Spindown, by George Wright Padgett (23:06)

IOD-SpindownToday we see that sometimes, a sonic fork is just a fork. Even if it’s sonic.

What I gleaned about the story: After a tragic accident claims his wife, Dmitri takes a better paying job on Ganymede to pay for his son’s much-needed corrective surgery. But things are not working out as planned, and now it’s up to his daughter, Alina, to take the lead and get this family back on track. Before it’s too late.

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WTF #1: Echoing headwords in the opening paragraph.

Analysis: Openings are holy territory, so I’m always a hardass on things that rub me the wrong way at the beginning. See, at that point, the author is still a nobody who has proven nothing to me. We have not yet gone through feast and famine together. We have not broken bread, or heads, and so I’m still at my most skeptical. It’s not a conscious thing. It’s just human nature, and I think most readers share this trait to some degree. So when I hit this headword echo in the very first paragraph, I grumbled, and writing notes like these are my anti-grumbling medication. Doctor’s orders.

WTF #2: Techno-product noun jamboree

Analysis: On the first two pages, I was told about: vidi-tablets, mecho-pets, simu-pet bots, plasta crates, and acto-boot braces. This is a common problem I see in science fiction. The author is so anxious to convince the reader that this is set in the wonderful future, that they then drown us in a sea of tech items to prove the point. But often, as in this case, they come so densely that they go beyond background painting and actually call attention to themselves. And as I’ve said before, when I’m paying attention to patterns forming in the words, I’m no longer immersed.

In this particular case, only the acto-boots seem to have been crucial to the plot. Everything else is just throw-away world building details. When it comes to such inventiveness, less is more. One or two items are enough to illuminate the SF landscape for us, and ideally, they should be important enough to the plot to justify the extra detail that comes along for the ride when you use the more technically descriptive phrase. A sonic fork is only a sonic fork if Jimmy stabs Sally with it. If it’s on the table behind her when he does the deed, it’s just a fork. Even if it happens to be sonic.

What makes the problem more distracting for me in this case, is the “acto boots,” which enable the crippled boy, Martin, to move around, despite his handicap. The family continues to refer to them as such all through the scene. This seems unnatural to me. Humans are lazy. We use as few syllables as possible for commonplace items. Use the technical term once to establish their nature, if you must, but in everyday speech, most people would just call them boots, in the same that wheelchair patients usually just call it their “chair.”

Note: At the beginning of the second scene, four years later, we read: This certainly was not the way that Alina had imagined spending her sixteenth birthday when they had first arrived here years ago. But she had to do something, and she had put this off as long as she could. She had to find a way to get them off the base, for Martin’s sake, before his T.S. became irreversible.

This seems to me like a crucial story point has been skipped. It’s fine to recap events after they’ve happened, to keep a story moving, but readers want to be there for the important plot moments, and this feels like it was one of them. In the scene prior to this, Alina and her family had just arrived and were getting settled in to wait for Martin’s surgery. Obviously something has changed, and she is now going rogue to do something about it. But I’m not happy being told about that pivotal moment after the fact. I want to see it for myself.

WTF #3: Pronoun profusion

Analysis: So that noted passage above turns out to have been the start of something irksome. That reference to “Alina” is the last concrete anchor we get for some time. It is followed by 15 references to “she” and 3 counts of “her” before another “Alina” shows up. And that was over the span of half a page. It’s not that I lost track of who “she” referred to. Alina is alone in the scene, so there really was no confusion. The problem was the monotony of the she-references, which quickly began to echo for me.

This problem usually shows up with the “I” pronoun in 1st POV stories, because the author has no other handy labels for the self. But in 3rd POV, other options are more plentiful. So mix it up. Use a few “she”s and then drop in an “Alina.” Maybe “the raven-haired girl” or “the prickly teen” can be thrown in for a bit of variety. These are simple tricks for stamping out the trudgery of pronoun profusion, and at the same time, offer a painless way to drop in a bit more characterization.

Take the Pepsi Challenge: Want to know if my writing measures up? Download one of these free short stories and you be the judge.

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About the author

Jefferson Smith is a Canadian fantasy author, as well as the founder, chief editor and resident proctologist of ImmerseOrDie. With a PhD in Computer Science and Creativity Systems compounded by a life spent exploring most art forms for fun and profit, he is underqualified in just about everything. That’s why he writes.