Memorial Day is one of the best holidays we get every year here in America. It’s a time to contemplate honor, valor, and sacrifice. It’s a day with few expectations other than friends, BBQ, and some time spent in the sun near a grill. For many it is a turn in the season, the true start of summer. In the arena, it is another day for judgement.
This week we get really high. Like 180,000 miles high. Both of our stories involve that glorious rock above us, the moon. Its cratered face greets us most nights, giving us just enough light to find our way inside, or turning us into werewolves. This match is notable for also being the first one without an Arena regular. Let’s take a look at the stories.
Daniel Hale went full astronomer in “The Man in the Maria.”
Jeff Conklin took us home with “The Moon in the Man.”
Let’s see what our judges have to say.
Donald Jacob Uitvlugt is our first 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).
The moon has been the bright companion of humanity’s imagination for longer than recorded history. Sometimes a force for good, when it lights the way for young lovers. Sometimes a malevolent force, inspiring werewolves and lunatics. Sometimes merely atmospheric mood lighting.
Let’s see what direction this week’s combatants took the prompt. You know the drill: I’m going to comment briefly on the two stories before moving on to my vote.
“The Moon in the Man” — There were a lot of ways in which this story called to mind the emotional dynamics in Big Fish. You have an adult son returning to the family home in order to deal with the passing of his father. The son is trying to reconcile his childhood memories with the man that he now sees his father to be. I feel that the emotions here are honest and portrayed in a true yet subtle way. We know that Jackson is estranged from his father and never find out why, but in the context of the story that doesn’t really matter.
And then there is the deeper mystery as to what actually is happening to his father and the role that is played by the false Heather. There are a lot of little details scattered throughout that give a delicious surreality to the story, making it feel like a lucid dream on the verge of slipping into nightmare. I don’t think I even mind we never discover an answer to the mystery; that seems to me to fit the theme of the story, which I take to be something along the lines of: parents are always a mystery to their children.
“The Man in the Maria” — A cabal of the rich and the powerful. A secret lunar expedition. An eccentric folklorist who may or may not be insane. A concerned Everyman, trying to make sense of it all. There’s a lot to like about this story. I especially like the way in which Macleft presents himself as a harmless schlub, when he really is a master puppeteer of Machiavellian proportions. (In reading this entry, I kept having Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem pop into my head, even though they’re very different stories.)
The mystery that Macleft reveals is so very delightful, and hits on a reason why I think a lot of people become scientists and/or writers in the first place: the thought that somewhere out there, the fairytales might be true. It was a joy to see how each of the pieces Macleft chose to reveal fit with each other.
My only difficulty with the story is that I found this to be largely an intellectual joy. I wish that there was a stronger emotional hook to connect me to the characters.
Two very different stories. One a look at a very personal mystery, one containing a mystery on a global scale. Both entries are very solid this week, but I have to vote for the story that I found more emotionally compelling. And for me this week, that story was:
“The Moon in the Man” by Jeff Conklin.
The moon is a powerful force. It calls to man and beas and inspires them to write, to paint, or even just to howl. It reaches across the vastness of space and tugs at our oceans and our heartstrings alike. The tales that have been told about the moon are too numerous to count and new ones are being told all the time. Like the stories in the arena this week. Let’s see how they handled such a large prompt:
“The Moon in the Man” by Jeff Conklin – First off, I really liked the title of this story and how it fits into things later.
A dying father. A son gone too long and back too late. Even though it is a story that has been told before there is still a powerful emotion tied up in this. The thought that I could go through this someday is a real fear of mine. The dementia in this story is handled well, with the bouts of semi-lucidity and long stretches of disturbed sleep.
I liked the character of Heather. It was a nice touch to get the backstory about how she used to be and how she seems to have cleaned up her life now. In an odd way, rather than raise Jackson’s suspicions the change seems to allow him to accept her easier.
The ranting of Donald was fantastic. I loved how we got little pieces of these incredible stories. The house with the stairs to the moon and the hints about what they found there. Faces, some kind of beings, rules and secrets; they are wonderful little tidbits that tease and taunt us more and more as the story progresses.
I liked how there wasn’t a big death scene. It seemed very natural the way it happened. One minute they are here, the next they are gone and we’re left to deal with it.
If I have a problem with this story it is with what happens after he dies. The abrupt departure of “Heather” gave away the ending for me right off. I started to wonder why it was handled that way. It made me question how the story starts. Did Heather call Jackson to the house? If so, for what purpose? Why did she wake him up before she left? Would the story be better served if Jackson just woke up and found that his father had died and that Heather was gone? I’m not sure.
All in all I really did like this story and I would love to read more about the moon people and their secrets, I just wish the ending could have been a little less obvious.
“The Man in the Maria” by Daniel Hale – Another interesting title, and worth noting how similar the two titles were this week. I am always amused when things like that happen.
Ok, so right away we get a secret rocket ship launched by a self labelled cabal. Combined with a cover story about the ISS and astronauts given sedatives for the relatively short trip to the moon and I was intrigued. It may be hard to believe, but that’s when the story gets even stranger.
I liked how the story passes the time needed for the rocket to make it to the moon by giving us all the backstory of its mission. Archaeology and lost civilizations are intertwined with advanced technology, ancient launchpads and more than a touch of magic.
The idea of a people who lived before the moon existed was interesting. That they may have traveled into space even more so, and the idea that they built the moon was fantastic! The way it was presented reminded me a lot of Stargate and I really liked that movie.
Adding the lycanthropes to the story was brilliant. Layering the two lunar related stories worked great especially when we are told that the ancient people who built the moon may have built it as a prison. Who could be so bad as to require the building of a moon as a prison? Why would you want to bother him?
Again, the issue I have with this story is the end. I’m not exactly sure what the cabal was trying to do by sending the werewolves to the moon. What outcome are they hoping for. I was on board for the lunar archaeology but not as much for the “what if”of the rocket. There seems to be no possible good result there.
Still a strong, imaginative arena entry and a world I would like to read more about.
Our two authors this week definitely shot for the moon and as the saying goes “even if they missed, they would end up among the stars”. I wouldn’t say either story was a complete miss but each did have it’s share of flaws. So instead of ending up among the stars, they both hit the moon. One story just landed a little more softly. That story was “The Man in the Maria” by Daniel Hale
A split decision! Looks like it is up to our voters to break the deadlock. Let’s see where they landed.
In a razor thin race it looks like Jeff Conklin is the winner! Congratulations Jeff!
We cannot stress enough how good both of these stories were and we look forward to having both of these awesome writers again.
Next week the arena goes into maintenance mode. We mop up the rocket fuel, clean some blood, and ready ourselves for the next round. Be sure to check back for some fun midweek content!