Journey Back to Mars, by Hugh Huesca (1:10)

iod-journeymarsToday we see that if a reader loses trust in the prose on page one, even an interesting premise may not entice them further.

What I gleaned about the stories: Minds, whether human or mechanical, can be very odd sometimes.

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Note: This is a short story collection, so the rules are slightly different from standard Immerse or Die: instead of reading on every time I lose immersion, I stop reading that story and move on to the next one. As usual, I stop reading after the third WTF.

WTF #1: Tense mismatch

Analysis: A few sentences into the first story, I encountered: The morning started cold, but it warmed quickly under the bright sun and clear sky that was always present when we remember our youth. Usually recalling the past is an event that can happen at any point after that past happens. However was is also a past tense, so implies the recalled image was also consigned to the past; that the narrator (and his implied audience) used to remember sun and sky when they thought back but no longer did.

Remember (rather than remembered) implies that the recall can happen in the present though. So, my mind got stuck in a bit of a loop trying to parse it: did the author mean people used to remember that way and no longer did, or did the author mean everyone remembers their childhood as sunny?

While the former was a very interesting hook for a story, the conflict between the tenses damaged my trust in the ability of the prose to describe the nuances I’d seek in such a story, so I moved on.

WTF #2: Unintentional humour

Analysis: As the second story opens the protagonist masks …his tiredness using a stern scowl and the privacy his mustache granted his face. My immediate mental image was of a giant moustache that covered most of the character’s face.

Although this was fleeting, the image was powerful enough to make me consciously wonder how his facial hair hid his tiredness. Tiredness usually shows most strongly around the eyes, so how did concealing his top lip help?

I did think of a few things, but getting the wrong image and then having to think about what the right one might be in the first half of the first page didn’t inspire confidence in the descriptions; so I moved on.

WTF #3: Overloaded description

Analysis: A few sentences into the third story, I hit: The car could not approach them beyond a certain safety margin hard-coded in its square mind inside the chromed hood. While this did give me a solid factual image of why the vehicle behaved as it did, the lack of punctuation meant my mind tried to wait until the end to parse the sentence; which gave me a sense of overload. Was the squareness of the mind important? Was the chrome important? How certain was the safety margin?

Unsure which parts of the sentence were key, I wasn’t sure which parts of the image to carry forward in the front of my mind to inform the later sentences, and which to note in passing as colour and flavour.

With three strikes against the descriptions, I pulled the plug.

Kudo #1: A touch of amusement

Analysis: The third story is titled ‘The day the machines rebelled, which, admittedly, took some heavy persuading’. Something about the idea of having to convince the machines to rise up amuses me; to the extent that I’ll be returning to this collection later to see if this vein of humour runs throughout.

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.

Greysuits, by Nathan Lee Green (15:44)
Deviants of Giftborn, by Zuri Amarcya (2:13)

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.