Sometimes judgement doesn’t land on a cruel Monday, but in the wee hours of the week when the rest of the world sleeps. Our judges, clad in their luminous regalia, seek out stories and bludgeon one into bloody submission.
This is our way of saying sorry that we are late on this. Our judges found themselves incapacitated for a short while. Thank you all for being so patient!
This week we put our focus on a rather large subject. So large, that 1 million of our planets could fit inside of it. Of course we are referring to that raging inferno above us, the sun. Sol is its proper name and it is the giver of life and sunburns, heat and orbits. Let’s see what our authors put out in the sunlight.
Tony Southcotte went culty in “Sol Survivor.”
Mark Bryk got super in “Peter’s Denial.”
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).
Since the dawn of human consciousness, and perhaps even before, the sun has held a special place in our imaginations. One has only to see Stonehenge or the Pyramids to know this. So much of the Egyptian pantheon was devoted to different aspects of the sun. And to what extent is that devotion wrong? Without the energy provided by the sun, our planet would be devoid of life.
So yet another excellent topic for our weekly contest. Let’s see what the combatants did with it. As usual, I’m going comment briefly on the two stories before giving my vote.
“Peter’s Denial” — This story hits a lot of the right notes for me. The grieving son, looking for a way to bring meaning and warmth back into his life. The grieving father, who doesn’t know how to connect with his son without his wife to mediate. The noble quest, that makes perfect sense to the hero even when it might seem nonsensical to the rest of us. I even like the use of the Superman universe to provide a connecting narrative thread.
I do sometimes feel like the story could have perhaps used another editing pass. There are gaps in the flow of the story, at least in my reading. I’m not entirely sure that the superhero imagery is as integrated as it might be. And I’ll admit that I’m not 100 per cent on the ending. But there is a very good story here.
“Sol Survivor” — There are times in reading this story where I wondered if perhaps, just perhaps, that Tony might have thought of the title for this story first and then came up with a narrative to justify the title. That said, I love the world here. The psychology of the cult seems on point to me, especially the nature of the penance and the ultimate ritual. I think that the psychology of the cult leaders is well-depicted too.
My biggest difficulty with the story is that I never really felt like I connected with Juan as a character. I think if I knew what led him to the cult to begin with, I might have gotten more into his evolution. As things stand, I’m not sure why he goes along with the cult leaders as long as he does, with the end result that his actions at the anniversary celebration seemed to me like a sudden snap.
A fascinating bit of worldbuilding, but I don’t feel like it connected with me as much as it might have.
Two good stories this week, but in the end I have to cast my vote for the story that made the greater emotional impact on me as a reader. This week, that story was:
“Peter’s Denial,” by Mark Bryk.
I owe the arena an apology for the delay in my verdict this week. In deference to the illness that caused this delay, I will keep my comments brief this week.
The sun is, and has always been, the center of our existence. Life on Earth would not exist without it’s lifegiving rays and the incredible power of our nearest star can be harnesses in many wonderful ways. How did the Sun shine in this week’s stories? Let’s see:
“Peter’s Denial” by Mark Bryk – There is a simple beauty to this story that builds slowly. A child in a cape trying to capture the last rays of sun seems whimsical and silly but as we start to see why it all starts to change.
The loss of a mother or father (even a foster parent) is a horrible thing. The effects it can have on the remaining parent as well as the children left behind can be devastating. Here we see how Maddie’s death has caused the Jacobsen’s world to crumble. Mr. Jacobsen can barely keep himself going and provide the bare essentials to Peter. The child is left to cope in his own way. That’s where catching the sun comes in. Who wouldn’t want a jar full of sunshine to spread on gloomy days?
The trip with the hippies seemed a bit out of place, and oddly convenient seeing as how they arrive at the same place Mr Jacobsen does and at the same time. Maybe I missed something, but Peter riding his bike may have worked just as well without the “stranger danger” issues.
I did like the way that father and son reconnected at the end. Mr Jacobsen indulges Peter and by pretending together they find a way forward in the dark. That is where this story really shines,
“Sol Survivor” by Tony Southcotte – A desert. If there is a place on Earth that embodies everything about the Sun, it’s a desert.
I liked how we meet Juan when he is being kept apart from his beloved “day star”. The glimpses of the solar worship practices that he shares with us do a good job of setting the stage before we every meet Brother Peter.
For a group that worships the sun, it was a nice touch to test acolytes by putting them in a dark hole for a month. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and all. I’m not sure if the drugs were necessary or what they added to the story, but they didn’t harm it much either.
The trial by fire that waits Juan after his time in the hole was a little sadistic. Declaring your devotion to Sol is one thing, facing it’s full focused power is another. At this point, I was wondering if this story was headed towards the supernatural but there was another, simpler solution.
Not sure if this was meant as commentary on religion in general or just the gullibility of cults but the bait and switch that allows the chosen acolytes to return after being burned to a pile of ash along with the life of relative luxury that the leaders live works as both.
Juan, our hero, is looking for something real, though, and can not live the lie that he has fallen into. A dramatic rescue merged with the assassination of the cult leader sends Juan out into the desert in a hurry. Ill prepared, and with a number of pursuers, he probably isn’t long for this world but he will go out living in truth and in control of his own life. I found it a nice touch that he, at the end, chooses to bask in the cool light of the stars instead of the sun.
Two solid stories this week just as we have come to expect from the arena. I am in the familiar situation of having to choose from two deserving stories. In the end, I have to vote for the story that seemed just a little more polished. That story is “Sol Survivor” by Tony Southcotte
A split decision! Let’s take a look at the votes and see who won!
It looks like Tony Southcotte is our winner! You did a great job Mark and we will surely see you in the arena again.
Come back later today for two new stories! Joe Prosit makes his glorious return against Josh Springs.