Welcome to Flash Points. Every Monday we stick one of the previous Friday’s entries under a sparklyscope (gloves recommended but not required) and talk about it right in front of its face, dragon style. What makes writing “good”? Specifically, what makes great flash? What about this particular piece really works? Let the discussion begin!
Prompt: hot air balloon
Word limit: 190 – 210
Today’s chosen flash piece: Untitled, by Dr. Magoo
The professor looked over the edge of the basket, grimacing as he strained to make out features on the ground. “Is that Kansas? It sure doesn’t look like Kansas.”
Sitting in the corner of the basket, I shuddered, wondering how he could lean out so far over the edge when we were this far off the ground. Me, I had to close my eyes to climb into this infernal thing when it was on the ground. I couldn’t even ride a tall horse. If I’d known how much time I’d be spending flying, there’s no way I would have signed on with him, no matter how charismatic or persuasive he was to my mother. But I didn’t know, and what the Professor wanted, he got. And he wanted me.
Or, more specifically, the MVPM system I’d developed.
That’s Multi-Verse Positioning Magic, for the uneducated. I could pinpoint where we were to within a half-furlong, whether we were in Kansas, Oz, Vulcan, Pern, or in VRspace.
And since he couldn’t control his balloon – at all – he needed to know where he’d ended up each time he flew.
“No, Professor,” I said through our telepathic link, “it’s not Kansas. Not even Earth, I’m afraid. Says here … Magrathea.”
What stuck with me about this story is its successful worldbuilding. One of the things I love best about flash fiction is the challenge of cramming crucial story elements such as character, plot, voice, and setting, into an impossibly small space. The world Dr. Magoo has created here is engaging and fun. A hot air balloon that can float across the globe and between worlds? Magic mixed with scifi mixed with steampunk? Marvelous.
The voice of the irritated and acrophobic protagonist comes across clearly and compellingly; he’s mad at heights, mad at the Professor, mad at his vulnerable mother. Visions of Treasure Island, anyone? It’s a fresh take on an old trope.
On top of that, Dr. Magoo clearly had a blast packing in references from so many other stories (and story forms). Where else but in a brilliant flash fiction parody could Oz, Vulcan, and Pern (woot! dragons! extra points to Dr. Magoo) meet in a single breath?
And for a dramatic final flourish, Dr. Magoo’s worldbuilding parodies worldbuilding itself: the hapless voyagers wind up in Magrathea, the famed worldbuilders’ world from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Ohhh. Clever and delicious.
That’s a whole lot in just a little.
Do you agree? What nabs your fancy here, and what has Dr. Magoo done well? What else makes this story work?