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CKevin's picture


By CKevin in Teleport Us

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A Sys-Tech engineer is tasked with upgrading a powerful computer system designed to take confessions for a galaxy-spanning religious organization. While testing the latest features she discovers disturbing truths about the software. And herself.

Update #3: Latest and hopefully final revision uploaded. The beginning is much cleaner and understandable while the heart of the story arc has been changed considerably to create (I think) a much more coherent narrative. Feel free to fire at will!

P.S. I know you are all busy so I'll go ahead and say sorry about the length (3600). It started out as 4000 with first submission, was edited down to 3200 in initial revision, but the bigger rewrite required some additions to make sense. I think it flows quickly enough to not be tedious and hopefully you'll agree.


scifiwriterguy's picture
scifiwriterguy from Chicago, IL is reading Iscariot by Tosca Lee February 28, 2013 - 7:11pm


I think you have a nice story buried under jargon. The technical language is far too technical. I suspect that many potential readers will find it alienating and distracting. It's clear you know how to code and have brought that experience into your story, however, you've not really done a great job of making it accessible. Also, the story takes a very long time to develop. The first two or three pages nothing of substance happens. The story gains steam once Curtina and a-RGTH start conversing. That's where I "checked in" as a reader.

The confession is a good idea. I liked it. I do think it could have even more emotional punch if what she confesses is more than simple anger. Most of us have a dark secret or two--I'd like for Curtina's to be something more wicked.

I'd suggest thinning the story down by a thousand words or so and start with something dramatic to pull the reader in. Otherwise you'll lose a good number of people before they even arrive at the real purpose of the story.

I'll give you a thumbs up for concept; stipped of some jargon and streamlined, this is a fine story.


CKevin's picture
CKevin from Charleston, SC is reading Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch March 1, 2013 - 11:48am


Thank you for your thoughts. I do have a few comments/questions so I can get the most out of your critique:

1. As to your tautological statement about technical language, I'm actually rather pleased that you think I write code. However, the closest I've ever been to doing so is being 10 and transcribing a page out of a magazine into my Commodore 64 to make a yellow ball bounce across a TV screen. I do work closely with programmers during my day job so I am familiar with the processes they go through and it was in expanding on what they do that I came up with the description of Curtina's interaction with the system. My intent was for it to be technically feasible and coherent and I still hope I achieved that goal.

Unfortunately, it obviously doesn't translate to a general readership as well as I had hoped so here are my questions: What was your primary issue with the technical aspects of the story? Did you feel you were required to have a prior understanding of programming concepts, or were they completely unnecessary to the storyline, or were they simply boring? Or perhaps something else?

2. This follows closely from the questions above: Regarding your recommendation to slash 1000 words, does that number come from estimating the number of words on the first 3 pages before "anything of substance happens" and just starting at a point later in the story, or do you feel there is not enough of a story to stretch to 4000 words? The work drafted to about 6500 words and I had to put much thought into my editing to get it to where it is without destroying the concept I had in my head.

The reason this ties in with the questions in #1 is depending on those answers I can look at either better distributing some of the technical aspects throughout the piece or doing away with them entirely and reworking the entire leadup while still setting the scene and establishing the two character's relationship.

3. I agree the "payoff" confession is a little melodramatic yet not very substantial. To fix it I will still have to keep it centered on anger to keep the narrative intact (i.e. 7 Deadly Sins) but I should be able to find a way to give it more of an impact.

Again, thank you for you time and consideration in reading and commenting on the work.



scifiwriterguy's picture
scifiwriterguy from Chicago, IL is reading Iscariot by Tosca Lee March 1, 2013 - 10:34pm


I'll try to respond to your questions as thoroughly as possible.

1) No, I didn't feel like I needed prerequisite programming experience. After reading through the first four pages again, I think what I see more than anything is a cumbersomeness of style. Some of your descriptions and details are great actually, but the sum whole, the meta-experience, is overwhelming. I enjoy the likes of Vernor Vinge, so I'm not adverse to chunkier, harder sci-fi; the problem isn't conceptual but execution. It’s hard to quantify—the style is a touch too distant, too cool, too removed, too technical. I want some strong Germanic verbs; some guts; some emotion.

From a story standpoint: I want to know what problem Curtina's trying to solve--why is she there? How big a problem is it? What are the stakes? Why does someone who's spent years working on a (sentient?) machine not follow up on her "Who is we?" question?
I want that problem hot and heavy right from the get-go. I want her struggling to fix it and compromising out of frustration--taking guidance from a-RGHT only because she's stuck. I want her as far out on a the tree limb as possible.

2) I think you DO have enough story for 4,000 words, but you need to make each and every one of them count. I like your set-up just fine (the first paragraph is among the strongest in the first 3 pages), but I need to understand the problem Curtina faces and learn a bit more about her. Why is she so reserved? Where does she come from? What makes her unique?

3) I really like the 7-deadly sins motif--it's solid. I would like her confession to have weight and be something more substantive. Something that wrecks her to talk about. She seems so cool--it would be awesome if she was very cool and composed and then finds herself confessing something she's never told anyone; people actually did that when ChatBot was being tested out. They found it therapeutic. You could do something similar. That would make the ending have far more of an edge than it does now.

Last, I feel I was a bit tough on you the last time around. I think this is a fine story; it needs to shed some scales, but overall it's a great, great concept.



Juice Ica's picture
Juice Ica from Rhode Island is reading The Twelve by Justin Cronin & Beautiful Creatures March 5, 2013 - 11:58am

I liked this story, I didnt love it though. The technical jargon at the beginning lost me a few times and I had to start over to fully grasp what was happening. I found the main character really hard to like (which I actually liked, I dont think you always have to like the main characters) but I would love to know more about her (which could be accomplished when you are listing her sins). And I agree with Nathan above that the final sin needs to pack more of a punch to really horrify the reader and make her punishment make more sense (and even make her punishment more severe).

The stuff I loved? I love the 7 Deadly Sins motif, nicely done with that! I also like the idea of a computer listening to confessions and doling out punishment, you created a fascinating concept here, it just needs some tweaking but really, I liked this and I could love it with some work.

I AM giving a thumbs up though becuase the idea/concept is great, the execution isnt quite there yet though.

Fhhakansson's picture
Fhhakansson from Sweden is reading Odd Interlude - Dean Koontz March 6, 2013 - 10:32am

The prose can get a bit too wordy and technical at times. I don't usually mind technical stuff but I found myself reading the opening really slowly to make sure I didn't miss anything - which only made it annoying. I can also see your prose putting off readers who might not be used to this kind of writing. If it was made less technical, and the overall story trimmeded a bit, it would make it more accessible.

Once I got passed the massive wall of technical details, and the unhinged sentences because of all those details, the story really got me hooked. The dialogue where all the sins were confessed, and the ending, made me leave your work with a smile. I also appreciated the little bit of humour found as well ("She craved more reconstituted Koffi Brand Hot and Bold Energy Beverage - Now With Fiber!").

So overall I have to say good job! I enjoyed it a lot.

Wendy Hammer's picture
Wendy Hammer from Indiana is reading One Night in Sixes March 14, 2013 - 12:03pm

I very much enjoyed the melding of technology and religion.  It was interesting and thought provoking.  I also liked the little touches of humor and playfulness throughout (the Koffi--now with Fiber, "sunk elbows and hypothalamus deep", and so on).  The main character pulled me in and I felt nervous for her. 

It took a while to get going for me and I think it is because the beginning is bogged down.  I had a difficult time getting through all the technical jargon.  I was intrigued by it; I really like trying to figure that kind of thing out.  I think it has a place in the story.  It was just too much for me and I think it had something to do with the sentence structure.  Just breaking them up from time to time would have given me a moment of mental breathing space--time to process. 

It was cool enough that I was willing to press on, but I will admit that I was glad when the story relaxed a bit. 

Good story, overall, with a nice shivery ending! 


CKevin's picture
CKevin from Charleston, SC is reading Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch March 14, 2013 - 1:52pm


Thanks for the read-through. I'll make sure to return the favor.

I must say I'm glad you didn't find my story before now. The beginning of the original (submitted) version was a 3 page slog-fest (see Nathan's review above) as opposed to the 1 or so it is now. 

Because I combined a number of sequences from the original beginning to keep some of the important details my rewrite did result in the remaining parts being somewhat dense, especially the non-dialog sections. I was going for a slow, almost boring build-up anyway (to convey what working on the system is like) so I'm not unhappy that it wasn't the easiest read but I have to remember to be careful to balance that with actually getting the reader to invest enough time and attention to get to the much faster paced heart of the story.

You've definitely given me something to think about and thanks again for your comments.


Adam Jenkins's picture
Adam Jenkins from Bracknell, England is reading RCX Magazine (Issue 1 coming soon) March 22, 2013 - 3:25am

I liked this. I skimmed over the more technical aspects (good idea to edit those down), but the heart of the story is a good one. The religious aspects are well done, and I liked the idea of this dispassionate machine taking confession. The punishment is a little severe, but works within this story. My only niggle here is that considering she describes herself as not giving much of herself, she then opens up fully during confession. If that were me, I'd have been making up sins and not confessing my own. That may have been a good way to take it actually, condemned for invented sins. Having said that though, I liked the twist that the sins she has confessed to without fear of consequence has led to such a punishment. Thumbs up.

CKevin's picture
CKevin from Charleston, SC is reading Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch March 25, 2013 - 8:17pm


Sorry for the delay in getting back to you but thank you for the read-through and reply. 

As to your recommendation, I had meant to give the impression that the early confessions were not complete representations of Curtina's self, hence the "wondered if it was true or just inspired," but I do see I abandoned that pretty quickly. I wanted her big confession to be only 'true' one that gives the reader insight into who she actually is and let them decide whether she deserves punishment, regardless of severity. I'll see what I can do to clean that up.


ArlaneEnalra's picture
ArlaneEnalra from Texas is reading Right now I'm editing . . .. March 24, 2013 - 9:32am

Your writing is pretty smooth in this story, but I'm not sure what I think of the story. It sounds very much like the cult has created a machine devil rather than a machine deity. Still, it's an interesting premise. I do think you need to give this one or two more read/edit cycles at some point. If I were on my laptop, I would have better notes for one of those cycles. Unfortunately, I'm on my phone, so the best I can do is to suggest you look over the a-RTGH's responses during the test session. There were one or two where I had to re-read them to get through the text. Nothing big, though.

Good work and Keep at it!

CKevin's picture
CKevin from Charleston, SC is reading Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch March 25, 2013 - 8:16pm

Thank you for your comments. You may have been on your phone but I read you loud and clear.

Your devil vs deity comparison is rather interesting. I had been thinking the machine itself was supposed to be neutral (at least until it decided otherwise) and the judgments it renders are good or evil depending on the observer, but it opens a line of thinking on whether the a-RGTHs creators had some specific motive in mind and whether that motive succeeded or was subverted. This is something I can ponder as an expansion to the work.

Also, I haven't spent much time revising the dialog in the middle of the work that was not specifically affected by my big rewrites so I will make sure to pay close attention to it during my next editing cycle. There's always the struggle between continually tweaking the work and deciding when all of the meat available has been stripped from the bone. I'm not quite to the latter yet so specific examples of what to focus are are greatly appreciated.


Liam Hogan's picture
Liam Hogan from Earth is reading Hugo Nominations March 26, 2013 - 4:37pm

This definitely has a lot of potential, but for me, misses the spot. Generally speaking, the best way to deal with AI that gets religious is with humour, which isn't really presented here, (though it starts in that vein, with the implausibly long brand names and Koffi addiction) and playing it straight leads to a piece which is quite wordy for what it delivers, and possibly isn't self consistant.

The reeling of of the 7 sins is a nice touch, but as the system seems to defend them, it takes an odd slant when it comes to punishment. The fact that the system says it is a random punishment is kind of weird, and slave labour isn't what I would call a religious punishment either. So I struggle to see why it concludes in the way it does - which after all the work setting up, and the fact that in many ways the whole thing is an argument between creator and creation, doesn't ring the right bell.

The going through the versions should deliver more as well - I like the idea of an understanding of the evolution and current state, but still, I want it to explain more to the user. The fact that the programming is done by non-belivers - what if one had converted mid program, before breaking down? Some seed of insanity which leads to there here and now. As it is, she is classed the Mother of God (hence the obscure title I guess?) without it actually being obvious she has done that much more than the preceeding programmers.

You can definitely write, and you have an interesting concept, but for me, that doesn't currently add up to a good tory - it should, and I suspect it will if you work at it, which I fervently hope you do!



CKevin's picture
CKevin from Charleston, SC is reading Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch March 26, 2013 - 7:15pm


While I am disappointed that you didn't find the story to your liking, I really appreciate you taking the time to read and comment, especially since you hit on some of the things that were actually removed for length, clarity, and just plain old bloat.

The work roughed out around 6500 and to get it to submission length I had to decide what to slash. One easy way was to clear out the attempt at satire that just didn't work so what bits of humor you saw in the beginning were the last remnants. Another was a wider explanation of the versions and how they were created, which was one of the parts that came out after complaints of too much technical language.

To me the most critical miss you found was in my muddying of how the confessions made her the "mother of god." There were some small but important passages clarifying this but I stripped them out as clunky without examining how much insight they might provide.

I'm not quite sure where you got that the punishments were random, however. The programmer says they appear random but there is a definite method the machine uses, although it sounds like it needs better explanation. 

Anyway, I could spend all night replying when I should be reading other submissions. I'm going to take one more shot at the piece before the end of the month and you've given me plenty to chew on while I get prepared.

Thanks again.


Liam Hogan's picture
Liam Hogan from Earth is reading Hugo Nominations March 27, 2013 - 3:41am

I'd re-read it again with the humour back in! Forcing a story into a particular length, or theme, inevitably weakens it, it's not the thing it should be, and in this case, it sounds like it was more coherent before the cuts! Hope you get to re-work it, because your writing stlye is clean and strong, and you're not short of an idea or two or three!

C Patrick Neagle's picture
C Patrick Neagle from Portland, Oregon is reading words, words, words March 28, 2013 - 11:12am

I actually started off not caring particularly for this story. Almost completely because I didn't like the name Curtina Smathers--it glared at me (the Smathers part, for some reason). Heh. Also because the sheer time it was taking her to work on this program seemed daunting, though it is an AI, so I suppose a year+ is acceptable for debugging. Some of that became clearer, later. And the last half of the story is why I gave it a thumbs up. The pacing pulled me through nicely and although I expected that ending, I also enjoyed it.

I don't think it needs to be longer, but perhaps a bit tighter for the plotting. You could probably get past even more of the initial setup than you have. Give us even more interaction about the sins.

Good luck. :-)

CKevin's picture
CKevin from Charleston, SC is reading Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch March 28, 2013 - 6:44pm

Alright already! I submit to the will of the people! :-)

Even after my last major reworking the beginning is still giving everyone trouble, so it's time to take out the ax and clear some more of the dead wood getting in the way of the story. I've felt prior to now it was all necessary setup and felt that the density was warranted to set the tone but I get it. It's too much. 

So I'll squeeze it and get as much juice out as possible and leave all of the I going for a fruit metaphor? Sorry.

As for the name, I like to write my first drafts with names as mundane or odd as I can come up with. This way I'm not tempted to try and have a character live up to some awesome name. If I can write a good story with a guy named Dave Smith (which I've never used now that I think about it) then whatever better name he ends up with will be a bonus. I came up with Curtina Smathers specifically because it was unpalatable and ended up rather fond of it so it stayed in. I think it's a good nerdy name.

Thanks for reading and your comments.



scifiwriterguy's picture
scifiwriterguy from Chicago, IL is reading Iscariot by Tosca Lee March 29, 2013 - 3:44pm


I like the new version much more than the last one. You get into the story much quicker, and the sense of there being an issue with the AI comes strong early on. I also like the way you expanded on the seven deadly sins theme. The protagonist's confessions feel FAR more substantial.

One thought: the final line could easily be something along the lines of "Goodbye Caretha Smathers. You will be remembered as the mother of God."

I think that would really deliver an impact, far more than the current final paragraph. Just a thought.

I think you need a touch more tightening, but overall the story is much improved. Good work.


Ben_Sharp's picture
Ben_Sharp from London April 1, 2013 - 1:39pm

Hi! This is cool, love the ending. :) I didn't read earlier versions,so can't compare, but i think the jargon is fine. It embeds the reader in the world. 

Thumbs up from me!