Posted by: Matt Y | 05/28/2015

Review: Turncoat

I’ll probably dump a couple of these Short Story nominations out today just to get them out of my head before I finish reading the Novelette and Novel categories. Just to clarify I plan on using some of the guidelines Paulk listed as a metric but I don’t agree with the idea that a work has to fall into those lines to be Hugo worthy. What makes a book Hugo worthy to me was if I thought it was awesome, a very subjective measurement that is unique to everyone. Luckily her guidelines are pretty much lowest common denominator stuff.

It should also be noted that I am against slate voting and thus my bias against the different Puppy flavored movements may shine through. If you think that makes my opinion clouded or unworthy, that’s cool too, these are just my thoughts when reading the Hugo packet.

Anyway.

Turncoat is a book about the sentient AI of a warship that begins to question its allegiance. The title might give you a little hint on how that all turns out.

Early Immersion – Broken for me in the first paragraph. Why is a spaceship AI making a bad analogy to what would be an ancient knight? Someone should turn down the vanity levels in the personality programing of the ship. The description of its weapon systems is like a character throwing out how big his dick is in the beginning.

Immersion is maintained – My biggest problem with the story is how often it broke my own immersion. The description of what a day was silly. Consistency is a huge issue, numbers are spelled out or used numerically in different cases with no rhyme or reason. Day is questions, decaseconds are used, then day is used anyway at a later point. The constant use of human emotions and expressions for the ship baffled me every time. From the AI stating when it would frown if human, when it would raise its eyebrows if human, to sending a picture of a middle finger, it all grated. I’d get it if the ship was one of the Uploaded and had been a human in the past, but as a program it makes zero sense. Not sure why it was programmed with emotions at all. The download sequence at the end makes the beginning battle make little sense if that was something the ship could’ve done the entire time. The download part makes little sense as to why it had to erase itself from the ship it originated from. For a 5000 word story the writing managed to pull me out of the tale about every 100-300 words which is impressive.

There is a plot – There is one, sort of. The story is supposed to be the conflict that the ship feels with killing defenseless humans, only from the beginning it felt like the ship barely tolerated the crew, mocking why they’d speak out loud and over riding their actions like they were children it was babysitting instead of soldiers. It attempts to stress this point with an Uploaded in an unconvincing manner. The ship is able to pull off the climax in a very Deus Ex Machina fashion.

There are characters – The ship and the Uploaded Alpha 7 Alpha exist in the story as protagonist and antagonist. The motivations of the protagonist aren’t fully explored or realized within the text and the antagonist Alpha 7 Alpha was a generic bad guy. Maybe if the crew had been given some time and character we would’ve understood more the strong connection the ship felt for humans making further actions make more sense.

There is foreshadowing and it doesn’t suck – The title completely foreshadows the end and that sort of sucks.

There are no gaping plot holes – Why did the ship send nanodrones to hijack a ship in the beginning of the story when at the end it was shown that they weren’t needed to hijack another ship?

Pacing is appropriate – Spends too much time talking weapons and decaseconds when it could’ve used that space to create more tension for the turn at the end.

The piece has an emotional payoff – The piece limps to the finish given away by the title and doesn’t provide a good emotional payoff.

This story was not in the packet but can be found on the author’s website for free. I’m not sure if the final version was better edited or in the same form as it is on the website. I didn’t care for it, obviously, and thought it felt like a test writing piece that someone wrote as an idea for a longer story. If this was an early draft someone was workshopping I’d provide my feedback and look forward to beta reading it when it was more fully fleshed out, as a nominee for one of the best stories of the year I’m stunned. I almost feel bad for the author because if this was an idea piece he put out it’s not ready for the kind of criticism subjected to an awards process.

Paulk Metric of Judgement: Unworthy.

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