|Submitted by Dan Bieger |
(Aug 16, 2007)
In Neil’s words: “…the challenge is to construct an entertaining narrative, with a surprise or unexpected conclusion, using the least amount of words.” Okay, he’s actually describing flash fiction but it sets a standard for the stories as does his comments on sffworld that he intended this volume to be dark. Neil sets the table with his poem, untitled, speaking of herbivorous cannibalism. What follows such an opening cannot be light and flimsy. So, how do the stories measure up?
Indigo: maybe the surprise was the protagonist’s name and therefore identity but the foreshadowing in the opening scene seemed pretty blunt rendering the climax predestined.
Centrefold: clever take on teenage boys. The foreshadowing use of collage did not ruin the surprise in the conclusion. The nits arise in the language. “Jugs” and “bummer” seem out of context with rest of the text. The first experiment glowed magnesium, the succeeding merely hot and bright.
Wayfarer: a lesson in parenting spoiled only by writing that refuses to flow and “humming a merry tune”? Hard to place the verisimilitude of that act with all that the man went through before.
Silent Line: this one needs a few more words. The transition from scene to scene assumes more than this reader can insert, e.g., the blood on the instrument means the protagonist made a call or answered a previous call or simply liked handling the receiver but the tie between the story’s title and the story itself arrives very tenuously. Not so much a surprise or an unexpected conclusion as one unexplained.
Mother’s Day: if you like horror; you gotta like this one though the ending is logically satisfying as opposed to surprising or unexpected.
The Watcher: nice twist in this one. The nit is that POV switch between the second and third paragraphs that is disjointing. Didn’t need to be that way.
Tartan Tie: The unexpected ending arrives as it should, as does the sense of the rightness of it all leaving me nothing but nits: that second paragraph is just wrong. The description is for the material yet the paragraph believes it’s about the tie. The description ought to have made the entire cloth of the same stripe as the tie. So, a plot point is short-changed.
Then, the other fabrics at the party were old? Didn’t you say in paragraph 2 the tie had been woven in a time before polyester and is not the party entertaining the first owner?
Thorns: accuse me of bias, but, after a third reading, this one is beautiful.
Dragon Fly: the logic keeps me from rating this one high. How can you claim in one paragraph that gravity is so weak that even a magnet can move iron filings against it and then worry about needing a gravity repellent? But, I do admire the twist involved with Principia Magica.
Mirror Dirt: Is that ending a surprise or the logical conclusion to the tale’s events? At any rate, it works…very well.
Life Inside a Ping-Pong Ball: repetition jars as does “ain’t” in a scientific gadget story. Talk of Einstein and Hawking and then use “ain’t”? Then, compare the ain’t sentence to the penultimate sentence. Piece is too short for the reversal. I do like the twist, though. Yes, I do.
Short Hand: Just ten years into the future and there is Collective of Humanities? Wow! Needs more words to explain how the slate was dispatched to the Collective when the author seems to be held in captivity. Lacking that context, what follows is hard to follow. Perceptions of evil vary, don’t they? Here the outsider judges the survival behavior of the natives as evil. One can wonder on what basis the judgment is made?
Probability Epicentre Event: After wondering why Jones spelled epicenter as he did or why he allowed the Editor-in-Chief to impose his own brand of spelling, he had me with anapestic. I know that wine has legs but metric feet (two short syllables followed by a long one)? The ending makes a very nice twist.
Screen Snatch: Very nice build up. My nit arrives with “trapped youths.” Youth is collective; shouldn’t be pluralized. I know the point to be made, the youth of the victims, is important but this seems the wrongs point to make it.
Double Jeopardy: Well done! Within the confines of the story, everything works perfectly from the un-dead victim to Reg. When folk want to know about show-don’t-tell writing, please refer them to this cross-examination and re-direct.
Signs: The kind of humor I can appreciate and gladly admit to but this one is out of place in this volume. There is no story here, no twist, and no conclusion. It also fails to measure up to the ‘dark’ criteria envisioned for the volume.
Hearts of Winter: Nice build up to a nice twist. Fortunately, in horror, logic is not essential. The cop knows it as a House of the Lord, complete with crucifix, yet the Priest refers to the Gods. Nice camouflage when it works.
Shoebox: The clever use of the wind as the culprit cannot overcome the writing: “stench hang in the air like a fog”’the womb of the forest grove” ”Metallic scent of boiling blood clung to the grove” “nothing but sound yet they seemed almost corporeal” She pulls on a wool sweater but the imp bites though a wool shirt.
Blood Sponge: Superbly done. Must feel a little sorry for the diver, though, as the circumstances seem to have altered quite a bit for her compared to her predecessor.
Fatal Mistake: This is flash fiction! All that story in seven paragraphs, 115 words.
Wired for Sound: Hard to find a flaw and the final line is irresistible.
The First Principle of Observation: Ties perfectly to all the Star Trek lore, First Contact lore, and invokes just the right authority in its final line. Well done!
Red: I like this one for its imagery, for its mystery. Though it is not ‘dark’ it does have a satisfying twist. The nit? How would he come to describe his skin as pallid?
A Day at the Beach: Lots to admire here and only the dialogue to wonder at. 8 and 12 years of age? Awfully sophisticated, aren’t they? But, the twist is satisfying as well as dark.
Kill Card: Logical and satisfying conclusion though the twist is in the circumstance and not the ending. Rates high with me for originality and execution.
Chrysalis: Well crafted, getting all the essential plot points out in the open without the distractions of a data dump. Another fine example of show-don’t-tell.
The Metaphysician’s Apprentice: Not as tight as I’d like it; not as complete either. Required my participation to insert facts not in evidence to make it work. Still, the plot coheres though there was neither twist nor unexpected occurrence at the end. My nit: what color is mottled chromatin?
Respite: No twist, no unexpected occurrence; just a horror story. It’s a pity the incense didn’t work. Likewise, someone should have wondered about the little girl who wasn’t there.
Blue Ink Sky: You go to all that trouble to set up the retribution; then you omit it. Sure, you promise but you don’t deliver. Leaves me un-sated.
Remorse: Chalk this one up as a highlight. Everything works at it should to draw me in and spit me out. Well done!
Shadow Puppet: Another above average composition, crafted, tight, with a twist.
Trepanation: “Everything” says it all. Congratulations!
Abandoned Time: Lush prose around a pure concept but something happened along the way and the story foundered. Maybe it’s the too soon “…though circumstances made me its prisoner.” Or maybe it’s the lack of reaction. Or maybe that lack is the story but I cannot be certain what it was you wanted to tell me. There is no twist, no unexpected event, just a plodding progress to an anti-climax.
Taken all in all, the volume never quite gets to a destination. Where I expected a common feeling, a common thread, I find a collection of stuff, some very good stuff and some not so good stuff, but just stuff. If you want to teach me the possibilities in flash fiction, then pull together a thread, something you can build on, something you can say, see: if you want to do horror, then flash can do it. If you want to do ironic, flash can do that too. But just to pull a bunch of stories together without explaining what it was that put them in this collection cheats the reader a bit by denying them a mental preparation to appreciate what is laid before them. Lacking that, we must plow through the mish mash trusting we will find the gold the volume does contain.