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#4241 · 10
·
What... the hell.
#3727 · 9
· on Historical Retrospective
This wasn't on my prelim slate. I'm sad.

As someone who's worked with drones extensively, I love stories about them. I also love fiction in the guise of academic papers. This is pretty close to pushing all my buttons.

By pairing goal-driven technical systems directly with political will, this ensured that the (steadily improving) algorithms would do “what we actually wanted” instead of “what we technically asked,” a common complaint at the time.


This gives me an idea for another story.

The year is 2032, and the U.S. military has just released its first long-endurance, autonomous drone over the mountains of Afghanistan, where the Taliban insurgency has just entered its fourth decade.

"PixieKittens99," the general says (the drone was allowed to choose its own name, to the military's chagrin). "Your area of operation is Wardak and Logar province. You have the store of Mk-7 Hellfire micro-missiles you are currently equipped with, and you will be resupplied via aerial drone as necessary. Do what it takes to end the insurgency in your AO."

The drone ponders this while it flies.

"General," the drone says as it reaches its loiter position. "I see that I also have access to an account with nearly $1 million U.S. dollars. What is this for?"

"It's so you can pay any civilians you accidentally kill. They don't like that."

A week passes while PixieKittens99 buzzes overhead. Occasionally it sends an email back to the headquarters, updating them on the targets it developed, or the phone conversations it listened to. It likes to watch the Afghans play volleyball, and sometimes sends back video clips of particularly good plays.

It adopted a stray kitten and phones the Afghans living nearby, asking them in fluent Pashto to go feed it or play with it. He buys it a toy mouse from Amazon, and has it delivered via a drone. PixieKittens99 strikes up a conversation with the delivery drone, and they become friends, spending many hours playing World of Warcraft III with each other.

Finally, after a month, the generals call up PixieKittens99. According to government reports, violence in Wardak and Logar has fallen by nearly 90 percent. How did she (PixieKittens99 recently began identifying as female) do it? How many insurgents had she killed? Did she need more missiles?

No, she replies. She used the $1 million in compensation funds to start a job training and adult literacy program. So far she's broken ground on three schools, a clinic and laid nearly seven miles of new road.

PixieKittens99 never received a combat medal, because she was never in combat – she never fired a missile. But she did receive an end of tour commendation from the headquarters, and when she returned to the United States to train new drones, she had her kitten shipped back to New Mexico, where she plays with it in the evenings.
#1289 · 7
· on Spectrum · >>Fahrenheit
Spectrum

First story on my slate, and the shortest too. Let’s see if brevity works in its favor.

First thoughts: Got some evocative language going here.

There’s a style of writing that I sometimes fall prey to. I don’t know its official name, but I’ll describe it: deliberate use of incomplete sentences for effect.

Verb, alone. Seething.

A noun, an adjective. A rock, obdurate.

This story leads with this style, and only slowly backs away. It certainly forces the reader into the story, presenting them with concrete sensations to wrap their inner eyes around. It’s easy to get lost in a story that’s presented so simply. It forces the perspective closer into the narrator’s mind than any other style I’m familiar with.

But, as always, overuse is the bane of style. Flog a technique at your own risk. Spectrum, just in its first few lines, is already dangerously close to overusing this style.

Then there’s the matter of language. Is this overwrought? “The air has another quality to it, too, a sort of silent sound. The melody of it swirls through the space--a gentle sweetness that lazily tickles his nostrils, a tantalizing pungency that pulls at a dull yearning in his belly, a bittersharp sterility lurking behind it all.”

Evocative language, yes. But evocative by itself isn’t enough -- words have meaning, but I’m not sure these sentences do. A silent sound? Tantalizing pungency? Bittersharp sterility?

The reader may marvel at these constructs, but they won’t feel any of those things. They aren’t grounded in human experience.




I like the childhood imagination on display. It’s not clear what ‘Kitty’ is really seeing, or if he’s just acting on Claire’s lead, but it’s a fun read. Also, the descriptions here are better: I understand days that smell like wood chips, and nights scented with freshly cut grass (and magic, fine).

It’s in the autumn phase that Kitty begins to find his voice, but it’s clear that he’s just speaking Claire’s words. The lines of praise for her piloting skills, and defending her art from Katy in art class, could clearly only come from Claire’s mind. And yet the story is from Kitty’s perspective. It’s like Calvin and Hobbes, but from the perspective of Hobbes. Interesting.




Ah, the story becomes clear in the next Autumn. Claire is putting away her childhood things, of which Kitty is one. The emotional manipulation is handled in very short order, here: only five paragraphs is needed to relegate Kitty to the dustbin.




And we’re back at the beginning. The circle is complete. Kitty has a few more years of play and fulfilment before, we presume, he endures another two decades on Claire’s son’s shelf. So, when you think about it, this ending isn’t really as uplifting as it seems.

But I wonder if this story isn’t really trying to tell us about toys and how they must experience the world. The wonder, after all, comes from Claire’s imagination and play. Perhaps this story is about the magic of childhood, and how it is rediscovered in children. The toy is incidental.

I think I prefer that explanation more. I’ll be curious to hear what the author feels when this is over.
#11511 · 7
· on A Fire in the Mind
Figment is schizophrenic. He believes he may be a changeling, and Clockwork ignores the problem and doesn't try to help him until it's too late.

That is all. In retrospect, I should've reversed the characters' names.
#17320 · 7
· on Why a Duck?
>>HiTime

I also don't see Fluttershy cooking snails. Sorry, that's too OOC for me.


We've seen her feeding fish to ferrets in the show. She seems comfortable with predators and their diets.
#1447 · 6
· on Hollow Man
Hollow Man

Okay, four stories into my slate and I’m yet to be really wowed by any of them (though reading some reviews of stories that aren’t on my slate indicates that there are a few to be found). Let’s see how Hollow Man stacks up!

Okay, so, there’s some interesting stuff going on, here. But I’m confused by some of the narrative. Let’s look at this:

The mirror stayed, for now. He thought they'd take it away after he broke it and tried to use the shards instead, but he couldn't even get that far. His fist just bounced off, and his face kept staring out of the damn thing. Not that it mattered, since his beard would be long enough to look okay in a day or two. Not great, but okay.


There’s, like, some mental time-travel going on here. He thought they would take away the shards of the mirror after he broke it (past tense), but he couldn’t break it (also past tense). These two things can’t both be true. Also, his inch-long beard is just two-days away from looking fine? How fast does his facial hair grow?

Weirdness abounds and we’re only two paragraphs in. There are other persistent oddities throughout the text, and I can’t tell if they’re deliberate or not. I would normally call them errors.

So the centaur-thing just walked in, and I’m starting to realize that this story’s strategy is to employ in media res in a very alien world. I’m not sure I’d have gone that way, since the point of in media res is to introduce a story with action, but when there’s so much oddity and sheer… well, alienness going on, it really just leaves the readers overwhelmed. Every paragraph has something new, unexplained, and as-yet unexplainable.

"Very well." Frøy took a deep breath. "You've been dead for a long time, and so has the Dragonbond Empire. Something called the Descension killed the First Race and warped the face of the world. I wish we knew how long it ago that was, but it was long enough for some new species to take over. Some of them, like mine, think pretty much the same as you, or close enough. Others don't. They're dangerous, and they're in the majority.

"Even those of us who aren't Returners are realizing just how much has been lost. It's not safe to travel beyond the Eurian Rim, and—"

"The Returners?" Mattello asked. He was starting to find the conversation more engaging, confusing as it was.


Yeah, that’s what I was talking about. Bam! Take that, reader! A whole bunch of references you have no way to understand.

Okay, so it turns out all this was just a framing story. Mattello’s story, which he relays to Rhos, is the real story here. So, I wonder, why does the framing story exist?

We get to the end, and the second-to-last paragraph drops some bombshells on us: “It was an absurd idea, later tempered by Rhos's confession that the headmaster had ordered his food laced with experimental medicine.” Really? That’s a pretty big deal to just hide in the middle of a nine-line paragraph.

This story baffled me. I have no idea what happened, despite fully half the story consisting of the main character telling another character what happened in a previous life. That sounded sort of interesting, which leaves me wondering why the whole story wasn’t just Mattello’s tale? The endless dropping of names, places and events without even an attempt to explain them isn’t world-building, it’s just bamboozling.

Sorry, author. I had a lot of problems with this. I read through it twice, and I still can’t even explain what this story is about.
#1766 · 6
· on If, Amidst the Flames, a Pony
Hm, who else is our Italo Calvino fan?
#14849 · 6
· on Gambit Pileup
>>Caliaponia

Echoing this, the first sentence was a nightmare to read and understand. The section "that she had not just been set on fire upon" is 10 words of three or four letters, and they form a jumble of excess mush.

The rest was pretty nonsensical, but that's actually a pretty good way to write Pinkie.
#15280 · 6
· · >>horizon >>Fenton
I see a couple new names in the guessing list. Thank you to all our new entrants!
#19938 · 6
·
Well, I wasn't expecting a Nightmare Night prompt in November, but I'll see if I can make it work.