Awakened, by C. Steven Manley (5:45)

IOD-AwakenedToday we see how important it is to carefully manage the reader’s mental camera.

What I gleaned about the story: A news reporter wakes up after a night out with the guys to find himself in some kind of makeshift jail, with an IV in his arm and no idea what happened.

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Note: The layout uses hyphens instead of em-dashes. This was not a complete disruption, but it was a subtle indicator that amateur editing lies ahead.

WTF #1: Questionable physics

Analysis: A guy wakes up on some kind of military cot, with an IV tube in his arm. The lighting is described as “low and yellow,” but he then describes the skin where the IV goes into his arm as: some kind of discoloration that had turned his normally dark mocha skin a kind of sickly orange.

To be honest, I’m having trouble with that. Most yellow light is perceived to be essentially white, so to be worthy of comment as “yellow” it must be markedly so. But under a noticeably yellow light, everything would appear vaguely yellow-orange. When presented with a consistent color bias like that, your brain recalibrates the color scheme and you perceive the dominant color as shades of gray. In other words, the “orange” skin would appear to be some kind of gray. Put all this against a background of mocha-colored skin, and I just have trouble visualizing how this would actually work, on a perceptual level.

You might think I’m being overly sensitive to this point, but as a 3D graphics expert, I am hyper-aware of the behavior of light and color, so miscues of this kind leap out at me. And when my subconscious fires off an alert, I have to stop and figure out why. Which breaks immersion. (Compare this issue with a similar one I reported in another book. It’s just the way I’m wired.)


WTF #2: Questionable physics

Analysis: Again with lighting issues. The guy sees a woman in another cell like his own, also lying on a stretcher. We are told that she is at the back of the cell, away from the chain link fence that encloses it. We have been told there are multiple, low yellow light sources. Yet even though she is at the back of the cell, we are told that she is lit with diamond-shaped dapples of light, owing to the chain link fence, but I just can’t make this work in my head. Chain link is not thick enough to cast sharp shadows further than just a foot or so, unless the light source is tiny pin-prick. But having been described as “low” and “glowing”, I get the impression of a typical lighting fixture of some decent dimensions. Certainly larger than a pin prick source. Consequently, with the size of the light emitter being wider than the obstruction, its shadows would not be visible more than a hand-span or two beyond the mesh.

Furthermore, multiple light sources would again diminish the effect, with each cast shadow being still illuminated by the other light sources.

WTF #3: Unclear scene geometry

Analysis: Suddenly, it seems that the woman on the other cot is not in a different cell after all. She’s in the same one as our guy. I initially got the impression of it being a different cell for two reason. First, the protagonist has given us a description of the cell he’s in and did not mention her. He was giving such specific details about what was there that it seemed reasonable to conclude that he had reported anything of interest.

Second, he did not notice her until he was moving toward the chain-link wall at the front of the cell and heard her groan. With my mental camera already looking out toward the fence wall, and new things moving into view as he moved toward the fence, coupled with the assumption that he had already described the contents his cell, I subconsciously concluded that this new character was beyond the fence, in some other cell.

So when I read on and find that she’s in his cell with him, it conflicted with my evolving mental image of the situation, and jerked me out of the story.

Skeletal, by Katherine Hayton (27:41)
Cold Pulp Trio, by E.R. White, Jr. (1:02)

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.