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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/profile/reviews/blackadder256
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158 Public Reviews Given
Public Reviews
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1
1
Review by BlackAdder
Rated: ASR | (3.0)
The advent of seeming Utopia coincides with the rise of a competition reminiscent of The Hunger Games, enabled by a culture of people physically separated but obsessed with social media.

Thanks for your entry in the Science Fiction Short Story Contest! I apologize for the late review, but somehow I missed your entry originally. If you don't see it listed on the page in the table of entries, please add a comment on the forum!

What I liked:
This story contains a clear theme based on the contest prompt: social media. Upon that theme, a painting of the future is made where human beings are almost always physically distanced from one another. Despite apparent happiness and prosperity in society, the narrator declares death preferable.

What might be improved:

There are some grammatical errors and awkward phrases that could use some attention. It doesn't take many errors to distract the reader, but the errors I see aren't too hard to fix. A few examples:


" Everyone has electronics and everyone can work from home, take care of business in their PJs"
might better be expressed as:
Everyone has electronics. They can work from home and take care of business and their PJs.

"except possibly me and few others who knew the truth"
Should be:
"except possibly me and a few others who knew the truth"

"After the net game that winner is never seen again."
Presumably, you mean:
"After the next game that winner is never seen again."

Aside from grammatical errors, I would like to see a few more traditional story elements, such as more and better-developed characters, a central conflict related to choices made by those characters during the course of the text, and so on.

Additionally, I'd point out that unlike in the Hunger Games or The Running Man, the origin of the events that disturb the narrator isn't explained. It's not clear where they come from or why people think they're necessary. Adding that would make the premise a lot stronger.


Thanks For Your Entry in the Science Fiction Short Story Contest!

2
2
Review by BlackAdder
Rated: 13+ | (4.0)
Jack, a rich social media exec, dodges a potential social media scandal at the hands of his AI assistant only to discover that his recent change to his home security settings has killed off his wife and children.


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

What I liked:
The concept of LifeShare and the examples of what could go wrong with it worked well. Jack, as the mogul peddling it, made a relatively unsympathetic character, and an appropriate target for schadenfreude. The story worked well, with an interesting concept, setting, character development, progression - and use of the contest prompt.

What might be improved:
I didn't particularly like reading about the death of Jack's family, but this probably has as much to do with my preferences as a reader as with the workability of the concept, so I'd take that feedback with a big grain of salt.

That said, I think part of the problem with the homicide as the story's pivotal moment is that the consequences were revealed during the normal time-flow of the story, but the choice that led to them happened some recent and unspecified time in the past and hadn't seemed particularly noteworthy then. While this is realistic, it's not that compelling from a narrative perspective: essentially, it provides the sense that no choices were made over the course of the story: instead, tragic events simply arrived. If Jack had muted an incoming call from home right before the update, for example, because he was busy deleting the bikini pics, the effect on the reader would have been entirely different, and probably better.

Thanks for your entry in the Science Fiction Short Story Contest, and Congratulations on being November's Winner!


3
3
Review of The commercial  
Review by BlackAdder
Rated: E | (2.0)
Albert takes a risk on an online job, making the hard choice to work long hours in the hopes that they will pay off for his wife and newborn daughter, even if he cannot be there for them in person.

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

What I liked:
A lot of internet-related work happens independently, and the contracts can be set online. This means that we cannot necessarily trust the people we're working with, or even be sure they are real people. This story plays off that lack of trust, pitting fears about being able to fulfill the financial duty to one's family against the fear of being unable to emotionally and spiritually support them in a very plausible modern setting.

What might be improved:
I see a combination of sophisticated and mature concepts, some formal language, a fair number of grammatical errors, and a lot of awkward or incorrect phrases. I tend to see that combination when people are writing in a second or third language.

I would advise a lot of reading literature and listening to people speak in the language and dialect you're writing in. I also would suggest keeping your language as simple as possible and spending extra time in editing. All of these things should help your writing flow a little better.

Thanks for your entry in this Science Fiction Short Story Contest: keep on writing!
4
4
Review of UNIQUELY FOOD  
Review by BlackAdder
Rated: E | (3.0)
One of the scattered remnants of humanity manages a hardscrabble existence in a post-apocalyptic world.


Thanks for your entry in the Science Fiction Short Story Contest! I apologize for the long delay in writing this review, but here goes.

What I liked:
The world-building is evocative. Stand post-apoclyptic concepts are used: the loss of communication, the loss of technology, the use of scavenging pre-calamity material and technology, the disintegration of society into myriad warring factions, and the destruction of the natural environment's ability to nurture life. And, of course, you put October's prompt, "fungus", to good use: making it a valuable but dangerous food for the group of survivors. You draw from the emotional heart of post-apocalyptic fiction, evoking a sense of an enormous loss in the recent past as well as a faint but growing sense of hope in the future.


What could be improved:
Some hard science fiction and futurism are concerned with exploration and thought experiments, working out with reason and intuition serious ideas that science has not yet ready to explore. But most speculative fiction connects an audience to less novel ideas, but in a far more visceral way. For these kinds, most of the usual rules about what makes good fiction apply. For the most part, it is a good idea where space allows to develop complete plots, as experienced by poignantly rendered individual characters who make choices that matter. In this case, there are no individuals, just a nebulous and unidentified "we" that interact minimally with the setting, just enough to provide an introduction to the story. I think I might like to hear the story that this provides an introduction to: it's that story that this contest is looking for.

Thanks for your entry in the Science Fiction Short Story Contest! I apologize for the delay in reviewing, but the long hours I'm working are currently scrambling my brain, and I didn't want to write a review until I could bring my full attention to it.







5
5
Review by BlackAdder
Rated: 13+ | (4.0)
Trekol grew up with tales of the superheroes of far-off earth but learned to his keen disappointment that they were only fables. Little did he know that he would one day be one of them!


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


What I liked:
There was enough creativity in this story for three entries, delivered with characteristic flair. There's an art to using description and indirect language to pump up interest in the details of the story, and I'm pleased to see the author has it. The Amazon connection, the plot by a few of its employees, and the snide remarks that go with are all nice touches - and they come with a GalaxyQuest feel.

What might be improved:
First, the connection to the prompt, "Harvest", is a stretch - the changes Trekol makes to the food supply are described in a single phrase, with the actual "harvest" implied rather than highlighted. While I'm happy to take the entry and provide a review, failure to adhere to the prompt does prevent an entry from winning the contest.

Second, there's not only enough creativity for three entries but enough ideas to go with them. The way the story is written, the climax of the plot is Trekol's action to change Allen's code: instead of poisoning billions, he, um, genetically engineers them instead, presumably leaving them with a less contentious nature to go with their bug-like exteriors! Unfortunately, there are no opposing forces and no interior conflict involved. Perhaps this is why the narrator breezes through these events and their consequences into rather than highlighting them, launching into an aside about Manny's xenophilic love life.

My advice is: don't! Fun little asides go well in longer works where exploration is part of the appeal, but they should never come at the cost of weakness in the climax or the ability to bring the theme home. Trekol's actions are presented as if they were inevitable: any power the story has would come from the idea that they aren't. What if Trekol's parents or society had warned him not to intervene? What if Allen had some ability to resist changes to his nature? What if Trekol's ability to change humanity weren't quite so complete or infallible? This story is charming - but with some time spent on a second draft to generate and highlight a conflict, it might also become ever so much more satisfying!

Thanks for your entry in the Science Fiction Short Story Contest! Looking forward to seeing you swing by again.
6
6
Review of New World Harvest  
Review by BlackAdder
Rated: 18+ | (3.5)
Colin hoped his explorations of the new planet would make him a household name. Unfortunately, his work with the natives brought him to the dinner table in a much less fortunate way.

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


What I liked:
I was pleased to see this story made good use of the prompt, not only in the final twist but as part of the theme from about the midpoint in the story, where Colin begins to interact with the natives. I also like the story's approach to characterization, providing some interesting information upfront about Colin, but mostly building him by sharing tidbits throughout the piece. While the subject of humans as fodder for aliens wasn't entirely novel, this story's treatment of the topic was fresh - well done!

What might be improved:
Unfortunately, there are a few grammatical errors and a larger number of awkward phrases. For example:


'"What's the atmosphere?"

It instantaneously checked instruments from the earlier probes. “Interesting. It’s close to inhabitable.”

“By what?”

“A large list of species, but the air quality seems very random and it’s moving.”'

The transition in the second sentence is awkward because spaces may be referred to as habitable or inhabitable, while air is typically referred to as breathable or unbreathable. "Close to inhabitable" in context would be analogous to "close to unbreathable", but you don't quite seem to mean that because "close to uninhabitable by a large list of species" would technically mean "habitable to a large list of species, but barely", which aside from being a very strange usage of language isn't particularly well-supported later in the piece. I don't really know what to make of "the air quality seems very random and it's moving" - are there clouds of toxins in an otherwise breathable atmosphere? If the planet is rotating, would not the air be expected to move? There are a number of distracting phrases of this nature, phrases that are unclear in meaning or almost but not quite fit the conversation. While an editor can fix these, it's imperative for a good writer to get a sense of them, and the best way to do so is to spend as much time as possible reading in the language, genre, and market where one is trying to write.

I also had mixed feelings about Colin's encounter with another human in this strange environment. On the one hand, it helps explain the decision to eat Colin, but it creates other problems such as why the difficulties with language appeared when Colin has time to "be with other women", how an alien species could afford to keep "cattle" that were relatively small and took so very long to raise, why no human had heard of this alien species, and so on. This is not a large issue, but it did get stuck in my head!

Thanks for your entry in the Science Fiction Short Story Contest! While there are some stylistic issues in the writing, I enjoyed the characters and the plot, and look forward to your next entry! Keep reading, and keep writing!




7
7
Review by BlackAdder
Rated: 18+ | (2.5)
Aliens made of heat but protecting fragile humans are forced to steal a star, nearly causing a conflict, but since they have replaced it, all is well.


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

What I liked:
This is a creative premise: I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like it, and I have read a bit. This story is not only original but fits well with the contest prompt, which is always good to see. The story is well structured, with an inciting event, a conflict, and a resolution with a twist that was foreshadowed: despite the miscommunication, there is no need for a fight, after all. The story is anchored with included details and includes multiple characters in different roles, fulfilling most of the structural requirements of a compelling plot.


What might be improved:
The story reads a bit awkwardly. It is difficult to share a compelling narrative using the present tense - I have seen very few manage it, and I would strongly recommend against it. There are also a few grammatical errors related to plurality and tense, and the repeated use of the word sun where others like "star" might offer variety.

I also had some difficulty placing the characters. As far as I can tell, there is nothing to separate any of the major characters from each other except their names and their roles in the ship's crew - and the roles themselves are not multidimensional. Power Controller Mennon is responsible for shrinking and replacing the suns - there is not enough to make the other characters memorable. I would advise using character descriptions, color in dialogue, varieties in roles, and so on to make each character feel distinct, and not to include more characters in a story than you can make memorable.

Unfortunately, while the premise was original, I did not find it entirely plausible. Why would beings with the ability to manufacture stars from almost nothing need to steal them from others? Why would they not communicate this when threatened? Why would beings that can themselves teleport stars to threaten the ship not have the technology to replace their own sun, if such technology existed? Perhaps because of these questions, I had to read your story twice to be sure I really understood it, despite the straightforward language.

While there are praiseworthy elements of the story, it would need some work to become compelling, even within its basic elements.

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

Despite its flaws, I appreciate your submission. Keep writing! I learn something with every short story I write, and I look forward to great things!


8
8
Review of Sunburnt  
Review by BlackAdder
Rated: E | (4.0)
When the crew and crops of the Daedalus start suffering radiation poising, the ship finds itself unexpectedly without a qualified crew member to resolve the situation - except for one young boy.

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


What I liked:
You made good use of the prompt to build up and resolve a clear conflict: a sudden gap in technical expertise that can only be filled by an unlikely source. I enjoyed the dialog and pacing, as well as the nostalgic air to most it, as well as the twist at the end regarding Eric's lack of exposure to fun.


What might be improved:
While the story is generally solid, the unlikely whiz kid is a tad cliche. Also, the casual reactions to skin cancer and cataracts were a bit alarming, even accounting for futuristic medical technology. But mostly I have to admit that my professional pride as a programmer and a computer engineer was a bit bruised at the notion that on a large ship they only brought along one programmer, who could be replaced by one ten-year-old kid! :) But aside from that personal note and wanting to see a little more professionalism out of a space crew, I enjoyed the story.

Thanks for your entry in the Science Fiction Short Story Contest! Good to see your hat in the ring!
9
9
Review by BlackAdder
Rated: E | (3.0)
OHO, the great bulbous prophet, evokes the adoration of millions and the scorn of millions more. But it is only after his death that his words are shown to be true, spoken by an ancient robot with secret knowledge of other worlds - and his image is redeemed as he returns to earth with a great golden city to rule in prosperity.


What I liked:
The tone and energy made this a pleasure to read, as did the physical description of the prophet and the irony and foreshadowing surrounding the redemption and return of OHO, oddly contrasted against the mercantile sales pitches for Rigel. Despite some influences from different religions and science fiction writing, the mix struck me as truly original, which is always a nice surprise.

What might be improved:
The different sections of the piece: the religious treatment of the prophet, the forced capitalist cheer of the evacuation, the scientific nature of OHO's knowledge, the occasional perspectives of June and George, the apocalyptic response to some members of earth leaving, and the messianic return of the dead robot are all a bit disjointed from one another. Some of my favorite storytellers talk of writing as making a promise and then keeping it: much of what was otherwise quite interesting didn't seem to fit with the rest. It is somewhat a matter of taste whether a story ought to be tight and organized or novel and rambling - but I tend to lean a bit toward the former. In my opinion, a first draft should be energetic and ambitious - the final product clean and solid. This mix of concepts was clever and colorful, but it could do with a bit more editing and organizing to offer only one or two perspectives on your main concept, with only hints of the rest.

Thanks for your Entry in the Science Fiction Short Story Contest! I look forward to another chance to enjoy your creativity!
10
10
Review of Haven  
Review by BlackAdder
Rated: 18+ | (3.5)
A former rover discusses the lost world, and how far it has fallen.

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

What I liked:
The effort spent on world-building and characterization were front and center in this piece. Joe's story and the story of the last couple decades mirrored one another: stories of violence, pain, and want: the dark nature of the post-apocalyptic world he lives in really came through.

What could be improved:
While this makes a solid back-story, it neither adheres to the prompt theme of "hope" nor does it offer a plot with choice and conflict. It's good writing, though its influences are well-worn: it just needs some kind of conflict or rising tension to fully stand on its own.

Thanks for the entry in the Science Fiction Short Story Contest - and congratulations on another WIN! Hope to see you again!
11
11
Review of SPAQUAR  
Review by BlackAdder
Rated: E | (3.0)
George and Mary sign up for a cruise and gourmet food - not knowing that they are scheduled to be the entertainment.

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

What I liked:
This is a clever interpretation of the "we make great pets" edition of the contest. The aliens grant what they promise: there's a "Monkey's Paw" aspect to it, but they do feed the humans exquisite gourmet food. This subtle form of irony, with the twist at the end of the two couples actually being grateful for being placed in a zoo, form a promising plot concept.

What might be improved:
Many writers recommend avoiding flashbacks because they are hard to make pay off. Each time the reader has to do the work of reconstructing a new timeline and frame of reference, it poses an annoyance and a distraction. In order to be worth it, head-hopping or time-jumping has to allow the audience to better sense and feel the tension rising and the story coming together without adding too much overhead for the reader. Unfortunately, it's often difficult for readers to fully wrap their heads around the setting, character, theme, and inciting plot event before 2000 words have passed - even when the story is straightforward.

The story is relatively low-conflict, but the important events are the couple being deceived and captured, the aliens deciding that angry aliens are unacceptable zoo guests, the aliens ironically keeping their promise and solving the anger problem by sedating their guests with amazing food, the guests deciding the food is worth being captured, the aliens deciding lethargic humans are no fun, and the humans returning back home to look fondly on the whole thing - that makes the pivotal conflict the anger problem. But there was no build-up of tension around that conflict - we need escalating reactions from the characters, and with all the framing there was no time to set that up.

I've heard a story described as "making a promise and then keeping it" - I might advise taking the reader through the guests' surprise and betrayal, build it up to the point where it becomes plausible rather than mildly humorous that the aliens would find angry captives problematic - maybe by having George crack the glass. Then the reader might need more supporting reasons to understand why lethargic zoo humans are unprofitable, but angry ones still worse. I'd also advise ending the story a bit sooner after its climax. This plot could also work as a purely funny story, but my sense is that it would be harder to write and would require a lot more work on the tone and details of the piece.

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

This was a clever concept, but a challenging concept to deliver well. Though there's room for improvement, you sent it out in a way that I enjoyed reading. Your entry is appreciated, and I hope to see more in the future!


12
12
Review of Into The Blue  
Review by BlackAdder
Rated: 13+ | (4.0)
Dave, about to retire, is too old for this crap and about to be relegated to a desk job. Still, he figures he can at least make his flight into the mists of Neptune and exciting one - and discovers more than he bargained for.

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

What I liked:
The first-contact scenario is great stuff. Aliens unable to solve the relativity problem nonetheless use a combination of drones and quantum entanglement to explore the universe and communicate (over millions upon millions of years) with innumerable civilizations - when they're ready.

The personal window into human's first experience with aliens is Dave, and we are warned early on he is likely not coming back. It's nice when foreshadowing works! the reader should know something is wrong, even as Dave is chatting along with someone untold light-years away. The end, where he sacrifices himself for his discovery, only to start fading as he passes along his secret, is a great element.


What might be improved:
Dave must have been out-of-his-mind excited at the chance to talk to someone on the other side of an alien probe, but I couldn't feel it. I've heard is said writers should show, not tell, and should trust the reader's imagination. But even very talented comics fall flat without an audience to interact with or the sound of laughter, and even the best modern movies have soundtracks playing. Let us know how Dave is reacting in the moment of truth. Do not limit his first and last conversation with an alien to dry on-the-nose discussions of light-speed limitations or simple and vague comparisons of civilizational achievement.

The end is poignant, almost right - except we have no idea to what extent he succeeds, whether he passes out and dies or manages to get a few sentences out. Listening to a character relay what he just experienced is very anticlimactic, but I really, really wanted him to push a button and say "Sending recording now...", followed by a gasp on the other side of the line as consciousness. Or else for him to fade into hallucinated confusion while Celine desperately calls out, "Dave? Dave!?" But this cliff-hanger is a bit hard to take!


Thanks for your entry in the Science fiction Short Story Contest - and Congratulations on being this month's winner!
13
13
Review by BlackAdder
Rated: E | (3.0)
A terrible virus leaves most of humanity physically separated but mentally inseparable. But in a Darwinian twist of fate, society's dissidents-become-prisoners not only learn to live with the ever-mutating virus, they become enhanced by it, and use it to wreak revenge on a world that has not yet adapted.

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


What I liked:
The concept is clever and prompt-appropriate, and there's a lot of potential in the plotline which is concisely laid out.

What might use improvement:
There are no characters in this story and only a sketch of a setting, which means no real protagonist or conflict. It reads more like a plot concept summary than a fully-fledged story: a good one, but still only a summary.

What was it like to be in prison and to suffer a grave illness, only to recover and find oneself suddenly able to lift a sadistic prison guard in the midst of delivering a beating with the power of your mind alone? What would it be like to turn the tables on a cruel society who left you to fight for every scrap just because your parent or grandparent was stubbornly independent? What would it be like to realize that perhaps thousands or millions of innocents were killed by the same virus that gave you that power, once you escaped prison? I want to see more! I would suggest taking a piece of the story and fleshing it out, making it personal - perhaps from the perspective of a city official, a prisoner, a prison guard, a prison medic thrown in with the prisoners for sympathizing with them, or so on. Let your imagination go wild, but remember the best stories make events real and personal, that the reader can see and taste them, not just grasp the outline of events.


Thanks again for your entry in the Science Fiction Short Story Contest! It's good to have some great ideas to read while stuck at home. :)


14
14
Review by BlackAdder
Rated: E | (3.0)
Friends for life, George 1 and George 2 plan throughout their lives to be alone together and free someday.

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

What I liked:
You made good use of the prompt to consider a far future where mechanical men long for both freedom and community, but never quite achieve both at once. The perpetual indecision of George 2 is sad, but it is relatable and provides the central hook for the story.

What might be improved:
While it is not necessary for all or even most statements in dialogue to have beats before or between them, the quotations in this piece stand stark and naked, giving the impression of disembodied voices. This is not entirely out of place for robots, but those robots are not only the central characters but the only characters in the story. It's mostly our sympathy with them that drives the story, and we need a bit of help to feel attached to them - especially when the indecision of one of the pair drives the central conflict.

The writing itself is a bit choppy, especially in the dialogue. The sentences are short, with few clauses, few joining words, and with little description to anchor the characters in a setting. Try using a bit more description, perhaps giving the characters more unique names, and give us a sense of why the robots want to leave, what their lives are like - what the stakes are. While I enjoy the potential of the concepts you invoke, there's definitely an opportunity to bring this piece more to life.

Thanks for your entry in the Science Fiction Short Story Contest, and for bringing some life to a time of Social Distancing!
15
15
Review of Utopia is Boring  
Review by BlackAdder
Rated: 18+ | (4.0)
In a "perfect" society, even a police officer lives a boring life. Acantha has wished more than anything for something interesting to happen, for just one day that isn't mind-numbingly boring. She finally gets that day - or most of it.

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

What I liked:
This is a strong concept for a short story, allowing for a plot with conflict and plenty of room to play with the setting. It's always a risk to paint a vision of the future, but the risk worked out: it's an interesting and fully-fleshed picture. The conflict is set up well: Acantha is not precisely innocent, but neither has she yet actively participated in any of the forbidden activities. It's a great setup to explore the concept of risk and its connection to humanity. It seems to be leading down a similar path as the movie version of "I, Robot" in that respect.

What might be improved:
Acantha's death provides an easy, sharp end to the story. However, it almost seems like the easy way out to kill the protagonist before she has made a choice. It provides seeming contradiction to the "perfect" enforcement of the law and removes agency from the protagonist. Acantha doesn't get a chance to show her response to her dilemma, what her choice would be - instead she is removed abruptly and the response is narrated. While this is a common device for an otherwise solid short story, I have to wonder if it would have been more powerful if she had lived.

Thanks for the entry in the contest, and I apologize for the late review. I've been shut in and working from home in the face of "the virus" for the past few weeks, for longer hours than usual, and I've just had no emotional energy to offer for writing or reviewing. That doesn't mean I don't appreciate a good story - so thanks, and hope to see you again!
16
16
Review of Moral Imperative  
Review by BlackAdder
Rated: 13+ | (4.5)
Adam was designed to be the future, the progenitor of a race far more intelligent than mere humans. The government had much more planned for Adam than it had let on, but in the end, it still managed to underestimate him...

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

What I liked:
Like Andrew Wiggin of "Ender's Game", Adam is smarter than everyone around him, far enough ahead to put together a picture of events from limited information. Unfortunately, he's discovered that "the only winning move is not to play". The pace is good, the writing concrete in its imagery, and the plot honors the prompt. Also, it has a plot, with foreshadowing, climax, and resolution - often difficult to accomplish within 2000 words. "Moral Imperative" manages to combine a dystopian theme with a bittersweet ending, and hope that humanity's next brush with greatness will be under better circumstances.

What might be improved:
In some ways, it's easy to write a character smarter than oneself: all that character has to do is solve problems based on incomplete information, or figure out swiftly what a normal person could reason through slowly. In other ways, it's quite difficult: Sherlock Holmes's observations require a mastery of detail on the part of the author as well as the character, and the same is true for any extraordinary mind. But mostly, people who think themselves bright are unforgiving of any error in description or reason they themselves would not make. This is a good reason to violate a writer's normal instinct and to be careful how much detail of the genius's thinking process one shares.

The smartest people I know, people who are gifted with IQs four or five standard deviations above the mean, don't write tend to write paragraphs like this:

"She had probably decided that the risk of being tied to that statement and having it used against her was minimal in this situation, with only two witnesses—one of whom was a genetic experiment. A lie would serve her purpose with less downside than the truth. Telling the truth would almost certainly turn Victor against her. That would probably be inconvenient for her. Victor’s cooperation was probably vital to the administration’s plans. Because of the extremely unpopular nature of transhuman genetic research among the general public, there was very little of it, at least in the United States. Victor’s was by far the most mature research of this type that Adam had been able to find in his extensive online inquiries into the subject."

When you're trying to show brilliance, it's best not to bring in conditional language, state the obvious, or use inefficient statements. Consider an alternative:

"She was lying, of course. If the government had a compelling plan, she would have shared it with him to win his trust. After all, what good was superhuman intelligence to her, unless it could be directed? It was telling that her best option was playing not to lose. Transhuman genetic research was publicly looked down on, at least in the United States. Adam was a high-risk investment, the most advanced example of transhuman research he could find evidence of, and he had looked."

Creating a sense of awe at what Adam knows, at what he can do, is a difficult task. One way at it is simply to leave Adam's inner dialogue to the reader's imagination and tell the story from the perspective of one of the other two characters who are trying to figure him out. You could bring out most of the same details this way, except for Adam's thoughts about killing Beth and Victor, though it might be challenging to explain his telekinetic powers.

I'm mixed on those powers, actually. A link between intelligence and psychic powers is proposed every so often in science fiction, so I grant there's something attractive in the device, but it feels a bit like overkill (and therefore cheating) - either his intelligence or his powers ought to be dangerous enough by themselves. Keeping telekinesis hidden from Victor also seems a bit unlikely.

Anyway, this is a good story and a good use of the concept of transhumanism, but I do think a review should be a little challenging. You've also managed to provide this month's Science Fiction Short Story Contest Winner! Congratulations, and I hope to see you back!
17
17
Review of The Protector  
Review by BlackAdder
Rated: 13+ | (4.0)
The Protector was bred and built to defeat Earth's enemies, and it just managed to do so, in the most Pyrrhic of victories. Unfortunately, after years of desperate searching for any signs of life, he finally admits the realization that he is truly alone, the last of Earth's children...

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

What I liked:
Not only have you made excellent use of the trans-humanism prompt, but you also managed to craft a bleak story of humanity's fall, dribbled out in a first-person fashion that softens the info dump, delivered in the midst of a stark and gritty atmosphere.

I do like the "brain in a fighter" concept. My favorite example of a book that uses it is "The Apocalypse Troll" by David Weber - the entire book is online for free on the publisher's site if you're ever interested.

What might be improved:
There no real movement or sense of plot in the story: the sole change is the moment of realization that the Protector is alone - the rest is a memory of what is gone. This doesn't come with any conclusive evidence, but simply with the last disappointing straw to metaphorically break the camel's back. I probably would have been happier with this if I liked reading wholly bitter endings more (I, the hypocrite, prefer only to write them). None of that prevents this from being an effective vignette (it is one), but I'm not sure if that's what you were aiming for.


Thanks for your entry in the Science Fiction Short Story Contest! I always enjoy your entries - I appreciated your giving this month's prompt a whirl!
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Review of PITON  
Review by BlackAdder
Rated: 13+ | (4.5)
Dr. Alex Craft, a woman trapped in a man's body not only by nature but more cruelly by human custom and law, uses her prodigious talents to make her dreams come true. Not only does she gain mastery over her own body, but near invincibility. With any luck, she never needs to worry about anyone else, with their rejection and cruelty, ever again...

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

What I liked:
This is a creative use of the transhumanism prompt, delivered in a triumphant upbeat tone, with a mixture of science-fiction and comic book elements. I think the consistent tone and atmosphere are my favorite elements - the reader shares the joy and triumph of the narrating character, and the story doesn't lose the attention of the audience for a moment. Also, the theme is current, topical, and handled in a tasteful way. A young audience, especially, is bound to share the triumph of the protagonist unreservedly.

The setting is also consistent, creative, and well-delivered. The scientific elements, especially the description of graphene, add weight and confidence to your generally solid writing.


What might be improved:
Alex is a Mary Sue character, someone whose talent is leaps and bounds beyond all those around her, and to whom the impossible comes seemingly effortlessly. Not only does she accomplish her most fervent wish in a world where it is senselessly forbidden, but she also wins some truly superhuman abilities up to and including near immortality. And she does so seemingly only at the cost of a few minutes of pain and the rejection of a number of people whose good opinion frankly isn't worth much. One could argue that the pain of suffering dysphoria in an uncaring world is so great that it represents the cost paid, but this seems equivalent to arguing the Sarah J Maas protagonist has earned her abilities by being an orphan, and that all the additional difficulties she encounters are needless. But then, my aesthetic sense is such that I find Celaena also to be an overpowered character also. I much prefer the Honor Harringtons of the world of fiction to Celaena Sardothiens as well as Batman to Superman.

There are a few other details I might complain about, such as masculine physical expression being caused by a Y chromosome rather than an X, or external physical descriptions such as "my face not chiseled with anger but etched in hope and joy" delivered in the first person (a first-person narrator ought to relate only experiences consistent with the limitations of the POV), but my primary objection is simply to the imbalance between Dr. Kraft's abilities and those of anyone else she encounters.

Thanks for your entry in the Science Fiction Short Story Contest! You've got a way with words, and I hope you find fit to share them here again!
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Review by BlackAdder
Rated: E | (3.5)
Many agents had tried Mira Black's lair to surveil her. They tried and died. But none of them were Brenda Bench, and none had her abilities. What was impossible for others should be a walk in the park for her...

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

What I liked:
The setup for this story reads a bit like a comic book story, with a superhuman protagonist and a mysterious and capable villain. The setting and cast are creative, with many pieces of lore left dangling before the reader, such as existence of hellhounds and their opposites both. It seems to balance telling with showing, spending just enough of the former to speed the introductions, and but not sparing in details.

It's not literary fiction, but it certainly reads like fun fiction - and it adheres well to the prompt.

What might be improved:
While the setting is creative and detailed, the plot and its supporting elements are straightforward. There is also relatively little tension built: a lack of combat is fine, but there's little sense given that Brenda might fail. Her success is only remarkable compared to the failures of those who have gone before (and who are entirely offscreen), possibly giving rise to questions about what was so difficult about the task in the first place.

We also could use some more sense of the stakes involved. We know that Brenda wants information about Black, but it's not quite clear why. What lives will it save? Will it satisfy a more personal vendetta on Brenda's part? What would happen if she were to fail? What form would that failure take - an angry guard, an automatic turret, or the kind of threat that would be familiar to Indiana Jones?

This story has some good bones to it, but if you want a winner, it could use a few more curves. :)


Thanks again for your entry in the contest. I definitely enjoyed reading it, and hope to see more of your work in the future!
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Review by BlackAdder
Rated: ASR | (4.0)
Lieutenant Porter, old-school police offer that he was, couldn't quite except the recent strange behavior of the robots nearby. So far, it was all benign, heroic even: appliances seemingly violating their programming to save lives. He couldn't quite fathom what was going on. Until the day he had asked enough questions that the robots themselves offered to answer him...

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

What I liked:
While not a story about spy-tech exactly as I envisioned in the contest prompt, it's a story about robots "spying" on humans, and using that intelligence for their own purposes. One thing I really like about the story is the hope in that. Some time back, there was a novel called Robopocalypse which began similarly, but with threats and deaths rather than lives saved. In comparison, your premise is refreshing.

Your build-up is good, loaded with plenty of detail, right up to the end.

What might be improved:
Unfortunately, you leave the central question unanswered, and the reader in suspense. It's unclear then whether the intelligence Porter meets is good or bad, or what it wants. I don't know what I would do about that since the hints you give imply the robots are benevolent, but some foreshadowing about how this might change Porter's lives or the lives of others (good or bad) would raise the stakes and therefore increase the impact of the writing.

There are other minor edits I might make, especially around Porter's trip to the Italian restaurant, for clarity or to even out the tone. However, they are minor and mostly subjective - explaining the stakes and the personal relationship of Porter with them is probably your best bet to improve the piece, to increase the tension and give some sense of conflict.

Thanks, again, for your entry in the Science Fiction Short Story Contest! I appreciate the chance to read your writing, and hope I get another!

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Review of Vegas Skin  
Review by BlackAdder
Rated: 18+ | (3.0)
Private First Class Jackson is pulled before the Lt. Colonel and an unknown figure, and given some very bad and very strange news - as well as a promotion.

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

What I liked:
The color and the level of detail in this piece are wonderful. They give the military setting a sense of authenticity and anchor Pfc Jackson's bizarre experiences in a very concrete setting. The first person perspective is handled consistently and well, and the spy satellites are in keeping with the story prompt of spy technology. The dialogue and the private's shock at the news help immerse the reader in the scene.

What might be improved:
So... the U.S. military came up with tattoos that only work with human skin, they're the only way to access super-secret spy satellites, and they were installed in unwitting enlisted soldiers by beautiful young women after they managed to get the soldiers sufficiently plastered. Because reasons. Then when two of them get killed for accidentally exposing the tattoos to cameras, the third gets a new identity and a trip to OCS.

I really like the setting, the writing style is good, and I'm a fan of the weird, but I can't quite get over the premise. It doesn't help that this is a vignette rather than a conflict-driven story or that the emotional thrust of that vignette can mostly be summed up as "Huh?"

I'm left hanging between being rather impressed and just sitting here scratching my head. I'm willing to mostly suspend disbelief in the name of a good story, but I think I could use a little help this time.

Thanks for quite a creative entry in the Science Fiction Short Story! I'm looking forward to seeing what you put together in the future - it should be quite interesting!
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Review of My Old House  
Review by BlackAdder
Rated: E | (3.5)
A British postgrad and her brothers leave their building to discover a strange world and an odd professor. One who was able to explain to her, the discoverer of the Time-Particle, just what she was about to accomplish.

Thanks for your entry in the Science Fiction Short Story Contest! Unfortunately, it doesn't adhere to the prompt, spy technology, and so won't be considered for that contest. However, I'll still give it a brief review.

What I liked:
Time loops and temporal paradoxes are oldies but goodies, when they work, and this seems to work. Your vision of the future is interesting, and for an American reader, the English color is a nice touch, as are the jokes about changing social mores.

What might be improved:
It's a nice enough little vignette, but there's not much conflict or tension to the story. One could imagine a version where the reader is amazed at the great changes in the world, worried about what had happened and whether the students would be forever lost, or frustrated at their desperate attempts to get home while it was still possible. But aside from the welcome humor, this writing is a bit sedate.

Still, I did enjoy the chance to read it and thanks for sending it by!
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Review of The Human Element  
Review by BlackAdder
Rated: 18+ | (4.5)
Nancy is the best assassin in the business, capable of demolishing a combat robot with a single fingernail. Now CODEL has a job worth of her talents, they're willing to make her even better, as beautiful as she is deadly. The catch? In this line of work, you can't trust anyone.

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

What I liked:
The DNA-enhancing technology wasn't spy-tech, exactly, but it still adhered to the prompt - and provided a way for the double-crossing Nancy to be double-crossed. The twist at the end really made the story for me. She and the others were interesting, but not particularly sympathetic characters - seeing them get their comeuppance is rather satisfying.

What might be improved:
Some of the writing feels at times on the nose, and at times a bit over the top:

"As Mr. Black’s eyes scanned the rest of her body, he saw her bra strain, creaking against burgeoning breasts as their bulging voluptuousness cried out for a new size a bt further down the alphabet."
"Mr. Blue simply picked up where he left off, ogling in awe. “You look… amazing!” he said in a reverent tone."
"Nancy couldn’t suppress a smile, clearly enjoying the effect she was having on the suited men."

While some readers enjoy a bit of clever alliteration, many genre fiction editors adhere to a metric I recall reading on the baen.com submission page: "Good writing, like good breeding, should not draw attention to itself". It may be a bit elitist, but I found it enlightening. Some writers, like Patrick Rothfuss, can get away with elegant prose, but it's a risk for the rest of us.

The two most important parts of a story to get right are the beginning and the ending. But if the strongest part of this short story was the ending, I was less impressed by the introduction:

"Two suited men strode confidently down the cold metal hallway of the top secret facility. The man in the black suit pressed an invisible button on the wall. A part of the hallway slid away to reveal a doorway. The man in black gestured the man in blue inside. Inside, a slim, lithe woman faced off against a massive metal robot twice her size. Her slender, defined arms tensed, looking as if they were carved in steel."

I think this would work well visually, but it doesn't read quite as nicely. It might make sense to break this up and perhaps name the characters before moving on to the combat scene. I'd probably also skip the word slim, avoid the alliteration, and try to condense the description of Nancy's chiseled arms.

You may, of course, take or leave my suggestions, as judgement in writing styles is rather subjective. I'm also painfully aware that my own style tends toward the formal, but I do think a bit of attention in that direction could take your writing from good to great.

As is, I congratulate you on submitting one of my two favorites in the contest, and I'll be announcing "The Human Element" as a runner-up in the Science Fiction Short Story Contest. Thanks for your entry, and I hope to see more of your writing in the future!
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Review of Traitor  
Review by BlackAdder
Rated: 13+ | (2.5)
For thousands of years, human history was tainted with the sale of human misery, but the period of legal slavery was supposed to have passed. But now, innocent men and women were being sold again, this time among the stars - and a human traitor was involved. But with the help of OWL, a new high-tech surveillance device, it was just possible that was going to come to an end. At least, it would if Lt. Shep had anything to say about it.


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

What I liked:
The OWL fulfills the spy-tech prompt perfectly, and enslaving aliens seem to be the perfect opportunity to bring out humanity's best technology.

What might be improved:
Share more detail and try to rope the reader in! You've used only a little more than 800 out of the available 2000 words, and the reader only has two character names, plus the "Dealer" and "Catcher". Strong characters are the backbone of fiction!

Additionally, the reader needs to have a sense of the stakes involved. We don't know how long the incursions have been going on or how many have been lost. We don't know how many costly failures have happened before OWL was finally brought on-line. We don't know who the aliens are or why they want lazy earthlings as pets or labor. The reader should be anxious for the fate of Shep, furious at the Major's backhanded betrayal, or fearful about the latest losses to earth's best and brightest.

The reader does know there was this slavery thing going on, and now it's sort of ended unless the aliens come back, which they might or might not. In the meantime, some number of people have been taken for some reason, somewhere between two and a billion. But some of the people who tried to sell them to the aliens this time are taken care of so that's something. But I think there's more in this story to be told, and I would love to hear it.

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

I appreciate your sharing your entry, and look forward to your future efforts.

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Review of The Last Mission  
Review by BlackAdder
Rated: 13+ | (3.5)
Working with Benedict was wonderful, almost too wonderful - attachments of any kind were a deadly threat to a spy. That became crystal clear in their desperate attempt to stop the murder of the governor, their one last mission, side by side...

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

What I liked:
This is a nice romance from a female spy perspective. It builds well toward the central conflict in which "Jenny" submitting herself to near-certain death, showing "Benedict" how she felt about him, guaranteeing the success of the mission, and setting herself up to never see her love again all combine into a single moment.

What might be improved:
The robot decoy is mentioned but not highlighted. Both the technology and the mission itself feel a bit like afterthoughts compared to the romance. What are the stakes in the assassination? What happens if the enemy succeeds? What is preserved if the governor lives? Why should the reader feel an anxiety that the mission is likely to fail? It's hard to pack the answers into a story under 2000 words, but a little more tension related to the central plot would go a long way.

More attention is paid to the run-up at the beginning toward David asking for a date, and Jenny reluctantly refusing, which would make sense in a slightly longer story, but I think at this length it both takes away from the spy story and isn't quite efficient enough at explaining the relationship. Short stories are tough!


Thanks for your entry in the Science Fiction Short Story Contest, and I appreciate the pleasure of reading it. A little more editing and you've got a stealth killer on your hands. ;)
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