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Uncanny Valley · Original Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
The Vale that Passeth All Beauty
I, Martes the Wayfarer, hereby commence to inscribe the journal of my latest expedition to expand the range of human knowledge, and the glory and reach of the realms of my homeland, Isterina.

The river Urfriat, which rolls sedately in its mighty course through the countryside of Isterina and is placid enough to clearly reflect the jasper spires and windscoops of the capital city of Agamita, grows wilder as it passes through the steppelands, and thereafter splits its course, the bulk of it heading for the port cities of the Resfen delta, and the standard commerce of men. The other branch, the Bar-Urfriat, after twisting through tangled vegetation, reportedly passes between the mountain ranges of Zueligas (“The Blue Cutlass”) on one hand, and Mestele (“The Cloud-Kissers”) on the other. Whence the Bar-Urfriat passes after that is not recorded in the journals of any explorer, and no sea captain has mapped a plausible exit into the southwestern oceans. And thus, the purpose of our expedition is to trace the Bar-Urfriat to its destination, wherever that may lie under bright sun or starry sky.

I begin these records as we sit upon the docks under a small pavilion, making the final preparations for our expedition. Our party is led by my sister Kasteren and I, and so noted are we as charters of the remote and unknown that for me to speak further of it here would seem like mere boasting. Under us we each have our chosen captains, veterans of long campaigns that have extended many a map and considerably enriched our coffers. Kasteren and I could have comfortably retired long ago had we saved all we earned, but we have always spent the bulk of our takings upon our next enterprise. Those of our blood cannot rest quietly! Blessed by our ancestors with good looks and bright wits, we blaze our way through the world as our fancy suits us.

Our captains, Onmer and Ferey, each command a force of ten laborers, ten pack mules and horses, and a dozen soldiers, and the company is to be borne as far as practicible downstream by the schooner Ilix. My sister also commands by her powers a force of six arcane homonculi, which have the virtue of laboring without ever tiring. They were translucent and faceted, somewhat as if rubies had been given a rough human shape and size. These workers, diligently commanded, made reasonably quick work of the cargo lading, though it was clear that their appearance made many of the ship’s crew uneasy.

This afternoon, with the lading complete and blessings of fair passage laid upon the vessel, the wind was found favorable and we commenced our journey, firing a salute of farewell from the Ilix’s small stern cannon for the benefit of the cheering crowds on the docks.


Day 2

Not much of note occurred in the first day of our journey, and such minutiae that serve no grander purpose may be found in the ship’s daily log or my weather diary. The only event worth recording here is that the Ilix encountered a mass of driftwood in its path, which Kasteren chose to avoid by calling up a plume of blasting fire to break it apart, a fine spectacle for the ship’s company.

Kasteren and I did take note of the variegated species of waterflowers and reeds at the banks of the river. The Urfriat passes many places of mystic repute, including Evervale, Osombale’s Redoubt and the College of Mages at Agamita, and it would be strange if the river did not take up some of the aura of the lands through which it passes. And indeed one legend suggests that the Urfriat branches as it does mainly so that the beneficial influences may pass downstream to the fortunate lands of Resfen, with the less wholesome matters being discharged down the Bar-Urfriat. Kasteren counsels a reasonable degree of caution, but otherwise recommends that we proceed in the manner of the legendary explorer Heramesa the Brickkicker, and in this I concur.


Day 3

Ere midday, under blue cloudless skies, and with the great snow-swept ranges of Zueligas and Mestele looming before us, we caught sight of the great bend of the Bar-Urfriat sweeping away to the south and west. We anchored at the small port town of Xereti to question the locals and take the lay of the land. On their advice, we bore downstream a further twenty leagues, and there dropped anchor and disembarked, for the river was said to turn rapid once one had entered the so-called “Slit-throat Jungle,” so named for its unnatural silence.

This we were soon able to confirm. As we made our way along the riverbanks under the green canopy overhead, a path being beaten down before our horses and plodding feet by teams of Homonculi wielding blades and mallets, we heard no sounds save for the flowing of the river and a distant roar that heralded the start of the rapids. The silence persisted even when we paused to make camp that evening and the rude sounds of our intrusion ceased for the night. There was no sign of any animal or bird, and every sound we made seemed loud and leaden.

That night, with all secure and patrols set, Kasteren and I sat by the fire outside our tents and tried to find a reason for the lack of animal life. I suggested that the legend about bad auras being passed down the Bar-Urfriat might be true, and that these were giving rise to a malaise that drove away anything able to flee, leaving only the trees. Kasteren countered that we had certainly felt no such malaise, save only from the effect of the unnatural silence. We argued the issue without reaching a firm conclusion, after which we turned our conversation to idle topics. There was one question that had rested in my mind for a while, and I now posed it.

“Kasteren, regarding your Homonculi, why not give them a more seemly appearance? I know your art is able to sculpt fair statues that might grace a noble’s dwelling.”

“It’s best if I show you, Martes.” She beckoned to a Homonculus and bade to approach her, then stand exactly still. She reached to a pouch, took out a packet of powder, tore this open and sprinkled it upon the creature’s head. She spoke some words and waved her hands, and the angular facets smoothed down and the whole creature took on a human appearance, exact to the curve of the cheeks and dimples around the mouth. I walked around the frozen figure, which seemed perfect in every aspect.

“It’s marvelous,” I said. “So why not leave this semblance upon them? Does it cost you more effort and power to do so?”

“That is one reason, Martes, but there is another. Do but command it to perform a task–say, to go and pick a flower and bring it to you.”

I did so, and the creature set off, but something about its gait was odd. And when it returned, bearing a stalk and looking intently into my face as it approached, I found myself recoiling without volition. It was making no threatening moves, but the eyes in that beautiful face suddenly filled me with unease, and I ordered it to halt while it was still some distance from me. As it stood still, the effect diminished, but I still felt it lurking within my mind.

“This is the main reason why we keep the Homonculi in simple shape,” said Kasteren. “We can approach the perfection of the human form, but not quite fully attain it, in range of motion and action. And the eyes of most people are sensitive enough to pick up on where we fall short in our imitation.”

She drew with her staff a chart in the dirt, whose line resembled a cursive letter n, rising from left to right with a sudden dip.

“Ah,” I exclaimed. “It is a bit like the form a wave makes, with a crest and trough and crest again.”

“Just so. I discussed the matter with the Dean of the Agamita Collegium of Magisteri, and he drew this chart to represent the effect. We feel charmed by the Homonculi only insofar as they do not strive to imitate us too closely, and so on the left the line rises for a while, but the closer they get to our level of perfection, the more drastically we notice how they fall short, and so the line suddenly plummets. It rises again at the far right, where it represents true human perfection once more.”

“So,” I mused, “that ancient legend of the sculptor whose perfect statue was brought to life–”

“Unless enlivened by a god, it may have not have gone well for any concerned,” she smiled.


Day 4

Our progress the next day was hard to judge due to the thickness of the vegetation, but we could hear the encroaching noise of a vast waterfall. Throughout the day, relentless red workers thrust a path through the brush, and I appreciated anew the art that kept them always aspiring to serve goals assigned to them by human minds, though they were forever enjoined from ascending to our own level.

It was evening and the gloaming dusk was taking the colors away from everything when it happened. The Homonculi toppled a pair of trees, and a beautiful light streamed in upon our expedition.

We saw before us a grand lush valley, stretching off with end beyond sight between the vast and towering mountain peaks that framed the sky, with the dark blue stone of Zueligas closing off the horizon on the left, and the cloud-kissed heights of Mestele on the right. But these natural wonders were overwhelmed by sight of the city, its gray stone towers choked by innumerable green vines, but beautifully illuminated by a silver radiance that could not possibly come from the setting sun. The source of this unearthly light seemed to lie beyond the distant trees, at a point where the mountain ranges started to descend and converge.

We all stood transfixed by the glorious sight, and Kasteren took hold of my arm.

“I’ve heard legends, older than the ones you’ve been digging up from Grandfather’s library,” she whispered, “that somewhere in the world is a place where the realms of the heavens reach down to touch the material sphere. Some girlish part of my heart dares to hope that we may have found it.”

I made no reply, but my heart was hammering in my chest and I too felt a hint of that impossible hope. It was among the grandest thrills I had ever encountered in my career as an explorer of lands unknown.

Despite our excitement, there was no question of us descending into the valley in the darkness, so we made camp once more.


Day 5

Disaster at last struck us today… I scrawl these lines as I am borne along towards an unknown fate. Prayers I have left unuttered since childhood rise unbidden to my lips as I write.

We entered the gray granite city today under the mid-morning sun, passing through a gate constructed of a massive lintel and posts that must have weighed many tons. The pervasive silence of the valley extended here, and our footfalls did not echo, the sound being absorbed by the leaves covering the buildings and the powdery dust that lay thickly on the streets.

But cities are not wholly silent, for they are never built without language. And from glyphs I was able to discern through the leaves, I soon gleaned a clue.

“It’s Apaledian,” I asserted, ignoring Kasteren’s glaring eyes. “From what I’ve seen so far, -1500 to -1200 BWE. The glyph for winemaker did not come into common use until trade routes favoring grape bearing countries opened in that period, after the pass was carved into the Rhem escarpment–”

“We are a very long way from ancient Apaledia, Martes. And did they not build from dried mud, in desert climates?”

I gave her a helpless shrug. She was right, but I also knew what I was seeing. “Regardless, I can now name it,” I said, having read more glyphs while we were speaking. “We stand in Paa-Eb-Agaah, the city called Sky’s Respite by most translators.”

“…in that it broke the monotony of the flat plains and open horizon for leagues around,” said Kasteren, lifting an eyebrow and gesturing towards the towering vastness of Zueligas.

“That’s one legend,” I said. “A lot of history is made up of plausible stories. But it can also be taken to mean ‘The place where the heavens find their rest.’ Or ‘Shady Ground’ depending on whose scholarship you trust.”

Captain Onmer approached me. “Sir, Madam, we’ve discovered something that needs your attention.” She led us to a small plaza, where a team of workers and Homonculi were clearing away some of the debris of the ages.

“I’d scuffed away some of the dust with my boot, and uncovered a dark mark on the paving stones,” she said. “When I uncovered it, I didn’t like the look of it at all. I ordered my team to continue cleaning and came to find you.”

Kasteren and I looked at the ground. It was a deep black patch on the stone, oblong and irregular. It took me a long while, but when I grasped what I was seeing, I shuddered.

What it most resembled was a shadow, sans a body.

We looked about, and saw more of them on the cleared sections of the plaza; some obviously extending arms, or running, or pointing, but all as if some light had shone from above to freeze the shadows of the populace in place, and nothing else.

Kasteren muttered some spellwork, drawing some lines in the air with her left forefinger and right ringfinger. “There’s some residual aura,” she said, “and it runs deep, deeper than any river. Martes, we should order a quick and quiet withdrawal–”

When it struck, it was with the swiftness of a falling shadow. In one instant the black blot on the ground had risen up into a shape, the shape of an armed man, and it had rammed its sword into Onmer’s chest. She gave a cry that was both a shout and a deathrattle, and blackness took her as she slumped to the pavement, sinking into a flat dark stain.

In that first attack, most of the humans in the expedition were claimed. Those that resisted the longest were the soldiers and those who took protection behind the Homonculi. But even these magical constructs, though rugged, were not immune to harm, and repeated strikes from the shadow swords eventually shattered them.

I defended myself as best I could with my sword, and worked to guard Kasteren, who was calling up an incantation. With a shout and a clenched fist she invoked the plume of fire, and this drove back most of the foes. But the fire did not otherwise affect them, and they moved to surround us.

I sought for exits from the plaza, and only found one undefended archway. I called the survivors to me, and turned to see a horrid sight. A black form was rushing to cut Kasteren down, but she was not trying to defend herself, but was rushing towards it!

I yelled and ran to intervene, but was too late to affect anything. The thrusting sword started to sink into her side, but at the same time her hands flared white and she punched the shade full in the face, while grabbing with her other hand at its waist. It fell back and I at last reached my sister, catching her as she staggered.

It is still not clear to me how I managed to fight my way back to the arch and stage a retreat with those who remained. Somehow we got to a defendable room and barred the doors. There were three soldiers, one laborer, and two Homonculi left. One of the Homonculi was acting as the bar that kept the door firmly shut. I was not greatly hurt, but Kasteren was holding her side, muttering healing charms. I saw a bone chilling sight-around the wound, instead of blood, blackness was spreading.

I was torn between clutching her in relief and shouting at her in hysteria, so my speech came out in a deceptively measured calm. “Will you kindly tell me why were you running towards danger?”

“You didn’t recognize that breastplate in silhouette, Martes,” she wheezed. “Only one of that kind was ever made, as the result of a very unique bet. That shade was once the legendary explorer, Heramesa the Brickkicker.”

“I confess myself to be stunned by this information. How could it be?”

“I don’t know, but this bag I snatched from her side, whose contents do not appear to be irremediably blackened, may give us a clue.” She started to go through the bag. “Oh, by the Fundaments, this is her journal. I have here the journal of Heramesa the Brickkicker, and I have a hole in my side, and this may be my last night on earth, but I am going to read it now. Please give me some quiet for a bit.”

I and the other guards stood by the barred door. We stayed well clear of the viewslits, as even from a distance we could see the dark shapes clustered outside.

Kasteren had flipped through the journal from back to front, and started reading with the most recent entries. Soon, she sighed. “Well, that settles it,” she said. “The last entry in here says that she was seeking what was rumored to be a place where the divine touched the earth. She further specifies that it’s at the end of the valley and that she’s heading there tomorrow, as of five hundred plus years ago. That seems to settle things. She also mentions the effect on the valley, that living things may fall into shadow form if they remain here too long.”

I realized that if the animals of the forest were likewise reduced to shadow, we would never have noticed them at all in that jungle. It would neatly explain the silence.

“Now that you’ve read the journal, are there any grounds for hope?” I asked.

“In the journal? Nothing more than what I just mentioned. In this room…” She gazed around. “There is one shred of hope in this room. A Homonculus, and you, Martes.”

“Me?”

“Your shoulders are slim, unlike the heavily muscled arms of our companions here. I am not fit to travel. But you and a Homonculus may just fit up that chimney over there, and once you’ve done so, you may just be in a position to run over the rooftops, regain the jungle, and then actually walk to the divinities and beg for aid.”

My jaw went slack. “Do you actually suppose that this scheme has any hope of working?”

She smiled grimly, pressing her hand tighter against her side.

“Sky’s Respite, Martes. If I have any hope left at all, it’s in the heavens. Go now and seek help if you can. Homonculus, bear him gently up the chimney and away to the valley’s far rim and the silvery light. Travel safely at any cost!”

And thus it happened, and I was carried away from the city of Paa-Eb-Agaah and through the jungle at the riverside once more. I scribble these lines in the fading light of day, as the tireless red legs of the Homonculus work under me and leaves and branches flap into my face, bringing me on a fool’s errand suggested by an undead legend. I can write no more. I must sleep.


Day 6

The Homonculus that bore me most of the way fell to pieces an hour after dawn, sparking as it faded into the ground; a sign that I desperately hope does not mean what I suspect it means.

I persevered, treading carefully along the river’s edge and striving not to disturb anything that looked like a shadow, and at last came to stand upon the ridge over the pool that marks a short pause of the Bar-Urfriat before it falls over cliffs bathed in mists that sparkle with unnatural silver light.

And peering through the mists and over the cliff, I gasped again in unreserved wonder. It was a veritable paradise I saw below me, a beautiful and peaceful valley that I could well believe had fallen from the heavens. It was an easy path down the rocky slope, and thereafter lay orchards with abundant fruits, and game frisking in the meadows, and stands of peaceful trees around the clear springs and the diverging streams as the river spent its last force. Ringing this valley round and stretching as far as my eyes could perceive were tall mountain ranges that seemed to mark the very edge of the world.

And at the center of a vast savannah with violet flowers… a pavillion of silvery metal and white stone, and thereupon tall, white and gleaming figures lit with their own radiance, and their faces

It is curious. As I tried to set down what is odd about them, or what I think it is, the paper of my journal came alight and burned away what I had written. I tore the page away before it could consume the rest. Clearly I cannot record more of what it is I see. I will close my journal and make the attempt to descend.


Maiegt aa eselbet onye


I must have fainted. The last few pages of my journal contained simple gibberish, largely effaced by charred holes. I tore most of it out. The night sky arches over me, and over the peaks of Mestele the familiar constellations rise, but over that pleasant vale there are no stars that I know. Doubtless, I stand on the brink of another world.

I cannot proceed. I was not permitted. I stood with one foot in the air over the edge, ready to begin the descent. And as I did so, those remote figures seemed to turn faces towards me… and I stopped. I could not step down. I felt a presence in the air around me, a sensation I had never felt before on any of my adventures, and I could not comprehend it, but it paralyzed me and threw me back as if I had been cast from remote and dizzying height straight into the tomb, and the marble lid had slammed down upon me. I knew that I could never enter that paradise. I would have begged, pleaded, offered my own life for hers, debased myself to win their attention, but I had no ability to do so.

It took me some time, even then, to understand why.

And now I have given up, and I sit and scratch lines into my journal. I can see already how sloppy my writing grows. The words already escape me, and curse the pen that scribes them as they bleed into the parchment like dying beasts. To my left lies a ring of stones like an old campfire, and that squarish lump overgrown with weeds was perhaps once a stack of journals like mine. When I understood what these signs meant, I laughed.

I have laughed thus for a long time now, profaning the outskirts of the lands below with the echoes of my gross and ugly voice. I know now why no explorer has ever passed beyond this point, or returned to write of it in civilized lands; why they cast their records aside and turned back. I know why no more was ever heard of Heramesa the Brickkicker, why she gave up life to become a shade in Paa-Eb-Agaah. I know that henceforth there is no redemption for Kasteren, for I, for the other brave souls who sought the way.

So now I write down my last notes, and to ensure that the fine citizens of the mighty nation of Isterina never learn the disheartening truth, I will return to Paa-Eb-Agaah to rejoin Kasteren and its shadow guardians, never more to leave.

My dearest Kasteren, beloved sister, our blood cannot ever find rest. No heavenly hosts await for us to ascend to their realms, to reward our labors and give us peace. They reject us, despise us, are horrified by us, we who plod along on leaden legs chained to the cold earth, we who superficially share their image but not the unknowable reaches of their divine radiance, we who are but clumsy puppet parodies of what they embody.

You showed me a chart with a crest and a valley and a crest, and thought it complete.

But the divine ones have their own valley as well, and it is one we may not ever pass.
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#1 ·
· · >>Fenton >>GroaningGreyAgony
Welp, due to factors including a SAR callout, I got neither a Writeoff story nor my Embrax finished this weekend. (Embrax is on the way.) In the meantime, since I'm at work, might as well throw in some reviews.

My first impression of this story wasn't that great — driven mainly by the letter salad of the place names. (The dense language and expository nature of the scene-setting didn't help, either.) By letter salad I mean that the names felt like they came from a random name generator — which isn't inherently bad; I use those myself! But human language isn't random. Even the basic sounds that make up languages carry near-universal meanings, and languages have phoneme clusters of common sounds and rarer sounds. With place names in particular (which are very often named after either people or geographical features), it's subconsciously jarring to skip back and forth from the flowing "Agamita" and "Isterina" to the harsh clipped consonants of "Urfriat", along with a handful of names that don't seem to slot well with either group.

Zueligas (“The Blue Cutlass”)


I have many questions. Why is a range of mountains, plural, named after a type of sword, singular? Why a blue sword? For "Zueligas" to translate to "blue cutlass" it must be a compound word, like icebox; are blue cutlasses (as opposed to other sorts of cutlasses) so common that the language would have a reason to do so?

the legendary explorer Heramesa the Brickkicker


I really hope there's a cool plot-relevant story behind this that we get to hear, because the use of "Brickkicker" as background color is getting so silly as to crack my suspension of disbelief.

These may sound like tiny details (which they are) and this must sound like nitpicking (which it is), but I focus on this because it is literally my first impression of your story. If you scatter random words around the text, they sort of lurk in the background; if you front-load your story with a bunch of them to frame the setting, then they'd better be pulling their scene-setting weight, and that means thinking about how the language is put together. I urge you to do a few minutes' worth of pencil-gnawing on this during your editing process — even if you don't want to spend any time outlining a conlang (which is legit), at least try to fake it by giving all your words the same sort of audible theme, making the language "feel" unified.

Anyway!

Despite the rough start, the prose here is unobtrusive on the whole. Once the adventure actually starts, the little details (like the flame spell and the discussions of aura contamination) start feeling like they're actually contributing to the setting rather than providing "Blue Cutlass"-like noise. (Though, again, this could use some examination for consistency: why use flame to blast apart obstructions if the ship has a cannon, and why equip the ship with a cannon if magical fire is sufficient to deal with obstacles? You could justify having both magic and technology with a little worldbuilding, but you don't have to rely on those digressions if you pick one and stick with it.)

Day 3's exchange initially irritated me in a name-dropping-the-prompt way. My opinion of that would change by the end of the story.

Because what this story does right is swing in hard with a big ending that ties everything together, and by itself that's enough for me to forgive this its rough start and bump it upward to an early top-slate. It feints with two weak prompt connections and then hits hard with their connective tissue. And the idea that we ourselves are in the Uncanny Valley of something greater is something that I haven't managed to see before.

That said, I think some of the things you do near the end severely undercut your theme. The city of shadows exists because the gods are deconstructing things in their uncanny valley, yes? Turning the humans into something cruder so that the flaws artificially magnified by their nearness to the gods aren't causing offense, in the same way that the humans broke down the homonculi? But since the homonculi are in the humans' uncanny valleys, they wouldn't be offensive to gods in the same way — the valleys are in different places! Yet you have the shadows attacking the homonculi, and you have the homonculus disintegrating on closer approach — that second of which is really problematic, because the human (whose presence causes more offense) doesn't break down.

Overall, this is already a solid entry on the basis of its big arc, but is held back by some fundamental issues of incoherence. Get everything pulling in the same direction and it'll really shine.

Tier: Strong
#2 · 1
· · >>Fenton >>Ranmilia >>GroaningGreyAgony
So this trip takes exactly six days? That's not much of a journey. :P

Well, I'm kinda joking, but I did think it was a bit odd. Consider cutting the 'day x' bits and using more everyday scene breaks perhaps? Or use dates instead maybe?

A few times, I felt the style of the narration was clashing with the framing device; someone writing out dialogue in their journal word-for-word, with quotation marks and what, seemed... unlikely to me, which shook my suspension of disbelief. This was especially prominent in the bits with his sister.

This has a pretty strong overall arc, and I liked that a lot, not to mention a clever and fresh concept. I found it fairly readable, when it wasn't throwing in tons of gobbledygook names, and I like exploration a lot, so that was fun. Using our modern 'uncanny valley' concept in a fantasy universe was pretty clever, in my opinion.

This is mostly told in a fairly dry style of narration, which fits the diary thing, but also makes it a little hard to get really close to the characters in some ways. Sure, I recognized at the end that his death was sad, but I didn't really feel it was quite as tragic as I think it deserved, and part of that might be because I didn't connect with the MC as strongly as I maybe could have? I'm not really sure how that could be changed without changing the narrative style significantly, though, so maybe it's not very useful criticism.

This was fun, even if I didn't find it super compelling. It's clever and ambitious and didn't seem to bite off more than it could chew. I enjoyed reading it! Thanks for writing.
#3 · 1
· · >>GroaningGreyAgony
I'm... not sure about what the whole story is about. I got the immediate events, but I struggle to imagine to whole picture. Maybe it would need another reading, but unfortunately, there are other stories to read and review, so I can't promise I will do it (I'll try my best, though).

As it is, >>horizon and >>Not_A_Hat brought some good points.

Even without being able to get the whole frame, I was quite engaged by what was happening, and despite the journal format.
About that, I feel like there are too many dialogues without the narrator voice, like 'she said', 'he whispered', 'he replied'. On one hand, it helps to have more dynamism to the story, but on the other hand, it clashes a bit with the fact it is a journal written by someone. I don't often see dialogues in journals, unless they are very important and relevant for the narrator (and not for the story itself, this comes in second).

I also want to mention the beginning. The first sentence clearly announces we're about to read the context and the setting of the story, but I'm afraid to say that, even though that first sentence lessens it, it still feels a bit like info-dump. And I can't really see any other way to give the important details to the reader without dumping it, because trying to disseminate them here and there would have probably got your reader lost. And you don't want that, seeing what you aimed for. So probably it was the lesser evil?

Anyway, a bit like >>horizon, this story did good for me. You aimed for something big, and despite the flaws, the whole structure stands on its own. I do hope I'll have the time to reread it again, and get the whole picture, because I feel this story deserves it.

Thank you for writing.
#4 · 1
· · >>GroaningGreyAgony
I really think the journal conceit doesn't work here, as you slip far too much into standard narrative tones. It is really jarring to see true dialogue, then be reminded that this is being written. Moreover, the later points of it (particularly the day 5 writing) seem... really unlikely to actually get written down.

To be kinda blunt, while you have a very strong voice for the narrator... I honestly found it kind of tedious up until we reached the city? There are a lot of pretty words expended on a whole lot of fluff. Fundamentally, there is really nothing interesting about their experiences up until the city - just a lot of fantasy place name dropping, which is a drag at the best of the times (paragraph 2 is honestly a brutal slog - 9 place names at that point and I have no idea if I have to remember any of them at that point).

Even positioned against the reveal, I think the uncanny valley thing is way, way, way, way, way, way too on the nose. It is possible that in the wild something like that might be beneficial or even neccessary to make sure the idea is clear, but here it is some major hand holding. I get it! I know what the uncanny valley is! I had to write about it too! :p

Once we get to it, the actual action is pretty hot and the ultimate punchline is super cool and fun and clever. It is just that the build up to that point is a lot less exciting or interesting.
#5 · 1
· · >>GroaningGreyAgony
The Vale that Passes All Beauty — A+ — Very deep and rich worldbuilding. The gods are jealous of their privacy. Anyway, it throws a lot of descriptive narrative at the reader in the first few paragraphs, but does it in an organized and readable fashion. The characters and magic system fall into place well, even though the events do seem to take place in a very short time. Extremely good job. Nice job with subverting the rule of First Person storytelling.
#6 · 1
· · >>GroaningGreyAgony
Some nice concept work here, as everyone else has been saying! Unfortunately, the execution didn't do well for me. Horizon has some good specific advice you should definitely keep in mind, but for my taste I'm more in agreement with >>Not_A_Hat that the piece would be best off with a large session on the chopping block, rather than trying to make small revisions work.

Drop the diary angle, drop the overload of fantasy names, cut everything before Day 4 or 5 except for the homunculi, work the homunculi uncanny valley stuff in a little later and focus the story more tightly around the relevant action. Instead of giving us ten names of people and places that don't mean anything to us, give a smaller number and then explain them. Who was Heramesa the Brickkicker? In what manner would they advise an adventuring party to proceed?

Conserve your detail. A red herring or two, or flavor bits here and there, those are fine, but for the most part try to keep things relevant and well explained. Make sure all your concepts are linked to one another thematically, and not only will the story be easier to follow and more effective for the readers, I think you'll find it makes the writing process easier, too, as new connections suggest themselves!

Really great learning piece here. You have some great concepts here, and are clearly aiming high. Keep working on your execution and you'll go far. Thanks for writing!
#7 · 3
· · >>GroaningGreyAgony
I shamefully admit that I skimmed the opening few paragraphs of river names and journey preparation. But, like slogging through your veggies to get to the main course, I was rewarded shortly thereafter. You took the premise of uncanny valley and cubed it to divinity, and I can't say I've really heard of that being done before, so bravo for execution and novelty. Spread out the jungle fever descriptions and there's one helluva piece here.

I really don't have any other complaints, though I fully admit to being over tired. When in doubt, listen to Horizon. Unless you are Horizon, in which case listen to Hat.
#8 · 2
·
>>horizon, >>Not_A_Hat, >>Fenton, >>AndrewRogue, >>georg, >>Ranmilia, >>Rao

Thirsting to know what God knows,
Judah Loew arranged permutations
of letters and complex variations
and finally pronounced the Name: the Key,


the Door, the Echo, the Guest and the Palace,
over a doll which with clumsy hands
he carved, to teach it the secrets
of the Letters, of Time and of Space.


–Borges, The Golem

Most controversial! Whee!

This story was a Frankenstein effort indeed. I had no ideas or inspiration until the very last day, and I then decided I could complete a Dunsanian travelogue, if nothing else. I plotted out a beginning and imbued it with names (I don’t use a random name generator, BTW; these all come from a glossolalia module I have in my head), and developed an ending tinged with Lovecraftian horror; all I had to do was fill in the middle.

And then I got that lovely idea to extend the Uncanny Valley to the divine sensibilities, and I knew that had to be the core of the piece. I didn’t have time for a full rewrite, so I strove to make the first idea carry the second. The resultant awkwardness has been noted by several critics. I really wish I’d had that idea on the first day!

>>horizon
For “Zueligas” to translate to “blue cutlass” it must be a compound word,

The character for a concept-linker in Ur-Aigurean much resembles an Isterinian semiglottal accent, with the result that Sueli-juass “Blue keenblade” was imported with a harsher ‘g’ sound, sans hyphen.

The city of shadows exists because the gods are deconstructing things in their uncanny valley, yes?

That’s an interesting interpretation, but I wasn’t thinking along those lines. In my original story, I had the idea that there would be an abandoned city, now inhabited by violent savages. This developed into the idea that those who truly learn the valley’s secret realize that they can never return to civilization, and therefore join the populace of the city, trying to turn explorers back or assimilate them (by striking them down, turning them into shadow beings like themselves). This is one of the parts I need to rethink in revision.

…and you have the homonculus disintegrating on closer approach — that second of which is really problematic, because the human (whose presence causes more offense) doesn’t break down.

When the homonculus dissolves, Martes is afraid it means that Kasteren is dead. I didn’t mean to imply that proximity to the valley would end the homonculi, but I wanted Martes to be truly alone for the climax.

Thanks for the comments, criticism, and praise!