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"Insterstitial" - 961 word SF story

Discussion in 'Critiques' started by RX-79G, Jan 4, 2017.

  1.  
    RX-79G

    RX-79G Well-Known Member

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    I wrote this for a monthly contest on another site, and received praise but not a ton of critique. Please have at it:


    Interestitial
    by Andrew Severson
    All Rights Reserved © 2016 Andrew Severson​


    The gun is a tapered skyscraper, ripped from its foundation and rotated to point its penthouse spire down at me. The gantry it dangles from is lost in the upper gloom of the cavern, so the gun hangs angled in mid-air like a giant missile frozen in the moment before impact. Frost layers quickly out of the humidity, the compressed cold hinting at the energies building inside.

    Seccord touches his helmet visor to mine and looks back up at the gun, yelling: “Mostly, I’m just afraid of that falling on us!” The least of our problems. I go back to searching for a reason to abort, but the gear and gondola are exactly as I specified. The other man and two women look back at me with resigned confidence; they are also exactly ‘as specified’.

    A light will bloom in a foreign sky. A crack will wring out as air molecules attempt to get out of the way, trading electric potentials and a few seconds of St. Elmo’s Fire. The gondola will drop, air drag and center of mass righting it so gravity is under our feet again. I will study three durable but crude indicator dials, my hand hovering over the inflator valve. Too early on the balloon and our blood boils, too late and we hit the ground. Or the sea. Or something I haven’t anticipated.


    Twenty eight months ago, Carlisle’s office: “What do you mean a balloon?”

    “A hydrogen balloon, just large enough to support the team and equipment. We don’t know where the filament is, and I don’t want to pop out inside a mountain or underwater. We’ll draw a line from the planet’s center, through the filament and up another 15 kilometers. No matter where it is that should keep us in clear air when we emerge.”

    “A balloon isn’t going to fit the projection volume.”

    “We’ll inflate when we get there, and if we are too high we’ll wait until we’ve dropped to something reasonable. It will act as drogue immediately, and be buoyant in 40 seconds.”

    Carlisle leaned back, now looking directly at me. “That certainly sounds… bracing. But you have clearly worked this out, and it doesn’t appear to be any more radical than some of the other ‘solutions’ I’ve been presented. You have this office’s backing.”

    “And I’m still the one you’re sending?”

    “Mr. Argent, can you think of any other way of getting yourself back in this government’s good graces?”


    Five people, eighteen hundred kilos of equipment and a spherical volume the size of guest bedroom were to be squeezed interstitially to a sky warmed by a different sun. Seccord, Lewis, Choi and Skallen were as capable as anyone – and actually confident. Their thoroughly up-to-date gray matter had swallowed up topics like language drift, small arms tactics, mining and a host of other antiquarian engineering knowledge sets. Despite being their subject-matter expert for much of their studies, my genetics are cruder by a decade – I am the slow one of the group. I am also the one who thinks this is likely the most expensive death sentence in history. I don’t admire their confidence, but I covet it.

    Fourteen minutes, twelve seconds. The cavern light is shifting toward blue.

    I made sure to leave no one behind. Every romance was brief. My oft strained family relationships were pushed until they snapped; the pain of separation dealt with long before departure. The few friends that had stood by during my previous hijinks were warned off by government lackeys or by a brief personal call. In my resolution to leave no emotional connection to my home, I accidentally avoided growing close to the only four people that would be my family/friends/comrades for the foreseeable future. I think they understand, but I can’t care right now.

    Lewis opens a valve at her heel, anointing her home world with the last urine (or anything else) it will ever get from us. Well, not ‘ever’, if we can do the impossible. She raises her brows in both mild embarrassment and mirth. Choi’s helmet is the only one angled my way, and I share her grin. There is something deeply defiant and funny about pissing on the god-like power of the machine that surrounds us.

    The numbers on the wall shift to flashing. Three minutes, fifty seconds. Four bodies jerk through a physical mantra of spot checks: Harness, pressure, structure, FOD, tanks, actuator. Seccord holds up one finger, Choi two, Skellen three and Lewis four. I flash five fingers at all of them, and nod to make it real. Spoiling the clinical austerity of the foam launch dais is a double stranded cord ending in a control pad. I flip the guard up on the pad and press the green button full down. Then I throw the box away from the gondola, the cord bending backwards through the air like a cobra, isolating us finally. We are clear and full ready.

    The clock goes black at one minute twelve seconds, as planned. The only active electrical systems in the chamber are now deep in the gun. As if to prove this, I can hear my mechanical wristwatch in the silence, but ignore the temptation of a personal countdown.

    In less than a minute the five of us will be dropping through the air of a lonely planet, scrambling to get our hydrogen bubble of safety under control, then looking for a place to land that the wind agrees with. It could be days or just minutes until we stand on that foreign soil and begin our social engineering project. And if that goes well, it will become a genuine engineering project that will connect me back to this home that I have so thoroughly divorced.

    We’ll see.
     
  2.  
    RX-79G

    RX-79G Well-Known Member

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    Bumped in hopes of some constructive criticism. Thanks.
     
  3.  
    tinkerdan

    tinkerdan candycane shrimp

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    Either I'm dense or this interface doesn't like me
    Interesting.

    Was this contest for mixing tenses.

    You run from present to future to past to present with more mixing in-between.
    Most of it tracks well; but I got confused enough that even now I'm not sure you got it all right.

    That alone makes it sometime hard to follow and know what is happening now and which part is going to happen and what happened before.

    The skyscraper as a gun is disconcerting, not because I can't see it being a gun, but rather I don't catch what the bullet is and then one of the characters is worried about it dropping on them and I think, 'It is the bullet.'

    Overall I am stumped as to what is happening. This could be a camping trip for all I can tell.

    They are doing something.
    Then he's verifying the ducks are in a row.
    The he describes something (he expects to happen).
    Then he remembers the planning.
    Then they are doing more stuff.
    More remembering.
    More stuff and final preparation along with taking a leak.
    Then what is going to happen (maybe).
    And finally...I still have no idea what is going on.

    That's just me though (pretty dense).

    Did you say this was literary fiction?

    I'm Intrigued as to what is happening and as I turn the page, I would hope you would enlighten me more soon.
     
  4.  
    Mr Orange

    Mr Orange Rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb...

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    @RX-79G, is this a complete story? from your intro it sounds like it is. if so, my main issue would be that nothing happens in it. it's just a lot of description about what has and what may happen. also, like Tinkerdan, i really don't understand what the gun is.

    there are a few nitpicky things within the writing, but generally it's good, i just can't find the story within it.
     
  5.  
    tinkerdan

    tinkerdan candycane shrimp

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    Either I'm dense or this interface doesn't like me
    If I were to guess:
    Maybe a theoretical physicist would figure out what it going on.
    My best guess after some bit of research might be that you have created something that uses the extra energy created by a defect of atoms in interstitial space and then you added the e for interestitial so maybe energy created otherwise empty spaces being occupied by something. and the upside-down building is a rail gun that utilizes this energy to send the bullet somewhere and the bullet is this loosely defined group of people who will either survive this or be the first lab-rats to die.

    I can't find interestitial so I'm thinking made up or new physic possibly.

    Maybe some sort of space time cannon; but I can't help but think it's being loaded with scattershot.
     
  6.  
    Martin Gill

    Martin Gill Well-Known Member

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    I had. Similar reaction to the above. I kind of like it, but I'm confused.

    There's places where I think you could tighten the language, but I'm operating on ipad right now and it's an awful editing tool. I'll take a look tomorrow. But overall I shared the feel that first, I don't really understand what's happening and second, I didn't get a sense of story. I'm not a sci fi reader, but this felt very abstract to me.
     
  7.  
    The Storyteller

    The Storyteller Well-Known Member

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    I'll admit, the tenses had me a bit confused, and I didn't connect strongly with the main character's pov. And like previous comments, I didn't have a very clear idea of what was going on. Some very nice description and a few chuckles though (I liked the remarks about looking for a reason to abort and the equipment and crew being 'as specified'), and I liked the dialogue near the beginning of the story. :)
     
  8.  
    RX-79G

    RX-79G Well-Known Member

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    Thank you all for your comments.

    In terms of the piece being confusing, I admit to purposely leaving the explanations out in a William Gibson fashion. There are enough clues to get an idea of what is happening without everything being spelled out. I took it for granted that the word "gun" would not be taken as a projectile weapon, but as a word to connote a device that releases pent up energy in a particular direction.

    I used present tense, except for where the character's POV is of something that happened in his memory. Can anyone offer an example where the tenses are wrong? I realize they are probably challenging, because we generally don't read much in present tense.

    I did not. What is "literary fiction?"
     
  9.  
    tinkerdan

    tinkerdan candycane shrimp

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    Either I'm dense or this interface doesn't like me
    Just an additional Few thoughts:
    You start with present tense then this paragraph goes the future, except for the last two sentences and in theory part of the sentence before.

    More troubling though is::
    I will study three durable but crude indicator dials, my hand hovering over the inflator valve. Too early on the balloon and our blood boils, too late and we hit the ground.

    ::

    Okay, i get that the balloon is not yet inflated and that they are going somewhere other than this planet(whate ever this planet is). And maybe they could end up too low to deploy the balloon or so high that their blood boils. Maybe they should have flight suits on with oxygen tanks. Not sure about the hydrogen at that height.

    But most of all the sentence ::Too early on the balloon and our blood boils, too late and we hit the ground. ::
    needs punctuation.

    Too early on, the balloon and our blood boils,
    or
    Too early on the balloon, and our blood boils,

    This is your past tense and your flashback
    Not sure where in the story this is but it starts out past tense and that works because he seems to be musing rather than flashing.
    And it ends in present tense.
    Mixing it would work under some conditions, but I'm not sure you need to mix it in this paragraph.

    Next one sentence paragraph is present with the next being past though in this case it looks like it works with the final sentence in present tense. More musing again not really flash.
    I wonder how necessary that is though when it could be::
    I think they understood, but I didn't care.
    ::

    In all you are not really breaking anything major; but when reading it, there is this distinct flavor of wrongness for some readers, that might be corrected just by separating two tenses from the same paragraph since they don't feel necessary Either change the tense or start a new paragraph.

    It's hard enough on the reader to jump back and forth because the musings seem like flashbacks they don't expect the mixture of tenses. And the ambiguity of whether the present tense part needs to be that way makes it that much more difficult.

    It's good writing; just sometimes not reader friendly.

    I think if this were in the middle of a novel where the reader had some idea that these people were going somewhere far away possibly a new world by some inscrutable technology that would squeeze them through the tiny free spaces of (something) It would work quite well like this. Unfortunately when presented like this it reads like literary fiction which often doesn't have to explain itself or make sense. (That last assessment of literary fiction might just be my own.)
    It loses the science of science fiction by being too obtuse about what's happening.
     
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2017
  10.  
    Toby Frost

    Toby Frost Well-Known Member

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    My understanding was that the gun is a teleporter, which will move the scientists and their gear to a new planet. However, to avoid the risk of materialising in solid rock, they will appear several miles above the surface and the balloon will expand and carry them down safely to the ground. That's quite an appealing idea.

    It reads well to me, but I would echo Mr Orange's comment that nothing really happens apart from "they get into the balloon and flip the switch". As a result, it feels like a vignette or part of a larger novel, rather than a full story. I enjoyed it, but I would feel disappointed if this wasn't the start (or end?) of something longer and more structured.
     
    HareBrain likes this.
  11.  
    dsri

    dsri Member

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    I didn't understand the relevance of the title. Its just late for me perhaps :).
     
  12.  
    RX-79G

    RX-79G Well-Known Member

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    It comes from this line:
    However, it is also a reference to the way the main character has been marginalized by the results of his choices and is now trapped between worlds.

    Thank you for spelling it out with examples. I think the main problem is one of punctuation and paragraph breaks, since switching tenses when you're actually speaking about things that have happened and commenting on how you feel about them now is normal.

    You got it, and thanks. As far as the story goes, it is condensation of two parts of a book idea I have. With a 1000 word limit, I don't think you can really do much more than either a vignette or a punchline.
     
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