Posted by: Matt Y | 06/16/2015

Self Reflection

Before I get into the novella category I wanted to have a little fun and take one of my stories and rip at it just like I’m doing with the nominees because turn about is fair play. I’ve posted the story right below this. The metrics again are what one Sad Puppy posted that I’m utilizing to try and understand what work they like.

This Old House is a story about breaking and entering, consequences, and remodeling.

Early Immersion – Begins by introducing the main characters and the lore of the house on the block. Characters and setting are established but there’s no real strong narrative hook.

Immersion is maintained – I think so. It’s a short story where the events take place within a specific amount of time so there’s not much room to break immersion.

There is a plot – Not really. The character encounter conflict and yet don’t overcome it, learn anything, or grow as characters. Best you could say is that in a way they do encounter change at the end.

There are characters – Two main ones, and while work was done to differentiate it’s hard to say they’re characters with dimension. It’s a horror story and as that there’s enough to try and make the audience empathize with them but they’re never more than potential victims.

There is foreshadowing and it doesn’t suck –I tried to convey a sense of superstition and dread about the house in the beginning so I hope I managed to do so.

There are no gaping plot holes – None aside from the fact that the connection between the house and Old Man Johnson isn’t explained.

Pacing is appropriate –For a horror story I thought so.

The piece has an emotional payoff – It’s supposed to end right as the reader can connect the dots of what happened to one character and what is about to happen to the other and give off a sense of doom. That’s the emotional payoff and I thought it worked.

No early narrative hook, no real plot aside from trying to manipulate the reader to identify with the characters, and the characters themselves are kind of generic. Could use some more editing re-reading it.

One Puppy Metric of Judgement: Unworthy.

Of course it’s horror and not sci-fi anyways. This was for a submission for a month of Halloween stories on Clayton Smith’s website Dapper Press. It was fun to write and I think I managed to successfully convey what I was aiming for and I’m happy with the story itself. Certainly not award worthy though. Thankfully I write because I like to!

Posted by: Matt Y | 06/16/2015

This Old House

Here’s a short story of mine-

This Old House

Read More…

Posted by: Matt Y | 06/13/2015

Novelettes down…

Scorecard for how I understood the guidelines one Sad Puppy laid down doesn’t look good so far. Two, or two and a half if you count my 50/50 split on A Single Samurai, have met the minimal basic requirements from what I can gather so far. Yikes! The novelettes were one of the harder categories to stay interested in, while some categories had some bad stuff this one just had some mediocre stories that weren’t bad or good they were just kind of there. Except Championship B’Tok, that one felt like it was still a rough draft.

Going to go through the novellas next. I’ve read them all so that should go a bit quicker.

Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium is a story about honoring the last wish of a friend

Early Immersion – Story starts with establishing two characters who walk into kind of an alien mausoleum, with one character trying to talk the other out of it. As beginings go there’s not much of a narrative hook in the opening, but for a novelette it also has a lot of information to deliver so while not the most exciting opening to immerse readers with it sets the stage well.

Immersion is maintained – Story seems torn between building the world and history of the settlement and the personal tragedy and vendetta. Because of this I didn’t feel like I got a good sense of either. I know humans are there and the aliens beat them some time ago and laid down rules for the human settlers, I just didn’t understand why they stay there or why they haven’t received help. I get why the dying man would want to use his last act on those that killed his wife but the man also understood the cultural differences and that the aliens hold his wife in high esteem and have given her their highest honor. Yet he want to offend the aliens with his final act regardless of the potential consequences for the rest of the humans on the planet. I never felt immersed in what was going on enough for immersion to be broken.

There is a plot – None really. First half is stage setting amd the second half is a character trying to get permission to bury his friend. He gets it with little effort. There’s no struggle, or tension built towards a climatic moment.

There are characters – There are two main characters, of them one is mostly in the tale to spite the aliens in death, and the other is a friend and our narrator who things happen around but we don’t get much of a sense of who he is. The aliens are the antagonists and yet the story gives us more understanding of their customs, culture and motives. As such I had more empathy for them then the main characters which is a problem.

There is foreshadowing and it doesn’t suck – We know right from the beginning that the dying character is trying to stick it to the aliens, so sure, why not.

There are no gaping plot holes – I’m not sure why the humans stick around, or much less why if the aliens think that the humans going underground to mine is nearly a sacrilegious thing why they do they allow them to keep doing and profiting from it? If killing one main person considered winning a fight for the aliens, why don’t the humans just do that?

Pacing is appropriate – It’s a lot of constant info dumping.

The piece has an emotional payoff – Not really, even after everything that goes on we know the actions of the characters annoy the aliens but the book fades out before we find out the aftermath.

Ashes to Ashes is a strange story. By the end I thought the dying dude was kind of a dick to the aliens who gave his wife their greatest honor. While they might not’ve understood the cultural differences between the races at the time the main characters realize those differences now and are intentionally subverting them to piss the aliens off. The dying guy sort of forces the idea to do so on his friend guilt trip style knowing he doesn’t have to deal with the aftermath of his cultural insult.

One Puppy Metric of Judgement: Unworthy

Posted by: Matt Y | 06/11/2015

Review: Journeyman: In The Stone House

Journeyman: In The Stone House is part two of a story featuring Teodorq and Sammi and their journeys.

Early Immersion – The story opens explaining that the world this takes place in has a dividing line between the East and West and the only way to travel between the two is a bottleneck with a castle set to stop travelers between the two.  The beginning is kind of awkward, the world is called The World, the separation of land between east and west is the Great Escarpment, while one of the characters is named Teodorq sunna Nagarajan the Ironhand.  The former titles sound generic and unimaginative but then the character name is like 300 Scrabble points.

Immersion is maintained – Personally I found the dialogue immersion breaking, which is sad because the back and forth between Teo and Sammi is often funny and clever.  It’s just the dialogue is all over the place.  Regardless of the dialect they switch to and from Teo and Sammi speak the same way and Sammi is shown to be an intellegent character who appears to choose to speak like cliche Native American stereotype.  When talking about the castle Sammi says. “Big magic, pile rocks so high.”

Then there’s the content of the dialogue between the two characters, it’s some weird mish-mash of fantasy and generic college-Brospeak.  Frequent use of “Hey babe,” and the use of “No skin off of my nose” “We gave you the straight skinny” “Duh” and so on.  There’s terminology for the sword fighting such as batter’s stance which doesn’t make sense unless baseball or cricket is a common past-time.  I mentally tripped over these lines every time I came across them because the setting and characters are set so far apart from our world and society that the familiar use of slang, idioms and terms felt out of place.

There is a plot – Kind of?  The story takes place with Teo traveling to get away from tribesmen that want to behead him and Sammi who is the Journeyman and is a traveler.  The conflict is when they get captured and find out one of the main warriors who wants to kill Teo is also captured.  While the plot would appear to be between these two warriors, most of the story takes place with Teo and Sammi recalling earlier events that took place before this section, namely with a spaceship they found and an AI hologram named Jamly who appeared and asked the two to help her, that they were her only hope.  Some time is taken to make a joke to the reader about a door panel that is considered a religious artifact.  It doesn’t get back to building tension between the two warriors for a while, and when it does it’s because they’re both being conscripted suddenly into the King’s scouts and are being trained in swordfighting.  I wish the transition from prisoners to conscripted warriors was given as much time as the bathroom door.

There are characters – I liked Sammi and Teo although they start and end the story as a couple of wisecracking guys.  Out of being tough Bros who make jokes we don’t learn more about them.  The King could be considered the antagonist but he’s barely a part of the story. Karakalan sunna Vikeram of clan Serpentine, aka Kal, is whom Teo fights and he’s given some clear motivations on why he wants Teo dead though.

There is foreshadowing and it doesn’t suck – Nope.

There are no gaping plot holes – None, but there’s also barely any plot.  Most of the story is world building and set up for later stories.

Pacing is appropriate – Drags in the beginning and then there’s a sword fight at the end that takes up a significant portion of the story.

The piece has an emotional payoff – Nope.  The only tension built was between the two warriors, who do finally fight but Teo convinces Kal that there’s better honor to be had protecting the clans from a bigger threat than their fight, so it’s mostly for show, and then Kal becomes convinced that the King through a loyalty oath has now shifted his responsibility from killing Teo to the King.

Like Championship B’Tok this story feels more like set up for a larger story and does not stand on its own well.  I did like the back and forth banter and the sword fight so it was at the very least one of the more entertaining of the slated works.  The repeated use of modern lingo in it I felt hurt the tale, the conscription portion feels like it came out of nowhere, we spend more time in the story reading a joke to the reader about a door than being given any reason to care about what is going on, and the fight between the two warriors is anti-climatic.

One Puppy Metric of Judgement: Unworthy.

Posted by: Matt Y | 06/07/2015

Review: The Day the World Turned Upside Down

The Day the World Turned Upside Down is a story about how the main character’s world got flipped, turned upside down. I’d like to take a minute so just sit right there as I review a story about how everyone fell into the air.

Early Immersion – Starts with how a man gets dumped and has has world turned upside down. As he’s feeling sorry for himself the world literally turns upside down. Or at the very least gravity reverses and people walking around outside fall up.

Immersion is maintained – Even though the gravity inversion is never explained, strangely large bodies of water such as lakes or rivers aren’t affected. While it provides interesting imagery it goes against what is established because the author wants it to alone, which jars immersion.

There is a plot – Strangely the plot is that the main character has his ex-girlfriend’s goldfish still, misses a call from her after the world flips, and decides that he should return her fish and see if she’ll take him back. While it can be taken that this guy is flat out crazy because he doesn’t appear to care about the millions of deaths it works for me. His world was flipped upside down figuratively, then the world was flipped literally and while he can’t fix the latter he still can try to do something about the former.

There are characters – We get to see a lot of the protagonists inner struggle and thoughts throughout the story as well as his motivations and the pity party he’s throwing himself. There’s a child and the girlfriend but both barely exist in the story.

There is foreshadowing and it doesn’t suck – No real foreshadowing.

There are no gaping plot holes – The water thing.

Pacing is appropriate – Keeps moving forward.

The piece has an emotional payoff – Sort of, the protagonist finally is able to move on, but he is pathetic and doesn’t really feel like he’s done anything to earn being able to do so.

I’m not sure if I read this story as intended, because I enjoyed it because I thought it was a super dark comedy, like In Bruges. Taken that way this is one of the slated stories I enjoyed. The main character puts the fish in flat sprite because fish and lemon go together. When the world flips the line says ‘Skulls cracked. Necks broke. Babies bounced.’. The girl is stuck on a swing because she was swinging too high and her mom had warned her about it. At one point the girl adds more water to the bottle because the fish is thirsty. There’s a child molester in a hang glider who has adapted amazingly well to the situation.

The main character though is a sad sack and the girlfriend is portrayed so negatively that it makes the protagonist look even worse for dating her in the first place and then for going through it all for trying to get her back. He also seems like a spiteful prick for someone willing to go through all that. Like the world ending isn’t a deal breaker but a dead guy in her place is.

If it’s a dark joke, it’s kind of funny. If it’s not a joke, oh man.

One Puppy Metric of Judgement: It has plot and character but the character is pathetic, the immersion is broken for no reason and the protagonist getting a positive payoff considering the rest of the story feels odd. Unworthy.

Posted by: Matt Y | 06/05/2015

Review: The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale

The Triple Sun: A Golden Age tale is a story about three cadets who are charged with a mission to complete.

Early Immersion – Begins with the opening line of a joke and then tells us it’s not a joke. We’re told the three cadet protagonists in the story are training to be Extra-planetary Explorers/Space Rangers, and it opens with a bar fight with a different service branch. It’s a cliched but fine way to open and try to explain the physical differences and the ingrained abilities of the characters.

Immersion is maintained – It’s maintained throughout though hokey. We’re to believe that the top scientific minds discovered hexagonal cow-looking creatures with tentacles that wear bracelets that are made of advanced technology and though there’s no evidence of intellect or even how/where they would produce such technology these scientists spend years trying to communicate with the hexicows. Which makes no sense. That would be like seeing someone assume a T-Shirt at the mall has intelligence because of the anti-theft device tagged to it. That knocked me right out of the story because all I could imagine was a bunch of scientists running around with Benny Hill music playing while yelling at hexagonal bovines.

There is a plot – Yep, the characters get themselves into a punishment duty because one of their crew is a smart ass, through his continued smart assery the potential punishment that hangs above their heads is increased tenfold and so they have only a short time to solve a problem that the brightest scientific minds (snort) have failed to do. Namely to communicate with the hexicows. There’s a time limit and increased tensions as the other cadets grow concerned over their future.

There are characters – There are three main protagonists. The narrator, Emily who is an Earthling who despite being the narrator we learn little of. She’s mostly there to be the rational one of the group. Priam, the golden Martian, who manages throughout to be consistently disrespectful to his superior officers, other cadets and the ones that form his little group. His actions literally put them in the way of throwing away their careers and they mostly react to this with annoyance. Then it’s Micah the silver Venusian, who is both a bulky fighter, a medic and a practitioner of Zen thinking. They exist in these roles, rational leader, smart ass, and calm zen master, but outside of that we know little of them through the story. I don’t know why any of them want to be EE. Priam comes from a rich family however aside from that being a minor plot point it’s not expanded on. They’re flat characters.

There is foreshadowing and it doesn’t suck –
There is foreshadowing through the videos of the hexicow survey that are later expanded on in an interesting way, so this works.

There are no gaping plot holes – A cadet figuring out what a bunch of nitwit scientists couldn’t in a fraction of the time, using steps that as a reader felt blindingly obvious. In all the years of attempts none of the scientists thought about putting the bracelet back on and using the greeting signal. Seriously.

Pacing is appropriate – The pace moves well until the last section where it skips the penultimate moment to go straight to them being given awards.

The piece has an emotional payoff – Not for me. Just as the character is in peril with her teammates dying she has to figure out how to communicate to a group of aliens and racks her brain…then it’s a while later and they’re getting awards for what they did and she explains how they got out in a rushed summary. She saw what they ate and gave them the food they liked. In other words her epiphany was one of the first things most people think about. If a baby is crying or my cat is meowing I typically wonder if it’s hungry as one of the first thoughts. Priam is a smart ass and interrupts the superior officer while that officer is awarding them for their service. After getting them in trouble in the first place, nearly getting them kicked out of the service for being a smart ass, risking their health by not sharing his ‘cunning’ plan, the guy still hasn’t learned a damn thing by the end of the story. The requirements for the EE must be extraordinarily low.

It’s not a bad story, it’s just a cliched one with moments that are meant to be clever but seem like common sense instead. The skip to the awards ceremony was obnoxious and felt like a cheap way out of the predicament that had been built up.

One Puppy Metric of Judgement: It meets most of the basic requirements so it gets a pass despite heavy reliance on tropes, hollow characters, and a disappointing climax.

Posted by: Matt Y | 06/02/2015

Review: Championship B’Tok

Onto the Novelettes! Going to change the Paulk Metric of Judgement to the One Puppy Metric as I don’t want there to be any confusion with the Judgement that it’s reflective of her personal opinion when I don’t know what that might be, I’m just using her guidelines as a way to critique the nominated works. So going forward I will list it as such.

Onto Championship B’Tok. Which is a story about…hell I don’t really even know after reading it. A hidden conspiracy.

Early Immersion – Begins with a character it never circles back to. Aside from it never bothers to incorporate the beginning into the larger tale it’s fine. The immersion is broken by a severe issue with awkward punctuation placement and editing.

Immersion is maintained – Punctuation is a constant issue that made it difficult to be immersed in the story. In fact though I read several worse stories prior to this one this was the very first one I almost gave up on for sheer readability issues. The author used punctuation like a child learning their first cuss word, too often and most of the time not correctly. There’s implant to implant communication that sometimes interrupts the flow of the story when it switches back and forth.

There is a plot – Hardly. The story brings up a possible conspiracy, starts showing the potential conflict for the characters and then THE END. Felt like the first couple of chapters of a longer book.

There are characters – There are a couple, and the story is best when it’s talking about the separate motivations of the main characters as it sets them up as distinct individuals. One of the protagonists keeps referring to a shadier background history that’s never really expanded upon or given a role in the story so I don’t get the reasoning behind it.

There is foreshadowing and it doesn’t suck – At one point a female protagonist pretty much explains everything to the main male character in the middle of the story, it’s not so much as foreshadowing as it is telling the reader what’s really going on. It draws a conclusion that the end supports instead of giving vague hints and then coming together later.

There are no gaping plot holes – None that I could tell. Though the story is called Championship B’Tok, the game is explained in the book, characters play the game against each other and yet at no point is the game important or even a major plot point. The conspiracy as it is revealed seems to hint that there are forces playing a version of the game on a galactic scale but it never really gets around to connecting the two.

Pacing is appropriate – Moves forward quickly.

The piece has an emotional payoff – It delivers a bullshit one. Just as the story really begins we get The End. Not To Be Continued… or Part One or whatever. Just The End. The story literally just gets to revealing the antagonists, sort of, and then it is over.

Championship B’Tok is a story that should not have made the ballot just for how poorly it was edited, if at all. It appears to be part of a larger series yet nowhere in the packet does this mention it and as such it feels very incomplete. It’s like ending Star Wars: A New Hope the moment after Vader comes on screen. The titular game makes very little impact on the story. Unfinished work should not be in consideration.

One Puppy Metric of Judgement: Unworthy by all accounts. No clue how this got on the slate.

Posted by: Matt Y | 05/30/2015

Hugo scorecard so far…

That wraps up the short stories. Out of the 5 stories using my understanding of what one Sad Puppy supporter listed as a way to rate worthiness I thought that 1 was worthy (Totaled), one was so-so (A Single Samurai) and the rest were not worthy of consideration due to immersion breaking prose, lacking or bad plots, minimal or one dimensional characters and/or poor emotional payoff. Next up, best Novelette which includes the stories:

Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium
Championship B’tok
The Day the World Turned Upside Down
The Journeyman: In the Stone House
The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale

I’ve already read three of them (down to two Novelette stories to read and one Novella and then I’ll have finished reading literary Hugo works).

Posted by: Matt Y | 05/30/2015

Review: A Single Samurai

The last of the Short Story nominees is A Single Samurai by Steven Diamond. I give it up for Baen Publishing, they included the story along with the entire Big Book of Monsters anthology. That’s extremely generous of them.

A Single Samurai is about just that. A lone samurai. He just so happens to be climbing a giant monster.

Early Immersion – Starts off with paragraph about deciding who you are, then there’s a break and then it goes into the sentence ‘It’s no easy task to watch your land destroyed.’ Personally I thought that the initial start felt like a false one that wasn’t needed and that it should’ve started from the sentence I quoted. I just don’t think it added anything to the story and the whole ‘Who am I? Samurai.’ felt corny.

Immersion is maintained – Starts in present tense, moves to past, never returns to present tense though the end really requires it to do so. A personal thing that took me out of the story was the constant references to what it is to be a samurai and most of it felt like cartoon cliches of samurai. For one thing it doesn’t reference Bushido at all which is the set of principles that defines samurai. Samurai in the story appear to be defined as roaming warriors who fight demons with swords forged out with a piece of their souls and a sixth sense. More like Jedi than samurai, or magical ronin. Of course this is a world where giant land monsters can start walking the earth but a term like samurai has a well defined historical context that isn’t represented well. If samurai died when their swords broke that social class would’ve gone extinct quickly. Nitpicky in a fantasy story but it kept telling me what a samurai was which didn’t match with what I know.

There is a plot – The self sacrificing theme of the story at least is one you often seen in samurai fiction. It was a David and Goliath story, or a Shadow of the Colossus tale if you’re familiar with that game, of a man trying to take down a giant no matter what it took.

There are characters – There’s the main character who tells us a lot of what a samurai is, but not a lot of who they are. There are small bits of characterization however most of the character is defined by job title alone. If you want more of a character than ‘magic samurai’, this story isn’t giving it to you. There’s no development of the character over the course of the story aside from explaining more ways being a samurai is bad ass.

There is foreshadowing and it doesn’t suck – There’s a part with his father that factors into the end that worked well as non-sucky foreshadowing.

There are no gaping plot holes – The past/present tense issue which would’ve made the start of the tale narrated by a ghost. If you start in the moment and then go back to explain how you got there and die while still in the past tense, it makes the present tense part make less sense.

Pacing is appropriate – The pace is alright though the beginning for some reason started twice.

The piece has an emotional payoff
– At the end the character makes the ultimate sacrifice but since all I know of him is that he is a samurai who is trying to kill a monster it’s hard to generate a lot of emotion for this.

Despite my complaints I thought this story was fun. Sure the character is a caricature of a samurai, but I like western stories where most cowboys are just a mash up of cliches as well. There was a giant monster, I like giant monsters. It had some issues and maybe if it explored more of the idea of self sacrifice or the kind of betrayal one must feel when the land itself stands up and starts stomping people instead of magic samurai stabs a monster it could’ve meant more. As it is I liked it not enough to think it was among the best of the year.

Paulk Metric of Judgement: 50/50 so we’ll go with marginal worthiness.

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