This week the arena asked for some good old fashioned Lovecraftian storytelling that took place in the depths of space.
Our two authors tackled the prompt from almost exact opposite perspectives with David Webb dishing up the end of our world in “Above,” and Joseph Devon explaining the beginning of theirs in “The Incident in the Delta Quadrant.”
Donald Jacob Uitvlugt is our first judge this week. Donald strives to write what he calls “haiku fiction,” stories that are small in scope but big on impact. Find out more about haiku fiction here. He welcomes comments at his blog http://haikufiction.blogspot.com or via Twitter @haikufictiondju).
We had another great week in the Arena this week. I’m a huge Lovecraft fan. HPL’s own work near the end of his life tended more in a dark science fiction direction rather than horror, so there’s definitely precedence for the prompt. I was looking forward to reading the stories when the prompt was announced and I love how the authors took radically different approaches to the prompt. Yet oddly enough there are points of contact. Both stories are framed with an investigation into a mission gone wrong. Both stories also tell their tale indirectly; the point-of-view characters aren’t really who the story is about. Very interesting to find such similarities in two otherwise disparate tales.
A few comments on the individual stories before going on to my verdict:
“Above” by David Webb– Wow is this story clean. As someone who has competed in the Arena myself, I’m jealous of David Webb’s prose. It’s hard enough to get a story done in the time allotted period, much less one this polished. This is the more Lovecraftian of the two stories, complete with the Lovecraftian trope of the monster only appearing at the end. I’m good with that; if I have any complaint, I wish the story had more sense of foreboding especially during the mission itself. The tone was definitely right, the atmosphere could have been stronger for my tastes.
“The Incident in the Delta Quadrant” by Joseph Devon – And now for something completely different. Some scholars believe that the Ancient Astronauts theory currently being popularized on American television finds its ultimate roots in the stories of H. P. Lovecraft. I don’t know if Joseph Devon is aware of that or not, but “Incident” fits with that idea perfectly. I like a lot of the Mythos jokes here, from Hastur’s yellow wardrobe on. There’s not so much of Lovecraft’s cosmic horror here; the tale is much more human. But in the end, the bulk of the narrative reads to me too much like a travelogue of Hastur’s station with a tale of revenge tacked on the end. Much cleverness, but not as strong of a story as I would like.
So this week my vote goes to:
“Above” by David Webb.
Cthulhu in space!! Seems like these Lovecraftian stories would be that much harder to write, so much mythology out there already to reconcile with. Lets see how our competitors did this week.
“Above” by David Webb – I like the way this story starts. Comfortable chair, allusions to something catastrophic happening, but the law must go on. The framework of testifying in court is a brilliant way to allow a grand story to be told in bits and pieces. Excellent idea.
The flashbacks here are done very well also, they just flow out of the present day conversations without any effort at all. They feel like they belong and aren’t just info dumps.
I love how the tension slowly builds with the pyramid, from the time they find it until the rocket is launched to go home is like a storm gathering power.
The only issue I have with the story, and I’ll admit that it is rather minor, is that after all this beautiful tension builds there is very little action precipitated by it. I wanted more struggle, a tougher ride back to Earth maybe.
Love how the ending really plays off the beginning of the story. The almost casual remarks “even with what’s happening outside” and “I don’t care what has happened to the sky” while conducting a formal investigation take on almost sinister proportions when you find out that there is a giant freaking eye and a claw reaching out to Earth from Mars.
A well crafted and fantastic entry for our first repeat challenger. Thank you, Sir.
“The Incident in the Delta Quadrant” by Joseph Devon – This was an interesting take on the prompt. I’ll admit I was really wondering where Mr. Devon was going with this as I read, picking up all the little references and nods to the Cthulhu mythos. When I finally figured out what was going on I was impressed. I haven’t read too many stories who try to tackle the back story of Cthulhu and the Great Old Ones.
The grizzled veteran having to deal with the untested pencil pusher is a familiar trope but only because it works. We get tension from their interactions, the info dumps are blended into the story as the new character is shown around and introduced. It works.
Casting ol’ squid face and friends as mercenary space pilots was an inspired idea that I felt really embraced the prompt. It was believable that they would have destroyed the quadrant and the worlds within for fun or due to willful disregard. The dishing out of the punishments at the end really anchored this story in the Lovecraftian world.
I enjoyed how the reveal of the twist is handled. Since we can’t hear the voice, following the liaison as he starts to understand who it is and going to confront him was a nice touch. Well done!
This week featured two well written stories from two fantastic authors. The deciding factor came down to originality. My vote goes to:
“The Incident in the Delta Quadrant” by Joseph Devon.
Well folks, it looks like we have a split decision from the judges. That means it falls to our voters to peg the winner. How did you vote? Let’s take a look:
The winner is David Webb! Congratulations David! I’m sure we’ll be seeing more from this wiley brit in the future. Be sure to check out his blog (which features an alternate story for this prompt).
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.