So, the boot took a turn on the other foot. As you may or may not already be aware, ILLUMINATIONS got reviewed over at The Fix Online. And while it’s far from universally lauding the work, the review does us all the highest courtesy possible – it takes us seriously.
My fellow authors all seem to have reached the same conclusion; the level of detail gone into more than mitigates any ego-bruising from the details themselves. It’s like being a martial arts neophyte given a thorough working over by the grand master of the dojo; painful, but extremely educational.
And Alvaro Zinos-Amaro pulled no punches, as is only proper. The reviews of my own stories mostly told me what I already knew, but I’m very happy to see that the ones that got the most respect were the ones I was most confident of. The duration of the FFF experiment thus far coincides with the duration of my career of actually finishing any fiction at all, and to have any of my material pass muster after so little time is more than I might have hoped for.
[ To be honest, I was far more embarrassed to read of the “numerous typographical mistakes afflicting this anthology”. 🙁 ]
So, as it’s fashionable among author types to air their negative reviews at the moment, here are the comments made by Mr Zinos-Amaro on my stories from ILLUMINATIONS, complete with links to the original pieces as published here on VCTB.
In â€œAlex in Hinterland,â€ the titular Alex spends time in the Hinterland on a talking, tangible Cloud, against the advice of his peers. What he discovers was not readily apparent to me, though I did get a sense of the storyâ€™s implications. The writing seemed somewhat diffuse and the piece as a whole not particularly sharply etched.
A vastly evolved emergent intelligence decides to baptize itself with the name â€œJâ€ after the square root of negative one. I have no objection to hard SF density, but Iâ€™m not sure the profusion of technical terminology in this tale generated a convincing sense of what forces might be at work or helped to maintain the readerâ€™s interest. This tale is weighed down by too much detail and a not particularly inspired ending to achieve what I think it sets out to.
When the Old Lady Evans passes away, the kids are finally able to steal into her house and discover what an â€œaristosâ€ [sic] keeps for the purpose of entertainment, which may be nothing less than â€œThe Last Bird.â€ I found the attention to detail and imagery engaging, and though the ending was predictable, the last sentence captured an ironic note that fit snugly within the emotional context of the piece.
In this parable of sorts, talking household appliances worry and fret about â€œThe New Arrival.â€ This tale, consisting primarily of appliance banter, feels underwhelming, and the ending may be too smart for its own good.
The child narrator of â€œDaddy in [the] Stoneâ€ recounts a weekly Sunday visit to the familyâ€™s senescent, mentally frail father. This slice-of-life contains poignant observations and tactfully addresses a delicate but everyday subject. I wasnâ€™t convinced by the narrating voice, which felt like an adult speaking as a child, but thereâ€™s enough worthwhile material here for me to recommend it nonetheless.
The young Fentus completes his initiation ceremony and learns some â€œSecrets of the Faithâ€ shortly thereafter from one of the Orderâ€™s priests. The themes, dialogue, characters, and style in this tale offer nothing new, nor do the particulars of their combination. This is all retread material, and the last few sentences augment, rather than diminish, the effect of overall clichÃ©.
The â€œAlien Abductionâ€ at hand in this tale entails what one might expect. The unfortunate lack of anything new (including the ending) and less-than-stellar writing (for example, the repetitive use of â€œrestrainedâ€ and â€œrestraintâ€ in consecutive paragraphs) will likely end up abducting the readerâ€™s time and offer little in exchange.
James and Alex present an optimistic re-evaluation of â€œSturgeonâ€™s Lawâ€ and consider how it might apply to their â€œscavvingâ€-based existences. I found the premise entertaining and the characters appropriately depicted for the dramatic purposes in play. As a result, the tale falls in the ten percent margin of Sturgeonâ€™s Law for this reader.
The â€œphysically disadvantagedâ€ narrator of â€œOh, For the Life of a Sailor!â€ joins the Navy, and his decision opens up an unexpected door into his future. Well-realized details help sustain the sense of plausibility in this implausible scenario, and the narrative rhythm helps move things along swiftly.
So there you go. It’s interesting that the subject of “Daddy in the Stone” was misinterpreted; the child’s father is meant to be a holographic recording in a gravestone, rather than a mentally frail shadow of his former self. There’s a lesson in itself; you don’t want to over-do the telling, but nor do you want to under-do it.
Overall, my takeaway points from this review have been twofold.
- Firstly, I need to write far more regularly and less hurriedly (which isn’t exactly news).
- Secondly, I don’t naturally lean toward the sort of story that makes a good flash piece (which isn’t exactly news either).
So, I think I’ll be focusing my efforts on longer pieces for the foreseeable future; I’ve proved to myself that I can finish stories worth reading, so now I think I need to write some that I consider to be worth sending out for publication. As my time is limited, that means I’m going to surrender time that I’d normally devote to meeting the weekly flash deadline in favour of making sure I knock out 500 words a day on something more substantial.
However, I’m hoping that once my authorial muscle is a little more developed through regular exercise, I’ll be better able to produce quality flash pieces on a regular basis as well as the more weighty work. Hell, maybe one day I will – Jay Lake-like – be able to seemingly toss the things off without a thought!*
In other words, I’m stepping back from the front line, but I’ll be back. 🙂
Oh, I still have some dead-tree copies of ILLUMINATIONS for sale, by the way … so if you’d like to secure a copy of this fine volume of super-short stories and simultaneously support the National Society for Prevention Of Cruelty to Children, please drop me a line!
[ * Note to Jay lake and anyone else – I know damn well he doesn’t just toss them off effortlessly. It just looks that way because he’s practiced like Sisyphus and nailed the process. The man’s an inspiration. ]