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Sunday, July 17, 2011

And the winner is...

Our eleventh challenge splices and dices the genetic code. Hash for everyone!

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.

miko is about to put on the “Editor Hat.” It's sort of like the “Sorting Hat” they use at Hogwarts (“You have the wits of a Slytherin, and the endearing temperament of a Hufflepuff...”), but a little less sarcastic.

Mutants 'R' Us

“Daily Journal” by Triton

miko: I love the Victorian dispassion. I love the formality and (to our modern ears) stuffiness of the literary flourishes. I love the oblique references to the science of the treatment and the effects. I think the journal format works great for the length and tone of the piece, and serves to impart an immediacy that balances the distance of the language. There was something remarkable in each day's entry, but the reflexive suspicion of "opiates" strikes me as a masterful bit of characterization, and his new "appetites" resulting in "unspeakable" acts not only adds weight, but demonstrates xdpaul's Advisory #11 (about being restrained when shedding light). It has the feel of a classic, 19th century, monster tale, with John Bull top hats, high collars, and Davenport frock coats, like a Jekyll and Hyde, or Frankenstein, or ... Dracula! It's cool how the story moves the idea of a vampire out of the realm of folklore and plays to modern fears of mad science and human hubris. And, I think the final addendum strikes exactly the right chord, coming as it does right after discovering the nature of the "taint".

I think two things are worth reconsidering. First, the language places us over 100 years back, yet the phrases "fruit juice and vegetable drinks mixed in the blender" and "DNA" rudely clash with this. They are too modern and technical for the language, and have to go. You might have intended a modern setting, but that is not what you've written - I think it is easily rectified by being consistent about a 19th century setting. Second, the repeated recourse of bringing suit seems incongruous to me. Given the setting implied by the language, I would suspect the treatment would be seen by others as rather illicit, and that he would therefore not wish to make his disturbing transformation a public matter. Perhaps a diary entry along these lines would suggest to readers a dimension of isolation, helplessness and foreboding. I think it would be good to show readers a cost, or penalty, that behind the stoic reportage and facts, there is indeed anguish.

Regarding the Challenge, the story deals with the customer; rather than dealing with the consequences of getting what he asked for, he must suffer human fallibility and regret ... always regret.

(high literary score; high challenge score)

Arisia: 3 / Ryan J: 2 / Triton: voted! / xdpaul: 2
miko: 13
Participation bonus: 2
Total: 22

“Genesculpting” by Ryan J

miko: The parallel with plastic surgery seems natural and appropriate. H's plight makes me wonder about tattoo artists - do they weary of putting common junk on the skin of customers, or do they accept that value judgments are subjective, and that 'beauty' is in the eye of the beholder? H elicits a complex reaction from me. It is easy to sympathize with his disappointment, for we are all disappointed by the choices made by others. It seems self-serving, however, to dismiss what others want as crass, but ennoble what one wishes others would want as art. It seems H is rather elitist in wishing people to pay him for gratuitous aesthetics that please his artistic sense rather than for "base" accommodations that please his paying customers.

Taking H as he is - which I do credit as realistic - I think the story's ending is weakened by the last two sentences. It seems to me that a final utterance from H about his "best work" would have a terrific double-meaning if it ended right there: on the one hand, obviously referring to his artistic accomplishments, but on the other hand, his children being valued as persons precisely because of the genes he has NOT altered, those that they inherited naturally from him as his progeny! How natural a sentiment, and how wonderful a turn, playing against his professional disillusionment! Less is more.

Regarding the Challenge topic, the story touches directly on the service provider, the customers, and their motivations. Interestingly, the passing references to butterfly genes and chromatophores made me instantly pine for the story you did NOT write: I imagined a singular, radiant human creature, a "living stained glass window", and what her life would be like in a society of opaque, monochromatic commoners. Would such a jewel be kept behind glass and exhibited; would she be ostracized as a freak, as an "other"; would she be smothered into isolation and eccentricity by the relentless adoration of celebrity worshippers? Ah, but idling over what might have been is a fruitless indulgence of mine.

(good literary score; good challenge score)

Arisia: 2 / Ryan J: voted! / Triton: 3 / xdpaul: 3
miko: 7
Participation bonus: 2
Total: 17

“Mud Muscle or Blood” by xdpaul

miko: I like the voice - straight-up, no nonsense. I like the "foreknowledge" because it messes with our conception of time w/o tangling itself up in time travel - that he perceives "memories" doesn't change the way he feels he must act when situations arise. Great economy and color in bringing us up to speed with the backstory, and that a sinister element is at play - really drawing us in. I also like the ultimate ambiguity that he could simply be deluded. (I confess, however, that I don't understand the title.)

Most would consider 'palimpsest' a useless SAT word, but in your hands, it becomes a beautiful application that perfectly describes the intended sense, and with the maximum economy of a single word - awesome! (It might be accidental that I knew the word, but I think it's a great example of the power of vocabulary.) I think the encounter with D needs a little...more: why should D expect to barge into someone else's home and have that person submit to treatment by a stranger? (He is surprised the protagonist knows his name, yet he expects submission - feels like there's something we don't know.) Also, if I'm reading the end right, I think there is a POV change to an unintroduced character (maybe the "kid in the library"?), but since sub-headings appear throughout, it was not at first clear to me that the narrator "I" had changed. (But, maybe I'm reading it wrong?)

Regarding the Challenge, I'm guessing the SoM are the ones employing genetic engineering, that their intent is related to the foreknowledge, and that the person created by the engineering is the "ranting" protagonist. Since we don't learn about the SoM or their intent, it seems that despite the story's richness, it feels slightly incomplete. I'd be willing to accept that the SoM are simply the generation who bequeathed potential nuclear annihilation to its progeny (even using the latter as guinea pigs in nuclear testing) but then the genetic "mutation" would be random and not really "engineering", so I'm guessing this idea is more something I would have done than is really the premise of your story.*** The intentional genetic engineering angle was not made clear, but I'm supposing it's in there. If you're not planning to expand this into a longer work, I think connecting one or two more dots would allow readers to fully appreciate the sinister forces and the ominous ending.

(high literary score; good challenge score)

***In fact, it is something I have done! Last year, I made a preliminary audio recording of a story with a very similar setting, told in the (controversial) voice of an old man character of mine.

Arisia: 3 / Ryan J: 3 / Triton: 3 / xdpaul: voted!
miko: 10
Participation bonus: 2
Total: 21


Based on the numbers, this week's champion nudged himself into the lead (evidence of a genetic enhancement, perhaps?):

3rd Place: 17 points — “Genesculpting” by Ryan J

2nd Place: 21 points — “Mud Muscle or Blood” by xdpaul

1st Place: 22 points — “Daily Journal” by Triton

Congratulations, Triton! As winner, you are hereby invited to propose next week's challenge, scheduled to be announced the morning of Friday, 22 July 2011.


So what was the lesson of this challenge?

miko: All the entries were compelling stories and worthy answers to the Challenge. "Chromatophore"? "Aedes albopictus"? "Cryptomnesia"? Hey, what about writing for eighth-grade-level readers? Actually, this is what I liked best about the entries: no writing down to readers, but writing up to the story! That's why Triton's entry was my favorite this week - putting aside two noted stumbles, the language carried the plot, characterization, setting, and mood. Writers tell stories, but write words; it's great fun to see vocabulary employed effectively and artfully.
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