The end of the world started on a Tuesday. Tuesday, September third at three-seventeen. It happened because I ran late picking up my kid from school.
Ryan’s my son. He’s brilliant, beautiful, and seven years-old. He’s also autistic.
I hate telling people that, because before they know the label they don’t judge him, but as soon as they hear it….
My daughter and I were in the minivan, trying not to get a speeding ticket, when the sky started flashing. One minute the sky was blue and calm, and then the next, there was this flash of white and the sky went pink, like a sunset. Only the sunset wasn’t coming from the horizon, it was coming from my son’s school.
Critiques Round 1 (500 words)
--- Good emotional connection. Clear use of the prompt. When the teacher was described as 'bent down trying to calm him' I assumed Ryan was on the ground, so it came as a surprise when he was pacing later.
--- A strong opening paragraph and an equally strong prose. The story of a gifted autistic child with godlike powers looks like a familiar one. The Twilight Zone episode with the kid from Lost In Space came immediately to mind. It made me wonder why a child like this would ever be allowed to mingle with the public. His very existence makes him a weapon of mass destruction.
Ironically, at this point, I think the tale would be more interesting if the child had no supernatural powers. The writer captured the difficulty of handling an autistic so well I would keep reading just to see how the protagonist deals with an extrinsic child.
--- Really strong opening. I love the voice in this piece, and the premise that Ryan’s tantrum triggers the ominous weather is pretty cool. I get the relevance – kids are great at reacting to small setbacks like it’s the end of the world. The writing could use some polishing – a tense change issue - (..but Ryan was in full fit, and won’t give her any eye contact), and some phrasing that seemed odd – (…dark eyes hid behind his eyelashes… they could BE hidden but not hide.) All in all, though, a nice start. I’m interested in finding out what happens next!
--- I didn’t know what I should feel towards Ryan – sympathy or fear. As such, I think it doesn’t yet capture either feeling. But an intriguing concept, turning the “emotional weather” cliché into a literal fact in the story.
--- Nicely written, good speculative element. I could feel the emotions of the main characters and the story was clear in the implications for the trigger. It was a nice setup and I would be inclined to read on.
The opening is choppy and has too much repetition. An ellipsis is three periods, not four. The short staccato sentences are really turning me off. I get this is supposed to be representative of the character’s ‘voice’ but it’s a little grating. A lot is going on in these first 500 words and I’m fairly confused. I had to re-read a lot which is a bad sign. Might be worth pushing up the revelation of Ryan’s ability to control the weather, because otherwise the mother’s narration seems a little crazy. I’m not hooked yet.
--- Great start for the story. It took a little while to pick up if it was a normal thing or not. So that could be picked up in the story. Maybe start with the storm.
General Mike Hargrove stood on the camouflaged parapet overlooking Colorado Springs. The outcrop was hidden in a line of pine trees and surrounded by an array of anti-aircraft weapons. Accessible only through a steel door that led deep into the interior of Cheyenne Mountain, the glorified patio was perhaps the best defended four-square yards in North America. Mike would stand on it alone to gather his thoughts and soak in the view. The five-mile wide purple alien ship hovering south of Colorado Springs had ruined the view for him forever.
He glared at the behemoth hovering five-hundred feet above I-25. EAT AT JOE’S scrolled across its hundred-yard wide rim with directions to Joe’s following close behind. Mike didn’t need to look up the address to know the directions likely led to some
Critiques Round 1 (500 words)
--- Interesting idea, but I had difficulty identifying what tone the story was aiming for. The first paragraph felt stark and dangerous, so the ensuing humor didn't quite work for me. I didn't feel a sense of danger from the aliens. Irritation, yes, danger, no.
--- Interesting and solid start to what seems a potentially funny story. Funny in the way of slapstick, so far. I am not sure yet whether this is satirising the military/government, just lampooning them or if it will turn into something more profound.
--- The writing is very good; the only nits I would share are that ass’s should be asses, and I don’t think that ten-months needs the hyphen. The idea of world occupation by practical jokester aliens is certainly a novel one, but I haven’t gotten a sense of the world coming to an end yet. Maybe, like Michael Stipe of REM said, “the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine”? Obliteration by slapstick? What a way to go.
--- I'd read on. The story concept is familiar, yet I like the twist of pranking aliens.
--- I liked the writing and loved the sense of humor. It was a nice lead in for a story and clearly fit within the criteria for the challenge. I would certainly keep reading.
Great start. I thought it would turn into some hard SF, but I laughed at the end, a good 500 word hook.
--- The first paragraph is boring but the second is great. Swap ‘em or get rid of the first paragraph. “General Pander”? This is setting up for a joke later, isn’t it? Not too subtle. Okay, so this is farce. I’m cool with that. I’m skeptical how that will later mesh with ‘end of the world’ but I’m willing to come along for the ride because it’s entertaining so far.
Critiques Round 2 (2000 words)
--- A couple of proofing errors, were/we're, isle/aisle. I'm not sure why they think that catching an alien in the act of spitballing is worthy of hauling him in, if all the other things they're doing aren't. Also, if Shvart could materialize at will, I'm not sure why he allowed himself to get caught the second time. The many things the Nagoona are doing as pranks are entertaining, however.
--- I love the images you provide my mind’s eye as I read this. The Washington Monument in candy cane stripes – Abraham Lincoln wearing an Elvis pompadour. Good stuff. The MC is great, and there’s good forward movement in the story so far. Construction glitches kept getting in the way of really immersing, though. Several compound sentences lacking a comma, typing were when we’re was meant, stuff like that. Despite the need for a polish, I’m interested in seeing what happens next.
--- This developed the story in a consistent manner – hilariously consistent. The key pieces of information were given in an easy to follow manner, and there were so many different bits of the grand idea attached. This development and clarity made me envious and hanging for more.
--- I liked the development of the story and where they were leading me. The writing is very clear and concise. Well done.
--- A few typos, some there/their confusion, but otherwise well written. I like the dialogue but it seems a little slow at the start, two people trading information in an “as you know” sort of manner that feels very passive. Once the plan is in effect, I find it hard to believe that given the magical powers of the Nagoona, that a grab and bag operation was the General’s best plan. I don’t really feel like I’m about to be surprised at all, which is not terribly good for a comedy.
--- Nicely done. I’m not generally a fan of slapstick - think that Stoogian humor gets in the way of plot nine times out of ten - but you ended up telling a story that had more to it than just gags. I especially liked the ending - never would have thought that the aliens had come for new material, but I imagine other life forms would find our televised antics pretty hilarious, wouldn’t they? The writing is still rough in places. Nits here and nits there, but a fun story nonetheless.
--- I thought that this worked up until the last two scenes. The second last scene was simply an attempt to elicit sympathy for Shvart. The reason it needed greater sympathy was that the last scene was attempting to make Shvart the hero. This was the wrong person given the opening promise of the story. To fix this, either start with a different promise (not the “problem” of the aliens) or give General Hargrove a positive role in the finale.
--- Nicely done story. It maintained a good sense of humor all the way through, but I thought the ending could have been better, seemed to be a little too common compared to the creativity in the rest of the story. I was a little confused by the H2O comment as well.
--- The ending of this did catch me off-guard. I wasn't expecting the aliens to be using us for TV shows. I didn't quite understand why Shvart felt any concern at the end, given everything he'd just explained about the Nagoona and their humor development. Otherwise, intriguing piece, good comedy. It's not my cup of tea, but I can see where many would enjoy it a lot.
--- In the end, this story held together well enough and was consistent enough that I liked it. I think humor is hard because everyone has different tastes, so I appreciate the risk taken in using this for a competition. As it is, I never found the situations or jokes to really be all that funny, eliciting at best a smile. But it was a good attempt, that incorporated the theme well, had at least one fairly compelling character (Shvhart itself). Switches in POV for the end is more acceptable for humor so I won't slight you on that.
The 'realistic' elements, however, rang very very false to me. The Generals never truly feel like they command any respect or act with any real integrity that their role should expect from them. The way Hargrove talks, acts, and carelessly brushes over the injuries and (apparent) death of his hostage is just inhuman. He is not believable as a character so his "outrage" never feel compelling as a motivation. Also, the idea that an alien race could ever beecome "perfect" at humor is absurd in a bad way. Humor is relative -- which is why it's culturally dependent -- and yet the alien implies it's scientific. Also, humor is not equal to pranks, which is all they seem to do.
The concept and background are really good, but the execution fails in my eyes.
“We are about to commit a crime,” said the sheik, in perfect Oxford English. “A big one. Really big.”
He sat on the lounge opposite, cup of coffee in hand, the window of the Marriott Hotel lobby behind him. He was flanked by a black gangster rapper; all bling covered hands and gold necklaces, and built like the Junkyard Dog. And don’t forget the hillbilly. That’s right, a lanky, strawberry blond, red-necktied hillbilly.
“You’re about to commit..?” I stammered. “But if you don’t, then you won’t need representation.”
“Oh, we are completely innocent,” said the gangster. “That’s why we need a law-man. And as you haven’t lost a case yet, we figured you’re the best.”
Critiques Round 1 (500 words)
--- What had been a strong opening, and smooth writing, turned into a circus. The story looked remarkably like a dream I had after I ate too much spicy food. There is too much going on to get firmly grounded into it. I am vaguely intrigued by the three ring scene, but I’m waning on the premise. The next 500 words are going to be crucial for me.
--- Don’t know what to make of this one. I get introduced to three stereotypical characters, and then all hell breaks loose with the ninja attack. You did a great job with your fight scene – good descriptive writing that put me in the middle of the action. There was just so much thrown out in the first 500 words that I can’t really help but be confused. The mounted guy’s from another time? My mind can’t sort it all out.
--- There seemed to be a lot of different threads going on in this entry. Possible time travel, magically appearing items, the G30 protesters, a motley group of potential criminals who want someone who has never lost a case, but at the same time want to be found guilty. I found myself feeling a bit lost and confused.
--- This one seemed a little over written for me, as if the writing was trying to cover all his bases. There was a nice sense of humor and I did like the overall premise, but got lost in the verbiage of the description that seemed a little heavy. The trigger was a little obscure in here, but I could make a case for it. I would read on.
--- This one had too much information too quickly. I probably wouldn't read on.
That opening sentence is either intended to setup a contradiction of some sort or you’re going for political non-correctness. Second paragraph confirms non-correctness. The sheik’s physical position is a little unclear. He’s in a lounge but opposite the Marriot hotel lobby window. Are we to presume the lounge is in the Marriot or across the street? A cacophony can crescendo without ‘giving way’ to it, the sentence implies that the horns are becoming melodic. The phrase “and struck” repeats twice, probably accidentally. Okay, this is also farce. Also, it’s so farcical I’m uninterested. There’s no _normal_ to compare the silliness to at this point which sort of diminishes its impact. Consider the ZAZ films or early Mel Brooks, who start serious and then begin to ratchet up the abnormal.
--- I don't understand what's going on at all. I might read on, but probably not.
Critiques Round 3 (Also Ran)
--- By the time I got to the end of this story, I was completely on board with the craziness. Totally outrageous, but so were Vonnegut and Robbins, right? I loved the way the aliens’ wish to be found guilty of a crime really did make sense as a means of saving the world. Well written, but I think you should simplify the opening – maybe do away with the G30 stuff and the mountie? The story doesn’t really depend on them, and throwing fewer things at the reader early on might be a good thing. Loved the ending – who would have thought that dragging out a lawsuit could have such positive effects?
--- This ended up being a lot better than what the first 13 lines read. I liked the pacing and the writing. The premise needs hashing out though. This needs a set up. The sudden start of what appeared to be a bad joke was not wise. If you’re going to do that, do it right.
quote:A hillbilly, gangsta, and Middle Eastern sheik walked into the café. The streets were filed with protesters – the G30 summit was in town – so seeing the mismatched trio come in together only looked a little strange.
The opening just comes off as unbelievable. Slow down and plant our feet firmly on the ground before you start this rollercoaster.
--- This is an absolutely surreal read. I had a hard time getting into it, but as is slipped along I started to fall into its groove. Unfortunately, I'm not sure how to make the opening section with things appearing from out of nowhere feel like a precursor to something cool (which it is), rather than the author just sort of punting. The place where it really started to catch my attention is where the sheik (I think) starts complaining about his 'suit'. And then I really got the inkling of, "Oh, something's not as it seems here." I do think that perhaps the exaggerated caricatures presented in the beginning may work against the story, but I may be mistaken. Good luck with this!
Walking up to the blackjack table, Horatio Pillock, the luckiest man in the universe, settled in next to a woman with skin like cream and hair like, well he’d never seen hair so luxuriantly dark with just the right amount of curl. Could it be real? He longed to find out.
“Horatio Pillock, a citizen of Earth” he said, placing a bet, flashing her a smile while the dealer distributed the cards.
“Regina Vatarisky, a non-entity from the planet of Zither.”
What did she mean by that? Horatio asked for another card.
The dealer casually flipped it through the air. A Queen. How fitting, since he stood next to a ‘Regina', whose name implied royalty. He peeked at his hole card. His breath caught in his throat. For the first time in his memory, Pillock lost.
Critiques Round 1 (500 words)
--- The first sentence doesn't match the title. There may be a reason for that, but the world/universe discrepancy bothered me. I also had some difficulty with the scene blocking. When Pillock fell over the baggage it seemed unlikely to my brain. He'd have to be moving really fast to fall over a baggage cart. Still, intrigued as to how the non-entity (best hook, IMO) is causing the luck to falter.
--- I like the writing in this, and I’m intrigued by Horatio. Here’s what I want to know: Why was Horatio so freaking lucky, and what made his luck run out? Why is he so besotted with Regina that he asks when he can see her while he’s apparently in agony? Excruciating pain tends to put me off my game, but maybe I’m a wuss. This is a promising beginning.
--- Another great idea, one that intrigues enough to continue. Very nicely timed placement of the new reveal – just before the end of the 500.
--- I can buy the premise of a man who never loses a gamble but there is something unnatural on how Horatio acts for a man who is used to everything always going right for him. He comes off as desperate, stalkerish. Regina should be bored with him. Why agree to a date with a goob who stumbles over himself? Nit: Pillock is too close to Plostka.
--- I don't really care about the characters yet. And character is all you've really given so far. I have no idea what's going to happen next plot-wise. I probably wouldn't read on.
--- To start off with, wouldn't the luckiest man in the Universe also be the luckiest man in the world? The writing here was pretty good, despite the inauspicious start. I got a good sense of noir here, which I hope the writer was going for. The trigger was pretty thin, if there at all. I would probably continue reading.
Casino blackjack doesn’t typically have a hidden hole card, as all players are playing against the dealer. So the dealer has the only hidden card, every other player has their cards shown. Regardless, Horatio can’t *lose* to another player in any form of blackjack, only the dealer. I’m very turned off by you telling a story about a game you haven’t fully researched. But I’d keep reading to at least see how the premise of a lucky man meeting a mysterious unlucky woman turns out.
March made his living off the world’s impending demise. A good living at that, although the sharp iron spike currently pressed against his throat might have caused an onlooker to question March’s career choice.
“Careful there, friend,” March said. “If you punch a hole in me, how can I help you?”
Mirthless laughter rumbled from the man with the weapon. He pushed the spike fractionally farther into March’s neck, and a bright red bead of blood blossomed around the metallic point. “You will help me,” the man rasped. “I have to get away.
I want off this rock. Someplace warm. You can send me, can’t you, magician?”
“Not if I bleed to death first,” March replied. He leaned away
Critiques Round 1 (500 words)
--- Intriguing opening. I thought Brandl’s change was a little too full on – it reduced the tension too much between the him and the MC, resulting in a lot of time spent on what could be unnecessary conflict for the overall story. (Good characterisation of the MC, just where is the stoy’s conflict now?)
--- I enjoyed this one. I like March, and am drawn to Brandl, who seems like a generally good fellow. A little bit of a POV issue when describing the color of the blood on March's neck, when I assume we're in March's POV.
--- The quick change in tone I found a bit off putting. What had been a life or death circumstance became a buddy tale. I am having difficulty buying it. The end of the 500 words confused me. Did March send the man away? It read as if he might have. This one has promise but it needs to do a better job of capturing my interest.
--- Pretty well written and I could clearly see the trigger. I could get the sense of danger and deceit in the main character and a sense for the attacker. It is a good lead in, but probably not enough to draw me in.
--- I'd read on. Well written, in genre. I like the fantasy take on this scifi premise. Good.
I don't know how March can see the point blossom with blood from his vantage point and that alone would have me put this down. I like where this is going, but it just didn't seem put together enough for me.
--- Good opening. ‘Beefy grasp’ is a little weird, but not terrible. Overall a nice piece, well written, and engaging. The radical change in form of Brandl after March pulls out the amulet is highly suspicious but I can’t tell yet if it’s plot related or just an attitude transition that happened too quickly. Either way, I’ll keep reading on.
--- Not sure about the phrase 'behind time.' Does that mean late? Or, if this inn is The Sands of Time, is there some sort of time travel going on? Seems to be a POV slip when Brandl is looking at the men and they're identified as laborers from the field most likely. Hard to tell, but it jolted me. I'm feeling a bit lost as to what the primary story is here. Brandl? Adalbert? Good writing, but I'm not comfortably settled into the story.
I quite enjoyed the world and the characters. This does feel as if the inciting incident has just occurred at the end of the 2000 words, so in terms of pacing, this seems to be set up for an 8000 word story.
--- I like March’s character. He is sufficiently crafty for this tale. The tail end of this sample intrigues me but it took almost all 2000 words to intrigue me. The prose needs tightening and the story compressed. Too much supposition made it drag and made me want to skim. I think the tale could be a strong one if the author rewrote it to be sharper and crisper. Trim down Brandl’s scenes. He is dull.
--- A fascinating world being built here. March is interesting and his ‘business’ is interesting. I wonder what role Brandl will play and curious how things will develop in the next few thousand words. I’m definitely hooked and waiting to read more.
--- I liked how well this one developed the story, the writing was good and crisp.
Critiques Round 3 (Also Ran)
--- The ending surprised me, when I thought that all he’d do is move them to another part of the world, given they wouldn’t get back in time before the end came. It’s a pity this got knocked out earlier, because I would have voted for this ending.
--- I don’t know what my problem was by not voting for this. Did you change the first 2k? Anyway, good story. Brandl is still a lug but he works. March is a good protagonist but I don’t like the name (small nit). Tyr’s entrance adds nothing to the story. You could cut him out entirely. And I hate that last line. Think of a better one.
--- This was a really enjoyable read. I like Brandl. I like March. I like Tyr. I am, however, confused. When I read that March had also sent away what plagued the world, I couldn't figure out what he was talking about. So I scanned back through, and I still don't know what he was talking about. Disclaimer: I have a bad cold right now, and my brain may not be firing on all cylinders, but if I understood that one thing, this would have resolved well for me.
Bryce turned the metal coin over and over in his long thin fingers, watching the way the light reflected off its marred surface. It had seen a lot of wear and was scuffed, scratched, tarnished, and just a bit bent. If it were currency, Bryce would be skeptical of accepting it. But the coin he found on the disheveled woman who collapsed outside the city walls was not intended to be used for trade.
Four hours had passed and the woman was still asleep, lying on a cot surrounded by three bowls of potpourri to combat her terrifying stench. Her cloak had been removed by Dr. Marshall to look for wounds, and it was now hung carefully on a nearby hook. The cloak had a powerful odor of its own, and was in a depressing state given that it had once been quite an exquisite
Critiques Round 1 (500 words)
--- This one is very strong. Loved the approach – small, almost intimate with a promise of something grander in the shadows. Loved how it is set as a mystery for the reader to unravel. I am completely hooked t this point.
--- This sets up a strong story. I like the world-building and the mystery. Only nitpick I have would be that a coin a tarnished as this one is described as really shouldn't be reflecting light, I would think. I'd expect it to have a very matte surface.
--- I like the potential depth of this one. But I feel I have just scratched the surface of what could be a vast world. Will I be satisfied with just 5000 words max?
--- This is a terrific opening. I like Bryce, and I’ve gotten some sense of the world and how it works. Can’t wait to read more. Just a tiny bit confused by “being touched by the Crossing.” Looking for explanations to come.
--- I love the slow reveal of information here. Great writing. I'd read on.
--- This one started out well enough, nice sense of place and intrigue, but as it went on I found less to keep my attention. Maybe it's because the mystery is so easily unraveled, at least partly. The writing was good, but a little uneven. Not sure I got the sense for the trigger either, but maybe that is later on. I probably would not read on.
This has a lot of potential, but this takes too long to get going for a short story. Good world building and it appears that the backstory will be interesting, but I'm not engaged.
Critiques Round 2 (2000 words)
--- The sense of a deep world continued in this. It too feels like a story that will go beyond the word limit. While the inciting incident could be the initial finding of the woman, we don’t get to understand what is happening until the interview with Wek. The key issue of the story seems to be the disappearance of the High Keep, so the timing of its insertion into the story (which was still not fully understood) feels right for a story of at least 7000 to 8000 words, and may be too late for a 5000 word story. Furthermore, the key revelation has the MC only as an onlooker, so we don’t really get to know his reactions during this time, which makes it feel like it is centered on the wrong person.
--- There's clearly a well-developed world behind this story, but I'm having a hard time following all the ins and outs of it. Seelies, unseelies, Oracles, ex-Oracles, Elites, many, many place names, oaths. It feels to me like this would probably work better as a longer piece, with time to develop all these concepts enough for the reader to feel fully grounded.
--- Such a rich world in this one. You’ve done a great job of creating characters and scenes that I see clearly in my head. I’ll admit to stumbling just a bit over the vocabulary – sidhe, seelie, unseelie – and the foundational aspects of the world - Earthworld, Shattered Spyre, changlings, - but I think that is not so much a flaw of the writing as it is a denseness on my part. The story is unfolding nicely, plot thickening well, and I definitely want to find out what happened to the High Keep. The writing is beautiful, BTW, really clean, and I only noticed a few spots that I would tighten. A compelling read.
--- I thought this was continued well enough. There were some little writing glitches that sorta made me wonder in parts, but generally well paced. I thought the whole Science vs Lore discussion was confusing. The author may want to rethink that section.
--- This is a fine mystery you have woven within a high fantasy. I like the set up but it has a major flaw. It is slooooww developing.
This reads like you did a detailed outline and you inserted much of the background you worked so hard on into the storyline. What you have now is long stretches of info-dumping. Big chunks of history in the form of distant narrative background filling and ‘As You Know Bob’isms. The story has a better chance of finding a home if you can trim that back. It is lending to the author telling the reader what is happening when you have a natural set up of just letting the story flow and allowing the reader to fill the spaces on their. As an example of what I mean, this paragraph….
"Your Highness," said Sadie. The ex-Oracle bowed deeply and then gently smoothed out the black and purple robes she'd been given after her bath. "I have served the High Keep and the Elder Oracle, and took succession from the Seer who had once been assigned to this Palace. During the recent war with the Changlings, however, I allied myself with Runis, of the Unseelie Red Knights, to prevent the slaughter of those within the Disputed Zone. This act was in violation of the Oath, and I returned to the High Keep to plead forgiveness. However, when I returned to Midnight Crags, the Keep and all those within it were gone."
This information is meaningless to me and irrelevant in the grand scheme of your tale. Runis? Red Knights? Don’t know who these people are and I don’t care. It is not the only instance of unnecessary information. One other problem I had was how easily Bryce accepted Sadie’s story.
Sorry to go on but I feel as if this tale can be very strong. I believe 500 words of slashing could make the story irresistible.
Critiques Round 3 (Finalist)
--- Not a bad tale but the story became too grand too quickly. What was a simple mystery turned into Lord of the Rings in the span of a thousand words. Too many plot developments to absorb in so short of a narrative. It made the premise weak. The ending was too abrupt. I’m still not sure if the story is missing its ending.
--- This needs to become a novel. As has been mentioned before, the world is rich and extremely well developed. It seems a shame to let it go to waste. I liked the direction the story took with Bryce and Sadie setting off for Uruk, and I liked that Bryce stepped off the sidelines and into the heart of the action. I didn’t like the ending. Well, I liked that they defeated the monster, but it seemed very abrupt. No denouement at all. The writing is very good – you have an impressive skill with words. I think this story could find a home after a little polish. Or – keep writing and turn it into something bigger!
--- The writing in this was very good. However, it did suffer from the instincts of a novelist – and probably needs that freedom to do justice to the world that is in the throes of development here. There was a lot of the world to get to know and make sense of, some of which was clear, some too obscure. And for a short story, there were too many characters, with important characters early being dropped in the second half (Wek, Strauss), and another character (the priestess – no name?) introduced too late. Most importantly, however, the disappearance of the High Keep and the mystery of the coin went unanswered. To an extent, this is understandable in this type of challenge, which can lock in early parts of the story before the ending has been fully developed.
--- This thing started out well but became really complex. The problem with a story of this length is you end up with a lot of explanition or a lot of confusion. There seemed to be some of each here. I would suggest either simplifying the tale or extending the length. Secondly there are some glaring inconsistenticies in here. Such as when he goes chasing the beast, but leaves his sword on the horse. I can guarantee that no one would leave their sole source of defense behind when entering a potentially life threatening situation. All that being said, it was a good story, in need of a little shaping, with a nice ending.
--- This story begs to be longer. There's just so much in there. So much world. So much history. I wanted to feel a lot more invested in the characters at the end, so their choices would feel more critical and poignant. A really good sory in here, and I hope the author will consider expanding on it. (One nitpick/question--would Bryce use the word 'taxi'? That really jarred me.)
Cassie Lincoln centered the cross hairs of the telescope on the single dot of light glittering against the black velvet sky. She paused to let her imagination pull her through the darkness to that small light, then pushed the data collection button. Numbers scrolled across the screen to her right. Cassie compared the current readings to the one already in the file.
The size and brightness measurements made two things clear; the object moving toward them was huge and it was moving fast. The spectral data showed a strong blue shift confirming the speed of the object, but it was the halo of induced radiation that formed around it that still bothered her. Cassie sat back in her chair and looked through the open canopy at the shimmering lights in the sky. "What are you?" she asked, but the enigma racing
Critiques Round 1 (500 words)
--- Definitely a strong end of the world scenario, and I like that the protagonist has a personal stake in it, as well as the more universal stake. Well written.
--- Really good, this. It immediately sets up the potential for astral doom, and it reads so true and real that it’s a little bit scary. The scene shift felt kind of disjointed to me, though. Cassie observes what is probably Earth’s silver bullet one minute, and she’s curled up on the couch with some vino and a guy named Hal the next? Sort of devalues the tension so nicely created by the opening, but maybe that’s intentional. Wouldn’t want anyone to get overwrought, now, would we?
--- Another strong entry. This one has me very intrigued. I found it so smooth I was surprised when I hit the 500 mark.
--- Of the science fiction stories, this is my favourite. Nice opening. I want to read more.
--- Very end of the world-ish. So much so, that it felt a bit cliche. I'm not sure if I'd read on. Good writing, yet feels a bit too distant for my taste.
Well done. I’m interested in reading more just based on the competency of the writing alone. Cassie is curious but beyond that we know very little, though the last paragraph implies that was what is next. I suppose this is either a story about aliens landing or a meteor crashing into earth, which fits the theme well.
--- I don't have any sense of peril, just the exposition of a problem. I think we need some urgency right at the first.
--- I ranked this one first at the 500-word point. So smooth, such an awesome intro to both character and problem. There’s still a great story here, but the number of writing errors really kept me from loving it. Here are just two examples: …my doctorial work I would have been in ecstatic - should be doctoral, and either been ecstatic or been in ecstasy.. After all your success would only…. needs a comma after after all. Despite the flaws, there’s still a lot of good writing here. I really loved …that feeling at the back of her brain was now crawling down her back. Story-wise, I like the connection between Cassie’s and Hal’s separate research projects, and I want to see where you go with it.
--- I'm having some difficulty with credibility on this one. She's not the only person to know about the object, and secrets are awfully hard to keep when more than one person knows about them. Also, it seems that by the time it has gotten close enough to have images she can see details on with a magnifying glass, someone else should have spotted the thing. The two lines of dialoge in a row from the same character, "Well we seem,' stood out, along with the need for a comma after 'well.' Actually, there are several places where commas would clean things up a lot. I do like the unified end-of-the-world archaeological angle in there.
--- This kept the level of the opening going, which is to say quite well written in terms of tapping the science fiction audience expectations. Two issues pulled it down a little for me – the first was the ending of the second scene, with Cassie abruptly heading to bed without seeming to resolve the conversation. The second was the details of the “alien craft”. Given that it exhibited a blue shift, by the time it got close enough to resolve such details, it would be past the Earth within a couple of hours (at the most). Certainly it would be unresolvable when five months away. Hard science fiction readers would be all over this one.
--- Good tale. I would think a full-fledge panic (irrational as it would be) would be developing around the world when news leaked out about a strange asteroid rendezvousing on the current popular date for the end of the world. This story is developing well. A bit of editing needs to be done they are minor. The clear favorite out of this round.
--- This one grows slowly and naturally but is building to a nice tension. Excellently written, while we don’t know too much about Cassie we’ve learned enough to feel where her priorities are. The object-from-space story is definitely a well trodden one, but the artificiality of the asteroid at least narrows the overlap a bit. She does seem to be inordinately unconcerned with the clues lining up around her though, but I suppose we are only seeing the relevant parts of her life.
Critiques Round 3 (Finalist)
--- This story would make a great movie. I found myself picturing actors for the various characters - Morgan Freeman should play the general. It’s certainly an exciting story, and could be dynamite when cleaned up. The frequent mistakes grated on me. I can get past one or two grammar or punctuation errors, but when I’m noticing little mistakes in almost every paragraph, it impairs my ability to immerse in the story. My mistake meter kept dinging as I read this, and I couldn’t turn it off. One other note I would offer is that there are too many runs of unattributed dialogue. Ten different consecutive lines of dialogue without a tag is too much, in my opinion.
--- I loved and hated the ending of this. Of the three finalists, it was the most satisfying ending scene, in that it attempted to answer the originally posed promise. But it had two issues – it opened as many questions as it answered, and a large part of the initial question under scrutiny was solved offscreen. In that sense, it seemed the opening of a novel, with the real answers to come. Secondly, the scenes leading to the end didn’t quite engage me as much as the earlier ones where it was all a mystery – but then I think it set a high standard to live up to.
--- What had looked like an intriguing story became a flimsy premise. An alien race that is going to cull the human race? Blow the thing up (ship not story). The mystery went right out with the story early. Consider limiting the ‘end-of-days’ revelation until the end. Small hints that the past civilization collapses were tied to the thing would be better.
--- I tried to ignore it in the first 2000 words, but this story is so close to the movie Contact that it's distracting. Only the very end departs and seems to do so only to end the story quickly. Cassie was interesting at first but never develops beyond the Jodie Foster-wannabe she starts as. Her husband is little more than a mouthpiece for exposition. Neither of them are terribly interesting in their own right. And the way they disregard data they find 'silly' is horribly unscientific. Why would a scientist simply discard an astronomically unlikely coincidence on face value without at least trying to prove it IS indeed a coincidence?
The second half of the story is really... disappointing. Information comes in and is not expounded upon. Apparently wars start and are dismissed a paragraph later. And the ending is so abrupt and conveniently includes the main character for reasons not exactly detailed other than to allow her to observe it so we can follow her.
Much of this is probably because of the short time and short length requirements, and I have a lot of sympathy there. I wouldn't think any of the entrants into this competition was able to do their very best work under the conditions. Overall, the situation is good, the characters need to be more interesting, and new information needs to be given some flavor, and not just reported upon. Otherwise, this was a strong entry.
--- Interesting twist at the end with the Masons and assorted other collecting groups. I still have some credibility concerns with this piece, but if I put on my "just relax and enjoy the story" hat, this is pretty good. Very ambitious using the assorted science fields and end of the world scenarios. I did feel like it ended rather abruptly.
Entry #8 - The Dance at the End of the World
Devi Sharma clung to the sheer granite face of the Rishi Ganga gorge, three-thousand feet over the roaring river. Her pounding heart nearly drowned out its distant thunder. The top section of the fixed rope she'd trusted in flapped from her harness like a flag in the wind that tunneled down the heart of the gorge. Its weight tried to pull her off the wall. Her fingers dug into the crevice overhead. She pressed her face into the rough stone.
"Memsahib, release the carabiner!"
Devi could hardly hear Pasang Sherpa's shout from below. Didn't want to hear him. She couldn't let go, not even with one hand. Dizziness pounded her in waves.
It wasn't supposed to be like this
You'll be fine, Devi, Ajay had assured her. There's enough
--- This does a great job of conveying the fear Devi is feeling; her predicament is described in such a way that I actually started to get anxious for her. Pretty awesome. The rescue was slightly disconcerting, not because I wanted Devi to plummet to her death, but because it was so out of the blue. Or maybe into the blue, considering the guy’s neck. For me, the description of Devi’s hero read like a first meeting between heroine and “the man” in a romance novel. Not that that’s a bad thing, just noticeable.
--- A very vivid scene. The author put me into Devi’s world right from the start. Strong writing. This is going to be tough.
--- Because this was so close and intense, and because I had not been fully invested in the character due to this being only the start of the story, I found this difficult to get into. I don’t believe I am about to say this, but I would prefer a slower start.
--- This one creeps on me. I like the culture. I like the mysterious savior. The writing feels a bit over-wrought, but I'd read on.
--- I liked the writing, very descriptive. There's not enough of the story here to let me know if I would read on, or if the premise of the challenge is reached. I am not invested enough to read on.
Good solid writing drives me on with this one. I'm of the opinion that the next 500 words may make this read worth it. Good action, although I have no idea why Devi wants to see the Goddess when she is saved by a God… at least it sure seems like. Why would Devi tear her gaze away?
--- Hmm, fascinating. A mountain climb in vivid detail. Well written, intense scene, very engaging. I’m slightly confused about how many people are actually involved in this climb and where they are, I think this is partially due to the panic of the main character distorting descriptions, and partly because I’m not very used to Indian names.
--- While I find the writing of this one solid, and there is some conflict injected into it, I’m finding it difficult to assess the pacing of this story. I may not really understand this until I have read the entire story, so that is not a large issue. Given his role, Ajay should really have been injected more into the beginning – finding out that he was her fiancé(?) was a piece of information that needed to be more up front, as the issues of an arranged marriage are either front and center to the story, or a too strong side issue.
--- I liked this a lot. The first 500 had struck me as overwritten, but the subsequent 1500 went down like a nice, cold Riesling. There are still some bits that could be improved upon, but it’s a good read as is. I’m hopeful that Devi will actually ferret out the problem and solve it on her own, not just end up being the girl that Shiva rescues multiple times.
The writing and description was good here, but I thought the plot lagged and I had to really work to stay in this one.
I'm intrigued by the presence of Shiva in this mountain climbing expedition, I think there is a good mix of myth and reality here with neither giving fully away. There are a few strange spellings here and there but overall the writing is strong and visceral especially during the ascent. I'm not quite sure where this is going but I'm interested in finding out.
--- Sharp improvement. This one where the next 1500 grew on me and captured my attention. Liked the writing and the set up. I am eager to see where this story ends up. I have no advice on what you should do with it.
Critiques Round 3 (Also Ran)
--- So, I wasn’t a fan of the first 500, but the 2000 changed my mind. After reading the whole thing, I still quite like it. I thought it was well-written, and definitely not a tired rehashing of the same old story. I mean, when was the last time you read a modern-day story about Shiva and his reincarnated love? Ajay’s character was underdeveloped, but I understand why. I wish the ending had been different, though. Seemed rushed, and I felt like both the threat and its solution didn’t fit the story. Frankly, I’m surprised that this one didn’t move on to the finals. It’s good.
--- Take a big bite, and chew hard. This was a tough ask for this sort of challenge, given the topic, but this did chew hard. The details and writing were handled extremely well, but the bigger picture struggled. The plutonium was introduced too late, given its central role, and then defied the rules of physics. (Strong radioactive sources are one of the easiest things to find, you can use a plane to find it. Ok, if Shiva was hiding it, then he wasn’t helping the situation, and Devi should have known that.) A couple of times I found the POV was unknown (who watched Shiva disappear?). And the view of arranged marriages seemed to be too westernised for Devi’s mixture, it undermined the remaining exotic angle that she needed for her character. (I can see the dramatic need for it, but the asian viewpoint of arranged marriages needs a bit more research to get that authenticity.) But I totally got the ending.
--- I thought this had a very good storyline. I liked your descriptions of the characters and the detailed setting. The problem was, the story couldn’t keep my attention. I had to stop and come back to it several times. The pacing felt slow to me. Maybe that could be fixed if you trimmed it, I don’t know.
So, it’s the end of the challenge as we know it. And I feel fine. Here are the results, round by round. (Votes were accumulated each round, but due to the doubling effect, more votes were allocated in later rounds than earlier rounds.)
First round: 22 Votes: #6 The Prophet 22 Votes: #7 All the Stars in the Sky 13 Votes: #2 The Surreal World
Two clear favorites had emerged, and the four that followed were separated by 5 votes. (With on voter to go, this had been a separation of only 2 votes). Every story but one claimed at least 6 votes. One story didn’t garner a single vote. That author has no excuse, given he set the challenge.
Second round: 40 Votes: #7 All the Stars in the Sky 36 Votes: #2 The Surreal World 35 Votes: #6 The Prophet
The Surreal World made great strides this round, while the top three cleared ahead of the rest of the bunch. All the Stars in the Sky took a slight advantage going into the final round. Still a close run, and anyone could win.
Final round: 75 Votes: #2 The Surreal World 73 Votes: #6 The Prophet 71 Votes: #7 All the Stars in the Sky
And the final round was a very close run. It took until the last vote came in to separate the top position. So congratulations Snapper on winning this challenge. And to the other finalists for making it such a close run.
Now for the reveal of who wrote what:
Shimiqua - Entry #1 - In Memory of a Summer's Day Snapper - Entry #2 - The Surreal World Brendan - Entry #3 - In Case of Innocence OWASM - Entry #4 - Luckiest Man in the World WirelessLibrarian - Entry #5 – Elsewhere TempestDash - Entry #6 - The Prophet Utahute72 - Entry #7 - ALL THE STARS IN THE SKY Rabirch - Entry #8 - The Dance at the End of the World
I’ve been promised some more critique for the Also Rans – I’ll put them up when I get them. Congrats again to snapper, TempestDash and Utahute for making it to the finals and for ensuring it was such a close run. I hope you all had as much fun as I did.
(In memory of Boring Song by Status Quid, from the Heebeegeebees)
This is the end (guitar rift) Another end (guitar rift) Oh not again (guitar rift) Ple-ease not again (final guitar rift and fade)
Posts: 782 | Registered: Aug 2007
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Congrats to snapper! In the end your story was the best fit for the theme and size of this competition.
And just to acknowledge the many, many comments I got: my entry was a spinoff from a much larger novel about the Changeling attack that Sadie mentions to the Prince. I thought I could allude to the larger world without getting confusing or too long and I was horribly wrong on both accounts. When I was done writing I had over 8400 words and editing down to 5000 only made things worse.
Anyway, that's just my way of saying I'm happy to have gotten as far as I did, but snapper and utahute clearly had their act together better than me. :-)
Posts: 52 | Registered: Mar 2010
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Congrats to Snapper, TempestDash, and Utahute72! I really enjoyed reading ALL the entries, and I thought each story had merit. I want to send a huge thanks to Brendan for putting on this challenge. Hadn't really wanted to write anything for several months, and his challenge got me out of my doldrums. Thanks, man.
Posts: 108 | Registered: May 2011
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Congratulations Snapper, TempestDash, and Utahute! Your stories were lots of fun to read. And good job to everyone who participated.
This was really difficult for me, and I want to thank Brendan for running the challenge. I never would have finished The Dance at the End of the World without it.
My own challenge this time was trying to wrap fantasy around something that's actually true. There really was a CIA mission on Nanda Devi that lost a nuclear powered spying device and they really never found it. The altitude and cold made the equipment to find it malfunction, and the plutonium probably melted its way down to the base of the glacier.
I'd been thinking about writing something around this for NaNoWriMo, and did LOTS of research, and trying to shove it all into a 5000 word story was challenging to say the least.
Thanks for all the comments. They'll be very helpful as I move forward, either as a short or a novel-length work. (Not necessarily about the end of the world!)
Posts: 227 | Registered: May 2012
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Q: A few mentioned the ending didn't work. I sumitted it to a humor antho. It was in teh running but didn't survive the final cut. The editor said some of his associate editors said the ending didn't work for them, without any further explanation. I see others felt the same way. Why?
I would like to try this elsewhere but need to know if I should write the finale.
Posts: 3072 | Registered: Dec 2007
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Snapper, I think the biggest issue is the story is so creative when it switches back to a more mundane corporate decision making venue it loses the cache it has. Doesn't make it bad, just sort of a let down compared to the build up.
Posts: 459 | Registered: Mar 2010
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You can probably work out which answer was mine by this analysis. The implicit promise (or problem) developed at the start of the story was "What can we do about the alien threat?". The ending answered a different question - "what is the true motives of the aliens?". A pet hate of some editors (e.g. OTP) are stories that don't answer the initial promise. And ones that do, but continue to complete another climax (as opposed to a simple denouement) after the original ending, have already diffused the tension. It could have been that.
If it started with Shvart in the initial scene, it may create an initial question that the ending can answer.