the rejections. The August edition is one I reviewed for Tangent Online, an issue that had what I thought was an award winning story in it. Arvies wasn’t it, but win an award it did, capturing this years Million Writers Award, and is short listed for a Nebula as well.
For a quick cliffnote version, “Arvies” is a tale of a society where ‘living’ people are symbiotic fetuses arrested in development. They are the puppet masters, much like the Dax character in Star Trek DS9. Arvies are the vessels they use. Birthed, often genetically tailored, people. This story is about the puppet master fetus and its vessel. When I reviewed this story, I found a lot to like.
quote: “Arvies” is an inventive idea. The story is a fresh take on symbiotic relationships…
But I had a problem with the way it was narrated…
quote: While I liked Mr Castro’s idea, I did not like the way he chose to tell it. “Arvies” was compiled into something that resembled a medical journal article but with a bedtime story narrative.
…which is how I saw the piece. The story was told from such a distance it left me feeling nothing for the characters. I felt like an observer in a lab, disconnected from events rather than being allowed to experience them first hand. I called the story “Good science fiction wasted on a dry narrative,” which is still how I feel about it. Now I have no issues on why Lightspeed would choose to publish it. It was inventive and the style experimental. What I don’t get is how it is considered to be so much better than the mountain of speculative fiction I have read this year. So much so it received the most votes by the judges in the history of the Million Writers awards. I know tastes in fiction and criteria for what makes a story great varies from person-to-person but I need help with this one. Why is this one so great? I’ve read stories more inventive and ideas more grand. Read them with better characters, stronger plots, more feeling, and a hell of a lot better endings. What am I missing with this one?
Any insight would be appreciated.
[This message has been edited by snapper (edited May 09, 2011).]
Okay, an interesting topic. I have read stories that were cheered by the pros and I just kinda went "Uh, hmm...I must be missing something".
Maybe in this case it could be that the writer was good enough to make a dry narrative interesting or it was because it was experimental, or both or neither. If it was just JJA I would say that it just pricked his interest but it has gone further than him, so maybe there is something there you're not seeing--more than likely I wouldn't see it either and even see less than you did--or maybe it has to do with your tastes.
However, this ain't no dirt road. (Leans over and dusts off the old pavement) a might on the dirty side but she be paved and just as high fluting as those new througho fares.
And of course there's a barn out here, where do you think that dragon with the wicked eyes sleeps?
And KD forgot about yours truly.
[This message has been edited by LDWriter2 (edited May 10, 2011).]
I haven't read it, snapper, but my feeling has always been that pro editors want something different than what readers want, and yet something that is also vaguely the same. I know that is a contradictory statement, but it fits what I see out there on the stands.
I very seldom see stories in Asimov's or Analog with fantastic first 13's, where I feel an instant need to keep reading. When I do keep reading, I often find the stories just okay - not amazing or "astonishing". However, I do see one thing in common (other than recognizable names) - the stories often have a distinctive style or voice, and there is a lot of depth in the sense of utilizing various methods to make the world or situation feel real to the reader.
Although I feel that many the stories here at Hatrack have better openings than what I see on the stands, most of them seem to come undone toward the end or they lack the style, or voice, or that feel of realness that permeates the pro stuff.
It got praise from none other than Harlan Ellison. If you have ever read Ellison's Hugo nominated Pretty Maggie Money Eyes, which Ellison rates as his best story written, you would see a story that is even more written along the lines of form being elevated above immersion.
Arvies carried me along simply by the power of the idea, and also by the interesting warning that it was portraying about modern life, virtual living, etc. Some say it is a kick in the guts to right to lifers. I am not so sure, as it seemed a satire about the reverse - what if fetuses had the power over people and made the same self-centred choices that we seem to make. In that sense, it is more a satire on pro-choice.
While immersion is an important quality in many stories, I don't think that it is a necessary quality - so long as you make that clear for the reader, (as Troy Castro did by his headings and beginning). I have read a couple of fascinating and memorable stories that took similar non-immersed viewpoints, some even bordering on essays. One, which I critiqued, I hope found a home, because it had something important to say about education, but knew that many critiquers wouldn't "get it". I suggested a couple of small changes, but to resist the pressure to change it.
Also, consider, when it comes to developing a symbol, immersion can work against the story. When you are immersed, you take everything at face value. But symbolism by its very nature, doesn't take everything at face value.
quote:Although I feel that many the stories here at Hatrack have better openings than what I see on the stands, most of them seem to come undone toward the end or they lack the style, or voice, or that feel of realness that permeates the pro stuff.
I'd agree with this. The nature of F&F at this site gives fast feedback that improves the beginnings, and therefore we learn to create good beginnings. There were a couple of writers a while back that created brilliant beginnings, and, after the first 13, the voice changed and the story went an entirely different direction to the promise of the 13. But without the same amount of feedback on full stories, particularly the endings, the learning is slower.
First of all, I come by this area of hatrack quite often.
Okay, I read a good portion of it. I can see why you thought it was a dry narrative. At the same time I can see why it would be considered experimental. And I think I was at least partially right. While dry after a few paragraphs I found myself into the story. After the first couple of sections the writing is good and it shows. The style reminds me of some of the older narrative stories, by some of the original Masters, I've read. It is almost an experiment in that style.
I don't think it would ever be one of my favorites but I would recommend it..it's different and the writing does draw me in even though I'm still not sure about the style.
quote:Arvies carried me along simply by the power of the idea, and also by the interesting warning that it was portraying about modern life, virtual living, etc. Some say it is a kick in the guts to right to lifers. I am not so sure, as it seemed a satire about the reverse - what if fetuses had the power over people and made the same self-centred choices that we seem to make. In that sense, it is more a satire on pro-choice.
I saw it exactly the same way. It did seem to be some sort of commentary on the abortion issue but the story was so removed from our modern society I took the similarity as meaningless to the debate.
A far better story, and a grander approach to a unique way to tell a story, was the other one I reviewed in the same issue. Tannarive Due's Patient Zero. That one took the notion of ...the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few and reversed it. An outstanding work of fiction.
quote:Personally I think we have a pretty high percentage of competent writing in our slush. Most of the people submitting to us are not bare beginners, they’re seasoned amateurs and new professionals. They’ve joined critique groups and been to workshops and know how to give a story a beginning, a middle and an end. There’s a difference, though, between Pretty Good (which does not get past slush), Really Good (which does) and Great (which gets purchased.)
Pretty Good sounds like a lot stuff here. Really Good I critiqued more than once from hatrack. The author of this article sites Arvies as an example of Great. For a better explanation of what "Great" is, she writes...
quote:They have structure, they have voice (which is consistent throughout the whole story–every line is colored by that voice, it dictates what the right words are), and they have something to say.
A structure? Sure, a fictional essay certainly is very structured. Consistent voice? Monotone throughout, very consistent. Something to say? It had a lot to say, as in all over the map. She continues...
quote:We can ask ourselves what the story was about, and what we learned from it–not about writing, but about life and being a person.
This I can identify with better, but the story had two characters. Which was best to learn about being a person? The malevolent symbotic fetus or the disposable human host?
I know this sounds like I hated the story. I didn't, but I certainly didn't think it was "Great", which is the point of why I started this thread. Just why is it so "Great"? This is important to me as a guy who sells plenty material at a penny a word but can't make a pro sale. This slush reader and JJ Adams weren't teh only ones to think this story was so Great. It won the award for the best online speculative fiction short story of 2010 and a finalist for the Nebula. It is Great. Why????
I need to know because our slush reading, article writing friend says...
quote:Maybe it’s time for a new approach: We can go read something great, and then identify what made it great, and how the author executed it.
I feel like I am standing in an art gallery staring at two paints and wondering why one is worth 10 million dollars and the other was bought for 50 bucks that morning from an unknown street artist.
I didn't have time to say this earlier but as far as I got into the story, I don't think it was satire. There could very well be something at the end that would change my mind but I right now I see it as an interesting what if story.
That might be one reason everyone-like JJA- seems to like it. A well developed world around that what if.
I tried to read it, but it was just too boring.
I really think it is just that subjective. Look at the classics which should all be excellent stories because they stood the test of time, but they do not appeal to all people.
There are some that I think are just the most amazing stories ever told like Les Miserables, Crime and Punnishment, and Wuthering Hieghts. Then there are others that bore me to tears like Moby Dick, Gulliver's Travels, and The Scarlet Letter. I know there are plenty of people who hate the books that I love or love the books I hate.
Back to the story Arvies. It was well-written and had a distinct voice, but like Snapper, I was turned off by the execution. It was too distant for me to care, so I didn't finish it. But I'm sure others thought that the execution was refreshing or even provocative. To each their own.
I think it is funny watching writers rant about Twilight trying to figure out why the series was so popular. Most of them will never figure it out because they are not the intended audience. Different stories appeal to different people. I'm definitely not the intended audience for Arvies.
[This message has been edited by MAP (edited May 12, 2011).]
It definitely isn't satire. In its defense, it scores high on the enovative scale, but doesn't get a ten because I immediately equated it with a Star Trek character.
I am both relieved and worried that a few of you feel the same way I do about it. Relieved that I'm not alone with the mixed opinion on the piece, but worried that none of us have hope selling to Lightspeed anytime soon.
Thanks for your frank and honest opinions.
PS... I'm surprised how busy this dirt track suddenly became.
Snapper, I don't think you should get caught up on this one short story. It is not the only example of a great story. There are lots of great stories out there that will appeal to you, that you will put down and think that was just incredible.
Honestly, that story seemed to have a literary style IMO. And if that is the type of story you want to write than study it, if not, then maybe this magazine isn't right for you.
I have to ask, where do you want to go with your writing career? Do you want to spend massive amounts of time changing your style to appease specific editors?
IMO, write what you love to read, and submit it to the publishers who publish those types of stories.
MAP, writing so I can be a household name is on the top of my list. Of course, you can argue not even Orson Scott Card is a household name (in most homes at least). But striving to be better is what I am after.
Part of my concern is because I also review. I do so for two places, and judge a lot of peoples works who are a lot better (a lot better) than I am. According to the better part of a panel of ten acclaimed judges for the Million Writers award, and the committee for the Nebula awards, I couldn't pick a great work of literature on a shelf full of Dr. Suess books and one Charles Dickens novel. That kinda bothers me.
So am I out of touch on what is considered literary brilliance in todays world? Or are the judges out of touch for what makes a decent story?
Snapper, I believe you're the only one here who can give us Frank's honest opinion.
I have to go with what MAP said about literary and commercial. Literary stuff is what wins awards primarily. Commercial stuff gets panned and sells like crazy.
My old community college has this one grand building located at the campus' center. It's very old and quite wonderful. All other buildings are smaller (in height, not necessarily square footage) and utilitarian.
Guess which department is located in the big ornate building?
My English 101 teacher said this on day one, "None of you are professional writers, and therefore none of you will be getting an A."
Pretty rough, right? Thanks for ruining my 4.0 lady. I got a B.
But she's the one on the committee who votes for the stories that win these awards. She'll love it for it's uniqueness, for it being different, because it may, or may not even say -something- about human nature. If it comes close, or can be interpreted as provocative, then it gets the vote over Harry the Spacefarer. Regardless of how many people enjoy reading about Harry...
The thing is that not all literary critics agree on what makes a great story. I've heard some professors say Dickens was paid by the word and it showed or that Poe was in love with his vocabulary to the detriment of his stories. There is no consensus amoung the literary community as to what makes a great story.
This story may have won an award, but I doubt the vote was unanimous. I think there are certain elements that make up great writing. A confidence in the prose, a natural flow of words and ideas, a purposeful tone and structure. This story had that. The structure the author used was deliberate not accidental.
The rest is subjective. The story either hits you on an intellectual or emotional level or it doesn't. I'm sure there were judges who didn't think it was that great even if the majority of the judges loved it.
I think a great writer is one is able to do what he intended to do. IMO, both Dickens and Dr. Suess were great writers. They both created stories that resonated with generations after generations of readers, only they had different intended audiences.
So if you are looking for Dr. Suess type stories, I'd say you have a different intended audience than Dickens. It doesn't mean you are looking for a story that is less great.
ETA: No Brendan, I have not read that story.
[This message has been edited by MAP (edited May 12, 2011).]
It may simply be that I am not a member of the literary elite, but I wouldn’t have even spent my time to read that story based on the original info you provided at the start of this thread. I must fall into the “not the intended audience” category, but I really couldn’t care less.
I read the stories that I like, and leave the rest with absolutely no remorse. I try to write stories that I would like to read and am just tickled pink when someone else likes them too.
Of course I’m no art critic either, I just know if I like it or not. And if I like the $50 piece, I’ll buy it, but if I don’t like the other then you couldn’t pay me to take it. Just my arrogant opinion.
I'm not sure I understand when people say this story is not for them because they're "not the intended audience". It's a science fiction story, and, I assume, most of the readers on here read science fiction?
That aside, I wasn't blown away by the story. I have no idea if it's the best of 2010, but, in my limited reading opinion, it wasn't the best short story I read in 2010.
I also think the right to life/pro-choice statements only tell part of the story. I did not find the story frightening 'cause it'll never happen, and I thought it had more to do with our own current "internet" culture than a fictional treatise on the abortion debate. That's just me, though, and based on my reading of the comments on the site, I'm probably wrong.
Either way, snapper, my own personal view is to look somewhat unfavorably on stories that try to tell us something, that try to impart great meaning in parable (which, quite frankly, all this story is). The story didn't grab me the way it did others, but I don't think there's anything to be learned from this particular story's publishing history other than Castro is an accomplished writer with award credits so this was going to be read and (probably) published anyway.
That may seem like a backhanded compliment to Castro, but I don't mean it that way. All I'm saying is that this particular story would've had a hard time getting published coming from an unknown, and it doesn't hurt that Harlan Ellison praised it (of course he'd praise it; it reads just like an Ellison story). Good for Castro for getting it published, and good for him that it won an award.
(By the way, a story told in this somewhat same detached manner, with obvious literary intent, was David Foster Wallace's, "Backbone", published in March in The New Yorker. I normally don't go for The New Yorker's fiction, but "Backbone" was fantastic. It was about a boy who decided he was going to "press his lips to every square inch of his own body". This one affected me more than Castro's attempt to say "something of import".)
quote:I tried to read it, but it was just too boring
LOL... It's a short story.
But yeah, it didn't grab me either.
The form is unique, but the writing doesn't particularly stand out -- it's not bad -- but doesn't stand out for me.
Experimental works are typically not my type of story. So many of them are repeated so often (such as the plethura of "Choose Your Own Adventure" stories I see appearing all over the place). But it's not the form that threw me off; it's that the characters didn't grab me. The little clips flipping back and forth left me separated from what was being told and I was constantly distracted by the odd headings.
So in summary, Snapper, I have absolutely nothing to provide at all.
P.S. I check this section often too. But yeah, the Writing section is by far the hippest place to make friends and influence people.
Brendan it kinda reminds of tow stories I read years ago. One was a huge amount of years but the other was actually a novel. A whole series of them.
James White's (I think it was James) Sector General series. They had one species whose fetuses were sentient and telepathic. The birthing process released a chemical that destroyed the intelligence of the fetus.
quote:and it doesn't hurt that Harlan Ellison praised it (of course he'd praise it; it reads just like an Ellison story).
Actually, this does read like a New Wave story, which Ellison cut his teeth on. Also, given the age of Castro, he too may have cut his teeth on the New Wave.
quote:my own personal view is to look somewhat unfavorably on stories that try to tell us something, that try to impart great meaning in parable
Rich, is that simply because you dislike people telling you what to do? But seriously, cutting out stories that have something to say would cut out most of the more interesting stories in existence. Take the following: Heinlein's Starship Troopers, Haldeman's Forever War, and OSC's Ender's Game. Each said something about war and how it affects people, and each from very different end of the political spectrum. Importantly, each set out to say their point in their stories. However, that doesn't mean that the stories themselves cannot be compelling. I suspect your reaction is not about these types of stories, but ones that make you feel preached at. The very standoffish nature of Arvies does cause that impression (and the point you make about the current "internet" culture is well said).
But I do like such stories, because they attempt to make the point in a way that isn't simply an essay, and garners a wider audience to consider the issues than a direct statement would. If you want to engage the community into understanding and considering an issue, a story is more powerful than a thousand lectures. Famous examples: On the Beach, which put an understanding of nuclear war into the psych of the post-war generation; Tom Brown's Cabin, which gave people an understanding of the injustice of slavery; 1984, which provided an insight into the potential hell of systematic authoritarianism; and To Kill a Mockingbird, which exemplified the issue of racial discrimination within a complex society, and helped develop the civil rights movement of the 60s. I find that Arvies touches on some similar societal themes and concepts as another great - Brave New World.
[This message has been edited by Brendan (edited May 13, 2011).]
quote:I don't think there's anything to be learned from this particular story's publishing history other than Castro is an accomplished writer with award credits so this was going to be read and (probably) published anyway
I would have thought the same thing as well, Rich, if it wasn’t for Christie Yant’s article (the Lightspeed slushreader), I would have dismissed it as a story that was published partly because the author was a somebody.
I haven’t read Starship Troopers but did see the movie (was it accurate?). I did read The Forever War and both of OSC’s award winning versions of Ender’s Game. Both were well deserving of their awards and their deeper meaning resonated in me.
Thank you everyone for commenting on this thread. You didn’t help me to understand what made Arvies great but gave me clear insights on how the average reader (and writer) feels.
quote:I'm not sure I understand when people say this story is not for them because they're "not the intended audience". It's a science fiction story, and, I assume, most of the readers on here read science fiction?
LOL, I am definitely not the audience for all Sci fi and fantasy, and I'm quite certain that not everyone here is my intended audience. There is such a variety of Sci-fi and fantasy, that there is something for everyone. This story had a literary feel to me. Not my kind of story at all.
Personally, I think for the type of movie it was, it wasn't stupid but you're right about it being a poor adaptation. They changed what type of movie it should have been though which was stupid.
As I recall from the book, read years ago, they took a small section of the book and expanded on it making it the whole story. They kept a couple of details from the book, like how the government worked, but changed and left out a bunch of other stuff.
Actually, I heard Starship Troopers was based on two sci-fi novels written by different people, not sure what the other one was but the script writers butchered them both when they adapted them to the screen.
I heard The Forever War has been opted for a movie as well. I hope they are able to capture that stories theme - a soldier inability to adjust to a changing society after each mission, fitting for it's 70 era time.
I will go to my grave praising the movie that is Starship Troopers; I can't help it. Any movie that has Doogie Howser dressed up as a Nazi CAN'T be all bad. (It helps if you watch it as satire. Even though I read the book, I can't remember it too well so correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think Heinlein wrote a satire.)
Anyway...looks like this one's winding down, but did want to clarify my statement regarding "saying something". I agree with you, Brendan, that a writer's work with at least a thought to a THEME is much more satisfying than a writer just trying to tell the same old same old.
What I meant re: Castro's story was I could see the gears working, the labor involved in trying to Say Something. The New Wave moniker is apt for this one 'cause it does read like something that would've been in Dangerous Visions, but, like some of the shorts in that anthology, the sweat is very apparent, and, to me, feels more like the essay you mentioned than a story. (apologies for the hellacious sentence there)
So, basically, all that to say: yeah, I agree with you.
I haven't seen the movie of Starship Troopers, but I have heard that the director more-or-less turned Heinlein's political concerns inside out and on their head. So I'm not inclined to see it...not that Starship Troopers was ever one of my favorite Heinlein books, though...
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