Standing on the edge of a building, the air involuntarily escapes from your lungs. Your body twitches nervously as your mind imagines plummeting toward the earth below. Like all Mondays, it is a very precarious spot.
This week our readers took us to new heights and had us stay there. They dragged the phobia out of us through towers and mountains. Which story will cling to the rungs for dear life, and which will plunge into the icy crevasse of Arena defeat?
Albert Berg took us straight up with “The Spire.”
G.M. Neary got to the highest point with “The Climb.”
It’s time to dole out some literary justice. Let’s see what our judges have to say.
I am not a fan of heights, especially tall building type heights. The idea of being on a ledge on a skyscraper is enough to get my pulse racing as I sit at my desk. When the arena asked for stories playing on that fear I knew I was in for a ride. Just how high did our authors climb? Let’s take a look:
“The Climb” by G.M. Neary – When you think about heights, of course you think about mountains. Nature’s skyscrapers. They have towered over mankind since before we walked upright. People have been climbing them for thousands of years. There is something about them that speaks to a certain kind of person and draws them in. This story deals with some of those people, Steve, Alan and Wendy, a group friends(?) who enjoy climbing the mountains of the world together. We join them as they prepare to tackle Everest for the first time.
I enjoyed the scene at the base camp. It worked to set up everything that was to follow, it allowed us to see how the three characters interacted before they are under the pressure of the climb. We also get to see how Steve and Alan react differently to being that close to Everest. I liked the idea but I could have gone for more backstory here, maybe even a flashback.
Once we actually get onto the mountain everyone changes. You could say that the mountain brings out the real version of each person climbing or you might just dismiss it all as altitude sickness. It’s not clear and it doesn’t really make a difference because the end result is the same.
The ladder across the chasm ramps up the height factor and simultaneously increases the pressure felt by the team. The sherpa’s constant warnings about ropes, Alan’s fanatical desire to march on, Steve’s trepidation about the ladder’s safety, his worrying about Wendy, and her actual condition all come to a head here.
There are a couple ways this story could go here. Alan could get his just desserts and everyone else could descend to safety or, as is fitting an Arena entry, everyone could die and the sherpa could escape alone. You all know how it went.
I’m not sure if it was just me, but I don’t think this story really worked for me. I’m not sure what I am supposed to take away from it. It feels like it needs more. If it was a story about Everest killing the weak and unworthy, we needed something to place that in our mind. If it was a story about madness, we needed more from the actual mad people to really show how bad things were. If it was just a cautionary tale about being unprepared, we needed to see that they were unprepared. As it sits, I’m not sure what it’s try to tell me.
There is the basis for an excellent story here and I would love to explore the characters some more in a longer tale.
“The Spire” by Albert Berg – The easy sci-fi world building that takes place in this story is a throwback to Daisy Daisy in my mind. We get “flitter”, “jump”, “J4”, and “thermal grid” all within the first few sentences and none of it seems odd or out of place.
When you have a ship containing a fearless pilot and a timid tagalong, you can guess which one is going to get hurt and which one is going to have to save them both. It may be cliche a little but it works.
The way that the current story is intercut with backstory and how they met is a format that works well in a story like this. I love how we are shown glimpses off how they met and what spires are as Oliver works tirelessly to save his love.
The climb itself is written very well. The tension builds and builds as the cut-ins fill in the most personal parts of the story and Oliver’s fear threatens everything.
I don’t have much to say about this story. It’s pretty straightforward but done so well that it doesn’t matter. I love how the ending has a little bit of ambiguity to it. He triggers the beacon to save Alice, but does Oliver survive? Is the stillness a prelude to death? Maybe I am just being morbid.
I’ve come to expect a lot from Mr Berg and this story does not disappoint.
We had a couple of good entries this week, but one was just a little more complete, slightly more polished. This week my vote goes to “The Spire” by Albert Berg
Donald Jacob Uitvlugt is our second judge this week. On top of being the current TWA Champion, 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).
One might consider individuals to be defined by their fears. Our phobias encapsulate who we are in one deep, visceral response. Our character is determined by whether we give in to our fears or rise above them. Even if this is not always true in life, it tends to be the case in fiction. Will the heroine overcome not only the external challenge but the storm raging within? Will the hero do what must be done in spite of the churning in his stomach?
Our combatants this week were given a very specific fear. Let’s see how they rose to the challenge. As is my custom, I’m going to comment briefly on the two stories before moving on to my vote.
“The Climb” by G.M. Neary – I want to say that I was really struck by how gutsy the premise of this story is. Acrophobia? Let’s talk about climbing the highest mountain on the planet. I think G. M. does a very good job of setting the scene. There are just enough details to make me feel the chill and the first hints of altitude sickness. I also think that the characters are very realistically drawn.
However, the characters are also the weakest part of the story for me. They seemed so set in their paths that their fates seemed inevitable. There didn’t seem to be the possibility of change, so there didn’t really seem to be a character that I could root for. In a certain sense, I suppose one might compare this story to watching an avalanche: I was impressed by the collapse of the characters, but I wouldn’t say that I was engaged by the story. At least not as I wanted to be.
“The Spire” by Albert Berg – This story hits all the right notes for me on this prompt. Oliver’s fear is established early on, as are his feelings for Alice. So of course his greatest fear comes in direct conflict with his love. I think that one thing this story does extremely well is to show the cascade effect of fear. His terror of climbing begins to even cloud his relationship with Alice. Why bother to climb when she thought he was a joke all along?
And yet he makes the choice to move upward. He overcomes his fear. We don’t know whether he saves Alice or not. We don’t even know whether he himself survives. Yet he overcame. A very powerful story in a short compass.
Two very strong stories when it comes to delving into the psychology of fear. Yet I think one of the stories has a much greater emotional impact. For this week, I have to cast my vote for
“The Spire” by Albert Berg.
And there you have it folks! Albert Berg has won TWA 74! Congratulations Albert. Let’s see if the popular vote agrees.
They do! It was a close fight for G.M. Neary but Al pulled this one out. Thank you both for your excellent stories!
Be sure to come back next week as Tony Southcotte takes on Christina Durner!