The Five Elements, by Scott Marlowe (40:00)

IOD-FiveElementsToday we see that, sometimes, I pull the plug for what turns out to be an invalid reason, and then have to eat crow.

What I gleaned about the story: A young wizard’s apprenticeship is cut short when invaders sack the city and kill all the more experienced wizards. So he is left to try to rebuild his world by himself. All he has to do is survive.

Find this book on Amazon.

Note: On the treadmill, I pulled the plug on this one at 21:36. But then when I was writing it up, I realized that I had completely misread the thing that caused the 3rd WTF, and it wasn’t even ambiguous or anything. Just a total misread. So I went back down, fired up the treadmill again, and picked up where I’d left off. Sure enough, the skies cleared, the wind freshened, and 19 minutes later, I had a mouthful of black feathers.

WTF #1: Though Aaron had not remembered unstoppering the vial, his choice of that particular one from the dozen or so he kept on his person was not without reason he realized the moment after he’d splashed the contents across all three of their faces.

Analysis: By now, it’s no secret that I’m a total hardass for editing issues on the first page. Not only is the first page typically the most highly-edited of any page in a book, but in those crucial early moments of a book, every author is on trial with the readers who have not read their work before. They have to be on their best behavior, because they have not yet proven to that particular reader that their work is anything more than angsty teenaged poetry, trying to pass itself off as a good book. And in that respect, I’m just like any reader. When I begin an IOD book, my spider senses are on full alert, waiting for the tell-tale problems that I know I’m going to find in 6 out of every 7 books. (I try not to let that expectation influence me, but subconsciously, that’s a hard battle to win.)

So when I hit the above-cited sentence in the very first paragraph, I cringed. But I did not yet charge the WTF. I may be a hardass, but I’m also a writer, so a single example of a much-wanted comma going astray wasn’t enough to break me. Then I found another comma problem, and again found myself getting lost in a slightly overlong sentence without benefit of comma guides. So with that confirming instance, I chalked up this first immersion break.

Unexpected Kudo: Shortly after that, I came across this little gem of a phrase and was immediately heartened: Nuclidean power convergence. I’m a complete sucker for the just-so name for things, and when I find a name that seems to fit the story perfectly and give a sense of a deeper world, I am instantly encouraged to believe that there might actually be a good author at the helm. And the use of this phrase to describe the magical force in this story realm had exactly that effect on me. A small thing, but a significant one, by my lights.

WTF #2: But for the two of them, few ever set foot in the tower.

Analysis: Ambiguous readings are particularly hard for an author to find on their own. The author has his or her own natural rhythm and cadence in their head, so when they read a passage that might have two different readings, they usually make the same, correct choice, so they never spot the alternate way of parsing the passage. In this case, the author means “Save for the two of them, few ever set foot in the tower.” But I read it as, “Only, for the two of them, few ever set foot in the tower.” And that makes no sense. The word “but” can be parsed in either of these ways, and normally, the lack of a comma would have been the clue, but as I’ve already noted, commas are a bit spare on the ground here, so I wasn’t able to rely on them to help with parsing.

Again though, I don’t charge a WTF for this kind of stuff until it starts to get repetitive, and unfortunately, I did trip a few times over ambiguous readings. A few more commas would have helped immensely, and a good editor would have caught many of them too.

WTF #3: Redacted for my own protection

Analysis: So it turns out, the thing I thought was a WTF was entirely my own stupid fault, and I’m pleased to say that once I discovered that, the story took off, and I went merrily along with it.

Note: And before anybody asks, no, I will not be sharing the details of the phantom WTF. It would only make me look stupid. :-)

Enter The Phenomenologists, by Gil C. Schmidt (5:50)
Sand and Blood, by D. Moonfire (31:01)

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.