City Under Ice, by Te Olivant (12:50)

Today we see that if you’re going hype an upcoming event, you had better deliver.

What I gleaned about the story: Lisanne is about to undergo the most important interview of her life, and even the betrayal of a trusted authority figure won’t get in her way. But the interview doesn’t go well. Presumably, she’s going to rebel against that news, but I didn’t get far enough to see how.

Find this book on Amazon.

Intro: This is another in my occasional “From the Firehose” series, in which I try a book that caught my attention among the torrent of daily promotions from BookBub or The Fussy Librarian. In this case, I was drawn by the strong cover design and an intriguing title. More than any other aspects of marketing, I believe those two are far and away the most important. Even the blurb falls a distant third behind those two elements for me, when it comes to sparking my interest. It can enhance a curiosity I already have, but it can’t create the interest out of whole cloth, because I won’t even read the blurb if something in the title or cover design hasn’t already grabbed my attention.

Note: It’s a peeve of mine to find fiction books set with blank lines between the paragraphs. That convention is far more common in web pages and non-fiction than it is in novels, but the thing that moves it from a simple curiosity to an actual irritant for me is that it consumes so much display space. I read most books these days on my phone, and even with the tiny fonts I employ, I still have to do a lot more page-flipping when books are typeset this way. I’m not charging a WTF for it, because this is entirely a preference thing, but I thought it was worth mentioning. Your typesetting choices are not as inconsequential as you might think.

Kudos #1: Information withholding done right

Details: The story opens with a conversation between mother and daughter. Throughout their chat, they make frequent reference to the daughter being “an eighty” and the mother “an eighty-seven.” No explanation is given of what this means, and that is exactly as it should be. Sure, my appreciation for the conversation would be deeper if I knew what that number represented, but it would be entirely out of character for either one of them to explain it, because they both already know what it means. So yes, this is a case of information withholding, but it is natural to the situation. Furthermore, even without knowing what the number represents, it is clear to me (from context) that it is some kind of score of genetic quality. And that’s enough for me to follow the conversation, trusting that a fuller understanding will come later.

Note: The prose is not particularly smooth. I find myself grimacing at odd word choices, repeated words and phrases, and one or two very minor spelling quibbles, but it’s never quite enough to pull me out of the story. The information withholding that I mentioned above was quickly resolved, but then replaced with other teases that I find engaging. And they’re enough to pull me past the little frictions along the way. My enjoyment would be improved with some tighter editing, but so far it hasn’t been a disruption.

Note: In addition to the odd paragraph spacing, the book also employs two spaces between sentences – yet another waste of valuable screen real-estate and entirely inapproprate in text that’s rendered with proportional fonts. But again, not disruptive enough to pull me out of the story.

WTF #1: Info dump

Analysis: A prominent member of the community has done the unthinkable: they’ve left the city and gone out into “the White,” which is an act that seems to be taken by the citizens as some combination of suicide, betrayal, and dereliction of duty. All well and good. But then “the Leader” makes an announcement, telling everybody what happened, and in his speech, gives a lengthy history lesson, which he even acknowledges everybody knows. By the third paragraph of this, I was irritated enough to throw the flag.

WTF #2: Inconsistent spelling

Analysis: Several job functions have the been referenced so far: the Physician, the Head, and the Leader. Note the capitalization. I personally find those titles extremely banal. It’s hard to imagine any human society in which such flavorless terms would be used to describe figures of authority and power, but that’s not what brought me to a halt. The problem is that I’m seeing references to these figures also spelled in lower case. Now, that doesn’t change the meaning of the phrase, but it does force me to stop and wonder what the significance of the change is. And in stopping to consider that, my immersion is broken.

WTF #3: Bait and switch

Analysis: For the entire first chapter, Lisanne (our protagonist) has been agonizing over her upcoming Interview. (Yes, capitalized.) It’s a crucial event in the life of a teen: a process in which their entire life’s course is to be mapped out. So given its name and her anxiety over doing well, I was imagining a very intimidating process of grilling, testing, maybe some argument and justification. Something taxing and intense.

Instead, it lasted about 2 minutes, during which somebody’s secretary confirmed all the information that she already had in the computer. Then she ran a program and announced the result. I don’t object to the nature of that process, but it fell far short of fulfilling the expectation that had been set. Enough that I went back over the chapter to see if I’d misread the hype. Nope. Hype was present. Just never fulfilled. And since I was going back to re-read, I was, again, no longer engaged.

Outro: The story I found inside seemed to deliver on the ideas that appealed to me from the cover, so in that respect, I call the marketing here a success. This one seems to be nodding toward James Dashner’s The Mazerunner and Hugh Howie’s Wool, in terms of plot and setting. Unfortunately, issues with the execution of the prose wore me down before I got fully hooked.
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.

Flash Fiction, by Richard Dee (2:28)
Eight Unreal Stories, by John Carter (1:42)

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.