Our writers were tasked to write about genies. These mystics carry powers over matter and time, sometimes over life and death. Our authors went two very different ways with their stories.
Albert Berg conjured up “The Lives of Leylo Toolmoon.”
Daniel Hale summons your votes with “The Widower’s Djinn.”
Let’s take a look at what our judges have to say.
Our first judge is occasional Arena combatant, the British Brawler himself, David Webb. Let’s see what he has to say.
By luck, by happenstance, by strange design I get another week of being a Judge for the Arena, and it’s a good week to judge. Two stories, alike and yet quite different, both entertaining, both waiting to find out which one gets to walk out head held high and which one’s going home in an ambulance.
I couldn’t have wished for a better Friday evening.
Challenger first, I think.
“The Widower’s Djinn” by Daniel Hale – This story evokes early Pratchett, maybe a bit of Robert Asprin and a smidge of Tom Holt in the very relatable Djinn Ahlz and his encounter with an elderly human. In a way it’s a shame that Ahlz is way past his prime when the story ends, because there’s always room for a smart alec supernatural, at least in my reading habits, and I like how his dialogue starts out.
More pleasing, though, is Don Benton. I like the house filled with longing and regret. I like the notion of a building full of a life mourned and grief unspent. It’s clear Don started to die when he lost Beryl and there’s a nice hint here that in the end, Alhz might still be an angel, because doesn’t he deliver on at least part of God’s promise? A bodily ressurection and a return to youth? It does seem as though both characters go to their reward, which is a pleasant way to wrap up the story.
Daniel has created a gentle tale of redepmtion and reward, out of clear and clean prose, which is a lot cleverer than it first appears to be. I like stories that reward the reader by being bigger on the inside.
Of course, Daniel is up against Albert Berg. Has he done enough to secure victory?
“The Lives of Leylo Toolmoon” by Albert Berg – I’ll make no secret of the fact that I like Albert’s writing style. I’m going to use the phrase “clean prose” again, because it absolutely applies. He has a way of zeroing in on sensory details that drop you right into what he’s describing. The crackling sound the bottle makes when Leylo handles it, for example. Yep, I’m a fan.
Style is all well and good, but is only worth anything if there’s substance. Here too, Albert delivers. I like Leylo, and the progress of her life. She’s strong without being fiesty or even precocious. I can believe the thoughtful child watching for crocodiles would ask for water, and then wait for the right circumstances for her next wish.
I’m also pleased with the more traditional Djinn. I’ve always understood them to be malicious creatures at heart, so it’s good to see one attempting to manipulate a bit. I an’t help but wonder if the size and colour of this Djinn had anything to do with Disney, but let’s not allow that to detract from the business at hand.
Leylo succeeds where so many others have failed: she makes wishes that actually work. I agree with her reasoning, I can accept that Leylo is someone who thinks this way and it’s the strength of that characterisation which carries the story from youth to old age.
I like how Albert bookends the story with the desire for some water.
The Verdict. Stories about wishes are too often stories about hubris and about how getting what you want isn’t necessarily all that good for you. Both writers managed to avoid that cliche and both deliver thoughtful and thought provoking stories. None of that is making my job any easier.
Two stories, alike and yet different, and it comes down to this: I found more to like in “The Lives of Leylo Toolmoon” by Albert Berg.
Daniel, you were a more than worthy challenger. I found nothing about your work I didn’t like and it really did come down to writing things in columns. Albert outweighed you by about two things. A damned close run thing, sir. Damned close.
This was one of those weeks where there was a wonderful, unintended contrast between the stories. On one hand we have an old man using his wishes to regain youth gone past and on the other hand we have a child using her wishes to better her future. I love when this happens.
“The Widower’s Djinn” by Daniel Hale – I like the way this story starts out. References to undersecretaries and accountants in regards to the supernatural beings we would call angels and demons adds an almost routine feel to this tale and to Ahiz himself. We know a bit about this character and how he thinks before we even really meet him.
The initial interaction between djinn and rescuer was well done. The disbelief and irritation apparent in Don Benton was great. We get the feeling that no matter how abnormal Ahiz looks or arrives, Don is more irritated that the djinn is bothering him than anything else.
I was a little thrown when Don started to walk away and Ahiz commands him to stop. The way it plays out, it seems Ahiz causes Don’s heart attack and then doesn’t want him to die. Is he rusty with his powers? Was it a coincidence? I’m not sure and it bothered me a little.If Ahiz caused the incident, it changes my entire view of his character.
I like the little twist about Ahiz having to give up some of himself to help Don. I hadn’t heard that before but it fits right in with the idea that the bottle is a kind of prison. That Don feels bad about Ahiz sacrificing himself is interesting, but I found it more interesting that it doesn’t quite keep him from making another wish.
The ending was a little weird, Benton makes his second wish, gets his youth and sets off on his new life. That works for me. I was a little confused about wish #3. It appears he wished for Ahiz to take his place? Something released him from being a djinn but it’s not clear what.
I still liked this story quite a bit and the happy endings for all is a nice change from recent arena fare. Thank you.
“The Lives of Leylo Toolmoon” by Albert Berg – The idea of a child being given three wishes is fraught with danger. You can imagine the odd, impractical things they might wish for. Luckily, in this story the child who releases the djinn is wise beyond her years.
Instead of wealth or power, Leylo, the child, chooses an unlimited source of clean water. How perfect of a choice is this for the area she lives in? I loved how the djinn does warn her about the literal interpretation of the wishes and the unintended consequences that come along with it. That she is able to reason through it and dismiss the concerns shows her wisdom as well.
The idea of saving wishes really made a difference here. I don’t know if I have seen that in this kind of story before, but if I ever get three wishes I will be utilizing this strategy. By only using wishes when she really deems it necessary, Leylo is able to stretch 3 wishes over her entire life. Amazing.
Second wish here was another wise choice. I liked that she chooses a wish that will only really affect her. Instead of forcing another to her will, she chooses to accept what is.
The interactions between Leylo and the djinn are great. They interact as equals, almost as colleagues in this long wish granting adventure. I liked this quite a bit.
The end of this story is well done. Leylo’s speech as she explains her final wish choice is eloquent and heartfelt. You can imagine a parent making a similar speech to their child about the possibilities of the future. I like the callback to the water with the child’s first request.
If this story has a downside it is in the straightforwardness of it all. There is a gentle steady way that this is written that makes it seem simple and easy. I’m not sure if more excitement would help or hurt this story though.
This week was a nice week in the arena. Nobody died, nobody committed any acts of depravity, and all of the characters in both stories had their lives improved by the end. This may be a first here! This week came down to simply which story felt more complete. I give my vote to “The Lives of Leylo Toolmoon” by Albert Berg
And the judges decision goes to Albert Berg! Congratulations Albert. Let’s see if the people agree with our judges. [More content after the poll, it’s freaking huge!]
Oof. The judges might have picked Albert but our readers are definitely on the side of Daniel Hale. This is sure to cause some controversy. Either way we were treated to some fantastic stories this week. Congrats to both of you. The audience was the real winner.
ALSO, GO COMMENT ON THESE FANTASTIC STORIES! THEY WORK HARD AND NEED YOUR FEEDBACK! HUNDREDS OF READERS AND SO FEW COMMENTS!?! FOR SHAME!
We will see you next week. You’ll be able to smell us coming!