Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Conglomerate, by Robert Brice

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(Far-Future SF) A group of uploaded intelligences on a space probe debates how to handle the discovery of a habitable planet. (4,722 words; Time: 15m)

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆ Needs Improvement

"," by (edited by Neil Clarke), appeared in issue 127, published on .

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Pro: The plot revolves around the narrator's moral dilemma: should he follow the mission and help kill the local intelligent life or should he protect the locals and throw away what might be the last chance for human life?

Con: What sinks this story is the purple prose. E.g. “Distant stromatic washes of nebulae.”

Beyond that, the science is truly terrible. Just for a few examples, you wouldn’t expect to find a habitable planet orbiting a brown dwarf. A probe wouldn’t discover new planets anyway; they’d be detected from much further away. The idea that the capsule “at the planet’s Lagrangian point” could facilitate light-speed optical communication between Earth and potential colonies is really off the mark (shortest distance is a straight line). These are just a few examples, but the story is littered with them.

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3 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. I totally agree about the purple prose. The author's bio says he's working on an MFA in Creative Writing, and it's clear. The vocabulary is totally unnecessary. I also appreciate your thoughts on the science. I myself need to do much more research about this. However, I have to disagree about the plot. It's about the tension between the decisions of the Conglomerate and the wisdom of individuality. The various scenes serve to illustrate the brutality of the Conglomerate's mission to to preserve humanity, and the motivation for the narrator's final action is made crystal clear. It especially helps that as the story continues the vocabulary becomes more plain. I feel the story deserves at least a three out of five.

    1. Thanks for the feedback.

      It all comes down to what your scoring system is. For me, elementary writing problems (like excessive purple prose) make a story one-star no matter what other positive attributes it might have. Stories that meet that bar but which have persistent problems with suspension of disbelief (e.g. because of very bad science) get only two stars--again, regardless of what other merits they might have.

      Just rereading the last few paragraphs of the story, I think you're probably right about the plot. The narrator really is the protagonist and the plot is about it deciding on which course of action is the moral one. I'll think about how best to edit the review to fix that. Thanks.

      However, rereading those few paragraphs just reinforces my conviction that this really is a one-star story. Reading it is a miserable experience owing to problems in the writing, not the concept.

      It all comes down to what you think is most important. Some people definitely believe that a cool concept excuses writing problems that I consider fatal. That's part of the reason we include ratings from other reviewers--there isn't one single "correct" point of view.

  2. This was a slog to get through. Found it pretty hard to care about characters virtually existing in a simulation inside a capsule adrift somewhere in space.