Final Duty, by Kyle Pratt (6:50)

IOD-FinalDutyToday we discover that writing hard sci-fi doesn’t let you use complex words and exposition without consequence.

What I gleaned about the stories: Soldiers are either brooding on the past or the future. Occasionally they do both.

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Note: The copyright page and other front matter had odd indentation and alignment issues. Underlining of titles also didn’t appear to follow a particular hierarchy. I didn’t charge a WTF for these off the bat, because the ‘start’ tag was set to the beginning of the first story so it was my obsession with copyright pages that revealed it. However, it did put me on my guard.

WTF #1: Odd verb choices

Analysis: The story is set on a space craft. After some general exposition on launch procedures and gravity effects, I encountered someone working the kinks out as gravity faded, who floated up and ‘stalled’ in mid air before settling to the deck.

Stalled suggests an engine stopping unexpectedly, so absent any mention of powered armour or a jump pack, my unconscious tingled; I glanced back and didn’t see one. There was no mention of bumping into the ceiling either, so the wider meaning of frustrated or thwarted didn’t apply either.

I tried to work out why they stalled rather than stopped, but there were no details in surrounding paragraphs that gave me anything to hang a theory on. So, my image of the scene died a death.

WTF #2:Unfriendly hyperlinking

Analysis: In line with the IoD rule of moving to the next story after a WTF, I attempted to call up the Table of Content. Only to discover there wasn’t one.

I therefore started scrolling manually on, and suddenly ended up back at the introduction to the collection. Already on my guard from the formatting issues and the lack of a table of contents, I tried to replicate the issue.

Whereupon, I discovered the titles were consistently underlined; but some of them were hyperlinked to the start of the book. I had, when reaching the start of the second story, brushed the title and been sent back.

Happy I had replicated the issue, but fully aware I was compiling a bug report not reading the book, I charged the second WTF, and (carefully) moved to the second story.

WTF #3: Sharing details the characters already know

Analysis: Standing over his father’s grave, a husband turns to his wife and says that the military “recalled my father, Marc, to active duty”. I could believe that someone’s wife might not know their father-in-law’s entire life story, but they were very likely to know his name.

If this had been the first instance, I might have awarded a pass. However, I had already forgiven the higher levels of exposition that go with hard military sci-fi so this felt like a huge “As you know, Bob…”

As I stopped there, I don’t know if the father’s name was necessary for the story. If it was, a possible solution would be to have the husband’s internal monologue as he reads the stone.

Pickles and Ponies: A Fairy-Tale, by Laura May (10:00)
The Mayonnaise Murders, by Keith A. Owens (7:04)

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.