Human Again, by Moran Chaim (3:08)

IOD-Human_Again.jpgToday we see an example of nuanced prose where the nuances feel wrong.

What I gleaned about the story: Roy has no mouth and he must scream. Oh, wait a minute. He found his mouth. But now he has no lungs.

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WTF #1: Awkward phrasing

Analysis: Three times in the first two paragraphs, I found myself quirking at the slightly odd phrasing. It begins with: First there was nothing. No sight, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch. Not even blackness, just infinite emptiness.

There was absolutely nothing wrong with the first two sentences, although I did have to change gears in the middle of the second one when I realized that it was not going to conform to the usual “lists of three” rule.

But right on the heels of that, I got to the third sentence. “Not even blackness” makes sense, intellectually, because there was no sight, but what does “no sight” look like? To me it looks black, so as a result, this bit felt like a contradiction. And what is “infinite emptiness?” If I have no sensory input, how can I tell it’s infinite? Upon inspection, none of these is exactly “wrong,” but I had to pop out of the story and try to unpack what these phrases even meant before I could keep going.

Next I ran into: Then there were sounds of screaming and smell of burned flesh. That would read better as: “a smell of burned flesh”; “the smell of burned flesh”; or maybe “smells of burned flesh. Any one of those would fit a familiar grammatical pattern. But as written, it felt off, like a narrator with an awkward Russian accent.

Having made it through that somewhat bumpy first paragraph, I then reached the second and within it: A strobing pain of a ten thousand organs charging with electricity appeared.

Hey, I found an extra article, but that kills any sense of Russian-ness. Given the ride we’ve had so far, maybe I should hang onto the “a” for later. But when I realized that I was making internal jokes about the oddity of the language, it only underscored the fact that I was no longer immersed.

WTF #2: Missing word

Analysis: In the third paragraph, still reeling from the previous issues, I ran into: I floated inside my body, trying to find a firm limb to hold on to as leaning point. And what do you know? Now we have a place to put that article we saved from earlier.

Then the next sentence gives: It got warmer pretty fast but the strobing electricity didn’t stop flushing me with pain. That was an odd word choice: flushing. It’s used in a transitive mode. The flushing is being done to something, which to me associates with toilets and plumbing systems. To flush a body with pain might have been a vivid image in the context of more stable, trustworthy prose, but in this case it stands out as just another point of departure from familiar usage.

Overall, this one feels as though neither the author nor editor is a native English speaker, and that double deficit rarely works out for the benefit of the final customer. Like unsanded furniture. It doesn’t matter how well designed it is if I get caught on slivers every time I touch it.

WTF #3: Temporal whiplash

Analysis: These two sentences appear one after the other, half way down the page: Tears ran down the side of my face while I was lying faced up, but I didn’t truly understand what I was crying about. One day I woke up groggy and the incubator tubes were gone.

Ignoring the awkward phrasing of “lying faced up” instead of “lying face-up,” I was cruising along watching the crying guy who didn’t know why, and then it was suddenly several days later. It’s not the time jump itself that I have a problem with, because it’s common for narrative to skip ahead as needed, but that skippin has to be properly signalled.

The construction of “One day…” is usually employed when the narrative camera is pulled fairly far back and the narrator is moving with pace through a series of events. But that was entirely not the case here, where we were in close watching a grown man cry and then, suddenly, with no warning, we changed time, narrative intimacy, and temporal mode.

Final Note: The biggest problem here is that neither the author nor any of the editors involved seem to have a nuanced command of written English. The text is nuanced, in that it uses subtle language effects, but it uses them incorrectly, or in ways that simply come off as wrong. They don’t fit into the standard, comfortable flow of English-language fiction and so I was never able to slip comfortably into the world being presented. I felt like I’d shown up to an all-metric Mechano party with nothing but imperial wrenches and could never get into a groove.

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.

Rejects From The Idea Factory; A Flash Fiction Anthology, By Ray Daley (1:37)
Pantheon, by Scott Beckman (10:00)

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.