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PaxNoctis
July 6th, 2004, 03:50 PM
Okay... this story is wierd. I sense that there's SOMETHING here that would be cool to read, but at the same time I don't think I've ever come close to hitting it. Other than weak writing, what do you think about this?

And I love exchanging critiques, so just gimme a link to a story if you want a return favor ;).

-Pax

----------------------

Designing Drugs

Back in the day, they only had a cruel faximile of the process I use to make intoxicants. Maybe it was some dirty redneck in his garage, using tools caked with foul residue. Or maybe a pharmacology student, mixing up his own custom blends during off-hours and using his friends as a testing bed. There is a lack of elegance here. Mixing chemicals in improper quantities, contaminations sneaking this way and that. No no... what I do is art, and what they did is the meanest and most insignificant form of science.

I reach over absently and grab the last remaining slice of pizza. I think it's a day old, it might be two, but nothing's growing on it, and I'm too far gone into The Zone to care about getting up to get something fresher to keep my meat fueled. Ask anyone who programs computers, and they'll tell you about The Zone, that place between time and space, where the Zen-like no mind takes over and the code flows from some perfect, patterned place inside. Most code, it doesn't work the first time around. There's all these subtle little nuanced bugs that relate to some obscure function of the memory handler.

Not so for code that comes from The Zone...

It's perfect. It flows like poetry in places, elegant and beautiful, an arrangement of logical elements that adds up to a greater synergy than anything else in kind.

I've been in The Zone for about thirty-six hours. Oblivious to the world around me, living in a constructed world, the compiler in my head that can flawlessly execute source code. I've managed to stave off the demons of tiredness and frustration with, first caffiene, then energy supplements, and finally a steadily growing intake of marijuana.

The latter changes things. Still perfect, the code pushes further towards an artform, single operations that serve multiple purposes. An interconnected net that grows ever more fragile and complex, wonderful for the fact that it does not break under stress.

I've finished four. Three still left in my TODO file.

The one I'm working on is tricky. In the digital age, when cyberspace becomes virtual reality and the internet moves, wholesale, into 3D, there's a new kind of designer drug. Experience junkies, mystics and the new breed of pusher all want something new and customized, a digital trip the likes of which have never been seen before.

I've written the heroin brown-out... A long, languid, looping spiral, recursive functions working to slow down certain thoughts.

I've written the cocaine high, a cresendo, multiple threads attacking the neurons to activity, a surging symphony. Monitoring threads shut down any thoughts of imperfection, and for those glorious few moments the program is executing, the subject can attain a kind of mental immortality.

LSD was not easy, but I've written it as well.

And once I ran the gamut of existing experiences, I started to design more, new things, some made to specification, some brewed out of the dark places in my mind.

Hallucinogenics are the in-thing this month. The orders have been piling up. And at prices ranging from ten-thousand to a hundred-thousand a pop, I do more than alright for myself.

This one though... It's all about plunging into nightmare. The client who asked for it isn't one of my usual, and I get the feeling this is more going to be used as an instrument of torture than a pleasure trip. By this time, however, in order to do my job, I've divorced myself of morality. A trip is a trip, and that's that.

Problem is, we bury our nightmares down deep, where the ego can forget about them. Rather than facing these things were fear, we hide from them, and pretend that we're brave and well-adjusted. It's a great psychological mechanism, but it's a damn pain in the ass from my standpoint, because I have to go looking for them.

The mind is a very complex place, and mining it for information isn't easy. Making it doubly hard is that I use myself as a test subject.

This is one of the big-ticket ones, or I'd never have taken it on.

Having spent three hours devising a way to populate a data-structure with neural paths least accessed, I'm ready to test it. I'm already plugged in, the latest and sleekest neural-interface sticking into a jack just behind my right ear. A lot of people with less cash use bulky, ugly jacks with long cables that call to mind cthonic, tentacled horrors. Not me. Mine looks basically like a headphone plug, and it slips in easy.

My program will find those things the subject thinks about least and begin examining them, dismissing those with little emotional attachment. I estimate that will leave about ten million neural pathways, which will then have to be further examined, finding the worst and most horrible.

I queue up a playlist. First I'm going with a strong hit of Genocide, one of my favorites, and also one that I deal myself, exclusively. Then the new one, and a good, slow burn after that.

I hit play, and my mind bends as reality fades away.


.

...

It begins as nothing.

My mind - a wasteland. The dead corpses of a million thoughts strewn in emptiness. Nothing.

I am Zen.

This is the quiet place between the conscious and the subconscious. This is wakeful sleep. This is my Genocide program taking hostage my mind and dragging it through a trip.

Time is thought, and there is no thought, so there is no time.

That which is not passes. How much I cannot say.

And then, it is there, tantalizing just out reach. A thought, a memory of a summer day and me and her dancing. Not so pale then, not so fat. Dancing and the smell of flowers and things in the height of their glory. She laughs, the sun catching that hollow place in the base of her throat, blonde hair streaming behind like silk.

Love.

I am left to contemplate the memory of this moment with nothing else in my mind. None of the usual mental monologues and subconsious messages which are our constant companions. I experience it again, just like the first time, my mind dedicated to nothing but recalling every touch, taste, sound, smell and sight.

It continues to pass.

More thoughts. No longer just the memory of that day, now there is more. I remember who she is, and it pains me and thrills me. I remember also myself. I remember Time.

It is gone. My mind all of numbers and figures. This is Genocide building to it's crescendo, firing every neuron. Like some overburened lake, my mind floods with every thought and experience I've ever had, all in one drawn out cacophany of sensation.

Disharmony. A mad orchestra of fiddlers, all playing a different tune in a different key. It is noise, but in the noise there is beauty and madness.

I hold her - "... fries with that." - knowing it is the last time. unsigned char *ReturnNeuralThreshold (NN n, int nIndex). Why so much hatred? Summer sun. Never a child. We knew that, but didn't care. "I NEED it! Come ON man!" Knew each other better than anyone ever could. My father. Burning flesh (mine). Death, funeral. Black clothes. Red flowers. Contrast. Elegance. Yin. Yang. Brother. Sister.

There is more. Words fail.

And then it ends, and for a brief moment I retain awareness of the room around me, the computer monitor blinking as it debugs my program's execution. I'm about to get hit with the new one. I know this, and I fear it, and I would have cursed, but the moment of awareness is a thing of milliseconds and there is no time.

It's like opium, at first. While it analyzes the mind it sedates the subject, I am docile, a quiet thing that no one else will ever know.

When it hit me. It hit me hard.


It's not clean. It's not supposed to be. Most of my highs, they're HIGHs. You come up, all the unpleasant, violating nausea is suppressed. The program comes on gentle, takes your mind on a ride and courteously lets you off at the next stop. Not this one. It's like rape, like something phallic and barbed and thrusting. It comes and it hunkers, and it starts to conjure up a litany of the forbidden thoughts, the darknesses, secret desires.

Things that never happened...

I'm ****ing my mother. Her bucking and moaning and writhing.

Gone.

And things that did...

"****in' GEEK!"

Punched in the stomach, pain and bile rising, burning in the back of my throat. Fear, naked fear and helplessness. My arms held behind me, feeble strength insufficient to break the vice-like grip.

Later, my pants stolen, ashamed and small and afraid. Hot tears leaving thermal trails on cold cheeks.

Gone.

Tentacles writhing, grasping. A vaginal mouth, ringed with fangs and snarling in fury.

Summer.

Gone.

Cold. So cold. Deadly cold.

Heart slowing.

Cold.

Gone.

Burning. My hands. GOD my hands, the pain. Burning stench in my nostrils, strong hands gripping my forearms, holding me down in the hearth. My father's voice, like a distant preacher man. My sins. Lust. Greed. Incest.

Gone.

Distant memory of my mother's death. I was six. Her body pitted out and emptied by sickness, and my small, child-pudgy hand reaching, feeling this cold vessel that had once contained a bright soul.

Mortality.

Gone.

I'm jacking off in front of God.

And I guess this one comes from something a long time away, and make a mental note in this timeless moment of calm to put a time-verification mechanism on the program.

Gone.

PaxNoctis
July 6th, 2004, 03:52 PM
Her. Dressed in all in white, me sitting on the bride's side, listening to them recite their vows, hating his smile and his charm and the dark circumstances that had brought this moment to pass. All alone. Standing, righteous fury, objections spewing like something foul and contemptible from my mouth.

I'll never forget the look on her face, horror and pity. More of the former.

Gone.

Alone.

I will live and die alone.

Me and my scarred hands and my dark arts. Alone.

I will pass, and rot in my chair until the smell draws some attention. And when I am committed to the earth, there is not a single human being on this Earth that I care about who will mourn my passing.

Alone. Dying Alone.

The awesome weight of the next forty to fifty years, growing into some dark mind attached always to a machine.

There is no love in me.

I am fruitless. I am the end.

She is married, our forbidden, mutual love put out by a sea of disapproval and her own practicality.

Nothing else matters.

I don't matter.

Gone.


Weeping. Hands clenched. Debug routines running. A huge spreadsheet of recorded data. Clarity gone.

This is the burn.

My mind is scoured.

It hurts, but it hurts less than the pain of these things I've seen.

The burn ends, and I am myself, scarred hands held up before my face, hunched over in a sitting fetal position, tears flowing in massive, gasping sobs. My ribs hurt from the pain of the convulsions of sadness that course through me.

Snivelling and sniffling, I reach over and grab my pipe, loaded and ready to go. Then I take a hit, and things get better.

An hour, and four bowls later, perspective returns to me.

I delete my latest project, erasing all traces of it from my drives like a vengeful god smiting down on His rebellious Creation. There is no amount of money in the world that is worth releasing something so terrible into the world.

A better man than me might say he had been changed by these things, but in the end I realize that all I've seen are things I know. It was a bad trip, but still just a trip. There's orders waiting, and all three of them are a pleasant kind of assignment. I choose one at random, note the request and the price tag.

Forty grand. And all I gotta do is distill every sexual fantasy in a man's mind to a single event, and let him experience it.

Nice.

Dawnstorm
July 6th, 2004, 06:42 PM
I feel you're right: the story's got unmined potential.

1. Review the tradition you put yourself in. Reminds me of early cyberpunk stories (long time, no read... Gibson, Rucker...). Also, reminds of the movie Strange Days. What all these have in common is - although the main focus is cerebral - the presentation is more neural/carnal.

In that vein, what strikes me, is that the narrator-protagonist does not seem to have much of a body neck downwards. (Shock from virtual to RL; sweat; transitory dissyness; deletion in a high, body shaking... you get the drift).

2. For a short story, the informationL:event ratio is too high:

Example: The Zone - I love it, but for the focus of the story it's simply not relevant. Rouses expectations that go nowhere. (There are 2 ways to deal with it: expand or delete. Expanding would give the story a new drive... for example, you could go back to it in the after thought and - after he's deleted the stuff - instead off heading for the next assignment you could have him go for the system backups... you can't just throw away a masterpiece... do you sell it? Would become a more complex story, too, and put the "drug" thing onto more levels [what is coded, but also the coding itself]).

3. The more sense you make, the less it works:


I hold her - "... fries with that." - knowing it is the last time. unsigned char *ReturnNeuralThreshold (NN n, int nIndex). Why so much hatred? Summer sun. Never a child. We knew that, but didn't care. "I NEED it! Come ON man!" Knew each other better than anyone ever could. My father. Burning flesh (mine). Death, funeral. Black clothes. Red flowers. Contrast. Elegance. Yin. Yang. Brother. Sister.

Brilliant!


I am left to contemplate the memory of this moment with nothing else in my mind. None of the usual mental monologues and subconsious messages which are our constant companions. I experience it again, just like the first time, my mind dedicated to nothing but recalling every touch, taste, sound, smell and sight.

Not. Why? I know what you're saying, and that's the problem. The content subverts itself: basically you're saying that you couldn't possibly say what you're saying. (This might work as an after thought but it doesn't in present tense narration...)

[To a lesser extent, that's also true when you're talking about the Zone: Present tense tone at odds with current mental state.]

===

Hope I'm making sense. You've got the workings of an interesting story there. :)

===

Oh, and since you asked:

You could bumb this thread if you think it's worth it... (http://www.sffworld.com/forums/showthread.php?t=7437)

;)

Expendable
July 7th, 2004, 07:42 PM
Dawnstorm's right, I want to read more of this story. In the first paragraph there's something I'm not sure about, but everything else flows.

Keep writing.

ironchef texmex
July 7th, 2004, 10:57 PM
"Okay... this story is wierd. I sense that there's SOMETHING here that would be cool to read, but at the same time I don't think I've ever come close to hitting it. Other than weak writing, what do you think about this?"

Other than weak writing? No need for the false modesty, Pax. You're an excellent writer. I've snooped around a little on your sight and I know what you're capable of. Your prose is fantastic and this is more of the same.

If you want this story to be a short make sure to insert a little more detail once he comes out of "The Zone". Just going straight into the line about never letting the code see the light of day is too jarring a change. Give him a paragraph -- at least -- to get nauseated, ball his eyes out, whatever.

As for the "SOMETHING", cranking out mind expanding concepts is certainly not my forte (especially not in the short story format). If you wanted to use it as the basis for a novel the possibilities are almost limitless. Start doing the what ifs. What would happen if the 'code from hell' actually turned out to have an addictive component? What would happen if someone he cared about found it by mistake and committed suicide? What if the client wouldn't take no for an answer? What if the main character decided to inquire into the client's identity? Who would want a program like this? Are they a sadist or a masochist? If they're a sadist, who is going to be on the receiving end of the program?

Just mull it over for awhile.

And if it does turn into something longer feel free to let us know. You've got talent Pax, no question. The 'dark' fiction vein that runs through your stuff may not be for everyone, but for those of us who lean toward 'dark' lit anyway, your stuff is a pleasure to read.

Darknel
July 8th, 2004, 08:37 AM
OK Pax, I think you're right. There definately is something in this story which could be developed. The first thing I would say is it needs a bit more of a sense of place. Perhaps a more immersvie introduction, setting the place where the protagonist is operating from might be helpful.Is he in a dingy basement lab, a wanted fugit hiding out? Or, is he in an opulent studio apartment gazing out through tinted plexi-glass at the neon cacaphony of a futuristic cityscape?

In terms of basis I think the idea of cyber type drugs is an intriguing one.
As I was reading I was reminded firstly of a film about this guy who creates VR memories, which allow people to lead the lives of others. I forget the name of the movie and frankly it wasn't up to much (I'm certainly not accusing you of plagirism). I think your idea is better in that it does not go down the simplistic idea of VR recreations of past events. I think you should certainly veer toward the idea of a composer of mood (lets face it, thats what we're trying to do as writers too).
I was also reminded of a console game (Dreamcast and others) called Rez. Taking the concept of a basic shooter, the game develops the more succesful you are. Simple line drawings become more deeply rendered the more enemies you shoot down, the music advances from a simple beat to a full on, pulsing melody. At the time there was a lot of hype about these types of games being the future and it may be a useful avenue for further research (I seem to remember a lot of new terms being coined to describe such experiences).

Finally I would say that this initial musing needs to be developed into a more fully plotted storyline. There is too much going on here and you'll probably find it easiest to develop it as you proceed with a fuller narrative. In such a short piece the number of new ideas which the reader needs to be introduced to distract from the overall flow of the specific tale. In a longer story you will be able to flesh out ideas such as 'The Zone' (which I must confess to being somewhat hazy on).

I doubt that I'll be alone in saying that you'll certainly have a market for a fuller story based on the rudiments of what you have.

PaxNoctis
July 8th, 2004, 10:25 AM
Very interesting. The response I got over here is *totally* different than what I got on the other writer's community I forum (which was, universally, "Ugh, dude.. WTF is this crap?"). I hadn't considered going anywhere with it, but the more I consider the possibilities of a totally open mental space designed to be trippy, the more cool things I think up. I think I've decided to revise a bit and expand. At least a few more chapters.

* Dawnstorm:

I'm glad that the roots of the story come through. I'm actually re-reading Neuromancer now. This story began as a kernel of a desire to write something 'weird', combined with a cyberpunkish mood and too much reading Zelazny lately.

I also agree that the second exerpt you selected was a bit weak. I need some more practice in describing (or rather, 'showing') the details of a truly messed up mental state. I'm going to come back and revise this chapter once I have a bit more under my belt.

Also, I printed your stuff out. Give me a few days to read and digest and comment ;).

* Expendable:

Content-wise or structure-wise? If the latter, I'd appreciate you pointing it out, because I'm very much going for a cohesive, flowing feel to the narrative.

* Ironchef:

Thank you for the kind words. I'm one of those people who thinks that just about everything I write is crap. The only story of mine that I'm even remotely satisfied with is Untitled (which I think I'm going to call 'Smack').

The site hasn't been updated in a while. That's because I'm moving to real hosting, with an actual domain name, and I'm worknig on updated the UI and content. The current form is at http://noctis.virtualdogshit.com, and I'll make a widdle post when the domain is up. Any comments on the redesign would be appreciated (all. Please ;p).

Before you even posted, while I was updating this story for the website, I realized your comment about the ending not flowing. I added a bit more and stepped back a step, adding more of a sense of body. Initially I had dissociated from describing his surroundings/him to mimic his total immersion in his mental state. Now that I want to make it a bit longer, I'll correct this.

I'm stealing a few of your what-if's and running with them. Stay tuned ;).

* Darknel:

I'm going back in to add some more immersion in the physical environment. I think this is one of those ideas that evolves from a short story into something else.

That DC game sounds very badass. I gotta see if I can get me a copy and dust off my old console.

PaxNoctis
July 14th, 2004, 01:10 PM
Just wanted to say that Chapter 2 of this little saga is up. To avoid killing all of sffworld's storage space, I'm just gonna provide this link:

http://www.freewebtown.com/noctis/dd.htm

(Yes, new host. The old one decided to change my password without telling me about it).

Also, I'm changing the title to reflect the new story arc. I got a lot of negative feedback of the vignette of chapter 1 on another forum, most of it labelled at me being a psycho and needing to get a grip. I interpret that not as an insult directed at me, but as an insult towards the main character, Dominic, who is admittedly a little wierd, in addition to being in love with his sister. However, these comments made me mad. Not because of any affront to me (which I don't mind), but because I KNOW Dominic, I understand why he is the way he is, and I think these people are selling him short. Ergo, I'm going to tell his story.

It's now called, "In Defense of Dominic". Enjoy. Please lemme know if you likey ;).

-Pax

P. S. - To keep from spamming relentlessly, I'm not going to mention any more updates unless I get an all-clear from a mod. Anyone whose interested, just check back on that page every week or so ;).

ironchef texmex
July 14th, 2004, 02:35 PM
I got a lot of negative feedback of the vignette of chapter 1 on another forum, most of it labelled at me being a psycho and needing to get a grip.

Pax.... uh, are you sure this other site is even a SFF site? There's no chance you wound up in a cook book forum or something, is there?

I mean I know your stuff is salty, but c'mon, it's not like you invented dark lit. Ask your buddies if they've ever read Phillip K Dick or Samuel R. Delany.

PaxNoctis
July 14th, 2004, 02:39 PM
No. It's more of a general fiction forum. I've mostly stopped posting there since I found this place, not to mention that it's kind of care-bear, lovey-dovey, let's all hold hands and sing coombaya. Gah. Yuck. Blech blech blech!

However, there are some very talented writers there. And the fact that they wouldn't even read enough into the story to offer comments on the work itself made me feel bad for my character.

Closed-minded bastards. I'll read anything and give an honest opinion on it...