Sector 64: Ambush, by Dean M. Cole (31:36)

IOD-Sector64Today we see that echoing sentence structures can distract just as much as headwords.

What I gleaned about the story: A late-night training flight for two Air Force fighter pilots goes horribly wrong, when they are buzzed by what appears to be a UFO. But that incident is just the beginning for Capt. Jake Giard, and as the mysteries begin to mount up, everything he thought he knew is brought into question.

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WTF #1: Past-perfect is MIA

Analysis: There’s a brief flash-back to the briefing meeting that had been held a few days earlier, involving a description of Vic, but I got confused about which version of Vic was being described: the one then or the one now. I think it was the earlier one, but the description was in simple past, making it seem like now. So I was confused about how he could see Vic’s hair, even though Vic was wearing a flight helmet. To follow it up, the transition back to now was not clear either. All in all, I got lost here, stuck waffling between two times.

WTF #2: Structure echoes

Analysis: Shaking his head in resigned capitulation, he unbuckled his safety harness and unplugged his helmet. I don’t know what grammarians call this, but I call it a “parallel simultaneous action” sentence, because it presents two clauses, one after the other, which are presumed to be happening in tandem. There’s nothing wrong with them, and I even use them myself, for variety. The problem is, I’m getting drowned in them here. It’s entirely understandable to see them used more frequently in a scene of heightened action and anxiety, such as we have here in the second scene. But no matter how acceptable a stylistic pattern might be in isolation, when it gets used often enough to be a recognizable pattern that usurps the story voice, then it has become a problem, because the pattern is now the object of mental attention, rather than the events of the story.

Kudos: Hearing the door lock, Jake turned back to his image in the mirror. A steady dripping sound emanated from a floor drain at the room’s center. The ticking second hand of an old government issue wall-clock, hanging over the door, added its maddening rhythm to the staccato dripping noise.

I quite like this this detail in the interrogation room scene. It’s a simple thing, and by itself, the wall clock might have been a bit cliché, but adding a second detail, counterpointing the clock against the drip in the drain makes for a fresh image (at least to me) in what would otherwise have been a very familiar scene.

WTF #3: Awkward flashback

Analysis: The flashback to Richard’s near-death experience felt extremely contrived. We’ve only known about Richard for two paragraphs, and suddenly we’re throwing the foreground story aside to spend time on this guy who hasn’t even come onto the stage yet? With all the urgent issues in the protagonist’s head at that moment, I found it hard to believe that he would have the mental space for a “convenient reminiscence” about how he knew the guy who was about to pick up the other end of the phone line.

I had to think long and hard before charging this one, because I thought this book might actually go the distance. But then I realized that I was having a debate about whether to charge a WTF, which meant I was no longer reading the book or immerse in the story. So reluctantly, I had to call a spade a spade. But I will definitely be reading a bit more of this one to see if it stays tight.

Note: With five different fonts on the cover, in 3 different colors, and with no integrated, consistent structure or focus for the artwork itself, I think the cover design is seriously hampering this book. I would have blown past this on a bookshelf with afterburners fully lit and not even bothered checking the rear-view.

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.

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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 underqualified in just about everything. That's why he writes.