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Message in a Bottle · Original Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
Show rules for this event
#1 ·
#2 ·
Sorry, I have little inspiration these days. I should rouse myself from sleep.
#3 ·
Dangit, this conflicts with my schedule a bit. Time to hammer away at my calendar
#4 ·
Ugh. This pops up just before I have exams? Whyyyyyyy.
#5 · 4
· · >>Internet Tough Guy
Ooh, some of these prompts are good! Looking forward to crafting a well-rounded, thought-provoking story an incoherent mess because real life predictably became unpredictable something in response to one of them.
#6 ·
· · >>Monokeras >>Celsius
Whoa there, buddy pal chum chum sonny jim friend bucko! Let's try to keep ourselves to realistic expectations, here!

In other news, if the prompt ends up being something silly, I don't think I'll be able to enter. I have no sense of humor and a quiet demeanor, so levity is 200% the opposite of my forte. :P Also, brevity is the soul of wit, so that means I'm disqualified by default. Original fiction might be doable on its own, but lighthearted/silly/humorous original fiction, AT THE SAME TIME?

#7 ·
· · >>Internet Tough Guy
>>Internet Tough Guy
Write gloomy/depressing/disheartening original fiction, that’s all. Like: the world is rotten to the core, and the people still more.
#8 ·
Oops, I missed the first post. Too bad, I had these cool music lyrics rewritten. Maybe next time.
#9 ·
Damn I keep missing the prompt submission because I always think it follows the minific schedule.
#10 · 2
Well, I've decided to return from my self-induced sabbatical. I'll write something for this go-around.
#11 ·
But pessimism and misanthropy are both total bullhonkey! :P There's infinitely more to being depressing/gloomy/disheartening/sad than those!

Fair enough though.
#12 · 5
· · >>GroaningGreyAgony >>MLPmatthewl419
Here is a Man, Neither Fish nor Fowl, Who Stood Up. Born to Be Wild? You Can’t Do That. Now What? Fractured Fairy Tales, A New & Improved Magic System!

A Copious Amount of Alcohol: Tragedy Tomorrow, Comedy Tonight! Five More Minutes, Crash and Burn. Buck the rules, write ponies! I Hold You Responsible for My Failure to Communicate.

The Blights Within Us, Liminal Spaces After Dark Behind Closed Doors. Heroic Propaganda: All Roads Lead to Home.

Message in a Bottle, A Haunting Song Out of the Darkest Storm Dungeon – The Concept of Motherhood in a Spacetime Vacuum, Going Down, Among the Clouds, With the Ship At the End of An Endless Road.

She Should Be Walking By Now.

I'm no GroaningGreyAgony, but I figured I would try.
#13 · 2
>>Hagdal Hohensalza
Nice! Let’s see how we compare.
#14 · 4
· · >>MLPmatthewl419
Here is a Man Who Stood Up At the End of An Endless Road… Heroic Propaganda, Going Down With the Ship. Behind Closed Doors, A Haunting Song, Liminal Spaces After Dark.

Among the Clouds, Five More Minutes Out of the Storm…

“The Concept of Motherhood in a Spacetime Vacuum; She Should Be Walking by Now! Born to Be Wild!”

“Neither Fish nor Fowl. ‘Buck the rules, write ponies!’ You Can’t Do That--”

“I Hold You Responsible for My Failure to Communicate The Blights Within Us.”

“A Copious Amount of Alcohol? Message in a Bottle.”

“Fractured Fairy Tales. Tragedy Tomorrow, Comedy Tonight!”

“Crash and Burn: A New & Improved Magic System!”

All Roads Lead to Home, Darkest Dungeon.

Now What?
Post by Miller Minus , deleted
#16 ·
>>Hagdal Hohensalza
After some minutes of thought and a few readings of each one, I have to say I prefer GGA's. Hagdal's was a real sweet try, but GGA's just fit together better. I blame his age
#17 · 1
Ooh, I've got an idea I like. I'll try to sneak an entry in. And maybe even get back into the reviewing saddle. :)
#18 ·
· · >>Internet Tough Guy
Hmm... I haven't go so much a definite idea, more a collection of potentially interesting concepts and plot points.

However, seeing as that is considerably better than what I'm usually left breathing life into, I'm feeling pretty chipper.

>>Internet Tough Guy
Well well well, a prompt that doesn't scream light-hearted silliness. You've got no excuses now! ;)
#19 · 1
Dammit! I suppose I can't weasel my way out of this one. I have a few ideas, but my next two days are booked.

Writing on a double time crunch. Sure, easy enough.
#20 · 2
· · >>Baal Bunny >>BlueChameleonVI
I'll be hanging out in the #mentors channel on the Discord server if anyone wants help or advice. You can ping me by name or use @mentor to ping both me and NikitaKitten.
#21 · 2
Welp, I've submitted something. Time to see if I can do a hat trick and enter with more than one story.
#22 ·

I may just:

Take you up on that if I've got a rough draft finished by tonight.

#23 · 1
Alright! I'll be doing two entries this round.
#24 ·
· · >>libertydude
Hmm, looking doubtful. Unfortunately my family can't seem to understand "Can I please be left alone this weekend to write", and, coupled with my desire to submit something that isn't half-assed and rushed, I can see this slipping me by.
#25 ·
Same here. I seem to only be able to do anything for these writeoffs when it's minifics or when I'm away from my family at college. I can't do anything when everybody wants to hang out and bond.

Sad thing is that there's a lot I want to write about. Guess I'll just have to do it on my own time. I won't be able to do anything for this round, but I'll be sure to read and comment on everybody else's.
#26 · 2
Man, I think this is the earliest I've ever submitted to a short-story round.

Looking forward to my reading!
#27 · 1
· · >>CoffeeMinion >>GaPJaxie
Someone tell me to finish writing this utter crap.
#28 · 2
Finish writing this utter crap!
#29 · 2

#30 · 3
I didn’t think I would have time to write this weekend, but a little idea came to me and I have finished it. Good luck, everyone!
#31 ·
I have 6 free hours to hammer out an entry, and I have work tomorrow. Ugh. Why do these show up when I'm at my busiest? I don't think I'll be making it this time. Sorry gents.
#32 · 5
· · >>Miller Minus
#33 · 1
Why can I only thumb this up once?
#34 · 1
Well, looks like we have fifteen entries, thus ensuring I can place no lower than 16. I managed to get my entry in despite my wife's best efforts at getting the garage cleaned and all the garage sale stuff set up for next week, and I think it shows. Really, I need nonpony practice.

Let the evaluations commence!
#35 · 2
· on Amaterasu: I Am Here, and So Are You · >>BlueChameleonVI
Carefully, Fenton eased his creaking joints and muscles into the seat and let out a breath.

#36 · 4
· on The Storyteller and the Glassblower's Son · >>Baal Bunny >>Hap
Let the evaluations commence, indeed!

This is an enjoyable fantasy story, except apparently it's kind of not fantasy?, and I had a few odd experiences with it as I struggled to adjust my expectations midstream. We're introduced to Hob, Ratimir and Dalibor, which sounded to my ears like generic fantasy names, until in the second scene we hear about "Engilram of the Saxons", and Saxon is definitely an actually-on-Earth thing. Then we hear about King Bogomil of Polencin, which grounds us firmly in fantasy again (or at least my googling failed to find any real-world analogues for either of those) — except later in the story we get the dialogue "Head west, to Italy. Or north to Saxony", and there's no way that ISN'T supposed to be set in Europe or some alternate-universe version of it.

(note: If Italy is west, then Saxony isn't north. It's northwest at best. I struggled for a while to figure out where this was supposed to be set, under the assumption that using Earth names meant it's supposed to be historical fiction — and while many of the parts line up, like being east of Italy and many of the names being of Eastern European origin, other parts like Polencin and Bogomil left me stranded. The best guess I've got is that "Lord Borivoi" is supposed to be Duke Borivoj, which sets this in Bohemia around the 9th century, except that's way north of Italy.

And, ironically, given the story you tell, while "Bogomil" is a perfectly cromulent regional name — being Slavic for "dear to God" — what Bogomil is most closely associated with is a gnostic movement called Bogomilism whose followers "refused to pay taxes, to work in serfdom, or to fight in conquering wars".)

That all feels nitpicky, so take the critique with a grain of salt. But frankly, over half of my time engaging with this story has been trying to figure out what the heck your setting is, and I'd much rather have been focusing on the story itself. :( It would be very easy to back your names away from real ones if you're trying to give it a fantasy-Europe feel, but if you're trying to make it historically accurate by using names of actual dukes, etc., it should be actually accurate. Right now you're splitting the difference and it's pretty disorienting to me.

But pulling back from that into a more general "how's the story" …

First of all, author, I really appreciate a lot of the heavy lifting this does through implication; as much as I just criticized the setting incoherence above, the fact that all of that worldbuilding is worked in subtly and quietly means that the story invites engagement from readers trying to tease out those little details, and the source of my disappointment is that I followed that invitation and got lost — as opposed to many stories where I don't even get that chance. I really want to see everything lined up with a later editing pass, because this sort of layering in of background detail is absolutely the right way to draw us into a rich world. If anything, I'd like to see more subtle detail brought out that way, because this is one of the rare stories that I feel doesn't tell us enough, rather than the usual mistake of overcorrecting toward exposition.

The second biggest example of that is Hob. We never get a physical description, other than the scar he shows us, which threw me at a critical plot point. He doesn't react to the boys as someone closer to their generation than to Dalibor's, nor does Dalibor ever treat him as a much younger man. Based on the initial framing, I had pictured him as an older man, retired from a full life of adventuring rather than just a few years of it. So when Hob takes Ratimir's place in the back room of the glassblowing shop, what should have been a really awesome moment was spoiled somewhat by the "Wait, what?" effect of everyone just rolling with Dalibor calling him son. I would establish his relative youth WAY earlier, perhaps along with some further framing of the effects of the injury that caused him to lay off adventuring so young. (The burn never seems to cause him pain or restrict his actions, and if we don't see him injured enough to affect his viability as a fighter, I'll assume he has to have "aged out" of the profession.)

Aside from that, though, I loved the ending twist. The story as a whole was good, really. It felt well-paced and the characters were vibrant for the space we got. The only one I never got a good read on was Dalibor; twice he heckles Hob for lying, is immediately shown up with evidence, and then just pivots into rolling with what Hob says without acknowledging their disagreement. He needs some more consistency that isn't "guy who hates the protagonist for unexplained reasons". I'd love to see a little more backstory worked in that explained why he's so hostile in the first place.

All in all, this was an enjoyable start to my reading. If anything drags it down my slate it'll be the aforementioned roughness of the current draft, which should be easy to fix with editing. Thanks for sharing!

Tier: Strong
#37 · 1
· on آل دَرْب آل ظَلام · >>horizon >>Monokeras
The setting is something different from the usual, so this had my interest.

After the initial scene, there's about three sections of exposition which nearly killed my interest. how to operate a train, worldbuilding, how to operate a train pt 2. Even though something's happening and the character is physically traveling, it felt to me like the story was being put on hold just to show off little details. To be fair, there's an interesting contrast set up here in the confrontation for the next scene - the manager and his harsh sudden demands - but that just made the tone of the previous train-driving narration feel even more weird. Instead of a tranquil slice of life, it was more like a dull lecture. There's potential here, though!

Then I got to the 2nd half of the story, and... what?


So all along it was a ghost story? I had no idea. The ending just fizzles out, and I'm not sure what this fic is trying to communicate. I'm more bewildered than spooked.
#38 ·
· on Warmer Than Snow
This is not too bad as a World War I story. But for a science fiction story, I'm not too impressed. Time travel is a really common subject, and it feels like I've seen these ideas many times before. One problem is that the ending doesn't really feel like a clever twist, probably because it's foreshadowed too strongly. And as a love story, it's way too rushed for me to sympathize with Helen falling in love.

Wouldn't writing down his thoughts on paper be a more secure record to survive into the future than a phonograph?

Fucking cardboard soles!

“—fucking cardboard soles!”

It's inconsistent with the use of quotes, like right here. It's more than just a minor technical issue, because I was sure that he was just thinking those lines instead of saying them into the recording.
#39 · 1
· on Amaterasu: I Am Here, and So Are You · >>BlueChameleonVI
“What? I recognized it, didn’t I? Anyway, languages ain’t my thing.”

“‘Aren’t’ my thing,” corrected Amaterasu hopelessly. “Let it go. We’ve got bigger things to worry about. The rest of this place, for a start.”

* "We've bigger things to worry about."


I'm finding it difficult to keep up with the narration here. It seems to jump between narration and Amaterasu's inner thoughts. About a third of the way through, it seems to settle into something more consistent.

I really don't get the ending though. Was there a bioweapon? Was Amata... I'm just going to call her Theresa. Was Theresa's condition due solely to starvation, or infection from the bioweapon? Also, I have no idea where all the notes in the bottles came from. Did Theresa put them in there to entertain Melissa? Did they actually - by some incredible coincidence - come from other space stations that were mentioned? Because my best guess as to what happened was that Theresa was trying to save Melissa by eating less, which weakened her immune system to the point that she was infected by the residues of the bioweapon that remained on the bottles after the infected crews of the other abandoned space stations realized they were infected and sent out messages, but they had heard the same factoid about Walker.

That's the most sense I can make of it all. Also, is that... shipping? Right there at the end? I'm honestly not sure whether Theresa is telling Melissa that she's into her, or that they're infected with a bioweapon and must not infect the rescue crew, or that she's hallucinating something?

Also, I'm like 70% sure that Theresa is human. It honestly took me a very long time to (mostly) rule out that she was an alien species.
#40 ·
· on Call Waiting · >>Monokeras
So... not only did she get a mysterious call begging for help, but also a possibly different mysterious caller has her cell phone number and knows she is on her way to Winter Haven, FL, and is trying to convince her to not investigate?

I like the character of Mary, but I'm pretty confused as to what's happening.
#41 · 1
· on S.O.S.
This one is interesting.

It seems odd that there are so many islands, and so many solitary castaways, and I must conclude that there must have been some apocalypse, to flood the earth? But then, if the network of bottle-pen-pals is so vast, with no rescue possible for years, then who is out there to see the beacon? What is the purpose of it?

It kind of seems like this entire story is allegory of being a FiMFiction user, honestly.

Florid prose, but the message in this bottle seems to have gone over my head.
#42 ·
· on Warmer Than Snow
Haven't read this (past the first line) yet, but, https://youtu.be/vmd1qMN5Yo0
#43 ·
· on Warmer Than Snow
The number f typos in the makes it a bid difficult to red.

It's not bad. A summertime chick flick, if it was made into a movie.
#44 ·
· on Stranded

This is interesting. At first, I thought this was about a video game. Noop!

A lot of typos.

A superhero trapped in a fantasy world. Interesting.

Beyond typos. Misspellings?


So, overall, this feels like a fanfiction. I'm not saying that's a bad thing. There's much FiM fanfic that is far and away better than published original novels that I've read on paper. But this story in particular seems like there's a lot of backstory that I'm not privy to, and that I should have known to understand the story. That, and the protagonist is a god-tier Gary Stu.
#45 ·
· on Burr Oak Estates
Someone didn't read the style guide! Style guide.

Not that there's anything wrong with formatting a story like this (though the lack of line breaks should be offset by paragraph indents). Many paper-published books are this way. But if you're the only one who does paragraph breaks like this, it will ruin your anonymity for future contests. [Starlight Glimmer]Uniformity is key to anonymity.[/Glimmer]

Oh, hey, a Left Behind fanfic!

This could have used another editing pass for typos (like i not being capitalized, etc.). Author also needs to brush up on punctuation (when to use a comma vs. semicolon, etc.). These are minor issues, and should be easy enough to fix.

I have no idea what "bear love" is.

It seems like, with the disappearance of most of the population, most of the world is in stasis. The electricity stays on. Locked doors cannot be forced. Metal does not rust and rubber does not dry rot. Crops keep growing.

The orange lights went out above them and in an instant they were on the floor. Thick blue liquid poured from their chests- oozing through their fingers, cold and gooey. They decided silently together as they laid with life energy seeping from them that this is what had been responsible for the disappearance of all those people and animals.
The lights came back on to an empty room.


I'm mostly lost. *shrug*
#46 ·
· on Prisoner's Dilemma
by the time you read this, I'll be dead.

This isn't the first time I've posted this because of the first line of a story in this contest. https://youtu.be/vmd1qMN5Yo0
#47 · 1
· on Tsunderes and You: An Oral History · >>Scramblers and Shadows
I went in expecting some weeb stuff, and came out feeling like I was just lead around a track with a bit in my mouth. I pieced it together a little ways through, but was still very impressed with the entire concept, format, and execution. There's a very distinct after taste of "god, what happens next?" in my mouth, and that's not the easiest flavor to hit.

Edit: Double post, sorry.
Post by Rao , deleted
#49 · 1
· on A Matter of Nautical Communication · >>horizon >>georg
This is a paint-by-numbers space opera yarn. Honestly, I'm struggling to say much more because there's so little here.

The gross structure is serviceable. You have a problem and your character resolves that problem. But beyond that? Everything is a cliché, from generic space thugs and generic space marines through to the plot itself – captured smart guy turns the tables on his captors. The prose isn't excluded – “Red mist danced in front of his eyes.” Consequently, the setting and characterisation are notable only by their absence.

The plot could be tightened up a little. Your ending isn't foreshadowed very well, except for the pun value. If nothing else, you could lay out the details of the protag's plan in more detail. Other than that, my only advice would be try and use your own ideas instead of someone else's.
#50 ·
· on Prisoner's Dilemma
It's an interesting idea. Reminds me of some of the short stories in old sci-fi magazines. The ones that presented an idea, rather than a story. No characters, no plot, just a cool little summary of a clever idea. Like reading the Wikipedia summary of a movie.
#51 · 2
· on Essential Rations · >>GaPJaxie
This one kinda hit me out of left field. Great job subverting the building expectation in a totally believable way. I got a little lost jumping between Stefan's prior engagements and his current predicament, even with the clear horizontal lines, on account of constantly expecting something crazy to happen.

But that might just be a fault in my reading, now that I think about it more. The tension always builds toward "going over the wall" and this is put together too well to just skip over that set piece in favor of "Look where we are now."

Addendum: I think I might have just bumped this up an extra rank for how clever it works in the prompt. I can't believe it just now hit me. Great work on that.
#52 · 1
· on Prisoner's Dilemma
winner winner, chicken dinner
#1 / 7,000,000,000

Something felt really off the whole time I was reading this fic, and that was both good and bad. It made me hope that this story was more than what it seemed, and it was satisfying when that was revealed. "Why is this an epistolary story when the recipient aliens seem so ambivalent about human life....? Oh I see now, that works out." But for other mysteries, it felt like the story took huge leaps forward, skipping over some of the connecting logic. Like the assumption everyone kills each other just to setup the required apocalyptic scenario, or the human's discoveries and decisions in the climax.

By which I mean, it was starting to seem like a disappointing stereotypical apocalypse sci-fi, then it's redeemed by a few interesting twists, but the twists aren't quite fleshed out enough to make me feel like it was successfully earned.

I really liked the section with the presidential announcement on the TV. I thought it was quite effective and chilling, compared to the typical depiction of that moment by trying to be as flashy (ha ha) and awe-some as possible. But the rest of the story doesn't feel as engaging, just kinda glossing over all these global events without much personal involvement. I mean the main character is self-admittedly an average everyman with nothing special, but that also makes him pretty boring and uninteresting and I'm not too choked up about his fate. I can see him intentionally being boring and average being the crux of the central idea of the story, but then the story's message needs to be clearer and stronger.... otherwise I'd rather see Marcus as a unique and interesting human that I could care about. So he's kinda stuck in the middle.

So I kinda liked this fic, but not as much as I should've. Way too rough of a draft to stand on its own just yet.
#53 · 1
· on Prisoner's Dilemma
To clarify one bit of my review:

This story has a deeply cynical view of humanity, but I don't think it's flawed just because I disagree with that (sometimes). The problem is that the story doesn't argue this viewpoint very well, it's just presented as truth.

Though it seems wishy-washy because Marcus blames the aliens for "murdering" humanity instead of human nature itself, which feels like a cop-out to me, but I dunno, whatever. It's a rough draft and I can't read the author's mind.
#54 · 1
· on Burr Oak Estates · >>horizon
Hi, author! Thanks for joining us for an Original Fiction round. I've said before that OF is the Writeoffs on hard mode — many of us are used to putting out pony fanfic, where we can rely on readers knowing who all of our characters are (and why to care about them) and how the world works, and OF gives us all so much more to juggle. So the first thing I'd like to offer is: Don't let the critiques get to you. EVERY Writeoff story is a first draft — we've only got 72 hours! — and we know that this doesn't represent what you're capable of with more time and polish. Commenters are speaking up because they want to see the ways this can improve with that extra effort.

Due to the nature of criticism, a lot of what you hear here is going to be focusing on this story's weaknesses. Don't let that eclipse what you've accomplished — simply by sticking with this and submitting an entry, you've already finished the hardest part of writing, and you've already beat everyone who choked on their entry or gave up halfway. Regardless of how you feel about this, pat yourself on the back!

That said, as a reader I did feel that this could use some further work, and I'm going to try to offer some thoughts that could help refine it. Take everything I say with a grain of salt: I'm offering ideas that will make it a better story as I see it, and since you can't speak up about your intentions until the anonymity period is over, my goals for the story might be different from yours. That's why I try to go into a little more depth with my reviews and explain my reasoning — if I don't seem to be on your wavelength, my suggestions might not be right for your story.

That said…

The two things that I think could do this story the most good relative to the editing effort you put in are: 1) Answering the question "what is this story about?", and 2) putting some effort into connecting all the dots of your worldbuilding.

1) Subject.

Think about the original Star Wars trilogy (Episodes IV-VI). I can tell you what it's about in a sentence: Luke Skywalker becomes a Jedi and fights his father Darth Vader. It's got some subplots (it had better, that's six hours of movies!) but pretty much everything in the trilogy is pulling in that single, unified direction. Obi-Wan, Yoda, even Leia — it all comes back to that single question of Luke's family. It pulls a huge reveal in the third act with "I am your father", but once that reveal drops, you can look back at everything you've watched and it all clicks into place.

Here, while your third-act reveal (the child in the airbase) raises more questions than it answers, what I want to say is to look at it in the structure of the story as a whole. If this story is about what we learn in that reveal (why are the suburbs so empty?), then there's a whole lot of the story which doesn't connect to it at all — nowhere in the earlier portions are they even trying to investigate the source of the disappearances. If the story is about Jay and Alder trying to survive this postapocalyptic wasteland, then killing them abruptly over the span of four paragraphs with something that has never even been hinted at before is awfully unsatisfying and anticlimactic. If the story is about the tragedy of Ellie (as the last few paragraphs seem to be implying), then, uh, most of it isn't.

You have a lot of potential in all the setpieces you're building up. Ask yourself what the story you're trying to tell is. I'm more a pantser than a plotter, so I totally get that sometimes you just have to leap into your setting and see what falls out, but set yourself some goals when you sit down to edit — give yourself some landmarks to navigate your story by. If you want this to be about what they discover in the airbase, then you need to start building up tension and foreshadowing for that discovery right from the start.

2) Worldbuilding.

When you're inventing a setting, your absolute best friend is going to be the word "Why?"

This is because your readers are going to be asking it, too. If you anticipate their questions and have reasonable answers, they're going to love your setting. If you ignore those questions, it's going to knock readers out of their suspension of disbelief, and make your world seem odd and shallow.

You can get away with ridiculous physics, biology, etc., if you're willing to lampshade that ridiculousness to make it seem reasonable within the self-contained context of your setting. But when you ask "Why?" and come up short, your readers will too. And the single most critical part of that is not making your characters avoid actions any self-respecting reader would take. Characters HAVE to act like real people, and do things you would expect real people to do.

Case in point:

Alder and Jay had spent their time alone scavenging things from open houses, an unseen force kept them from breaking into the rest.

Why? What kind of force? This is a normal suburban neighborhood that's completely devoid of neighbors or cops, right? If they want to get into a "closed" house, what's preventing them from picking up a baseball bat and smashing the glass of someone's front window? (I'm perfectly happy to accept that something about the setting prevents it, but I want to see what happens/happened when they try!)

The man that came in a large semi-truck once a month was late on his delivery the following morning. He acted as a messenger for them and the communities around them. Jay and Alder had pleaded for someone to join them in the housing development through his word, and every month they asked if anyone had taken them up on their offer yet. But no one ever would. It was too creepy, too quiet and scary. They had an airbase nearby to scavenge items from and usually were able to find enough nice things to trade and give away but even the promise of ample things and clean amenities they could not find anyone to make their lives a little less lonely.

If their biggest problem is loneliness and they are in regular contact with truck drivers (and own fleets of working cars of their own!), why haven't they left?

If the neighborhood is so scary, why do they live there instead of bailing for safety in numbers?

For that matter, why does everyone else we hear about choose to continue living alone?

By some great miracle, the power continued to work in the small rural housing development.

One truism of science fiction writing is that readers will spot you a single break from reality as long as you're willing to justify the rest. Mysterious disappearances of 99% of the population is a pretty big break from reality, but I'm willing to roll with it and see what you do with it. But having accepted that suddenly everyone's gone … why does the infrastructure keep working?

What happens when a power transformer surges because none of the power plants are manned to keep the output steady, and starts an electrical fire? There's no utility workers to replace the lines and no fire department to stop the blaze.

This is a *really* odd premise. You could have a very rich idea for a story just having your characters investigate who is keeping the lights on. But right now it's just hanging as a giant question mark over the background, since somehow nobody seems to care why that's the case.

They decided silently together as they laid with life energy seeping from them that this is what had been responsible for the disappearance of all those people and animals.

Why weren't they spending the entire story struggling like heck to answer that question before now?

So, yeah. These are some pretty significant issues for my engagement with the story. Hopefully they should be straightforward to start addressing in a second pass, though.

Thanks for writing, and again, congratulations on getting the story assembled and submitted within a tight deadline in a tough original-fiction environment!

Tier: Keep Developing
#55 · 1
· on آل دَرْب آل ظَلام · >>Baal Bunny >>Monokeras
Hi, author. I'm posting this back-to-back with >>horizon because I'd like to offer the same large-scale diagnosis (and the same reminders/caveats at the beginning of it), to a greater or lesser degree.

I was more engaged than >>Haze by all the train stuff; it seemed like an entirely reasonable hook to hang the story around (although I'll note that I was confused by it at the beginning: my first association with "engineer" was not with railroads, because I've been reading a number of other science fiction stories this round where the engineer is just a person who works on engines, and there was nothing specifying the vehicle was a train until several hundred words in). However, this feels like it derails — apologies for the pun — near the end, and I think answering the "What is this story about?" question would go a long way toward fixing that. The thing the story is about in that last scene is not the same thing it's about for most of its length. It was a big enough shift that I was just left confused.

Actually … I think this story jumped tracks more than it derailed. After crossing the river it's like nothing from before the river matters, and vice versa. (We were told there were shepherds that let their herds graze in the middle of the track; then the narrator leaves Dar-el-Kebir and suddenly it's endless sand dunes…?) So I can't really comment on the worldbuilding without knowing which half of the story is the one you want to focus on. Either the first half needs a lot more foreshadowing of weird supernatural happenings, or the second half needs to be largely discarded and brought back into the realistic Middle Eastern war-torn landscape of the first half.

Unrelated: I'm also curious if anyone knows what the title means. Google Translate just gives me "al darb al zalam", which is something like "the ???? the dark".

Thank you for writing!

Tier: Keep Developing
#56 · 2
· on Tsunderes and You: An Oral History · >>Monokeras >>Scramblers and Shadows

Literature about ontology? Literature about the state of being? In context of the opening quote it seems to be the "literature of things." Just my guess so far.

I had to look up way too many words to understand this story. It feels like a story for literature grad students.

But the core idea is there. In other, we believe it may in principle be possible to create a tulpa.

Maybe she's the tulpa?

Oh god, she is.

This story is profoundly uncomfortable. Or whatever literature grad student word means a thing that makes you uncomfortable.

Oh god, and so is Alice.

Who else is?

I read three scientific papers in the course of reading this study. I do not think this is fair.

This story tells us, in big, academic words, what Quiet Boy teaches us in Horizon's Quiet Boy and Moon Horse.

Yes. That is what this is.

Profoundly uncomfortable and not even a little bit enjoyable. This is going to the top of my slate.
#57 · 1
· on Call Waiting
I don't even mind that this ends on a cliffhanger, because I was engaged the whole way through.

I especially love the part on how she measures her travel distance by symphony recordings.
#58 · 2
· on The Garden
The lesson to take away here is: Always listen to your wife. Probably.

Anyway. We start off a little, not rocky, but not exactly clear, either. At first I thought Antonio and Lori might be a pair of super heroes or something who need injections to juice up for hero work. That is quickly struck out as the truth of the matter. The rest works well exploring the sci-fi nature of the setting and the quirky rules that keep it floating. I particularly liked the comment about the robot revolution being staved off once the white-color jobs started going.

Lori's attacker is almost a darker reflection of Antonio at the end. Both wanting to grant their wife's deepest wish, one being a little more proactive than the other. It's a neat note to end on.
#59 · 2
· on The Garden
This is excellent. Everything from prose to progression is solid. The misdirection of the first scene worked a charm. And I'm a sucker for this sense of sordid one-upsmanship that tramples empathy and corrupts friendships.

Conceptually, your treading some well-worn ground – overpopulation as a scifi theme was hackneyed decades ago – and the ay it's portrayed here doesn't strike me as terribly realistic. But you know what? That doesn't matter. Because you know it's just a backdrop, and it has a place. The real story is in the drama made possible by these conditions. (This is quite high-level stuff, and one of the biggest issues I find with writers here.)

My big issue is with the ending. After the subtle and creeping horror suffusing most of the story, the final line comes off as bombastic. You've gone from describing nastiness in a low-key tone to describing something comparatively banal in an overdramatic tone. It's almost as if the final line wants to be written bolded, underlined, with a chain of exclamation points at the end.

To look at it another way: By the time we're halfway through the story, the stakes are obvious. One life must be traded for another. That's fantastic and creepy. But you don't capitalise on it. Your tension flatlines. I was reading this in a state of tension, my mind conjuring up all manner of grotesqueries. Will we get a murder? Will they accidentally kill the baby by going underground to induce birth too soon? No. All that happens isa dude prays for something he was already hoping for and expecting.

But the plus side is that all you need to do to fix that ending is do what you were doing for the rest of the story. Keep your mettle and just keep turning the screw.
#60 · 1
· on Amaterasu: I Am Here, and So Are You · >>BlueChameleonVI
So —

For starters, given my own level of expertise, which is about zilch, I’m not going to give you anything beyond impressions, since that’s all I feel entitled to do without talking through my hat.

The prose is nice. The two characters are clearly characterized, and they play relatively well off of each other. The plot is classic, stranded crew (or what's left of it) on an abandoned/deserted environment. It works pretty well, though I think maybe it could be packed into less words. Tends to drag a bit around the middle. My major gripe is with the ending, which is too happy, so to speak, and too vague. It’s like the major hurdles are resolved within a very short space of time: the radio is finally brought up, and, miracle, a ship is near, as well as the time capsule, and oh, there was a hidden message to pass between the two characters. It feels rushed, or contrived, and maybe I think you couldn’t squeeze a longer ending within the space constraints. But yet we‘re left with mystery, like what is this message (is it just “thanks for putting up with me!” or something else?) and what exactly caused the death of all people. So we’re sort of pushed forwards to the big reveal, and yet somehow left halfway into the ford.

That being said, kudos, author, for writing such an elaborate story in so short a period!
#61 ·
· on City of Cards · >>Baal Bunny >>Miller Minus
Panda Express was founded in 1983. How are they eating food there during the 60s?
#62 ·
· on Call Waiting
Someone found an incredibly engaging method to show off their knowledge of varied composers throughout history.

This really reminds me of something I'd have seen in a more teen-leveled episode of "Are You Afraid of the Dark," honestly, which is great because I loved that show as a kid. There's spookiness, a bit of casual mean spirited coworkers, and a nobody about to meddle her way into forces well beyond her comprehension, if my guesses are right.

Good job.
#63 · 1
· on The Storyteller and the Glassblower's Son · >>Hap
I'll echo:

>>horizon's point about needing a better physical description of Hob for the ending to click, and I'll also suggest that, instead of giving us just the line "the boys invented daring tales of action and heroism", show us Ratimir specifically taking the lead on this. I'd like to see him being something more than the other village boys to again give more weight to the ending. Good stuff here, though.

#64 ·
· on The Garden
Okay. Take what follow with a big grain, I'd say a boulder, of salt. This piece is lightyears ahead of my own skill.

First of all, <nitpick>there are some small things to tidy up, like I saw a double the, or, especially at the beginning, one or two verbs lacking their final -d</nitpick>

<nitpick2>One of your underlying assumption is wrong. Women do not cease to ovulate because they grow old, rather because they run out of ova. Ova are not created each month. They are drawn out of a stock, which is full at birth, and starts depleting from puberty on. So, even in your society, women over 50 would be unable to be pregnant</nitpick2>

That being said, I found the first half much more punchy than the other. Until the (deliberate) accident the pacing is strong and I read on with bated breath. But then the plot somewhat subsides, and the last twist comes a bit out of the blue, and feels somewhat artificial (I concur with my brilliant neighbor right above, that the tension maxes out at the ⅔ of the story). I’m wondering about the last line signification. Does it mean the guy has become as wicked as the one who made his wife fall off her bike?

TBH, I’d like to see this concept mixed with another idea Philip K. Dick was very fond of: precogs. A precog able to foresee accidents and deaths in such a setup would be immensely coveted by all couples. Maybe that could be a good idea for a future short story (which, promised, I will not write !)
#65 · 3
· on The City in the Ice · >>Baal Bunny >>Hap >>Cassius >>GaPJaxie
Might as well bring everything up to 1 review! And while I feel obligated to provide a deep critique as the first person to speak up on the story, the truth is that I'd be struggling to nitpick in order to do so, because I've read all 15 stories and this is solidly on the top of my slate. Great job, author.

This does a very big thing right: it takes a large tragedy and makes it concrete and personal. The premise is a fabulous way to explore different angles of the incident. Some of the stories directly intertwine, some simply make use of repeated elements which reinforce the setting, but everything builds together into a coherent whole.

In terms of actual critique, a few thoughts:

Deep below the southern frost, beyond the equatorial tundra and the frozen jungles, there is a city.

Spice up your opening. It tells us nothing about the story except for a bare minimum about the setting — we don't even learn until a paragraph later that the city's a ruin. Even just changing "city" to "dead city" would be an improvement, but I think this could go significantly farther toward setting a hook with the meat of the premise.

The landstjóra had ordered many fourteen hour shifts in the month before the disaster. The people, already disgruntled by the long hours, felt that the cause of the disaster was obvious—a man exhausted and overworked had made a mistake, and a child had paid the price.

In reality, the man had slept for nine hours the night before, and the blame lay with his personal resistance to following proper safety procedure. But the mob had already made up its mind before the facts were known …

That last sentence rubbed me the wrong way — implying as it does that knowing the true cause of the accident would have negated the mob's grievances. We're directly told that they were disgruntled over forced 14-hour days and willing to riot over 14-hour days and were calmed down when the 14-hour days stopped, and yet we're getting a narrative judgment that those complaints are junk and only the death mattered. It's unnecessary editorializing, and at odds with the repeated portrayal of the landstjóra as an enlightened ruler who genuinely tried to make things better for the lower classes (via the soup kitchens, etc).


"QUERY" would be the question-mark indicator, most punctuation wouldn't be spelled out unless needed, and you certainly wouldn't say QUERY STOP because that would mean "?."

Officials felt that the vital orders of the Government must be definite and clear cut, and they therefore used not only the word "stop," to indicate a period, but also adopted the practice of spelling out "comma," "colon," and "semi-colon." The word "query" often was used to indicate a question mark. Of all these, however, "stop" has come into most widespread use, and vaudeville artists and columnists have employed it with humorous effect, certain that the public would understand the allusion in connection with telegrams. It is interesting to note, too, that although the word is obviously English it has come into general use In all languages that are used in telegraphing or cabling. [source]

And finally:

It’s just as well. If people knew the true story, they would only be disappointed.

You liar. You just told me the true story, and I wasn't disappointed at all. :-p

Tier: Top Contender
#66 · 2
· on Tsunderes and You: An Oral History
This is cool and good. Major head-screw with the format and the story-in-a-story.

N...not that I like it.

B... baka.
#67 ·
· on City of Cards · >>Miller Minus
I had:

The same question as >>Haze, actually...

I also wonder about using an omniscient narrator. I've submitted to markets where that's an automatic rejection for one thing, and for the second, I don't know that it adds anything to the story. I actually got a little bit confused as to the timeline when the narrator jumps us ahead two years immediately after the text exchange and then takes us back to some uncertain number of days after the exchange. I'm still not sure when Ellen's "press conference" takes place, for that matter...

Still, quite a fine story.

#68 ·
· on Call Waiting
Fair entry. I mean, I agree pretty much with >>Hap that the fake call she receives while she’s on the go is hard to construe. Who is it, and why? That left me a bit confused.

Also I learned a trivia about Mahler. Thanks for that, although Mahler is not my favorite composer by a long shot (I tend to favor concerti anyway). Dvorak I know little apart of the famous From the New World symphony (#9).

Anyways. A nice little story, which hold its own. Good job.
#69 ·
· on City of Cards · >>Miller Minus
Ni Hao!

Neatly written, but a bit difficult to connect with if you’re not living in California, or in the US in general. I feel there’s a lot of inside jokes or references I didn’t get because of my lack of familiarity with the background. Now I’ve been in S.F. so I’m not totally an alien here.

The story shifts focus pretty quickly and at random, and so it felt a bit disjointed to me. Also, I’m not sure what the story is about. Is it about how a Chinese family who blended perfectly into the American melting pot, or how resilient San Francisco would be in case of major catastrophes? I can’t really make up my mind. Also I don’t really see the added value of the developer/journalist scene.

And did one of them (the BIG ZHAO) die?

But, out of that, it’s a pretty neat story. Xe Xe!
#70 · 2
· on Tsunderes and You: An Oral History · >>Scramblers and Shadows
Incidentally, I live only a few thousand meters away from Saint-Mandé, where Alexandra David-Néel was born (there’s even a streetcar stop which bears her name next to my house), so I’m pretty familiar with her story and tulpas.

That being said, the translation of Jean-Paul Sartre’s quote is slightly inexact.

OK, I stop nitpicking or Numbers is going to come down on me. :P

This is fairly entertaining, the interweaving of the different voices cast variegated shades on the central character, so it’s pretty nice, feels like a documentary on a cold case missing person.

The end is a bit of a riddle. Was that Misato the tulpa the professor conjured up from Alice K.’s mind? That’s the way I construe it, but I don’t pretend it’s the definitive answer.

Contrarily to >>Hap I was not particularly jarred by the vocabulary used throughout the story.

All in all, a fairly competent story, with a slight tinge of mystery.
#71 ·
· on Essential Rations · >>Haze >>GaPJaxie
There is no Battle of Sarthe. Sarthe is a département 150 km west of Paris, in whose main city (Le Mans) I teach. I can guarantee you no German solder ever set foot in it, except maybe in 1870 but that’s not the conflict you’re depicting here. You must be mixing up with Battle of the Somme, which is way norther and was one of the big slaughters of WW1 (hundredth anniversary of the armistice is looming, 11 Nov. 2018).

There’s a slight dose of (dark) irony suffused through this piece, and it feels refreshing. It defuses the tension somewhat, in the same vein a series like MASH could’ve done with Vietnam. The net result is that I felt reading a sort of parody more than a war story.

The ending is in line with this. Also, yeah, good take on the prompt. This is not as ambitious as some other pieces I’ve read before, but it can definitely aim for a solid upper-middle spot.
#72 · 4
· on The City in the Ice · >>Miller Minus >>GaPJaxie

Omniscient POV, but this one worked a lot better for me. If I had to guess why, I'd say it's because the narrator here seems more like a character in the story, To my mind, this is a story in which an unnamed character tells me the secret history of Equa Ventura. In "City of Cards," the narration doesn't come across as something delivered by a character but as a bunch of words the author typed.

This has a distancing effect on me. In "City of Cards," the author is trying to sell me on the existence of these characters: the omniscient POV constantly reminds me that this is fiction, constantly kicks me out of the story by reminding me that it's just words on a screen, constantly interrupts my attempts at immersion. Here, the author creates a character, and that character then tells me a story.

For another example of this, take a look at the actual book of The Three Musketeers. Dumas starts off with a first-person narrator--ostensibly the author himself--telling us about his researches into the life of D'Artagnan. This first-person narrator then becomes the omniscient narrator of the story and even pops in every once in a while throughout the rest of the book to remind us that he exists. Dickens does the same thing in "A Christmas Carol," creating an author surrogate who then tells us the story.

I have no idea why adding another layer makes the whole thing seem less distancing to me, but it does. I'd apparently rather listen to a fictional character tell me a story than watch an author's obvious attempts to do the same.

I also agree with >>horizon about the last line. After everything we've been through, we need something with a little more heft. Still, yeah, top of the ticket so far.

#73 ·
· on Burr Oak Estates
I share a lot of criticism with Horizon, but I’m willing to be laxer than him.

Specifically the points he mentions didn’t jar me too much. I willing to push the envelope further, like imagining they can’t live because remote inhabited areas are too far away and they don’t have enough gas to drive there, neither any means to filler up. One could reasonably think that electricity is produced at a remote power plant which is still operated by a few people — wind or solar power requires little maintenance. I can figure out that visiting an open house doesn’t feel like breaking into a closed one, so here also I find the attitude of the girls relatable.

Some details feel outdated. VHS. Cassette player. Rewritable disk.

The end is really odd, though. How come they spot an outbuilding they’d never seen before? What is this boy? A decoy? What oozes from their body? Are they androids? Aliens?

And the very end is more befuddling. They’ve been replaced? How and why?

The most likely explanation is that both girls are dolls in a sort of virtual reality game and the boy is the player. But yeah, it’s too obscure, so obscure that I can imagine most people being jolted off at this point.

So, I’d say apart from those points, good execution. Certainly better than what I can write myself (which admittedly is easy). Unfortunately, my slate is so filled up with top-notch stories that this one will inevitably fall down at the bottom of it, but that ranking is not indicative of its intrinsic quality!

Slate done. Time to write my post mortem apologies for the slop I wrote, yet another time.
#74 · 2
· on The City in the Ice · >>Monokeras >>GaPJaxie
At this point, this author could be accused of plagiarizing his own opening line.
#75 ·
· on The City in the Ice

Well done.
Isn’t it a red herring though?
#76 · 3
· on Tsunderes and You: An Oral History · >>Hap >>Scramblers and Shadows
I'm actually surprised "ontoliterature" is an extremely rare buzzword in both fiction and academics. Google gives me single-digit search results, heh.

I reacted harshly to this story for.... whatever reason. Maybe because I usually get attracted to these sorts of concepts.

First of all is the epistolary format. Early on, it felt a little off, because it's edited in something like a mockumentary or reality TV show, cutting back and forth between characters. Without the video, it feels very unusual in text-only, or audio-only as it states. That other entry, Prisoner's Dilemma, also made me question its format from beginning, but that led to what I thought was an interesting twist later on, making much more sense when the full context was revealed. Here it's not so much of a twist but turns into a complete lie, when the interviewer's identity becomes crucial to the story... and then the last section that's like hearing only one side of a phone call (metal gear?!) and now that editor's note at the beginning makes even less sense. Who's editing this, and what is it for?

(Somewhat minor quibble: do people actually speak the acronyms PUA and G&T instead of the original words? It sounds odd to me, but if someone says they've heard it done, I'll take your word for it)

I guess another thing that bothers me is the Professor's responses. Maybe his language isn't academic enough, but that's okay because he's serving as the Greek Chorus, explaining the concepts we need to pay attention to. But then there's a twist that he's possibly the antagonist here? Something about this bothers me, like he's playing multiple roles. And I wonder why he's revealing so much about this for the sake of the audience, when at the same time he's trying to conceal secrets from all the other characters.

But the biggest flaw that got in my way was, right from the start, the characters feel so vaguely defined. We're directly told that Misato is smart, problematic, bitchy, hot, lovely... but without a single visual image to show it vividly. Even the section after that still uses vague adjectives: arrogant, excited, sensitive, friendly. The characters don't sound like they actually met her.

Okay okay, maybe the point here is that Misato is used as a deconstruction of a trope, so of course she's supposed to be 1-dimensional. Though I'm not sure about that, since the crux of the story is about trying to make her a sympathetic character. Pinocchio wasn't a real boy, but he still had some personality quirks. I almost feel like I'd rather read about any cliche tsundere character, rather than a tulpa embodiment of the concept.

And on another level, it makes the other characters feel vague too, like they couldn't think up anything interesting to say about their friend. Maybe it's lampshaded a little, but they're apparently University students (grad students?) and a professor, so couldn't they say anything more interesting? Tom may be a creep, but honestly he seems like the only one who has any memorable personality.

This one line surprised me...

“I'll love you forever. That's the problem.”

Isn't this verbatim quoted from Skins? It's an iconic quote of the show, unique enough that I haven't seen it attached to anything else. I noticed some British spellings here, so maybe. BUT I can see enough reasonable doubt that it could still be a weird coincidence.

I don't really mind too much about homage/plagiarism (if it's even true), just that it kinda highlights why I bounced off this fic so hard. When Cassie said those lines, she was such a nuanced and developed character that I understood exactly what she meant. But Misato is such an amorphous blank slate that it comes across as pretty pretentious. Even Misato's conversations retold by Alexandra, they sound like they're coming from an author mouthpiece than a complex character.

I feel a little guilty for trashing it when other readers genuinely enjoyed it. It's just that experimental stuff like this, questioning realities and identities, I'm probably the ideal audience but I honestly felt distracted the whole time instead of entertained.
#77 ·
· on Stranded
If you ignore his kryptonite, it becomes pretty hard to argue that superman isn't too powerful to warrant a good character, and a superman without kryptonite is essentially the character you've written here. To make matters worse, even the things that should be bothering him really don't seem to, such as being transported to another strange world, giving his arch-nemesis an opportunity to perform as much villainy as he wants unheeded. Sure, he wants to get back, but there isn't a whole lot of urgency to him. And sure, the corruption of the society "bothers" him, but it doesn't present him with much of a problem because of how easily he can handle it.

Assuming your story is going to be character-centric, which most are, then fixing your protagonist into someone more relatable should be priority number one. Hope this helps!
#78 ·
· on S.O.S.
I'm afraid I have too many questions to really sink my teeth into this one. I like the writing style, and the cuteness and imagination behind the messages, but I'm too lost to really get behind any of it on the whole. I'm left feeling similar to Haze did on the Tsundere story—I liked parts, but I spent most of the time distracted by own questions that were never really answered.

Still, it had me thinking for a while after I'd read it, so that's definitely a plus.
#79 ·
· on A Matter of Nautical Communication · >>georg
I had trouble getting a read on the main character, which was a barrier I couldn't get over. I can tell that he's smart, and that he wants to survive, but lots of people are smart, and most everybody wants to survive. I actually found the thugs to have more character to them, but as S&S pointed out above they are quite generic. Another barrier for me was the language and the problem—there seemed to be a lot of assumptions about how much I would know about how to fix a spaceship. This isn't to say that you should turn this into a lecture about how spaceships in your universe work, but it might be worthwhile to reduce the babble to its bare bones, maybe pick a few items that need fixing and don't drag on about the details of what they do so much.
#80 · 2
· on Call Waiting

The best cliffhangers are the ones that leave you in suspense. The worst ones are the ones that give you suspense and then leave you. I supposed it's the best way you could have annoyed me, author: By ending your story way before I wanted you to.

I think if I had to pick three things that I care about most when it comes to these write-off entries, they would be characterization, plot, and resolution. You totally nailed the first two, and then when the third one came up you punched me in the jaw. I was more engaged by this than any other story that I read, and Mary's character was phenomenal. I especially loved the call-back to the librarian whisper, which I wasn't expecting at all, yet it fit like a book sleeve.

But then it's all left unresolved. Cliffhangers are great when the next part of the story is readily available (like the next chapter, or you just have to wait a week for the next episode), but I'm now left totally disappointed because I feel I'll never know how this'll end.

This would have been a topper if the conflict had resolved in a satisfying way (though it had a tough act to follow!). But unfortunately I'm gonna have to dock it a few places. Still though, this is a dynamite opening to a much longer story.
#81 · 1
· on The Garden
The only comment I would make is that these types of stories are often pushed forward by both the characters being challenged as well as the society itself. This story only challenges the characters. It's a short story, of course, so it would have been tough to do both, and you do well with what you chose, but it just left me feeling a little bit like the people running the show here get off scot-free for what's happening, or at least they fly under the radar. Brave New World had the Savage, which it had a hard time figuring it out. And 1984 had Winston's rebellion, which was handled like it was nothing. If this story would be continued, challenging the society itself would be a cool direction to go.

But it's an excellent story on its own, and as it's been pointed out that last line is a killer, because it's the final punchline to what the author was trying to say. And I love how the society was built, especially the fact that everyone rides bikes now instead of cars. I would imagine that maglev ticket sales would absolutely tank after this little mishap!
#82 · 1
· on آل دَرْب آل ظَلام · >>Monokeras
horizon hits the nail on the head that more thought needs to be put into what this story is actually about. I would assume that the point is the ending, whatever it was that happened, but then everything that happens in the first half of the story doesn't set up or explain the second half. The train's operation, although a nice little bit of world-building, doesn't matter—the train simply goes fast, and the brakes don't work. The simulation note doesn't have any bearing. The people boarding the train don't matter. His being forced to take this journey might have something to do with what's happening, but no connection is ever made, and it's given a rather reasonable explanation instead—there's a hierarchy and the people in charge are asleep. Okay? But why is any of this happening?

The setting, which you dedicated a massive amount of words to, didn't end up mattering in the second half either. And I'm afraid it got rather purple to, which made it a task to read and recall exactly the environments he travelled through (a task I didn't complete, as I had to start skimming).

In the end, this story raises questions for its entire length and answers none of them. It could use an editing pass, which may reveal to you what you want the story to be, as well as catch a few of the typos.

Now, before, I go, I'm curious why you've chosen this culture to tell the story, unless you're from the middle east yourself, or there is some legend from there that I don't know about. And you've even gone into overdrive with your title, despite the script not appearing anywhere else in the story. At the end of the day, the culture doesn't seem to have any bearing on the story. This feels like a missed opportunity, because writing about other cultures gives you already built worlds that you can learn about and apply to instill your story with life, further than just the names of people and places and gods. But you gotta pick the culture because it matters to the story. At best, you might be told that you're only using it "because you think it's cool". At worst, someone might throw words like "cultural" and "appropriation" at you, which is never any fun. I wouldn't! But someone else might. Just something to keep in mind.

Thanks for writing!
#83 · 1
· on Tsunderes and You: An Oral History
I'll defend this story on one point. Nobody could think of what Misato looked like because nobody had actually seen her. She was the Tulpa, the manifestation of an idea. A shared imaginary friend. She may or may not have had a physical form. Just like in Ferris Beuller's Day off, some of the other students claimed to have seen him when he was sick. Memory and perception are both highly malleable. What you see and experience about the world are not what is actually there. No more than the image on your screen is actually the city of Numbani being attacked by a bunch of mercenaries from Overwatch. It's a simplification built by your brain so that your limited processing capability can make sense of it. You don't see a table, you see the idea of a table. And here, nobody saw Misato; they only saw the idea of her. "Hot" though they couldn't see her face. Et cetera.

And I think the choice of format is designed to reinforce that idea. It's only a basic framework, just like Misato. Only the perception of her mattered, and there is nothing in this story but the perception of her.

On second thought, no, this story is terrible. You should definitely rank it below mine.
#84 · 2
· on The City in the Ice · >>horizon >>Cassius
Sometimes I look at comments to decide if I want to read additional stories. This comment makes me want to read this story. But first, I have to disagree with your first critique.

Deep below the southern frost, beyond the equatorial tundra and the frozen jungles, there is a city.

This line is amazing. It does not need to specify that the city is dead. "Equatorial tundra." Permafrost at the equator. The warmest part of the planet has dirt that is permanently frozen. Beyond that are jungles that have frozen solid. There used to be tropical jungles located at mid-latitudes, but they are frozen now. There has been an apocalypse of snow. And farther south than even the formerly-tropical jungles that were frozen over, there is a city, beneath the ice.

I didn't read beyond your critique of this one quote, because spoilers.

I'll have to read this.
#85 · 1
· on Amaterasu: I Am Here, and So Are You · >>horizon >>BlueChameleonVI
When I write a story:

One of my main jobs, I always think, is to anticipate a reader's questions and answer them in some subtle and/or clever way before said questions can even occur to said reader.

I bring that up here because my question right at the beginning was, "Who is Amaterasu talking to?" I didn't get even a partial answer to that question till the two words "Melissa said" in paragraph 19, so I spent the whole time before I got there wondering if her companion was male, female, human, alien, organic, robotic, or what.

This whole story is like that. I'm not given enough information to understand who's doing what where to whom. So I'll suggest thinking of your readers. What do they need to know and when do they need to know it? You then come up with a way of getting that info to them that isn't just dumping it out in a big block of text.

It's part of the Grand Adventure that is writing. :)

#86 · 2
· on آل دَرْب آل ظَلام · >>Monokeras


Which would be "darb" or "darab," means "road" or "path" in Arabic, so the title here would maybe be something like "The Road, the Darkness," but don't quote me on that...

Still, author, most of this story gives me a real nice Franz Kafka buzz--he set some of his bureaucratic nightmare parables in China though he certainly never visited there. But my favorite Kafka stories are the ones that end with little "kickers"--the Hunger Artist gasping with his final breath that he just never found any food that he liked, or Gregor's insectoid body getting thrown out by the giggling charwoman, or even the Bucket Rider getting swept off into the ice mountains. I don't know what you could do here, but right now, it just sort of runs out of steam, as it were. As much as I enjoy Kafka, I've never tried to understand his stuff...

#87 ·
· on Stranded
Not too bad, I kinda like it for what it is. Short, but works.

It summarizes its theme at the end, and I think this could be improved by foreshadowing that a little more. One easy spot for that may be the intro, which is funny but maybe a little too much. It made me think this was establishing an ironic story about superheroes with all the melodrama. I see a clever little parallel with the United Nations and the King's throne room, but maybe that could also use a foreshadowing of the hero's moral decision?
#88 ·
Good luck to the finalists! :)


آل دَرْب آل ظَلام
Al-Darb al-Zalam = “The dark Path” or “Path to Darkness” — there might be a slight error in the way the name is spelt out. I’m not at all familiar with the Arabic “alphabet”.

So, yeah, that was awfully, egregiously bad. Once again I dearly apologize for foisting the ordeal of reading that slop on you.

Let’s not pretend anyone cares about where this schlock came from, so I’ll skip this part as brief as possible. >>Baal Bunny is right: I did use ingredients out of Kafka’s novels. The regulator conversation is inspired by the inn scene in The Castle and the idea of an absurd, undeserved punishment comes from The Trial. The end was adapted from Poe’s MS. Found in a Bottle, and the beginning by this fascinating video.

>>Miller Minus

Deserts are fine with Arabic names, I find Arabic names interesting, and the curly script is nice. Very shallow explanation. Could you point me to some typos/mistakes you picked up?

At this point, and given that it’s been more than three years that I keep writing shoddy and crappy short stories, despite your repeated and wonderful advice, I’m going to give up on it — let’s face it, I’m a lost cause. But since writing is an awesome way to exercise and improve on my English, I’ll continue to write, but simply not submit. That way, I’ll still benefit from the exercise, and I will spare you reading my usual dross!

Good luck to all! See you at the next OF Minific round! :)
#89 · 1
· on Essential Rations · >>GaPJaxie
Take it as a compliment that the only times I got pulled out of this story were the occasional typos?

Here's the ones I noticed, just so you don't have to hunt them down later
The garrison, not the just artillery
Stick your hand it
pulled out a bass shell
He decided didn’t like the fortress
The Captain pulled told them all

So many great scenes, that each show something about our character, and the world he lives in, while building up tension for future events.

One suggestion: maybe emphasize his desire to run away a little more strongly in the final scene? Let the tension hit its climax.

Zubrowka, like in the film Grand Budapest Hotel? These are probably fictional names, >>Monokeras
#90 · 2
· on The Storyteller and the Glassblower's Son · >>Hap
This came together nicely. I'm not troubled by the setting's consistency, or possible lack thereof. This announced itself as generic medieval land early on, and it's not a setting story, so that's all you really need.

The plot itself is simple but effective. We're led from thinking Hob is a self-serving egoist to seeing he does have some conception of honour. And it's complete -- it touches all the bases it needs to, which puts ahead of many plots I've seen so far.

However ... This is very much a character-driven story. Most of the drama turns on what the characters value and believe in, and the choices they make. As things stand, they seem rather threadbare. Ratimir and Dalibor especially -- they're father and son, and this is a crucial point, but we see almost nothing of their relationship. As things stand, their motivations are understandable but generic. Hob, too -- was he always honourable, or was he a liar who changed his mind at the end? If the latter, we should see what caused him to make that decision. By making them feel more like real people, your ending will have more power.

Beyond that, all I can suggest is polish to make things clearer. How old is Hob? Is his arm actually broken (he doesn't reach to being bashed with a pipe, but later it seems to have done some damage).
#91 ·
· on S.O.S.
There's hints of what's going on, but so few hints as to what I should be paying attention to.

I'm not interested enough to solve this mystery.
#92 · 1
· on The City in the Ice · >>Hap >>GaPJaxie
... wow. Despite multiple rereadings and writing a critique about it, I literally did not notice what you pointed out about the opening line until now. My brain interpreted it as: "Deep below the southern frost, SCENERY OPENING SCENERY OPENING SCENERY OPENING there is a city."

On further reflection, you're right and I'm wrong. Still, author, take the observation above as you will.
#93 · 1
· on Amaterasu: I Am Here, and So Are You · >>BlueChameleonVI >>Fenton
I'm a little sorry to see this wash out in prelims; it's an ambitious story with some great interactions, and made the top half of my all-stories-but-mine voting. Still, I wanted to speak up and echo >>Baal Bunny, because the main thing keeping this from rising higher on my slate was my sense that in some ways I was perpetually struggling to catch up to the story. It definitely could use some more grounding to straighten out in the readers mind who is what.

I'd be careful in editing not to overcorrect and load this down with exposition, though. Probably the best thing you could do would be to give this to a prereader willing to go in blind and mark up line by line where they're confused, and just fix the spots they identify.

I'll also note that in naming parts of the spaceship the "forest" and "cave" and whatnot, I was half-expecting to see you dive more explicitly into metaphor and/or magical realism in a way that never really happened. Especially given the mythological name of the main character. Felt like an odd dangling thread.

Still, thanks for writing!
#94 ·
· on A Matter of Nautical Communication · >>georg
This just barely missed the top half of my all-stories-but-mine voting; the finals cutoff is a harsh mistress.

While I have to acknowledge the shaggy-dog-story-like joke of the ending, it probably dragged the story down some in my voting, just because it's hard not to sigh when I've invested the time and emotional engagement into reading five thousand words of serious story for a tonal derail into a pun. That aside, though, while admittedly the plot is "paint-by-numbers" as >>Scramblers and Shadows says, I don't think that's a dealbreaker at all. I mean, I think the vast majority of stories this round, not to mention "original" fiction in general, could be fairly described that way; we're writing at the tail end of a legacy of generations of fiction which have already told and refined all the interesting core plots, and it's nigh impossible to come up with something truly original. Tropes are not a bad thing, and execution can make or break a story regardless of the tropiness of its main plot.

What I'd suggest if you want to touch this up for later publication, author, is actually to add some tropes to frame this that you're not currently using: the spy story/thriller. Aside from the ending, my main complaint here is that we're told the story at enough of a remove from the main character that we see what they're doing, sort of, but some of the brilliant solutions he finds we're shown only in hindsight. The bit with the malfunctioning suit sensors and heaters, for instance, is admittedly clever, but think of how much more satisfying it would be if we saw the tense conversation in which Orpo managed to convince a hostile jailor to allow him to fix his suit heaters, with the guy suspicious of sabotage the whole time, and then get the payoff at the end when he pushes the button and we finally see why that mattered. Think of e.g. Burn Notice, where we see Michael Westin measure out a wall near an armored door with duct tape and then use a power tool to remove a panel from the house siding, and then wraps it up later by showing him using those preparations to neutralize an armed man waiting for him inside. (Think also of Michael's narration, telling us moment to moment what the plan is, and what unexpected wrinkles are creating challenges for it.)

Getting inside Orpo's head could also raise the stakes: telling us his plan in advance means that we know exactly when it goes off the rails.

Anyhow, thanks for writing!
#95 ·
· on The City in the Ice · >>Cassius
There is definitely a fine line there.

The opening line is the single most important line of your story. It's what draws the reader in. It sets the tone for the entire piece.

You want it to be as powerful as possible, and say as much as it can in as few words as it can. But the danger is that if the reader overlooks one word, it can rob that very important opening of all its power. When that line is too meaning-dense, readers may not realize they should be paying attention to it. In this case, Horizon missed the conflict between the two words in the phrase "equatorial permafrost," and in "frozen jungles."

There is no perfect solution. If you make things too obvious, it will be uninteresting. If you make things too dense, some readers will miss it. You must find your happy balance - and it will never work for all readers.
#96 · 4
· on The City in the Ice · >>Hap >>Monokeras >>GaPJaxie

I've read this story, and if I have some spare time, I'll write a full review, but I did want to inject myself into this opening line discussion. I believe I can bridge the gap in opinion between >>Hap and >>horizon here, and explain why the line is comes across as a mixed bag. I think >>horizon's first lackluster impression of the line is generally on the money, but agree with >>Hap that it does half of its job in establishing some interesting imagery.

The main problem is format of presentation. What I mean by format is the sentence structuring and overall composition of the opener. The "equatorial permafrost" and "frozen jungles", which in their own right are interesting imagery, are details buried beneath the overall focal point of the opening sentence, which simply is "there is a city (in a place)." The cool imagery details, which arguably should be the focus of the opening, are brushed aside for establishing basic information. As >>horizon describes, his eyes glazed over important details despite reading the sentence several times, and this is because the "flavor" of the imagery is sandwiched between two very standard clauses: "Deep beneath the southern frost" and "there is a city."

Essentially, this is the equivalent opening a story on "Long ago in a distant land, I, Aku, the shapeshifting master of darkness unleashed an unspeakable evil." Or if you don't get that reference, "Once upon a time, there was..."

It gives the opener a certain simplicity and colors your impression of the story as something either knowingly invoking children's fantasy picturebook-style phrasing (ala Samurai Jack) or pulling from cliche. There is an inevitable clash in tone when pairing this sort of style with complex, multi-syllabic $10 words like "equatorial." So not only do I find that the opener buries the lead, but also the way it does so undercuts the mood of the information being buried, as well as the story as a whole. The story itself is oozing with cynicism, whereas the first line (for me) implies something more fantastical and picturesque.

I would disagree with >>Hap that frozen jungles and equatorial permafrost do enough in the service of implying a post-disaster state. Of course, reading the next paragraph immediately clues you into that information, but personally, the inference I immediately drew was that the city was simply a fantastical and odd city located somewhere "beyond the frozen jungles" that operated beneath the snow via either magic or sci fi—alternatively, a city with buildings made from ice.

And this is with me entering the story knowing full well that this would be a "Lost Cities"-style story. So to be honest, the opening successfully undermined my already-correct assumption about the state of the city with its current phrasing and direction.

Additionally, there is some ambiguity as how to combine "beyond" with "below" in the current phrasing. Is the city "beyond" the frozen jungles and equatorial permafrost, in that it is located somewhere else, or is the reader meant to infer that "beyond" in this scenario means that the frozen jungles and equatorial permafrost is "beyond" the southern frozen and therefore beneath it, creating a layered burrito of Southern Frost > Frozen Jungles + Equatorial Permafrost > City. I get the meaning that the city is most likely intended to be beneath all of these things, but the fact that I have to stop and think about this layering minutia that is ultimately irrelevant to the story—in the opening sentence of all things—really points to how much in need of a redraft this sentence is.

As >>Hap rightly points out, the imagery and idea of what is going on here is cool. I say the sentence is a mixed bag because the concept that it is playing with is legitimately interesting and easily suits evocative imagery; it's just not contained in a sentence that complements that strength.

Tl;Dr horizon was right all along and is an infallible god even when he fails to read things—reality will simply shift to a timeline where he is correct if he ever is in error.
#97 · 1
· on The City in the Ice · >>GaPJaxie
Fair enough, and that is something I hadn't considered. The structure of the sentence itself causing even a well-read, careful reader like Horizon to overlook the most important information in the sentence?

That's something I never would have considered in a million years. I learn something new every day from you people.
#98 ·
· on The City in the Ice · >>Hap >>GaPJaxie
This is undoubtedly an “epic” story, as Oblomov would put it, and there are several gems within it, but they are like diamonds in the rough: you have to mine hard to find them.

I find the narrative technique you used quite unpalatable. It’s like reading a history book – despite your telling of personal stories, it comes across to me as very impersonal and remote. It looks like a list of facts you quote one after the other, like names in a list, and I really failed to connect emotionally with any of the characters depicted, because your narrative style kept them at arm’s length.

That being said, I acknowledge the richness of the setup and the very clever way in which the fates of all protagonists are interwoven.

Several other things made me wince somewhat.

Olafur, probably, not Olfaur. (with -ur being a nominative in Old Norse/Icelandic)

First of all, a shift in the axis of rotation of a planet would be immediately recognizable by astronomes (even without any instrument) and would probably result in telluric activity (earthquakes, volcanic eruptions) well before climatic disruption. Such a phenomenon is thought to have caused the desertification of the Sahara, but that process extended well over millennia.

It’s unlikely, in the case of a cold storm, that all clocks stop at the same time. Unless they all were electric, of course, but this is not realistic in your setup. Mechanical clocks would probably carry on operating even under extreme cold, provided that shrinkage of metallic pieces do not interfere with their function.

Equa Ventura, the “oncoming mare”. Is this a pony round?

The cold was making her flesh burn. Doesn’t cold numb you when it is applied gradually and gently? I agree if you pour or grasp a very cold thing like a bottle of liquid helium, it’ll burn you. But as far as I remember, from testimonies of alpinists, deep atmospheric cold doesn’t do that. It’s more like a numbness that suffuses and invades you as you fall into hypothermia.

You tell us that In the middle of Equa Ventura’s twenty-second summer, when the temperature was barely below freezing… which to me means the city is set in a place which is icy all year round. How could such a place be even remotely inhabitable, I have no idea. It’s like trying to found a city in Antartica.

The use of the Huns, a historical folk, is somewhat jarring, too, because it tends to moor the story into our world, which it clearly does not belong to.

EDIT: also Cassius mentioned me a line where it is said rounds cannot be fired because of the cold. Does that even make sense?

But first and foremost, independently of your choice of an omniscient narrator, you tell us that very few people have been exploring the city, very few artefacts have been dug and recovered, and yet… modern day legends tell all about what the five penned during the last days. How is this even remotely possible? How could legends even been born with no survivors, nor any elements to substantiate them? That’s a mystery to me.

So, all in all, I bow before your imagination and writing skill, which are far ahead of mine. The story in itself was good, but I couldn’t get really engaged.
#99 ·
· on City of Cards · >>Miller Minus
This story was readable and enjoyable, but the tone, narrative style, and theme kept changing. It was difficult to get a handle on what this story was about.
#100 ·
· on The City in the Ice
I totally agree with Cassius here that the wealth of information carried out in the opening sentence is buried by its structure, and given in a sort of en passant way which strips them from any significance. It’s like: hey, there’s important info here, but you’re allowed to gloss over it because, you know, I put it between commas.

Also, the conjured up imagery is somewhat dissonant. “Southern frost” clearly evokes Earth and especially Antartica, but that’s a perfectly standard situation. “Frozen jungles” is more evocative of a sudden catastrophe, because only a very rapid icing process could actually have frozen out trees and vegetation and preserve them in ice: it must be done within days, maybe a month tops. “Equatorial permafrost” is probably meant by the author as being oxymoronic (and thus suggestive of a unusual situation), but if you think really hard about it, it could simply refer to a cold planet in which about every land is frozen but the equator, where temperature rises enough to allow for a permafrost to exist.

Also, this is not such an exotic setup, since modern studies seem to prove that our Earth has undergone two long periods of total frost, in which all the planet, equator included, was covered in ice — but for the volcanoes, and that’s because of a strong greenhouse effect caused by volcanoes’ massive emission of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that the Earth was able to break free from the ice (an icy Earth reflects about all the energy it gets from the Sun, thereby being locked in a perpetual ice age. But if all the Earth is covered in ice, carbon dioxide cannot be dissolved in water anymore).