The Odyssey of Hans Kessler, by Brad L. Smith (1:19)

IOD-HansKesslerToday we see that if you call attention to an action or detail that readers would have assumed anyway, they will look for deeper significance.

What I gleaned about the stories: The ordinary populace heave as one obscene mass, ever ready to descend into cthonic spasm.

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Note: This is a short story collection, so the rules are slightly different from standard Immerse or Die: instead of reading on every time I lose immersion, I stop reading that story and move on to the next one. As usual, I stop reading after the third WTF.

WTF #1: Distracting punctuation

Analysis: The collection opens with the following dedication: In memory of the late, great Ray Bradbury … who showed us all how to do this … even though we will never do it as well.

The usual punctuation to separate these clauses would be a comma, so when I hit the first ellipsis I expected something unusual (such as an aside that was significantly distant from the main, or a confounding of the preceding clause); however, nothing stood out. The second ellipsis caused the same stumble as the first.

There was nothing about the sentence to suggest the author wanted us to parse it in a breathless or stumbling voice, so I reread it to find another explanation. Yet found nothing. Which raised questions whether the author had deliberately repurposed punctuation or unwittingly misused it.

My faith in the author’s use of punctuation shaken, I moved on.

WTF #2: Tension-killing opening

Analysis: The story opens on an aircraft flying at supersonic speeds. The second sentence is: He reached over to hit the toggle switch that shut off his afterburner. The details of him reaching and the type of switch distanced me from the scene so I assumed they were there for a purpose; that something would interrupt his reaching or some mechanical event would affect the switch.

However, the subsequent sentence begins a long explanation of how the pilot is doing it to hide his craft from ignorant locals and what they would think if they detected him. Following this, the pilot performs another routine mechanical task.

Between the unnecessary detail of how the afterburner was turned off and the info-dump of the pilot’s reasons, I lost any sense of urgency; which didn’t bode well for a story where the protagonist was supposedly undertaking a secretive, high-speed flight.

Tension dead on the first page, I moved on.

WTF #3: Unclear imagery

Analysis: The second story begins with the protagonist reading a newspaper headline that disturbs him. The headline is described as knotting his stomach with the tri-braided cords of anxiety, angst, and anticipation. Cords is plural, so I parsed it as more than one tri-braided cords. However, when the sentence continued with a list of three items, my image split; was this one cord braided from anxiety, angst, and anticipation; or a cord of anxiety, a cord of angst, and a cord of anticipation, each braided from three threads?

While I enjoy poetic comparisons where they give me a deeper or different understanding of their subject, ones that I need to pause to consider push me from the story.

Trust that the reading experience would be smooth lost, I pulled the plug.

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.

The Colossus, by Ranjini Iyer (5:10)
Loss of Reason, by Miles A. Maxwell (8:15)

About the author

Dave Higgins has worked in law and IT for both public and private sector organisations. When not pursuing these hobbies, he writes poetry and speculative fiction.He was born in Wiltshire, England. Raised by a librarian, he started reading shortly after birth and has not stopped since. He currently lives in Bristol with his wife, Nicola, his cats, Jasper and Una, and many shelves of books.