Monday, September 12, 2005

Monday Challenge: The Conclusion

Sorry for the delay: I got called out of town on short notice and then had an overwhelming pile of stuff to deal with when I got back. Herewith (drum roll, please), the official results of the Monday Challenge.

Celebrity Judge Peg Kerr writes:
Third Place:
"Context" by cZja

This started promisingly, and the focus of the story kept a tight focus on the initial element introduced by the contestant ("You never dreamed that your staff would need to include context, did you?") The illustrative example of the caveman being given a car key was clear, intriguing, and punchy, a nice explanatory simplification of the concept the author was trying to convey. However, the story presents the problem and then simply stops there, frustrating the reader, who expects more at this point. Therefore, the friction introduced between Marckham and Collins does not have a chance to particularly serve any story purpose.

Second Place:
"Human Factor" by Astrosmith

This story also keeps a tight focus on the initial element introduced by the contestant ("You never dreamed that your staff would need to include the human factor.") Marckham and Collins have an interesting back history which is neatly encapsulated and presented well (they are more than just talking heads with each other, and their history with each other is presented in dialogue which advances the story, not in an expository lump.) Their relationship clearly serves a purpose in the story (the frozen embryos left over from their divorce presents the problem Marckham has to solve.) The story presents the problem but does not solve it, making this entry a somewhat incomplete story. This is mitigated, somewhat, by the fact that the problem is startling, is something that the protagonist has a personal stake in, and the story ends with a strong closing line.

First Place:
"Research and growing" by Colin Lee

This story places first primarily because it is the closest to being a complete story of all the entries. Not only is the problem presented, but our protagonist offers a solution. The touches of humor are welcome in a short-short. The twist at the end is an added bonus. First place.

Fourth Place:
"Moral intelligence"

This story was the longest entry, but it did not seem to provide a solution to the problem--indeed, it did not even seem to clearly outline the problem in the first place. The author gives us the history of the Sixth generation in a rather large expository lump. The interview between Marckham and Foster was interesting, but meandered off into puzzling directions (what was the point, for example, about what Foster was reading? the story about the princess and the troll? The pet Koko? The flaming sword competition?) which did not seem serve the story's purposes because it did not either clarify the problem or lead to a solution. The ending paragraph seemed like a random paragraph in the middle of a story rather than an ending.

On the other hand, Celebrity Judge Marti McKenna writes:

First Place:
As for the entries, Astrosmith hit the nail on the head for me. The "human factor" is exactly what was needed to make any one of these stories stand out and make me care about the outcome. For me this is an issue with a lot of hard sf: great ideas, not much humanity. This story had just that from beginning to end, and in the short space allotted, even managed to wrap things up nicely and leave us wondering at the end.

Second Place:
For similar reasons, cZja's second entry was a close second. I'm still thinking about the questions it raised for me.

Third Place:
cZja's first entry was well-written, but was really only the beginning of a story.

Fourth Place:
Colin Lee's entry had interesting ideas, but the characters weren't as well realized as in the other entries and overall it didn't work as well for me.

As for the third celebrity judge: well, let's just say that he flaked out and went MIA. Sometimes celebrities do that. Maybe he's in Betty Ford.

Anyway, as you can see from the above comments, on any given day and in any given case, even professionals can disagree strongly on what makes a story good. Therefore I hereby exercise my imperial prerogative and decree the following distribution of prizes: to Astrosmith, mostly because he said he wanted it, a copy of Rebel Moon, signed by both yours truly and the illustrious, nay, legendary Vox Day; to cZja, who I happen to know already has a signed copy of Rebel Moon, contact me by email and we'll figure something else out; and to Colin Lee -- aw, heck, we'll sort this out offline.

And to all the rest of you: thanks for participating, thanks for your comments and suggestions, and will somebody please promise to slap some sense into me if I ever try doing something like this again?!


Oh, hello, and nice of you to drop in. Now that my blood pressure is back to normal, here's where we stand re the 8/22/05 edition of the Monday Challenge. As of the deadline Sunday evening I received four serious entries and one joke. The serious entries have been forwarded to our panel of Celebrity Judges, who will by the end of this week render a verdict as to who is the winner of his or her choice of a.) a signed copy of Rebel Moon, b.) a $10 gift certificate, or c.) what's behind Door Number 3. The competing entries were submitted by: cZja, Astrosmith, Colin Lee. and cZja again. (I never said you were limited to one entry. Should you be?)

Our Celebrity Judges are award-winning fantasy novelist Peg Kerr, New York Times bestselling novelist Joel Rosenberg, and Marti McKenna, co-founder and editor of Aeon Speculative Fiction magazine.

So, while the judges ponder their decision, I invite you to read and comment on the submitted entries. And while you do so, I ask that you also ponder this question: how can we get more entries the next time around? I mean, frankly, it's not easy conning persuading celebrities to volunteer to judge this thing, and it's a bit embarassing to wind up with more judges than entries. I have six or eight more judges I'm keeping in reserve for the next round. Any suggestions for how to increase the number of competing entries?