Posted by: Matt Y | 07/28/2015

Remainder of the Hugo stuff

This has been a busy month with a writing contest, wedding prep, how busy work has been and trying to contribute to Camp NaNo.

So I’m going to just quickly rush through my thoughts on all the remaining works.

John C Wright’s Nominated Works packet:  One Bright Star To Guide Them opens with a drunk guy picking up a cat and listing off his long past history with a similar looking cat from when he was a kid in one of the strangest bits of dialogue I’ve ever read.  But hey it turns out the exposition he drunkenly vomited all over the cat makes sense as it is the same cat and he has a magic key that they used to go on magical adventures with.  Then we get the scene where he tries to convince another childhood friend that they’re needed again and they their own CS Lewis adventures from childhood were real.  At that point the friend asks if what they did was real than nothing they did as adults would matter at all.  That’s a great line and could’ve lead to an interesting story that delved deeper into what it means to be an adult after having saved magic kingdoms as a child, and what it would mean as an adult to try and face those same dangers again with a more complex moral structure than seeing everything as black and white.

That’s not what we get though.  Instead the friend has already been corrupted by the evil bad guys and the good guy has to flee.  The book comes back to the character along the way as he continues his battles against evil forces, often explaining the nebulous time in between parts in great detail and recapping action that’s all held offstage, which is a shame because all of it sounds far more interesting than anything that happens during the present tense parts of the story and are robbed of any tension by explaining it as a thing that happened already.  It all wraps up in a clunky way full of over exposition and poor explanations.

And that was the best of his novellas.  The Plural of Helen of Troy is a mess.  It takes place in a city out of time run and has historical figures who’ve been pulled out of time as part of its population.  Oddly this also appears to include completely fictional characters as a character from Moby Dick is in there as a side kick to the private eye the story centers around.  There are small problems everywhere, like the main character worried that a character is holding a flintlock pistol wrong, only he knows a page later that the pistol has been adapted to be an automatic pistol.  Which makes his earlier concern pointless.  Helen in this story is an archetype and not the real Helen of Troy, she’s actually Marilyn Monroe.  Only at one point she cites something that happened in the battle for Troy like she was actually there.  The entire story revolves around a current JFK trying to prevent an older JFK from coming back in time and raping a young Marilyn Monroe.  Current JFK can’t stop future JFK from raping Monroe even though he loves Monroe, doesn’t want to hurt her, knows it’ll lead to his future death and so on because future JFK is obsessed with raping or something.  Like One Bright Star it ends with an awkward explanation to the protagonist about a higher order than what they know.

Pale Realms of Shade is another attempt at a noir detective story mired in an avalanche of prose and nonsense.  It opens with the protagonist who is a ghost whose former wife is trying to get him to convince the police that he was murdered when he was shot seven times in the chest instead of it being a suicide.  It’s not address how a person might commit suicide in this why, why the police would ever consider it a suicide or why they’d take the word of his ghost for it(assuming spiritual testimony is valid in whatever world this is supposed to be).  The ghost must still have some hormones running through it because there are long graphical descriptions of how hot his wife is.  The ghost is angry because it turns out his wife was the one that killed him and was cheating on him, only she can’t remember it because every time she cheated on him and after she shot him she’d drink elf juice of forgetfulness (so would her lover and the ghost’s partner at his private eye agency).  Then the ghost almost goes all poltergeist because he can’t get over the fact that his former wife and partner are together after he sees how well their doing together and damnitall his former wife is his property.  So he almost allows an evil spirit to help him kill his former partner, but then sees his partner tip his hat to an old lady and knows that his partner is a good man now and can’t go through with it.  Then he goes off to try and find redemption.

All of these feel like rough drafts of work that might be alright with polishing, but not nominees for best of the year.

Flow by Arlan Andrew I thought was okay but it didn’t really have much of a plot or a point aside from world building.  Much like Journeyman: In The Stone House this felt like a middle portion of a longer tale that we don’t get to see the beginning or end of and doesn’t really work well as a self contained narrative.  It didn’t feel like this built towards anything and when I got to the end I was left thinking, what, that was it?  I thought it was perfectly acceptable writing, if a bit forgettable.  Nothing I’d consider in contention for best of the year however.

Of the novels The Dark Between The Stars was mediocre and I like some of Anderson’s work.  Skin Game by Butcher was fun but not among the best Dresden Files books, much less best of the year.  It excelled at what Butcher does best, provide an entertaining read within his worlds.  Then again I’m more critical of the more recent DF books as it has built to a ridiculous level of gods and world-in-danger schemes when I preferred it when it was more personal or on a smaller scale.  3 Body Problem I thought was fantastic and stuck in my head in the way the best Sci-Fi books do, with puzzling over different ideas and themes presented that I enjoyed just thinking about.  The complaints I’ve seen about I understand as well though, one of the characters barely exists even though they’re a major character in the book for example.  But I thought the ideas presented through the story made up for any faults in the structure of it.  The Goblin Emperor was a complete 180 to the type of story 3BP was.  The main character isn’t a cipher, we’re right inside of his skull through then entire ride.  The story goes in a different direction than many others would, and made day to day court politics interesting somehow.  Where I connected with the ideas and theme of 3BP, I connected with the character and story more here.  I consider them both fantastic books and I’d be happy to see either win.  Ancillary Sword is the sequel to Ancillary Justice and while I know many love the books, I didn’t enjoy the first and had a hard time connected to the sequel because of it.  Unlike others who felt AJ was stronger, I think AS is the better of the two as it has a more clever plot that doesn’t rely so heavily on deus ex machina.  That’s just like my opinion man.  It was interesting in the themes and ideas presented though so I’m throwing it into 3rd.

Aside from that I read Fan Writer and Related and I’m a-ok No Awarding both.  Fan Writer appears mostly connected to Sci-Fi/Fantasy through a fictional battle with poorly constructed enemies referred to as SJWs or Glittery Hoo-Ha’s.  There’s a sliver of Sci-Fi/Fantasy material outside of the culture war rhetoric, victim blaming and poor use of both analogy and math.  Related has some basic work along with Transhuman and Subhuman, a collection of essays by JCW that I could go on about pointlessly.  I’ll just say that he and I are in complete agreement about The Hobbit movies.  Everything else in his essays though I felt was poorly reasoned and his definition of what he consider Sci-Fi/Fantasy to be I find shallow and narrow-minded, though it really does give a better understanding to his novellas.  It makes sense to me more why I bounced off his stories, he and I have a completely different view of the genre, what it means and what the purpose of it is.  This category also has Wisdom From My Internet, a poorly formatted series of out of context tweets.  I don’t know if the title is meant to be parody or if this was meant to be serious.  If there’s Wisdom hiding in there it’s doing a better job than Waldo because I didn’t see any.

All the movies are ones I enjoyed.  Of those Captain America: The Winter Soldier was my favorite.  I liked all of the comics aside from the tediously derivative Zombie Nation.  I did not have enough time to check out the podcasts or fanzines or the TV episodes.

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I’ve been reading and writing a bunch so haven’t been as focused on the Hugos as I’ve already dropped in my vote.

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Big Boys Don’t Cry on the surface is one of the more interesting tales in the slated works.  In essence it is both the literal and figurative deconstruction of an archetypical soldier.  This soldier just happens to be a war tank AI called Magnolia, or Maggie for short.

The story begins with the AI tank as it has some moments of self pity for having an incompetent commander, along with sadness for how her human soldiers used to ride inside of her but were replaced by drones, and how no one cares for Ratha class tanks anymore.  It’s a weird way of starting a MilSF story but the novelty of it made me interested.

Throughout the story there were a lot of immersion breaking moments for me.  First would be the random interjections into the story by the University of Woomalloo.  The name makes me wonder if there is an inside joke the author is referencing.  Sometimes these parts contribute to the story being told and other times these are just random bits of information that seemed like the author was making dumb political jabs at the expense of story momentum.

For some never explained reason the tank AIs are programmed to designate their gender.  In that battle one tank is pointed out for not having done so, and is ostracized by the other tanks because it is genderless.  I don’t even get why the tank AIs choose any gender or have that in their programming, much less why they have personalities.  I mean you might be able to write a fun story about a gun that’s programmed with an AI that decides it is now a pacifist, but there are no good reasons in this story as to why a battle tank is given a personality.  As far as gender goes that a tank chose not decide gender makes that the smartest tank AI in the book because it realizes it’s a goddamn tank.

Big Boys Don’t Cry instead has the genderless tank be socially shunned by other tanks because they think this is weird (I mean seriously a tank is shunned by other tanks because it decides not to assign itself a gender!) and in the first battle of the book that tank runs off like a coward.  Considering how that battle turned out that tank might be the only rational character in the book.

To pile on top of that Maggie gets hurt, like in pain hurt, and I couldn’t get why she was programmed to feel pain.  Later as she’s being scrapped but still conscious she feels all of it, and then the main character also questions why they allow her to feel pain.  It’s never addressed in the story.  Don’t know how the editor missed that the author pointed out a plot hole that the whole story revolves around.

Tanks can also earn medals which means that they’re treated as individual soldiers who are honored for service instead of property.  However they’re scrapped like property and the medals are stripped off without a second thought.  Not sure why they even award or have a ceremony to award tanks medals if they are shown to be meaningless.  To appease the ego of the tanks?  It’s a poorly explained plot device used to have Maggie have context for her flashbacks.
Then there’s the really weird part at the end where that shows how these AI brains are constructed in such a way that they are programmed with a completely innocent personality that requires the military to brain wash out of them by literally giving the AI brain orgasms as a reward response to killing and pain to trim away responses they don’t care for.  Again I don’t get why they are programmed with personalities in the first place, and now I don’t understand why the AI aren’t just programmed with the preferred responses in the beginning?  All I can tell is that the military in this story are a bunch of moronic assholes who like to create pointless things, give them pain, put them in danger, and then pull them apart when no longer needed.  Maybe that’s the point.

This is such a goofy book.

Maggie is the only developed character in the story, but you know what compared to the other slated work she’s a character who is easy to empathize with, her identity is the major conflict in the story, and most of the book is her dawning realization about how bad she has been used.

The pacing is all over the place, this tale stop needs a sticker that says Careful This Plot Makes Sudden Stops.  Aside from the occasional swerve away from the action to go into details about weapons that are given a lot of page space yet are functionally just story props, the story halts forward progress to tell us about other events in the universe that never seem relevant.  At first these university papers talk about the tanks, then it goes into rambles about bleeding hearts that fell for a call to peace by hostile aliens that the tanks aren’t really involved.  Much of the battle took place in space and even the razing of towns was done by the ships.  There’s a part about burkas that’s so transparent it reads like poorly done satire.

The end goes for the cheap satisfaction of revenge, which works with how it was built up though her actions don’t really get back at anyone significant and she never considered that those she is acting against might be in a similar position she was just in, brainwashed into doing their duty and poorly treated.  While satisfying in that she went down fighting it also rings hollow on who and how she enacts revenge against.

Personally I thought the story would’ve could’ve delivered a good gut punch reaction if she knew she could not do anything at all about her fate.  Or if it ended with scraps of her being shown to go to the construction of a fresh new tank who wasn’t aware of where her parts came from or the indoctrination and harsh life ahead of it.

While I am highly critical of the story I did enjoy it more than many of the other works.  The core idea of the literal and metaphorical deconstruction of a soldier is one I like a lot, and while I think it kind of went to waste in this story it was like watching a Uwe Boll movie or the 4th Twilight book in that it is so bad that it’s entertaining to see what else it has up its sleeve.  As someone who watches a lot of low rent horror movies I don’t often come across so-bad-it’s-enjoyable books.

Posted by: Matt Y | 07/03/2015

Stuff

I was reviewing the Hugo categories and aside from Graphic Novel I’ve caught up on all of them. But Fan Writing and Related were the roughest parts of the damn thing to the point where I took a break and read a bunch of books. I’ve been going through prior years Hugo Award winners and nominees to catch up recent years, like The Wind Up Girl, 2312 and Among Others, but also Paradise Sky, Finders Keepers, Nemesis Games, etc. I initially meant to start reading these as a palette cleanser of sorts and then I got so caught up in reading that I avoided reviewing this Hugo nonsense. Frankly reading good books is more entertaining to me than talking about shitty stories.

This is also Camp NaNoWriMo month, and while I’m mixed on the idea of NaNo in general the idea of a casual summer program to encourage fiction writing and to get some writing projects done is also more interesting to me than talking at length about hypocritical bullshit.

Not that I wont finish what I started, I just needed to step away from it. The Fan Writing category was filled with bitter bullshit and the Trans and Subhuman essays made me swear so much I felt like a new curse word needed to be invented to summarize my feelings towards it. At least the fiction sections were somewhat interesting instead of being a garbage heap. Then again I liked Wright’s stupid hammer description of The Hobbit 2. I felt that hammer heavily when watching Jurassic World.

So over the weekend I’m going to just dump my general feelings of the rest and be done with it.

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.

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