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To Those at the End · Original Minific ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 400–750
Show rules for this event
#1 · 2
Original comment for the original fiction.
#2 · 4
Me and the boys gonna write some flashfics while in quarantine.
#3 · 2
Aaargh, I haven't gotten my thanks written up for the last writeoff. I'm so far behind I'm going to lap myself. Twice.
#4 · 2
Yeah, lockdown is a proper time to unleash one’s creativity :)
#5 · 2
· · >>Bachiavellian
Could someone point me to the rules covering pic submissions for this? I'm pretty clear on the words bit, but it's been so long, I have no idea how the art angle works. I cannot seem to find any guidelines about it.
#6 · 1
Quick rundown is that this is a Fic-to-Pic event, so each art submission would have to be based on one or several of the fic submissions (you can select multiple entries as your "inspiration" on the submission page).

If you want to play around with the UI and the submission process, we actually have a Pic Submission open for an event running for the R-rated group. It'll be up for the next 29ish hours as of this comment, so feel free to head over and check out how the submission page looks, if you want.

#7 ·
Done. It’s in.
#8 ·
· on Post-Nuclear Feminism
It's for the best, really. You don't want those genes to replicate. Fascinating trip down the post-nuclear path.
#9 ·
· on Written on the Wall · >>Monokeras
First impression: the name "Cloud Chaser" made me think for a moment that this was a pony story. Ha.

Anyways, I liked your central idea, here, with the contemplative neanderthal thinking about, but not quite able to grasp, the concept of extinction. You do a really good job of making his thoughts seem simple/neanderthal-ish without making him seem childish/stupid.

Now, this might just be me and my love of two-characters-having-a-conversation stories, but I think having Cloud be completely alone with his own thoughts felt a little, um, dense, I guess. IMO, it's generally easier for readers to engage with dialogue rather than a lot of basic thought-narration, because dialogue feels more like there's something happening.

There are definitely a couple of moments where I felt like the story was just giving me all the information I needed to understand the context, such as when Cloud thinks about the "alien" humans and describes them. As dumb as it sounds, in my opinion a story like this needs to make the reader kind of feel like they're figuring it out on their own.

So my knee-jerk reaction is that if I were writing this story, I'd have Cloud Chaser talking with another neanderthal about how awful the "aliens" are. But, well, I'm not the author, so feel free to not write what I would. :P My only real advice would be to try to find a way to present the information more smoothly/effortlessly to the reader.

Thanks for entering!
#10 · 1
· on Decades · >>No_Raisin
I really like the clear, visceral stakes that you set here, which immediately makes the reader wonder about the success/failure of the main character. It's a great motivation for the reader to keep reading to learn what happens.

Now, by the end of the story, I will have to admit that I'm left a bit unsatisfied. I think this has less to do with the actual ending and its ambiguity, and more to do with the fact that we never really learn the context or the specific rules of this game. Even not knowing if this is voluntary on the prisoner's part is kind of a big deal, because that'd completely change the dynamic of the risk that they're taking. It's also a bit odd that it's never quite clear what the prisoners have to do or fail at in order to die during this game. It definitely seems that there's something else at play other than the ability to stand still for six hours, but we never really learn what it is. Even knowing for sure that it's something as trivial as random chance would add a lot of meaning to the story.

I guess I'm just not sure what the point of this is. Both at the story-level, I don't know why this game is being conducted, and on the thematic level, I don't know what it's trying to say about the prisoners or the warden/guards. I might be missing something, so I'll be interested in seeing what other reviewers say. I really want to like this one, because of how visceral the stakes feel, but at the same time I also don't feel completely satisfied with what we get.

Thank you for writing!
#11 ·
· on Starlight Angel · >>No_Raisin
I like the somber, emotional tone of this one. I also think it was the right decision not to give us all of the answers by the end of the story. Leaving us with questions is a great compliment to the lonely tone and the emotional ambiguity. Overall, this story really has a great gasp on its mood.

I think my biggest overall concern is that the two halves of this story don't seem to have much to do with each other to me. The general point about non-commitment in the first scene doesn't feel like it meshes with the ideas about pennance and escape that the second scene brings up. I'm not even quite sure why this fallen angel has one night stands with random humans at all.

So in the end, while I definitely liked the emotions you were going for, I don't quite feel like I'm walking away with a complete message. I know I complimented the piece's ambiguity earlier, but there's a difference between leaving Sophia's origin/fall up to the imagination and producing a clear thematic takeaway. This piece is still a whole lot of fun, but it's not fun that really means anything, yet. I'd love to see it go up to that next level.

Thanks for entering!
#12 · 1
· on Time-Traveling Salesman Problem · >>Comma Typer
So I really like the quirky, darkly surreal tone of this piece. It kind of reminds me of something like an X-Files episode, or maybe those sequences in Half Life 2 with the G-Man stops time to talk to Gordon Freeman.

Now, from a prose standpoint, I think it's worth noting that this was a little exhausting for me to read. Consider that nearly every paragraph in the story has two or three single-claused sentences, and that almost all of the dialogue is structured very similarly. These kinds of short, punchy sentences can be used to signal moments of higher energy since they come across as interjectory to the reader, but when the entire piece is composed like this, it can really wash out the reader's attention.

I also think its worth noting that from a payoff perspective, this story didn't quite satisfy me. The first two scenes seem to be spending a lot of time and effort to make us (1) question the apparent circumstances (2) seriously consider the prospect's explanation for the state of the world, and (3) make us wonder how the state of the world/time got to the point it has. It basically signals to the reader that it is very important to understand the exact logistics of how time travel works in this universe.

Then, the conclusion seems to throw all of that out the window. The temporal paradox really makes questioning the state of the world a moot point, and since we don't know how this paradox even occurred in what originally seemed to be a stable time loop, our investment in trying to understand the rules of time travel in this universe feel wasted. In fact, the very last bit with the reference to simulation takes us into an entirely different trope/genre of sci-fi altogether, and I didn't come away feeling that it satisfied the expectations that the story's first half sets up.

I feel like I might be missing a very important point here, because the way it is right now, I almost feel like I have been punished for trying to put effort into understanding the time-loop mechanics. So unless your intention was purely to disorient the reader and subvert expectations, I think it's worth giving a little reconsideration towards exactly how you want your payoff to work.

Thank you for submitting!
#13 · 1
· on All Deafening on the Home Front · >>Miller Minus
Very evocative:

And I love that we only know her as "Mrs. O'Hare" rather than by her actual given name. It says so much about the character's self image and about the time and place.

I do have a couple questions, though. I don't understand what provokes her reaction to knock over the basket of names--which was a box earlier in the story. The wording doesn't suggest to me that it was an accident, but if it's on purpose, what's triggered her to do it here and now instead of at any other time? I also wondered at the line "She turns her sewing machine back on". If she's been sitting there not working in a room full of sewing machines rattling away, I'd like to see that at the beginning rather than only hear about a third of the way through...

Still, nice stuff!

#14 ·
· on Draw Your Own Conclusion
I'm not:

Getting this one at all, I'm afraid. The word "limbo" made me think this was maybe a white, blank, emptiness, but then Tasha is "sitting underneath a halo of light the glass produced." My first thought was that this was a sheet of glass separating the two of them 'cause when she sprays her drink out laughing, it covers the glass even though she's facing him. Later, though, there's references to an hourglass, but even then, I couldn't quite make it work. I mean, she's sitting when she sprays the glass with her drink, but then she points up to where the hourglass is. She also says near the end that she gets her drinks from the forest, but I haven't been shown any forest anywhere around them.

So I'm afraid I just don't have enough information to draw my own conclusion...

#15 ·
· on Post-Nuclear Feminism
I love how this sets up its zanny, irreverent tone immediately with the first sentence. I also ended up reading all of Nigel's lines in Stephen Merchant's voice in my head, so thank you genuinely for that. I'm also not usually one to particularly like internal monologue, but I have to say that Jenny's little rambling asides to herself were definitely the best part of this.

Now, I'm not particularly sure why, but while this piece as a whole was definitely amusing, it didn't quite cross the line to humorous to me. It might be that there's not very many punchline-style jokes outside of the really silly one at the end. So while I definitely felt the atmosphere of humor throughout this piece, it didn't really ever coalesce into distinct moments of comedy for me.

As I always say, I don't consider myself a very good judge of humor, so I'll be interested in seeing what others have to say. But I am pretty sure that regardless, this one is quite a bit of fun.

Thanks for entering!
#16 ·
· on With Apologies · >>Baal Bunny
This one definitely has a really interesting central idea, and I like what you're doing with delivering the context of the conflict at a measured pace. The narrator's voice also comes through really clearly in the text, which helps the epistolary format feel all that more authentic. My favorite bit was definitely the moment where the narrator haughtily bemoans the fact that he's ignored, despite all the work he's put into the project.

I will have to say, I had a little bit of trouble grasping the whole mobius strip analogy/explanation, and on my subsequent readthroughs, I almost want to say that the story would work without it altogether. The most important information (if I'm understanding things correctly) is that it will merge the two possible future universes. When you try to explain and add details to such a vague concept, it inevitably is going to sound really odd to your reader. It really made me question why exactly the inhabitants of Good Universe would find themselves in Bad Universe, instead of the other way around, or any other permutation of "two universes merging". In short, you're opening quite a can of worms when you bring actual logistics and explanations into things. I honestly think it might be best to just gloss this bit over as much as you can.

I hope that makes sense!

Thank you for submitting!
#17 · 1
· on Snail Mail Delivery
In which France has the final word.

This is a lovely little piece and it's nigh perfect. While I did not understand a few sci-fi terms here and there, that's okay because they're merely flavor for a story that is good even without it: a good set-up of expectations at the beginning, some misdirection with the mystery of the box, and then the surprise of the cargo being a celebratory gift of wine which is quite heartwarming considering the rather somber or otherwise serious tone of the story's first section.

The only thing I would complain about is how the description/atmosphere tapers off in the end like the story is just suddenly fading to black. The final moment could be more poignant/emotional if there was at least a phrase if not a sentence or two regarding how the scene felt or even what kind of surface they were walking on.

Other than that, it's phenomenal! Easily a medalist in the making.
#18 · 1
· on All Deafening on the Home Front · >>Miller Minus
In which war is a terrible thing.

I have to admit my bias when it comes to stories like this since I have a penchant for commentary on war. With that out of the way: wow! I love how you build the atmosphere and Mrs. O'Hare up until the last few paragraphs of the story where it all switches to the devastating revelation. All the details in the build-up seem to just serve their purpose as worldbuilding, but then to pluck out one or two details and to remind us of them in the ending revelation, and the thematic and repeating words of "
And she could hear a pin drop."
sealed the deal for me at the end.

Another thing of note here is this line: "An idea hits her, to simply shove her hand into the machine." Such a surprise to have there and yet it makes sense given how, with the information already given out, I should've expected it. Perhaps she's bored out of her mind or otherwise just dying to get out of there, and this is like a mental version of suddenly raging out but without the physical trashing.

Overall, this is great! I'll be surprised if I don't see this at the top.
#19 ·
· on Time-Traveling Salesman Problem
In which time is weird.

You get an A for effort on the premise. Time vacations and weaponizing (or pretending to weaponize?—considering how convoluted this is) the bootstrap paradox? Yes.

Everything else? Despite having three or four scenes, the pacing is still inappropriately lightning fast. While there is much merit into dumping the reader straight into the action, not enough detail has been explained to the reader. We aren't given enough time to get into the mind of the salesman or the prospect or even just easing into the bar or otherwise the wider world. The end result comes off as a short story with too much stripped away so it can fit the word count instead of an actual minific, which is concerning when most of the other stories in this round come close to the upper word count too.

Then there's the twist or, rather, the three twists. That there are three twists in a story with fewer than 750 words is dangerous since you don't have enough space to flesh all three of them out to good effect. A better strategy would have been to focus on one of the three twists and let the other two twists either appear in the beginning to help set the mood or otherwise mentioned off-hand so that they will feel important but not too important that the story is building up to them.

Another downside to this is the dialogue. There seems to be too much of it, and the reason why is because a lot of it is unnecessary. Maybe it's an attempt to build the two characters up, but you rely on dialogue too much, almost as a crutch, to beef the story's premise up. Indirectly quote some of the lines and cut the scenes down so that it's just the important bits of dialogue that will definitely make an impact or set the mood and then you'll be golden.

Overall, it's a good idea on paper, but it's all done below average. I won't be surprised if it's at the bottom of the pack.
#20 ·
· on Starlight Angel · >>No_Raisin
In which Jamie should be a Los Angeles Anaheim baseball fan.

Sophia is the star of the story so much of the story hinges on how she performs here, and she's performed okay. Considering who she really is, it gave me a nostalgic feeling towards things like Dan Brown books/movies and hyperfundamentalist literature I used to read. Beyond that, though, she plays the role of a fallen angel in the style of the Biblical Nephilim's parents well enough and checks of all the items such a role would have (like being on flings and not exactly promoting a morally good lifestyle).

The revelation of who she truly is, though, while very sensible, seems merely good enough. The whole story, really, is good as is, especially considering the descriptions and the world-building here especially during and after the revelation. However, it's lacking that oomph!, for lack of a better word, because I feel like this is a run-of-the-mill story that checks off all the items on the checklist but is otherwise rote and standard.

Overall, an average story, for good or bad. I won't be surprised to see it smack in the middle.
#21 ·
· on Post-Nuclear Feminism
Deliciously irreverent! I'll echo Bachiavellian's sentiment and say there wasn't really any single gut-busting punchline for me, but the piece as a whole radiated humor, which in my opinion makes for a more engaging read. I really dig it. Thanks for sharing!
#22 ·
· on Down to the Finish · >>GroaningGreyAgony
One of two entries to not have any reviews yet, but it's all good now.

Something I liked:

If "Down to the Finish" ends up ranking low on people's slates, it won't be because of the author's complacency. On the contrary, I find this entry to be quite daring in a few ways, which granted don't have much to do with the story being told. For one, there's no dialogue, and no second-person narration to give the false impression of a dialogue. It's all action, and suspense, which I've always found difficult to convey effectively through writing. In a movie or video game there's a controlled rate at which you experience action, but you can just read something as slowly as you want. It's clear, though, that the author tried their best to keep up a consistent sense of risk in the game the protagonist is playing. I respect the risk-taking.

Something I didn't like:

Just because you're brave enough to take a risk in your writing doesn't mean the risk will pay off. In the case of this entry we're mainly assaulted with written sound effects and some awkward syntax. The "thud, thud, thud" effect didn't do anything for me from the word go, but then it gets repeated half a dozen times and quickly feels exhausted. We also get some wonky descriptions and instances of repetition in the action, pretty much right away, such as the ungainly phrase "all thudding all around me," which gives me the impression that one more editing pass was in order. To make matters worse, the stakes being established are too abstract and made clear too late for me to get truly invested in what was happening.

Verdict: Very much rough around the edges, to the point where I don't know if the core of the thing is worth it.
#23 ·
· on Disenchantment · >>TheRedParade
You fucking kidding me?

Something I liked:


Something I didn't like:

In the Discord server, which I would not recommend visiting, Cassius brought up how the ending of this entry really undoes it. When he said this I had just come out of reading all the entries in rapid succession, and had forgotten what exactly he had meant. Upon a re-read, though, it becomes painfully clear to me that "Disenchantment" is a potentially good mood piece that deflates itself faster at the end faster than a balloon with a hole poked in it. To understand why, we have to acknowledge that prior to the ending this was written under the impression that the protagonist is having a conversation with someone whose side of the conversation we're not able to read. This is what I mean, in my review of "Down to the Finish," about second-person narration being used to make the reader feel like a dialogue is happening when it really isn't. Now you might say, "But Raisin, this is clearly told in the first-person, not the second, you hack," but I'm referring more to the fact that the protagonist is clearly talking to someone who is not specifically meant to be the reader. The problem is that the ending completely ruins this impression, seemingly breaking the one rule the story had set up, and it kind of just feels like bullshit. It feels like a severe misfire on the author's part, and if I can recommend anything it's that those last few sentences ought to be changed.

Verdict: While it may be admirably unconventional, the ending kills all enthusiasm I have for it.
#24 · 1
· on Written on the Wall · >>Monokeras
Is "yesternight" a real word?

Something I liked:

In terms of thematic deepness, this entry is one of the strongest of the bunch, if not the strongest in my opinion. It's kind of a scary idea, that there was once a humanoid race who shared the earth with homo sapiens who may have been very similar to us, and that our ancestors had driven these people to extinction. We don't know much about neanderthals, at least from what I can recall. Did they have names? Did they know of poetry? When they looked up at the stars at night, did they wonder what lay beyond our world just as we did? Surely even a finger painting on a wall would be considered a victory for the legacy of neanderthals, having confronted their inevitable collective death. I'm sure we look at them now in much the same way a smarter and more cautious race will look at us thousands of years from now after we've surely destroyed ourselves. Of course, when they find the remains of our existence, they'll find something far more nefarious than markings on a wall...

Something I didn't like:

Is it obvious to criticize this entry for the use of a pony name? Yes, but I feel the need to bring this up, because it's actually connected to how our primitive protagonist is characterized and, by extension, how the human menace is characterized. Like I said, we don't know if neanderthals gave names to each other or themselves, so from the author's standpoint it might've sounded practical to give the protagonist a name that doesn't sound recognizably human. Why did it have to be a pony reference, though? Because at some point the protagonist might not have been a neanderthal at all, but a pony, and the story was retro-fitted to be original and not MLP-related. The way Cloud Chaser (ugh) describes the human invaders also smacks to me of xenofiction, since after all, neanderthals and homo sapiens didn't look that different from each other, and I doubt one race would've seen the other as akin to aliens. Honestly it sounds suspicious.

Verdict: Excellent in concept, but needs more work with the execution. Middle or upper half of my slate.
#25 · 1
· on Decades
Someone has a bone to pick with capital punishment.

Something I liked:

As an exercise in describing action, I think this entry does the trick. It puts the protagonist, who is realized in really vague terms, in what equates to a lab test with parameters that are almost as vague. But the actions themselves are quite vividly realized, especially in the second half when the main character starts to give in to pressure and maybe succumbs to the elements, or maybe just bad luck. The stakes are established early on and are made easy to follow, with this being a simple game of life and death. The fact that the torture/execution session is treated like a game is a little disquieting, though. There's a sense of pure darkness here that doesn't rear its head in other entries, and it fits that niche well enough.

Something I didn't like:

As much as I like the second half, though, I do feel like the first half runs too long in comparison to what comes afterward. A lot of words are spent on the captain explaining what's going to happen and how the prisoners will be rewarded, and not only does this exposition dump go on for too long, but it still leaves a few important questions left unanswered. For instance, we never learn what causes any of the prisoners to die. Presumably something causes the trap door to open, maybe at random, but we're never given an explicit explanation for this, and surely even the blind prisoners would be given a better idea in-story as to how they'd be able to prevent themselves from falling to their deaths. Also, while I do suspect that this is meant to be commentary on capital punishment and the prison system in general, this thematic material is never made clear in the writing itself.

Verdict: Not bad. The pacing needs to be tweaked a good deal, though.
#26 ·
· on Draw Your Own Conclusion
Well, author, since you encourage me to come to my own conclusion...

Something I liked:

At the heart of this entry lies a fairly chuckle-worthy comedy. The protagonist is on a Dante-like quest and wants to get to Heaven, except he can't. He confronts Tasha (who I want to think is Tasha Yar from Star Trek), and she's basically in the same position as him but not quite. I guess purgatory is where all the soft drinks go. For some reason I find the mention of soft drinks to be the funniest part of this whole thing. The dialogue side of things is pretty well-realized, even if the author used hyphens in place of em dashes like a fucking heathen. Tasha herself is quite an entertaining character, and I too am curious to find out more about her Ramona Flowers-esque history of exes.

Something I didn't like:

As Mike pointed out, there are some serious lapses in description here. A forest? Where? Since when? How does the hourglass work? Speaking of which, that line about the "shinier hourglass" is the fucking worst, unquestionably the worst line to be found in any of these entries. It's got everything you could not want in a comedy line: it's awkwardly phrased, it's needlessly obtuse, it's not funny, and it honestly borders on misogynistic. The author might've thought they were being clever with that zinger, but just because a line is written like it's meant to be clever doesn't necessarily mean that it'll be clever. Anyway, more generally speaking this entry suffers from a severe lack of polish put into the descriptive side of things, not to mention the narrator is kind of a bland slice of wonder bread who could well be anyone with a sexual interest in women I guess.

Verdict: Too awkward, too vague, and I'll never forgive that one line.
#27 ·
· on Down to the Finish · >>GroaningGreyAgony
Okay, I have to admit, I'm pretty lost when it comes to this one. I want to say that this is a video game reference, with how it makes these oddly specific references to picking up items and the like. I originally thought this was about Temple Run, but not all the details lined up, so now I'm honestly not quite sure what much of it means.

So basically, I understand that the narrator is trying to obtain an elusive goal in a way that involves running and competing with others, but beyond that, I'm not getting much in terms of themes or even general meaning. And I'm almost certain that it's because I'm missing out on a very specific thing that this piece is trying to comment on or evoke. But as I am right now, I really am not sure I can enjoy this piece as intended.

So yeah, if anyone is more sure about what's going on here, feel free to hit me up in a reply.
#28 ·
· on Disenchantment · >>TheRedParade
Okay, so I'm definitely giving you respect for going for something that's just totally unconventional. It's something that I rarely have the courage to do myself, so I'm always intrigued to see how others pull it off.

But I think I do have to admit that this was kind of a hard sell for me. I, personally, am not really a fan of self-descriptive monologues. When I write conversations, I'm the sort of guy who gets worried that I'm boring the reader if I have more than three sentences from the same character in a row. So when it came to reading this, I have to say that it's probably just not my cup of tea.

It's really touchy territory when you have characters talk straightforwardly about their own feelings, because this rarely happens in real life. It's easy for the text to come across as existing to inform the reader rather than occurring and developing naturally, which really makes it difficult for any of the emotion to come through. I know it's a little bit of a cliche to use the phrase "show don't tell", but I'm having a hard time describing how this piece came off to me other than "telly".

I'm not getting as much of the self-deflation tones that Raisin got, I think primarily because I had a different reading of this. I was under the impression that the story meant that while on his deathbed, the narrator was able to talk to a dead person that he knew, and only he could hear him. If that was what you were going for, I'm not quite sure how well the twist comes across to me. It doesn't add much new insight to the preceding text, and it's not very foreshadowed. The goal of a good twist, after all, is to convince the audience that they've been deceived, and that they could have pieced together the truth if only they were paying more attention. When the twist doesn't seem to impact or be impacted by the context of the story very much, it feels kind of perfunctory.

So yeah, I'm afraid there are a few things that stop me from enjoying this piece as much as I hoped. I'm not exactly clear on what emotion I'm supposed to be feeling from this one, and it makes it difficult for me to come away with a concrete takeaway. I'd be interested to see if any of our other reviewers have answers to my questions.

Thank you for entering!
#29 ·
· on Disenchantment · >>TheRedParade
In which the doctor didn't notice for a long time.

Much of the story is build-up or at least it feels like build-up. I'm conflicted with where the story is going with all the build-up. On the one hand, I could take it as a kind of moral lesson on to hear the people at the end of their lives and listen to the kind of wisdom that they can give, which is good in and of itself; however, with the attitude he has throughout much of this story, I would be somewhat averse listening to this guy for advice even if he's 100% correct.

On the other hand, I could consider this with the ending much more in focus. I like that it seems to be aiming for that insanity angle. However, it seems more like a twist for twist's sake. Little is done if at all to hint at it. Perhaps the ellipses might have given it away, but still, it feels like all the thinking I've done ever since I realized he was talking to someone and not just to the reader was wasted thanks to the ending as is.

On the bright side, props to you for going the very direct route with this story's perspective/point of view. Better to play it risky than to play it safe, I'd say. Keep that attitude up.

Overall, a story that went all in and lost all the money. However, while I won't be surprised to see this at the bottom of the pack, I still like the risk behind this. Don't let this discourage you from doing more stories like this.
#30 · 2
· on Draw Your Own Conclusion
In which "time is really more of an etch n sketch."

Throughout the whole story, I imagined this whole thing taking place in black nothingness. With the descriptions given in the story, I am not sure if this is the effect you were going for, though the revelation that there is no heaven even after getting out of Hell and purgatory probably helped, whether for good or bad. I'll chalk this impression up as "questionable" because while the story did work for me in a setting of nothingness, it seems the other commenters here were dismayed at the lack of enough descriptions to have the setting stick or make sense to their heads. For example:

“You see that hourglass up there?” She pointed up.

“Of course I do.”

The bigger and shinier hourglass is not given much focus even though it is the subject of important discussion in the story. That the hourglass was just given that description plus this exchange without any description relating to it like Thomas looking up to it or having Thomas' thoughts about it and so on... it all leaves the most important object of the story in the background, which isn't good when the hourglass relates a lot to the story's revelation.

Much of the dialogue here also seems like filler even though I believe you were going for characterization here, though there is the danger of too much characterization when writing a short story or a minific. I sympathized with Thomas when he got confused with Natasha's over-spilling story about Mr. Goldstein—they may be fine in a longer story, but with 750 words being the cap, you could have cut Natasha's gushing about ex's here and there, bringing it down to one-liners and things like that.

I am also concerned about Thomas' reaction to the revelation. Maybe it's more of a your mileage may vary sort of thing when it comes to reacting to such big things like this after the huge struggle he went through to get to the point he was at the beginning of the story, but still, I find it incredulous that his reaction to finding out that there is no heaven after all, at least for now after all he's been through is to just sort of blank out and make small talk with Natasha? It seems more likely that he would have gone a more dramatic route considering his struggle to get here. Maybe Thomas is different from the average person, but not much if any in the story indicates that Thomas has had something that makes his attitude different from the average person.

In the end, this is a story that could have reached its destination but needs some description beef-up an a better, more realistic ending. Would make it to the middle if only barely.
#31 ·
· on Down to the Finish · >>GroaningGreyAgony
In which this should be an Olympic sport if we can take out all the lethal stuff.

The story is a gem (hah!) but it's a cracked one. The crack is that I have no idea where this is going. What I do know is that it isn't your usual marathon since there's a couple mentions of bouncing and falling into a void, that it seems like a lethal thing whatever they're doing, people kind of scavenge for stuff on the way but have to do it so they also don't die, and it seems to be going on for so long that the protagonist doesn't know what it is all for. (Off-topic: in hindsight, it feels like something I could see in Death Stranding.) So there's the questions you build up: What is he running to? Are they running from something or is it just a dash home? Why are people willing to fight to get stuff?—is this some post-apocalyptic world or is it something else?

On its own, that's good. The problem is that the ending answers none of the questions posed throughout the story. It's great to have more questions left unanswered than questions, uh, answered; however, since none of the questions above were answered, I feel like this is not a self-contained mini fic and more like a prologue to some greater story that promises to give me rest regarding these questions and more.

Still, this is a gem. The rhythm of the sentences, how you use the long and short and medium ones and where to put them (and this extends to the long and short paragraphs as well) is a fine example of how to pace a mini fic. And, for all the questions you've left unanswered, you did a great job building up mystery and using that mystery to build reader intereset and curiosity: somehow, you made a quick mention of a girl dying by bouncing a brow-raiser, making me wonder, "What's going on here? Why did a girl die in this race/journey? I must read on to find out what's making this race/journey off-putting."

And, then, there's that first paragraph:

Thud. Thud. Thud. My feet pound into the rocky grit which scatters around me but never slips, please let it never slip. The wind slips around my ears and spreads the hair back from my eyes as I run, as we all run, and I hear the others all thudding all around me as we drive down the long hill in thunderous waves, dirt flying up in clouds as our feet strike home, thud. Thud. Thud.

I find it amazing when I find the less common/heard-of rhetorical devices out in the wild: anadiplosis with the word slip, assonance with the sonuds related to the word thud (thunderous, dirt, strike), and some partial alliteration in "drive down the long hill in thunderous waves, dirt flying up in clouds...." This is an opening hook.

Overall: a cracked gem but a gem nonetheless. Will be surprised to see this in first place but will be surprised if it doesn't get silver or bronze.
#32 ·
· on With Apologies · >>Baal Bunny
In which a snake oil salesman-sounding fellow apologizes for the technical inconvenience. Seriously, I read this story out loud in a rather stereotypical 19th-century snake oil salesman-esque accent and it fit quite well.

I don't find anything wrong with this. Granted, my lack of sufficient knowledge and expertise in the sci-fi department (and timey-wimey stuff) might blind me to some mistake in the sci-fi explanations for whatever the Cylcotrauma is (and, by the way, I'm not exactly sure why exactly it would cause trauma. However, I'm going to assume that the explanation is all good.

Having said that, regarding how you handled the tone... quite a nasty piece of work you managed! Until the end, the tone conflicts wonderfully with the contents of the message, especially since you started things off with the warning that this isn't exactly good news we're getting. I have the feeling the message's writer is trying too hard to be enthusiastic, which underlies a nuance about this story: would I genuinely be happy or cheerful if I had to compose this message? Of course not. Yet, I want to soften the blow as much as possible for whoever would receive it, so I do understand the option of just being cheesily cheerful.

And the slow revelation of who the recipients of the message is, who they actually are: yup. It does feel fatherly and you nail it right with the paragraphs praising the recipients, especially with the first few parahraphs in the story putting the whole cheery tone in doubt.

Then there's the ending and the solution to the problem found in the message. If I was the recipient, I would certainly be mad at the writer. The brief ending also fits great since its briefness feels very natural and not as if it was painfully aware it was reaching the 700-word mark of the 750-word limit. I can easily imagine it being short as is because it was meant to be, not because it was a mini fic. With how terse and how incomplete/barebones (for lack of a better term) the message ends only adds more to the tone shift that I did not detect until I looked back up at the story: how the numerous exclamation points suddenly stop, and how the tone shifts from cheery to unapologetically sorry.

Overall, a great message-in-a-story (or is it story-in-a-message?) Even a little humorous which might not have been your intention but it's all good. Should see this in the top or at least at the threshold of getting bronze.
#33 · 1
· on Snail Mail Delivery
Very, very nice:

I wonder about the note saying that this gift is from the crew of the Aurora, but apparently, nothing at all special happened when the Aurora docked six years ago. I'd suggest that the gift instead be from RSI as a whole in appreciation for everything Eris-1 does. And maybe at the end, Beatrice could countermand her order about invoicing RSI for the rush-order docking services? Other than that, though, this is an exemplary minific.

#34 ·
· on Decades · >>No_Raisin
The English needs a bit of polishing. Mind your tenses and some glaring errors (“fair” instead of “fare”).

Now I must agree with the others. You leave us hanging at the end (haha), yet seem to suggest in the text that this scene a recollection. This effect is compounded by the use of the past tense—I would’ve used the present here, if only to suggest things happens as the narrator describes them.

The lack of context ruins the story a little: we guess that they’re supposed to stand still and muted, but why, and why would they be freed if they pass? With the story intentionally interrupted, these questions end up being more important for me than the narrator’s fate itself.
#35 ·
· on Draw Your Own Conclusion
JFC, what can I add after three eminent colleagues have already squeezed the story out? Have I come this far to be left with so few to write?


I agree I was turned down, first by the mumbo-jumbo about Heaven and hourglasses, and then by the sudden change of mind of the character at the end. That kind of twist tastes really tired to me. Something like “This is so boring, where’s the elevator back for Hell” would’ve been much punchier for me. As for Tacha, she didn’t strike me as particularly memorable. I’m still wondering what her presence adds to the story.
#36 ·
· on Post-Nuclear Feminism
This goes right to the top of my slate if only by virtue of placing British accents on the pinnacle.

Whoever you are, I love you. Here, share my Covid. Smooch

That being said, I’m not sure I get the end. Is that a feghoot? It’s quite deftly written. Definitely a headbreaking story.
#37 ·
· on With Apologies · >>Baal Bunny
Vaguely steampunk Rick & Morty.

Something I liked:

With only 750 words at the author's disposal, some drastic measures must naturally be taken. There are several ways you can frame your story to make it economic on words while still conveying everything you want to. This entry does a pretty good job of putting forth the premise while also characterizing the writer of the letter. Whoever you are, author, I'm almost certain you wrote this with more 19th century influences in mind than modern sci-fi. Think less Greg Bear and more H.G. Wells. The protagonist is a bit of a bastard, or at the very least irresponsible, but the way he's written not only gives him something close to three dimensions, but makes the delay of the dire reveal seem more natural.

Something I didn't like:

The big problem this entry has, even on a re-read, is how fuzzy the stakes are. While I understand it's part of the protagonist's character to not immediately let the recipient know that their future will be fucked, the explanation given for why their future will be fucked feels obtuse to the point of incompleteness. There's something important missing here, like who the aliens are supposed to be and why the protagonist regards them with disdain. Is there an intergalactic war in the future that we aren't told about? You could've used those extra 50+ words to provide a bit more context. Also, I doubt there would only be two choices for how the future of humanity would play out. I suspect there'd be at least a dozen, if not hundreds.

Verdict: Simple and robust time travel that's maybe too simple, leaving too much left unexplained.
#38 ·
· on Time-Traveling Salesman Problem · >>Comma Typer
Huh? What?

Something I liked:

When I first read "Time-Traveling Salesman Problem," I think I liked it more on the basis of what it reminded me of, as opposed to what I actually received as the story. You see, I'm 99% sure the author has read some of the works of Robert Heinlein, specifically because the pace of this thing and how it deals out exposition reminds me of "All You Zombies," although if we're talking time-travel paradoxes then it has much more in common with another famous Heinlein story about time travel, "By His Bootstraps." As a pastiche, it does a fine job, although I'll be getting into the shortcomings in a second. I like how there's no BS, no excessive descriptions of scenery, no distractions aside from this very minimalist yet very convoluted tale about a man screwing over his past self. Or maybe his future self? Well...

Something I didn't like:

Heinlein's style is very punchy and dense, but trying to emulate said style in 750 words or less is likely to end in failure, or at the very least unintended confusion. This is a very confusing story, and not in a way that's necessarily interesting as I look more into it. You introduce an inviting premise with taking "timecations" right off the bat, which is great, and then you reveal that the prospect and the salesman are the same person (somehow?), okay. But as Comma said, there are three twists (at least!), and not only are they so tightly packed together, they honestly don't seem to make sense half the time. I'm still not exactly sure how the bootstrap paradox is being invoked here, more so because exposition is being packed into so tight a space that I can't keep up with the connections. And then there's the ending, which simply doesn't work for me. How does this work? Who is even supposed to be reading the notification at the end? What did we learn from this? I don't know.

Verdict: Gripping at first, and with an admirable mission statement (as a Heinlein fan), but I don't think the author thought through how many words would be needed to make this story add up.
#39 ·
· on Starlight Angel
All angels have wings. Even bad ones.

Something I liked:

I like stories that don't beat around the bush, and this one uses its word count fairly well. We immediately get a sense of who Sophia is, even if we don't know what she is yet. There's a tone and outlook established right away, and we're also treated to some rather evocative imagery, particularly in the second half. There's a bit of ambiguity in the stakes, as it seems more a matter of Sophia's pride than whether or not something happens to her, but it all funnels into a thoroughly melancholy, even fatalistic tone. The whole thing feels almost like a fable, although maybe too ambiguous, as I'm not sure what the connection to the prompt is supposed to be. Regardless, it's a mood piece that goes down easily.

Something I didn't like:

I don't think, however, that this entry will get brownie points for its twists and turns. Hard to explain why, but there's something missing about this entry that pushes it into "amazing" territory for me. It could be that there's a sudden shift between the scenes, and they don't exactly flow seamlessly together. It could be, on a more thematic level, that I'm not really sure what this story is supposed to be saying. It could be about pride, or the battle against loneliness from an unconventional POV, but we aren't given enough time to sink into Sophia's perspective and discover what we ought to be getting out of knowing her experience. There seems to be a hint at a thesis statement at the end, but it instead lends itself more to imagery, which was arguably a misfire.

Verdict: Robust and even slightly poetic, but misses a certain something to make it a top contender.
#40 ·
· on Post-Nuclear Feminism
In which we violently discuss topic of social structures minus a real society.

This seems like a very goofy piece going for a crass flavor. It's interesting how the political commentary just drops off about halfway through. Makes sense though: in a post-nuclear world like this, people might put less merit in delineating details about social structures and so on when it's easy to just go savage. Still, the commentary does well in setting up and coloring Jenny's encounter with Nigel.

Don't have much else to say; comedy isn't much of a strong suit for me, but from what I can tell, this is interestingly good.

Overall, a nice dose of humor. Should at least be in the middle of the pack though I would be surprised to see it get a medal.
#41 ·
· on Snail Mail Delivery
So, I thought this was a pretty cozy story. I liked the way Beatrice came across, with her dry, wryness, and the general story tone felt pretty good to me.

Now, I have to say that I do have a higher than average tolerance for sci-fi techno-talk, but I did notice how much information gets dumped out during the first three or four paragraphs. It's a lot to take in at once, and I kinda wish that it was spread out over a more manageable stretch of wordcount.

The end twist is kind of simple and kind of plain, with the way it resolves itself. There's not much fanfare with the actual reveal, to the point that I almost felt like I missed it. I think that a little more emotional signaling would go a long way towards letting the reader know that the payoff is happening.

Still, I have a soft spot for space sci-fi, so this one is definitely winning all sorts of brownie points with me.

Thank you for submitting!
#42 ·
· on Decades · >>No_Raisin
In which the protagonist does not get the hang of it.

I must first ask of you: Are you a doctor? Because, if my hunch is correct, then this is a subtle stroke of genius, starting with the title. Not everyone who gets hanged in history dies, but those who do survive seem to sustain some kind of damage, including brain damage. And then there's this thing called dyschronometria which is when a person cannot perceive time accurately. If this is right, then that means the protagonist has suffered dyschronometria and if this is indeed a sort of experiment and not a needlessly elaborate death sentence, the captain and his crew may be trying to figure out the effects of dyschronometria (if unethically).

However, the process/experience with the rope seems a bit too short. I am not sure if this is part of what you're going for with dyschronometria or not. Still, with lots of build-up in the beginning, it still feels a little disappointing to just have an unanswered ending, almost like this is merely a scene and not a mini story. If you cut down on the descriptions in the beginning, perhaps you may be able to have enough room for fleshing out the rope part of the story and build that out so more people would be invested in trying to figure out what exactly this process is by observing it.

Overall, it's a story with words and an experience to hang on to, though it's tough to tell whether it will make it into the medal zone or just be a strong middle-of-the-pack contender.
#43 · 1
· on All Deafening on the Home Front · >>Miller Minus
I really, really like the scope of this minific. The twist feels neither too small nor too large for the general breadth of the story, and overall I just feel like my time was well-spent reading this. All the little statements that come straight out of Mrs. O'Hare's consciousness really give the piece a sense of inhabiting someone's head, and it makes the reveal all the more impactful.

Now, I think it's worth mentioning that during my first read-through, I completely missed out on the fact that Mrs. O'Hare doesn't want to read the name tags, and I was kind of confused about why she was so upset when she spilled the box. On my second reading, I noticed that there were a couple of sentences explaining it at the very beginning of the story, but I simply hadn't thought that it was very important when I first read it. I would personally suggest a couple of more mentions of her wanting to avoid reading the names, just to make sure that you're signaling their significance strongly enough to the reader.

I also have to note, that for some reason, the "shove her hand into the machine" bit felt a little jarring to me. Not exactly sure why, but it might have to do with the fact that all of her other idle thoughts are attempts to calm herself, and this one is the opposite. In any case, the fact that it stuck out so much made me pay a lot of attention to that paragraph, which did not end up being as important as it seemed. Just an observation.

Overall, despite my little reading hiccups, I thought this was a great piece. Like I said earlier, it really has a good sense of payoff and scope, and it definitely satisfies by the end of it.

Thanks for writing!
#44 · 1
· on Draw Your Own Conclusion
The general tone of this is really easy-going, which was a really good decision that helps make the story as a whole feel more digestable. And while Thomas doesn't really get the chance to get much spotlight, Natasha felt strongly characterized, even if you had to use broad strokes to do it quickly.

Now, I have to admit that I'm generally not a fan of drawing my own conclusion. I'm usually in the camp that the message/payoff of a story should be pretty clear to the reader, even if some details aren't. So when I get to the end of this one, I'm kind of left feeling unfulfilled. The only thing that the story seems to be saying for sure is that idle conversation is probably better than Hell itself, which doesn't feel like a very interesting point to make.

I think the vagueness about what exactly happens at the end of the hourglass's time is really what's killing you, here. If we know for sure that, say, Thomas and Natasha are going to cease to exist when time's up, this knowledge reframes the story into being about what is worth doing when you know you have limited time. Or, if we know that Tom and Nat are just going to sit here forever, the story becomes about what kind of company is worth keeping, and what would people rather do than talk forever. But the fact that the story doesn't really make a commitment about what the stakes are for our two characters really hamstrings how a reader can emotionally respond, IMO.

I know that ambiguity is part of the point of the story (hence the title), but I strongly believe that the one thing that a story should not be ambiguous about is what the story is actually about. An example that I can think of off the top of my head is the film Inception, which handles its ambiguous ending well because the audience already knows that the film is about the difference between waking life and dreams. Asking the central question one last time and not answering it reinforces its message, in this case. But with this minific, I don't think we even know what the central question/theme is.

So when I get to the end of this, I'm having trouble emotionally reacting to any of it. What am I supposed to feel for Tom and Natasha? Sadness, because they don't get a heaven? Relief, because they escaped Hell? Wry criticism, initially believing in heaven at all? Telling me to draw my own conclusion doesn't make much sense to me, because I don't have enough context or data to come to a conclusion in a satisfying manner. Yes, I can guess what the story is about, but when all my guesses feel the same, none of them have emotional impact to me.

I do appreciate that you're keeping some things vague, like where Natasha gets her knowledge from, and information about Thomas's living life. Keeping their past circumstances unknown is a smart move, but I do suggest giving us more information on their current situation. That would really go a long way towards letting the reader know what this piece has to offer.

Thank you for entering!
#45 ·
· on Written on the Wall · >>Monokeras
In which is a different Cloud Chaser. On another note, it warms my heart that, in a round with high sci-fi undertones, a primitive/neolithic(?) era story is the final entry on the list.

Let's talk about the elephant in the room: Cloud Chaser's name. A pony name in an original fiction round. Clever how you used it since some groups of people used (and still use) names like this. And, technically, the pony style of the name is ultimately a sensible one (even if I don't know how Cloud Chaser chases clouds here) since names started out that way anyway, with Britain's blacksmiths and so on bearing the last name of Smith and the like.

Regarding the story itself: first off, there seems to be too much exposition. While it's an excellent move to describe the history of Cloud Chaser and his people (especially given the ending and the implications of it), you went on for too long and therefore built up the ending too much, especially when some of that ending's value would inevitably come in post-reading reflection. Some tightening of the sentences or paragraphs and some cutting off of details that aren't really necessary and can be assumed by the reader realizing this is set in the era of stone—do that and this would be even better.

The above also implies that you should have put more expression and more detail and more of Cloud Chaser's thoughts in the present, about him dying and his next actions.

Which leads to the subtle ending and the wham implications behind it. Because, from the looks of it, the very subdued ending belies the fridge logic-esque implication that this story chronicles the first human cave drawing in human history. As someone who's currently reading Edward Rutherfurd's Sarum, this hits home a lot for me (so, yes, I'm also very biased, but still). It also helps that this revelation doesn't come out of nowhere since you hint at it with parts such as:

He shook his head in defiance. He couldn’t resign to die like this. He had to leave something behind. Futile and pointless, maybe, but something that would survive him, something which meant “I was here, you know?” Something other than brittle and dry bones.

But what?

indicating that he did not know how to do cave drawings because that has not been invented yet, and then you get this too:

As far as their collective memory harked back, they had always dwelt here.

combined with the mention of the shaman (who could also be the group's historian, and I don't think that's a far fetch), it leads the reader to think that it's all oral tradition and so on: no cave drawings yet.

Overall: an excellent story in the guise of a barely My Little Pony fan fic. Should appear as a medalist or at worst in a very close fourth place.
#46 ·
· on Down to the Finish · >>GroaningGreyAgony
Some interesting:

Use of language, but that's about all I get from this. With the imagery and the word repetitions and all, it almost feels like something that should've been entered in the concurrently occurring poetry contest, "Nothing Like the Sun," but here in a fiction contest, it just doesn't give me enough to go on. It makes me think of Franz Kafka's shorter stories, but I have positive and negative reactions to those, too...

#47 · 1
· on Snail Mail Delivery
A short little heartwarming story, definitely one of the lighter entries compared to the others. It's a nice mix of military/sci-fi jargon without getting to technical, which I appreciate greatly. It sets up the story quickly and efficiently without much effort and executes the twist well, all while staying within the confines of the word count.

A nice interpretation of the prompt that's well thought out and well executed. I guess there were some other directions it could have gone at the end, but I think given the word count it's exemplary. Besides that I don't really have any other complaints about it.
#48 · 1
· on All Deafening on the Home Front · >>Miller Minus
A nice, gut punching twist that was well set up and well executed. I kind of figured out where it was going based on some clues dropped in the beginning, but that didn't hurt my experience too badly. I guess I kind of am questioning the odds of everything playing it out the way it did, what with the timing of everything and all (They're making his uniform before he's notified that he's been drafted? Or does he already know and hasn't told his mother?) but again, I think the emotional impact makes up for it.

I liked the way the character of Mrs. O'Hare is developed, with little lines that show us how she really feels about this. I personally would like to see more of this, but given the word count I think this is fine. Nice job!
#49 ·
· on Time-Traveling Salesman Problem · >>Comma Typer
I had a hard time with this one. There's a lot of science and terminology that sails way over my head. It's definitely dark and well thought out, but I just have a hard time following what's happening. I think I'm supposed to side with the past salesman but I really don't. In fact I find it hard to get behind the actions of either character.

I also don't get what happened at the end there. I mean, I see where you're going with the twist, but the execution just feels odd and rough. I would have preferred if the past salesman had just succeeded in offing himself with the gun because as it stands, I don't see what the future salesman was trying to accomplish. Still, not bad though.
#50 ·
· on Starlight Angel · >>No_Raisin
Definitely a raw, evocative piece that draws on quite a bit of emotion. The twist is pretty out of left field, but doesn't hurt my experience all that much. As a whole there's definitely a lot of world-building and lore setting going on, which is admirable given the word count, but there doesn't seem to be much connection between the first and second half of the story.

Still, I appreciate the emotional appeal and how raw the story feels, so well done on that front!
#51 ·
· on Disenchantment
Interesting. I think that this story tries to accomplish too much and in turn doesn't really achieve what it was hoping to do. While it definitely carries a sad and pitiful tone, I'm not really sure if there's a bigger takeaway or message that I'm missing. To pull a line from the story itself, it quite literally feels like a sad story with nothing to say.

The story is vague enough where I can draw my own interpretations from it, but in turn it's kind of confusing given that it tries to go in so many different directions at once. I think it just tries to be bigger than it really is, and that in turn leads to its downfall.
#52 ·
· on Draw Your Own Conclusion
Don't really know what to take away from this one if I'm being honest. I read it through a few times and still can't quite figure out what's happening, but I'm guessing the plot has something to do with a heaven and a hell. I appreciate the author going for a lot of symbolism and imagery but it just kind of gets muddled and confusing in the end.

The ambiguity is most likely intentional, giving the reader room to "draw their own conclusions," but in turn I don't feel like I have enough information to make a conclusion. Also, the last line seems to be a 180 from the character's original personality and I don't know how to feel about this. Still a well constructed piece, but I don't really follow the plotline at all and just feel confused by it.
#53 ·
· on Down to the Finish · >>GroaningGreyAgony
I think I have the same issues with this as I did with 'Draw Your Own Conclusions' in that I can't figure out for the life of me what's happening. It might be because I'm just stupid, but I can't really figure out where it's going. The writing itself is pretty solid, but I can't really find the plot or understand where it's going.
#54 ·
· on With Apologies · >>Baal Bunny
I like the concept of this one and how it plays with the idea of time. I think this one executes it a little better than 'Time Travelling Salesman' did because it's more clear and more simplified when it comes to the theory and terminology so I had an easier time following along.

But, on further reading, I am a bit confused as to how the logistics of this all is going to play out. Sending a letter to a future is dependent on that future happening. By moving the world away from that future and into another one, how can we assume that either of the two futures laid out are going to happen? But besides that, I think it's pretty solid.
#55 ·
· on Post-Nuclear Feminism
A punchy, comedic piece with some commentary about modern society in a not so modern setting. Nice. I like the choices you made regarding language and character development and how this one doesn't show any restraint when it comes to comedy. Don't really have much else to say. Nice job.
#56 ·
· on Decades · >>No_Raisin
There were quite a few entries starting with 'D.' Strange.

I don't know how to feel about this one. It's packed with emotional appeal and buildup, and I think the abrupt ending is a perfect way to finish, but beyond that I'm having trouble with it just because I don't know who these characters are or why they're facing this fate. The main character doesn't seem to show any remorse for his actions but I find it strange he doesn't have a 'life flashing before his eyes' experience, because I think this would be a good way to give us some more context as to who this is.
#57 ·
· on Written on the Wall · >>Monokeras
Evocative and interesting. I like the concepts at play here, especially with a character facing something that he can't even understand. I do have some concerns with the use of language here, and what this character knows versus what he doesn't, but that's just some nitpicky stuff on my end. Good work.
#58 ·
· on Starlight Angel · >>No_Raisin
This is strange. Other have rightly pointed out that the two parts don’t feel connected. This disconnection is also felt in the way the character passes from what probably is a urban background (she mentions a Uber drive) to a forest, or whatever greenery. I was a bit thrown off when I read she was looking to find a forest to take shelter, really, as I was imagining the first scene somewhere in New York, for example.

I’m not sure what the point of the story is. I’m not even sensible to the "evocative" touch the others mention. I’m sorry to say, but it felt quite tasteless to me. Nothing really happens, nothing really changes, and the "twist" at the end doesn’t add anything to the rest of the story. Sorry, author, but this one left me totally unfazed
#59 · 1
· on All Deafening on the Home Front · >>Miller Minus
It’s a good story, but still I’m not completely at ease with the way the events collide. I understand the story would not exist if either the introspective or the factual part were pulled off, but the coincidence between the two feels a bit contrived to me. It’s not like I was expecting the end from the exposition, but there was something of it floating around, and the message feels a bit too heavy handed, even to me, a resolute pacifist.

Now, of course, this is more carping than anything else. The overall feeling is one of skill and mastery, and the story is very touching, although it would probably appeal more to a European audience than an American one. Also thumbs up for mentioning Jules Verne. :)
#60 ·
· on Time-Traveling Salesman Problem · >>Comma Typer
Jesus Christ, I’m sorry, I stopped midway. This is too difficult from me to follow, I don’t get what the point is, and really time travel stories now rile me up. The trope is threadbare, I’m cloyed with them.

I’ll abstain, so your story does not suffer from my knee-jerk reaction.
#61 · 2
· on Snail Mail Delivery
It’s a nice story. Now I don’t drink wine, but thanks for mentioning Bordeaux.

Other than that, I have little else to say. It’s nicely woven around the reveal, but there is little else here. It’s like a small piece of chocolate you take with a coffee: it is pleasant while you have it in the mouth, but leaves little else afterwards.

Except maybe the subconscious desire to have one more bite at it. :)
#62 ·
· on With Apologies · >>Baal Bunny
This reminds me more or less of *Foundation*, the Asimov classic, and the psychohistory, Harry Seldon and so on.

Like all time paradox stories, I can’t avoid a knee-jerk reflex of revulsion, given how frequently this trope has been used to palm off stupid or cheap stories.

What I don’t get in this one is why the "letter" opens up with the guy apparently addressing people from the "bright" civilisation but ends up informing them they will be locked in the other, "dark" alternative. If it’s ironic, then it doesn’t jibe with the apologetic tone at the end. If it is not, then your story is flawed.

So I’m not really convinced by this one.
#63 · 1
· on Snail Mail Delivery
You know, several days after first reading this entry, I gotta say it's aged quite splendidly... like wine.

Something I liked:

There are several sci-fi tales packed into this round, and as you should know, I am a semi-connoisseur of the genre. So I feel like it must mean at least a little bit that "Snail Mail Delivery" is my favorite of the bunch. Why? Because very simply, it's a story that works specifically because of the internal logic of its universe. That is to say, it wouldn't be possible to try to have this story take place in say, present day Earth, and have it make sense, because the twist relies on time dilation and a fuck-ton of space being a factor. With that said, the last third in particular is beautiful. We're led to believe that the situation with the crate is serious, even ominous, but it turns out to be something else, the kind of twist that I actually like. Not only did I not predict it, but it just feels good, you know?

Something I didn't like:

Kind of a nitpick, but I don't like the little lapses into technobabble, at least early on. A lot of sci-fi space jargon gets dropped on the reader pretty quickly, and I swear some of these words were deliberately inserted to not make sense. It reads like a parody of the exposition in a bad Star Trek episode, a little bit, but not quite. It's a shame too, because the dialogue is mostly pretty believable aside form the jargon. Yeah, that's all I got for the complaints I guess.

Verdict: Shit, this might actually be at the top of my slate. It appeals to me specifically.
#64 · 1
· on All Deafening on the Home Front · >>Miller Minus
In which I'm reminded of high school, because I had to suffer through All Quiet on the Western Front.

Something I liked:

Since this seems to be a favorite for the gold medal, I'm going to get rather specific about what I like about this entry, because I don't think it needs too much more praise aimed at it. It's clear to me that the author both has an excellent grasp on English prose writing, and also pacing with so few words. While the style of narrative is rather tell-y, it's one that I feel is nicely suited to the flashfic format. We get to know everything we need to about Mrs. O'Hare, and we're given just enough time with her, her job, her problem with her son, and her state of mind to get a proper glimpse of her pain at the ending. The first paragraph in particular is excellent, and I feel like a lot of deliberation went into word choices and metaphors here.

Something I didn't like:

Let's talk about cliches. One of the key things to remember when writing is to avoid cliches. If something reads as tired, used, about to be thrown away, don't go with it. Some people seem affected by the ending, but I wasn't. As Mono said, the way we find out about the fate of Mrs. O'Hare's son, aside from it being able to be predicted from practically the beginning of the story, feels... tired. Like we've seen this exact thing be played out before, and we don't need to see it again. I've seen and read a lot of "war is hell" stories, and while there's clearly an attempt to freshen the message up by having it be viewed through a civilian's eyes, it still feels unexceptional. Yes, the reference to All Quiet on the Western Front is very much intentional, and thematically this entry does fall in line with that book, but the book came out nearly a century ago, and the entry here adds very little to it.

Verdict: Admirable from a technical standpoint, but as a story I find it unsatisfying upon a second reading.
#65 ·
· on Post-Nuclear Feminism
I feel so conflicted right now.

Something I liked:

Thank God, a comedy entry that is actually funny. Yes, the moment the Brit said the line about the pit trap, I was won back into this entry's arms once again. Until I wasn't, but I'll explain that in a moment. Anyway, this entry, it has more than one jokes, and most of the jokes make sense. Yes, in the wake of the great COVID-19 disaster of 2020, society around the world has finally collapsed, just as those maniacs on Twitter said it would. Now we have about as much rape and murder as before, but at least we've defeated capitalism. We finally did it, fellas. Now all we need is clean toilet paper and indoor plumbing.

Something I didn't like:

Some very questionable storytelling choices. The very start and end of this thing do not hold up. The story proper doesn't actually start until six paragraphs in. Yes, you heard it here, folks, the actual story of a flashfic doesn't start until about a third of the way in. How incompetent do you have to be to let this happen? Not to mention the very weird rape jokes that don't feel quite like jokes if I'm being honest. And I thought we were doing so well. The very last line is also a bummer, really deflates my metaphorical erection for this story after the zinger that is the penultimate line. Not only does it feel superfluous, I'm not even entirely sure of what it's supposed to mean. What the hell is an RGB rib cage? And "rib cage" is two words, you hack.

Verdict: Was at the top of my slate, but now I'm not so sure. I think I prefer "Snail Mail Delivery."
#66 ·
· on Time-Traveling Salesman Problem

I would like to thank you all for this round and for the feedback on this story! Looking back on it, I honestly feel like this could've been written on a drinking spree even though I didn't drink any alcohol during the making of this story. (I did drink some coffee though and I began the story at night.)

I don't have much to say about specific criticisms because I believe that all of them hit the nail on the head as to why this story is disappointing. It deserves the place it's gotten on the rankings. I'll just do my best to provide further commentary in broad strokes:

I said in my last rodeo back in the Ot round/Belshazzar that I've realized my gimmick of harping so much on a theme that the story ends up suffering. With this story, it's beginning to come to light that that might be a very ingrained habit which will take time and practice to truly banish. I was obsessed with the idea of super casual time travel, with the end of time being some kind of post-game over sort of world, and I wanted to harp a lot on the cool time travel ideas in my head (and, to be truthful, I would like to wow people with "Woah! Time travel!") However, it turns out that I might've spoken too much and ended up making an extremely condensed story with too many twists and turns that they don't end up as surprising—more like exhausting.

I have mentioned in the chat that I was not so well-versed in sci-fi as the others. To be honest, I think that should've tipped me off that I've bitten off more than I could chew by trying to tackle a time travel topic for a contest in which I have 24 hours to make a story on. While I had the general story idea in my head, it turns out I did not have time to make the story world's logic behind it sensible: I do not understand what a time stasis means other than the surface meaning, and while I know what a bootstrap paradox is, I don't think I was able to communicate the implications of weaponizing it (or that maybe the future salesman or "future salesman" is just bluffing) properly.

To go back to the gimmick thing: gimmicks killed the story. I like the idea of someone weaponizing the bootstrap paradox. I like the idea of time vacations. I like the idea of someone's past and future selves arguing with each other. I like the idea of simulated reality like what they have in The Matrix. The problem is, they may make for good stories on their own, but squishing these central ideas together in a 750-word story is just asking for trouble—this I have realized too late.

Another thing I also realized is how fast-paced this story is, even comapred to most other stories almost hitting the upper word limit like this. In hindsight, this could be me overcorrecting advice I've received on my previous entry, Belshazzar, back in the Ot round: that, in Belshazzar, I had too much description or worldbuilding details. Coupled with the aforementioned gimmick problem, I ended up packing way too much pace and story into the story, for lack of a better term.

Overall, thank you for reading and reviewing this story which, I apologize, isn't all up to snuff. I will do my best to learn from this and use these lessons and insights to craft better tales. Again, thank you and see you soon! :)
#67 ·
· on All Deafening on the Home Front
>>Baal Bunny
>>Comma Typer

Thanks you beauties. Happy to hear this was well received. This story was an exercise in relieving some of the stress of the covid lockdown, and the sort of frantic boredom born from feeling useless I've been feeling. But it was also an exercise in flexing out some of the bad habits I've developed over a few months of not a lot of writing--get them out in the open for people to criticize--and reading the reviews it looks like I was right to. Thanks for your help.

Also, sorry I wasn't around for this round. I don't really have any excuses. I'll take my community service or $200 fine or 50 lashes or whatever you guys think is best.

See you in the fiminis!
#68 ·
· on Written on the Wall
Kudos to our trio of medalists. Well done, peeps! :)

>>Comma Typer
>>Comma Typer

First, thanks for the overall appreciation which translated into this fiction getting the fourth place.

I apologise for the pony name. It was totally inadvertent. My idea was to find a name like the "Moon Watcher" who appears in 2001, A Space Odyssey by A. C. Clarke. I came up with this one, but I was miles away from imagining it was a pony name.

I have always been fascinated by the disparition of Neanderthals. What happened to them? Were they victims of a virus or bacteria our ancestors were better equipped to beat off? Was there a huge war, which Neanderthals lost? Were they exterminated? Starved? Did the climate change, and wipe them away? No one can say, but the truth is probably in-between. What was the life of the last of them, lost somewhere in the south of Spain? We will never know. So this was a simple story trying to pack a few of those question into 750 lines, with an extra reference to La Cueva de las Manos or the Pech Merle.

Now nothing much is known about Neanderthals, apart from the fact that they buried their dead, which surely means that they could think, speak and had religious beliefs. That I tried to impart these to my protagonist, which was a difficult balance to strike, since I had to find the halfway house between scientific ignorance and good practical knowledge. Apparently, I did, which is a huge win for me.

Anyways, thanks again for your benevolence, and see you next time. Short story round, if I have time and inspiration.
#69 ·
· on Disenchantment · >>Comma Typer >>Bachiavellian >>No_Raisin >>Monokeras
>>Comma Typer


I don’t really have much to say on this story, other than that I’m sorry people didn’t enjoy it. I guess you could say that you hated the ending yourself, but it started with an alright scene?

Heh. I guess I can see where I went wrong with it. I put too much of myself into it. Because I guess this work is really something I needed to get off of my chest more than it is a fictional piece about a no-named character. And of course nobody cares about what some random guy you don’t know is whining about. That’s why I think this is just another sad story with nothing to say.

So… I dunno. I guess that’s it for me. I don’t think I’ll participate in these anymore. And it has nothing to do with the ratings or the scoring, I don’t really care for those. It’s more that I'm not enjoying what I write for these stories. I mean, yeah, I’ve only written two and one was anonymous, but I’m still not having fun while doing it. After thinking about it, I guess it really isn’t worth my time to do this, because I’d just be writing something I wasn’t satisfied with and that wouldn’t be presentable, or something I was even proud of.

I dunno. I just feel like I’m wasting my time as a writer, but worst of all I’m wasting your time as a reader, and I’m not enjoying what I write and you guys clearly aren’t enjoying it either. So it’s kind of a win-win for everyone if I just stop.

Yeah. I’m probably not coming back. Again, not that it’s anyone’s fault. You guys are clearly better writers and can give better criticism then I could ever dream of giving. I hope I don’t sound arrogant and prickish. If I’m blaming anyone it’s mostly myself. Yeah, you guys probably don’t even know who I am, and that’s fine. I’m irrelevant anyways.

Fuck, I’m realizing now this sounds like I’m an attention whore but that isn’t my intention at all. I’m not looking for justification or rationalizations as to why I should or shouldn’t do anything. I just want to get some stuff out of my head and onto… paper? The internet? Something like that.

So… so long, I guess. I wish I could say it’s been fun, but it really hasn’t been. Best of luck to everyone else in their writing and congratulations to the winners.
#70 ·
· on Down to the Finish
>>No_Raisin, >>Bachiavellian, >>Comma Typer, >>Baal Bunny, >>TheRedParade

Finished Down

Thanks for the reviews!

"There's always time to dash off a 400-word story," I told myself on the busy afternoon before the deadline.
"What's the subject?" I replied.
"Well, let's try to do an allegory for life, combined with the conditions of a Writeoff round, and see how it comes out."
"Sounds good, I can do at least 400 words on that. Let's have a go!"

And it came out to 8th place. See y'all next time!
#71 · 1
· on Disenchantment

If the piece is a disguised call for help, then do not hesitate to PM one of us or, if it's more than just writing, better yet a close friend of yours.

Do note that, as far as I know, the Writeoff these days is now mostly conducted by older, more experienced writers so the informal barrier of entry, so to speak, might've been higher than expected.

Even with that, though, the point about the Writeoff is that it's mostly about getting honest and straightforward feedback in order to improve one's writing. Since it is done in a contest format, that automatically bars off or disadvantages authors who might do better when thinking about their stories over longer periods of time: I certainly got time pressured a lot for this contest and ended up not up to snuff for my entry.

Ultimately, I get that it is not easy, especially with how blunt criticism and feedback can get in the Writeoff. It can be discouraging to read the medalists and to compare them to your entry and to see how the commenters praise them while they look down on yours.

With that said, maybe you can try taking things a notch lower and try to see improvements not by comparing yourself to other writers but by comparing yourself to yourself. Comparing yourself to the likes of, say, Miller Minus or Bachiavellian may be very discouraging to you since they're very well-seasoned and have tons of experience here, but it's easier to ask yourself, "How is my writing now compared to my writing half a year ago?" At least with that, it's easier to see improvement there: it's at a manageable and much more personal rate, and it's ultimately your own style that you are analyzing and critiquing.

Also, I would suggest reading this blog post about being discouraged or otherwise feeling lonesome or negative with writing.

All in all, I wish you well in your future endeavors and, if you are feeling super down, I hope and pray you get back up. Stay safe wherever you may be.
#72 ·
· on Starlight Angel
>>Comma Typer

For what it's worth, I don't know what I meant by this entry.

Thanks for reading and giving feedback, though.
#73 · 1
· on Decades
>>Comma Typer

"Decades" was gonna be my only entry until I grew dissatisfied with it, and also got greedy. It's a good example of why changing the ending to your story midway through writing it is usually a bad idea. Originally I was gonna have our unlucky protagonist survive the torture session (as it was meant to be torture and not necessarily execution), and having sensory deprivation and paranoia scramble his brain at the end. I ended on a more ambiguous but equally morbid note because I ran out of words, but the different ending changes the rest of the story by extension, and that's about half of the big problem this entry has. The other half is the front-loaded exposition in relation to the second half. Ideally the fraction should've been more like 1/4, but I ran out of words and I didn't polish enough to drastically diminish the words used for the first half.

Comma gets a virtual cookie, though, because he ended up being pretty much right. Not because I was specifically demonstrating that condition, but because I wanted to have our main character go through sensory deprivation under such circumstances that he starts to experience time differently, although this was not the intent of the captain or the prison at large.

Thanks for the reading and feedback, I'mma head out now.
#74 ·
· on Disenchantment
Hey, man!

I know it really sucks when it doesn't feel like you're going anywhere with something that you're trying. I'm sorry that you felt like that, and I'm sorry if I came off as brusque in my review.

One thing that you really should keep in mind, is that this community is really, really small. So we get the same opinions thrown around a lot, and everyone is pretty familiar with what kind of stories everyone else likes. So it's not just a matter of writing well, it's also a matter of appealing to this specific corner of the internet, which is a tall order for your first two tries.

Writing is really, really complex and really, really difficult to do well. It's one of the things where the more you learn about it, the more it seems you realize how out of your depth you are. Everybody absolutely sucks when they first start writing, and a good deal of them never even realize it and they never stop sucking. To be honest, you've kinda jumped into the deep end a bit, if this is where you've submitted your first attempts at fiction. Most of us still hanging around here have kinda become assholes, and we're really no longer as good as we were about giving feedback to anyone else but ourselves, let alone new writers.

Another thing worth noting is that even good writers write bad stories. Writing bad stories is how you get better. Nobody learns from success, and nobody starts off being great. Look at the scoreboard for any of our top-scoring participants, and you'll notice they all have at least a handful of really poorly ranked entries. There's a quote from animator Lauren Faust, which goes something like you have to make a few hundred bad drawings for every good drawing you happen to produce. Doing poorly in these contests says nothing about your potential. Doing badly is quite frankly, an essential part of learning to write. The worst, most pointless authors are the ones who think that their writing is perfect. Especially the ones that start writing, believing that they produced masterpieces.

What I'm trying to say is, thinking that you're bad is a bad reason to stop writing. If you honestly decide that you are no longer interested in writing, then you definitely should not devote your energy to something that doesn't interest you. But if you still wish you could write well, but you're discouraged at what your writing looks like right now, then I strongly recommend you not to give up.

Honestly, you might have to find somewhere else to post your writing. As much as I hate to admit it, this website has become less newbie-friendly than when I first started participating as a newbie myself. And fuck yes, I used to really suck, if that means anything coming from the 2nd place author this round. Just look at how bad I used to be.

As for giving feedback, this is also nothing but a practiced skill. Giving feedback specifically to anonymous entries is such a fucking over-specialized skillset that I had no idea how to handle giving reviews to non-anonymous stories for a contest I judged just this week. All of us here have devoted literally years to reviewing for this specific site. Just look at how much my own reviewing style has changed and improved since I started.

So what I'm saying is, (1) YOU REALLY SHOULDN'T TAKE THIS GROUP'S WORD AS GOSPEL, considering how much of an echo-chamber we are, and (2) if you think you're bad, then you're already more self-critical than a whole truckload of truly bad authors, and you're much better than you think you are.

If the idea of becoming a good fiction writer still appeals to you, I strongly encourage you to keep writing. Yeah, you won't be satisfied by a lot of what you make. If you look at my retros for my entries over the years, especially at first, I really pull my own hair out at how bad I think I am. But the only way to improve is to write bad stories and to ask other people what made them bad. For that, you need readers that you can trust, and honestly, that might not be here.

I hope that makes sense to you! Please feel free to email me if there's anything I can help with, or if you just want to bounce ideas off me. bachiavellian@gmail.com
#75 ·
· on Disenchantment
Only write if you feel that you must. If you don't, then don't. Putting something of yourself out there is often a painful and draining experience, and that's not even getting into the reception. A lot of people who start out training in a skill will quit because they feel it's too much to take and not rewarding enough. It's a lot like the first year of college, or at least that's how I think of it. You can either be patient with it or get out early. There is no wrong choice. What you should keep in mind is that when trying to write fiction, especially early on, failure is inevitable. It's gonna happen, and you can learn from it, or not.
#76 ·
· on Disenchantment
I’m not really surprised by your reaction, and I can relate to it. I had the same, multiple times, back then, when I was a newbie writer and wrote my first WO entries. It’s really been a painful way up – doubly so, since as a non-native writer, I had to improve both my writing style AND my English (countless time have I been walloped with the famous “this was written by a non-native guy”, and this was really discouraging). And I’m still not completely out of it, since people continue to look after "Monoisms" in my stories to peg them on me. I don’t pay much attention to it nowadays, but I’m still proud to be more and more able to fly under the radar of even the best analytical minds of this society.

Contrarily to what Bachi states, the WO has always been harsh, and entering this community you must prepare to meet nice and welcoming people who can, when the competition starts, turn into your worst literary foes. However, he is right in saying we are all "seasoned" writers, some more than others, and that we all now more or less expect everyone here to be on par with us (don’t get me wrong: that doesn’t mean we are master writers; we just share a small amount of skill learnt the hard way). This makes the access step quite high, as well as sort of hazing the newcomer. This might especially been true for original fiction rounds, where you can’t hide behind an already built up world, and use pre-baked characters.

Bachi is also bang on when he says that only honesty will pay off. You can’t progress if no one points out your mistakes or bad habits. It certainly needs you to be able to handle a lot of criticism with a grain of salt and a lot of distanciation, which isn't easy. Gnash your teeth. Stick through it. Don’t let yourself be overwhelmed by dismay. If you persevere, you’ll find the challenge less and less gruelling as you progress. Good writing calls for a lot of technical skills, and technical skills are only acquired by experience. So don’t get too crestfallen. Channel your frustration into something positive, such as wanting to beat us all next time. I don’t guarantee you will, but in the "middle" run, this is a perfectly achievable goal: we’re not geniuses. Take heart. And see you next round.
#77 ·
· on With Apologies

This round is over already? My apologies to everyone whose story I didn't comment on. Apparently time flies when you're being non-essential...

I, too, don't care much for time travel stories, so I try my hand at them every once in a while to see if I can do anything with the idea. There might be something here, but I need to do more work on making the narrator more unreliable, try to get the reader wondering if he's crazy or not. There should be some sort of tragedy in his past that he's refusing to address, something that he can't fix and that he's projecting into this split between the good future and the bad future...

But yeah, thanks for the comments,>>Bachiavellian, >>Comma Typer, >>No_Raisin, >>TheRedParade, and >>Monokeras.

#78 ·
· on Overwritten
Tag yourself I'm the crouching guy on the left side.
#79 ·
· on Overwritten

Written on the Wall had the image that stood out most strongly to me. I used a Creative Commons pic of a rock wall for the background. The hands are silhouettes of my own, and the little folks were drawn by hand.

Thanks to my fellow artists for awarding me the gold by default!