The SHIVA Syndrome, by Alan Joshua (3:36)

IOD-ShivaSyndromeToday we see that an inconsistent narrative voice can quickly undermine the authenticity of the story being told.

What I gleaned about the story: Stefan Dürr is boiling alive in some kind of science experiment while others rush to his rescue. Meanwhile, he may be violating the laws of thermodynamics.

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WTF #1: Inconsistent narrative voice

Analysis: The story opens with a description of “the subject”, who is seen floating in a cylinder full of experimental fluids. But referring to him that way carries a suggestion that the narrator knows what is going on – not in the more abstract sense of an omniscient narrator, but in an invested sense, as we might expect from one of the researchers. The narration POV then proceeds to swoop over all the equipment, telling us how it works and what’s going on inside, which again amplifies the sense that the narrator is a character present in the room. So when something goes wrong in the tank and the rescuers rush in, I keep expecting them to shout at the narrator, asking him/her what happened.

The problem is, there isn’t anybody in the room. There never was. It was just an overly involved-sounding narrator. I had to jump back to see if I’d missed something, but upon closer examination, it appears to just be an odd narrative mode, which completely had me distracted from the story, looking for the man behind the curtain.

WTF #2: Confusing story point

Analysis: The subject is hanging in some kind of scientific fluid tank. We are told that, His body heat rose abruptly, raising the liquid’s temperature. Then we get, Scalding water trickled through the cracks, reaching his uncovered face. Small air bubbles covered his blistering skin as the fluid climbed towards boiling.

I’m confused. His body heat raised the temperature of the water to some near-boiling temperature, meaning that his body (and his skin) must therefor be even hotter than that, but his skin didn’t blister until after the water rushed in and touched him? It makes no sense to me that he didn’t blister and burn earlier, when his body and skin first reached that high temperature. If anything, the water rushing in should be cooling him, not burning him.

WTF #3: Declarative sentence parade

Analysis: I’m on the second page and I’m increasingly distracted by several trends, but I’ll ignore the numerous headword echoes and focus in the repetitive use of direct declarative sentences. The noun verbed. Some nouns verbed. The noun was verbing. Etc. Instead of specific words echoing, it’s the sentence structure itself that echoes, but either way, the effect is the same. I get diverted, drawn to focus on the words in front of me rather than the world and events they describe. Immersion is broken.

And as a side note, there is also more confusion of the narrative voice. In the first few paragraphs, the mode was clearly omniscient, but in later paragraphs the narration echoes the uncertainty expressed by the characters who have stormed into the room. We began with a god-like narrator who now, inexplicably, seems completely clueless about what’s happening. It’s like the omniscient god/narrator has had a stroke. Very distracting.

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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.