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Under the Surface · Original Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
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Foxes Have Holes and Birds Have Nests
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#1 · 2
· · >>Cassius >>AndrewRogue
First to show up in my slate, and I'm on a good start. I still have some reservations but let's start by the beginning.

First thing first, you have a very engaging story. Having your character being subjected to an unfamiliar situation does help for your reader to discover the two worlds (the familiar one and the new one) alongside your protagonist, and as such, help to empathize with him.
I also loved what you did with Nevada's companions not showing up anymore at lunch one after the other; it sets a nice pace and creates a countdown until Hadley's transformation.
As for the two main characters, they are likeable enough to make me want to read their story, and their interactions set up for some great lines.

My reservations are that I don't really get what this is story is supposed to say. I mean, ultimately, Hadley and Nevada's journey just sort of happened, in a way.
At first, I was wondering all sort of things about possible plotholes, like why the fuck did the company need humans to recreate species, instead of using the remaining ones, or how a private company could dispose of human lives just like that.
But then I understood (or I think I understood) that the whole story is supposed to act as a metaphor. And that's my main problem, I can't see what this metaphor is supposed to mean. Our heroes go through a lot, starting from an okay situation which gets worse and worse, until their transformation where the pain is at his utmost. That last paragraph, however, shows us that, in the end, all this suffering could have been worth it, since they seem to enjoy their life. They are together and they play together. And thus, their past lifes we heard them talk about don't seem that nice anymore in retrospect, especially Hadley's.

Whatever this story is supposed to say, you still have some solid foundations, which make the whole sotry a very pleasant read. Thank you for sharing.
#2 · 1
· · >>Cassius >>AndrewRogue
This was a really compelling read! I'll echo Fenton's compliment on the use of Nevada's friends getting transitioned as a countdown to Hadley's own transition. The shift in tone at the end was executed perfectly, too.

I will also say that I'm not sure what point you're exactly trying to make with the plot. Hadley's time spent in the facility pre-transition set up a strongly anti-corporation vibe, and then by the end he seems much more content with his life as a fox than with his life as a human. So... the corporation was right all along? I could also see this making the case for a more natural life a la Ralph Waldo Emmerson, but that would rely on the corporation being a benevolent one, which wasn't the vibe I got from first reading. That's not a terrible stretch though, so it's totally possible.

That all said, I really enjoyed reading this. Though deeper meaning is tough to parse out, it's an entertaining story with a great consoling finish. Great job!
#3 · 2
· · >>Cassius >>AndrewRogue
Given the eco theme, iPlants made me think actual plants for the longest time, before I cottoned on that the plant probably referred to implant.

Interesting premise, but I can't help but wonder why they'd need to start with a human to make an animal. There's a whole 'life cannot come from nothing' bit, but it seems like starting from humans is still an unnecessary overcomplication.

The vixen twist was very strong. Especially after all his interactions with Nevada and finding out that they'll be the same species leads you to think they'll be getting together.

Understated but moving ending.

Overall this was a slow burn with an interesting premise. Some high points were that it wasn't just the poor that were caught up, management was as well, to the extent that he wasn't the only one represented. The twist was another high point. I don't know if I could really pinpoint the theme; the tones of religion and corporatism were provocative, but not main points of the story. I still don't get the title.
#4 · 2
· · >>AndrewRogue
The story could use an editorial pass. There are extra words and typos, and some sentences would be better off rephrased.

Why that strange species of fox and not Vulpes vulpes? Red foxes are gorgeous animals.

The premise is nice, but as someone else pointed out, we don’t really get to know why they use humans as working material, especially since it is revealed in the story that some “pest” species have survived too, so they have access to other genuine biological material they could work on/with.

The pacing of the story is fine, the various scenes follow on pretty well. The religious emphasis is maybe a bit too on-the-nose, but after all this is an American background.

The vixen switcheroo was like extra pepper added. Good job imagining that.

My most important reservation comes from the ending. I think explicitly stating what happens inside the newborn vixen’s “mind” is like spilling the beans. As you (rightly) show in the preceding lines of your story, the big question is to know if they remain sapient or not after their transformation. I think it would've been legit to allow the doubt to endure by describing the final scene as seen from an outsider’s, a visitor of the park’s (or one of the technicians’) POV, who witnesses the two vixens gather and play. That way, the reader would’ve been left unsure, and that would’ve added a further layer of interest and interpretation to your story.

Minor grumble, though. I mostly liked it.
#5 · 1
· · >>AndrewRogue
Just a few paragraphs in and already I can tell this is a solid opening. There's a mysterious sci-fi thing where I don't exactly know what is going on, but I do know how this character feels about it, and how that character feels about it. And some little details like the shock chip telling me that this isn't entirely consensual, but the lawyer part suggesting there might be a way out of this. This is the stuff I care about when I'm thrown into a strange new world.

I don't need to say more. I really want to read the rest of this now.
#6 · 4
· · >>Baal Bunny >>Cassius >>AndrewRogue
This one's a challenge for me. I love the concept and the situation we're put in. The opening scene was a tad rough, but very quickly we get into a smooth, believable explanation for what's going on, and the world that's presented is quite compelling and engaging. I want to know more about this place, even as the obvious conflict is constructed for the poor souls selected for transitioning. I like the subtle humor of having Remington being one of the corporate sponsors for wildlife selection.

Lately I've been trying to get away from a rather strict idea of what a proper story consists of – a protagonist, a conflict, and a moral choice by the protagonist that results in victory or defeat. Plenty of stories use innovative formats that don't incorporate some or any of those pieces.

But this story comes across as a traditional narrative. We have a character, and a conflict, and... well, there's that missing piece. Hadley never actually does anything in this story. He is ferried from plot point A to plot point B and finally the ending without ever taking any action himself. The only thing he could be said to actually do is wait by the tree at the end rather than go hunt for crabs, but that's pretty minor in terms of consequential decision making, and it's not even clear if it's still Hadley at that point.

The result of Hadley's lack of agency is that his entire arc, really the entire story, is just a vehicle for you to tell us about this fascinating future world where people are randomly selected to help repopulate extinct animal species. And that's an awesome setting for a story! But it's just that -- a setting. The story you wrote to fill that setting is so bare bones I'm not even sure I could outline the plot.

Give Hadley something to do. Have him make a choice, even if it's only the choice to carry on with the treatments or try and escape somehow. It doesn't matter how futile his choice is, give him some choice to make. That will invest the reader more in the character, rather than just interesting them in the setting.
#7 · 1
· · >>Cassius >>AndrewRogue
The weird thing to me is that, given the current mixture of left- and right-wing ideologies in constant combat today, I could see this as a possible future. And yeah, it's disturbing.

Once again, we have a story that is immersed in the Weird, and as such is everything I enjoy. I loved the characters, the setting, the themes. I didn't like some of the underlying suggestions within those themes – God, Corporations, and apple pie? – but it's a small issue that didn't hinder my overall enjoyment.

I think the big catch is that, with its style and subject matter, it is a niche piece. Some people will love it, and some will be left scratching their heads and going "what?" And that's fine, as long as you're aware of what audience you're going for. It probably won't win you any generalized contests, though.
#8 · 1
· · >>AndrewRogue
>>Cold in Gardez

I'd say that this whole story is about lack of agency. In the eyes of the Powers That Be, these characters literally aren't people, and Hadley's "let's meet at the tree afterwards" carries just exactly the right note for me: there's nothing we can do, so let's make the best of it. My only suggestions would be minor things, author--I'd like to know that Hadley's room doesn't have a door at the beginning of that scene instead of at the end, for instance--but it's good stuff here.

#9 ·
· · >>AndrewRogue
tl;dr: A not-so-fun (but very enjoyable) story that suffers due to a criminally underwritten protagonist and a bit of a muddied ending.

I talked about this one on the podcast, but in case you weren't there... I really did dig this a lot and I think it does some great stuff, especially with conveying a concept, setting, and situation that are pretty horrifying. The flow towards the inevitable end is smooth, information is delivered efficiently, and a lot of the character stuff is great.

That said, Hadley is surprisingly non-present for the viewpoint character. You might be trying to create a bit of a reader-insert thing by keeping him relatively mild and using him as a vehicle to just drag the reader along, but I don't think it is particularly compelling that way. Give Hadley a bit more voice and a bit more to do. I don't think you have to give him more agency per se, but him actually being more present would be beneficial. Give him more chance to at least build the relationship with Nevada, which I -also- think is underwritten.

The other sticking point is the ending. You leave the extent of the identity death a little unclear (though there is certainly at least some), but the overall positive nature of the ending I think softens it a bit too much to really let that hit home. It is hard to reconcile the tonal difference and not walk away with some degree of positive feeling. Which I guess might be the point? I dunno. It is really, really muddy.
#10 · 1
· · >>AndrewRogue
The opening line is a mistake. As the 1st place winner of the AndrewRogue Genre Writing Foundation for Genre Writing's "Best Hook in Show" Contest, I feel compelled to tell you that failing to open on "We have decided that you will be transitioned as Urocyon littoralis santarosae” was a missed opportunity. The current phrasing really bogs down the initial read with fluff that could have easily been explained in the subsequent line.

But that's okay. We can't all be winners.

I'm hoping this story finishes first. There are a lot of things I don't quite like about it, but I think the good aspects of the story outclass the rest of the competition this round.

So. Things I don't like.

There's a lot of aspects of the story that don't quite mesh together to make any sort of coherent thesis, and seem to be thrown together sort of slapdash to give character to the setting as opposed to meaningfully incorporated into it. The biggest one, of course, is the consistent religious motifs thrown about. The story itself is presumably intended to address big earthly concepts like the concept and persistence of the human soul and all that shit (will Hadley still be Hadley after becoming a fox), but it's so minimally incorporated into the story itself outside of its use as a motif that even famed writer, director, and porn star >>Cold in Gardez couldn't spot it. In fact, >>Fenton, >>Ratlab, >>thebandbrony, >>PaulAsaran pretty much everyone didn't see what you were going for.

There's really only two paragraphs of dialogue grappling this idea that should really span the entire expanse of the story. The religiosity of the setting isn't fully utilized into the overall narrative, especially not in the characters, which is why you're seeing readers having a disconnect between setting and characters. This idea really should be plastered everywhere, especially by the instructors.

The proto-religiosity of the setting is contrasted against the use of pre-existing corporations such as Apple, Amazon,and Disney which, I think distracts rather than enhances. First, the names themselves are rather conspicuous, like low-hanging fruit, but the fact that I'm aware that these organizations are highly liberal organizations strains my sense of disbelief that they'd ever be overtaken by religious fanaticism associated with conservatism. To me, it is the equivalent of Fox News running an eco-terrorism group as if they were Greenpeace. Additionally, there is the idea that consumerism caused the ruination of the Earth, so why are present-day companies well-known for their massive consumption still in existence?

There's some minor on-the-nose social commentary to be found in here, that again I don't feel really crystallizes in the way it should have. Partially because of how the scenes are constructed, but also because of the wooden quality of our cast. As much as Hadley cries that he shouldn't be there, it's immediate from the scene direction that there are plenty of people that are like him there, which deflates his conflict with Nevada.

Hadley bit his lip, before he shook his head. “Look, I’m sorry it didn’t work for you, but I worked to get where I was. I wasn’t just handed it.”

“I’m sure you did work. And I’m sure you were one of those people who walked around the parks, looking at all the animals, going ‘well, at least those stupid lazy heapers are doing some good now and making the world a better place’ too, I bet.”

And I thought the instructors in the story were supposed to be the preachers, not the author!


Thank you, thank you, I'll be here all week.

So the big issue on everyone's mind is of course our protagonist, sir Hadley. As many have pointed out, he's spending the entire story just waiting to "die" so to speak, not being able to affect the outcome. The problem isn't so much that the protagonist can't in the end change the outcome of the story; the problem is that he never tries to. Hadley is a character passively resigned to his fate since day 1, so we can't really find a lot of reasons to be invested in someone who we know is doomed. There's no hope spot.

Hadley should have been religious. He seems to be a character who bought the party's talking points hook line and sinker, but he never acts betrayed or has a crisis of faith or anything like that. In this midst of this story that is so heavily affected by religious rhetoric, it is very odd that there is no "true believer" character in any sense. The way the characters approach the idea of whether or not their identity will remain intact is not from a "soul" perspective outside the one instance of dialogue as I previously alluded to, but from a simple rational perspective. Not even the instructors, who seem to believe this shit, hit on this note, really. You would think in an environment that is so heavily religious that this point would have been brought up numerous times before it happens. But is isn't.

The more upbeat ending is strange. It seems to apply that Hadley in some form has persisted and met up with Nevada. Regardless of the subtext of the situation, that's really better off than the reader was expecting at that point, so while what has happened to Hadley is horrifying, the nature of the scene directs us to feel good in some sense that he was able to at least continue existing in some form. Sort of a "Silver Lining" ending. I think if the story itself had some more hope to it, the ending would seem more tonally appropriate, but for a story that is essentially a dirge to one's death, it doesn't quite fit.

I don't really get a sense of how most things look in this reality. Description of physical locations is highly limited. Some of the dialogue is doing work to cover for this shortcoming, but I noticed it.

I don't have very strong feelings about this story but I want it to win the competition. Good direction kept me invested and interested enough to keep reading. Fun little flavor components with recurring motifs, even if they were underutilized or not quite explored to the extent they should have, sets this story apart from other entries. Having a theme helps too. I like when stories have a point.

So little gold star for you.
#11 · 2
Congrats to everyone and double congrats to our medalists!

So yeah, this was a story I had somewhere on the backburner of my brain for a while and this round seemed like a decent opportunity to pull it out. The original core concept was "middle class dude gets dumped into the poor people to repopulate animal populations capitalist culture criticism" and, for the most part, I ended up sticking pretty close to that concept.

The actual implementation? I had a lot of different ideas (including a low-key ex-human society and focusing the story on his integration there), but I think the place I ended up was the better choice. Not to say there wasn't a story there, but that, for my purposes, this shape was the more interesting one and one that better spoke to the stuff I wanted to cover. Of course, it took me a pretty solid set of failures to get moving on that (scrapped about 1000 words I wrote Friday night that took place 2-3 scenes before where I started, then decided "wait, that is a terrible idea for a short story, let us just start at the punch and work back any other info we need") and frankly, like most things I write, a lot of stuff was emergent (particularly the last couple scenes, the counting mechanic, etc).

It is astounding how little I know about stories until I'm writing sometimes. And how much of it happens when it is 1am, I desperately need to keep moving so I can finish and go to bed then go to work, and thus I let the ideas all spill out.

Religious themes! Religious themes were kinda plastered on unfortunately, even though that wasn't fully the intent. I wanna say that the way I arrived at them was going "Okay, government sponsored corp that does this. How do we further justify it?" All the environmentalism talk and the stewards of the planet thing came to mind and hey, there we were. Do a little Supply Side Jesus style justification and we're there. Nevada's little ramble at the end was one of those written in the moment things, so unfortunately I didn't end up with much of a religious theme all through.

Oh. And the company names was originally Eden. But I typoed Edgen to a friend while talking about it and they suggested I keep it, so there we are.

Hadley's positioning was indeed a concern when I finished as I realized that, while the point was his lack of agency, that still doesn't justify having a protagonist who doesn't do much. This doesn't have to mean escape or anything, just that he takes a little more... uh... agency within his lack of agency.

I remain a little surprised people took the end as positive as they did (Hadley had a perfectly fine life before this point, it is just that the system is cruel and lacking mercy). While they are kinda happy, there is a very real question how much of either one of them remains, especially given the bullshit that the Transition Specialist was peddling about cognitive impairment. Still, the problem is it reads happy which, well, is a big obstacle to portraying something that is, at best, bittersweet.

Anyhow. On with the show.

>>Fenton To answer this question for everybody: as to why they use humans, my internal excuse was that the process has limitations which include not being able to cross orders (I alluded to this with the bird comment from the specialist, but it is really subtle, plus I screwed up by listing rats as a survivor) and having upward mass progression limitations (which limits use of small animals). Beyond that, simply put, all their current specimens are far more valuable than the people being used. As for how a corp can do this to people, well. This is near future cyberpunk in the US. We belong to the corps! Mwahahaha.

But yeah, seriously, everything in the setting is ruled by corps and they act as collected government reps. So you overextend your credit too far, they basically send you to collections. Collections being animal transitions.

So, to spell it out, the metaphor is about the current corporate capitalist climate being a dehumanizing system that reduces its participants to nothing more than commodities, with a pretty sharp poke at the idea of what we can do for the underprivileged in this idea that tons of money is being spent on making them "useful" to the upper classes when this could be instead spent helping them out. I mean, in so far as I want to allegory and metaphor. At the other level, it is just about a dude trying to survive as the system swallows him whole and how we rely on other people to do that.

>>thebandbrony See the above. His contentment largely stems from the fact that he's got a tiny fox brain now! Life in the facility sucks, but pre it he was basically your normal middle class-ish dude.

>>Ratlab I never considered that issue with calling it an iPlant. I'll have to see how other people respond to that. See above for other things. Interestingly I never considered the vixen thing an actual twist, just another nail in the complete disregard for the subjects that the world has. But I can see where that statement comes from, especially since it does sort of reposition him out of the expected sexual relationship with Nevada.

Title. Right. I forgot about that one. Boy oh boy did I regret that one once the shortening was pointed out to me. Foxes have holes indeed. This is why you don't title at 3am.

Anyhow, the title is actually another Bible quote. Matthew 8:20. And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head. What does it mean? I dunno, I picked it at 3am because it had foxes in it.

No, seriously, I did look it up a tiny bit when I chose it and found it was basically about a scribe or scholar or such getting told that Jesus' lifestyle sucks. I think it can be twisted in some reasonably fun ways for the purpose of this story (like all the little quotes I chose, especially Proverbs 12:10 - but yeah, here, again we can sorta ascribe it to the idea that people are treating these individuals, once they are animals, far better than they ever would have as people). That said, I probably should have used one of the versions that reads as Foxes have burrows, but I was using the King James version for all the internal quotes, so I figured I'd stay consistent.

>>Monokeras In my defense, I finished at 3am on Sunday. I was tired. The only things I'd written before Sunday were like, the first two scenes? Then I didn't get back to start on the rest until after dinner. So it was a hell of a fucking sprint, is what I'm saying.

I thought about Vulpes vulpes, but I decided to go more obscure because it makes me look clever. Also, I dunno, not allowing it to click to the average person right away felt right to me? For all that the red fox would be perfectly serviceable in the circumstances and maybe even better given that it communicates the level of mass extinction we are talking about here. Still, the island fox is uniquely Californian, and I do gotta rep my home.

That is an interesting take on what to do with the end and i'll need to keep it in mind since either the end or some degree of build to the end are the obvious problems based on the pretty regular commentary here.

>>Haze Honestly this is probably one of the better first scenes I've written. Sadly I couldn't win my own best hook award based on the criteria I was judging by. >:|

>>Cold in Gardez I both agree and disagree, per a comment I made somewhere up above. Hadley does make choices throughout the course of the story. He chooses to hang with Nevada and her friends. He chooses to stay alive (or at least not try that path). He chooses to believe something of him will remain and cling to Nevada. The broader framework is indeed that he gets ferried from A to B and has no say in the matter. What he can do is choose the manner in which he meets it.

That said you're still right in that none of it comes out strongly or well arced enough though.

>>PaulAsaran I'm still not quite sure what weird set of choices lead us to this future, though.

>>Baal Bunny See my comment to CiG. Basically, I agree and disagree. Just the other way around this time.

>>AndrewRogue I fully admit I am enamored with my story. Probably the happiest I've been with something I got through the Writeoff.

>>Cassius God, Cass, now I have to respond to a long tomment. tl;dr: I think I agree with everything you say here and will keep most of it in mind during drafting.

Yeah, once you phrase it that way, I'm not sure why I did that paragraph in that order. I suspect it is because the build-up to conclusion to Hadley's consideration makes more sense to me from a normal presentation. But, from hooking, it'd be better to lead with the end, reorder the beginning and then have Hadley zone out under the horror.

This is kinda what I mean about things coming through as I write. Like I said above, to disappoint, the question of the existence of the soul and all that was not actually originally intended but rather was a happy accident of wanting the religious draperies for setting purposes and then touching on it nicely in the scene where Nevada has her mini-breakdown. You are correct though in that it should play a much, much bigger part, Hadley should be more overtly faithful (even the discount faith that might exist in this future) and then I can layer those themes on more, which, in turn, I think will help with Hadley's role in his own story by giving him more to confront and deal with even as he is ferried from A to B. Because in the end, that's guaranteed. This story is about how somebody who thought they were better than this realizes exactly how fucked the world is and how they cope.

I went more for a stratification of things. It isn't necessarily the consumerism that did it, it is the people not properly putting in the time and money. You should have been consuming HARDER so the companies had more funds to help the environment, yo. That said you're probably right about the low-hanging fruit, especially since it comes up so little again later.

Yeah, I'm surprised more people didn't mention that. There were a couple paragraphs I thought were pretty hella on the nose and crossing the line into screed territory. The joke gets a chuckle out of me, though.

See the above. I think you're 100% right on Hadley and how to reposition him.

Ending is an issue that I do need to solve first though, since how I take it might affect that somewhat. I don't think i want to go full dark, but it might honestly be the best choice available to me. But I can mess around a bit and see what works.

And yeah, I still don't describe shit. Ever.

Anyhow, thank you all for your comments and insight!