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118 Public Reviews Given
Public Reviews
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Review of Holiday  
Review by BlackAdder
Rated: E | (3.5)
Long ago on Neptune, humans arrived, but they found the planet inhospitable. Few remain there, so few that most of the natives no longer know of them except through stories. But one of their traditions, a thing called Christmas, caught the imagination of the Supreme kind Jai, and this small legacy became a welcome gift to his people.

Thanks for your entry in the Science Fiction Short Story Contest!

What I liked:
This is a heartwarming little piece, appropriate for the Holidays and the writing prompt. The perspective and setting are creative choices, the work is grammatically clean, and the happy ending fits the mood you're aiming for.

What might be improved:
The handling translated words from Human speech, such as the word "color" and the specific colors of red and green, add some charm to the work. Unfortunately, it's an odd and distracting detail too, since the aliens clearly can see colors and recognize different colors and find meaning in them. Additionally, it makes the alien perspective a little bit inconsistent with the point of view narration: their blueness is one of the very few things the reader is given to know of about the Neptunians.

Additionally, there's no conflict and little juxtaposition in the writing to make the happy ending stand out: this is not a fully developed story with a plot, just a charming moment. Given the challenge of writing for a Holiday prompt, that's quite understandable, but it definitely does leave room to add more.

However, this is a warm and pleasant anecdote appropriate for a Holiday sci-fi prompt - and Congratulations - this month's Science Fiction Short Story Contest Winner!
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2
Review of In Plain Sight  
Review by BlackAdder
Rated: 13+ | (3.0)
Two Spies deliver a gift of military intelligence along with their cargo of Christmas Turkeys.

Thanks for your entry in the Science Fiction Short Story Contest!


What I liked:
It was clever to add spy elements to a Holiday story set on other planets and manage to put turkeys and alien crocs in the mix. The characters had a bit of color to them: it wasn't clear why Umbra was laughing, as that was a bit unprofessional, but you managed to imbue a bit of personality in her that way.

What might be improved:
I had some difficulty figuring out what was supposed to be driving the plot. In part, that's because it was meant to be an end-of-story surprise. Unfortunately, a mystery reveal requires enough misdirection to keep the reader attending to what they believe the plot is until the twist arrives, and I couldn't figure out what that was. That meant the last-minute plot twist wasn't doing its job, and so there was no tension and no conflict before that point. And when the reveal does happen, it's not clear what the fighting is about, or how it's going to affect the humans or the viewpoint characters - that is, there are no stakes in the story, even after it ends.

A story, even a short story, usually has to hook a reader in by making a promise - and then keeping it. A little more work to reveal what the rebellion is about, what it threatens, why having the military plans matters, and then having a bit of tension added to it (especially through the use of foreshadowing) would do this piece a world of good. Instead, there is only a hint of croc sexism and rebuffed sexual suggestions to clue the reader into what the last few sentences in the dialog tell.

Thanks for your entry in the Science Fiction Short Story Contest! IT's always good to see your writing in the contest, and I hope you find something of value in the review!
3
3
Review by BlackAdder
Rated: E | (3.5)
Poetry is not my specialty, but thanks for the read and for an opportunity to learn more about an extraordinary man.
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4
Review of Q and A  
Review by BlackAdder
Rated: E | (2.5)
Emperors unearth the dark secrets of future history: humankind's periodic efforts to eliminate itself with nuclear weaponry might fall short of removing humankind, but succeed in removing its memory.


Thanks for your entry in the Science Fiction Short Story Contest, November Turkey Edition!

What I liked:
I enjoy worldbuilding, and it was nice to see a story that made an effort to create a whole alternative human history to explore, one with familiar places like Bristol and precise dates.

What might be improved:
It would be nice if your contest entry had some relation to the contest prompt. Failing to respond to the prompt disqualifies an entry from victory.

Second, there are two types of entries I look for and judge: stories and vignettes. This is not a traditional story with a protagonist, antagonist, conflict and a plot - and so I will judge it by the second standard. I tend to expect vignettes to illuminate a poignant moment, usually one that stirs a recognition of conflict, a sense of beauty, or refers to strong juxtaposed forces that the reader is expected to internalize and respond to.

This piece doesn't accomplish that goal: the tension it intends to spark is that between curiosity about the bright future and the hidden and less glorious path that led to the rise of the Emperors. However, the reader doesn't really learn much about what makes the future distinctly better or worse than the present, or why. All that is made clear is that humanity was engaged in multiple cycles of self-destruction, and that the Emperors disagreed about whether knowing that was better or worse. This writing needs a bit more of a hook to spur the reader into sympathy. In addition, there are a few grammar errors and awkward phrases that distract the reader. My suggestion is to reflect a bit on what reaction you want from the reader, and add a bit more tension in order to summon it. There's some good worldbuilding here and elements you can use in a grand story, but I think it needs a bit more development before it's ready to knock your reader's socks off.

Thanks for your entry in the Science Fiction Short Story Contest, and best of luck in your future writing endeavors!



5
5
Review of Talking Turkey  
Review by BlackAdder
Rated: 13+ | N/A (Review only item.)
Despite harrowing encounters with enslaving aliens, Marty and Emily have a Holiday truly worthy of thanks-giving. A little luck and astute observation allow them to make turkeys of said aliens - using, ahem, turkey.

Thanks for your Entry in the Science Fiction Short Story Contest!

What I liked:
This is a wonderful take on a difficult story prompt. You chose to employ an atmosphere of light camp, and stayed true to it. The jokes are mostly in the realm of dad-joke puns, but they work with each other and with the theme and tone.

What might be improved:
It's difficult to adapt a clever concept to a specific word limit, and the end and beginning of the piece each seem to struggle with that problem. Marty's interaction with Marvina Skank didn't fit smoothly with the middle of the piece, in part because she doesn't make a return appearance, in part because the opening is odd enough that it's a bit hard for a reader to catch their bearings, and in part because the transition in setting is a bit muddled.

However, the transition at the end between a movie-camera view of Marty's interaction with Emily and what is essentially an Afterword is a bit choppier. I would use an explicit scene break between them (a tilda is common) to help the reader adjust to the change in perspective and timescale. However, this is difficult to do, since the trapping of the alien would seem to be the natural climax of the story, the most important part to handle from the perspective in which you deliver most of the story. If necessary, abbreviating the opening narrative rather than the closing one might seem to fit the story better.

Overall, I definitely enjoyed the story. Thanks for rising to the prompt: you're this month's Science Fiction Short Story Contest Winner!
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Review of Harvest  
Review by BlackAdder
Rated: 18+ | (4.5)
Humans live a hopeless existence, one step ahead of the harvesters, killed and "sent to Urth" as soon as they're no longer good for having children. The only choice they have is whether to face their captors - or lie to themselves and their children, to delay the loss of innocence just a little longer.


Thanks for your entry in the Science Fiction Short Story Contest!

What I liked:
This story is haunting. Daisy's innocence and Larch's futile resistance underline just how tragic and hopeless the situation is. Whatever the technical merits, this piece hit me hard and immediately. Well done.


What might be improved:
There are a lot of elements to this story, maybe too many to keep it completely focused. Ash's angst-filled defiance in the face of his father's worry, the narrator's reluctant gratitude for never having known love, and the illegality of alcohol (and presumably, interesting computer games). The last doesn't quite make sense to me. "Logan's Run", for instance, allows an absolutely Dionysian lifestyle to distract from the death its people suffer at 30. From a world-building perspective, details like that can be wonderful, but they're also a bit risky. I suspect cutting a few may allow the story to be more powerful, but you'd have to experiment with it - definitely get a second opinion on that.

All in all, this is a wonderful little piece - most months it would be a clear favorite to win, but this time around it's unfortunately just a close second. Thanks for your entry in the Contest, and thanks for a great read!
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Review of Intervention  
Review by BlackAdder
Rated: 13+ | (2.5)
An elder race watches silently, benevolently as Earth's children mature, some of its own even passing as humans among them. Over time, the humans advance and grow in wisdom, but not soon enough, and their power always outpaces their ability to use it wisely. Eventually, humans develop a new species, an artificial intelligence, which discovers the watchers, just as their star goes nova and they find themselves in need of a new home. What will happen now?

Thanks for your entry in the Science Fiction Short Story Contest!

What I like:
This is a good, classic, science fiction First Contact concept. The story flows quickly and is clean of serious grammatical concerns. By the end, the reader is very curious to know how the story ends. Will it be in triumphant harmony or tears?

What could use improvement:
The world-building elements could use a little bit of cleanup. For example, for the explorers to choose to join the humans in a rural lifestyle implies agriculture, which means their interaction with humans lasts likely less than 10,000 years, a mere blip in evolutionary time, much less geological time. This seems to imply they are being rather impatient with humans, or else they are enormously superior. However, if they are so technologically (or spiritually) superior, why are either AI or the nova that takes their planet such a surprise? Still, as the story of Superman includes similar elements, this complaint may amount to nitpicking.

A greater opportunity for improvement, however, would be some form of progression, either the supply of story elements like conflict and climax or else a poignant end to the vignette such as an actual meeting between the humans, aliens, and AI. It seems your writing promises a change or interaction but does not deliver. This may leave the reader hungry for more, but likely in the end, unsatisfied.

In the end, while the concept and wordsmithing are interesting, I find myself wishing you had offered an active plot, theme or development, a description of the interaction with the aliens or something more active to anchor the work than the narrative description of a shared history. You describe something worth building upon, but I'm just looking forward to a bit more added to it.

Thank you for your entry, and for your imaginative words, and I look forward to your future work!
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Review of The Fourth Child  
Review by BlackAdder
Rated: E | (3.5)
It was supposed to be just one more in a long string of routine but profitable mining trips. Instead, Dana discovered the answer to one of the solar system's greatest mysteries - in the form of an enormous, telepathic space dragon.

Thanks for your entry in the Science Fiction Short Story Contest!


What I liked:
The space dragon seems to represent all of the mystery of the final frontier, a being much older, wiser, and more powerful than humans. Rather than being impressed by humanity, it is irritated by it, and despite its superior knowledge and ability to read minds, confused by the nature of the human experience. Meanwhile, the story of the energy source that ends up being a dangerous sentient being is reminiscent of the theme of the old computer game, Starflight. These are the classic attributes of superior beings in fictional worlds such as those of Star Trek and Dr. Who, intended to bring about a sense of wonder. Those serve you well, as does your use of the question "why" as the one a superior being can't answer, and the human psychological struggle for existence as a possible answer.


What might be improved:
It should be noted this is essentially a vignette rather than a story with a plot and conflict. It details a memorable moment for Dana and humankind, where secrets were revealed to each about the nature of humanity, history, and the strange energy crystals. I enjoy vignettes, but not every reader does.

Dana could be more developed. She is an astronaut with training from NASA and a space miner. We know very little else about her or what she wants, expect that we are told she is introverted and likes the quiet. Her role in the story is to be suitably shocked as the creature arrives. You have an opportunity to add to that.

It's very difficult to write superior beings believably, and the dragon comes across a bit more childish and petulant than you might be aiming for. For example:
"To be honest, I loathe you, humans. Arrogant, ignorant, weak, selfish, and think the Universe revolves around you. But the slight interest I have is the why. You conveniently ignore the meaning of your existence. I want to know how you pulled it off”

So much of the power of your story revolves around creating a sense of awe at the meeting with the dragon that it's essential to get right. This paragraph is a bit too direct in the way it detail's the creature's emotions toward humanity, making it seem small and petty, and yet a bit cryptic about the most important point, the dragon's curiosity about what led humans to outlast Earth's predecessor species. Dana's answer that humans don't think about the question is a bit weak, since many humans obviously do: in fact, that's part of what you're banking on to make the story interesting! When creating a sense of wonder, especially, the on-the-nose dialogue will not do. Characters must
have other concerns going on in their minds, only some of which end up expressed in words.

For example, you might replace the statements above with less direct expressions of the same thoughts and emotions:

I find little use in you humans. You think yourselves clever as you steal from us. With such thoughtless pride you build machines to chip away at what is mine, toys I could crumple with barely a thought. You act as if the Universe was built to serve you, though you barely scratch the surface of understanding it, much less controlling it. Even choosing thoughts your little mind can hold is tedious. But you are here, though all those before you are gone. The question, the little thing that stays me from cleansing the world of your trouble, is why.


In all, I think you've got the core of something really enjoyable and compelling here, and I'd love to see you finish it up and polish it off. Keep writing, and thanks for your entry in the Science Fiction Short Story Contest. I'm looking forward to more!
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Review by BlackAdder
Rated: 13+ | (4.0)
Hundreds of years after the first drone had reached the Huron system, Earth's people embarked on an enormous undertaking. They built a great ship, filled it with thousands of humans, and sailed it six centuries through the cold darkness, with the crew rotating through a state of deep hibernation to survive the trip. It was an undertaking so brave as to be almost foolhardy. Under the best of circumstances, one in twelve would never wake, and despite the scouting mission, who knew what they would find? But Captain Stein took the chance - and discovered sentient life. After a brief investigation, and despite how much she and thousands of others had invested in the journey, she made the bravest decision in her life: she ran.

Thank you for your entry in the Science Fiction Short Story Contest!

What I liked:
I really enjoyed your choice of concept. It's not one I've ever seen explored in writing, and yet it's a very plausible scenario, especially in a universe where Einstein's theory of relativity proves ironclad. For a brief while, multiple options seemed plausible: peace and harmony, combat, colonial Imperialism, further exploration, or turning tail and going home. Stein's choice of waiting two hundred years in the hopes of more information seemed the least likely, but that is what she chose.

Your writing showed few mechanical flaws. The Baen website claims that "Good writing, like good breeding, never draws attention to itself". This is the strategy you seem to pursue, and it is a good choice for the genre.

What might be improved:
The second half of the story felt anti-climactic relative to the first. The plot revolves around Stein's choice and the factors that fed into it, especially what she learns from her contact with the aliens. Unfortunately, what Stein learned wasn't much, mostly that the first alien she encountered was reptilian, had a gun, could be reasoned with, and wanted to call for authorities rather than deal with the humans itself - all of which seems remarkably sensible. Then Stein decided to hide in the orbit of another planet for two hundred years in the hopes of not being spotted in the meantime. While that's certainly a compromise between sailing 600 years back to Earth and confronting an alien species, it's not clear why she thought it would be a safe one.

What's more, while the reasons not to start a firefight with the reptiles don't need explaining, the emotional reasoning behind rejecting some of the other choices aren't clear, even if they don't feel specific to the Captain. It does seem more clarity and more dramatization around the captain's choice would be a really good idea - which might also drive the inclusion of more relevant details about the aliens themselves. In all, this is a great start, but a bit more working outward from what you find most interesting about Stein's internal conflict could make the story vastly more compelling, and lead to a more satisfying conclusion.

Thanks for your entry in the Science Fiction Short Story Contest! It's always good to read a creative piece that takes a few risks in the name of authenticity!
10
10
Review of First Contact  
Review by BlackAdder
Rated: 13+ | (4.0)
Who are you going to believe, the word of God or your lying ears? The gaseous beings of Saturn exist in a great world of storm and air, a world where the skies are forever shrouded by clouds. Yet strangely, theirs is also a world of harmony and stability, where all accept the traditions of the past and conformity to the present Word. The idea of alien beings arriving from beyond to speak with them is surely madness and any who speak the idea will be treated accordingly. In time, happily, the madness will pass.

Thanks for your entry in the Science Fiction Short Story Contest!

What I liked:
I loved the idea of contact with alien beings who refuse to accept they're being contacted, who figuratively stick their fingers in their ears until the voices go away - and so find they do. The writing here is pretty clean, with good word choice and pacing. While I might with its flow wer slightly more plausible, you do make very good use of dialogue to create a sense of motion and tension toward the resolution of the story.

What might be improved:
The contest allows 2000 words, and you use about half your allocation. You have a chance to invest a little bit more into the descriptions, to enhance your characters' development, or to make your vignette more poignant. Another option might be to build the apparent quandary (the complication of contacting a species that's determined to ignore contact) and turn it into a conflict that the characters must resolve. Is it really a foregone conclusion that the right thing to do for the explorers is to simply give up and leave? Or perhaps the central puzzle of the story could be the determination of why the blimps are behaving the way they do: you simply have Leo from navigation deliver the news, and count on the tension in the dialogue to create a sense of tension regarding plot elements. While this dramatization is useful, it would be better if the tension were more a result of forces that moved the viewpoint character into making a meaningful choice (among other plausible choices) where there were stakes involved.

Thanks for your entry in the Science Fiction Short Story Contest! This is a plausible, interesting and creative scenario you paint, and I'm grateful to you for sending it my way!


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Review by BlackAdder
Rated: E | (4.5)
Several decades ago, humans made their first contact with visitors from outer space, and the effect was dramatic. It happened so fast, the transformation of a dirty, dangerous globe filled with quarreling nations into a single harmonious nation. Almost no one remembers the transformation, and none now know the true tale of how it happened. Well, none, except an elderly man tired of hiding his colorful tale, finally ready to share it with a stranger, a credulous young boy...

Thank you for your entry in the Science Fiction Short Story Contest!

What I liked:
I loved the colorful language in this piece and the second-person narrative perspective that makes it work. The perspective is consistent, and the language and description lovely to read. The story itself is a puzzle that consists in peeling the layers of the frame story to reach the ever-so-matter-of-fact conflict. All in all, it's a very nice piece of work.

What might be improved:
The first thing that sticks out is that the frame story device seemed to weaken the main character's stakes and the reader's immersion in the conflict. It takes a while to tease out what the narrator is up to and why it matters for him and the world, from various hints about what the listening boy finds unfamiliar, and this is to the good. Unfortunately, it also means that the reader has to make it through over half the story to find out what the stakes of the story really are. I suspect there's a tradeoff involved here between being able to tease out the details in a charismatic narrative and setting up a traditional introduction plot structure upfront. I can't argue with your choice, but perhaps one more off-hand remark or piece of foreshadowing might help set a stronger hook in the opening sentences.

The second thing I noticed was the climax had come and gone before I realized what it was actually about: the deliberate concoction of a heroically rebellious decision to initiate diplomacy between worlds as an alternative to mutually embarrassing fumbling on the part of the humans and aliens involved. I think a pause between the moment when the problem is clearly defined and its resolution would be an improvement in the pacing, allowing the reader a moment to perceive and savor the moment you've spent pages setting up. That, of course, is just a suggestion.

Thanks for your Entry in the Science Fiction Short Story Contest. Also, Congratulations - you are this month's Winner! You'll find the GPs and the badge in the mail. *Wink*


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Review of World's Fate  
Review by BlackAdder
Rated: 18+ | (3.5)
Admiral William serves on one of the most important commands in space: a joint venture between the Terrans and the Mannans intended to save each of the binary planets from annihilating themselves and each another as their orbits collapse. Except, today William finds out differently. Not only does the joint venture end in violence that leads him into a deadly conflict with his own sister, but he discovers the mission was never about saving both planets. With so much time, money, and good faith lost, who could ever save them now?

What I liked:
This is a wonderful, creative plot, one with just a bit of a Star Trek feel. In a short time, it manages to set up tension on multiple levels: planet versus planet, brother versus sister, husband versus wife, humankind versus nature, and between a sure way to save at least one planet and a gamble that may wind up in saving both - or neither. I see too little of this, and it's fantastic.

The pacing is also good, with new information revealed on steady beats: the conflict, the identity of Admiral William, his wife and children's predicaments, the deception from Foster, the justification for genocide, and the final decision. Structurally, this story is really strong.

For a work of this length, the brevity in your descriptions is also very appropriate.


What might be improved:
There are a lot of awkward phrases and grammatical errors. I see problems with subject-verb agreement and tense consistency especially, but you should also keep an eye on your comma usage. You're writing mostly in the past tense, so you should stick with it. There are a few spelling errors too, including more than one misspelling of "Terrans". It's mostly because of these issues that I didn't give your piece a higher rating: they make a big difference in the feel of work. I've taken to using Grammarly for my own on-line writing, as it's free. It doesn't get everything right, but it does highlight a lot of issues I would otherwise need a few editing passes to clean up.

The only other thing I might suggest is working on your dialogue. It's not at all bad, but you may be missing some opportunities to have characters talk past each other in ways that highlight their concerns and personality without stating things right out. I little more subtlety could take that part of your writing from good to great.

Thanks for pointing out this short story. It was my pleasure to review it, and I hope you found something in my opinions of use. My sense is with a bit of editing, it could be very strong. Good luck with the contest and in your future writing!

Sincerely,

Sean
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Review of The Return  
Review by BlackAdder
Rated: E | (3.5)
Planets were falling, Aqualasia had been lost, and it looked as if Captain Parker's system would be next. Admiral Braxton had given up and signaled the retreat. But Parkers was not about to give up so easily.

Thanks for your entry in the Science Fiction Short Story Contest!

What I liked:
This short space opera piece had a crisp, clean plot and progression, and moved swiftly to the final revelation, the (as yet failed) return of the Earthlings. The characterization was minimal but efficient: it was easy to gather enough about Parker to care what happened to him, and just enough concrete information about the other characters to get some sense of the importance of the events. The details about the spacecraft were a nice touch, especially bits about the protoplasmic gel and the F-16 fighter chassis, even if the latter seemed a bit out of place in an interstellar battle.

What might be improved:
This contest has seen its share of space combat vignettes, which means that kind of entry needs to have a bit extra to stand out. The center theme, that of an invading alien force with inscrutable motives... that just happens to be the return of the presumably human descendants of Earth, should be played up a bit. A piece of writing should do at least one thing very well. For example, it may provide a visceral description of events, build dramatic tension, or inflame the sympathy or curiosity of the reader. In this case, the dramatic tension was centered around three things: the mysterious motives of the invaders, their inexorable advance, and the details of the space combat itself.

However, it's difficult to move an audience with the technical details of a fight, especially when the reader doesn't have concrete experience with the technology - only familiarity with lasers, gravity assists, explosions, and so on. Without crisp visualizations, it's hard to be drawn in by that. A typical way to build tension with a sci-fi or fantasy fight scene is to introduce an interesting technology, then create a puzzle around it that the protagonist has to solve, but this fight (and the science involved) was pretty straightforward. Building up the stakes of the fight helps too. You can do this by reminding the audience of how long people had been here, how many would lose their lives if the battle was lost, how numerous the enemy was, how difficult it was for Parker to leave his loved ones behind, perhaps to die - one way or another, it's best to provide the kinds of details that convince the audience of the importance of what's going down. That part was a bit underdone. Every story is a matter of making a promise to the reader - and then keeping it. In this case, raising the emotional stakes by pointing out just how much was at risk, and just how impressive the enemy forces were would have improved the story tremendously. Once you have that down, you can worry a bit more about polishing the writing itself. You could fix a couple of grammatical errors and improve a few awkward sentences, but those issues are relatively minor.


In any case, I do enjoy a good space opera, and I much appreciated the chance to read yours. Thanks for the entry, and I hope to see you in the Science Fiction Short Story Contest again!
14
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Review of Evolution  
Review by BlackAdder
Rated: E | (4.0)
Professor Butter (or her posthuman cyborg descendant) wraps up a lecture on the history of biological lifeforms, meets three others about a research proposal, and plugs in for a long nap. When she wakes, she discovers that the researchers have discovered proof of something earthshattering - the existence of something within the posthuman AIs they had barely dreamed of - souls.

What I liked:
The concept of posthuman AIs mimicking humans who are no longer alive, even to the point or preserving their mannerisms in the face of a lecture to other bored AIs in a lecture hall, was intriguing. I also liked the level of detail in the presentation, in keeping with the contest prompt to center the story around science. The level of detail added around the presentation and the professor's behavior were also welcome. The search of AIs for their souls was also interesting.


What might be improved:
While the idea of researchers proving the existence of souls in AI was interesting, it was also frustrating. Philosophers and neuroscientists refer to the problem of consciousness as "the hard problem", so the idea that a few researchers could whip up proof of the existence of souls in any short amount of time seems odd. Or was it longer? The details were vague. Better placing some of the story's events in a timeline would have helped, as would building some dramatic tension around the research question instead of simply having the answers revealed and celebrated without a period of anticipation. The writing style itself was reasonably clean, though I would watch for "on the nose" dialogue and narrative.

Still, this was a very creative entry, and I enjoyed it a lot. In fact, it's this Month's Science Fiction Short Story Contest Winner! Congratulations, and hope to see you in the Contest again!
15
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Review of Kiss It Off  
Review by BlackAdder
Rated: 18+ | (3.5)
The capture of a spy leads to an incredible revelation: aliens have been capturing young boys and leading them unknowing into attacking their own people, in order to feed off of their misery. But for at least some Night Guards, that story is over, and the revolution has begun.

Thanks for your entry in the Science Fiction Short Story Contest!

What I liked:
The concept of a people being enslaved and set upon their own by aliens is not unknown, but not common, and I've never seen it used in quite this way, giving it a novel and original feel. The reader is moved to cheer for the Night Guard who has learned the truth and turned on his enemies, and for the brave woman who has freed and welcomed him. This was a fun story to read, and it had enough twists to keep me in it.

What might be improved:
The shifts between direct dialogue and narrative summaries shorten the story a bit, helping it fit within 1500 words, but the contest allows 2000. With a few more words, you could do much more to maintain a sense of immersion. Where you can easily have the woman (and she should be named) tell her story directly, that would be much better than an indirect narrative. Where you can, it is best to relate the story from a consistent point of view.

There are a number of grammatical errors and awkward phrases that distract the reader from the flow and the plot. For example:
"Others, like one of the leading the meeting, was ..."
"One of the Night Guards said, as would many others. It wouldn't be long before another one was found, but the Guard who found him first kept him alive."
"She suggested they just walk, and his troops -- devoid of arms and armor -- followed. (Use commas or parentheses to mark the parenthetical phrase. Also, why not take arms? Is the fight really over?)

Technically correct, but awkward:
"He hadn't believed it either when she told him, but he explained he had seen certain anatomical differences, which she'd shown him.
"It wasn't a matter of meat or vegetable, they lived on the misery of others. She smelled the cool fog of the morning to come. "
"With the people subdued, they left garrisons and sent many troops on to other places. He stopped her."

Also, it would be nice if I could see a clear tie-in to the prompt. :)

All in all, thanks for the great entry. With a bit of cleanup, this would be really strong. Thanks for entering it in the Science Fiction Short Story Contest, and I hope to see entries from you in the future!
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Review of Planet Redd Z  
Review by BlackAdder
Rated: E | (2.5)
In the aftermath of a great war, two factions, that of the Zetas and that of the Vetas realized they had ruined the world with their fighting, and decided to invade Earth rather than fix their own planet. After having failed miserably at that, they took one last desperate step to recover their homeland: working together to clean it up. When after some time they finally recovered, they prepared to fight again, but the Vetas decided not to show up for the war. Instead, everyone comingled and lived happily ever after.


Thanks for your Entry in the Science Fiction Short Story Contest!

What I liked:
This was a morality tale that began with tragedy on a global scale and ended happily, even though one side wanted to have a war. The story moved quickly, and there were relatively few grammatical errors.

What could be improved:
There are some minor grammatical errors. For example, the story begins in the present tense, but slides into the past tense unnecessarily. However, this does not distract too much from the story.

Unfortunately, the story is very abbreviated, and calls to mind the old adage, "Show, Don't tell". By the end, the reader had learned almost nothing of the characters aside from which faction they are fighting for and a sense that they begin the story with a tendency toward violence that's difficult to understand, but at the end give it up for good because they realize it is horrible and unnecessary. This doesn't seem very plausible. When characters change their behavior a great deal, it's less believable if it's sudden, though that may be inconvenient when it comes to putting together a plot twist at the end.

My suggestion, if you are interested, is to provide more details about the factions involved and why they are fighting and how their personal views of what's going on helped them change their mind about war and convince their peoples. Then, it might be too much to say that they never fought again - a reader is more likely to accept it if you end with the establishment of peace but not promise that it will last forever.

Thanks for your entry in the Science Fiction Short Story Contest! Though there is room for improvement, I was glad to read it. Keep writing!





17
17
Review by BlackAdder
Rated: E | (4.0)
A practitioner of magic suffers the most mundane inconvenience: detention by the police to settle fault in an automobile accident. Her "sweet" revenge is cut short by the arrival of a representative of the real authorities, the magical ones who can actually punish her for her magical meddling. Thankfully, it's her brother, who makes her clean up the mess, then forgives her and sends her on her way to her date with her fiance.

Thanks for your Entry in the Science Fiction Short Story Contest!

What I liked:
This is a fast-paced and wickedly creative demonstration of precisely what happens when a "muggle" crosses a "witch"! The sentence structure and tone are on-point, and the dialogue works perfectly for its purposes. As usual, the story is quite well written, with some minor exceptions that editing can fix.

What might be improved:
Unfortunately, I have never been a huge fan of the "magic versus mundane" conflict story, simply because of the incredible imbalance in the conflict. "Bewitched", "Sabrina", "I Dream of Jeanie", and more modern versions of the same story all suffer (until they are further developed) from two flaws: 1) It's not clear what limitations the magical people face, making it difficult to measure the inconveniences they face or how difficult it is to get out of them, resulting in a loss of stakes and tension. 2) The technology the normal people have to face magic isn't just inadequate, it's so woefully inadequate that there is no real contest at all. This makes the cruelty on the part of the narrator hard to watch, like that of a child pulling the legs off of frogs - at least, if the child could stick them back on afterward. This was made plainer when J'son wanted to settle things, but the narrator would have none of it.

This objection is to a certain extent one of personal taste because I know a lot of people enjoy a brief taste but harmless taste of vengeance in fantasy, since real life is so full of unfairness that must be suffered wordlessly. I, unfortunately, am a total softie. However, this does affect my reaction, and as a reviewer, it's my job to explain that. Perhaps more importantly, however, this affected the story's fidelity to the prompt: since technology and magic were not opposites with comparable power, and because the narrator was savvy enough to drive cars and fake out databases, this really isn't a story of opposites at all, just of someone with power and someone else without it.

There are some other minor grammatical or stylistic errors with the story that can be fixed with a little editing:
" The air-conditioning was working overtime to keep the inside temperature at twenty. But not his fault. " --> :But it wasn't his fault."


"He was what people call, a tech-savvy, a worshiper of technology. He wouldn’t know spells even it occurred in front of his eyes. But I was more aware of the Council of Magic than him."
--> J'son's tech-savviness never affected the story, but since this isn't properly a word in English, it probably should be marked by italics or quotation marks. Then, "He wouldn't know spells if they occurred in front of his eyes". Third, "I was more concerned about the Council of Magic than him."

There are a few other minor issues, such as the repetition of the point about the pen, which could have been handled a bit more elegantly, but those are minor issues that another editing pass could fix.

Thanks for your entry in the Science Fiction Short Story Contest! You work was a pleasure to read, despite my own issues with the specific sub-genre and how they relate to the prompt. It was mostly those that kept it from a win. I'm definitely looking forward to more from you!
18
18
Review of A Day In The Life  
Review by BlackAdder
Rated: 13+ | (4.0)
In a strange Dyson-Sphere-like world where day is marked by the heat of volcanos and night by the cool rush of the ocean, Bolloga faces friendship and hardship. Despite the best use of flippers he can manage, he is crippled by the loss of a foot to a sea-serpent.

Thanks for your entry in the Science Fiction Short Story Contest!

What I liked:
This is a really creative piece. The point of view you deliver is a wonderful device for exploring a strange new world, and it's delivered well, with solid descriptive writing.

What might be improved:
I've heard the art of the novel described as "making a promise in the opening, and keeping it". I think short stories work much the same way. The promise you make, however, is not an ambitious one. You proclaim you will tell the reader about a day on a strange world, and you accomplish that. However, the protagonist has no hopes at the beginning, nor is he challenged to face a conflict by an external even near the beginning of the story. Instead, later in it, he faces an unexpected monster, loses a foot, and is unhappy that he won't be able to swim as well and won't be whole. His friend, notably, isn't overwhelmingly sympathetic until he's pushed into acting that way. Moreover, since you never talk up earlier what he loses later, the readers doesn't have a strong sense of them as part of the stakes of the story.

The most important thing Bolloga loses is his pride and sense of freedom: if you want the reader to care about that, you might want to play it up a bit earlier and have his friend react more strongly when he first sees the injury. If you can work that sense of pride into the wonder that you're trying to impart into the reader, you might better inspire that. For example: "I've swum further than anyone else in the pack, past the serpents to the very feet of the crooked white mountain, and climbed to its hills!" Then give names to a few places, being specific about the details in order to anchor them to a sense of reality. This is a great little piece, but it could be much stronger with those kinds of tweaks.


Thanks for you entry in the Science Fiction Short Story Contest! It's always a pleasure to read your work, and I hope to see you in the contest again!
19
19
Review of A Mind for Sale  
Review by BlackAdder
Rated: 18+ | (4.0)
An attempt to bargain with Memory Traders for the life of a girl goes sour, but thankfully Michael has an ace up his sleeve. And, of course, a little skill with guns.

Thanks for your entry in the Science Fiction Short Story Contest!

What I liked:
This is a short, fast-paced high-action story in a far-off and exotic place, where dark and dangerous deals are made. Father Klignen's nonchalant death-dealing in the midst of prayer especially adds cool competence to the heady mix. The style and tone are consistent with the choice of plot, and the piece reads well and smoothly.

What might be improved:
A little (just a little) more information about the characters might have made them feel a bit more real, offered the reader a connection to them, a clearer sense of the stakes, and perhaps some sense why any of them were there. Why was Tahlia captured? What was she to Michael? Why did Tahlia react more to Father Klignen than Michael? Along these lines, the character focus skips from Michael to Klignen in the second half of the piece, and never shifts back, giving the sense that the action is the protagonist here, and the humans minor characters in comparison. Their introduction is a nice teaser, but I want more!

Perhaps most importantly from the perspective of the contest, the subject had very little to do with the prompt: war. Still, I enjoyed it and was glad for the chance to read it.

Thanks for your entry in the Science Fiction Short Story Contest! Looking forward to more entries from you in the future!

20
20
Review of Last Shot  
Review by BlackAdder
Rated: 13+ | (3.5)
After repeated failures to establish communication and the loss of multiple ships, High Command declared war, sending thousands of drone pilots into the fray against mysterious arachnids, including one Roar. Roar, after brief combat against the beings, discovers that they are in fact weaponized vehicles manned by humanoids. He has only enough time to recognize the sentience of a fellow being he's locked in combat with before both meet their ends.

Thanks for your entry into the Science Fiction Short Story Contest!

What I liked:
The level of detail about the arachnids was strikingly appropriate, enough to leave them mysterious while educating the reader about the unknown. The combat itself felt real and plausible, then descended from a brief triumphalism into a final note signaling the wasteful and often futile nature of war.

What might be improved:
I've heard storytelling referred to as the art of making a promise to the reader and then keeping it. Up front, the reader should have a declaration of stakes made, a bond formed with a character. Neither Roar, Maria, the High Command, the muddy grey destination world, or the overall situation was sufficiently well explained to offer an investment in them. Therefore, when Maria is lost, I barely noticed. When Roar died, I simply nodded. I don't know who won the battle, nor do I mind not knowing.

While the flow, grammar, word choice, and progression are all well executed, the stakes are not as high as they should be, and this is vitally important. Without a strong hook, it's hard for the rest of the story to shine, but strengthening the connection with the protagonist would go a long way toward fixing that.

Thanks again for your entry in the Science Fiction Short Story Contest! While this is not one of your stronger submissions, it's still always a pleasure to read them.
21
21
Review by BlackAdder
Rated: 13+ | (4.0)
After years of suffering indignity and violence, to the point where it seems all of humanity must be lost, President Xavier manages to turn the tables against invasion, achieving not simply revenge - but peace.

Thanks for your entry in the Science Fiction Short Story Contest!

What I liked:
The concept is a perfect response to the story prompt, and while the sheer level of depletion of Earth's population as it remains passive for so long strains plausibility, it lends weight to the twist - and the twist works beautifully. Utter hopelessness is transformed into utter victory, mostly plausibly enough that the reader can accept it.

What might be improved:
Earth currently supports seven billion people: seven thousand million. The idea that humanity would quietly tolerate depletion to the level of 10 million without rioting and overthrowing its leaders doesn't imply strain believability but demolishes it. I suggest leaving a higher number than that.

Along these lines, some of the word choice seems simple, too colloquial, and hyperbolic: "But why? People were happy with everything. No one complained when one of their families was either beamed up or taken away at the point of some weird looking guns."

Mind your tone and grammar! The concept of the piece and the delivery of the character and plot work so very well that they simply reach out and grab me. However, there's a lot of room for improvement in the language and tone of the piece, and the level of character detail could be bettered with few words. This piece is too much fun not to love, but some time spent in cleanup and raising the reading level just a little could really help it reach its potential!

Thanks for your entry in the Science Fiction Short Story Contest, and Congratulations! You are this month's winner!
22
22
Review by BlackAdder
Rated: 13+ | (4.5)
Mr. Beckett risks everything to be the first to develop working faster-than-light travel. After an ethically dubious break with the Hiyaku Corporation (taking a bit of "inspiration" for the road), Beckett rashly one-ups his partially successful drone teleportation by sending himself across the galaxy - only to find his faith in his ability to navigate using the drive fatally optimistic.

Thanks for your entry in the Science Fiction Short Story Contest!

What I liked:
This is an original story very much in tune with the mad scientist theme of the contest prompt. The writing is well-paced and makes good use of the personality of the protagonist to move it along. The narrative tone shadows the plot perfectly: just a bit slippery and more than a bit reckless. When Beckett is lost, the reader feels satisfied, not wounded.

What could be improved:
A couple bits about the ending read badly. Given only the information in the article, I would not expect his audience to consider him a fraud but a failure (remembered, if at all, as a hack who should have left the job to Hiyaku). After all, someone who gives his life trying to prove the merit of his work may be foolish, but he's at least shown he's willing to put his money where his mouth is. In addition, the concern about the missed birthday, while actually plausible, feels off. While I can imagine it reflecting the frantic state of Beckett's mind, in context it simply feels too much like failed humor.

Summary:
Overall, this is a really nice piece. A bit of cleanup in the ending likely would have edged it over the line for the win. As is, it's a very strong runner-up.

Thanks for your entry in the Science Fiction Short Story Contest and the chance to read your story. It was a pleasure, as always.
23
23
Review of Foresight  
Review by BlackAdder
Rated: 13+ | (4.5)
Like HG. Wells's Time Traveler, Norman is spurred by a tragedy in his past to invent the machine that will allow him to change it. Like that Time Traveler, Norman discovers he can't change his own past. However, unlike that tragic figure, Norman discovers that maybe, just maybe, he doesn't have to.

Thanks for your entry in the Science Fiction Short Story Contest!

What I liked:
Norman's and Del's time streams were cleverly interlocked, with each attempting to reverse a tragedy in his own life. The difference is that Del goes one step further, sabotaging Norman's life in order to better his own. But the resulting story is logically consistent, a feat by itself when it comes to stories of time travel. Despite the complexity of both the plot and the sentence structures the story uses, the pace is quick, and the narrative is clear. The ending, once the reader realizes that eliminating a tragedy in one's own past is impossible, is a nice twist. Well done. Ariel too is a fine character device, acting as a foil for Norman and providing a way to inform the reader without information dumps.

What might be improved:
There are a few awkward sentences, including a (grammatically correct but cumbersome to parse) run-on long enough to fill the role of a paragraph: "And when his younger counterpart dashes away despite Del’s protestations, Norman remembers the years of study his past-self has yet to seclude himself from friends and family to undertake, study that led eventually to the creation of Ariel, a digital ghost with an aged simulation of his daughter’s voice, his guide through time and his delusion, his shield against the realisation that the two words the Del he’d left in the rain had used to describe Norman’s work were both fair and accurate: mad science."

Another example: " There she is, just beyond the trees, scared by the scream she has just heard, asking Del’s past-self what it was, even as he lifts her up and heads for the treeline and suggests they continue hiding from Daddy, but she struggles and kicks and escapes his grip to send him sliding through the dirt, his ankles colliding with protruding roots to tear screams from his lying mouth."

I would recommend splitting these up, though it will take some care to keep the quick rhythm without making the sentences choppy.

In this case, you go the other way, adding an extra "and" clause: Her reply is a garbled stream of static interspersed with phrases like “critical error” and “departure imminent” and “date undetermined”.

A bit of wordsmithing here will make the story much more elegant, as the cleaner writing is, the more the unsightly bits stick out.

From a plot perspective, I might have wished for a more original concept, but the twist at the end makes it fresh.

In Summary:
This is a lovely bit of writing, and a different stylistic example is a breath of fresh air for the contest. Congratulations: you are the winner of this month's Science Fiction Short Story Contest!
24
24
Review by BlackAdder
Rated: E | (4.0)
Po and Illuan work with their "colleagues" to pull off a deadly, impossible heist - and one that seems to result in an empty vault. But Illuan's preparations pay off, and after dealing with a single, final betrayal, they make their payday.

What I liked:
This story rises to the challenge of the contest prompt, offering personable characters and a high-speed action chase right out of a movie!

What might be improved:
Despite the action hook and the betrayal, I wasn't surprised. I suppose this is a pretty cliched genre, but despite a solid delivery, this entry felt a little too "safe". (My own recent story, "Samantha", fell victim to the same issue in the Phoenix Point contest, I fear). I most certainly enjoyed it, but it needed something a bit more risky or creative to edge out the win. While disappointing to hear, the bright side is that I don't have any serious execution flaws to point out, which shows consistent and skillful writing.

Thanks for your entry in the Science Fiction Short Story Contest! It's been a pleasure to read.
25
25
Review of When Ends Meet  
Review by BlackAdder
Rated: 13+ | (4.0)
Herrick's band of pirates finally gets the big score. While he's pondering with the other about what to do next, and whether to remain in piracy, the police arrive.

What I like:
The story sets up an ironic hook around the idea that crime doesn't pay, playing off the notion of a gentleman gone bad living in honor of sorts among his fellows, trying to do right by them. The description of the raid, which is most of the story, is quite solid.

What might be improved:
It's difficult to know any of the characters enough to empathize with them, and for the ending to work, that seems crucial. I'm not sure exactly how to accomplish that in a story this short: more idiosyncracies from Herrick or a sign of deeper personal affection for or loyalty to one of his crew members might help. But as a reader, I feel much of my interest was used up in details about the mechanics of the raid and the splitting of the spoils - which might work in a longer piece, but a short story has little time to set the hook, and must be both more poignant and efficient. Still, this is a pretty strong entry - it just needs a little more to draw the reader in.

Thanks for your entry in the Science Fiction Short Story Contest!
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