Cold Reboot, by Michael Coorlim (18:15)

IOD-ColdRebootToday we see that once a reader has formed an impression of what’s going on, they will try to make every detail fit that model until presented with definitively conflicting information.

What I gleaned about the story: Erica Crawford has awakened in the Chicago of 2025, victim of a long-term coma. Her newly reawakened life is confusing and disorienting and she still hasn’t found anybody from her previous life. Plus the social worker assigned to her case is a hunk, although he might be gay.

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WTF #1: Echoing headwords

Analysis: There are about four pairs of echoing headwords on the first page. I didn’t find them overly distracting while reading them, but the visual echo kept pulling at me as my eye scanned the page. This is a problem for me most often when the echos are at the paragraph level, as they are here. Since indented paragraphs all begin at the same left-right position, when the words are repeated, they form perfect patterns of alignment in the otherwise chaotic jumble of words on the page—perfect magnets for a wandering eye.

This is especially true when the first paragraph in a pair is a single line, because the repeated words end up aligned one directly above the other, perfect little echos on the page.

WTF #2: Confusing situation

Analysis: For most of the first page, I believed that Erica was in bed and that Scott had awakened her. This immediately suggested a sense of intimacy between them.

The mistake was then reinforced partway down the page, when Erica mentions how froggy her voice sounded and how she wasn’t used to it yet. I realized later that this was a reference to her having awakened recently from a coma, but at the time I took it as further evidence that Scott had just awakened her from sleep. (In fact, he had just awakened her from a dazed fixation on his prosthetic hand.)

My first clue that I had misread the situation came in an offhand reference to Scott being her social worker, but since he had been so solicitous when waking her, I believed this to be a wry comment on his behavior, rather than a literal description of their relationship. She even made comments about his professional wardrobe, but I determinedly wrote those off as her description of a boyfriend who was clearly ready to go to work.

It wasn’t until near the bottom of the page, when Erica started talking about Scott’s workspace and the fact that she was in it, that I finally had enough kicks in the head to realize that I had misconstrued what was going on.

This could all have been avoided with a clearer establishing image back near the beginning, but I find it a particularly fascinating demonstration of just how fiercely the reading mind works to make the presented facts fit the mental structures we create as we read.

WTF #3: Echoing headwords

Analysis: Five or six pages in and the unfortunate visual pattern is back again. There’s a series of seven short paragraphs, five of which begin with “I”. And then, to make matters worse, one of the two hold-outs begins with “It,” so this pattern breaker didn’t do much to break up the pattern.

I realize that this may seem like a really trivial problem, but once my eye has seen these patterns in the text, I simply can’t unsee them, and the pattern keeps pulling me back, interfering with my ability to stay engaged with the story.

Final note: The writing in this one seems decent, and Erica’s problem looks like an interesting start. I like how the world of 2025 is not being painted as jet packs and space missions, but is only a modest and believable extrapolation from our own world. If not for the preponderance of “I” sentences, this one might have gone the distance. And it might do so for you, if you are fortunate enough to be immune to the problem of echoes.

Take the Pepsi Challenge: Want to know if my own writing measures up? Try the free sample on one of my books or short stories and decide for yourself.

Life in a Grain of Sand, by Geoff Le Pard (1:59)
Get On Board Little Children, by Victoria Randall (4:05)

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.