Greetings arena readers, it’s time to start your week off with some literary violence. The final four will be set for this year’s tournament, and it edges us ever closer to choosing a champion. Five authors remain but by the end of this post only four shall stand tall.
This week we got into our author’s heads and forced them to do our will. It’s a battle of mind control, and we’ll see whose conviction is stronger.
Danny Brophy dug deep with “Gravedigger.”
David Webb strapped on the electrodes with “Passengers.”
Now, let’s see what our judges have to say.
Mind control. The horror and fear that those two words can conjure is nearly limitless. It is the ultimate violation of the individual. What could be worse than not being in control of your own body? Lets take a look at our stories…
“Passengers” by David Webb – I really liked the way this story begins. The feelings of disconnectedness brought on by the accident and his paralysis worked well as a contrast for what is to come. The endless boredom and isolation that he felt while paralyzed provides an understandable motivation both for Shaun’s decision to go ahead with the implants and for his subconscious actions at the end.
There is a real “plausible” feel to the science in this story. We are not far off technology-wise and what Dr. Curtis is offering would be a miracle for so many people. By allowing us to spend some time with Shaun while he was paralyzed, our author primes us to jump at the offered hope with him.
The rehab section was probably my least favorite section of the story. It seemed to drag a bit and needed just a little more something there. I loved the little hints about the jello and the overt incident with Moira. I felt like there was a subtle attraction forming between Shaun and her that I’m not sure was intended. That made the incident more of a betrayal for me and it really worked. Maybe if their relationship was more overt? I don’t know and it wasn’t really bad, just a little slow.
I liked the way that Shaun slowly slipping control over himself was revealed to him and us at the same time. The Moira incident, the sleepwalking, the shoplifting, and finally the masturbation in front of his Dad; individually they could be dismissed, but together they can’t be ignored.
The explanation for what is happening was interesting. Mind control from within yourself is something I haven’t considered before. It makes sense, and fits the prompt in a unique way. Bravo.
That the final scene is Shaun once again trapped and isolated but instead of being in a room by himself, he is stuck inside of a body he can’t control. Which is worse is hard to say…
“Gravedigger” by Danny Brophy – During my tenure as arena judge, I have come to expect the weird from Mr. Brophy. And the beauty. I was not disappointed on either hand with this story.
We get a little of each right off the bat. The setting for the conversation lent us the beauty and the entities involved brought the weird. We join our story already in progress and are teased with words and ideas that we don’t yet understand. While this can sometimes be confusing, it can also work to pique a reader’s interest. I think we have a little of both going on here.
I like the idea of being compelled to write, of someone taking over your mind in order to write poetry. And on the subject of poetry, I must give praise to Mr. Brophy for bringing this into the arena. Poems are hard enough to write without trying to fit it into a story about a random prompt.
Delvin is a very interesting character. It takes someone special to assume the role of gravedigger in a new community. I got the feeling that he did it more out of a sense of duty and moral obligation than any kind of simple need. He wasn’t just disposing of bodies he went out of his way to provide a sense of closure to the families, even if he tries to deny it himself.
I was very interested in the crash and the reason for the human’s travels. I wanted to know more about where there were from and where they were going. I was likewise interested in the Guin and how their society worked. There were echoes of The Forbidden Planet here in the humans inhabiting a world and a town left abandoned by a older, superior race.
I got a little lost when the Guin tried to explain. At one point in the story it tells Delvin he was the only one, and in another it tells him all those he buried were used up in this process before. The Guin wants to contact its race, wants off this planet but possesses Delvin to write poetry instead. There were too many inconsistencies and quirks that I just couldn’t reconcile.
I did find the act of Delvin’s “suicide” to be a fantastic scene. At first I saw it as an act of rebellion against the Guin, his last attempt to throw off the yoke of control. Then I wondered if the Guin made him do it and made him think it was his idea. I thought that would be rather devious. To dispose of his puppets in a way that makes them think they won when in reality the Guin never lost control. I may have just made that up myself, but I think the “gift” at the end was both a nice touch to the story and maybe a peek at the backhanded mercifulness of the Guin. I’d like to think so.
Two strong stories again and two wonderful interpretations of the prompt. My job here is never easy, and this tournament is determined to make me hate it. But I must pick a story and this week I picked the story that seemed more complete, more polished. That is “Passengers” by David Webb
There is one vote for David. Let’s see what guest judge Caleb Newell has to say.
Caleb Newell once planned on being a writer of books, but now spends so much of his time playing video games that he is considering writing those instead. You can watch him playing other people’s games in an occasionally entertaining fashion at thatguywiththegoggles.com, which is just a fancy redirect to his YouTube Gaming page.
Long time reader, one time competitor, and now, unexpectedly, a judge. Insert “That escalated quickly” meme here.
The idea that my actions were not my own choices, or worse, that I was unaware of my actions, has always been very unsettling to me, so I expected to be fully engaged in the stories presented, and the writers in this round certainly did not disappoint. So let’s just dive in and talk about them.
“Gravedigger” by Danny Brophy
The opening to this story was fantastic. There are very few things like what appears to be a sacrificial suicide in the first scene to immediately catch a reader’s interest. And in this case, I got a sense of a very fascinating relationship between the controller and the controlee. And the idea of control being an irreversible process (“Really. The biggest side-effect of me controlling your mind is that once I stop, you die.”), especially as a harmful action that took place between friends… let’s just say, I had high hopes for how this story would turn out.
Unfortunately, those particular expectations were undermined by the remainder of the story. The Guin is later painted as an antagonist, which made her interactions with Delvin at the beginning to the story confusing to me. And I was never clear on exactly what her motivation for controlling Delvin was in the first place. At first I thought it was the only way that her species had to communicate with humans, but that theory was never confirmed. She states that she’s merely trying to get home, or at least get off of this planet, but it’s never clear how controlling Delvin is meant to accomplish that. But maybe that’s just me missing the point.
That is not to say that I didn’t enjoy this story. On the contrary, the hook got me interested, and the world building maintained it. I liked the way the Great Crash was alluded to, but never outright described or explained, and I liked the dynamic with Delvin’s place in the town as the gravedigger. Even the logic that, because he had buried the first, he had buried all the others, said a lot to me about the nature of the people left alive.
This was definitely a worthy entry in the Arena. I know that this review comes across as very negative, but I truly did enjoy Danny’s submission. I was just left feeling like I had missed an essential part of the story being told.
“Passengers” by David Webb
I’ve been fascinated by Alien Hand Syndrome since I first heard about it. And it was a very clever concept to introduce with this prompt, rather than having a clear outside force exerting control. But even without an outside mind at the helm, deploying some devious scheme, this story still succeeds in taking quite the sinister turn.
It’s very Jekyll and Hyde, actually, with the conscience being separated from the actual will to act, and the dark side existing as a purely hedonistic and exclusively self-preserving entity. There were no moral questions posed, and the only one that could really be applied to this scenario at all is whether or not Shaun can be held accountable for his actions. And to be honest, I think this story was better for avoiding that particular question.
The only criticism that I could really make is that the prose was a bit cold and medical itself. Aside from the explanation for Shaun’s distaste for jello (which was wonderfully tangible and relatable), everything is stated very matter-of-factly. I felt like we never really got a sense of Shaun as a person prior to the accident. That being said, I know that this is a short story, and the writers are bound by both time and volume constraints, and since factual, procedural writing is a mode that I habitually use myself, I can’t judge too harshly for that.
So now we come to the difficult part: actually rendering a verdict. A choice between a wonderfully painted science fiction, or a methodical and honestly believable story of modern medicine gone wrong. Both stories had a lot to offer, and both were well written. But ultimately, I have to go with the story that I was able to take the most from, and that story is
“Passengers” by David Webb
There you have it folks! A clear victory for David “DocOccupant” Webb. He is now entering the final four!
Let’s see if the audience agrees with their decision.
It looks like they do! This might be the most decisive win of the tournament. It looks like David will be taking on Tony Southcotte in just a few short weeks.
We’ll be back in two weeks to start off the final four! Joseph Devon takes on Donald Uitvlugt in a semi-final match for the ages.