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Sunday, April 26, 2009

And the winner is...

Tom writes:
Thanks again for picking my story last week. [...] I suppose I have to divulge my actual identity and real mail address...
Yes, you do, assuming you want to claim a prize, but it's not anything to worry about. I suppose a clever person could actually collect this information, build a database, and use it for some nefarious purpose, but fortunately, I'm not that clever. I don't even keep track of who wins from week to week or whether they've claimed prizes, and barely remember to get prizes mailed out in a moderately timely fashion, so if you've won in recent weeks and have yet to receive your prize, kindly jog my memory.

I'll tell you one thing, though: if we ever get to the point where I have to file 1099's for every winner, I'm quitting.

No risk of that happening any time soon, though. And so with that issue out of the way, we move on to the results of the 4/17/09 Friday Challenge.

This has been a fun one to judge, but also real work. We received eight entries this time around, and there was not a weak entry in the bunch and only one short one. As a result we've been reading, re-reading, and discussing the entries all evening, as well as weighing readers' comments, but at last, we've come to some decisions.

Torainfor gifted us with two superb entries this week, "Icehawk's Destiny" and "Otogu's Curse." I laughed all the way through "Icehawk's Destiny," as it turned into This Old House From Hell and just kept piling it on. "Otogu's Curse," on the other hand, was very sweet, very true, and deserves to reach a wider audience, but I don't know how to go about doing that. Fine work, as always, and a pleasure to read.

Ben-El submitted "The Berlin Wall Shall Not Fall—Waitaminute That's Not Right," and I'm dealing with it next mostly because it's the shortest. It's well-written, it's funny, but it turns into fairly thin political joke, and then cuts off too quickly. Good effort, but not good enough to make the medal round.

WaterBoy gets the coveted "Most Like What I Would Have Written" nod for "Barbarian's Burden," particularly the second ending. As I've said many times before, considering my career trajectory, this is perhaps not a good thing. I groaned at the hideous puns—Hyena's Port, King Chun, the Claven Cliffs—I laughed at the big news that everyone in town was talking about, wrongly; I loved the way the Monkey's Paw of K'Bab actually turned out to be useful for something; I was relieved that after using it, Icehawk did not develop a strange craving for bananas. As a story, the first ending is definitely the stronger of the two, but if I'd written this, I'd probably have used the second ending. And I'd have received a lot of rejection letters saying, "Very funny, but not strong enough."

Henry, Henry, Henry, what am I going to do with you? "Slay the Princess, Rescue the Dragon, And—" was great fun, to the point where I was reading the good bits out loud, much to the annoyance of my fellow judges, but in the end there was just a little too much sniggering self-awareness, and of course, the solution to the problem of the Sorceress who has great power because she has never known a man was horribly politically incorrect. This story definitely would have sold in the 1960s through the early 1980s—Roger Zelazny would have approved of the solution to the "marry the dragon" problem, too—and it might even have gotten through as late as the early 1990s, provided you made Icehawk more overtly Schwarzeneggerian, but it would provoke shrill cries of outrage from a small but disproportionately influential portion of the audience today, and I'm probably risking those same cries of outrage just by typifying that portion of the audience as "shrill."

Sigh. I miss the days when Free Speech applied to everyone, and not just to the favored classes.

Tom, "Icehawk's Ill Omen" was wild, weird, and wonderfully inventive. The bit ending with, "I guess that's why everyone has guard dogs and not guard cats" got the read-aloud treatment, too. In the end, this was in our top three, but it seemed as if the gryphon scene just went on too long, and the evil-little-girl-who-turns-into-a-hideous-serpent-monster-in-the-final-battle was a scene we've just plain seen too many times. (When will someone write an evil little girl or evil women who, in the final battle, turns into an even more horribly cute and insipid girl/woman?)

As I said, it made the top three, but we were still trying to pare the list down, so this is the one that didn't make the cut.

Al, your take on "Icehawk's Destiny" was silly, funny, at times groan-inducing—"Snitter" was a wonderful, thoroughly evil, and excruciatingly topical invention—and it had a great ending. We kept saying, "It's too lightweight," but then kept reminding ourselves that Terry Pratchett and Christopher Moore have made entire careers out of writing stories exactly like this one.

In the final cut, though, The Bandit took the prize with, "The Third Knot." There are things wrong with this story. It needs a really good copy-edit. The final fight scene in the dungeon needs some major work. But given all that, this is the one that most impressed us with the way you spun a major-length, serious story out of the original idea, and found a wealth of new ideas in there that we never saw. Disira is an intriguing character; the death of the princess serves an actual plot purpose; Icehawk is transformed from a cocky hero into a useful pawn in the hands of powers that he barely comprehends; and the Seer is actually the greatest villain, which is something we'd never considered. Very nicely done.

So that's how it stands. The Bandit wins, with Honorable Mention going to Al.

And congrats to everyone who participated! This is the sort of response that makes running The Friday Challenge fun and keeps us doing it. Thanks, everybody!
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