Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Midstrathe Exploding, by Andy Dudak

★★★★★ Really cool setting, interesting characters

(Future Fantasy) Two-hundred years after the bomb, tourists come from all over to stand behind the slowly expanding temporal wave-front and witness the slow-motion destruction of Midstrathe. (3,190 words; Time: 10m)

"Midstrathe Exploding," by (edited by Trevor Quachri), appeared in issue 03-04|20, published on by .

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

Review: 2020.100 (A Word for Authors)

Pro: Despite the mentions of science in the story, I opted to read this as fantasy to avoid the scientific problems with it. In that spirit, it’s a cool piece, and the biggest attraction is the slowly exploding city itself.

Teen-age Ciaran gets by on the work he does (plus some stealing), but he clearly wants to live a more normal life somewhere else. His attachment to Modwen and to what’s left of his mother tie him to Midstrathe though.

The ancient tourist who simply wants to die in the arms of her ex relieves Ciaran of his burden, since having let her mess up Far Infrared’s setup, he’s forced to flee the town. His goodbye to his mom, who abandoned him to join/lead a crazy death cult is poignant.

Con: If you insist on taking the science seriously, the contents of the city will be red-shifted down to radio waves, so nothing will be visible except possible the core of the explosion itself. Anyone trying to get across the temporal barrier will just lose whatever limbs they manage to push into it. Oh and the light from outside shining in will be blue-shifted to gamma rays, so there shouldn’t still be anyone alive on the inside.

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4 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. Although I though the idea of an exploding city caught in some kind of temporal frieze was far out to imagine, I thought the storytelling was flawed. It was hasty, going in too many directions for its length, and taking the tourist to the exact spot she wanted to find on the first try a jarring coincidence. And sentences like “The red-shifted spectacle looms over everything, a mountain he lives at the base of.” on the clunky side.

    Greg, was your 5-star enthusiasm mainly because of the visual impact of an exploding city caught in time? All three subplots, Modwen, mother, and tourist were appealing, but they all seemed too rushed to merit 5-stars.

    1. I usually know what I'm going to give a story as soon as I finish it, and this one left me thinking "wow." Then I double-check my guidelines to make sure I'm not over (or under) reacting. (Sometimes I initially want to give 4 or 5 stars to a story merely because it made me cry, but when I try to justify that, I realize there's not enough substance to it.) On the other hand, I try not to put too much weight on flaws I didn't notice while I was reading it. If it wasn't bad enough to pull me out of the story, it can't be that important.

      I look for things like cool setting, sophisticated plot (i.e. more than one thread), strong characters, and emotion-provoking elements/events. To get five stars, I generally want it to be strong in at least two, and not deficient in anything. (But that doesn't mean zero flaws.)

      As a future fantasy piece, the setting was hard to beat,I found the characters relatable, and I was moved by their plight. The plot might have been too busy for the length, now that you mention it, but I didn't notice that while I was reading it. Likewise, given the breathtaking setting, I didn't feel the prose was too purple.

      Obviously, this is a place where your mileage may vary. So you felt this was more of a "mixed" 3? That is, a story with something so good you don't want to recommend against it but with flaws such that you don't want to recommend it either?

    2. That's an interesting way of putting it, a mixed-3. A story with both highs and lows. When reading “Midstrathe Exploding” I thought about "Light of Other Days" by Bob Shaw. Science fiction stories with far-out concepts come in two parts. The first part, is the concept, and I often want to tell people about stories with far-out concepts. But the second part, is the story. Think of it as a diamond ring - a gem and its setting. If the setting for the far-out concept isn’t equal to the gem, I find it hard to recommend them to my friends.

      The gem of this story is the exploding city caught in a temporal stasis. I’d love to see a movie of that for its visuals. Where I thought this story was flawed and would keep me word-of-mouthing it to my friends is the setting. It had three subplots, none stronger than the others, spoiling the overall impact. Only one was needed, and each needed a stronger sense of drama.

      I would have preferred the story to be all about the old tourist and the lost lover, but the other two subplots would have worked too if they had been the focus. I’m afraid I’d only give this story 2-stars.

      But here’s the interesting aspect. You loved it. So obviously it was well constructed for you. Maybe we can’t deconstruct stories. Maybe they are holistic synergies we can’t disassemble. Either they work or they don’t.

    3. I'll only give a rating below 3 stars if the story was actually painful to read. 2 stars are for stories that are competently written but which break suspension of disbelief so much that it's a chore to finish them.

      However, when I started rating stories, I was a lot stricter.

      I'm surprised that a story having three equally-weighted plot lines bothers you so much, though. Would you feel the same way about a novel-length work like that?