Walking: Five Short Stories from the Sands, by W.G. White (4:58)

IOD score cardToday we see that establishing a world where things are clearly different doesn’t mean readers won’t apply their own assumptions anyway.

What I gleaned about the stories: The world we know has been replaced by one of extremes, but people remain the same spread of decent and not.

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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.

Kudo #1: Voice-over prologue

Analysis: The collection opens with a brief (about half a page) description of the world as it is now and a statement that how it got there isn’t important. This drew me into the book for two reasons: first, it gave me enough to understand the stories that were coming but didn’t weigh me down with explanations and history, which suggests the author focuses on the key facts; and, second, telling me that how things happened doesn’t matter creates the impression these will be tales of people who don’t have time to sit around discussing abstruse theories of social dwell-points and key moments in the political landscape.

Energised rather than enervated by this quick narration, I read on.

WTF #1: Misreadable name

Analysis: The protagonist of the first story is called Nail. Which, I initially parsed as Nial (a less common transliteration of Niall). However, after about half a page, my unconscious caught up with the actual spelling, jarring me out of my flow.

While I could think of reasons why a post-apocalyptic character might be called Nail, the unfortunate similarity with a real name had broken my immersion; so I moved on.

WTF #2: Non-standard pattern of compound noun

Analysis: The second story opens with a robbery in progress. A little way in, the protagonist spots some of the guards approaching in their distinctive purple jackets. The next reference to the guards is as Purple-coats. This didn’t immediately throw me out, but after another half a page, I noticed a hitch in the flow every time I encountered it.

The nickname itself adds flavour: real people use nicknames for things all the time, so characters using them makes a world seem more real. However, the presentation niggled: hyphens are traditionally used to remove confusion in compound phrases (e.g. cold cream bath could either be a cold bath of cream [cold cream-bath] or a bath of cold cream [cold-cream bath]) or to join nouns of equal weight (e.g. manager-technician for someone who both manages the department and performs the technical role within it). As it clearly wasn’t two equal nouns, my mind instinctively sought to parse it as an adjective rather than as whole phrase, which caused the instant of drag each time while I reparsed.

Anticipating a story about thieves would have plenty more of the guards in it too, I moved on.

WTF #3: Distracting spelling mistake

Analysis: A few pages into the third story, I hit: That’s a shinny cog down the bucket. In some books a single spelling error a little way into the third story might have been minor enough to give a pass. However, here the work of building a setting amplified the issue: because the introduction created a world of new labels for new things and the characters had displayed a noticeable yet intelligible dialect, part of me saw a spelling mistake and part of me wondered if it was a dialect word.

After a moment of havering, I realised that either it was a spelling mistake or it was a re-occurrence of the very-similar-but-not issue from WTF#1. So I pulled the plug.

Kudo #2: Engaging world and characters

Analysis: While this collection failed the immersion test, that failure wasn’t because I wasn’t interested in the stories. In a situation where I wasn’t applying a scoring mechanism, I anticipate I’d surface occasionally but then choose to go straight back in. So, I’ll probably be picking this up again in the near future for leisure reading.

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.

Short Stories and Flash Fiction, by Alice de Sturler (0:46)
Less than Noble, by J.M. Riou (40:00)

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.