TWA #47 – 404 File Not Found – JUDGEMENT!

Battle47It’s the start of a new week and the end of another battle. Welcome to Monday, it’s like spamming refresh on your browser but with more coffee and discontent.

Enough of that, it’s time to settle a brawl for the internet. We’ve taken a long series of tubes to get this far, and our authors put up two doozies for their stories.

Al Berg investigated your search history with “In Real Life.”

Joe Prosit used us as a buffer zone in “Pre-Triage.”

Let’s see what our judges have to say.

Rich Alix is our first 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:

“Pre-Triage” by Joe Prosit – Nice title. Had me hooked a little before I read a single word.

 

I loved the feel of this story. The first person view through the eyes of an engineer really made all the necessary info-dumps fit. Those guys will go on forever talking about the minutia of their latest project. I enjoyed the back and forth tugging between his analytical, logical side and his emotional, more human side.

 

I liked the way that his fake family, something that seems weird but innocent enough, could be the direct cause of a real person’s death. That’s a little twisted but entirely too plausible given the context of this story.

 

The mounds of responsibility our narrator feels is very palpable. He was involved in the coding, he found the pre-triage protocol. He should have known better. The lies he told himself, the lies he disseminated to the network, actually killed someone and he had to watch it go down. Wow.

 

I am a huge fan of the idea of driverless cars, I can’t wait to be shuttled wherever I want as I read a book or catch up on some TV. Or at least I was. This story is akin to those horror stories that make you look at everyday objects with at least a hint of trepidation. I know I will be thinking of this story the next time I read an article about the latest test of the Google cars.

 

As good as this story was, I do have a small issue with it. Our narrator made his family, at first, just to give his own life more meaning. After some time they became meaningful to him. I was a little shocked that he would send them off to live with someone else. I wonder if just mentioning that he has said his goodbyes or that they “left him” would work as well. I understand his intentions but they seem at odds with someone who tried to shield these mannequins during the crash.

 

 

“In Real Life” by Albert Berg – This was an interesting story. I liked the idea of taking the film noir detective and setting him loose on the internet.

 

The story embraced the trope completely: “I had no idea what PuppySkulz looked like, but I’d assumed he was your typical antisocial internet neckbeard.”, “her sentences flowed about as well as a wheelchair on a staircase.”, or “that word barely means anything anymore and maybe it never did.” These quotes nailed it exactly.

 

The way that the detective worked through the case in his head and narrates it all to us works well and fits with the style. The characters all fit in to the classic roles so well I pictured trenchcoats, fedoras, and floral dresses the whole time I was reading it.

 

In fact, the story captured the whole noir angle so well it pretty much gave away the ending. Details aside, these kinds of stories almost always hinge on affairs of the heart. I was expecting a little more updated motive here, but it almost had to go the way it did.

 

Still, this story is very well written and would not seem out of place in a contemporary noir anthology.

 

So this week I had to choose between an imaginative, interesting tale of the internet set on the highway and a fantastic representation of the classic private dick set on the internet. Tough choice as always. When it came down to it though I had to go with the story that stuck with me, and that was “Pre-Triage” by Joe Prosit.

 

 

Jon Jones is a looker atter of things, and hopefully insightful but succinct commentator thereof. He’s an incredibly insightful friend of the show and one hell of a Minecraft builder. You can find him dispensing wisdom here.

 

I first off wish to thank the kindly folk of The Writers Arena for gifting me this opportunity to judge the stories this week. I’ve gotten so much enjoyment in reading and commenting for the many wonderful journeys of the mind through the Arena exploits, and I am thrilled to be able to contribute in this way.

 

Now, on to the stories:

 

A prompt that invites writers to offer a tale featuring “the Internet at its core” opens the Arena to a vast field of possibilities. I started reading, having no idea what to expect. This week’s battle certainly does not disappoint.

 

 

“Pre-Triage” by Joe Prosit opens by ingeniously hinting at what is to come, but with such subtlety that its impact (pun intended) might not be properly appreciated until the second read.

 

I loved the way the mind of the narrator is fleshed out through the story. He is an engineer and has spent his career (and his life) investing in highly technical and complex endeavors. We are informed with exactly as much detail as is necessary to make the story move efficiently. And though it is all very personal to the narrator, it is conveyed in a moderately detached manner…from the mind of an engineer discussing his work.

 

It suddenly became especially personal for the narrator when he was confronted with the effects of his actions, seeing what happened to the occupants of the other car. It made me think about what might happen if the Architect from “Matrix: Reloaded” unexpectedly developed a conscience. Our narrator’s response was especially powerful in that it was still in keeping with his semi-detached mindset….thinking that offering his own manufactured family could make for suitable replacements for the lives lost in the crash.

 

I found this to be an engrossing and inventive journey into despair, and a creatively crafted way to tackle the prompt.

 

 

“In Real Life” by Albert Berg – Confession time: I’m one of the few who really enjoyed “The Thirteenth Floor” when it first came out. I always wanted more of that world – an interwoven melange of elements ranging from hard boiled gumshoe to suspenseful intrigue, with an underlying glue of abstract technological complexity to tie it all together. In a tangential sense I almost feel I was getting something of that from this story. But such an approach is also not without some risk, foremost of which is how best to service these many elements while maintaining the organic core of the narrative.

 

Unfortunately, this particular mix for “In Real Life” didn’t quite work for me. The core of the story is a fairly cut-and-dry murder mystery, embedded in narrative elements that deserve to be expounded upon in a longer novel format, but suffer somewhat in the restrictions of a short-story. I felt this left too little room to indulge in the “mysteriousness” of it. The twist was deliciously fitting, but arriving at it lacked a gratifying “Aha!” moment for the reader.

 

I appreciated Mr. Berg’s philosophical ventures into the mindset of those deeply embedded in internet culture, and how diving the depths of data has fostered a sense of  alien-like detachment in our narrator, but like the way some of the internet-speak itself was sprinkled throughout, it felt more like a distraction from the core of the story itself, and took me out of the narrative a couple of times.

 

As with every battle in the Arena, I am always impressed with the way each competitor chooses to address the prompt. I approach each entry considering the creativity of the story itself, the language used to convey it, and the emotional impact it has on me as a reader. I then judge it accordingly.

 

This week, one story won me over on all three fronts, and I award my vote to “Pre-Triage” by Joe Prosit.

 

Well there you have it folks! Joe Prosit is the winner of the 47th Writer’s Arena battle!

Let’s see what the audience agrees.

 

Looks like a landslide victory for Joe Prosit! Congratulations Joe! Hopefully you’ll fight for us again one day soon.

Next up Tony Southcotte takes on Bret Carter in a battle of shrinkage. Tune in tomorrow!

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