Tuesday, March 11, 2008


Concerning this latest Friday Challenge, I don't think I can match the wit of the commentary already expressed here and here, so I'll just stick to doing this with a serious face.

And that's one of the things that surprised me right up front: the seriousness and outright poignancy that so many of you managed to wring out of what I honestly thought was going to be a joke topic. I expected more entries like AD's My God, They Killed Wesley! or DaveD's threatened (but thankfully, unrealized) Janeway death scene; stories that were either elaborate setups for jokes or else gratuitous and messy overkill. (AD, you get extra credit for managing to do both.)

This time, though, in the face of the serious entries, the humorous ones just seemed too lightweight. Ergo, sorry WaterBoy, but while Data's Demise was very clever and I loved the punchline, it was just too thin, and really more of an outline or a sketch than an actual story. Ditto for you, rycamor: while The Devil in the Depths is a wonderfully inventive idea and I really like your style — and the grammatical discussion that followed was not to be missed — in the end, the joke ending kept it from being in the same weight-class as the other entries.

Here's an idea for you, rycamor: keep an eye out for the long-out-of-print anthology, The Best of Fredric Brown, edited by Robert Bloch. Brown was a very successful mystery and SF writer in the 1940s and '50s whose career kind of petered out in the 1960s, and he's now almost forgotten except for the story "Arena" which was adapted into the vastly inferior Star Trek episode of the same name. I think you'd like and learn from reading Brown — but with the caveat that his style of story-telling has fallen out of favor in recent decades, at least in the contemporary commercial market. Of course, saying that Brown would have trouble getting published today is like saying O. Henry would have trouble getting published today. That doesn't negate the quality of the work or what you might learn from reading it.

Moving right along. Henry? I really enjoyed reading your entry, because it's so close to my heart. And spleen. I have always hated, hated, HATED! the whole stupid "let's confront a giant computer with deliberate irrationality and cause it to have a nervous breakdown" plot device, and you've delivered the entry that's closest to what I would have written if I'd been entering this contest. I especially liked:
"Captain, these people aren't from places such as Iowa. They're from places like Denmark, Sweden, and Oakland. They aren't interested in things like 'inherent dignity' or the 'spirit of man' or any of those other trite phrases of yours."

"But--" began Kirk.

"Their Articles of Colonization are filled phrases inimical to you. Phrases such as 'level playing field' and 'universal healthcare' and 'no losers of life's lottery' are littered throughout the Articles. These colonists don't want to live in your world!"

"No! It can't be!" Kirk wailed.
You even got Shatner's phrasing down cold:
"I. Can't. Accept this!" Kirk yelled.
And of course, the political point hits me right where I live.

A couple of suggestions. An emotionless, androgynous computer voice wouldn't speak with exclamation points. Watch the attributions; i.e., "...submission," soothed the computer." They're often unnecessary.

But all in all, a very good piece.

Sean, your Death of a Redshirt was very good, very strong. A little too strong, in fact; a little ALL CAPS TEXT goes a long way. But the idea was interesting and not one I would have thought of. I like to see people thinking of angles I never considered, and a Klingon escorting a dead Federation redshirt to Valhalla is definitely way outside the scope of my imagination.

If you were my student there are some stylistic things I'd ding you on — you need to get better control of punctuation if you want to publish professionally — but thankfully, I'm not your teacher, so we can skip all that and just say, Good idea. Good work. I'm looking forward to seeing more from you.

Vidad, in Star Trek, Episode 81: The Naked Truth, you have written the most fully-developed story of the bunch. I hereby decree that you have ascended to the next level and are a professional writer. So, while I always enjoy reading your entries and hope you keep submitting them, let's get you writing for paying markets, okay?

Rigel Kent, I don't know what to say about your entry beyond saying that it was surprisingly poignant. After 40 years of Trek I really didn't think it was possible to engage genuine emotion with any of the classic characters, but you managed to do it. Very well done. I can see the Trek fans doing dramatic readings of this one at their conventions.

And finally, kremben: "just, damn," is already taken, so I'll have to find something more articulate to say about your entry. Of all the "death of a redshirt" variations submitted, yours really gets inside this guy's head and heart and tells his story with power. It's got nobility, pathos, evocative delivery, sardonic humor —
The lottery often pays big when JTK is involved in a trip to the surface of some misty, green sky over rock the color of dead beef. Seems the captain likes his planets like he likes his women, fast and loose with just a hint of the wrong colors about them.
— and the expendable crewman's lottery is a terrific touch. The final paragraph could use one more pass; it's not as strongly written as the rest of it; but all the way around this one really grabbed me and surprised me. Good job.

Now, as for the next Friday Challenge — well, let's just say that you have Henry to thank for it.

And I'll post the details tomorrow.