§ Foy says: For the first time since the birth of Fire&Ice, this weekend was quiet enough that I got to sit (coffee in hand!) and enjoy every. single. story y’all submitted, and I’m so grateful! As the many Hugo’ed Mary Robinette Kowal says, “Short stories are about delivering a specific emotional punch” (find her Best-Unkept-Short-Story-Secret Formula here; thanks to our beloved Fire Dragon for sharing!!), and we see y’all demonstrate that emotive power week after week after week. Don’t believe me? Just read what our judges have to say…
Quick note on judging: Six pairs of judges across multiple nationalities and genres are taking turns reading your submissions (meet the judges here). As soon as each contest round closes, your stories are first stripped of all personal info before being sent on for judging. This represents our effort to maximize every story’s chances, whether it’s the first or hundredth story you’ve written. ♥
SOL 8’S JUDGES SAY:
David Shakes: What a superb image and flexible word count this week. It led to some beautiful figurative language and pushed a lot of people towards the type of fiction that floats my boat. What I wasn’t expecting was to have my equilibrium wrecked on a tumultuous sea of emotion and invention. You’ve conspired to make me laugh and then break my heart. I love and despise you all. Once again, my thanks to Nancy and I hope she forgives me for pushing towards the darker end of the listing again – it is the witching season after all! There were many overlaps with Nancy’s choices on my shortlist, so we both get to shout out to a few. The bleak metaphors in Brett Milam‘s Black Flag packed a real punch. Bart Van Goethem‘s Splinters in Space was a ten-word delight. The character of Rabbit and the whole world-building in Arcane Edison‘s Fallen Dreams left me wanting a longer piece.
Nancy Chenier: What an evocative prompt-combo! It sparked the imagination in different ways and inspired some glorious imagery. I find myself in speculative fiction heaven, everything from aliens to androids, arks to ornithopters, plus plenty of ghosts to haunt the start of Spooktober. Thanks to all of you for letting us read your work. My heaven became hellish, though, as I had to axe-murder many favored tales to get to a short-list. Even then, I don’t think I ever had a short-list morph so wildly between readings, and again as David and I compared notes. Despite a general overlap, the hull of our team-judging ship strained as we steered it into the harbor of top contenders. We avoided the shoals, however, and came into harbor with a satisfying moorage. I have to give a shout-out to some of my special favorites this week: to GamerWriter for Untitled, which will henceforth be known (to me) as “Do Androids Dream of Electric Conspiracies?” for some vivid and clever SF. Also to Mark A. King for Old Man and the Kraken, who must’ve been taking notes in our last round and so pulled out a Hemingway allusion to craft a fine speculative tale around it. Finally, Tinman‘s for To Travel Hopefully for giving me a good chuckle over second-rate-MacGuyver aliens.
DS: Well, folks, I cried – and I just wish that the writer had ended it before the final word of cry – because it’s so beautifully done they didn’t need it. I am a sucker for repetition and the banal meal choices, children’s songs and our child’s inventions all hid the gaping hole in their lives – the missing thread that threatened to unweave it all.
NC: The parallel construction specifically detailing the hollow ritual made this one float to the top; I loved the way the bedtime songs echo the child’s creations and how the father’s bright exchanges with his daughter stand in painful contrast to the narration (fall apart, sore, a waiting babysitter who gets paid extra for meatloaf). The sharp description highlights what is missing and the result is heartbreaking.
DS: Dragged in by the first line, the extended metaphor of this was just brilliant and the quality of every word choice just so on point! My favourite line was ‘Weave together answers that defy the inevitable’ and that’s where I’ll end my praise. This piece took on personal meaning for me – it resonated – and that’s what good writing should do.
NC: A vibrant conceit of a ship straining against the storm of circumstance in a craft of the will’s invention compels us through with drivingly dynamic verbs, and leaves me breathless (and ready to push back against the tide).
DS: The device of the hypotheses was a good one – a rational mind trying to come to terms with an irrational fate. The hope of the second hypothesis crushed by the fourth as the mind unravels and the world becomes more surreal. One of the tales that used the conspiracy theorist as the central narrator, this one took the lead as the insight coupled with the imagery was superb.
NC: The format effectively weaves together a story of the narrator’s fate while hinting at familiar conspiracy theories, each iteration painting a clearer picture of the narrator’s mind as s/he reveals the intriguing details of their environment. The tale moves from what seems the birth of a typical conspiracy (a la the Mary Celeste) in the first hypothesis to a religious theory in the second (I laughed at the “fiat” of nature having its limits compared to divine intervention) to paranoia (like an alien experiment on this poor human) back to a spiritual hypothesis that lands the narrator in hell—tying it all together by coming back to the flame.
And now: it is our pleasure to present to you our
DS – The line ‘Dark is a country’ really took me in, as did its use of the prompt and association with the Bermuda Triangle. A story that lives up to its title, the only criticism Nancy and I had was it was perhaps too short as we both wanted more. The rich language of the first paragraph takes time to fully appreciate, but the real kicker is the hopelessness in the ending. A diabolical inventor. Stay away from thin air and cold waters.As dark as treacle laced with the rum that dripped from the ceilings this was – and that’s a damned good thing.
NC — As I tend to stuff the word count to bursting, I’m ever in awe of those folk who can pack a full story into a small space economically, without draining the power from it. This one did. Cracking description (oh, and I wanted more!), and it caught me up right from the opening (a bottled “ghost ship” that “haunts” a corner in a room of captivity), and the imagery carries through (rum, skeletal sailors, walking the plank) like an infernal Pirates of the Caribbean ride. The fire-prompt use is wonderful, in particular the way you flipped the conspiracy of the Bermuda Triangle into an invention of the antagonist (again, compellingly described as “a shadow knitted by darkness”). I even felt for the courage-summoning protagonist. Well done.
Congratulations, Marie! Here’s your winning story:
A ghost ship in a bottle haunting the room from the corner. It’s all I see for a week? A day? A second? Until a shadow knitted by darkness, laughs like a bawdy sailor. Rum drips from the roof while skeletons perch on dusty stools.
He tells me he invented The Triangle. He plucks people from thin air and cold waters.
Dark is a country he says and I feel like I’m walking the plank. I find the courage to ask for mercy.
Too late. You’ve been collected he says.