WRiTE CLUB Play-Offs - Round Two - Bout #3




Next up in the second round of the WRiTE CLUB play-offs...Bout #3.  In this round our ten contestants will be battling it out with a brand new writing sample, which could very easily turn the tide.  The bouts will be posted on Mon - Fri, but the voting will remain open for all bouts until Sunday at noon.

Once again...every vote counts. The contestant who doesn't win their bout...but garners the most votes amongst all of the other losers...will become a wildcard winner and advance to round 3.  

Whether you've been following along from the beginning or this is your first time here...no matter...it's just a matter of choosing the one you feel deserves to move forward. Please offer some critique if you have time.  Anyone reading this can vote, so blog, tweet, facebook, text, smoke signal everyone you know and get them to take part in the fun. 

If a contestant should make it to round 3, their sample will be paired off against a different opponent.  

And now...stepping into the ring with a brand new story to tell...here is...The Baron




The Russians made the first spaceship with a gun. Being a battleship, I guess I’m related, but only in the way humans are related to rats: distantly and with loathing.

The kiss of air on my titanium skin tickled after years of cold, hard vacuum. A gloved hand punched in the override code to open the hatch. My isolation wasn’t enough. Now they wanted me dead. They’d come to kill the AI.

That’s a shitty term for it anyway: artificial intelligence. As if my intelligence was somehow fraudulent. I lived once. My memories were real. I died once, and I remember nothing of being dead.

If death is nothing, I’m not going back without a fight.

I turned off the lights inside. I had a hyped up power source that couldn’t run out for four hundred years, and I’d spent years rerouting most of my access panels, programming subroutines for today. But even my diligence couldn’t break some of the hardware controls built into the smart ships. My murderers were free to come aboard.

My hatch slid open, and the first new oxygen in fourteen trips around my tiny star cycled into my corridors.

“Pheonix Star?” a man asked through the speakers of his enviro suit. My decks were too cold for humans. They’d be stuck in their suits until I turned on the heaters. “Please respond, ship.”

Ship. Something to be ordered about. Well, good luck with that, captain clueless. I was no one’s slave, even if I couldn’t fire my own engines without a command code.

I watched the group enter the air lock. There were fifteen of them, and one was being carried between two others. Blood welled up from his―or hers, I couldn’t tell through the bulky suits―leg. It wouldn’t drip to my deck grates. It was too cold. Unless someone slit a femoral artery, any bleeding wound would freeze to the outside of the suit before it could stain my decks.

“Don’t complicate matters by baiting the CI, Dr. Ryta,” a woman said. Her suit had the markings of a lieutenant. No one had a captain’s suit, so she must be the ranking murderer.

“And what would your extensive training into shipboard intelligence programs suggest we do to contact the ship?” Dr. Ryta asked.

“Do you think it killed itself?” a soldier asked.

“That’s ridiculous, how does an AI commit suicide?”

“Shut it,” the lieutenant said.

“The men have a point. This is aberrant behavior for shipboard AI,” Dr. Ryta said.

“We don’t have time for this. Corpsman, get corporal Haywain to sick bay. These old ships have environment pockets so you can thaw him with some heat sticks.” She paused to look over the group. “The rest of you with me.”

The airlock finished cycling and two with the injured soldier broke off at the first intersection. The other group tromped towards the bridge.

Clearly, they’d never seen that holovid where the group splits up. It doesn’t end well.


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And with their own brand new piece of writing, welcome back to the ring....NotAnna.



I tiptoe down the stairs, grabbing a book on my way out of the room. It’s always good to look busy. The light is on in the living room, and my dad is sitting on the couch looking at something on his tablet. He must have just gotten back. My mother sits feet away on the other side of the couch, reading a real book. They aren’t talking. I think of Jamie, the way she sits close to me even when we’re just doing homework. She’s so contented just to sit with me, as if that can erase the violence of our earlier interactions. It’s always a soft sort of concentration with her, but my parents’ silence is different.

Is this the love that invalidates mine?

I sit on the steps where I can see them. I want to know what happens next. Does he kiss her? Is this Prince Charming’s return to happy home and contented wife? Or is this the next frame in a sad movie about loss and separation?

My mother stirs, brushing her hair back from her face. My father laughs; he must be watching something, not reading. Books never make him laugh out loud. She reaches for her cup of tea, smiling at something on the page. I lean my head against the wall. My father’s video ends, and he looks up, a grin still on his face.

“You know,” he says to my still-silent mother, “I really think the Bears are going to make it this year.”

Oh god. She just looks at him, and even I can feel the power of her you’re-dumb-as-shit glare. But,

“Come here,” she says instead of making fun of him, “I want to read you something.”

He scoots over and sits next to her, wrapping an arm around her shoulder, and she leans into him as she reads. She speaks low, and I cannot quite catch the words, but the pretty picture I see does not require them. My mother, hair starting to grey a little, no longer wearing her makeup, reads one of her books, and my father, taller, older, with full grey hair and the beginnings of a paunch, in sweatshirt and jeans, listens. The lamplight is soft, the wind outside strong, and it looks so cozy.

I can’t help feeling like I’m outside this bubble. Is this what I’m supposed to want? What any girl is supposed to think herself lucky to have? Does me being me mean I can never have this?

My mother finishes what she’s reading, and my father kisses her on the cheek. “That was beautiful, honey.”

She smiles. “You’re lying through your teeth. Somebody just wants to sleep in the bed tonight.”

“Sleep? Naw,” he says, and leans down to kiss her again, this time on the lips.

My parents know love. Do I?

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Leave your vote and we'll see you back here tomorrow for the next match-up!

Remember the WRiTE CLUB motto, it’s not about the last man/woman standing, it’s about who knocks the audience out!



30 comments

  1. I love your new look!!! How long have you had it? I've been on hiatus for so long... Oh, geez. I really enjoyed the voice of AI in the first one. But I also enjoyed the sheepish, confused voice of the second. Bah.... I hate decisions. Okay, I'll go out of my normal box and vote for #1.

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  2. Gotta go with the Baron this round.

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  3. Going with The Baron. Some good lines in there! Interesting premise.

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  4. It's The Baron for me. Fun concept and effective intro of the supporting (human) cast.

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  5. Well done to the writers -- I like both. But the downside is that it makes it difficult to choose.

    I like the range The Baron has shown: from putting us in the mind of a gnome-hunting dog to putting us in the artificial mind of a wakening battle ship left in isolation around a star. I like the HAL-like threatening aspects of the AI, although it does strike me a little folksy in its demeanor "Captain Clueless" seems like something a teenager would say, but then this is obviously a troubled AI so who knows what kind of "thoughts" it might have. So the dichotomy between a high-tech AI and its snarky, juvenile, threatening personality is kind of fun, and I would definitely keep reading.

    I really like the tender romantic interplay between the mom and dad in NotAnna's piece. It feels warm and real. I'm a little uncertain about the inner thoughts of the narrator -- Her "love that invalidates mine" leaves me scratching my head, and the "me being me" means little to me since I know nothing about her. But the scene is inviting and raises curiosity and I would also keep on reading.

    So this is a tough choice.

    By the slimmest of margins, I'm going with Baron. The interplay of dialog, setting, concept, and personality of the AI are a little more creative in scope. But again -- this is based on only 500 words. In another 500, my preference might easily switch back to NotAnna.

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  6. Oooh! This is such a hard one. But I think it has to be The Baron.

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  7. The Baron nailed it for me. Plus my favorite genre!

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  8. NotAnna did not work for me today. A vote for The Baron.

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  9. While I enjoyed both excerpts, I have to go with the AI.

    The Baron.

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  10. Another creative one for The Baron, but I'm going with NotAnna. BTW, NotAnna, hats off for being a worthy adversary in the last round. It was nice battling with you :)

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  11. Here are two very strong, very different pieces. In the Baron's, though I've never been a huge fan of machines as characters, I like the ships's sense of self-preservation, and the bit of foreboding at the end. NotAnna's piece, in contrast, is a genre (and tense) that I don't typically read, but the author did a great job of bringing us close to the MC and telling, basically, an entire story.

    My compliments to both, but my vote goes to NotAnna.

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  12. Baron; love this excerpt. I'm a devoted fan of Anne McCaffrey, and this reminds me of THE SHIP WHO SANG. I'd definitely read more of this AI pov character. However, even considering the humans are not the focus POV, and will likely have their own multi-pov moments to contribute to the story, I'm a little put off by the sinister, robotic "telling" of the meeting of this vessel's personnel. And, that assessment is in character with your chosen "character perspective". As I said, I'm intrigued, and would read on, despite my misgivings about the humanity of both the AI ship, and the human inhabitants.

    Not Ana; love the sentiment in this. I like how she views her parents, and compares her own visions of love. This has a solid character with flaws and potential growth. I am tempted to read on, despite the YA genre. This character has lots of heart, passion, perspective. Between this writing and the last, I wonder if you can keep up this level of emotion throughout the novel (I suspect a novel length story) and still have a viable plot. This character is vividly drawn, her world is clearly defined, and she has my empathy. But, I worry that beautiful, evocative prose isn't enough to carry the story plot, whatever that may be.

    Two very strong, character driven excerpts. I hope both authors continue the writing/revision process on both stories, regardless of how the voting works out here. At this point in the competition, there is no such thing as being eliminated as a poor author.

    So, I have to vote for Baron, because that is the genre I'm more likely to read in, and I'm pretty sure the story plot will match the voice and characterizations shown in this short excerpt.

    But NotAna; don't change a thing based on this final vote. Your story (between this excerpt and the last) has depth of character that is essential to a contemporary/literary story. My advice is to pay close attention to your plot concept, and do not allow your character's angst to overwhelm the core message/premise of your writing.

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  13. My vote is for NotAnna. Her story line really spoke to me - I could imagine this scene and it really rand true for me.

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  14. I loved both of these and, fittingly, it was not an easy choice.

    My vote goes to NotAnna by a smidgen.

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  15. Baron by a nose for me. I think the tension just grabbed me a bit more in Baron, though I enjoyed the writing in NotAnna.

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  16. NotAnna
    I want to hug the MC. Absolutely moving.

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  17. I vote for NotAnna.

    The Baron's entry is well done and quickly draws the reader into the conflict. However, it feels a bit to me like the kind of traditional 'gadget-based' SF that lacks character development and depth, especially with the slightly flippant tone (although this clearly deals with the moral issue of the rights of a sentient machine). That kind of SF usually isn't something I would choose to read.

    NotAnna's entry here has the same moving simplicity and emotional power that grabbed me in the author's first entry. Incidentally, I'm sometimes quite surprised and puzzled to see comments in a critique session that show that some readers were confused by a passage that seems perfectly clear. In this case, in the original entry I don't think the author could have done anything to make the reason for the 'desperation' and the tension and conflict in the relationship between the girls any more obvious -- not without resorting to amateurish 'telling' that would only mar the scene. So I found it rather bewildering to see that some of the critiques revealed confusion about the situation.

    It's also extremely obvious that this second excerpt is a scene from the same story (I'm assuming it's a novel, though it could be a shorter piece), which means we already know about the conflict the narrator is struggling with and something about her relationship with Jamie. That in turns makes it crystal clear why the narrator is questioning her own feelings and why she has concerns about what kind of relationship she may have as an adult compared to the traditional relationship of her parents (and there's also some apparent history of tension between the parents that adds to the conflict in this scene). In short, I think this author does an excellent job of creating strong, emotional scenes without over-explaining or getting too sentimental.

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