Reader, by Erec Stebbins (7:24)

IOD-ReaderToday we learn that profound insights cannot be faked.

What I gleaned about the story: A female of unspecified age has a memory dream about being thrown into orbit by her father, taunted by the stars, and then kidnapped by government agents when she comes back down. But that’s as far as I got.

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WTF #1: Implausible situation

Analysis: On the first few pages we are shown the protagonist’s recurring memory dream about her childhood. Near the end, a convoy of dark cars with government men arrive on the farm. Here’s the first thing we hear them say: “Mrs. Dawn,” said the smallest man, with a raspy voice that made my skin crawl, “we are a special governmental division, and we have developed unique technologies for the military. One of these is a special type of laser. Army doctors have shown that it can be used to kill cancer cells. We can promise you a full cure, without major side effects. No one else can. But this is top-secret technology. We cannot share this with you or anyone else – not even your doctors. Therefore, her treatment must remain secret.”

The gist is that these government men want to take their daughter away for secret medical treatments right now. With no paperwork, no proof of who they are, and no, the parents cannot seek outside advice or even come along.

Now, if it had been the normal sort of dream, where chandeliers sing arias with the crown prince of living room sofas, I’d have slipped right on past that bizarre dialogue and situation without batting an eye. But it wasn’t that kind of dream. This was the kind of dream in which the author is giving us exposition in disguised form. Sure, the part about being thrown into outer space by her father was fanciful, but the bit that followed, about the government men? That was pure exposition, situated in the dream milieu, but presented as unadulterated memory. How do I know this? Because if the scene had been even slightly surreal or invented, it would not have served its intended purpose of bringing the reader up to speed on the character’s situation. Think about it. If the role of the government man had been played in the dream by a talking coffee urn, then the entire conversation would have become instantly suspect, and thus the reader would see it as nothing more than a strange dream.

And this is the flaw I find whenever dreamscapes are used for exposition. There is a fundamental untrustworthiness to dreams that undermines the believability of the content. They can be used to provide previously unrecognized information to the dreamer, but not to the reader directly. The reader instinctively mistrusts dream content unless the author transitions from dream to straight memory, which means it is no longer a dream at all.

So despite the dream trappings, this was a simple memory flashback about something the author wanted us to know really happened. And I found it strained credibility on a number of levels. Enough to pop me out.

WTF #2: Echoing headwords

Analysis: On page four, there five separate occurrences. Four pairs of “I-sentences, and a triple-stream of I-paragraphs. As a result, I have now also become sensitized to the galloping I disease that has sprung up along with it. (And yes, so far this has been a first person POV story.)

WTF #3: Null platitude

Analysis: I love when a writer manages to put together a new insight and express it succinctly. Memorably. But on the flipside of that love, I hate reading pithy little aphorisms that turn out to be empty or illogical. In this case, the second chapter opens with: Nothing is ever as it seems or is as it might be. And I simply could not wrench myself away from that, trying to make sense of what was being conveyed. To isolate it, the second half of that bit of wisdom boils down to, “Nothing is ever as it might be.” It appears to be saying that nothing is ever as good as it could have been. That no matter what happens, there is always something else that could have happened but didn’t. This is a logical tautology. Nothing is ever what it is not.

There is no secret wisdom in the expression that I can find. No quip about life that I can take away and use to guide me when times get tough. I suspect the author wanted to have the narrator sound philosophical, but couldn’t come up with anything appropriate to say, so just made up something that sounded insightful. And there’s nothing that falls flatter for me than wisdomless wisdom.

 

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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.