The Starfall Knight, by Ken Lim (8:10)

IOD-StarfallKnightToday we see that no matter how well drawn the world is, if the characters seem to have no emotional dimension, there is nothing familiar for the reader to engage with.

What I gleaned about the story: When a group of men go to investigate a recent meteor strike, they discover that instead of a meteor, it was a mummified corpse in an ancient suit of armor that fell from the sky. Or possibly from the stars. But they don’t seem to care.

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WTF #1: Declarative sentence parade

Analysis: The story seems interesting enough so far, but it is cooled by the emotional distance that comes from dry declarations of fact. Even when a near mishap puts the protagonist in temporary peril, the prose seems a rather lacking on emotional overtones. Just a cold series of emotionless observations. In a less adrenaline-rich scene I might not have noticed it, but I found myself wondering why the peril felt flat to me. Uninvolving. And when I start wondering things like that, the immersion is clearly broken.

WTF #2: Unbelievable character behavior

Analysis: So this squad of guys are climbing a mountain to reach the impact crater of some meteor that has plunged into their world. It’s a long hard climb, and they finally reach it, approaching the smoking crater carefully. It’s still hot, so they have to be wary of stray gases that might explode at any moment. But instead of finding a meteor in the crater, they find a guy. A guy wearing armor. A guy who seems to have fallen from the sky. Unfortunately, the entire emotional experience is conveyed in just twelve words: Devan took a step back in shock. “It’s a person. A knight.” That’s all the shock, surprise, and simple wonder we’re given. From there, the scene transition immediately to the task of dragging the body out. Other than the word “shock,” we’re given no taste of the experience. No vicarious thrill of discovery. Not even a quick exclamation mark to convey a raised pulse. It’s like robots discovering life on Mars and simply reporting a slight rise in hydrocarbon levels.

And that’s been my problem all along. There is no emotional dimension to the prose, and without that, I find it very hard to stay engaged for any length of time. This should have been a momentous experience, but instead if felt blasé, as though these guys find armored space warriors in molten meteor craters every other day. But if the characters aren’t going to react with emotion, why should I? Ho hum. Just another space corpse.

Note: The world seems richly thought out. We haven’t seen much of it yet, but I get the sense that there is a fully-developed society behind the words.

WTF #3: Unbelievable character behavior

Analysis: Later, they investigate the corpse, but not at the site. First they dragged it down off the mountain. That in itself felt entirely alien and lacking in even basic curiosity to me. Then, when they do investigate, and it turns out to be a mummified corpse that has died in its suit, there is again no emotional texture to their reaction. The girl in the group (why is it always the girl?) says, “Ugh.” But beyond that, there is no other sense of how they feel about all this. This creepy corpse from the sky, tucked safely inside his ultra-durable armor, dead and desiccated. But no emotions whatsoever. And while the prose seems decent, mechanically, I am not engaged in any way emotionally.

Note: While it didn’t have enough emotional dimension to weave a spell for me, I suspect that a good many readers who are more concerned with plot than character depth might find this worth checking out. Let me know what you think if you do.

Fencing Reputation, by William L. Hahn (26:50)
By Sword Stave or Stylus - Andrew Knighton (40:00)

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.