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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

And the [lesser challenge] winner is...

Entries for the Greater Challenge are still being evaluated! You've all waited long enough for this regularly scheduled announcement, though... so without further ado, here are the results of our current lesser challenge:

Our twelfth challenge leads into strangely familiar territory...

If any of you are able to take a second look at your own work, and see ways in which to improve a concept so that it can be more successfully developed, the effort will be worthwhile.

Those of you who vote are allowed to assign a range of “0” to “3” points, per entry. Since challengers may not vote for their own stories, a bonus of 2 points is given to a participant's highest-ranked work, if that participant also takes the time to vote on the other entries.

Official judges receive a 30 point allocation, to assign as they see fit. The only restriction is that at most, only half of those points may be given to any single entry, and there is no requirement for a judge to use the entire 30 point allocation.

Ryan J is about to put on the “Editor Hat.” It's sort of like the “Sorting Hat” they use at Hogwarts (“I've never looked at you quite this way before, Harry...”), but a little less sarcastic.

Ryan J: I have to admit, I find playing the role of high territory marker is a little bit harrowing, because I feel like I'm just starting out on my writer's journey, so on what basis can I give authoritative judgment of the work others have done? The informality we approach this with really helps me there. But the fact is, all the submissions are, and have been, great, so a lot of the time all I have to go on is which ones moved me or caught my imagination. Scoring is more a process of figuring out why I felt that way.

It was fun to see the spread of takes on the challenge, or of the pieces inspired by the challenge. For me the purpose of the challenge is to keep myself writing even when otherwise too busy- meeting the precise goals of the challenge is secondary, as long as the attempt to meet the challenge inspired something. (So I'm glad you submitted something, even if it seemed loosely related to the challenge, xdpaul.)

Make the familiar strange, and the strange familiar

“Close Encounter” by Triton

Ryan J: This reminds me of some of my favorite old school sci fi short stories, where the last line redefines all that went before. This is excellent company to be in, and could only be a criticism if you don't do anything new with it, but I think you did. It was a lot of fun, and plays on the familiarity of the setting, not revealing the alienness of it until the very end.

Also, I occasional share the final sentiment. It's mighty weird for mammals to be sapient. Honestly, in a world so full of possibilities, any individual occurrence is so rare and unlikely that it's almost unbearably strange. The things that do happen are the errant drops from the ocean of what could have happened.

miko: 3 / Triton: voted! / xdpaul: 2
Ryan J: 10
Participation bonus: 2
Total: 17

“Rip van Miko” by miko

Ryan J: Not only did this one hit the challenge dead on, but the writing was very beautiful- I found myself almost wishing that the character would go to sleep again, just to hear how he describes the mysterious world he wakes to even later, which would be full of things as mysterious to me as this object was to him. The boy's object, which I take to be an iPhone or the like, when seen by an outside observer, becomes the focus of dark power and potency.

This was an amazing piece, and I loved it.

miko: voted! / Triton: 3 / xdpaul: 3
Ryan J: 12
Participation bonus: 2
Total: 20

“Smart Attack” by xdpaul

Ryan J: This one was fun on a number of different levels- it's pretty familiar to see somebody incredibly smart do something really dumb, for instance. And for me, it did meet the challenge. It painted a world that felt like a sci fi world of high tech espionage, almost cyberpunkish, but certainly flavored by the future. A fascinating, unfamiliar world. And ends with an element of the familiar world of today. That's one thing about sci fi- every day new technologies or uses of it become so commonplace, the sci fi that did not anticipate it becomes dated. Any near future setting that does not deal with the explosion of social media, like Twitter, and the way its shaped our society, will no longer feel as much like a possible or genuine future.

miko: 2 / Triton: 3 / xdpaul: voted!
Ryan J: 8
Participation bonus: 2
Total: 15


Based on the numbers, we have a very respectable spread:

3rd Place: 15 points — “Smart Attack” by xdpaul

2nd Place: 17 points — “Close Encounter” by Triton

1st Place: 20 points — “Rip van Miko” by miko

Congratulations, miko! As winner, you are hereby invited to propose next week's challenge, scheduled to be announced the morning of Friday, 29 July 2011.


So what was the lesson of this challenge?

Ryan J: I was really happy with all the submissions here. There is nothing in the world that does not become strange when looked at from a different angle. I think that learning to make strangeness seem familiar, and familiar things seem strange, is a vital skill to somebody writing speculative fiction. Or any kind of fiction- speculative is just my favorite. When you see through alien eyes, the world needs to seem ordinary, because they do not see their world as strange. When outsiders see something new to them, it does not matter how ordinary it is to us- for them it is strange and mysterious. And the world is full of mysteries, under every leaf, in every person, and throughout the rarefied void. We become better writers when we learn to see them, and not let their veneer of ordinariness conceal the wonders beneath, nor their strangeness blind us.
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