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Ethan Cooper's picture


By Ethan Cooper in Teleport Us

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There are five women trapped in a room.
One of them isn't human.
It's time to play Anomaly.

- Kindle version

Update (2/7): Minor grammar edits. Sentences clarified. Timer reduced. Less glitch.
Update (2/20): Rewrote and improved the ending. Minor grammer edits.

I hope you enjoy the story! Thanks for reading!



irennie's picture
irennie from All over. Currently in Cambridge, England. is reading the Target Doctor Who novelizations February 2, 2013 - 7:50am

An interesting and well written story.  The characters were individual and well realized.  I had a couple of specific comments:


  • I'm not wild about "glitch" as a swearword.  It doesn't have the plosive force of the ones we use.  Additionally, occasionally I was confused as to whether it was being used as a swear or as its original meaning.
  • There's a couple of points where you tell us people's motivations or backstory rather than letting it emerge.  As an example, I don't think I needed to be told how Trill felt about Coda, as their character work was strong enough for it to be obvious.
  • I loved the device of the changing interstitials.  The pentagons slowly changing was interesting and novel.
  • The ending was a little too exposition heavy.  We went from something very action oriented to, essentially, an explanation of the action we had just seen.  I think this might work better as a conversation where this is revealed to a character rather than just to the reader.

With all that said, I liked this a lot.  It felt fresh and novel, the violence was inventive, and it played around with the "not human" concept very creatively.  Well done.

Ethan Cooper's picture
Ethan Cooper from Longview, TX is reading The Kill Room, Heart-Shaped Box, Dr. Sleep February 5, 2013 - 11:33am

Thank you so much for reading and for the feedback. I agree with all your points.

- I'm going to remove uses of glitch outside of as a swear word. I do agree that it's not as impactual/offensive.
- I definitely struggled with this due to word count limitations. I'm going to give it another pass and see what I can change.
- I agree. I did have the conversation in my mind at one time, so I'm going to see if I can make that work. I didn't want Trill and Coda to die and the next scene immediately being them alive again. I'm thinking I may be able to combine the Key and final Coda/Trill scene and make it work.

ArlaneEnalra's picture
ArlaneEnalra from Texas is reading Right now I'm editing . . .. February 3, 2013 - 12:29pm

Writing in the present threw me the first time I read through this but I got used to it reasonably quickly. The story is very fast paced, especially when things really start happening. Using the section dividers the way you did was a nice touch.

If this were a longer form, rather than four thousand words, it would have been nice to burn a touch more of that hour with more background on the characters/world around them. As it was, I think you did the very well with the number of words available. There was just enough information to get a picture of everyone and the room.

If you ever redo this in a longer form, I'd like to give it a read.

Ethan Cooper's picture
Ethan Cooper from Longview, TX is reading The Kill Room, Heart-Shaped Box, Dr. Sleep February 5, 2013 - 11:36am

Thanks for reading! That word count restriction is a like a monster a the end of your story, eating all the extra words.

ArlaneEnalra's picture
ArlaneEnalra from Texas is reading Right now I'm editing . . .. February 7, 2013 - 10:02pm

By the way, nice cover!

Matt Hebert's picture
Matt Hebert from Vermont, originally, now in Dublin February 3, 2013 - 12:30pm

There's some nice, clear writing here, and a good command of pacing, I thought.  You brought us through the five quickly, and I wasn't left wondering about anyone too long.  In a story where you don't know who's "it," that was much appreciated.  They were all distinct visually, but I was a little self conscious that they were very nearly color coded. :)  That probably would have been a bit too distracting if taken too far.

As mentioned, I had to keep track of how the word Glitch was being used.  It didn't always seem consistent, which distracted.

I didn't find the pentagons helpful, personally.  They didn't seem to change I expected them to.

While I don't especially like gory stories, I felt a little disappointed with the fighting.  Everything seemed to point to a cage match story, but there wasn't much of that sort of thing.  I think the screams, blood, screams stop section pointed that up for me, especially.

Overall, though, this is a fun read, written well and cleverly conceived.  Thanks!

Ethan Cooper's picture
Ethan Cooper from Longview, TX is reading The Kill Room, Heart-Shaped Box, Dr. Sleep March 18, 2013 - 10:31am

I really appreciate you taking the time to read me story.

I totally did color-code them. :) Not really something I wanted to do, but since I didn't have all the character develop room I wanted, I thought that might help some readers.

The pentagons were a body count indicator. If people figured that out, that was fine, but if they didn't, that was fine too.

I agree with all your comments, and if I get a chance to expand this story, there were be a lot more cage match stuff in there. In fact, a lot more of what people liked, and less of what annoyed them (hopefully).


Grant Williams's picture
Grant Williams from Wichita, KS is reading Friday February 3, 2013 - 3:07pm

I enjoyed this story. I would have liked to spend more than 4000 words with all the character and getting into the Dirg.  Well done. 

Ethan Cooper's picture
Ethan Cooper from Longview, TX is reading The Kill Room, Heart-Shaped Box, Dr. Sleep February 5, 2013 - 11:37am

Thank you for your kind words. I totally want to find out what happens next as well.

Jonathan Riley's picture
Jonathan Riley from Memphis, Tennessee is reading Flashover by Gordon Highland February 3, 2013 - 3:42pm

I really loved this story. It was SAWII (before the series got shitty) meets Cube ( a well done film-student flick, despite shitty acting) plus it had the style and flow of your story about the Mym I read.(That was you right?)

I had no problem using the word glitch in the dialouge. I actually quite liked it. I can see where it may have been confusing when you used it in the narative, but it didn't bother me.

I loved the way you formatted this thing. How the hell did you do that? From the pentagons spacers to the cover page. The format actually increased my reading pleasure.

The switching p.o.v's was extremely affective. It added to the suspense and I enjoyed seeing the room through the eyes of each character.

Spoiler Allert

My only problem is that you did such a great job humanizing the characters that I have a hard time buying your payoff. I like that you went with a twist ending here but you did so good building it up, that I just can't believe it. You described three "human like deaths" If these woman were infact androids they would had known the game was over after the first one had her face smashed in, wouldn't android parts be flung arround?

 A suggestion could be that they were all Human with minor anomalies. The one character's anamoly could be her beauty. Perfection is in itself an anomaly. It could be the androids who are pitting them against each other and betting, and your character at the end could be "Human" or "a sympathetic android."

I also would have had no problem if you ended it with Coda and Tril about to face-off, though that may piss alot of people off.

All that said, I thouroughly enjoyed reading this and would had actually read on for 20 more pages if it had kept going.

Nice Work!!!


Ethan Cooper's picture
Ethan Cooper from Longview, TX is reading The Kill Room, Heart-Shaped Box, Dr. Sleep February 5, 2013 - 11:58am

Thanks! I look forward to reading your submission as well (and yes, Mym was mine). I still need to see Cube.

I like to write with the same formatting as the end product for some reason. That's why I have the 6"x9" pages, line spacing, and cover in there. I'm a sucker for logos, and I create them for all my stories. They inspire me on my desktop background while I'm writing. I write using MS Word, and drew the graphic in Paint Shop Pro 8 (yes, it's very old). The pentagons we're done in Word as well, and I thought it might be interesting to color them in as the body count rose.

I realized early on, a good way to hide the anomaly's identity was to make sure the reader didn't suspect the main character. That means I had to hide the main character(s). Thus, the shifting views.

I do agree with you about the ending. In my mind, I always knew that these androids had to be so human-like, that even wounded, they had to appear human. That's part of the game, since with each death, you may not be sure if you killed the anomaly. I figured the androids were composed of small machines that weren't immediately detectable by casual glance. I didn't explain that in the story. I'm working through another draft, so I may be able to squeak that in there. Maybe that will help...

Originally, I was going to have them face off, and it's quite possible that's a better ending. I'm not sure! I swore to myself I was going to give the reader a happy ending this time (unlike that Mym debacle...).

Thank you so much for your comments and suggestions.

Ivan Smith's picture
Ivan Smith from Melbourne, Australia is reading The back of a packet of potato chips February 4, 2013 - 2:30am


Interesting idea, the form was interesting and the writing was really sharp.

But, I found the characters annoying. Sorry, I don't mean to sound harsh, but homicidal action babes, whose only motivations, as far as the reader can tell, are either to kill or to make out with each other? I've seen that movie before.

What was really interesting for me was the idea that they had been imprisoned, and that they had to choose between killing each other or losing their own lives. The tension and the psychology of that is more interesting than gratuitous gore-fests. But, whatever floats your boat.

And maybe the timer could have worked it's way down a little more evenly. 8 minutes of fighting, and then we lose 40-something minutes before something else happens. One character is spending that time feeling shy, what is the other one doing? Trying to find a way out, maybe, or anything?

Still, I liked the idea of the two places, and the use of the word glitch was cool, especially after the "easter-egg" was revealed

Ethan Cooper's picture
Ethan Cooper from Longview, TX is reading The Kill Room, Heart-Shaped Box, Dr. Sleep February 5, 2013 - 12:11pm

Thank you very much for taking the time to read and make suggestions. I'm working on my next version, keeping your comments in mind.

I agree with you. I really felt like I had very little time to focus on anything for too long, and the game itself especially. I probably could have spent the whole story focusing on the game. I'm going to have to figure out how to get through the following elements more efficiently:

1. Introduce characters
2. Introduce game
3. Play game
4. Reveal anomaly
5. Explain what was going on and end story (on a happy note)

I had a suggestion to reduce the timer to 20-30 minutes, so at the very least they're not sitting around doing nothing.

Your feedback is very much appreciated!

Paper_Junkie's picture
Paper_Junkie from MN is reading A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again February 5, 2013 - 1:35pm

I am wondering why they all had to be girls- it seemed to me a little like a sick male fantasy, especailly with the two girls who made out, but maybe that's what you were going for?  I did think it was well written, and I liked the multiple POV.  I'm not sure how Mordant died.  Also- if only one is left, does she really win, or do they all die anyway?

Ethan Cooper's picture
Ethan Cooper from Longview, TX is reading The Kill Room, Heart-Shaped Box, Dr. Sleep February 5, 2013 - 3:43pm

Thank you for reading my story.

They're all the same sex simply to remove that being used as an argument as to who's the anomaly. I originally had one male in there, but realized it would confuse things (for this particular game). I do think the story would have been pretty similar with all men. Also, I wanted the content to be more evenly matched from a purely physical perspective. The story isn't meant to be titilating at all, and I really do hope that Coda comforting Trill in the last few minutes of their lives isn't seen as something cheap. I think a simple hug would have worked too, but it was her last chance to tell her friend how she felt, and she took it.

Mordent died because Jingle ripped a good portion of her throat out. I'll check to make sure that section is clearer for the current revision I'm working on.

You ask a good question about the game. In my mind, the game is different every time. It would be played with any combination of humans and androids and sexes from Dirge. It really isn't a game you can win. I imagine that people betting on the game wager on all sorts of things--who dies first, who the survivors are, how many survivors will there be, who kills whom--pretty much anything you can think of.

I hope none of this sounds defensive; I'm open to all feedback on my story, and I'm pondering your impressions along with everything else.

Paper_Junkie's picture
Paper_Junkie from MN is reading A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again February 6, 2013 - 1:53pm

No- it doesn't sound defensive at all, thanks for answering my questions! 

Sound's picture
Sound from Azusa, CA is reading Greener Pastures by Michael Wehunt February 5, 2013 - 1:57pm

This was really well written, Ethan. My big qualm with it was that it was a little too condensed for my taste in the first 8-9 pages. We were introduced to quite a few characters in those first few pages, and at times I had a hard time following who was who. I think this is due to the fact that it has to be under that 4K limit, as I have no doubt that you have the skill to write this into a much longer, great piece. Very expertly written.


Ethan Cooper's picture
Ethan Cooper from Longview, TX is reading The Kill Room, Heart-Shaped Box, Dr. Sleep February 5, 2013 - 3:47pm

Thanks for taking the time to read it!

I totally agree with you. This thing is extremely lean thanks to the word count limit. I considered many times reducing the number of characters to 3, but that always ended up being a story I wasn't as thrilled with. I do think it cries out to be longer. It's a challenge to know how long your story is going to be when you start. This one definitely should be longer.

mattymillard's picture
mattymillard from Wolverhampton, England is reading Curse of the Wolf Girl - Martin Millar February 6, 2013 - 11:36am


I really enjoyed this and thought the concept was interesting and original. The relationships, threats and insecurities between the characters were believable and I liked the unexpected ending.

In terms of potential improvements, I had to re read the introductions to characters to remember who was who, and also the ending - it confused me a little the first time. Id assume that this partly due to having to keep things concise due to the word count. Another minor point was that I didn't like the word glitch!

Great story though, with a satisfying ending! Would love to read a version which was just a touch longer. Well done.


Ethan Cooper's picture
Ethan Cooper from Longview, TX is reading The Kill Room, Heart-Shaped Box, Dr. Sleep February 22, 2013 - 4:16pm

Thank you very much for reading and for your comments. I really appreciate the feedback!

Indeed, the word count limit was constant in my mind, and it is really clear the story I wanted to tell would benefit from the lifting of that restriction.

I hear everybody loud and clear on the word glitch. :) Next time: real swear words, I promise.

klahol's picture
klahol from Stockholm, Sweden is reading Black Moon February 20, 2013 - 6:35am

I read your story long ago, and was certain I'd given you my heartfelt thumbs up and a review. Lucky I swung by to check that I had. 

I really liked the story, I must admit i felt a little bit cheated on the reveal that noone was the anomaly (or they all were). Subjectively, I would have preferred it if the takeaway was somehow linked to the fact that none of us are perfect, we are all flawed. 

But overall, great work. As a graphic designer, I really found a guilty pleasure in your innovative formatting. I am grudgingly adhering to the boring guidleines for submission formatting. 

Nicely done! 


Ethan Cooper's picture
Ethan Cooper from Longview, TX is reading The Kill Room, Heart-Shaped Box, Dr. Sleep February 22, 2013 - 4:26pm

I do agree on the ending with you. My original idea was to have Coda or Trill be the anomaly. I really was going to deal with the decision of friends being forced to decide how far they would go in the game (sacrifice or survival). As I wrote, my muse told me she had a different ending I had to write. While this is happy enough, it do feel it pulls its final punch.

For some reason, I like writing in a end-presentation format. Makes it more epic or something like that. One of the links in the Teleport Us thread pointed out that it's easier to spot mistakes in Courier, so I'm considering writing my normal way, then converting to Courier for editing/submissions.

Thanks for your feedback!

klahol's picture
klahol from Stockholm, Sweden is reading Black Moon February 22, 2013 - 4:57pm

I hear you about the formatting. Ideally, I'd like a word processor that looked like a well-worn, slightly yellowed and creased paperback, where you would turn the pages and design the cover. 

To put your story into a context that you recognize to see if it works. 

My apartment is filled with sci-fi paperbacks, most of them bearing the unmistakable scars of having been read in the tub. 

THe formatting guidelines, which I followed, seems strangely antiquated to me. You're supposed to use a single space font and double spacing for easy editing, and by editing is meant printing the thing on paper and using a pencil. Who even does that anymore? 


Juice Ica's picture
Juice Ica from Rhode Island is reading The Twelve by Justin Cronin & Beautiful Creatures February 20, 2013 - 1:54pm

I liked this story quite a bit. Its well written and beautifully formatted! I liked the use of "glitch" as a swear word, it really didnt confuse me in the least and flowed nicely in the ways that you used it. I didnt even care that they were all femals and the final two made out at the end. That all made sense to me in terms of keeping things easy to understand.

I'll admit that Im a sucker for an UNhappy ending. I was a bit disappointed by the end, I thought that when Coda woke up it would be revealed that she was the anomaly and let Trill die...or something. Or they both died at the end and that was it. I get that you were going for a happy ending and I totally understand the impulse (I seem to only write bummer endings myself) so this is probably just a personal prefernce. Overall I really enjoyed this story and I'll admit I was sad when it was all over. Big thumbs up, well done!

Ethan Cooper's picture
Ethan Cooper from Longview, TX is reading The Kill Room, Heart-Shaped Box, Dr. Sleep February 22, 2013 - 4:36pm

I really appreciate your comments--especially in regards to clarity. Me and my editor went over this quite a bit (and probably still didn't get it all right). I really asked myself What is the absolute minimum I can get away with and still make this coherent? I had to cut 10% of my original away to fit it under the 4k limit, so it's pretty lean.

As far as endings go, I right there with you. If you want to read a story with a more traditional "Ethan Cooper" ending, you can try this one from Scare Us. This one time, my muse demanded something different from me, and I gave in. I do think that the current ending doesn't hammer my points home as hard as it should.


Lisa Farr's picture
Lisa Farr from Northern California is reading Dan Silva February 22, 2013 - 2:44pm

Interesting premise, a philiosophical question science fiction writers often explore.  What makes us human?  How can we tell?  In the end, does it matter?  Reminded me of the replicants in "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep".

You did a great job sketching the different ways humanity can be defined, the slippery slopes we face as technology advances.  I, like some other readers, was turned off by the gore and the hot chicks making out.  I don't think the story needs them to be interesting.  You've got a great foundation and characters if you go deeper with them rather than for the obvious payoffs.

Ethan Cooper's picture
Ethan Cooper from Longview, TX is reading The Kill Room, Heart-Shaped Box, Dr. Sleep February 25, 2013 - 1:08pm

Thank you so much for your comments. I do feel this story only gets to do exactly what you describe: sketch the ideas, only briefly addressing the issues.

I do have a question about the relationship. I really feel like I didn't succeed in selling it if it's merely coming off as a cheap ploy to some readers. My intent for this interaction--comfort during death--was that it made them a little more "human." Did it really come off as exploitation? Given the exploitative nature of the game itself, I do understand if it did. Is it purely that this involves two girls? Does it work better if it's guy/guy? Or guy/girl? I didn't really go into a ton of appearance description--Coda is detailed only by the opinions of others--so does this work better if Trill's presented as unattractive? (I don't think I describe her one way or the other.) I'm considering how best to improve this aspect of the story.

Thank you again for your input. I really appreciate it.

Adam Jenkins's picture
Adam Jenkins from Bracknell, England is reading RCX Magazine (Issue 1 coming soon) February 27, 2013 - 7:46am

I really liked this – it’s a great idea, and I liked that you went for a thriller/horror angle which having read quite a number of stories on here, felt fresh.  The characters were good, though of course a few we don’t spent time with for long, and the relationship between Coda and Trill didn’t feel forced or male-fantasy based.  I felt like you missed the target a little on the ending, but only just.  It’s a nice last image, but the promise of revolution feels a little Hunger Games.  Everything else I thought you nailed pretty impressively.  The pacing is good, the survival angle was realistic, and nothing felt out of place in the context of the world you created.  I’d certainly be keen to read the story once it reaches the natural length.

Ethan Cooper's picture
Ethan Cooper from Longview, TX is reading The Kill Room, Heart-Shaped Box, Dr. Sleep March 26, 2013 - 8:45pm

That ending...yeah. I'm reevaluating that based on the comments. It is the ending I wanted, but perhaps I was really trying to force something happier into the story. It is possible it works better in a longer story--where the journey to get there is longer.

I appreciate your comments. Thank you for reading my story.

SamaLamaWama's picture
SamaLamaWama from Dallas is reading Something Wicked This Way Comes February 28, 2013 - 11:00am

Great story! I too got the Saw/Cube feel from it. The characters were unique--great job with that btw--but even so, I had a hard time following who was who. I don't think there's a real solution to that problem other than spending more time with each character and then you slam right into that 4k limit.

I liked the concept that they were all women. Men are always the ones who are pitted against one another. I liked the kiss and didn't find it gratuitous. I would have liked a little more response from Coda though. For her just to go along with the kiss wasn't the sexy payoff I think you were looking for. 

I thought the ending was a little too convenient. But overall, it was a very inventive and entertaining read. I enjoyed reading it, thanks for sharing. ~Sam   

Ethan Cooper's picture
Ethan Cooper from Longview, TX is reading The Kill Room, Heart-Shaped Box, Dr. Sleep March 26, 2013 - 9:22pm

2nd attempt at a reply thanks to the back button on my browser...grrr.

I appreciate your comments on Coda. Really, she's too passive--especially for a "main" character. She doesn't really do much other than be Trill's security blanket. In any sort of expansion of this story, she would take a more central role--especially in defense of Trill.

I think you're the first to comment that the kiss wasn't as sexy as it could have been. It was intended to be a comforting action, without any overt commentary from me on orientation. A kiss can be just a kiss (perhaps only from Coda's perspective in this case). Opinions on this element range across the spectrum, and I'm okay with that.

Thank you so much for reading and taking the time to let me know your thoughts.

C Patrick Neagle's picture
C Patrick Neagle from Portland, Oregon is reading words, words, words March 2, 2013 - 3:45am

If this story had ended on pg 17, it would have been darned near perfect. The pacing was great, the characters were varied and interesting (although, I'll admit, that when I started reading about Jingle, all I could think was Omaha the Cat Dancer--heh), and the writing was nicely polished. My only issue in the first 17 pages was that it seemed very much like a condensed version of Cube, and that the all-girl cast did make it a wee bit Sucker Punch-like exploitive.

Then comes the end. It seems, of course, like the prologue to something longer, which is fine, of course, but muffles the power of the short story form. Even if it ended as Key looks at them dying with that tear in her eye, hating the men of Aria for making her work this game, that would have had some power. It's letting them live, unfortunately, that hurts the piece. We writers create these wonderful, varied, living, breathing people, and then it's our job to do horrible, horrible things to them, all so that our readers can see what it means to be (and to feel) human. Don't shy away from the horror, no matter how much we the readers and you the author care about your creations--because at least they met the horror with love.

However, I did very much like those first 17 pages, so despite my reservations, thumbs up. :-)

Oh, also: Um, who was the anomaly (other than Key)? For it to be a game, there must be at least the possibility of a winner (as is intimated by Key saying that sometimes humans played). Thus, one of them did have to be different than the others in some game-related way.

Oh(2): When Coda doesn't know how to feel about Trill's "profession" I can't help but wonder what her profession is. Perhaps 'confession,' instead.

PS (post-reading the comments, above): I like Jonathan Riley's comment above about ending it with Trill and Coda facing off. Beautiful. Meanwhile, I had no issue with 'glitch' (but you might have changed that by the time I read this version). I also like the idea that Coda was, indeed, the anomaly because she's human--and the others aren't (not sure anyone actually proposed that, but the idea came from somewhere while I was reading comments). As far as the all-female cast, I don't think it's particularly better or worse than an all-male cast, but it might be better if the gamblers from Aria were emphasized for being male--thus 'justifying' the choice and giving Key another reason to hate them. Or flip it and make it an all-male cast and an all-female gamblers (I did something like this in one of my own favorite short stories) who are exploiting the boys for gore.


The Human Argument

Chacron's picture
Chacron from England, South Coast is reading Fool's Assassin by Robin Hobb March 8, 2013 - 3:09pm

I read this a week ago and wasn't quite sure how to review it then didn't get time all week to get back here. Rather than have another look at the story I'm going to go on what I remember, as I'll probably write a better review if I concentrate on what stayed with me.

**SPOILERS, if you haven't read the story yet go no further**

Writing in the present tense was a good move. This story is very action oriented, in this case action means violence, I've no problem with that where it's appropriate and the idea you've had matched a constant 'action' narrative well. You kept it very to the point and I don't feel there were words wasted here.

The violence reached a level where I was almost laughing at how daft it was but I feel like that fitted to. I briefly skimmed through other people's reviews and saw someone call your characters 'action babes' or something similar, but I felt like half the point of the story is that we don't know much about them or really give a shit about them, the pleasure of reading this is in the violence, rather like a grindhouse movie, but through all the gorefest and expendable characters you've managed to make a point about the dystopia involved: people fighting a set of rules and an oppressive system can sometimes win.

Like Ian Rennie said in the first review, I wasn't wild about 'glitch' as a swearword, I'm one of those non-apologists who usually sticks to 'If you feel like saying fuck then say fuck' but at the end I think I got the idea of why you went for 'glitch,' it's an indication that these characters are all robotic/non human (have I remembered that right?)

The idea that two lovers can win a contest only one is supposed to win smacks a lot of a rather well known book I read last year (I won't say which as that's a massive spoiler to anyone who might read it, PM me if you're interested in my source there) and I have to admit I'm thinking the same thing here as I did a year ago: there might have been more potential in only one of them winning. The lost love as part of the ending is somehow more powerful than the love surviving. I get the idea that there's more potential if a character survives, but in this story I'd rather just have the one winner as was promised right from the start.

Liked the pentagons filling in as the story went on. Not seen that done before, although I've seen the time countdown thing before and I remember using it myself in a story a few years back. I would actually scrap that here as the countdown moves on very quickly, to me that's a technique that belongs in a longer story where you draw it out more (I got it from Stephen King's 'Running Man' although there are many examples I'm sure.) The countdown with the five pentagons is good enough on its own, and it feels like your own idea.

dufrescm's picture
dufrescm from Wisconsin is reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep March 13, 2013 - 8:25am

Ethan -

Wow! Good story and very professional presentation. :)  


I liked the format, and the concept. Both are interesting and well-handled. My only complaint with the format was adding in Key at the end. She feels unnecessary. Personally, I don't need to know why they played the game or who they played it for - my imagination fills in those details. I'm more interested in the story of the 5 players and how they react to their situation. Think of the movie "Cube" (if you've seen it - if not, rent it! it's well worth the time!) - it's got a similar predicament (strangers locked in a strange place and forced to either cooperate or kill each other). We never find out who put them there or why, and it doesn't matter. The story is an exploration of humanity under stress, and it handles that beautifully. That's how this story started out. But with Key and the ending tacked on, it ended up being about underdogs and oppression and "circus", and I think that weakened the impact of the rest of the story.  

I really like your twist on this trope - the addition of cybernetics to question how much of our "original" bodies we can lose before we are no longer human. Also the question of what makes us "human" - our bodies or our actions?  Both of these are very intense philosophical questions, and you explored them fairly well in the short space.  

Personally, I would have liked to see more interaction between the "fems". I think Mordent's eruption should take longer - she should simmer more. After all, you've got 20 minutes, and the game is more or less over after only 8 minutes.  I think you could play up the dramatic tension by drawing things out longer, spending more time with each player trying to figure out who doesn't belong, etc.  I think that the three murders come on too fast - Mordent, Finn and Jingle take too easily to the idea of murdering each other. I get it from Mordent - she's a bit of a psychopath. But Finn is ex-military (or current maybe), and more restrained. And Jingle is just a club kid.  Her cat DNA can play a part (instincts and all), but she relishes the act too much compared to what we learned of her in the beginning.


Good writing and happy revising!


Jonathan Riley's picture
Jonathan Riley from Memphis, Tennessee is reading Flashover by Gordon Highland March 13, 2013 - 12:57pm

Ha, Ha, I mentioned Cube first. He hasn't seen it yet lol. Good call though. Great minds think alike.

dufrescm's picture
dufrescm from Wisconsin is reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep March 13, 2013 - 1:34pm

Lol!  I never read the other reviews. I don't think it hurts to re-state something that's been already said, and I don't want other opinions to skew my review. I should skim them afterward though.. :D

Ethan Cooper's picture
Ethan Cooper from Longview, TX is reading The Kill Room, Heart-Shaped Box, Dr. Sleep March 26, 2013 - 9:38pm

I do solemnly swear that I will watch Cube and fill the Cube-shaped hole in my pop-culture awareness!

courtshipofthemonsters's picture
courtshipofthem... from Seattle, Washington is reading Mansfield Park by Jane Austen March 22, 2013 - 1:58pm

I have to say, I was excited just reading the synopsis. What a cool idea! I liked the characters a lot and the alternating POVs, it had me analyzing and wondering who the anomaly was. It was nice to get into the head of all the characters in the game and added to the suspense. I was a little confused by who was who at first, but the color-coding really did help. Some parts to me did feel a little male-fantasy-ish, but maybe it's just because I can't relate. I'll admit, I was also a little disappointed by the ending- I really wanted to know who the anomaly was since I had spent all that time trying to guess! But, the twist was interesting. Anyway, nothing no one else hasn't already said. Thanks for sharing, this was a fun read and I adored the formatting you used!

Maria Stanislav's picture
Maria Stanislav from the UK is reading ALL the submissions! March 26, 2013 - 10:00am

I think this is the most action-packed piece I've read in this challenge. The pacing was great. Juggling five protagonists is definitely a tricky task, but I think you pulled it off near-perfectly (I didn't get any women confused for more than a few seconds, once, and even then it was more about remembering the names). You made me feel and fear for the participants on a very real level, with just a few paragraphs' introduction of each. And yes, the formatting was inspired!

This story would also translate excellently to comic-book media, I feel. There are great visuals there, and one could really ramp up the tension with the right use of sequential art.

My only minor gripe is the ending. Not the plot - I was glad to see the two survive - but the speed at which things wrapped up. Even if this is the most that Key can tell Coda and Trill before kicking them out (the limited time is understandable), I would've liked to see more of their reaction to the situation - whether it's continued shell-shock, confusion, a decision reached, or even that feeling of being truly alive that you spoke of, elaborated upon. I've felt with them throughout the length of the story - I want to feel with them at the end of it, as well.

Thumbs-up from me on this, well done!

Liam Hogan's picture
Liam Hogan from Earth is reading Hugo Nominations April 26, 2013 - 11:08am

Hi Ethan,

Congrats on winning an author review - and I'm also playing catchup on any winning entries I didn't get to read! (Last one!)

Admirably ambitious, to do a five viewpoint short story! But that pulls us in, even though there's some familiarity with the voices that you could mix up a bit. (A couple of them run through inventories in a way that is overly similar). None of the POV are quite inside any of their heads (no swearing, no dramatic confusion). So you could take it further, perhaps.

Was a bit confused that Fin had glasses - it seems as though she would have a less old-school fix for any eyesight issues!

I like the setup, genetic mods, mutations, prosthetics, perfection, and ermm, volcano. (Plus prosthetic extra eye). It would be interesting what would happen with a longer piece, each analysing the humanity of the others. But ultimately, to find that all that is in fact false, is a little anticlimatic/disappointing. And not quite believable. It requires that they don't know they are androids, and kinda not know about androids at all (otherwise would they not suspect one of them of being an android?) And it requires the creepy robo-eye to not be able to tell either, despite apparently being able to do a full DNA analysis. So I wonder if there is another place you can take this to? I'm really not sure where, but still. if you construct it right, it could end in the room, with a promise for the one survivor (which would have to be the anomoly) to take revenge...

Even so, it's a gripping piece, with lots of potential intrigue. Though it does appear a little unfair to include a "volcano" with four normal(ish) others, even if Kitty does take a bite (Kilkenny cats... )

(Like the graphics by the way - I'd suggest putting your shaded five pentagons closer somehow after each death, to make it resonate stronger... )

P.s. Why not make it a 10 minute countdown? Crank up the tension. Not alot happens for 10 of the minutes...

P.P.S Read the other comments, and wonder if you couldn't make it simply a very cruel game - any of the contestants can be deemed the anomaly, so there's always only one survivor. No androids necessary... Bit like Battle Royale. (No actual explanation necessary either, perhaps. Though if you went with that, you might have to make their memories a little darker, that the world they have come from is pretty damned dystopic)



Alastair Reynolds's picture
Alastair Reynolds May 22, 2013 - 2:56am

Hi Ethan

Sorry about not providing some thoughts yet. I've been snowed under with work this week, but have had a look at the story and will give it another read in the next day or so. Thanks for your patience!



Ethan Cooper's picture
Ethan Cooper from Longview, TX is reading The Kill Room, Heart-Shaped Box, Dr. Sleep May 22, 2013 - 8:42am

Absolutely no rush from me! I appreciate you taking the time to read it.

Alastair Reynolds's picture
Alastair Reynolds June 3, 2013 - 8:48am

Hi Ethan and all

Once again, sorry that I've not been faster with this. I was away in France for a week and imagined I'd have more downtime than I did. Thanks for your patience.

Before I kick off, usual preamble - I'll be as honest as I can, but please take on board exactly as much or as little as you wish. This is the last of the five stories I've read and, reservations aside, I've found something to enjoy in them all. Well done to all the writers, and good luck with your future ventures.

Anomaly is a nicely written conundrum with an intriguing setup and a logical development of its central premise. It's always clear what is happening and such quibbles as I might have had were usually resolved within a few lines or paras. On the level of prose I don't think there is much to fault. When the writing is doing its job, as here, it's much harder to say something useful about it than when there are obvious problems of sentence construction, dialogue, viewpoint and so on. I had a clear visual sense of the spatial setup in the room, and when the characters moved around they did so in ways that fitted into my preexisting visualisation of the scene.

I did have issues with a few areas of the story. I'll begin with the least serious (in my opinion), which is simply that there's quite a lot of the story already passed before we get to the critical and interesting part of the message on the wall. Up until that point it's intriguing while not really being gripping. But from then on we have a strong urge to find out what happens next. I think this development needs to happen a bit earlier, or (alternatively) the stuff that happens after the message needs to be expanded a bit.

A more serious issue, I'd argue, lies in the narrative structure of the story, with the shifting viewpoints. Because we're never in the head of any one character for more than a few hundred words, we simply don't have time to begin to care about their fates. It's fine in the context of a novel to hop between multiple viewpoints, sometimes within the frame of a chapter, but in the novel you'll have likely invested thousands of words before you shift into another head. It's a very rare short story that goes into more than viewpoint character, and it's rarer still to find one that does that and retains a strong emotional punch. I know that retaining a single viewpoint would make the story difficult to tell, but this may be a case of the wrong story for the medium. You *can* get away with it, if the prose really sizzles and the individual voices really lift off the page, but that's a serious uphill struggle. Maybe think in terms of story ideas that only demand a single viewpoint, and leave the more complicated, multiple-viewpoint concepts for longer works?

My biggest complaint is also related to the second, which is that - as the story approaches its conclusion - we're introduced to another, exterior viewpoint character - Key - who then intervenes to provide the resolution. But it's not really a satisfying conclusion. It feels too pat, too convenient (it also echoes the way Gravidism was resolved) but more than that, I feel that the premise of the story sets up a mystery which is not then delivered upon. Simply telling us that all five of the initial characters turn out to be androids from Aria doesn't really work because until that point we know next to nothing about their external world, so we couldn't care less one way or the other whether or not they have androids in Aria and whether or not the Androids "know" that they're not people. I know that this is a tough one because I'm not offering you an alternative resolution, but as it stands the story really does need a punchier, less easy resolution.

To end on a positive note, I'd go back to the start of my thoughts and reaffirm that the the story is very cleanly written and goes in a nicely developed way from A to B to C. I didn't care for the use of "glitch" as a futuristic cuss word, but I imagine you may have been working under constraints provided by the story guidelines?

Anyway, hope this is useful, and as I said at the start, good luck with your future efforts.







klahol's picture
klahol from Stockholm, Sweden is reading Black Moon June 3, 2013 - 2:25pm

Oh, Alastair, your reviews are dreamy. *sigh*


Ethan Cooper's picture
Ethan Cooper from Longview, TX is reading The Kill Room, Heart-Shaped Box, Dr. Sleep June 15, 2014 - 6:29pm

Alastair, thank you so much for the honest appraisal. I agree with everything you said, and I'm taking it to heart in my writing. I really appreciate it.