But which writer’s story took top prize? Let’s go to the judges.
Ellie Ann is a New York Times and USA Today best selling author, as well as a mother of three. Arena denizens and podcast fans know her for her fantastic work with The Silver Sickle, which you can find on the banner ad to the right. You can also hear her talk about her new project, The Tale of Frida, here on the Human Echoes Podcast.
Oh man, what a phenomenal battle we had this week. It was so close I had to start splitting hairs between the stories. I enjoyed them each so much, for different reasons.
by Joseph Devon
A solid introduction, great peek at the characters and their motivations. I can tell this story will rise.
LoL. A bob haircut? I guess it could be cutting edge, but usually it’s like the least cutting edge option out there. I’m wondering how Joseph pictured it. Tattoos would have been a more cutting edge option.
Love the name Archer.
Good character development. Could have used a few more unique elements–what makes Gus stand out, besides his care for Molly? What makes Molly stand out to him? Just a few details or funny quips would have heightened it a lot.
Love the tension when Molly keeps the drawing.
Rolling eyes is hard to pull off–I always suggest cutting that phrase or changing it to another physical description of frustration, like tense shoulders or clenching jaw or stalking off or something.
Love the character interactions.
Note: the paragraphs are really long. It’d be helpful to break up a few to earn more white space on the page.
Wow, the reveal is fantastic. Now that I’ve read it I realize I should have seen it coming, but I didn’t. Love it. Very satisfying. There was enough subtle tension and character development here to pull me along, the pacing was good, and I think Joseph is excellent at self-editing.
That scene in the end with Archer is interesting, but not needed, since the story was never about him. But it left me knowing that more was going to happen after the story was done.
Favorite line: “For a moment it seemed like the apartment was pushing lightness out into the night instead of letting darkness encroach into the kitchen.”
by Thomas Benjamin
The stomach roll, I instantly know what that feels like and feel like I’m in the scene–really well done first paragraph, it grounds the reader. I’m hooked.
Don’t know how seeing a man in Mr. Ether’s office would make him feel strange–isn’t that where clients would meet? How does he know something is off?
Love the first description of Mr. Ether, that paragraph reveals so much about him: work ethic, integrity, his age.
Note: instead of describing Davey’s outfit, just write he wore a security uniform. Everyone pictures exactly what you wrote.
“Held his soda cans suspiciously tight.” -fantastic.
Gordon’s backstory doesn’t work because no motive is introduced–why punch an officer in the throat? Why get into fights? It’s never explained, thus it lacks power. It doesn’t give us a glimpse of who he is.
Love how he’s taking the time to introduce the big reveal.
Eye rolling–use eye rolling with great care, as it’s usually cliche.
The reveal is shocking! Can’t believe how they use this machine, but it also makes perfect sense. I can see it happening, the fascination with becoming something after you die.
“Carnivore had decided.” -how perfectly horrifying and beautiful.
Note: it would have been cooler if a song had NEVER been chosen, but Gordon knew Carnivore was capable of music. It also would have made the climax more powerful.
Great juxtaposition of Carnivore being an artist/creator, yet Gordon does NOT dwell on that–you can tell he’s still overcome with the fact that the machine tears apart people–Carnivore, fangs, the pranks, We Eat People–he doesn’t seem cool with the fact yet. Which confuses me, based on what he does at the end.
Very intriguing plot development with Zachary. Though I think he should have been asked “Why?” right away, instead of at the end. It was the first question I thought of, and seems natural.
“Laced with the life of a human being.” Am a sensing something supernatural here? I thought Carnivore just used the body for energy in order to create a painting or song, like it ate it. Now I’m wishing for more on Carnivore.
Great job with pacing and description–really wise how you wrote how prestigious Carnivore’s art is before you introduced Zachary–now we know why he’d make his request.
Note: I wish Zachary had been miserable, or hurting, or lonely, or something that justified his suicide. People don’t kill themselves for no reason, no matter how they do it. It would also make Gordon’s euthanizing him more palatable.
I love Mr. Ether’s reaction to Zachary, puts him in the antagonist role.
Great threat at the end of the scene. The stakes are up.
Zachary is creepy as hell. Wish his motivations were dissected a bit further.
Note: ohhhhh, missed a great opportunity for tension with Rein. Would have been awesome if Rein had fought them about it, instead of blindly accepting what Gordon was doing–I don’t get how he was so accepting. There’d be more tension if Carnivore had been made into a character, too…but I understand that.
“Felt like he was wandering in a dream.” – not the best emotion for a protagonist during the climax, it makes me not want to care what happens. I want to know that he’s feeling things. He’s coming off as the antagonist now–wanting to place a human in with Carnivore. Seems sick to me.
“Zachary Hills painted and sang to him.” – I thought Carnivore was the artist?
Hm, the ending was really weak, for such a traumatic, heart-wrenching scene. Gordon sacrificed himself for a stranger, Carnivore created his finest work, and Zachary killed himself via machine, yet because I didn’t know the motivations behind them, I didn’t feel their emotion.
But besides the climax, this was a phenomenally written story! Great pacing with a strange, unique premise. I love Thomas’ work.
Favorite line: “So kill yourself.” Davey’s voice surprised everyone.
Ahhhh, don’t make me choose! They each had great qualities. My decision really came down to deciding between the climaxes.
“Intrinsic’s” premise was genius, and there are some paragraphs of great quality. But I think the premise was relied upon too much, and there wasn’t enough surrounding it to grip me. If only a few motivations were written out it would have heightened it to greatness.
Though “Blue Swan” could have used a few more unique elements, the care and crafting of this story is well done. I understood and cared about the characters and I loved the ending between Gus and Molly.
I believe “Blue Swan” is a better, more consistent short story.
Rich Alix is our second judge. He is a patron of The Human Echoes Podcast, and an all-around awesome guy. He is the voice of the common man in this contest, and here is his judgment:
Another week in the arena, another slightly strange prompt…Machines Making Art!? What’s next?
by Benjamin Thomas
This story really embraced the machine side of machine made art. I liked the awkward interactions between co-workers and the idea that Gordon was maybe more comfortable with the machine then with other humans.
I liked the thought that you could turn a body into a painting or a song. They can already turn you into a gemstone so why not some other object of worth. I’m not usually a fan of the “magic box” but I was okay with it here in a such a short format.
The mysterious, wealthy client wanting to experience the machine while still alive added a little more creepiness to the story but also provided an interesting source of tension. My favorite bit: “The room became so silent it seemed still. Tiny molecules of air ceased to move, wrapped securely in blankets of tension and confusion.”
This story was well written and imaginative, but I did have a couple of issues with it. I’m not sure what the interaction with the security guard was for, maybe to set up Gordon’s disobedience? Just seemed like punching a police officer in the throat is a little overkill to justify him putting Mr. Hills into the Carnivore. I would have been as accepting of him just wanting to see what the machine would do. Also Mr. Hills “just knowing” that Gordon would come back that night seemed a bit of a shortcut, maybe a little clunky.
by Joseph Devon
Fantastic story. I really enjoyed the “I, Robot” kind of approach. Instead of putting art in the hands of industrial machines, we are given machines who are very nearly human. I loved the twist in this story, it really surprised me. I was so sure I knew where this story was going and then…wrong. Reading it again I see where the reader was subtly led astray from the very first line. “Gus sat across from the android at the kitchen table.” Brilliant.
I’m not sure if this would technically be a “bottle episode,” but having the majority of the story occur as conversations and interactions at the same kitchen table really added a layer of intimacy, even humanity, for me.
I also like the way Mr Devon examined the idea of perfect vs imperfect and which makes for better art. The idea that the android never quite gets why she preferes the “lesser” drawing, no matter how many “revelations” it has, is a nice touch.
The dialogue here, to me, is where Mr Devon really shows his skill. It has an easy, real feel to it and sells the whole story about Gus effortlessly. Very well done.
The contrast between the stories this week was such a happy coincidence. One used machines to turn humans into art while the other used art to turn machines more human. Both stories were well done and I would (and probably will) recommend both for friends to read. This week though, one story shone just a little bit brighter to me.
My vote goes to: “Blue Swan” by Joseph Devon
Both judges sided with android love, giving “Blue Swan” two out of three possible votes.
Interestingly enough, the masses disagreed, pushing “Intrinsic” ahead in the polls and giving it one vote by winning the readers over.
But the judges sway it this time and “Blue Swan” wins the week.
Huge thanks to Benjamin Thomas for his contribution, the machine known as Carnivore is firmly lodged in the arena’s subconscious.
We’d also like to thank all of you for reading, voting, and commenting. We’ll see you on Monday when the prompt for Battle #11 is announced!
On a side note, we are paying our authors a base level rate at the moment, but if you really enjoyed their story and want to help us make sure these awesome people get paid, please donate below. 75% goes to the author, the rest goes to keeping this place up and running.