Sometimes short stories are the only way to fight the Monday blues. We’ve got a whole stack of them, nearing 100 total back in the archives. We’ve also got a steaming hot plate of literary justice for you today.
The Writer’s Arena comes in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes it is larger than life, with huge kaiju and existential threats. This week we’re on the opposite side of the spectrum. We’re going small, even microscopic up in here.
It’s time to crown a champion. Let’s see what the 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).
Do small things matter? I like to think that they do, or at least that they can.
Richard Matheson’s short novel The Shrinking Man can be read as a parable about the place of humanity in an increasingly complex world. As the universe around us is revealed to be larger and larger, is it our destiny to become less and less significant? A little novel with big questions, one that Stephen King places among the top ten horror novels in the period of 1950-1980.
The metaphor of shrinking is very strong. But both of our stories this week deal with not only with shrinking, but with choices. Choices to fight on in the face of certain defeat. Choices to do the right thing even to one’s own harm. After all, whether we are big or small, our choices are what make us most ourselves.
As is my custom, I’m going to comment briefly on the two stories before moving to my vote.
“Abysmal Midnight Blue” – This story is the strongest when it focuses most closely on Garvey. His reminiscences, his escape, his decision at the end. Garvey’s emotional journey lies at the heart of the story, and his turn to altruism at the end in the face of a society willing to use him as an experimental subject could be very moving.
I feel, however, that Garvey’s decision at the end would be even more moving if we were let more into his emotional landscape. While I appreciate the scientific handwaving going into the shrinking process, I think that information could have been better conveyed with more of Garvey’s reaction to what is about to be done to him.
We never really know how or why he killed his brother, but both the crime and the motivation must have been extreme for him to be nicknamed Cain. Yet Garvey on the table seems more resigned than resentful. I can see his final choice as an act of reparation, and that’s a fascinating concept. Cain chooses to become the world’s savior. I think the final choice would have more impact if we saw more of Garvey’s journey and perhaps a little less of the non-essential characters in the beginning.
“Medivox and the Nano-Bots” – Like its counterpoint, I feel like this story is weakened by a diffuse focus. The emotional heart for this story as I see it is the relationship between Medivox and Cody. The narrative is at its strongest when it concentrates on these two, on Cody’s trust in Medivox, on Medivox’s efforts to refine the programming of the nanobots, on Cody’s drawings imagining what Medivox is doing.
By the time that the mother, the father, and the doctor all get their screen time, I as a reader wasn’t entirely sure whose story this was any more. The father, who needed a lesson in hope? The mother’s? Does the emotional arc lie in the family sticking together in spite of the difficulties? I feel like I’m watching too much of the story from the outside, without the right thread to tie it together.
That said, all the emotions feel very authentic to me. The fighter who has to trust other people to fight for his son. The boy with unshakable faith in his toy. The mother who can do nothing but watch and pray and try to hold her family together. I almost wonder if this scenario would work better as an ensemble short film rather than a short story…
Two very different stories about two very different sets of choices. While I think both stories could use more polish, in the end I feel that one had a greater emotional resonance for me. This week my vote goes to:
“Medivox and the Nano-Bots” by Tony Southcotte.
“Abysmal Midnight Blue” – The opening of this story reminded me of The Running Man. A convict away from his cell involved in something obviously important. Add in the TV coverage and I was waiting for the game to start.
The descriptions of the preparations and how the people involved were reacting to their “15 minutes” was done well. I liked the pensive mood of Garvey and the way we get our background info on him in bits and pieces.
The info-dump on the Blight as part of a TV show worked well. The Blight itself was interesting. The way that it attacked only complex technology had me curious. I wasn’t sure that it was a good reason to escalate the interstellar program but that’s just me. It seemed to me that just rolling back the complexity of our lives would be a much simpler and more effective solution.
I was also confused by the nonagons and the midnight blue light. Odd details that when introduced seem a little out of place and hard to explain. That the universe should show preference for shapes and colors not driven by a normal process was weird.
I enjoyed the actual shrinking process. I liked how thought was given to how such a small person would interact with the world around them. The cradling was a nice touch. I did wonder how someone so small would eat or drink but that is not important to the story.
Actually meeting the Blight was a double-edged sword for me. I was intrigued by the idea that we were under attack and didn’t even know it. That another sentient species had beaten us to the punch so to speak was a nice twist. It raised a lot of questions though that never got answered. I was curious if the Blight hated technology (but they used the nonagons), if they were so advanced that our civilization seemed archaic to them, or were just destroying our stuff to get us to move on. Maybe we’ll find out in the sequel.
I liked Garvey’s idea to escape as he shrunk, and his forethought to get somewhere safe when he starts to “bounce”.
The ending was good, it had a real feel of self-sacrifice. That Garvey should give up his new found freedom in order to warn the rest of us about the Blight was a nice touch.
There were a couple other things that struck me as off (all the things with mirrors, could Garvey actually cover that much ground, in that time, at that size?) but this was a strong entry to our small battle.
“Medivox and the Nano-Bots” – Uh oh, Tony’s reaching for the heartstrings again. Sick kids are the worst.
The opening to this story doesn’t quite work for me. The superhero scenes seem like throwaways. I think they could have been worked in later and maybe just start with the introduction of the nano-bot treatment. When they show up that’s when the story really gets going for me anyways.
As a father to a young boy with a robot obsession Cody really hit home. I loved the whole “shrinking” of Medivox and the descriptions of the nanobots. I also took all the battle sequences as exactly how Cody would see it. They just felt like a child’s story supercharged.
The cuts back and forth between the nano-bots and the real world are done very well here. Allows for the passing of time and works to sync the two stories together. I wasn’t sure about the whole boxing scene at first but I like the way it shows just how much your child being ill affects everything you do, everything you are.
The Medivox character is a great leader stereotype and fits in with the child angle very well. The battle through Cody’s body and snatching victory with the addition of a secret weapon was great. The final “boss battle” in Cody’s brain seemed a bit rushed but nice.
The ending was wonderful. The parent’s reactions, Cody’s immediate thought of Medivox, and the doctor’s performance felt very real to me. The only thing I would change would be to remove the last couple lines. Ending on “She could handle not being credited this time.” would have done it just as well for me.
Strong work, sir.
Convicts and children, Medivox and midnight blue, nonagons and nano-bots, two very different takes on a very small idea. Both stories had highs and lows for me this week and while neither was perfect they both worked well. My decision came down to which story affected me more, which one I wanted to read over more. That story was “Medivox and the Nano-Bots” by Tony Southcotte.
With the decision of the judges, Tony Southcotte wins this round of The Writer’s Arena! Congratulations Tony.
Let’s take a look at the voting and see if our audience agrees.
This was a close one but it looks like Bret Carter is the people’s champion this week. Take heart Bret, you may have lost the judges, but our readers certainly enjoyed your work. We hope to see you back someday.
Thank you to everyone who read our stories. Tomorrow, Danny Brophy and Logan Noble duke it our over the sands of time.