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Monday, March 19, 2012

And the winner is...

The Menard's Plumbing Department, in extra innings. But never mind that now.

In the matter of the 3/9/12 Friday Challenge, "I, The Jury," in which you were to put on your editor-in-chief's hat and imagine you were being confronted by this epic masterpiece, "A Writing Man of Mars," submitted to your publication by a certain well-known and award-winning author:

Honorable Mention to Anatoly Belilovsky, for his incisive critique of the structure of the story. If we were judging this one strictly as a story, Anatoly's comments would be spot-on. If you're going to use the story-within-a-story structure, there must be a tight relationship between the inner and outer stories. One should illuminate the other. That fails to happen here.

However, this is not merely a story-within-a-story: it's a pastiche within a story, and on that level we must award several Dishonorable Mentions to certain anonymous cowards who did not comment in the post, but rather wrote me privately to ask, in essence, "Are you out of your mind? You're messing with Disney!"

An interesting question. While Edgar Rice Burroughs' early novels are long since out of copyright and in the public domain, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc., backed by the Disney corporation, claims that "John Carter," (which name, you'll note, never actually appears in this story) "Tarzan," "Warlord of Mars," and a variety of other character names and titles that appear within said public-domain novels are in fact trademarks, and therefore legally protected from unauthorized use.

A very interesting question indeed. Can you retroactively copyright or trademark works that are in the public domain? Could you, say, claim a copyright on the Mona Lisa?

Who cares? Good, bad, right, wrong; they're the ones with the small army of lawyers on staff. As Joel Rosenberg used to say, "And how much justice can you afford to buy today, sir?"

On that grounds alone this one is probably a reject, just as we've already rejected several parodies—some of them quite clever—of assorted movies, TV shows, and comic-books. There is a thin line between "clever parody" and "actionable infringement," and this is one of those areas where even if you win in court, you lose, at least in terms of time and money spent defending the case. So thank you for your submission, sir, but we'd just as soon not explore this question first-hand.

Which brings us to the critique by Jason R. Peters, in which he calls the story a reject, on these grounds:

1. There are two very different stories jammed together in the body of this one, and the relationship between the inner and outer stories is very weak. The story is bi-polar. Is it serious? Is it madcap parody? It can't seem to make up its mind.

2. The outer story is a decently written framing device, but what exactly is the outer story? Aspiring but unsuccessful SF writer gets otherworldly aid to write a story? Put in those terms, we can only say, "Oh no, not again." This idea was old 60 years ago when Fredric Brown and Richard Matheson were working it, and it hasn't improved any with age. We see about ten of these a week, and they're all, at heart, uninteresting. If we wanted to hear unpublished writers whine about how hard it is to get published, we could get it for free from our writer-friends.

3. As it stands now, the Burroughs' pastiche goes on way too long. If the framing device were to be cut down to the barest minimum, the inner story might work as-is, but then it would only be accessible to readers who were already very familiar with the Barsoom novels. A story that makes sense only if the reader has read an earlier story by a different author—unless that previous story was, say, Moby Dick, or Twilight—is a story with a very small readership indeed.

As it happens, I agree with this critique. I wouldn't have 25~30 years ago, when I first wrote this thing, but with the benefit of a lot more experience, I do now. Therefore, by the powers invested in me by—er, me—I declare Jason R. Peters to be the winner of the 3/9/12 Friday Challenge, with all acclamations, huzzahs, and attaboys attendant thereupon to be bestowed. Huzzah! Huzzah!

And now on with the 3/16/12 Friday Challenge, "My Favorite St. Patrick's Day Story," which is already in progress.

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