Warrior’s Scar, by Shawn Jones (13:03)

IOD-WarriorsScarToday we see that the numbers in your story have to add up.

What I gleaned about the story: A hard-as-nails ex-marine is about to be recruited for a strange, dangerous and extraordinary mission. And if he survives, the world will be forever changed.

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WTF #1: Math/English conflict

Analysis: In recapping the hero’s background, we hear in a chronological briefing that: “Five years ago” he killed a guy. “Some years later,” he took out a mall shooter. And then, “Two years after that,” he subdued a terrorist at the farmer’s market. For those keeping track, that means that the farmer’s market incident was, at the very most, one year ago, and I have two problems with that. First of all, if it was only a year ago, nobody would have said, “Two years after that.” They’d have said, “And then just last year…” or even “Earlier this year.” But my second problem is that, in order for this timeline to work, the phrase “some years later” can only mean “two years later.” If it means even just three years, then the market incident would have happened within the last week or two. But I can’t think of a time when I’ve ever heard “some years later” used for such a short time scale. When I read “some years later,” I’m thinking five, ten, or twenty years. Not two or three.

Admittedly, most readers probably don’t do the math in their heads when they’re reading. But you want to know one genre where they probably do? Science fiction, which is where Warrior’s Scar is parked. And in my own case, I’m a formally trained mathematician, so you know I’m sensitive to the math problems. Anyway, regardless of my reasons, any time I get bogged down trying to explain away single-digit addition problems, I’m no longer immersed.

WTF #2: Echoing headwords

Analysis: Three successive paragraphs all begin with “Brinner”—the name of the guy giving the briefing. And on top of those paragraph echoes, the second one was a double whammy, since the last sentence of the first “Brinner” paragraph had also started with the man’s name. When the patterns start overlapping, they become even more pronounced.

WTF #3: Yet another time span wedged in

Analysis: When discussing the market bombing, which his wife and daughter had attended with him, we learn that the hero was physically scarred by the experience, (which suggests that maybe the bomb actually detonated) and that afterward, he withdrew from society and became angry. The subtext seemed pretty clear to me: his family died in the incident. But apparently, I was mistaken, because a bit later on in the briefing, we learn that he is now a broken man, because “some time ago, his daughter and wife were both killed in a car accident.” That same wife and daughter who had been at—but had not been killed at—the farmer’s market. So if our most generous interpretation of the timeline language puts it at no earlier than one year ago, who would describe the subsequent death of the wife and daughter as “some time ago?” Certainly, this phrase can mean as little as just a week or two, maybe even a few hours ago, depending on context. But when the phrase is being used to highlight the intensity of his grief, and we know it was less than a year past, saying “some time ago” seems to do the opposite of what was intended. In my view, “a month ago,” or “a week ago” would have sounded much more tragic.

From all of this, i can conclude two things. First, that I pay way too much attention to any casual mathematics tossed around in a story than I should; and second, that the author did not actually work out a specific timeline for this sequence of events. And that’s a shame, because if he had, I’d have been at 13 minutes with only 1 flag on the play, and that doesn’t happen very often.

Note: Despite the three strikes, I am intrigued enough by the situation and writing that I will probably read a bit more later tonight.

Addendum: Reading a bit further after the treadmill went dark, I found yet another event wedged into the increasingly small period of time between the death of his wife and the “present.” (It’s getting to be like Zeno’s paradox in here.) This one, however, puts the ballgame out of reach, when he tells an agent that “You’re the first people I’ve spoken to face-to-face in three years.” So unless he gave his wife and daughter a multi-year silent treatment and took out the market bomber without uttering a word, the timeline just cannot be reconciled as written. This, combined with some serious and abrupt mid-scene head-hopping, quickly cooled my curiosity about the rest of Cort’s adventure.

Take the Pepsi Challenge: Want to know if my own writing measures up? Download one of these free short stories, in the format of your choice, and decide for yourself.

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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 uniquely unqualified in just about everything. That's why he writes.