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Lightning in a Jar · Original Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
#1 · 7
· · >>Fenton
The outside temperature has dropped. You can feel it in the air as you have to put on your housecoat to fetch the newspaper outside. But as you open the door, you realise something is off, and you can’t really put your finger on it. Your garden seems in order, aside from the one thousand and one yellow daffodils dancing in front of you. Taking a look at the sky, you see the Sun in its usual place, quickly spinning around the Moon.

The daffodils bring you back to Earth as you hear them chanting.

“It’s right, it’s off! It’s right, it’s off,” they keep repeating. What is right and what is off? Certainly not you.

Anyway, your morning routine must go on, and you bend down to grab what you came for in the first place. But instead of the newspaper, your hand grabs something metallic. A screw. Scratching your head, you try to remember where this screw should go. Every screw is designed to fit a hole, but this one is holeless.

You go back inside and sit at your table, pondering what you’re gonna do with your find. You can’t dig a new hole in one of your pieces of furniture, that wouldn’t make any sense. Should you put it in the small bowl next to the front door? But if you start doing this, then you’ll do it with everything else, and a bowl won’t be enough to contain every lost screw. How many of them are they, by the way? Is this one the exception? Or will it become the norm, sooner than later?

A whistle breaks your train of thought. The kettle is boiling now, but you don’t go fetch it. Instead, you gaze at the cast iron pot, watching the lid slowly rising until the water finally breaks free, a wave of hot water washing you away in an infernal whirlpool. The only thing you can hear is the daffodils’ song, but as your body is abused, your mind finally grasps the meaning of this song.
“It’s the Writeoff! It’s the Writeoff!”

You don’t know where this tidal wave will leave you, but as you stuff your hands in your pockets, you sadly realise that, alongside your screw loose, you’re one card short of a full deck. No patience to shorten your exile.

Find the song that has inspired this and win my eternal gratitude.
#2 · 3
· · >>Fenton
" Crazy - Gnarls Barkley "
I'm not guessing the song. It's what I'm calling Fenton.
#3 · 7
Corner office. Best view of the Hudson. A position aspired to by hundreds in the corporation, and Randolph would have scrapped it all for a parka and a cheery fire. The oak desk would be a good start, as well as the several thousand dollars worth of custom furniture. Unfortunately, the no smoking policy in the agency had made him quit carrying a convenient fire lighter, the policy on electrical equipment prohibited space heaters, and personal decorations on windows (such as just foaming them all shut) were strict no-nos. If he had left the door to his office closed, the combined leaks between the massive windows and the radiation loss would have dropped the temperature to sub-zero in hours, leaving Maintenance to find a frozen corpse still bent over his reports the next day.

"Good morning, Mister Johnson!" His secretary fairly danced into the office, dressed in little more than she usually wore, with the addition of a cheerful red felt hat advertising 'Merry Chris-Moose' in cheerful letters, with a cheerful jingling bell on the top. "Isn't this season just wonderful! All the caroling and the sledding and ice skating! A group of us are going out in to the plaza to have a snowball fight over the lunch hour, and drink hot cocoa afterwards. Did you want to come along?"

Randolph contemplated murder.
#4 · 8
Rudolph contemplated murder.

The initial restructuring of ClausCorp had been nearly tolerable. Sure, the forced relocation from The Workshop into the unheated barn had been a shock — communicated with clinical detachment that rivaled the Pole in its coldness — but The Workshop was obviously less hazardous now that the overflowing piles of toys were stored in the reindeers' old offices, and it was hard to argue with an immediate 62 percent reduction in elf injuries.

But then they'd started to charge rent on the barn stalls. "A cost-covering move," Polar Resources had explained, citing a failure to meet profit targets due to a 26% drop in Western bloc belief. But rumors had come through the herd of ClausCorp posting record shareholder profits in Q3, and The Missus drove in to work one day in a new Maserati rocket sled.

And then when all of the other reindeer had started to talk in low whispers over their reindeer games, with some union pamphlets being hoofed around the table, suddenly the next day they were all gone, and a brand-new herd wandering around the pole in their place. The only sign of the "Employee of the Week" board, littered with names like Whitehoof and Pronky and Bighorn and Mittens, was a slight discoloration of the wallpaper where it had once hung. And while some of the new bucks — like Dasher and Prancer — were nice enough, Cupid's transparent advances were bordering on sexual harassment (not to mention that Rudolph had been sort of sweet on Lutja).

It was when Rudolph trudged back in from flight practice — he was used to being the leader, but trying to herd eight rank newbies was a stress he didn't need — that the last straw finally landed. He opened the door to his stall to find six shivering elves huddled under thin blankets.

They'd made a fire with the wood of his bedframe.

"The lease you signed provides an ongoing non-exclusive license to occupy the space," Polar Resources had said, one suited arm sliding a page full of fine print across the table toward him. "But the stall and its contents remain exclusive property of ClausCorp, and you'll note in subsection 3 of 'Property Delegations' that the company reserves the right to put the space to, quote, 'any other such uses as are deemed necessary to day-to-day business operations.'"

"Let it go," Comet suggested as Rudolph fumed over a bucket of cardboard-tasting hay that night. "It's a privilege just to work for the big guy. You have no idea how good this is going to look on our resumes when we apply for paying jobs later on."
#5 · 7
· · >>Trick_Question
"You have no idea how good this is going to look on our resumes when we apply for paying jobs later on," said Dulcie, cocking her head against the seatbelt in the driver's side of the car.

"That doesn't make logical sense," said Dumont. "No body wants to hire you for pay if you've worked for free. Resumes are all about showing a steady progression up the ladder." He fussed with the belt across his lap, making sure it was snapped securely in place.

Dulcie twisted her head back and forth in a negative motion. "You worry too much, Dumont. Any body ever tell you that?"

"At least one body today," joked Dumont. "Seriously, Dulcie, this job is going to kill us both. There won't be anything left of us to work with, and the only money we make is from these silly public service announcements we videota—"


Several of the stress meters on Dulcie and Dumont popped to red, and Dulcie's head was now on the dashboard facing Dumont.

"Laugh it up," said Dulcie's head, rolling her unrealistic-looking eyes. "At least we're celebrities this way, huh? They even named a band after us!"

"I guess we can always sign autographs," acquiesced Dumont as the back of the Pinto caught on fire.

"I hope this isn't racist, but I'm glad I'm not going to be the one with a black face," said Dulcie.
#6 · 1
Actually, you're not that far.
(From the answer and from the truth)
#7 · 2
I can only hope that some of my uphooves are from people who applaud what I left for the next act to follow me with. :trollestia:
#8 · 9
· · >>DuskPhoenix
“I'm glad I'm not going to be the one with a black face,” Chaz said as he tinkered with the the rusty elevator controls.

“That’s racist,” Claire muttered as she rubbed her arms. “Will you hurry it up? I’m freezing my balls off, here.”

“I’ll keep you warm,” Joe said with a grin, arms spread wide.

“Fuck off, Joe,” Claire replied.

Chaz ignored them. “I mean, seriously, you ever done a coal run before? When you get back topside, you might as well dance off singing ‘Mammy’.”

“Jesus christ, Chaz.” Claire kicked at him with her steel-toed boots. Chaz levitated above her wild sweep and continued working, unperturbed.

“I’m just impressed he’s pulling a meme from the 2020s.” Joe took a languid pull from the hookah attachment on his backpack, and the frigid, stagnant air of the abandoned mine shaft filled with the scent of saffron.

Claire furrowed her brow. “I thought that dumb bit came from the 1920s.”

Joe shook his head, undercut dreadlocks swaying in the harsh glare of the ancient arc lights. “Nah, the South rose again in 2020, remember? All manner of bullshit coming out of the woodwork around then.” Another pull from the hookah, this time filling the air with notes of cinnamon. “That’s where that old saying comes from, ‘hindsight is 2020’. All that backwards crap setting us back a century or so.”

Chaz snorted. “You’re, like, seven different flavors of wrong, Joe.” With a snap-crackle-pop of arcing electricity, the elevator shuddered to life, and the doors screeched open. He gestured with his non-mechanical arm. “All aboard.”

The other two shot a dubious look between them. “Remind me why you’re not coming with us, again?” Claire asked.

“Because if the elevator shits the bed, someone needs to be up here to get it back up and running.” When nobody moved, Chaz added, “Lest we all die.”

“C’mon, Claire.” Joe adjusted his backpack and stepped into the rickety metal cage. “The big man has a quota. Those stockings aren’t gonna fill themselves.”

Claire sighed. “Sure. It’s not like anyone’s still burning this stuff.”
#9 · 8
We Are Experiencing Technical Difficulties; The Natural Path of Human Evolution Results in Amphibian Mating. Implications of Apotheosis? There’s a Little Devil Inside All of Us. Laetrile? Thank Goodness for Small Favors.

Everyone Knows What We’ve Lost–A Copious Amount of Alcohol, Lightning in a Jar. Sic Transit, Bro! Eat, Sleep, Rave, Repeat.

Winter Sucks When I Die. And Then, Things Got Worse; No Shroud, No Soul, No Service! Oh It’s Always About You, Isn’t It? Extrinsic Motivation.

Chapter Two: Unstoppable Sudden Genre Change! The Way of the Future Prompt. Random Pretentious-Sounding Phrase, Innuendo, Special Crossover Event! A Painful Choice!

Seventeen Steps Over the Edge, Among the Clouds, Against the Wind, Voyage Into the Unknown. Rushing Towards the Past Once Upon a Time, Nights Filled With Longer Hours–

Bring the Hammer Down. Dead Men Tell No Tales.
#10 · 5

"Sure, it's not like anyone's still burning this stuff."

Sid couldn't help but smile as the little girl beamed in happiness, picking up some of the long-cooled charcoal and running back to her friends. The group of kids giggled as they drew patterns across the rocks scattered around the dry and grassy plain, some of them wrestling and smearing the char across each-others backs. A disgruntled sigh brought his attention back around the fire, where the elders still sat.

"You cannot simply avoid this forever, Sid," the eldest warned, "the stars did not choose you to be a caretaker. You must let them go."

Sid wilted, stealing once last glance at the children at play before returning his gaze to their village. Very few fires were left burning, as the sun had disappeared over the horizon some time ago, leaving only a fading soft glow to light the sky. The huts still bustled with activity though, and Sid's eyes were drawn particularly to the fires of the cooking hut. Normally, the warm glow of the cooking fires and the delicious smells of smoked meat would make him overjoyed, but now the lights seemed cold and foreboding, the smoke rising from the chimneys twisting to form chains that slowly reached for him.

"Everyone has their purpose among us," another elder explained, "it is how we have survived where our rivals have fallen. You should be proud to support and feed your people."

"I am proud to help my people, elder," Sid paused, his mind screaming at him to stop there, to simply accept his fate, "but..."

Sid let his eyes wander to the children. Only a few moons ago he was among them, leading them on new adventures against fantastical foes, encouraging them against dragons and spirits, carrying the tired on his own back as they made their way home, a smile on every face. He felt an ache in his chest as he imagined life without them. A life where no loud voices called out their new discoveries so that he would come over and tell them how good at exploring they were. A life where little hands didn't pull at his shirt and stuff flowers into his hair. A life where tears weren't stopped by his gentle words, where fights didn't return to friendships by his intervention.

To him, it was no life at all.

"... what if the stars were wrong?" Sid vaguely felt himself asking.

The silence that followed was so absolute, it seemed as if the wind itself had stopped to let the gravity of his heresy sink in. Sid's eyes met those of the eldest, and he shrunk back immediately from the righteous fury held within. Every suggestion of disobedience fled under that gaze, and under the snarling words spoken as if by an angered god.

"They are never wrong."
#11 · 9
· · >>WillowWren
Good luck all!

Here's hoping to a weekend of creativity and non-procrastination!
#12 · 10
· · >>WillowWren
So of course I get a Search & Rescue callout on Writeoff weekend, after two months of silence, as I'm walking home from the market to start writing on the idea I've been gnawing on all day. >.<

Crossing my fingers I can submit a less ambitious version of it regardless. Good luck to all.

EDIT: Subject was found before I got on-site so it's time to put the rest of the evening toward writing ...
#13 · 4
Good luck to you too, >>horizon and >>Whitbane!

Good luck to all.

#14 · 6
24 hours left, and I still don't have an idea. Doubly annoying as it was my own damn prompt that won! Maybe one more night of sleep and an all-day binge-o-words tomorrow? *crosses fingers*
#15 · 4
It’s in.
Awful as usual, but had fun writing it.
Apologies in advance to anyone who will read that piece.
#16 · 3
I had an idea. It was a pretty neat idea too, I think. And, as usual when I have an idea I really like, I couldn't write a single sentence of it.

I'm not even going to rush a last-ditch crack comedy this time, I'm just going to go to sleep and hope for better inspiration in the next round. :ajsleepy:
#17 · 1
I had a decent idea, but it came with a nasty cold. It's not looking good for the home team.
#18 · 5
I am in!
#19 · 5
What's that? Baby is gonna wake up at 6:30 and then I have to go to work?

I can't hear you over story being done and submitted.
#20 · 3
I wrote an entry.
#21 · 4
· · >>horizon
Oh wow, slept until 11pm, woke up, jumped on the keyboard, and smashed out words for five hours straight with no time for an edit pass. But it's done! With two minutes to spare even! So let's see how this one goes!
#22 · 2
· · >>Xepher
> two minutes to spare

Pfft, scrub tier. I typed in the story title and mashed Submit with negative four minutes on the clock.

(It lets you edit for a few minutes past the official deadline as a hedge against internet problems or whatnot. So, ahem, we're just gonna blame internet problems. :V)
#23 ·
Heheh, no, I know there's a grace period, which is fine if you're most of the way through editing, but when you haven't even read your own story yet, five extra minutes is only enough to annoy yourself with your mistakes, rather than actually correct anything significant. That I came to within two minutes of the deadline actually writing all the words I felt were needed is close enough to "perfect timing" for me. :-)
#24 ·
I made it halfway to a story based on a novel I wanted to write when I was in my late 20's (might still write it someday), but wasn't feeling it. Too much shoehorn over the prompt.
#25 · 2
· on Sodom’s Greatest Alchemist · >>Cassius
I'm going to treat this more like a poem than a piece of prose. I need to read it again, probably more than once before I can say something intelligent.

Absent any other criticism, though, I appreciate the originality and verve on display here.
#26 · 3
· on A Heart Filled by Storms
This is Andrew's story
#27 · 2
· on Sodom’s Greatest Alchemist · >>Cassius >>Dolfeus Doseux
This reads like Robert Anton Wilson and Allen Ginsburg had a bastard child that grew up and wrote a BioShock fanfic.

I've said it before, and I'll say it here again. "Art should take effort to make, not to enjoy."

I'll add a caveat here though. I think this DID take effort to make. For all the dense, pseudo-random turns of phrase that I really can't quite piece together, I sense the author did have meaning to them. Ginsburg's "Howl" (at least the denser portions) took me some time to get through as well, and I'm certain I never fully understood all of it.

That said, this... felt like a superficial copy of that seminal work. It takes similar patterns, and evokes related symbols, but just doesn't connect at a deeper level like Howl itself did for me.

Overall, points for effort, and trying something bolder than simple narrative, but it fails. If there was a "Rudy" award for spirt/effort, it'd probably go to this story though.
#28 · 1
· on Encounter at Farpoint · >>Monokeras
Okay, glad I didn't go with my own Benjamin Franklin/Zeus fic.

There's a word I should recall, but fails me now, one which describes this type of fiction where opposing views are given form as characters and basically debate each other. Whatever that words is, this story is also. (EDIT: It's "Socratic dialogue")

Despite that, this one reads pretty smoothly. There's only a few jarring examples of anachronistic words slipping into the otherwise highly formal victorian english (such as a "thanks" instead of "Thank you" and "nil" instead of "naught").

As a story though, this is kind of lacking. What we really have is just the classic debate about if education/knowledge/science actually improves lives or not. It's fun to see it couched in this setting, but Franklin could be any random philosopher, and Zeus could, save a few sentences, be any "devil's advocate" from various pantheons through to simply another philosophical thinker. The tie in to the prompt is the only reason it seems that these two voices were named "Zeus" and "Franklin" to me.

Overall, very well written debate, but doesn't give us anything new or interesting to think about. Oh, and the title is totally out of place.
#29 · 1
· on Chode Mustard · >>Icenrose
Well I agree with what Cassius said on this Discord. It’s more the sketch of a story than a story. All scenes but the last feel somewhat rushed. Very snappy and lively, but too short, and the gap between them is often too stretched. Pieces of jigsaw are missing. It’s not fragmentary, but transitions are jagged.

By contrast, the last scene seems to drag, lingering on not-so-important details. I know it’s a funeral and maybe it should convey a sense of loss and bereavement, but Id recommend either to cut in the meat and trim it or to beef the other scenes to make the whole fic smoother.

Outside of that, thanks for teaching me a couple of words.
#30 · 5
· on Sodom’s Greatest Alchemist · >>Dolfeus Doseux
This was the first story I opened in this competition at 7:05AM EST. I had a headache from staying up all night. This story did not help matters.

So I took some time to read it again when I had a bit more patience to try and figure this entry out. As it turns out, I just ended up getting another headache.

But enough of me complaining; time for some constructive criticism: I hate this story—shit that's not right.

Okay let me try that again. I can appreciate the effort that went into creating something like this, despite the fact it really reminds me of Impossible Even Now, except there is an underlying direction behind it as opposed to being simply words haphazardly thrown about. As >>Xepher points out, there is a logical through line with how the narration talks and even a story here if you want to bother to dig it out.

If you individually take each line on its own, there are quite a few good and evocative phrasing. In particular, the two phrases in regards to starving ribs making them easier to stab got a bit of a reaction from me. As >>Cold in Gardez says, this is more a poem than prose. Or rather, it is as someone took every line of poem they were writing and organized into paragraph form. If the author is doing this to be a smart-ass as another """"""commentary"""""" piece on the "should poetry be in the write-off debate", I'm going to be very annoyed. I'm sure Quill Scratch will love this entry, though.

But for me, this entry was physically painful to read. The nonstop barrage of short, impact sentences absolutely disrupts the flow of reading, as your eyes are constantly darting forward, only to have to stop, reread, and try to make sense of what the flying fuck is going on. It would be one thing if this were a perspective piece where the narrator is someone who is highly anxious or has difficulty concentrating—that could work, although I have my doubts it would work for a whole story—but to have the narration go on about in this slapdash style while also combining it with obtuse and indirect descriptors only leads to a deep feeling of disorientation and irritation.

Someone may argue that, "Well, Cassius, perhaps that was the point, to be disorienting. The story is about the many messy gears and cogs of this city after all in relation to the alchemist and perhaps the fast-paced and vague narrative is intended to give off that effect."

To which I say: I don't really care. Writing a narrative that is a pain in the ass to read is a trade: you have to have the goods to back up the reader putting in the extra effort to understand it. Being indirect and metaphorical in your prose adds another level effort for the reader to put in to understand your work. Does the story do enough good to overcome these handicaps? In my opinion, no.

I feel >>Xepher may be giving Howl too little credit. Although it is dense, it's not hard to follow, which is to say, the intricacies of what Ginsberg means may be hard to understand, but the overall idea is rather easy to comprehend. And what's amazing is that Ginsberg does this all in the first line of each part.

Part I introduces the conceit and topic of the poem: "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness"

Part II introduces asks and answers who is responsible: "What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination?"

Part III affirms Ginsberg's kinship and togetherness with Carl Solomon (the "best minds of my generation" for Part I): "Carl Solomon! I’m with you in Rockland"

Now, I'm not saying Howl is a cakewalk to get through or that it's not dense, and I don't want to get into a lecture on Ginsberg, but this sensibility of introducing a premise simply to a reader and then becoming more complex and obtuse is an important part of fiction crafting, which is entirely overlooked in this piece. You don't have to understand every line of Howl to understand what Howl is about, and in fact, without knowing very specific pieces of information, you can't really know what every line of Howl is intended to mean. But Howl still works because the reader understands what is going on generally, even if they don't know the specifics.

The same cannot be said of this story. We never are privy to what the hell is going on, and implored to figure it out for ourselves, as if the author tossed a jumble of puzzle pieces without telling us what the picture was supposed to be. I've read this three times, and I'm still only about 50% certain of what is supposed to be transpiring, and I'm not gonna read it a fourth time.
#31 · 2
· on The Great Color of the Sky
Hoping to bear down on some editing and RCL reading this week, but let's see what I can tackle on my slate!

This makes a strong decision to center the story on its storm imagery. The overall effect is vivid, and we get some word-portraits that stick in my head. Good job keeping the story as compelling as it is with as sparse a cast as you had, author!

My hesitation with the current draft is that this story raised a lot of questions for me, which accumulated into piles as the story went on. In the grand scheme of things some of them should be trivially fixable despite how much they brought me up short (e.g., Edward made a specific point of staying within sight of the fence the entire time he was travelling; if he doubles back because he realizes that he dropped his journal, why would he go out of sight of the fence then?) but once we start skipping between narrators I just feel like the meaning here is slipping away. The two characters are child Edward and adult Edward, yes? And child Edward grew up into afraid-of-storms adult Edward because he lost his journal and therefore got lost in the woods during a horrible storm. But whatever force is guiding the storm to adult Edward transports him back in time to prevent child Edward from losing his journal. Didn't that just create a paradox loop? Furthermore, my possibly incorrect read of the supernatural force guiding adult-Edward is that it's the storm itself, or at least created the storm; its implied motive is to cause Edward to not be afraid of its storm, but couldn't that be accomplished by just not showing up in the first place? Then there's the journal. What significance does it have that it survives the storm 100% dry? That makes it explicitly supernatural, but its only apparent presence in the story is as the MacGuffin which Young Edward treasures. Why is he drawing maps in a magical book? (For that matter, if he's never gone out of sight of the fence, how is his map of the forest almost complete?) And am I correct in parsing that the clearing-beyond-the-forest was actually created by lightning blasting apart trees all around Edward? Why isn't that leaving more shrapnel than grass?

I could go on from there, but at some point I basically just have to throw up my hands and say "this story makes no sense and it was evocative regardless". I guess there's value in that sort of Lynchian approach but I'm not the target audience.

Tier: Almost There
#32 · 1
· on The Giving, Free · >>Baal Bunny
The only word I can use here is "disjunct." The mother's perspective of her son here is all over the place. He's PhD, he's a child, he's a baby, he's an undergrad. I get this is "demigod" territory, but it the reading itself is difficult.

Going forward, The Capitalization problems Abound and I am Not sure what to Make of the word Selection used. There are traditional "holy" words to capitalize, but these are not them, and it feels off.

The ending, as I reach it, feels no better. Something happened, something the author wants us to feel is important, yet... it's lost in the confusion of all the previous passages. Eight-but-eighteen is an interesting concept, but not one that was delivered well, just stated.

I'm afraid this is comes across as only so much gibberish in the end. There are concepts, but I don't get any connection between them. Maybe that's what taking drugs feels like?
#33 · 2
· on Night lights
This is one that feels like it's using literary fiction genre tropes — going through a sequence of somewhat mundane events as an excuse to really dig into the mind of its protagonist, leaping around through their thoughts haphazardly to paint a fuller picture of their life and concerns. That's fine as far as it goes, but even for literary fiction this feels disjointed to me.

Sam's voicing wanders from "Come on, Dan! You won't catch anything like that! Hup hup bro, get the lead out!" to "Hey, Danny boy, come over here." to "I might be a lil' smarter about the fights I get into. You and Tommy still scrappin' over that Angie girl?", and the narrative voice is just as scattered. The piece starts for no reason I can see with a sentence fragment, and occasionally slips in and out of the pseudo-Southern drawl that you seem to ultimately settle in on for Sam's family.

Sam's age, too, seems to wander all over the map. She gets excited about her bedtime being pushed back from 9 p.m., runs through fields to collect fireflies, and then she turns around and gives her college-aged brother relationship advice and makes a visual joke based off of his Tarot card reference.

There are some rough turns of phrase and self-contradictions, especially in the early going, which make me suspect that this was written at a deadline-racing pace. "The red cherry of a cigarette" is an interesting phrase, but neither red nor cherry implies the light that you're aiming for; you might have wanted "cherry glow" or some such. That cigarette, incidentally, "obscured his features in the dark" three paragraphs in, and then later illuminates Dad's face; you can't have it both ways. And Sam picking blueberries threw me, because you talk about her racing through the fields with jars and fireflies aren't mentioned until the end, and it seemed like they were there to gather fruit; except it's the middle of the night and nobody goes fruit-picking then.

Labored breathing and a non committal grunt was her only response

The breathing and grunt come from Dan. "Her only response" implies it's Sam responding. "The only response Sam got" would disambiguate that.

"You got it all wrong, Sam the man. We smile like that when we KNOW you're lookin'." She scrunched her nose up in confusion and turned to Dad to be confronted with that sly little smile.

Pasting this in as an example of a similar problem I saw throughout the piece: combining one character's dialogue (Dad's) with another character's actions (Sam's) in the same paragraph, making it look like a single person did both things.

Still, she wasn't so carefree that she didn't nervously rub her thigh through her denim shorts with her free hand. If he was mad at her, he wouldn't hit her or nothin' ...

Bad touch. BAD TOUCH ;-p

The good news is that this settles down as it goes. By the end it seems to find a stable footing with voice and theme, and to your credit it hits some strong emotional notes on the "fireworks" and the family stuff as you end. Whack the front end of the story into the same sort of shape as the back end, and rein in the disjointedness, and this will be a much smoother read.

Tier: Keep Developing
#34 · 4
· on The Eyes Behind Old Southern Charm · >>Monokeras >>horizon >>Cassius >>Cassius
I like where this one goes:

But it feels like it took a long time to kick in. I'd recommend getting our narrator to that gas station as quickly as possible 'cause that's where the story starts. You want some of that intro material to show us that she's not your stereotypical troubled Arkansas seventeen-year-old, but a little judicious editing would do wonders.

As for small points, when she refers to her own father as "Father," I got confused, thinking she was talking about the priest. And while I like what you do with the Mustang as a symbol, I'll float the idea of having it be absolutely pristine and shiny on the outside but a rusted out, poorly running heap under the surface. Just a thought...

#35 · 2
· on Djinn
Another nice one:

All the bones are here, but it could use some fleshing out. Adding one of Amy's sisters into the mix might help in a lot of ways. It's a little unclear, for instance, what training the princesses have been given: first we get "it wasn’t like anyone ever told me about the process" of summoning a djinn, and then we get "countless lectures about how to deal with Djinn rang in my skull" a couple paragraphs later. The whole set up, too, with the Viziers and the throne and how exactly she's in competition with her sisters, we could get a lot of info about all that if she's got a sister/rival to bounce snippy and snappy dialogue off of. And it could give the whole story a vital "ticking clock" in that the sister is right there, expecting Amy to mess up and ready to jump in if if she does.

But for a first draft, this is really nicely done!

#36 · 1
· on The Eyes Behind Old Southern Charm · >>Cassius >>Cassius
I agree somewhat with what >>Baal Bunny pointed out. I’d say that presenting the facts as a long flashback triggered by the vision of the molested child is probably not the best way to get the reader involved in the story. The hook is too weak. I would’ve begun with the scene between the priest and the girl in the Mustang, and only then switched to the flight, with flashbacks occurring maybe as the girl drives, since the road is so inviting to reverie.

I’m not sure the sentence It’s like sex to me. I can feel my body trembling with purest ecstasy. is particularly accurate in the context you’re painting.

Some usage of the tenses, especially at the beginning, felt a bit jarring to me, but that may be an ESL blip.

Otherwise the story reads fine. It is debatable if a girl that age would react the way she reacts, i.e. kill his abuser years after, but let us not enter into that sort of debate which is unlikely to be decidable.

The end feels rushed, and in a way is not very satisfactory. The character doesn’t seem to have evolved, and the last line comes too late to contradict this feeling. That’s probably the main problem here: nothing really happens, and what does feels a bit like breading around the meat.
#37 · 4
· on The Eyes Behind Old Southern Charm · >>Xepher >>Cassius >>Cassius >>Cassius >>Cassius
Gonna start with the first thing you need to fix in editing:

It’s like sex to me.

This is a really unfortunate analogy considering that all of Megan's onscreen sexual experience is her childhood rape.

I want to say that this is part of a wider issue with giving us tight narration from Megan's viewpoint, but not actually narrating it with the perspective that someone in her position would have. She refers to the cashier's "backwater accent you only find in these sorts of podunk towns", except that she's from a nearby backwater podunk town and the cashier's accent would be the same as hers and thus the one she sees as default normal. (There are several other knocks against rural Arkansas which are more forgivable given her self-loathing, but still seemed a little out of place to me.) As she's "taking time to appreciate the view" of the cashier's assets, she notes "that sort of smooth roundness that men can’t resist". Also, I think you switched gears on her age halfway through:

She reminds me so much of myself when I was her age.

The back half of the story establishes Megan's present age as 17.

Much nitpickier: Consider moving this to a Great Plains state like Kansas or Nebraska, if you're looking for giant open fields off the interstates. Arkansas (and much of the south) is basically forest.

Minor narrative and factual slips aside, I liked this one! Though (edit: as >>Baal Bunny says) it only really kicked into gear at the gas station, and I'm not certain why it plays so coy about the situation until then. (The car's "previous owner"? Hit us with that dead-priest hook!) But the cutaway at the end of the first scene is strong, the decision to walk through backstory is well-paced and pushes the story forward, and the story nicely connects everything together at the end.

You do have to tread lightly when dealing with sexual assault for drama — and there's major dissonance you should address, having Megan looking at her world through a sexual frame when she's experienced such trauma from it — but I think this makes a smart choice ultimately framing the central conflict around the cashier and using that to dangle a note of redemption in. It elevates this from the revenge porn.

Tier: Strong
#38 ·
· on The Good Stuff
Art mini-reviews!

This is surprisingly detailed for the MS Paint style it's using, and I think that elevates it somewhat above its simple roots. I love the little detail of the USDA Organic logo and Certified Gluten Free. (Those are virtually legible, which is pretty incredible at the resolution this is at.) A thoroughly straightforward interpretation, but whimsical around the edges.
#39 · 1
· on Hel-LO! Anybody home? · >>Filler >>GroaningGreyAgony
Art mini-reviews!

Amusing use of Photoshop, with a little nod to our pony roots. Interesting sideways prompt take. I'm not 100% certain whether the implication here is that Adam is ignoring God in favor of his VR simulation, or whether Adam is using AR to see God as an awesome pony? I think I'll put that ambiguity as a point in this one's favor.

In hindsight, it would have made more sense to have the "in-goggles" view be goggle-shaped, though.
#40 · 1
· on The Electroscope · >>GroaningGreyAgony
Art mini-reviews!

I like the composition on this one — especially the balance of the golden elements — although in hindsight I'm wondering exactly how this jar is supposed to work (never mind what the figure is doing in it). The metal of the knob goes through the cap, so it's conducting the electricity in, but then it's not actually connected to any of the other metal bits, so without grounding the charge won't go anywhere…? Is this maybe some sort of Van de Graff apparatus meant to show arcs of lightning? (If so, it's not working at the moment of the picture.) Anyway, nicely evocative for the level of detail.
#41 ·
· on My Tangerine Dream · >>Fenton >>Fenton
Art mini-reviews!

The "lightning" is strong in this one, though I'm struggling to see the "jar". (Is the black band at top left an implied lid?) I'm also grasping at straws trying to parse the title, unless it's a reference to the band, and if it is I'm still not sure of its relevance…? The picture's hue certainly doesn't feel tangerine to me. The clouds are admittedly impressive, but I'm not sure I'm able to put this together into a coherent artistic vision.
#42 · 2
· on The Giving, Free · >>Xepher >>Fenton
I'll come in on the opposite side as >>Xepher:

And call this another really nice first draft. I quite liked the mother's somewhat frazzled perspective, and I followed the narrative from beginning to end easily enough.

I could use maybe another paragraph or two somewhere with some more background info about how our narrator meet the god she trysted with, what he was the god of, how being in his presence made her feel, how it still tears her up inside to think about how her left her, that sort of thing. I'd also like to see a bit more of the friendship that develops between the narrator and Ushas: maybe a scene where Ushas warns the narrator how demigods often become fixated negatively when they have an absent divine parent. And as long as I'm asking for things, I'd like there to be more of a trigger for Tarit to begin raging against his father--the father's on the news or is intervening in mortal affairs somehow or something.

You've got the basics here: it just needs some expansion and some touch up.

#43 · 2
· on Tapecutting · >>Fenton >>Xepher
I'm … not quite certain what to make of this one overall, so I'm going to think out loud for a little while and see if that helps.

Overall, I'd have to say it doesn't feel like it comes together. In tone, this feels like two different stories jammed together in the middle — the jargon-laden bureaucracy quest vs. the genuine human contact, which admittedly is not a bad contrast — but in plot, it stays on the rails toward the starting goal despite a massively deus-ex-machinish swerve. ("“We’re trapped in a damaged building, and you’re still worried about your application?”)

The story takes a good stab at finding some higher meaning with the bits about the effects of bureaucracies, but that's undercut by the fact that the ending doesn't feel like a win for human contact. The back-and-forth about Janet's problems doesn't seem to solve anything for her — just gives us an expanded look into her background — and all she acknowledges about Ben after significant pushback is "Well, maybe you’re one of the ones that everything will align for. Don’t say I didn’t warn you, though." They might as well have been sitting across the bureaucratic counter from each other for that exchange, for all the difference their mutual survival through the disaster made! It just feels like a missed opportunity to me, to not have the event leave bigger impacts on them.

(Also, since I seem to be getting thrown pretty hard by little details today: can I suggest you change the first scene's timing to first thing in the morning rather than at 11:48 a.m.? The bureaucracy seems to be functioning rather smoothly if Ben has less than ten minutes to wait for his turn in line.)

Hm. I think I'm putting a finger on my dissatisfaction here: right now this is like watching a first date with no chemistry.

The strongest part of the story right now is the human contact in the second half. (Not so much learning Janet's backstory, since that doesn't currently go anywhere; but what we discover about what's important to both of them. Her logging of calories, his passion about his project, why she saved his life.) I think what this needs is some sense of them developing a connection out of that — seeing some moments of deeper fragility and trust. Right now, Ben talks about what's important to him and she blows it off; Janet talks about what's important to her and he steers the conversation back to his project. Double down on your characters in editing, let them start to engage with each other, and let their needs and wants drive the later plot, and you'll see this start to shine.

Thanks for writing!

Tier: Keep Developing
#44 · 1
· on Plane-Jumper · >>Xepher
So... the twist here is really, really weird and I think. I mean, if the jumping actually only pushes them through time, why is it useful? Functionally it should be relocating them to the same physical location, but forward in time, so it shouldn't be useful for actually moving quickly to new locations. I mean, you can sorta handwave it, but it is really weird.

Which goes into one of the bigger issues, I think, which is that you spend a lot of time explaining a magic system that the main character not only doesn't understand, but is actually actively wrong about. When you're already playing fast and loose, it is better to stick to handwaving, especially because the limited detail you provide actually makes the jumping far more baffling. It very clearly isn't figured out. They should be losing tons of Corpsgirls.

The other big issue is that the story lacks a real sense of urgency. She has a solid number of jumps left. Travel isn't immediate enough that it feels like she absolutely must make it back to warn command ASAP since their response would take a ton of time anyway.

Honestly, I feel like this story would be better served starting deeper in (like one or two vials from failure). Perhaps even going so far as to have her have already failed and be stuck here, with Keidi slowly deciding whether or not to reveal her truth. Or already being kinda deep in the idea of bringing in Corpsgirls and making the choice as to whether to keep going with the Corpsgirl recruitment plan or go back and try to change things.

Still, I definitely like the idea of the story here, I just think it needs some refinement to really come through.
#45 ·
· on Have You Ever Screwed in a Light Bulb?
that last line

i am not even mad


Seriously though, this is quite possibly one of the best uses of the feghoot form I've seen. There's enough meta-awareness of the joke at the start that the punchline wraps back around to add a sense of bookending, rather than derailing the story. (And the final punchline becomes about the narrator being clever in-universe. Bravo.) The worldbuilding that builds up to the pun is interesting enough to carry the story on its own, too.
About the biggest criticism I can level is that the early exposition about the narrator's form doesn't land as something that would be said out loud; that should be massaged to work with the pure-narration style you're using. That might require leaving a little more to implication?

Tier: Top Contender
#46 · 3
· on Djinn
The lack of any real perspective on Amethenia's situation is a bit of a problem as we really don't understand the consequences of what she's doing. I mean, the bound aspect definitely sucks, but for all we know this is something that keeps the entire kingdom from just being swallowed up by the earth itself and all the people being slaughtered by demons. As we approached the end I was really unsure as to whether Zephyr was playing her or not and, if she was, how bad the playing was. We could use a bit more situational grounding.

Characterization here is a little wonky. Setting aside the speed with which the relationship happens, Amethenia is all in on this "fuck my kingdom" thing given she seemed to legitimately care about it and the people earlier on. Zephyr, similarly, seems to about face on her views without much reason, bailing on the princess and then being all "let's make out." I get what you're going for with both characters and their progression, but it doesn't feel like either quite lands.

That said, sweet little story with cute leads and a decent action finale.

And I see what you did there with the Aladdin reference at the end.
#47 · 3
· on Sodom’s Greatest Alchemist · >>Dolfeus Doseux
A rotating wheel. Turning an axle. Grinding. Bolthead. Linear gearbox. Falling sky. Seven holy stakes. A docked ship. A portal to another world. A thin rope tied to a thick rope. A torn harness. Parabolic gearbox. Expanding universe. Time controlled by slipping cogwheels. Existence of God. Swimming with open water in all directions. Drowning. A prayer written in blood. A prayer written in time-devouring snakes with human eyes. A thread connecting all living human eyes. A kaleidoscope of holy stakes. Exponential gearbox. A sky of exploding stars. God disproving the existence of God. A wheel rotating in six dimensions. Forty gears and a ticking clock. A clock that ticks one second for every rotation of the planet. A clock that ticks forty times every time it ticks every second time. A bolthead of holy stakes tied to the existence of a docked ship to another world. A kaleidoscope of blood written in clocks. A time-devouring prayer connecting a sky of forty gears and open human eyes in all directions. Breathing gearbox. Breathing bolthead. Breathing ship. Breathing portal. Breathing snakes. Breathing God. Breathing blood. Breathing holy stakes. Breathing human eyes. Breathing time. Breathing prayer. Breathing sky. Breathing wheel.

More seriously though, I really don't have anything to add that Cass didn't already say. Ultimately, while there is some nice prose, there is nothing here that particularly engages me as a reader, which is really important because this story IS a bit of a slog to read through. Like, there is nothing wrong with hard works (House of Leaves has some intensely sloggy sections to deal with), but you need to have sold the reader on that idea first.
#48 ·
· on The Good Stuff
Artist, I like that you put some actual effort into the details of this doodle. I do want to note that MS Paint and most other paint apps do have ellipse tools, and drawing a few ellipses as guidelines for your jar would have gone a long way towards improving your sketch. As it is, I do find that the details are undermined by the execution.
#49 ·
· on Hel-LO! Anybody home?
Artist, I find this rank shoopery of one of the world’s most shooped paintings to be worth a chuckle. Kudos for that.
You’ve gotten me singing the alt text as well.
#50 ·
· on My Tangerine Dream · >>Fenton
Is this your cloudburst flight, Artist? A pretty picture. I can’t be certain that that is lighting in the center; it could perhaps be sunshine or moonshine through the clouds. I’ll give you a pass on the prompt connection regardless.
#51 · 2
· on Chode Mustard · >>Xepher >>Icenrose
This was the second story I read, and I thought, well, this was fun, and moved on. Little did I know that this modest entry, being basically every "rise and fall of a band" story ever would end up being my top pick. This is my top slate of the entire competition. At this point I have read every entry, and I am somewhat baffled to say that Chode Mustard is what came out on top, both because of the title itself, and quality of the story.

I want to get some criticism out of the way because I'm going to be singing this story's praises in a big way later, but the flaws of the story itself are rather large and obvious. This is no Cold in Gardez write eight-thousand words piece where every detail is fleshed out and given proper description. This story is mostly dialogue that advances the plot and actions in the narrative that advance the plot. Not a lot of room for description at all. As such, it's more a skeleton of a story than a real story, and the author needs to go back and fill in the meat.

The pacing as a result is breakneck. Everything goes far too fast, with too few details, and an overwhelming sense that we've all seen and heard this story before. The details, like the "foreshadowing" (I'm using this term lightly) of Tommy's eventual death by drug use, stick out like sore thumbs when there is basically nothing in the story that is not advancing the plot in some way. Not to mention that every rock and roll story ends in copious amounts of drug overdoses, so it's the reader is already expecting this conclusion even before the concept of a drug problem is even introduced.

The way in which Tommy dies is boring and unimaginative—a scene I and many others have seen a million times before in other better works. It is so much of a cliche that even in this work I admit is entirely that's taking entire framework from a cliche, it seems tired and boring. Tommy should die in a manner much like his hardcore, gross-ass, and uncompromisingly ugly band that revels in its own unpleasantness.

The prose is not great. It's functional. As I've said before, there's so little of it really there that it becomes difficult to even comment on it. I want to chalk this up to the author rushing to get this story finished, but I also think that inexperience plays into it as well. There's a certain sense I get that the author isn't certain of what details to focus on in a lot of scenes, and thankfully, he doesn't feel the need to bog down the reader with unnecessary details to compensate for this—so he just doesn't include anything that isn't strictly related to the events ongoing in the story.

HYPOTHETICAL WRITEOFF USER: Wow, Cassius, you just spent around five hundred words basically saying that this story fails on two of the most fundamental aspects of story-telling... and this is your top pick?


H.W.U: Wow, I always knew you were a pretentious contrarian dickhead, but this is really a new low even for you. We have such great entries this time around like Djinn, The Eyes Behind Old Southern Comfort, The Last Enemy, and even that story AndrewRogue wrote. And you pick fucking Chode Mustard? Come on.

Now is the time I give my impassioned defense of Chode Mustard.

There are many things I value in a story of various importance, but the two most crucial things to me are:

1. Strong characterization. Characters are the movers and shakers of the plot itself, and they must have an voice to them that makes identifiable from the other characters around them. I am no more bored in a story than reading the interactions between characters that all seem to have an identical voice, choice of verbiage, and perspective on life blandly expositing what they have to do and why they have to do it for the purposes of the plot. Each character needs to have their own internal logic of how they see the world, and sometimes they can be similar, but the differences between characters needs to be strongly established in any given piece. A wise Cold in Gardez once said, "ponies about stories are people about things" or something along those lines, which is to say that your story better have a human component to it, a character with human emotions, and acts like a human would, and isn't simply an artifice to spout exposition and do things because the plot requires it.

2. The story be about something. Now this can be as simple as a story like The Big Lebowski essentially being about going through the motions of life without any ulterior meaning as a way to mock nihilism (in other words, a story that's supposed to be about nothing to prove a point), but what it all comes down to is that the story has to inform you about something in the human condition. The more nuanced the better. If the plot of a story is just things that happen without any underlying commentary, it is a rather boring experience. And I don't mean that a story needs to be a philosophical diatribe on ethics or something stupid like that, but that the situations and composition of the story, the motifs, imagery, and events, should all be in service of addressing some sort of underlying sentiment. A feeling, a statement, a moral... just something .

And, lo and behold, Chode Mustard does those two things better than just about every other story in the competition. It's only real competition is The Last Enemy, a story I'm still debating eventually putting above Chode Mustard, but my fondness for the characters in Chode Mustard keeps it at the top.

What really sells this story is the characters and how they play off of one another. Jay is a meek, but cynical guy who is railroaded by his boisterous and over-the-top friend Tommy, who brings in Miguel, who is just along for the ride. Their interactions run the gamut of the emotional spectrum between melancholy, angry, humorous, etc., and there's a real sense of begrudging camaraderie between the three, even if Miguel is sort of sidelined the majority of the story. How they talk to one another and how Jay acknowledges other characters in the narrative almost always tells you something about how either those characters think about themselves or their situation, or how Jay perceives the people around him—a element of story crafting it seems the majority of entries this time around forgot almost entirely.

The reason these three characters work in tandem together is because each highlights something about the other.

Jay is someone who doesn't have control over his life, so he hands it over to Tommy. He's committed to being indecisive and not sticking up for himself. This makes him unhappy, as he's essentially not living his own life. He sort of has a stick up his ass, the straight man to Tommy's antics.

Tommy is the opposite, a person who is hyper decisive and confident regardless of the consequences. He enjoys getting a rise out of people, and is impulsive and thrill-seeking—in complete contrast to the more thoughtful and restrained Jay. He is the epitome of self-centered hedonism.

Miguel is the person in-between these two. He's not the off-the-walls person Tommy is and has a modicum of restraint, but as it is revealed in the ending, he's there because he wants to be. Because he had fun. Unlike Jay, he's living life on his own terms, and unlike Tommy, he's not out of control because of it.



THIS STORY IS ABOUT SOMETHING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

That being that our main character, Jay, has been going about things all wrong, and he should have been more like Miguel, and lived his own damn life instead of living it intravenously through Tommy. It took Tommy's death and a conversation with Miguel to realize this, but Jay finally understands that he has to find his own purpose.

When I say this story is a skeleton, I mean it, but it is a complete skeleton. There are no bones missing here, and you can see very clearly what is intended to be. This can be contrasted with other entries I feel that have meat and skin and bone to them, but they are missing important pieces, like important bones and organs. Chode Mustard is a pristine and complete little skeleton that I would happily let spook me.

Thanks for writing.
#52 ·
· on The Electroscope
What is it with the freehanded ellipses?

Seriously, Artist, I appreciate that you took the trouble to hand draw this. The pencil lines lend vivacity to the work. Even if that’s a fantasy apparatus, it’s interesting to look at, and your dancing figure is quite lively.
#53 · 4
· on Hel-LO! Anybody home? · >>GroaningGreyAgony
I'm not 100% certain whether the implication here is that Adam is ignoring God in favor of his VR simulation, or whether Adam is using AR to see God as an awesome pony?

Given the shopped placement of Adam's left hand, I'm going with the former...
#54 · 2
· on The Last Enemy · >>AndrewRogue
Despite being long as fuck, this reads like it was cut down from its intended length. Second place on my slate. Likely to win the whole shebang. Author obvious.

My initial reaction to this story was "Aw Jesus Christ not another sci-fi and/or fantasy story where I have to spend the first two thousand words understanding the rules and regulations of the world before the story proper can begin" and I can't really say that the story itself defied those expectations. The first 1000 words are undisguised exposition explaining the setting and it's 2000 words before we're really introduced to moral conflict of the story. Why the story just doesn't start with the protagonist at the college, I can't rightly say.

The whole underpinning of the story itself, however, it is a rather interesting conceit, and an interesting thought exercise. What would intergalactic war look like? It likely wouldn't be the space battles and dog-fighting of Stars Wars—but instead the deployment of massive, planet busting weapons that have to travel a massive distance; something that takes a long amount of time. How would that transform the scope of war and everything that comes with it? How would society change in reaction to those things?

It makes for a neat concept. Slightly less so in execution. It is very apparent that the author is attached to this setting and exploring the intricacies of it, but in doing so, the story becomes a bit of a disjointed amalgam of different philosophical and ethical ideas. Ultimately the idea is distilled down from dealing with a specific issue, that being the death of diplomacy, to a more vague and existential idea of purpose, dualism, and "What is reality?" quandary. These ideas are not particularly complementary in how they are in employed. The result is a rather disjointed product that doesn't seem to be quite sure what it wants to say. The conclusion reels this back in a bit by ending on the rather nice horror of having fought a war without knowing why, but I think it doesn't do enough with this concept.

I feel there must have been bits of pieces of explanation cut away for space, particularly in regards to how the thoughtsphere functioned early on, because I found myself lacking a concrete grasp on what the limitations and functionality of the thoughtsphere up until the end of the story, in a reveal I think was mostly unintentional. Or perhaps it was intentional, and that was supposed to be a reveal. The point is I don't really know, and it is a bit jarring in the manner presented.

However, despite feeling that there was a lot of missing explanation, I felt the majority of the story was spent explaining things to me. Dialogue, the scenes with Allie's father explaining the setting, and the narrative is constantly explaining the details of the setting, along with the ramifications of the actions of the setting's history. It is again fortunate that these ideas are rather interesting in them of themselves and the description rather evocative otherwise I would be bored to tears.

There are some good images in this story. Along with its ideas, I would consider that to be its primary strength. There's no shortage of lovely little descriptive pieces that I'm sure when it came to cut, the author couldn't bear to part with. That being said, that description is still in service of giving elongated and expansive exposition, so it definitely comes at a cost.

The biggest weakness I can name in this story are the characters and dialogue. To be honest, sometimes the dialogue is so on the nose that it is painful. We're not really given enough information in regards to the character's perspective outside a purely academic mindset that really distinguishes them from one another, and they're not given much room to really emote. Everything that the characters themselves do has the unimportant ring of an academic argument than having real consequences. The character conflicts are immensely understated, and there's really no window into anyone's real passions. There are small windows into what the main character values, but no consideration to why he holds those beliefs or why he cares.

The conflict between the main character and his older professor on the timeline to seek alien diplomacy, for example, has no weight, isn't resolved, and really doesn't mean anything to the main character other than a professional disagreement. I understand that all these characters are essentially brains in vats (or maybe just completely artificial computer simulations of what a person was, I'm not sure), and maybe the lack of emotionality is the result of that. But a story that holds no stakes to the characters also holds no stakes for the reader.

The interactions between the main character and his girlfriend seem artificial in the sense that the author seems to feel the compulsion to remind us that they are in a romantic relationship at all times. It feel forced, as if the author is grabbing me by the grab, turning my head, and saying "See! They're in love! They're doing the thing that people in love do!" But I can't feel that sentiment, and it's never really demonstrated the amount these two care about each other than stock phrases and sex—or more importantly, why they do.

The girlfriend character is perhaps the weakest link here. If the author is entertaining the age-old sentimentality vs. science debate, she should really be the colder and more distant of the two characters, but yet she is the one who breaks down at the conclusion and also usually the one initiating all the physical contact. She talks about getting drunk rather casually, and generally is more loose and less uptight than the main character—which is the exact opposite of what you'd want. Your main character is supposed to be representative of arts, aesthetics, the virtue of making things by hand, the idea of communication as a craft, and the girlfriend is supposed to be representative of science, functionality, and rationalism. Why then, is that in two-thirds of circumstances, this idea completely reversed? It really comes across as inconsistent and strange.

Ultimately, for a story about humanity, it all seems rather inhuman. I just wanted more from the characters in this piece. The exposition, and delayed start, and sort of mix-mash of various themes I could all look past, but the characters themselves just are uninteresting.

I did like this story though. I am at heart an ideas person, and I enjoy good ideas. This story had a good idea.
#55 · 1
· on Djinn and Tonic
Writer, let me start by saying it’s not you, it’s me. I have a number of biases that this story managed to touch upon, the most glaring of which is that you have written a story set within my personal definition of hell.

The down to earth homespun wholesomeness that wallpapers this story is just nails-on-chalkboard repellent to me. It’s lovingly crafted, and I can appreciate the amount of work that went into the mortar filling every crack between the bricks of this rural Illinois house you’ve constructed. But shelling fresh-picked peas in a bucket? A dirt-smeared eight-year-old running around outside catching fireflies at dusk? These images curry no favor with me. Instead of feeling the warm embrace of a distant relative that you clearly want this story to be (or the first 2800 words of it, at least), I feel bludgeoned by a rolling pin and scolded for being a problem child.

The root of the problem is your protagonist, Ann. You ask me to sympathize with her plight, and in so doing, her admission of defeat. And that is something I will not do.

What Ann has done is tuck tail and run in the face of (admittedly severe) hardship. It’s implied that she doesn’t want to be living with her aunt (it having been years between visits), but instead of indignant fury bubbling beneath the surface, we get quiet acceptance, something her acknowledgement of trying to “stop being such a grouch” doesn’t make up for. She’s pissed at all the things that have happened to her in the past, but where she is right now? We get almost resigned commentary of how she’ll need to get around to installing an internet connection (the horror) in the same line as installing a light switch. She would be perfectly justified in still being angry for all the world has heaped upon her, and yet her actions tell a tale of, “Well, I guess that’s it.”

While I acknowledge my reaction is more severe than may be warranted, you still have the problem of a protagonist who is shown to be exceptionally passive. There is a literal litany of grievances that she has in this story, and instead of searching any other avenue for a solution, she gives up and goes “home”.

Which makes the pure emotional whiplash that occurs in the scene with the titular djinn all the more jarring. Ann goes from steadfast refusal to acknowledge magic is real to hitting her breaking point, and the logical leap you use to get there (“If this whole thing is gonna be as stupid as this, then I was right all along!”) strains credulity. And the “I believed in magic, and yet” tirade is a couple references too long. I get the emphasis of repetition, but “I believed in the magic of my own intelligence” feels forced.

Though, I will say points for Ann being well-read enough to know that the whole wish thing is bullshit and chips every time. I’m glad that this is the foundation for her rejection of the djinn’s offer and subsequent demand that he free himself, rather than saccharine altruism. And leaving your cheating dickbag of a husband isn’t the easiest decision to make - I’ve seen how trying a process that can be firsthand - but at no point in the story does it say that Ann’s relocation is temporary. She’s settling in for the long haul in a place she clearly doesn’t want to be, and it’s that tacit acceptance of defeat that I can’t abide.

At the end of the day, Writer, you’ve written a story that reminds me how far short of the mark I fall when it comes to empathizing with a normal human being. Where this story falls short is how it hasn’t convinced me I’m in the wrong.

Final Thought: if I did the tier thing, this would be Misaimed.
#56 ·
· on Have You Ever Screwed in a Light Bulb?
Cassius had to explain me the final joke. I suppose that voids the story almost out of every sort of substance.

I can’t agree with Horizon. That story’s only leg is the final joke. As all feghoots, it’s wrapped around a single device, and if that fails the whole story falls flat. I can’t deny the story itself is more or less pleasant to read, though I found the stylistic choices and the prose a bit stodgy at length. Especially, the beginning drags on and on until we finally get to the core of the conflict with Tesla. Cut that introductory part and you've the same result.

But yeah, knowing that all the story is only meant to trick you into the final line kinda spoils the entire experience to me. It's like being lugged thousands of kilometres to a museum to see a fine piece, and then that fine piece turns out to be commonplace (“Oh, it’s just that?”).

And that's that. Without the final line, I’d probably have ranked this middle-slate. But knowing it’s a feghoot definitely drags it down.
#57 · 3
· on A Heart Filled by Storms · >>Xepher >>AndrewRogue
AndrewRogue once bemoaned onto me that he hadn't gotten a review from me in quite a while. So here I am. Third place. Bronze Medal. May be silver. Who knows?

In the Djinn Tetralogy, this is the Cinderella story. Follows a rather basic fairy tale outline: Girl is being oppressed by authority figures, desires MORE out of LIFE, magical force intervenes that allows her to transcend the circumstances of the situation the girl finds herself in, and everyone lives happily ever after, the end.

Speaking of the ending, man is it saccharine. It reminds me of the ending line of Rogue One, although I like this ending a bit more, since the ending line of Rogue One was utter shit and completely undermined the entire attempted tone of the movie. I wasn't a fan of Rogue One . I think the ending is probably one of two major elements that this story will get flak for. I mean, the ending it note is "I incinerated the bad guy. Everything is okay now." The solution here is rather inelegant, and I think points to a greater problem with the overall story I will get into later.

The other is that things just take too long to get into. Everything takes a bit too long to get established, and the story really needed to kick into gear quicker than it does. Ideally we should open on the fact that Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiina is girl who is plotting to overthrow her cruel and unjust master that has enslaved her people. The fact that it takes nearly 1000 words to get this point, when it could have been established many times in previous scene. Why it takes so long, I don't quite understand, particularly because it would have been very simple to slip in that element into either of the previous scenes so the reader could immediately understand the significance of the Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiina's desire for a sprite and her hatred for Deniel. Master Per's inclusion slows down the proceedings of the entire story as a whole, which is sort of ironic, because his interactions with Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiina are the best part of the entire story and really showcase some lovely characterization.

On the other hand, we have Lord Deniel, who is said mostly to be a really bad guy, and is a really bad guy in the backstory, but it does feel in the narrative proper that is more an informed trait than a demonstrated one. Yeah, he's kind of a dick to Riiiiiina early on, and he does punish a guy for stealing food rather harshly, but he's not quite the horrible bastard that Riiiiiina seems to describe him as, and certainly never approaches the level of horrible that he was in the backstory. It doesn't help that the ordering here is fucked up—Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiina's distaste for the man is established far before we seen him, and the severity of her hatred never quite equals the severity of his demonstrated actions.

So the contrast between Per and Riiiiiiiiiina is pretty cool. It ideally should be the focus of this story, which it sort of is, but mostly isn't. You have Per, the outsider looking in, saying, "hey dude this stuff that's happening to you is pretty shit and lowkey I think it's a complete farce, but I'm sort of compelled to uphold the law of the land. Sorry I don't set the rules. But hey I can get rid of Deniel and stuff because Deniel didn't pay his taxes. Does that make it better?"

To which Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiina responds, "hey dude that's pretty bullshit, this guy is a total dickhead, and you're just sort of ignoring that what's going on here is blatantly terrible, and no that doesn't make it better. These laws suck (you should change them)."

So I'm going to bring up the issue I was alluding to earlier. The problem here is that the ultimate solution to the story has nothing to do with these two contrasting viewpoints. Riiiiiina finds a sprite and straight up mercs Deniel, and takes control for herself, because... I don't know, I guess Riiiina is part Queen Silyph now so maybe she knows something about running the government. Maybe since she's the daughter of the former chief, she learned something about governing? The issue I take here is that the story introduces a debate of how overthrow an oppressive government, with Per being the man working within the system, and Riiiiiiina being the person outside the system. Per has every interest to preserve the overarching order of the current government and have it function—he is the establishment. Whereas Riiiiiina doesn't care about those things and just wants her village back—she is the disenfranchised.

You would think that the conclusion would take those two conflicting viewpoints and manage some sort of compromise between them. But it doesn't.

As it turns out, all you need is to just have more power, murder the people who stand in your way, and take control for yourself. My personal imagination of how this story would really end is that the Triumvirate catches wind of what happens, sends in the standing military to reclaim their lost lands, and then launches into an elongated war that just ends with more suffering. Now maybe it is the case that Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiina is just so powerful now she could feasibly fight the Triumvirate on her own, but even that is not really a desirable solution.

The thing is, Riiiiiiiiiina is never established to be an actual leader. Being the former leader's daughter does not make you a natural leader, and it no point in the story is it demonstrated that she actually could run things on her own. She really doesn't even make any mentions of what the hell she plans to do after she overthrows Deniel. She doesn't even consider how the Triumverate will react, how this will affect trade, how they are going to get all of Deniel's men who work the mines to pack up and go home, etc. Again, you could say the Queen her helped be one, and maybe she's got shit all figured out, but even the Queen's track record sort of sucks. I mean her subjects are all basically imprisoned and enslaved, so... not a great vote of confidence that she could run things either.

I get that this is sort of a whimsical Disney-esque fairy tale where things are assuredly going to turn out okay, but when your last act concludes with your protagonist outright vaporizing the villain and declaring herself the new ruler of everything, you sort of lose that "happily ever after" feel to things. People like me start asking questions about the legitimacy of this new tyrant.

As it turns out, Per proposed a reasonable solution to minimize the long-time suffering of the village as a whole. I wouldn't say he's more right than Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiina is, but that they're both equally wrong, and at least Per's got his priorities straight. But the narrative itself seems to try and make the decision for me that Riiiiiina is 100% right and Per is a wrongo because he was trying to sweep under the rug the historical atrocities committed by the United States against the tribes of indigenous peoples wasn't putting forth a solution that prevented this mistreatment in the first place, nor giving the village back their sovereignty.

Per x Riiiiiiiiiiiiiina OTP

Second place maybe. Will have to think about things.

#58 · 5
· on Sodom’s Greatest Alchemist · >>Dolfeus Doseux
Okay, I’m going to be the contrarian here. This was a good poem.

Yes, it’s a poem. It’s written as prose, but it’s meant to be read. Look at the sentences. They are short, and they often alliterate. No complexity leads to charges of repetitive sameness. I’ll concede this point.

Okay, to the actual content. I threatened Cassius with a close reading of this story typed line by line into his Discord. He objected and threatened to review my story. So here we are instead.

There’s a story hidden in these paragraphs (let’s call them stanzas). Critics say it’s buried in them. They say that poems should be hard to write but not hard to read. I agree. It would take a metal detector to separate the plot from the dross. The gold that underlines sublime turns of phrase from the slag added to reach 2,000 words.

But there is gold in here. I went to work today and thought of this poem at my desk. Images of blood pouring from empty cages stacked to the ceiling shadowed my thoughts. I imagined this story like 30 pieces of manna in the desert. I could spend hours reading, inventing meanings beyond what the author intended. Death of the author, indeed. It reminds me of magnetic poetry. Each reader discovers his own reading.

We can’t ignore the negatives. Some stanzas shine, while others taste like chalk. In my second reading I was surprised to see them. They left no impression the first time, stones falling without ripples into memory’s pond.

Author, I hope this is sincere. I worry when we are done you’ll reveal the truth, that Sodom’s Greatest Alchemist is an elaborate ruse. A way of poking fun at avant garde literature by parodying its incoherent excess. And then I’ll look the fool for defending it, for having seen genius in a pile of scrap.

But I’ll still enjoy it though.
#59 ·
· on The Good Stuff
What saves this one is the little details, like the fact it's organic and preservative free. It is also what harms it, because we don't know the purpose of this lightning in a jar. Why buying it? Is it a cleaning product? Something you can eat? I guess it is the latter (unless I'm not aware of some the probably American symbols on the jar), since it's, like I said, organic and preservative free. But since I can't be sure what the use of a lightning in a jar, I'm afraid I can't rank this really high.
#60 · 2
· on Hel-LO! Anybody home? · >>GroaningGreyAgony
"Everyday we stray further from god." It seems that's what you had in mind when you made this. The execution is quite good, as the integration of both the VR googles and SFM Rainbow Dash fits really well.

However, I have two concerns. One, this is an OF round, so if a written entry starts talking about MLP, it automatically loses some points for me, and the same applies for the art entries. And two, the joke is, I don't know, basic I guess? I mean, it's a meme (and I hate them the second time I hear them), and it also desacralised one of the most famous and important painting in the world. It's like Duchamp with L.H.O.O.Q. (when you pronounce each letter in French, you have the sentence "Elle a chaud au cul", which means that she craves for the D).
The execution here is less provocative, or so I believe, but the result is somehow the same.
I'm not saying that art is sacred and should never be altered or anything, but if it doesn't do anything else than telling a joke, well, it's a bit pointless for me.

Anyway, it still gains some points for me because of the general homogeneity.
#61 ·
· on My Tangerine Dream
Let's assume that you didn't take this from google images, so good catch, it's a pretty picture

Aside from being a picture of a lightning, where is the "jar"? Like >>horizon said, and like him, I can't get a coherent vision on this one. And the title doesn't help in the slightest.
#62 · 1
· on The Electroscope · >>GroaningGreyAgony
The composition is excellent, but I'm not sure if I wish to see it with a background to add some context or not.

As it is, I'm left with questions that both play in its favor and harm it. I think that a piece of art should make the audience ask themselves questions, but here, some of them are related to the function of the object itself, and by proximity, what it is supposed to symbolise.

I got that the "woman" is the conductor for the "lightning", and that the electric current can flow once both of her feet touch the two metallic things. It also means that the current flows when the woman has her legs spread. Aaaaanndd, I'm not sure what this means. Does it mean that women gain power through sex? Does it mean that you can actually have power by spreading a woman leg, and still keep her imprisonned in a jar?
Or is it a representation of "life" as the lightning, only able to act when women "spread their legs"?

As you can see, there are too many unknown variables for me to really get a good grasp on it. However, a lot of these questions are what makes art for me for the most part. So good job with that.
#63 · 1
· on Tapecutting
Hmm, ok? I don't know.

I don't know what this story wants to be. Is this a comment on bureaucracy? On humanity who doesn't care about the Earth? A slice of Life story? A romance story?
There are all here, but none of them really stands out from the others, and I believe that one must stand above them all, the others coming next in different layers of different sizes. However, they still feel connected with one another (aside from the earthquacke, which looks like an excuse).

As it is, the story is over before I had time to really connect with the protagonists. Maybe it comes from what >>horizon said, the fact that they don't really interact with each other but kinda only telling out their backstory.

So yeah, keep developing, because I think you have a good premise.
#64 · 5
· · >>CoffeeMinion
Stories I did not write this round, mostly due all the ideas hitting me on Sunday and me wasting time:

- A cyberpunk-influenced story about a hacker who makes friends with a self-aware spam-bot when they both end up in a pinch. This is the one I put the most thought into, mostly because I thought the character would be hilarious ("No, seriously, I'm a Nigerian Prince!") but couldn't come up with anything resembling a workable plot.

- A student in a wizard school invents the Leyden jar and ends up being drawn into a shadowy cabal of rebel scientists.

- An urban fantasy about a shaman going up against a hurricane.

- A wistful piece about catching fireflies as a child. (The is the one I got closest to writing, since it actually had a cohesive theme, but eventually discarded; both due to starting too late, and deciding I wasn't up for doing bittersweet in a way I could be happy with.)

In other news, I got the plastic versions of 'physical writeoff medals' I designed and modeled for fun. (In no way officially endorsed or sponsored by RogerDoger Inc. :P) I'd very much like to print these in steel and give them away as prizes for a round, but that'll probably have to wait a bit, since the cost would likely be about 70$, and I won't start my new job until January.

Here are crappy phone pictures:

First Place, Sun and Fountain Pen.

Second Place, Moon and Quill Pen.

Third Place, Stars and Inkwell (double-sided)

And if anyone wants to print their own, here are .DAE files:

File Downloads

They're designed to work with Shapeways services and materials, and I've tested them in plastic. They feel pretty good, although the third-place is a bit flimsier than I'd like, and the ring on the first-place is much thinner than I'm comfortable with; I may go back and refactor them, since I'd like them to be strong enough for a keychain, even in plastic. They cost about 4$ each in 'strong and flexible'. The design tools say they should work in steel, but yeah. That's about five times as expensive.

For personal use only, please don't sell them. I may set up a storefront on Shapeways someday if I feel sufficiently energetic.I can also supply blender files and image resources if anyone's interested.
#65 · 1
· on Verbal Battery
There's some good stuff here, but it feels pretty jumbled. Not so much the narrative, but the conflict, I guess?

The conflict here seems like it should be pretty good; a couple having an argument over their profession and what that might do to their careers/child. But so much of it is founded on their position in whatever institution they work for, and how that relates to their research and peers, that their motivations end up feeling pretty opaque to me. As such, although the conflict itself was clear, it didn't feel compelling; even though they're yelling and fighting and what, I was kinda like 'what's happening here' because the emotions didn't seem as understandable as they were immediate.

Moreover, I'd have liked to see Anji raise ethical concerns with Kevan at least once; they seem to have some framework for dealing with elementals, but how does that relate to people? This is hinted at in the end, with 'Kevan does not get to choose your purpose - we have rules against those things.' but it's the sort of thing I'd like to have seen in the opening, since I feel like it ties into a lot of what's going on their conflict, and I think expanding on that would make their motivations much clearer to me.

The opening felt like it was trying for a hook, but it didn't feel very smooth. Sudden worry, sudden terminology, suddenly gone when she finds him upstairs.

The ending also feels a bit weak; the 'understood' thing seems like it ought to be a stinger, but it reads like a comical one instead of a dramatic one, and I'm not really sure what to make of that, since it's rather a tonal clash.

Still, I like the ideas, and I like the characters. I just wish it was a more transparent in some places.
#66 ·
· on Sodom’s Greatest Alchemist · >>Dolfeus Doseux
I’m siding with CiG here. I’m not sure if there’s a hidden meaning or message, but the images build in an unsettling manner. This is not just random blather, there is something being communicated here, though subject to multiple interpretations. I will rank this as upper mid-tier for now and see how it stacks up.
#67 ·
Hatman, those are awesome! The ideas yes, but also the awards!

inb4 CiG and horizon 3D print like 5 dozen of 'em. -_-

#68 ·
· on The Giving, Free
>>Baal Bunny
In fairness, I gave this one a re-read. Knowing the conceit of the story from the start, it did make more sense this time around. I still find a lot of the exact "goings on" confusing, but the overall message, of raising a god-child to actually care about mortals and morality, is stronger once I caught onto it. Bumping up a few notches, though I still feel the style/structure may be (intentionally or not) embodying the "I take drugs" line it starts off with.
#69 ·
· on Plane-Jumper
Starts off with an infodump, but a slightly fun one. Okay.

Only a bit in, and a LOT of typos already. None too distracting so far, but... Okay, they're getting a tad distracting. This really needs an edit for the simple stuff. There's even some tense problems later on. I'll say no more on technicalities though.

Okay, the early hook (the plane-jumping) is a bit weak. The real hook here comes nearly 1/3 through the story though, and it has me finally interested. (Probably needs to be earlier though.)

Next up, the twist is good, even if a bit predictable, it has some punch. Unfortunately, it's followed by a lot of infodumping. This story isn't near the word limit, or I'd blame it on that, so I'm not sure why this wasn't fleshed out better. The ending is... maybe too saccharine. I mean, it mostly works, I think. But I'm not sure if it works because it's cliche, or despite it.

So, overall, I feel this has a strong, relatively original universe and premise to it, but is hampered by some significant pacing issues and a severe need for an edit/proofread pass. Still, I enjoyed reading it, so that's something.
#70 · 3
· on The Eyes Behind Old Southern Charm · >>Cassius >>Cassius >>Cassius
First sentences are always a favorite to me, and this has a great one.

'91 Mustang is "old"? I was about to take offense, but then it's described with an 8-track player, so I have to assume this is an '81 or a '71. Let's go with '71, as that looks like a beast of a car, the '81 and '91 are hideous. NVM, it double's down on "90s cars."

Also, not to nitpick, but I spent a lot of my childhood in Arkansas, and I can't recall anywhere that didn't have trees in easy sight. Are you not thinking of just "Kansas" (without the AR)? Now that's a grassland with no trees. Sorry, I'm diverging, because this idea/image of "arkansas" doesn't line up with where I spent so much of my childhood. It's a big enough state for both, I'm sure, and it's written with conviction here.

This bit about the girl "filling out her clothes" is... we're going lesbian here, okay, that's a direction I guess, though a bit overplayed. Wait, now Santa has a boner? Now Mom is dead from cancer? "That escalated quickly!"

And... wait, church, priest? We're going there, aren't we? Wait, daddy has trackmarks first, then... Yup. *sigh*

This story really his hitting every cliche and trope I can think of, down to "throwing away a perfectly good/pricey zippo to light a gasoline fire." Why does no one just light a random piece of wood or cloth, and toss that? Zippos are collectables, mementos. No one throws them away so casually.

Overall, this leans heavy, heavy into the revenge-fantasy tropes we've seen too many times in show's like Preacher or True Blood. It IS well written for the most part, at least in terms of language and pacing, though a lot of technical details (most noted above) make me think the author hasn't actually spent much time driving through Arkansas or traipsing around it's endless forests (not grasslands.) If one had NOT been to Arkansas though, the conviction with which these details were written is almost enough to convince me I've forgotten my own childhood. :-)

On a deeper level, this story is about rape, which is a #SeriousIssue and thus falls under a slightly different type of criticism than most other fiction. As >>horizon noted, the viewpoint has some problems here. The comparison of revenge to "like sex" doesn't make sense as, for many rape victims, especially ones that have fixated on the event (like the protagonist here) sex is an AWFUL thing. Having her lust after the cashier girl is also strange. I get "not liking men" is a reasonable (if cliche) outcome, but it's played to no good effect here. Have her FEEL for the other girl and her black eye, sure, that's sympathy for a fellow victim or some such, but don't have her sexual the girl, especially when it's her own age (likely by mistake, per Horizon.)

On the same topic, I'd say having this be a catholic priest that raped her takes this from "podunk-but-realistic" problem to "the-butt-of-every-joke-for-a-decade." It's even weirder set in Arkansas, which is only like 7% Catholic, yet 78% Protestant. Again, another minor "sounds fine unless you've been there" sort of mistake in this tale.

Overall, this is well written in terms of flow and evocative description. But the overall events feel very, very cliche and mostly occur without any comment or motivation for any character other than the protagonist. It also doesn't seem to match up with actual cars, or the state of arkansas as I think I know it.
#71 · 2
· on Djinn and Tonic
Ah, finally, the "lightning bug" story I knew must be coming.

"No need to insult any weasels, after all." Nicely humanizing, as is the bit about the "Aunt Clara Experience."

Also, good research/details on Earlville. Pioneer State Bank is a real bank there. Also wondering now if this has anything to do with Roger Rabbit (the author of the book was from Earlville.) Ditto, LaSalle County. I want to know, author, if you "knew this stuff" or you just picked a random midwest town and googled other stuff to make it coherent. Unlike with the other story and Arkansas (where I spent a lot of my childhood) I've only spent three days in Illinois.

Okay, and... 60% through this we finally get the hook... Which was itself implied by the title. That is way, way too late to make this about something new. So... I hope this really, really ties in with the earlier "small talk" to make a solid tale.

So far, genre-aware mom here at least. But she's so genre aware, yet doesn't bother to discuss any of the facts of the issue before just insisting the genie do what Disney said is right and "end magic" or whatever?

And... Pass out/fall asleep trope.

Technical note, Mason jar's are the best for punching holes (for bugs), as Mason lids are designed to be replaced at every canning (you don't even have to replace the screw rings, as the "lid" is separate.) Also, the lids from previous year's canning (aka "used") are no good any more, but still trap bugs fine. Source: I caught a frig-ton of lightning bugs in Mason jars as a kid.

The ending: Yeah, that's sweet, and cheesy, and exactly what I expected. But that's good. That's where this story needed (and by the title, planned) to go. It works.

Overall... This is well written. No complaints on language or anything, and reads easily throughout. The bumps are that the "hook" is halfway through the story, the ending is cliche, and a huge amount of the smalltalk in the first half adds nothing to the actual story itself. This isn't minific, so economy of words is not quite the premium it is there, but... This feels like a great idea in a loosely woven garb. It can (and should be) much tighter, and will be very strong when it gets to that point.
#72 · 3
· on The Eyes Behind Old Southern Charm · >>Xepher
I may come back to review this story later, but I wanted to interject on something being put forth here. I was somewhat uncommitted towards making this an issue. But after seeing that it is being brought up repeatedly and having a discussion with Ranmilia and Monokeras that has bolstered my confidence enough that I feel comfortable speaking on it without feeling I am being overly politically correct or confronting this issue in a judgmental manner towards the reviewers who posted their opinion. I respect these reviewers' opinions, but I feel what they are suggesting is contrary to fact.


and there's major dissonance you should address, having Megan looking at her world through a sexual frame when she's experienced such trauma from it


The comparison of revenge to "like sex" doesn't make sense as, for many rape victims, especially ones that have fixated on the event (like the protagonist here) sex is an AWFUL thing.

Now I am not someone who is claiming to be an expert. I have but a Bachelor's on Arts in Psychology and I have not written extensively on sexual trauma—I am not a professional. I have done some piecemeal things here and there, however, I have written a few academic papers on sexual trauma and volunteered at RAINN as part of my coursework.

But the ways you're talking about rape trauma is plain incorrect. There are indeed "many" people who become hyper-avoidant and fearful of sex in response to trauma, but there are also "many" people who respond in the opposite manner: becoming hyper-sexual, or act out in sexually inappropriate ways. This is particularly common in child victims. People conceptualize trauma differently and sexual trauma in particular can manifest itself in a multitude of different ways, not all of which are not obvious. The idea that all victims respond similarly, that being with avoidance, is simply a stereotype.

Again, I don't want to appear as if I'm slapping the hands of our gracious reviewers here as being untoward, but I do feel it necessary to address and dispel these stereotypes, particularly if they're being used as the basis of a critique. If you want to put forth the argument that the narrative needed justify this apparent discrepancy to the audience so they could understand, like >>horizon seems to do, that is fair. I just want to challenge the notion that it is unrealistic for people to respond in the manner described in the story.
#73 · 3
· on The Last Enemy · >>AndrewRogue
Solid science fiction intro.

And now this is "Who's Afraid of Wolf 359Gliese 71?" Also, "one second" is not enough to kill everyone. Near C impact on the upper atmosphere would still have to propagate at the speed of sound to the ground for the majority of the "impact" damage. Yeah, everyone had cancer in the first second from the high energy particles, but even if you vaporize someone's skin, in a milisecond burst of incredible energy, it still takes several moments for them to die. Nevermind people in buildings and other indirect hits. Most of the death would come from the plasma blast front, which would propagate just about the speed of sound from the upper atmosphere, so many probably lasted at least 40 seconds, or upwards of 70 seconds if they were near the limb of the planet as seen from Gliese 71. Also "The batter would be considered "hit by pitch" and would be eligible to advance to first base."

(Yes, you made me do math, you already won at sciencing my fiction... now please make this a good story.) https://what-if.xkcd.com/1/

Perspective change, from father to Allie himself isn't shown early, so it's jarring when the professor calls him by name.

"Beards and Breasts" hahah, how nostalgic. Wait, 1000 years isn't nostalgia, it's medeival reenactment or something. Also, how does "In for a penny..." survive as a phrase, but the entire concept of breasts doesn't? For that matter, how does "beards" get understood, but not "breasts?"

Intersteller combat ends in ship-to-ship? No. Also, how is there NO information from Glise 71 itself? No spied-upon broadcasts, no early black and white entertainment video's sent at light speed, nothing?

And we end with the matrix, via earth's computronium core. I feel mean for saying this, but "I totally saw that coming."

So, as I've hinted at, this story feels like well-trod ground to me. It is a mix of "Who's Afraid of Wolf 359" and "Seveneves" at the very least, with some fun references to other fictions thrown in. Phrases like "Consensual Reality" and concepts like a "computronium" core running a virtual world of human consciousnesses are, to me, just classic science fiction.

In that sense, this story delivers pretty well as being a fun, interesting read. But, as it's doing a good job at a thing I like, I feel obliged to criticize more as well.

First, this IS just a lot of tropes rolled up. That works, but... this doesn't bring much NEW to the "life in wartime" trope, or the "we all live in the matrix" trope. It does a great job of telling a story that is engaging, but by bringing in so many known elements, it should (if it were ideal) being contributing something new as well.

That's my main complaint here, I think. This story does so many things I like, that my first reaction is "Oh! Top of slate!" But... no. It borrows and it steals from a lot of stuff (which is fine) but it fails to really give me a new perspective. Also, I would REALLY have to stretch to connect the prompt to this tale. "Lightning in a Jar" doesn't fit this any better than the past dozen prompts we've had. I mean, this would've worked so much better under "The Last Minute", "One Shot", "Staring into the Abyss", "Rising from the Ashes", "The Last Minute", "The Darkest Hour," or even "End of an Era." If someone can explain to me why it has a definite connection to THIS current prompt, and not to any of those previous ones, I'll STFU. But until then, I feel this is far too polished to be the spur-of-the-moment entry this contest is designed for.

But, it IS a pretty good story, and decently told. I'll have to finish the rest of the entries to see how I feel about it overall, but... I am legitimately worried this was conceived of before the prompt was selected.
#74 ·
· on The Eyes Behind Old Southern Charm · >>Monokeras >>Cassius >>Cassius
Horizon said it clearer than I did, but the case is that we're being presented with a 17-year-old girl that (in story) has only been shown abuse and bad things as they relate to sex. Other descriptions show her hating (in general) men because of the very concept of that priest's actions. If she IS a young girl in this fictional bible-belt Arkansas, it's very unlikely that she found some more pleasant, enjoyable, (and importantly) regular/normalizing/healthy sex life in the time between her abuse and now. We're shown only her trauma, so when she compares that trauma to something good, it feels out of character for her. By literary convention, if it's not important, then it's not shown. A good girlfriend (or boyfriend) would've shown an alternative, and would've been important to this story, but it's not there, so, by story rules, "didn't happen." So, in the same way I'm saying it's very unlikely that a 1991 Mustang had an 8-track, it feels unlikely that THIS character had a massively positive ("purest ecstasy") view of sex as she's literally torturing a man to death with hammers and gasoline.

That does not mean, in any way, that there aren't a myriad of reactions and survival mechanisms that real victims go through after something traumatic. From Stockholm syndrome through to simple acceptance, anger, avoidance, and the rest of the very, very long alphabet; all are real, and differ with the individual. So I'm not critiquing real world victims here, I'm saying this fictional CHARACTER is shown only experiencing awful and traumatic sexual events, so (by literary convention, not the real world) she shouldn't use sex as a euphemism for ecstasy.
#75 · 2
· on A Heart Filled by Storms · >>Cassius >>AndrewRogue
Not much to say at the start, but in the bunks, there's this HUGE infodump about sprites and rings and Riina's goal.

This gets good—gets REAL somewhere in these conversations with Per. But... the big confrontation is a bit lacking.

Sprites talk? Now that's a twist I can get behind! Minus fifty DKP for any "Listen!" jokes though.

Okay, I love this equality being shown. Binding both to each other is great emotional strength to this story.

Unfortnately, the ending falls a bit flat after that big peak. It's quick though, as epilogues go.

Overall, a relatively engaging story, with some great concepts. What it lacks is description and viscerality of place. That is, I need to see/feel/smell the world we're in, and this story's most detailed description was a light in a jar. I still don't even know hair colors, or weather, or anything about this setting.

Despite that, it's a good read. The ending is emotionally powerful, and—let's face it—does the proper My Little Pony thing of making friends instead of weaspons/powers/etc. I enjoyed this, but it needs to flesh out the color and taste of this world to really shine.

RE: >>Cassius Wow, how bad are you going to feel if this is NOT Andrew's story? :-)

Also, yeah, lots of good points, but... I stand by what I said because... This isn't a historical fiction about a real world dictator being overthrown! This is a friggin' fairytale about the evil king (duke) being slain by the literal fairy princess! The idea that fairies (sprites) aren't just a power source, but people in their own right is the double-down here. That the Fairy Queen wants to merge with the Peasant Girl is 100% pure fairy tale make believe sauce! It works BECAUSE it's so absolutely saccharine and trite. I could practically see the peppermint rainbows arcing out of their fusion. :-)
#76 · 1
· on A Heart Filled by Storms

Wow, how bad are you going to feel if this is NOT Andrew's story? :-)

I will humbly bequeath my "Best at Guessing AndrewRogue's Story Crown" in all its gem-encrusted glory to a worthy successor and fall on my sword as penance for my impudence.
#77 ·
· on The Eyes Behind Old Southern Charm
In defence of Cassius, and though I’m not an expert either, one of the ways people can react to child molestation involves distanciation and desire of revenge. I can envision a girl being raped in her childhood becoming a sort of sexual predator and maybe even using promiscuous sex as a means to mess up random men’s family life, the concept being here: you (i.e. men) did that to me once, now let me now return the favour. This proceeds from the desire for revenge, as aforementioned, doubled up by total numbness w/r to sex which the victim, because of what happened, cannot associate w/any form of fondness or love anymore (defence mechanism), and which in this case becomes a weapon.

The question remains open, though, if such a person would also become murderous in the way the fiction describes it.
#78 · 1
· on The Eyes Behind Old Southern Charm · >>Xepher

If she IS a young girl in this fictional bible-belt Arkansas, it's very unlikely that she found some more pleasant, enjoyable, (and importantly) regular/normalizing/healthy sex life in the time between her abuse and now. We're shown only her trauma, so when she compares that trauma to something good

I think you're misunderstanding me. I don't want this to be an whole separate debate, but, you're conflating what I mean—and to some extent you seem at odds with yourself. On the one hand, you've mentioned that the heightened sexuality of the girl in the gas station scene seems out of place retroactively, but at the same time, want to state that her sexual nature isn't an established character trait because it wasn't observed in the backstory if viewed linearly.

But, I want to cut to the core of the issue which is this: a person who suffers rape trauma may or may not have the connotations with sex you're trying express as a platitude, and that trauma doesn't necessarily inform their perspective on sex in one direction or the other—it's about how the individual copes with that trauma that informs their perspective.

she compares that trauma to something good

No, the comparison is sex to something good. Now again, you can raise the question of whether or not she's actually had sex at this point or really is speaking from experience, the plausibility of that, or just speaking on what she thinks sex is like. But I think it's incorrect to infer that her sexual trauma is wholly informative of a negative opinion on sex.

I think it is not unreasonable to infer that despite having sexual trauma, one can also experience or at least know that sexual gratification is something that feels good, and seek that gratification out. Additionally, I don't think it is out of the question that a person who hasn't had sex understands what sex is supposed to be like.

I would find myself agreeing with your commentary if she was established to have avoidant characteristics (didn't like to be touched, anxious around men, frightened by intimacy), and suddenly in that scene she's remarking how great sex feels, but that's not what happens. There's really no read in this story as far as I can tell that gives in the suggestion that she's experiencing those sorts of emotions, and a plethora of information supporting the idea that her experiences have warped her sexuality into a sadistic weapon. >>horizon uses the term "revenge porn", and to me that unintentionally is a perfect descriptor of her sexuality is portrayed.
#79 · 2
· on Chode Mustard · >>Cassius >>Icenrose
I seriously suspect this to be about something vulgar, and not the biblical/archaic past tense of "chiding." As such, I suspect it should be "Choad" not "Chode.' Now I shall read, and hope sincerely to be proven wrong.

"The Mullet of Cars" is a great line. Right up there with "Kid Rock is the people version of an Above Ground Pool."

At the funeral bit... this is a bit dark, but realistic and boring. I want the twist.

"The drummer is the heart of the band, the drummer is the soul of the band, the drummer is the core of the band, uh huh!" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EQRtVluGtDI

So, this was a weird one for me. It doesn't twist, it doesn't change, it doesn't double-down on anything. It just... tells a story that feels mostly believable (other than the wrong/alternative spelling of "choad") and life moving on.

I mostly feel warm toward this story, but the individual interactions of the characters kind of leave a bad taste of what male friendship is really like. I"m not saying this couldn't be accurate for some subset, but for most, this feels like a horrible stereotype of how "dudes" interact with each other. As white dude with decent income, I can never call foul on stereotyping, but if I could, this would be it... while still showing something real.

To give this all the benefits of the doubt, this "Chode Mustard" band feels like "The Generals" from the amazing and wonderful "Subnormality" web comic. If you don't understand, I promise you any comparison to Subnormality is the highest form of compliment you'll get. :-)

In defense of every other story then... :-)

The reason this isn't the top of my slate isn't because it's badly written, it's because it is telling an almost exact copy of a story I've seen too many times before. It doesn't reach for anything new, or any greater depth to character than lesser stories have already done. The funeral bit... My own brain was actually doing the "Press X to pay respects" meme because it was so cliche in the "but he would've liked it" bit.

I'm not saying this is a bad story, or even that cliche elements mean a story IS bad. But one of your main reasons for liking this story what that the characters are well fleshed out and play off one another. But to me... It sounded like just so much "Dude, what's mine say?" "Woah! What's mine say?" frat boy stereotypes from things like "Dude, Where's My Car."

Don't get me wrong, I actually loved that movie. But only because it was so ridiculous. #Zoltan! Not because it made sense. The majority of the dialogue here consist of the words "Fuck You" and the rest are debates about equally vile words/song titles. It reads like an early draft of the Tenacious D movie. Again, another fun movie (in the right mood) but this doesn't bring anything new.
#80 · 2
· on Chode Mustard

characters are well fleshed out

This a bit of an exaggeration. They're one note archetypes without much depth to them. They're archetypes, but they're identifiable and distinct from one another, and each one of their dispositions serves a purpose to the overarching story being told, which I think is quite a difficult feat to accomplish in any story, and I can't help but admire it on that front.

EDIT: wanted to add an additional comment—this is one of the few stories I can think of in the competition where the main character's overall disposition actually changes in reaction to the events of the story. There's a character arc here. Many other stories have the character start and end the story unchanged, their viewpoints unchallenged, and by the end are basically the same as when they started. The problem is solved by an outside force, a MacGuffin, what have you, and the plot ends. And maybe I'm just a sentiment dick, but I like when characters are able to grow within the story in response to the story's events, and change from the people that they started out as, even if it's a very small amount.
#81 ·
· on The Eyes Behind Old Southern Charm
It's more direct than that. The story (near) opens with:

And I have certainly sunk to the bottom. I’ve sunk to the deepest, darkest depths where no light dare shine: a veritable tar pit of sin and depravity from where there is no salvation and no choice but to drown in its bleakness. I don’t mind going to Hell.

She's obviously talking about her crime, but she isn't describing ecstasy or good things. She isn't connecting her actions with positive feelings or anything of the sort. All her connections to her recent actions seem to suggest she views them as bad. So, it feels out of character for her to later say they were "purest ecstasy" when they've already been described by her as "a veritable tar pit of sin and depravity."

I'm not saying a person can't have two minds about an event at different times, I'm saying that CHANGE of mind in how she views the event isn't explained.

In other words, I'm not saying "rape victims (must) always think this way." I'm saying a character (in a story) thinking and describing things one way, needs to, at the very least, explain herself and her reasons for changing her mind, if she later describes the exact same event as engendering the absolute opposite emotions/viewpoint.

Again, not speaking for all victims, just criticizing this particular story for not giving enough reasoning to a character's seeming change of feeling/emotion regarding a key event.
#82 · 2
· on A Heart Filled by Storms · >>AndrewRogue
This story did good until the end. It takes the time to reach its destination and that's a good thing in my book, but when the journey is over, when the confrontation happens, it feels like Sangoku SSJ3 fighting against Yamcha. She raises her hand, and voilà, the bad guy is burnt to ashes.

It may sound stupid (and it probably is), but I feel like this story needs more words. More words for the ending, obviously, but also more words for Riina struggles. I mean, we get that her situation is shitty, but we don't really see it being shitty. She tells us her life is hard, but we don't really see how hard it is.

Another thing related to that, I was surprised we didn't see her hunting for sprites. We learn that she has done it, but we don't see her leaving the house late at night, hiding in the shadows to not get caught by Duke Dickhead. And I feel like it would strengthen the message that you find what you have craved for only when you're not looking for it.

Anyway, even if the story is very cliché and doesn't really re-invent anything, it was still executed quite well , and thus it's very enjoyable. Too bad that the ending was so rushed.
#83 ·
· on Plane-Jumper · >>Xepher
Hrm. I guess the point of jumping is so they can send scouts and messengers without worrying about enemy interference? That sounds mildly useful, especially if one was behind enemy lines, but I'm honestly not sure it would be worth the investment, given the apparent cost of the equipment and training, and taking into account how unsafe it is.

Some of the worldbuilding is neat, but... As much as I want to like it, I'm kinda annoyed by the fact that your MC only makes, like, one decision the entire time. The rest of it is following orders, panicking and running, and being lectured at. As such, I didn't really feel like there was much to be emotionally invested in. At first, I thought it gave some contrast to her character - she actually cares enough about the war and what to not just follow the path of least resistance - but then I realized that she's still just following orders from the beginning of the story. Well, at least she makes a decision to do so.

Er, this never really addresses any of the problems timetravel tends to introduce. Have they changed the past by doing this? Will the future by wiped out if they help those men, and win the battle? Maybe this is worth considering, before the feathery one goes back in time?

This is an alright story. I just wish there was a bit more to the narrative, and a bit more depth to the character. As-is, it's not really doing much for me emotionally.
#84 ·
· on The Great Color of the Sky · >>Xepher
Oh yeah, I read this one but didn’t comment.

It is a weird one. The prose is not bad, but not good either. I found nothing to grouch about, but nothing stands out either. So, passing grade for this.

The story feels disjointed. We have that boy exploring a wood, a storm closes in, it chucks down and lightning almost acts as if it was homing in on the boy for no apparent reason. Then we switch to a later point in time, where the same guy has to deal with another storm. Okay, I accept that his former experience resulted in some sort of trauma – I myself, when I was five,was sleeping in a remote cottage when lighting struck, causing a ball of fire to erupt in the chimney. Although I wasn’t harmed, I was left with a persistent fear of thunderstorms that took years to wear off.

But then what happens is strange. First, cars are Faraday’s cages by virtue of their bodywork being metallic (at least until recently), this has nothing to do with tyres. The electricity is led to the ground from the tyres’ hubs by means of a secondary electrical arc.

But that’s nitpick. That thunderbolt sends the guys back in time, but then… so little happens. This is so underwhelming. And then we’re told this was maybe just a dream after all, or we’re left wondering without any clear explanation. Was that a skullduggery set up by aliens to carry out an experiment on the guy? Some other trick of a huffy god? No one knows, and that lack of explanation plus the meh arc of the second part doesn’t add up to make it a very interesting story.

Add flesh, complexity the plot and maybe you have something interesting. Though I’ve already read long ago a SciFi book like this based on the same idea.
#85 ·
· on The Giving, Free
We've seen our share of stories that were rushed towards the end in order to submit them before the deadline. It's something known, and even if it plays its role when it comes down to ranking, I believe we tend to show some mercy.

However, the whole story feels rushed. I'll side with >>Baal Bunny, saying that this is a very nice and intriguing draft. But in the end, it is only a draft, and there are a lot of areas you could cover.

As mentionned, we could learn what was the relationship between the woman and the god. We could also see the woman and Ushas' interactions, instead of just having a sentence "we became friends". The same goes for Ushas' husband, Simon. He's mentionned in one sentence to never be mentionned again or even appear. There are some more, but I believe you get my point. See >>Baal Bunny for other suggestions.

Also, there are some sentences that I feel should be removed, like this one:
As a quant for a big name trading firm, I make a looooot of money. But, that means I also have a lot of responsibility, and that my job is very hard.

That's almost a pure statement for the reader "hello reader, here is my situation". Since the next sentences describe what her job consists in, we don't need to read that it's hard, but rather see how it is hard. And we see it with the faerie's laughter price. So drop the sentence I quoted, you better off without it, I believe.

Also, your first two sentences are kinda misleading in retrospect.
I only take drugs so that I can be a better mother.

As long as I remember that, it's okay.

With sentence slike these, I'm expecting the drugs to play a major role in the story. The second sentence especially implies that she is not really only taking drugs to be a better mother, and that there is another reason that will be revealed later. So when Ushas offers her help, and thus, the mother doesn't need to take drugs anymore, I'm surprised to not see the drugs reappear.

There are other minor problems (some of them are mostly a matter of taste), and even if it seems like I have a lot of reproachs to voice, I still enjoyed it, and it's because I see a great potential in this. All the bits are there.
So if by any chance you think what I said has any kind of value, I'm willing to offer my help if you want to rework it (find me on Discord with a PM). Or, you know, you can simply dismiss the rambling of a guy who doesn't know shit about writing (which is obvious when you look at his scoreboard), and who onlyy try to pretend he's not completely clueless.

PS: First half of my slate without a doubt
#86 · 1
· on A Heart Filled by Storms · >>AndrewRogue >>AndrewRogue
I’d like to love this story more than I do, but I cannot. It has too many quirks.

Let’s begin by the sometimes weird prose: They had all been gathered out back of the house before they’d had more time to do anything other than dress before they had, for all intents and purposes, been dragged out to the gardens with very little in the way of explanation. ??? also You would expect that given how long Lord Deniel has been running this operation that he would have taken steps to install more permanent fixtures. (double ‘that’ instead of commas).

The setup here is interesting, however we don’t get enough information to really appreciate it. What is the “triumvirate”? How was the former chief overthrown/deposed? Why? What powers do your magi hold? We never see one using his. Aren’t they frauds after all?

The characters are a bit cardboard cutout: we get the good former leader’s daughter who dreams to retake power and recreate the world before the evil lord sent by an unknown, but supposedly unconcerned power, took over, and the neutral, but civilised, envoy who’s trying to mitigate things but whose agency is severely limited.

But really, what put me off is the Mary Sue ending. This tastes so contrived to me it broke almost all immersion. The girl goes out (how?), finds a sprite (despite the land being all but deprived of them); she manages to capture it at the first try (how deft she is!), the sprite turns out to be a castaway princess (how fortunate!) who knows a spell everyone else has forgotten (what a memory she has) and the spell works (surprise!), instantly given our heroine the power to trounce the evil lord that seemed so frightening just a few moments ago.

So yeah, pitch that ending and rewrite something more “realistic”. Your readers will thank you.

To finish on a positive note, except for the two aforementioned cases, the prose is rather good, the pacing of the story is fair, although the first paragraphs are very info-dumpy. I ranked it mid-slate on its technical prowess, but please, I beg you, expand it and change the ending.
#87 ·
· on Djinn
The setup here is interesting because we have a tale set in an Oriental/Arabic-like word, yet the rulers are female. Alas, instead of building on that premise and developing it, you simply make your female characters act like males, so at the end it makes no difference. That’s a pity, because it would’ve been interesting to explore how female-emirs/caliphs/sultans… would govern w/r to their male counterparts.

At a broader scale, there’s nothing really new here. It’s sort of mashup of ideas, which doesn’t mean it’s a bad mashup, but it’s a bit lacklustre. We don’t really understand why Zephyr elects to stay and befriend the girl, given the hatred Djinns seem to nurture against humans. The scene with the clerk acts like a distraction, since it doesn’t have any consequences on the plot or the characters. You could redact it and nothing would change.

Once the Human/Djinn alliance is sealed, the rest of the story is fairly straightforward, and the end predictable. I haven’t watched Aladdin so I can’t comment on the reference here.

At a technical level, I think the story is okay. The prose does not shine, but doesn’t seem lacking either.

As a final nitpick, I’d add two things. First, the girl has a hell of a night vision to be able to distinguish remote lakes and mountains at night – and I hope they travelled vertically, since the girl cannot leave the premises of the castle. Second, I’m surprised in such a world they have no magic carpet to fly on.
#88 · 1
· on Encounter at Farpoint · >>Monokeras

I mean, this is a cute discussion, but both participants unwillingness to actually stick to a point and argue it is rather... unsatisfying. Even if, in the end, they both agreed that their points can't be resolved, I'd have much rather seen one of them actually try to draw a conclusion. Zeus throws up a bunch of ideas, ignores the implications, and then vanishes, while Franklin give some idealistic half-answers then rolls his eyes at the end and then goes back to work. Even if there's food for thought for someone who's never considered these ideas before, neither character really seems to care much, and so I find myself mostly disinterested as well. In the end, I kinda feel like Zeus argues himself out of the picture. If dreams are enough for gods, why should they not suffice for men?

It's engaging enough, I guess. I'd like a bit more drama, maybe, or at least some emotions, somewhere.
#89 · 1
· on Djinn and Tonic
Well, I liked this one.

I wish the sleep-mumble thing was a bit less out of left field. I also wish the 'yelling at the genie' tied into the ending more tightly; make it so that her willingness to stand up against her problems, even if it's just verbally, is more tightly tied into actually solving some of them. Sure, it's there, but I'd like to see it more elaborated on. I don't want to say more 'obvious', but maybe... more thematically linked? Something like that. A hint as to how/why the genie ended up being caught might be nice, too. The subversion/un-subversion mostly worked for me, but tying the genie's 'just try harder' into the MC's 'don't give up' attitude might be nice, as well.

Overall, this had a lot of good character moments in it, and hit a really good line between dense prose and information density. Great work!
#90 · 1
· on Chode Mustard · >>Icenrose

This feels like a complete story; it has a real arc, it has some good character moments, it has a strong hook, and it pulls some emotion out of it, although mainly at the end there. It does manage to capture a fairly complex feeling - the one you get when a chapter in your life ends, and another begins, and you can't really pin down whether that's good or bad - fairly well for me, and I did like that.

I'd would like to see more done with the middle, I think; the profile here is basically a low-high-low pattern, and it does that pretty well, but I think the ending would land better if the highs were higher, and the middle was expanded on a bit more. Showing both more of the good times and the bad times, whatever they were, would give both sides of the ending, from Jay and Miguel, more impact, I think.

Overall, this is pretty good work. It's not really the sort of thing I'd chose to read by myself, but I enjoyed it, and it felt like it was worth my time, even if I think it definitely could hit harder. Thanks for writing.
#91 · 1
· on A Heart Filled by Storms · >>AndrewRogue

I see sort of two arcs in this story. The first one is Riina the villager changing into Riina the chief; the second is Riina the child turning into Riina the mage. They're both seem pretty straightforwards; the first starts with her oppression under Deniel, and ends with her overthrowing Deniel, the second starts with her watching the sprites and ends with her binding a sprite. Per instigates the first one, when he reveals just how little justice exists in the world, but the second one... just kinda happens. I'd have liked to see more about her 'grow up to be a sprite' come into the binding bit, because I feel like that should be more thematic. The motivations of the sprite also seem pretty opaque; their (her?) actions don't particularly seem to fit with what we've seen of the character, which is, admittedly, not much.

I wish there was a bit more rationalization for the ending. Is she really powerful enough to hold onto what she's seized? What's the reason that this sort of binding has been left behind, if it's so very powerful? She recognizes what's suggested as 'obscene', but still goes through with it; was that just because she felt desperate?

I can't help but feel that she's buying into 'might makes right' at the end, and I'm a little meh on that.

There's some good stuff here. I think fleshing out the character of the sprite and expanding on why Riina accepts this sort of bonding, and what that means for her and her village, would make this stronger though.
#92 ·
· on Djinn
The strength of the opening is belied by the title a bit.

"This was my first time, after all, and it wasn’t like anyone ever told me about the process." Sounds... well, a cliche excuse for "something has gone wrong" if not an outright euphemism for sex.

"You may call me Zephyr." Hey, I resemble that remark/name!

"...Proper Princess... Prickled..." You're playing with phire, author.

Tense slips a bit, with "It's an obvious statement" instead of "was."

The familiar/modern language feels a bit at odds with the Princesses' own tone.

A lot of "longing" phrases in how Amy describes Zephyr. Lesbian stuff, we get it. Let's get there.

"Old legend... but isn't relevant" trope: check!

"labyrinthine maze" is a double twice repeat. :-)

Very, very quick rejection of mother.

The clarity of things starts to fade as the fight happens.

Author, you already saw this yourself. Previously it was "Seven unbonded Djinnn" and now it's "Six." Oops. We take your meaning though.

So that ends the play by play. It obviously was a bit more in depth than I typically do, but this story felt more competant than most. It has a very clear idea and core concept, which I like. It has characters which are relatively well felshed out, if a bit anachronistic in their language. Bottom line: I thrash the things I like.

This story is good. It is a fairytale proper, and should be proud of that. What it needs to work on is language/tone, as it alternates between ancient-ish high brow and more-or-less modern slang.

The other main problem is the overall events in the kingdom. We see hints and glimpses of the state of things, but for the most part, we are locked into a single viewpoint/gaze on a single character.
#93 · 2
· on Tapecutting
The first scene, I feel, is largely unnecessary and puts us quite a distance from the hook (and, broadly speaking, we rehash their interaction post earthquake anyway, so it isn't like that information is immediately needed). In addition, because of the proximity of the first and second scenes, it seems a little weird for the two of them to not recognize each other more immediately given that it feels like (and actually seems like, reading the text) they were literally talking 5 minutes ago. I'm not the best with names and faces, but even I can usually recognize people that well.

To focus in on what Horizon says, I think the big issue with the story clicking is that the two don't really feel like they get to know each other. They share their backstories and motivations, but they don't really connect as people. There isn't a big inciting moment where they come to understand each other. Dig into the drama of the situation more. Remember, you know these characters are safe, but they don't. A building that has partially collapsed on you might well be one that further collapses on you.

These should be at least somewhat edgy people who could be in their last conversation with someone. They don't need to be sharing dark secrets or anything, but you need to really bring in the humanity and give these two a reason to connect as characters. The idea and setup is there, you just need to refine it a bit.
#94 ·
· on The Eyes Behind Old Southern Charm · >>Cassius >>Cassius
Hm, hm.

Writing quality is high, with solidly realized voicing and everything. Story pacing is generally solid. Horizon is correct that you should hit the dead priest hook earlier to set up a mystery with some teeth that you can fill in later. The beginning is far too ambiguous to be really engaging, leaving us quite a while before we get to any sort of meat, but it still flows very smoothly.

Speaking of meat, the meat here is... a bit on the melodramatic side, even for me. This is a very Kill Bill revenge fantasy take on the concept. I largely disagree with Horizon and end up feeling that this stays firmly rooted in its revenge porn/exploitation structure. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing (though if it was unintentional, do note it, obviously), but it ends up making the whole thing bounce off on me on the whole. It is just so loud, and big, and bombastic that I end up having trouble taking the real tragedy as seriously as I should.

I do get it. Emotions are big sometimes. Real life is melodramatic. But the combination of all present factors just ends up being far too much for me to deal with the weightier emotions on the back end of the story.

Also, I think this came up in chat maybe, but while I get the obvious implications, boy does it deflate the triumph of that ending imagining her going in there and it being something like "Oh, I got hit by a baseball."
#95 ·
· on Night lights
I have a hard time reviewing this one. It seemed solid overall, but also understated – it didn’t really leave a huge impression on me.

Characters and their interactions were a strong point, the level of detail felt appropriate. What might have bogged down another story felt appropriate for the more personal, somewhat reflective theme. The somewhat unreliable narrator generally worked, although as horizon mentioned, the tone does have some variance.

The plot was relatively straightforward; it got the job done, but wasn’t particularly memorable. I did like some of the nuances, particularly their ‘summertime theme’ they had going. Their ritual was kind of neat as well, though some of the effect was lost because I basically saw where it was going due to the prompt.

Overall, it struck me as an enjoyable character piece, but without a strong takeaway.
#96 ·
· on Verbal Battery · >>Cassius
Like, why are Anji and Kevan dating? There is nothing here to indicate he is at all a likable person. In fact, all evidence points to him being, at best, a massive tool. Like, Anji seems amazingly well adjusted for living with this fuck. I mean, it also seems like he isn't particularly -good- in his own field either. In addition to creating what feels like the worst meta concept elemental for power generation ever, he also doesn't seem to understand the concept of volition. Or results. Or what the fuck communication is.

Seriously, Kevan is an albatross on this story, and he functions way more like an idiot boss than a loved one.

There really is some cool stuff here, but I feel it kinda ends up lost in the fact that the magic system... isn't really well enough realized for a lot of the core concepts to sink in. Like, his plan seems to be create meta elemental, ???, create energy. Is there any reason for this idea to work? What is the actual difference between what he is trying to do and what Anji is doing? Ultimately it is about getting it to cast spells (though that raises the question of how that is fundamentally different from just having a person do it, maybe).

Ultimately though, even this is secondary to Kevan. I know I've spent a lot of time complaining, but there is a good story that I really want to like in here. Anji is good fun, as is no. The concept is novel enough for me. The setting is that fun brand of fantasy meets modern that I dig. Kevan is just stomping all over it. You don't have to make him good or even likable or anything. You just need to make him not be the wrongest, jackassiest, antagonistiest fucker ever. He seriously might as well kick a puppy and eat a kitten here.
#97 ·
· on Verbal Battery
It started off on the wrong foot for me, thanks to the title – ‘verbal battery’ has a closer mental association to a criminal act, than to an energy storage device.

I liked the overall arc – it felt balanced between the three characters, and the pacing worked. I was sometimes perplexed by the conflict; maybe I’m not well enough tuned to academia, but I didn’t really see what the dude’s problem was with what she was doing, particularly since she was getting results.

I liked the gradual development of communications, and in particular it did a good job of conveying a sense of alienness to the exchanges.

The overall concept was clever; the whole meta-elemental idea. The pedant in me wonders just how this whole energy system works, but hey, magic.

Overall it worked pretty well for me; the setting seemed interesting, and I liked the variety of perspectives in play.
#98 · 1
· on Djinn and Tonic
So the biggest issue here is the actual story comes and goes very fast once it actually arrives. While there is some pleasant scene setting going on, it goes on too long for the story you are actually planning to tell. There is no real arc here. She is bummed, she discovers the genie, tells the genie to GTFO, is rewarded. We don't really see her come to these conclusions and reach this point in the emotional arc or anything. She's already there.

I feel like this story would benefit more from starting at the genie, then getting us from the point where she has this to the point where she goes "no, this is all bullshit." That's what you need to sell us on: both why she is willing to reject the genie (in what is arguably a bad choice - at least get your kid set for life!) and why her rejection is strong enough to overcome Solomon's curse.

The other thing I will state is that I might recommend making her situation a bit less dire. I mean, realistically, being beaten down by life does not require -everything- to go horribly wrong, and, in fact, I think it resonates a little better when it doesn't. A big thing or two is enough. Once it is cheating husband, rumors being spread, job failing, sexism on the job, friends abandoning her, losing her home, etc, etc, etc, it does trend towards reading as almost farcically tragic. Not to say that things don't get this bad in real life ever, but, well, truth stranger than fiction as they say. Much like my melodrama comments back on Eyes, the truth is sometimes accuracy to the situation doesn't always read well.

EDIT: Also, since no one else said it. Har, har, Magic of Friendship. :p
#99 ·
· on Djinn and Tonic
As others pointed out, there were several shortcomings: there’s hardly any hook, the story is slow paced and mostly infodumpy until the jar appears, and the end feels, at least to me, quite unsatisfactory.

On the other side, the prose is mostly fine, and I especially liked the sort of blowing up the woman experiences with the djinn. There’s something nice here, but somehow it’s like a flash in the pan, it only lasts for a few paragraphs.

I’d recommend chopping into the first part to keep the expo as brief as possible, and limited to essential facts. As Andrew pointed out, the pile-up of mishaps the woman suffers sounds like a way to railroad the reader into liking her. It really goes overboard. On the other hand, the dialogue with the djinn should be expanded, as this is the real core of the story.

I’m not sure this will clear finals, but good luck nonetheless.
#100 ·
· on Verbal Battery · >>Cassius
Lots of magic handwavium words to start off with here. Sets a bit of a tone, but doesn't feel quite solid.

Some minor issues, like him looking at a book then pulling his gaze away from glassware (that had not been described) and later, explaining to Anji what her own specialization means.

The meat of the story takes off pretty quickly, but as this is all completely made up magical "rules" none of the technical jargon is advancing the story so far. I'm hoping there's a great payoff though.

The book/not-book part is making me think "not hotdog" from Silicon Valley.

Starting to think this is going to turn into some variation of "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream."

Okay, so it didn't go dark, and actually had a bit of a happy ending. I enjoyed the readthrough, as (like most authors) I'm inhernetly interested in linguistics. But this story is still weak on two things.

Thing one: All the magic jargon is just so much "noise" in the story, since this isn't a known/established universe of magic that the reader knows and can follow along with. A little bit gives the story verisimilitude, but I feel this over does it, just taking up wordcount and slowing the pace.

Thing two: The main story here is a trope that's been done a lot. It's the newly sentient AI program or robot, it's uplifting apes in planet of the apes, it's first contact with an alien, etc. The eventual moral dilemma is the same in many of those as well... bad guy wants slave/power/control, good guy recognizes it needs to be treated like a human.

Overall, it reads well and has decent characterization, but due to the overused main plot point, feels like it doesn't show me anything genuinely new or that I couldn't see coming.