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Friday, April 30, 2010

The Friday Challenge - 4/30/10

This Week in The Friday Challenge

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award News!
Challenger Guy Stewart makes it to the Final Fifty in this very lucrative annual contest for aspiring novelists! While around here it's joy mixed with tears as our beloved Kersley Fitz was eliminated in this round, the Official Mood of the Week is Congratulations, Guy! Join the discussion...

Henry Vogel gets cranking on the subject of Kids These Days and the joys of embarrassing your teenagers in public. Join the discussion...

Kersley Fitzgerald discusses the challenges involved in writing both short stories and novels set in the same world. Assumed common knowledge is fine if you've already got fans following the series, but how much backstory is enough, or too much? What problems do you come across when writing a short story affiliated with a novel or series? What do you do to make the shorter plot successful? Can you write an autonomous short story based in a rich, complex setting? How many times can you use the word "story" in one article? Join the discussion...

Bruce Bethke at last explains the true meaning of OTOGU, and begins to wonder whether science fiction has become a fossil form, hopelessly trapped in the 20th century. Join the discussion...

Ultimate Geek Fu, in a guest post by Allan Davis, introduces the Encyclopedia Obscura and asks, what is the most ridiculously obscure and useless bit of geek trivia you know? Join the discussion...

Splattering Guts for Fun & Profit accidentally nukes last week's post (but don't worry, it's been recovered via a fascinating exercise in Forensic Googleology) and continues bravely forward nonetheless, to discuss this situation: a Roman trireme commander, a Viking king, and a Maori chieftain walk into a seedy waterfront dive... Join the discussion...

Also, Kersley Fitzgerald gets upstaged by Major Tom, the inmates discuss the views from their respective places in the asylum, and the Pentagon unveils further proof that "PowerPoint makes us stupid". All this and more, this week in—The Friday Challenge!

Folk Tales of the Final Frontier
In response to this month's Greater Challenge, Folk Tales of the Final Frontier, we have received the following astonishing outpouring of entries. If we've missed any, please let us know and we'll fix it ASAP.

Watkinson, "Ali and the Phorty"
Anton Gully, "Assault and Buttery"
Miko, "Transcendence Gate"
WaterBoy, "The Three Little Hew-mons"
Allan Davis, "The Girl, The Box, and Entropy"
The Bandit, "A Squadron with One Pull"
Topher, "A Modern P.I.N.O.C.C.I.O."
Topher, "Red Hood courier"
M, "Olive Drab"
Avery, "Afterthought & A Glow Worm"

(These last two entries are in the drop box. The password is "challenge" and you'll have to scroll down to the bottom to find them. Hmm. Some of the stuff in the drop box is getting pretty old. Perhaps we should clean the fridge? Let us know.)

Even if you haven't submitted an entry this week—even if you never submit an entry in any week—you're invited to read, comment on, and vote for your favorites. Don't be shy about leaving comments on the writers' sites, too. Writers thrive on knowing that someone out there is reading their words.

As this is a Greater Challenge, the ruling troika will be taking a week to read and judge the entries, with the winner to be announced next week.

And now, on to the latest challenge...

The Land Before ZIP Codes
How it happened, you're not entirely sure. Maybe it involved the Large Hadron Collider. Maybe God was in the mood for a practical joke. Or perhaps it was simply one of those rare, never-to-be-duplicated freak interactions that sometimes takes place between your iPod, your Blackberry, a stray cosmic string, a Starbucks Venti Mocha Valencia, and that large uncharted deposit of unstable handwavium located precisely 23.7° to your northeast. All you know for certain is that one moment, you were doing whatever it is you normally do on a Friday morning, and then there was a sudden strange flash of light and a roar of white noise—

And the next thing you knew, you found yourself standing, alone, in a strange apartment.

Make that a very strange, cramped, and somewhat smelly little studio apartment, littered with cigarette butts, dirty socks, an unmade Murphy bed, the remains of several unfinished meals, and mounds upon mounds of books and magazines—whoa, make that the mother-lode of vintage science fiction paperbacks and pulp magazines! But then, as you look around more and begin to get your bearings, it starts to sink in: where's the television? And that huge thing with the CONELRAD markings on it squatting on the nightstand next to the bed; is that an AM radio? And next to it, the big, clunky, black, ancient rotary dial telephone—with a plate in the center of the dial that gives the phone number as being BR-3 1212?

A suspicion is dawning: a good long look around the apartment and out the window at the street scene below confirms it. Somehow you have been catapulted back through time exactly fifty years, to the morning of Saturday, April 30, 1960. Worse, by some caprice of a mad Fate you have been deposited in the South Bronx, in the shabby, cold-water, rent-controlled residence of one Ernest T. Scribbler, failed science fiction writer. Another look out the window convinces you that you'd best not attempt to leave the apartment until you're a lot more confident that you can safely blend in, or at least until you've found some period clothing that fits—whatever "fits" means in 1960.

No television. You switch the radio on, but it doesn't seem to be working. The door has been locked from the outside. Either Mr. Scribbler left in a hurry or he was a real slob, but there appears to be enough unspoiled and canned food in the kitchenette to last you awhile, if necessary. The one solid piece of furniture in the place is a desk; the wall behind the desk is papered with years of accumulated rejection slips. On the desk is a battered old Remington typewriter, and scrolled into the typewriter is something that begins as a cover letter but ends as a suicide note.

The letter is addressed to legendary magazine editor Rex Manly, for whom in our time the annual Manly Memorial Award For Best New Writer is named. Frustrated by years of fruitless efforts, it appears that Mr. Scribbler has decided not to send his latest magnum opus to Stupefying Stories magazine after all, but instead to go take a long walk, and then perhaps to go jump off the Hell Gate Bridge.

It's all right there. Mr. Scribbler's latest five-thousand-word manuscript, which a quick read of the first page reveals, is awful. A stamped, manuscript-sized envelope already addressed to Rex Manly at Stupefying Stories, along with the obligatory SASE. Plenty of blank typing paper. The typewriter seems like a rather baroque device, but you're pretty certain you can figure out how to operate it. You know everything that is going to happen for the next 50 years. Here is your chance to write the 5,000-word science fiction story that will change history, or at least, that might save one man's life.

What is that story?

As always, we are playing by the loosely enforced official rules of the Friday Challenge, and playing for—well, we're not quite ready to announce that, just yet. But trust us, we've got a really terrific prize on the line this time, and this is a Greater Challenge, so you have until the crack of dawn on Friday, May 21, to submit your entry, with judging to take place in the week following and the winner to be announced on Friday, May 28.

More details to follow. But for now: good luck and happy writing!
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