TWA #21 – Sickness in Space – JUDGEMENT

scalesHappy Halloween! Thanks for taking time out of the orangest of holidays to check out our stories. It’s now time to crown a champion for the 21st round of The Writer’s Arena.

Danny Brophy represents the arena this week with his story, “Everywhere Station.” His stylings will hit you harder than a nor’easter, but will it be enough to bring down his challenger?

On the other side of the arena, Michael John Weldon cooks up a soup of space plagued goodness in, “Incubation.”

Now, let’s see what our judges have to say.

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).

In space, no one can hear you vomit blood through your tear ducts.

 

Another amazing week with a really strong premise. Space only highlights the thin line that separates life from death. The artificial environment heightens claustrophobia and suspense. We must fight not only against the biological invasion, but against the effects the disease awakens in the human spirits. Humanity will carry its own horrors even into the final frontier.

 

As is my custom, I’m going to make a few comments on the individual stories before moving on to my vote.

 

“Incubation” by Michael John Weldon — This story is very busy for my tastes. I don’t mind the large cast of characters, or the change in points of view, but I did find so many different POVs distracting. I think having a stronger “through-POV” would help pull the story together. Some of the language clanged for me as well (though that probably says more about me as a reader than about the story itself). I also found it hard to believe that someone trained for a mission to Pluto would even bring up the idea of incinerating something in a closed-air environment.

 

Yet the dialogue is absolutely stellar, the showdown between the plague-carrier and main POV character is very well done, and the stinger at the end is brilliantly cinematic. More importantly, we care about the MO’s struggle to survive and to prove he wasn’t crazy. We care about his fate at the end. And that’s what I want a story to do, to make me feel, to make me care. Well done.

 

“Everywhere Station” by Danny Brophy– I like the tight prose of this story, the way we feel the confines of the ship squeezing in on us as Ellen’s options also become fewer and fewer. I love that the disease has already been raging and we are now in survival mode as a space-faring species. I love that the broader course of the disease is shown by focusing on the struggle of one individual, a mother.

 

I could quibble with some pacing issues. The introduction of Dwayne so close to the beginning I feel is a distraction when we should be learning to care about Ellen and Becca. I feel that starting with “The flight deck was locked,” would have made a stronger story, flashing back to other scenes as needed. But my biggest difficulty was that I had a hard time wrapping my head around the broader world. What had Becca’s father designed the pathogen to do? How had he thought smuggling them aboard the ship would keep them safe?

 

I don’t mind unanswered questions, but the sort of questions that are unanswered here made it hard for the story world to gel in my mind.

 

Two stories focusing on different aspects of illness in space. In the end, I have to vote for the story that had the greatest emotional impact on me. And this week that story was:

 

“Incubation” by Michael John Weldon.

 

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 are his thoughts:

 

How do you deal with sickness in space? How do you avoid infection when there is no escape? Let’s see!

 

“Incubation” by Michael J Weldon – Lights flicker on, the sound of breaking glass… Great opening.

 

I really liked the illness in this story. The idea that the virus or whatnot would work so hard to spread that it modifies its host in such gruesome and horrific ways is great. Vomiting blood, exploding corpses, nothing is too far if it means infecting another host.

 

Given this prompt, there were only a few paths to walk here. Hints of Sphere, Event Horizon, even Alien dotted this story. Even so, they were handled well and woven together seamlessly. Our protagonist Davis moves from victim, to untrusted witness, to reluctant hero and finally to villain without causing any disbelief.

 

As is often the case with these kinds of stories, we are left with only a single survivor. The reveal that he is the one who started it all was great, the double twist that he may not be a survivor after all was fantastic. This is the kind of story that works when left open-ended. Leaves you imagining the “sequel.”

 

Solid entry that is right on target for this prompt. Well done, sir.

 

“Everywhere Station” by Danny Brophy – Another strong, gripping opening. Ellen calmly handling something as horrific as her daughter’s eyelids being eaten off goes a long way to telling us what we are in for. It really sets the mood and paints for us the world that we have stepped into.

 

I don’t know if it’s because I know the author’s favorite space horror movie, or because of my limited knowledge of that movie, but I got more than a little bit of Alien flavor here. I mean, her name is Ellen? The thing of it is, that’s not a problem here, not with this prompt.

 

The crew was a bit stereotypical but they worked well together. Dwayne and Cary are kind of a study in fear and the absence of it. Dwayne is helping because he has nothing to lose and thinks Becca and Ellen can be saved. Cary starts off fearful of the disease but he sees things differently when he gets infected, realizing they needed to sacrifice themselves to save everyone else.

 

The best parts of this story were Ellen and Becca. Their relationship seemed very real, it was very well written. Seeing Becca succumb to the disease was painful even in such a short story.

 

I liked that this story had a couple twists to it also. That our “heroine” doesn’t survive either and that Becca’s father is the one behind it all was unexpected.

 

We were given two great versions of interstellar infections this week. While the similarities were expected, the differences were impressive. Parts of each story really stuck with me after I read them, but I can only vote for one. This week my vote goes to:

 

“Incubation” by Michael J Weldon.

 

There you have it folks! “Incubation” by Michael John Weldon is the winner of TWA #21! Congratulations Michael, it is hard to step into the arena and step away with a victory.

On a side note, Michael got married just a few days before walking into the arena! We wish you the best of luck on this new wonderful phase of your life.

Let’s take a look at what our audience thought about these stories:

[poll id=”17″]

This is a rare occasion! A completely unanimous decision from our judges and audience? It must be the Halloween spirit moving through all of you.

We’ll see you in just over a week with new stories, but please stay tuned for some special guest posts during our off-week. Happy Halloween!

 


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One Comment

  1. That’s a great catch on the fire part, I admit I hadn’t even considered it. Probably a good thing I’m not an astronaut, huh? I’m glad people enjoyed the story, but more importantly, I had a blast sharing it with you guys. Mr. Brophy, you were a worthy foe indeed, and I would love a rematch sometime. Seriously, Arena team, thank you so much for the chance to spill some ink (electronic text? Whatever). This site is fantastic; you know who to call if you ever need a challenger!

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