Thursday, August 14, 2008

What's going on with The Friday Challenge?

My life continues to be... interesting. Promising blog topics go noted but undeveloped, email accumulates unanswered, things promised to other people but not urgently required remain promised but undone, and all but the most critical of deadlines make a lovely whooshing sound as they go by. At the moment, it looks like this pattern of hyperactivity won't break before the 25th at the earliest.

All the same, I've been schlepping around eight really strong Friday Challenge entries in my briefcase ever since the 1st, and before we roll over into the Friday Challenge Hostage Crisis, Week Three, I must deal with these.

The original 7/25 Friday Challenge, as you may remember, was:
...a free story idea for you. How about if, in some not-too-distant future where implanted wi-fi brain augmentations are as common as Blackberrys are today, one of the leading implant vendors releases an inadequately tested OS software update that has the unfortunate side-effect of turning a certain subset of users into psychotic homicidal cannibals? And the hero of the story is a lone, brave, software tester who is trying to figure out just exactly which combination of base software, patches, updates, aftermarket mods, and open source spaghetti code caused the problem and how to fix it — while at the same time fighting off his own implant's regression errors, which are continually throwing his brain into earlier and more primitive patterns of thinking!

There, bet that is a story you could sell to Analog.
Obviously, the easiest way for me to dodge out of this one would be for me to say, "Okay, you've all written your versions of the story: now the first one to sell it to Stan Schmidt at Analog wins." But that would be cruel and unusual, and given Schmidt's current response time, could draw this out for another six months. Ergo, picking the top one off the pile and proceeding more or less at random, we begin.

Ben-el: Cute, clever, funny; I snickered when you had Jeff Goldblum deliver his signature line. "Must type faster. Must type faster!" But in the end it was just too cute, and besides, if I don't disqualify someone once in a while for completely blowing off the deadline, the deadline will have no meaning. But fear not, my young friend, for in a way, you have determined the choice of the Friday Challenge that will be issued tomorrow.

But more about that tomorrow.

WaterBoy: What is it with Brian? I can understand why so many of you wrote stories that evidenced deeply held Microsoft Loathing, and darned if I don't cave it to that myself on a regular basis, but what do all you have against Brian? Honestly, given the similarity in names, it makes me just a little nervous.

Never mind that. WaterBoy, you story has a really nice "Twilight Zone" vibe to it, and the thought of being stuck in an infinite loop inside The Wedding Singer made me cringe and groan, but in the end, it read more like a summary of a story than an actual story, and that wasn't good enough to win this week. I felt like I was outside the story, looking down on it from a high level and having it narrated to me, rather than more immediately in the story. Does this make sense? (I can't tell; as I write this it's 6:15 a.m. and I haven't had my second cup of coffee yet.)

Good idea, good vibe, good ending twist, but too abstracted to win, this week.

Athor Pel: Too short. A very good idea — that there is a pattern to be discovered, implying intent, and behind that, a malignant intelligence — but this is the beginning of a story, not a story. You definitely could have taken that idea and run a lot further with it, and I would like to see you do so. Don't be so quick to go to the punchline — or in this case, given the dark nature of your story, the gut-punch line.

Speaking of which, I know I gave you all a pretty dark subject to start with — it's difficult to find the lighter side of psychopathic zombie homicidal cannibals, although it can be done — but this challenge certainly brought out everyone's dark side, didn't it? Rather than complaining about this, though, I sense an opportunity. Is there a vast market for Geek Noir stories just waiting to be tapped?

Or (shudder!), if'n I was to, say, edit together an original theme anthology of stories by new writers, and call it, oh —
Bruce Bethke presents:
          Cyberpunk: The Next Generation
Augh! Ick! No! Get thee behind me, Satan!

But while you're leaving, Satan, would you mind getting my agent on the phone before you go?

Right. Back to the challenge entries...

Snowdog: Nicely done. You've packed an entire evil paradigm shift into 500 words and told a complete story in that length, which isn't easy to do. Two things, though.

1. Never use the name "Schtupp." That's one of those words that immediately tags the story as a joke and makes it sound like the setup for an old Mel Brooks routine.

2. In the end, "Schtupp" is monologuing. It always detracts from the story when the villain delays killing the hero in order to gloat and explain the Evil Plan. It would be much more effective, given that this story is told entirely in dialog, to have Leland figure it out — or at least make some wild guesses that let the reader figure it out — before the cut to the final scene.

Leatherwing: I don't know what to say about this one. It's short, it's funny, it's complete, it works. "Ma'am, he has the Blue Eyes of Death. You have to reboot him," cracks me up. The idea of doing tech support out of a Starbucks — worse, of being trapped in that Starbucks, doing Microsoft tech support, while the world deteriorates with every new automatic update — cracks me up.


Henry: Another one that I'm having trouble critiquing. It's good; it's mostly complete. It's not as polished as your usual work — there are places you fall into summarizing plot developments that would be better if shown onstage and fleshed-out — but considering how quickly it was whipped together, it's a great first draft, and I'd definitely like to see it more fully developed. That, and I'd like a piece of the eventual and obvious movie deal. Just a small piece will do.

Oops. Out of time, must dash, and I haven't even gotten to DaveD or Al yet.

...To be continued...