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Liam Hogan's picture

Criminal Class

By Liam Hogan in Arrest Us

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Once you have read this story, please make sure you rate it by clicking the thumbs above. Then take a few minutes to give the author a helpful critique! We're all here for fun but let's try to help each other too.

Description

With the UK's jails overcrowded and the new PM's mantra "Tough on Crime. Tough on Criminals", a wet behind the ears diplomat in a god-forsaken Balkan State is offered an interesting solution. How could things possibly go wrong? (Empty file after end of competition)

Comments

Liam Sweeny's picture
Liam Sweeny from Albany, NY is reading Country Hardball June 13, 2014 - 9:34pm

I like the story, Liam.

I think that what could make it better would be stretching it out, making it a longer story. The plot is unique and intricate, and I like your description of Taraz and Burana. Maybe I'm thinking stretching out a few of the narrative parts into scenes, to pace it down a little. You have a lot there, a lot of room to create closer narrative spaces.

Great story. Hope my comments help.

Liam

 

Liam Hogan's picture
Liam Hogan from Earth is reading Hugo Nominations June 14, 2014 - 3:59am

Thanks Liam - first review!

Lets see what other people think. length wise. I'm used to writing even shorter, so 3000 words is quite long for me! And certainly it breaks certain short story "rules" (in terms of span of time, and number of locations) so I'd have to be careful not to stretch the wrong parts.

Cheers,

Liam

Seb's picture
Seb from Thanet, Kent, UK June 14, 2014 - 4:26am

This is great satire, very funny, and almost believable. I really enjoyed this. The only word that stood out was 'klicks', which seemed a bit Hollywood for a British diplomat. Perhaps 'miles' would work better. Cracking story though.

jorjon21's picture
jorjon21 from Wisconsin is reading Shotgun Lovesongs June 14, 2014 - 8:28am

Great story - I enjoyed the flow and the path travelled by the main character.  A solid dark comedy.

Liam Hogan's picture
Liam Hogan from Earth is reading Hugo Nominations June 15, 2014 - 10:54am

Thanks Seb, Jorjon. I think the klicks might have been deliberate, following on from the Hercules and (presumably) military issue trucks, but I'll probably tweak it anyway - payoff too slight.

Devon Robbins's picture
Devon Robbins from Utah is reading The Least Of My Scars by Stephen Graham Jones June 18, 2014 - 8:07am

Hey Liam,

Good story. It was a fun ride. A lot happens really fast, which could confuse some, but it worked for me. If I could make any suggestions it would be to expand a few of the moments with Sergei or Vaskia. I think the pace is good how it is, but I felt like there was a lot of just told information. I would have liked to zoom in a few times and smell the gun powder of the AK while the spent shells bounced of the dirt, feel the pain of Vaskia biting my lip. That sort of thing.

All in all, good job. Good luck.

Liam Hogan's picture
Liam Hogan from Earth is reading Hugo Nominations June 19, 2014 - 4:15pm

Looking forward to getting comments from the person who decided to downvote me. I mean, I ASSUME they're forthcoming. Nobody would downvote you without telling you why, would they? That would sort of negate the point of a peer reviewed forum, right?!

Seriously, I don't mind being downvoted, no one story is likely to be to everyone's taste, but no comment means that downvote is alas of absolutely no use to me...

Liam

Robert VanCleave's picture
Robert VanCleave from The Land of Ice And Snow is reading "Sex Lives of Siamese Twins" by Irving Welsh June 21, 2014 - 3:48pm

The work, though possibly my own undereducation in the fields it concerns, seems very thoroughly researched.  Lots of details and subtle pieces of information give it a very authentic vibe.  You develop a very vivid sense of place, describing a scenary I know little to nothing about with enough detail to visualize it as if I did.  The story itself moved precarious and quickly enough to keep each new scene from being predictable; which worked well for an ending that otherwise might have seemed routine. 

A few scattered grammatical issues caught my eye on the way.  Not frequent enough to cause any serious interruptions to the story.

Sentences like "It was a barren, desolate looking place, clouds ominously rolling in from the hills and mountains behind; a surprisingly large military complex complete with watch towers and high walls dominating the dusty skyline, dwarfing the few haphazardly arranged adobe houses that must have constituted the town back before the military took over."  were a mouthful. 

And one or two instances of words I'm not sure were typos or odd choice of words ("It took a while for his explanation to cut through the remains of my alcoholic fug, but when it did the pieces fell rapidly into place."  Did you mean fugue?  "I’d dropped my bags in the spartan but functional little room with a view."  I could only guess for this one, did you mean sparse?)

My biggest issue was the characters.  I understand it is a short story and there is only so much personality you can create, but the characters felt like interchangeable pawns to fill in a larger plotline.  Cliches like "my trial took forever" don't establish anything the reader wouldn't be able to deduce on their own, nor do they establish any personality behind the voice.  It seems the grand sense of place came at overlooking the people inside it.  In the end it was difficult to care what happened to these human vessels. 

I'll have to read it again before casting a vote, there was alot I did like making it difficult to just chock it all up to "bad". 

Liam Hogan's picture
Liam Hogan from Earth is reading Hugo Nominations June 24, 2014 - 1:47pm

Oh dear, and I thought you might like the gun-toting, drug and women pimping, political machinating Sergei... Guess you went with down vote in the end?

Thanks for the comments regardless, all criticism is useful.

Spartan : suggestive of the ancient Spartans; sternly disciplined and rigorously simple, frugal, or austere. Can't see owt wrong with that...

fug : a hot, stale, or suffocating atmosphere. Hmm,  Possibly not the clearest, (commonest) and changing it to "fog" might work, though if in doubt, a more radical  overhaul is usually prescribed. Definitely not fugue though!

Liam

Aud Fontaine's picture
Aud Fontaine from the mountains is reading Catch-22. Since like, always. June 21, 2014 - 8:50pm

Liam, 

I thoroughly enjoyed this. The opening was a little confusing for me, I lost track of the narrative for a bit so you might want to smooth out the transition but overall this was a very entertaining read. I really liked the kind of dry humor your narrator spoke with. Very British. Very funny. I especially liked the three different phrasings of his crime and how sort of lackadaisical he was about the whole thing. Maybe I just have a weird sense of humor but this story really did make me laugh. The only complaint I have though was I didn't fully understand what his job was exactly and how he'd managed to keep it if he was so incomptetent. Was this part of the joke? Did he just not care? Maybe I just missed something but that whole part was a little off putting and confusing for me. Still liked it though. Keep up the good work.

Aud.

Liam Hogan's picture
Liam Hogan from Earth is reading Hugo Nominations June 24, 2014 - 1:31pm

Thanks Aud. I don't see our narrator as particularly incompetent, just naive. (He's the greenest of the civil service intake when the story starts... and his minor success isn't strictly his...). Unless you think he knew about the contents of his suitcase, in which case the author has slightly failed in his job...

Glad you found it funny, will look at all the advice when the comp comes to an end.

Cheers,

Liam

Aud Fontaine's picture
Aud Fontaine from the mountains is reading Catch-22. Since like, always. June 24, 2014 - 2:40pm

Oh no, you didn't fail. I actually looked back over your story and realized it was my mistake after all. I was really tired when I read this and I guess a few details didn't quite land right in my brain. My new suggestion is to dumb it down for us insomniacs.

Jonathan Riley's picture
Jonathan Riley from Memphis, Tennessee is reading Flashover by Gordon Highland June 23, 2014 - 7:20pm

I really love how this one comes arround full circle. Especially love the final lines. Supurb.

The dry humor is pitch perfect. I agree with Devin that you could show a little more, especially in the scene with Vaskia.

I only noticed one or two grammar errors which seem to have been addressed above. I hate that I can't be more helpful on this one, so I guess I'll just say I really enjoyed this, and don't feel it needs too much work. If anything, since you said this was longer than you are used to writing you may be able to take an eagle eye to it to see if you can find any extraneous words and cut it down until it's even sharper than it already is. Anyway, Kudos. Good Luck.

--JR--

Liam Hogan's picture
Liam Hogan from Earth is reading Hugo Nominations June 24, 2014 - 1:28pm

Cheers - the advantage of a non-linear structure is that EVERY story can be made to come around full circle... :) I think the original was 2000 words, it's probably not going to go down to that again, but I might go through with a fine toothcomb and trim. I like sharp...

Karin Hogan's picture
Karin Hogan June 24, 2014 - 12:54am

"Criminal" - loved it! Quirky way of starting a story.

Guess I'm with others here, narrator is a bit too passive, (things happen to him, his successes and failures are about what other people have done) but a fun ride nonetheless.

 

Adam Jenkins's picture
Adam Jenkins from Bracknell, England is reading RCX Magazine (Issue 1 coming soon) June 24, 2014 - 9:07am

Big thumbs up from me on this one, Liam.

I love the humour here. It’s very British, and reminiscent of the kind of political absurdist comedy we used to do so well. I can see the protagonist being a bit of an Alan B’Stard. Very Yes, Minister type satire.

There were some lines here that I really enjoyed. Your nod to Eurovision did make me chuckle out loud. I also loved, “As you En-glish say – simples!” I’d love to know if any non-Brits get that. I can just see our American friends on the site youtubing Compare The Meerkat. “Wined, dined and sixty-nined with such fierce abandon” was also a great line.

I think it works as it is. It is passive, purely because of the form it is in. It’s a tricky one to decide whether or not to alter it, because I think that dilutes the voice you have (which is great), but would help raise tension, which barely surfaces here. The start reminded me of The Gun Seller by Hugh Laurie, and continuing in the vein would work well. We’d stick with the protagonist as he went through all this, rather than be told about it.

That’s a style choice though, and this does work as it is (in my opinion at least). It may be longer than your usual fare, but this is up there with my favourites in the contest so far. It could definitely be expanded, but I kind of like that rushed feel to it. The pace is frenetic and I like that about it. Nicely done!

Liam Hogan's picture
Liam Hogan from Earth is reading Hugo Nominations June 24, 2014 - 1:24pm

Thanks Adam, lovely feedback!

As others have pointed out as well, a lot happens in this story, (this perhaps then is its real fault, as a short story shouldn't have quite so many locations, so much passage of time...) so it's going to be hard to stay with the protagonist throughout. That would include even more locations, even more periods of time. I kind of wanted to focus on the three trips to Kyzhy... whatever it is called! Haven't read the Gun Seller, will do so, so can't comment about that particular structure. And that would probably stay true even if I spent longer in each, bulking it up to (say) twice it's length. A project for some future date.

I think our narrator is a bit of a Piers Fletcher-Dervish - B'stards sidekick, and maybe Sergei is the B'stard - especially if I could work out a reason for him to stitch up the narrator. (Actually, that might not be so difficult, but I kind of liked the accidental fall as well as a planned one).

Interesting comment about tension. I don't think it is deflated by knowing he's being banged up, but perhaps the accidental fall does come with no premonition. I'll think about ways to ratchet that up.

Cheers again, makes me less bothered about the few downvotes...

Liam

Liam Hogan's picture
Liam Hogan from Earth is reading Hugo Nominations June 27, 2014 - 1:20pm

I've posted a newer version, by the by. Smallish tweaks, mainly, some "quirks" spotted by reviewers removed / altered to be less quirky. It should read smoother now. No more changes due given the comp submission phase is about to end - it is what it is!

 

Grant Williams's picture
Grant Williams from Wichita, KS is reading Hit June 30, 2014 - 6:12am

Liam,

I enjoyed this piece.  It seems to be one of the best thought out or researched crimes in the contest (of the 20 or 30 I've read).  I'm good with the passice MC.  I generally prefer more conversation to keep a story moving, but your environment and character's experience through the environment was more the focus of this piece, so chatting would likely have hurt what you were getting at.  There are a few references that I didn't get, but I got enough of them that the ones I missed didn't hang me up.  Nice work.

Joe P's picture
Joe P from Brainerd, MN is reading John Dies at the End July 3, 2014 - 5:08am

I liked this one quite a bit. You have a solid voice and I can hear your narrator throughout. It's witty and engaging. Your prose are solid and flow very well.
I got a bit confused in the middle. When you start getting into the part of the homophobic shadow foreign minister I got lost. It interrupts a good corruption story like trade disputes interrupted a good Star Wars saga. All the political talk is unnecessary and slows down the narrative. I recommend deletion.
I would have liked to know a little more about your narrator. I get the temptation of hookers, blow and easy money, but at the end we learn he's dabbled in espionage. What's his motivation for that? I think I'd buy it quicker if he displayed some jaded cynicism towards his home country.
I like that we see his inevitable demise coming, like it was obvious to everyone but him. I also love the idea of the hotel and prison being switched and both being equally shitty. Overall, there's just a lot of dark humor and wit wrapped up in some good writing. Keep up the good work!

Liam Hogan's picture
Liam Hogan from Earth is reading Hugo Nominations July 3, 2014 - 5:25am

Hi Joe,

Guess I missed the mark for you a little - our narrator didn't MEAN to dabble in espionage. Like letting slip the sort of secrets that allow someone to be blackmailed, which he did in an aside, the fact that Sergei gives him information he shouldn't have is as much a shock to the narrator when his bag is search as anyone else. Obviously that wasn't quite clear enough for you.

Thanks for reading!

Liam

Hector Acosta's picture
Hector Acosta from Dallas is reading Fletch July 3, 2014 - 8:25am

Liam,

I'll be honest and say that the story didn't end up clicking for me. I loved your set up, and this whole bit:

Her smile was the brightest of searchlights, cutting through my gloomy thoughts, bringing hope where there was none.
“Bizness or...” she faltered as she looked down at the luggage scales, and saw no luggage there, as she looked up for my hand - for my outstretched passport - and once again, saw nothing there.
“Criminal” growled my minder, as he swung both of our arms up onto the ticket counter, the heavy handcuffs clinking against the polished surface.
The check-in girl’s beautiful smile vanished, and I barely had time to shrug before she blanked me completely.

Had me all in with the story. I personally think it's your strongest segement, because it does so much in so little- it encapsulates your MC predicament, gives us a bit of humor, and also shows us some potential confict.

Unfortunately, I'm not sure if there's enough  conflic to drive the story after this. The transitition between your MC being a criminal and then flashing back to his better days was jarring for me, to the point I had to reread a couple of times for me to get he was telling us of his past. From that point on, there's a lot of info dumping, and it was hard for me not to start skimming and trying to get to the point where your MC's life goes down the shitter. Sergei was great and you have a good voice for him, so one suggestion, if you feel like this is important to your story is to start the story with Sergei and your MC talking-don't show us how he's a criminal already.

Your writing is strong througout, but I found a few lines where I thought they were a bit too writerly/purple. Such as:

I slipped back into my dark reverie

I don't know many people who would naturally think like this.

On the other hand, this line kicks ass:

See, even now I can’t get my tongue around that harsh country’s harsh name, that splinter of a splinter of a Balkan state.

I think there needs to be more to this story. If you want this to be a full circle kind of thing such as you have it right now, I'd suggest starting him as a diplomat and escalate from there. Right now, even the reason he ends up going to jail is kind mundane (or you know, as mundane as bribery, drug possession, etc. can be). The conceit of him being straight and narrow and then being corrupted by Sergei is a good one, I just need to see the MC be a more active participant in his story.

Alternatively, I would love to see what you could do with the idea of your MC going to the same prison he helped build. You clearly have an eye for detail, and I think that would be a wonderful setting to play around with.

Hope this helps in some way.

mattymillard's picture
mattymillard from Wolverhampton, England is reading Curse of the Wolf Girl - Martin Millar July 8, 2014 - 5:14am

Hi Liam,

I really enjoyed this - especially the ending. I love it when you get a story which gos full circle, and it's and ironic and very satisfying finish to it.

I thought that there were a few places where the language could be tidied up a little, but it was generally an easy piece to read There are a couple of things I thought could be explained a little better.

I thought that maybe convincing the UK government to house prisoners in Kasakhstan was a little too easy, although going into this more would probably require a longer word limit.

I loved the concept of the ending, but wanted a little more. The narrator seemed to take it all remarkably well! I also found it difficult to believe that Sergei hadn't set him up with the contents of his suitcase. Surely Sergei was smarter than this! I thought that once Sergei had got his password, then the narrator is no longer useful to him so he had him set up. So I guess I just needed a little more clarity on who was the most naieve one - Sergei or the main character!

Overall - a very enjoyable story, with an intriguing plot, great humour and a nice roundness to it. Nice job!

Matty

Liam Hogan's picture
Liam Hogan from Earth is reading Hugo Nominations July 8, 2014 - 6:08am

Cheers Matty, glad you liked it.

Definitely our MC is naive, but whether Sergei is or isn't... I have him currently as genuine; he's all for getting whatever he can from the MC, but does expect the same sort of treatment for the MC as he, as a highly regarded politico, gets in his country. (Diplomatic baggage, etc). But there's definitely scope for a darker interpretation, ideally one the MC never makes but the reader might - and even if it was innocent, the MC's idea that he's going to go work for Sergei afterwards - well, he can dream!

Liam

 

Jay Parekh's picture
Jay Parekh is reading Fight Club July 9, 2014 - 8:04am

Hi Liam,

Read your story. I would have to say in terms of pure writing style it is one of the best stories I have read in this competition. It's quite well crafted and very detailed. Yet your writing style is skillful enough where all the little details don't become an info dump. This just seems to be on a  higher level then alot of the other stuff posted here. If I came across a novel you wrote, I would buy it. 

Having said that, it wasnt perfect (what is?). There were a few typos, one that I remember is page 3, third last line "piss off". There might be a few others like that, but I dont remember at the moment.

Another thing that could have been better was more back and forth dialog between characters to change up the pace, but that's my personal preference. 

 

Oh, and if you could read my story and leave a critique I'd really appreciate it. I read on the "pimp your..." thread that you consider yourself a harsh reviewer. Well I've braced myself for that. So, lets do this. **closes eyes and turns away**

Que sera sera

 

 

 

Liam Hogan's picture
Liam Hogan from Earth is reading Hugo Nominations July 9, 2014 - 9:33am

Thanks Jay, kind words and I may have to hold you to the novel thing - I just have to write one first... (gulp!).

Good spot with the "of/off". Can't imagine how many times I must have let that slip my attention!

I'll get to yours in short order - compiling a list of "to read" while I'm house-sitting for a friend and won't have much else to do! (Well, that and write that novel...)

Liam

madsmaddox's picture
madsmaddox from Berkshire is reading Fated July 10, 2014 - 4:22am

Liam,

I hope admin dont rebuke me for the following comment but I found this piece fucking funny! I particularly like the stiff upper lip approach, it is reminiscent of quality British comedy, the narration reminded me of a Ripping Yarns episode called Tompkison's School Days (which is a favourite of mine) and there are echoes of Yes, Minister. Sorry to give tv show comparisons but I can't think of any authors that use comedy like this other than Pratchett or Holt, and your voice is different to theirs.

I honestly can't think of anything constructive or negative to say in critique (there are some bits where you've repeated words but it works with the rhythm), for me this piece reads so well.

Good luck with the contest.

And if the humour wasn't intentional I hope I haven't offended you.

All the best

Mads

Liam Hogan's picture
Liam Hogan from Earth is reading Hugo Nominations July 10, 2014 - 5:42am

Thanks Mads, got into trouble with the Teleport Us last year for writing a piece with humour in it (How very dare you break the speed of light for comic purposes, this is supposed to be Science Fiction!) but humour was definitely intended, and if you were amused by any bits I hadn't thought funny myself I'm big enough to take the credit... ;)

Liam

 

Cmangano's picture
Cmangano from Maine July 10, 2014 - 2:38pm

Great control of language. You packed a lot of information into a comparatively small amount of words and were still able to fully develop the plot and characters. I agree with everyone that you seem to know a lot about what you're writing about, whether that comes from personal interest/knowledge or from extensive research, well done.

YouAreNotASlave's picture
YouAreNotASlave from Birmingham United Kingdom July 11, 2014 - 9:07am

Great story. Brilliant satire of the privatisation/outsourcing of criminal justice, shady government dealings. I liked that the protagonist was openly naive, self-centred etc; you paint the white collar criminal very well. I also inferred strongly that Sergei clearly set him up and the protag was too naive to see it and I liked that. 

Regarding criticism nothing that hasn't been said before: maybe show a bit more than telling, and have more conversations to develop the characters a little. And as much as I wish I'd be surprised to see a jaguar swigging champagne sipping rich kid on the Labour front benches, the way they've been going lately I wouldn't have thought it worthy of comment. Nice political jabs either way though-- and thumbs up

Tom

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading A lot of Brian Evenson July 11, 2014 - 2:22pm

I quite enjoyed this story, thumbs up from me. The wry humor, the attention to detail, it really worked. I felt like you were familiar with the country you wrote about, and the inner political workings between it and the UK. I don't know how much research you did, or if most of it was made up, but either way, it was written with authority. The situation felt real, and very plausible.

Honestly, I'm having a hard time coming up with criticisms. Pretty much everything that happens it told to us, but to me that is inherent to the nature of the story. It is told through the eyes of the main character. So I don't know how much "show, don't tell" applies here.

I also feel like we get more depth from the country than the main character. He is kind of this naive guy, but other than that, I couldn't tell you much about him. I also feel there isn't really much conflict, as he is not aware until the end of what is happening to him. Some attention in these areas could only help an otherwise well-written story, although it's a short one, so I don't think you need to add too much.

Other than that, the writing is polished, the setting is unique, and the tone is spot on. Good stuff. I hope you find some of this helpful in making it even better. Good luck out there.

Liam Hogan's picture
Liam Hogan from Earth is reading Hugo Nominations July 17, 2014 - 4:56am

Thanks for the feedback, peeps! I should clean, I know little about politics, the justice system, or East Europe, and I'm only an expert in this particular country because I made it up (I did of course use some google-mapping to work out roughly where it should be and which cities I could co-opt!). So it's really great that people think this sounds assured.

As for conflict, I'd like to add more, but you can't just sprinkle it on top of an existing story. I'll have to work on it, I guess, so the feedback is all most useful and hopefully it keeps coming!

Liam

kevymetal's picture
kevymetal from Halifax, NS is reading Land of Opportunity: One Family's Quest for the American Dream in the Age of Crack July 18, 2014 - 12:57pm

This is a story I enjoyed reading just for the writing style - to the point where it was irrelevant what was happening, I just enjoyed hearing the narrator's voice. You've got a really strong command of language. This reminds me of Jonathan Franzen's Twenty-Seventh City a bit. I'm actually shocked you had to work to get this to 3000 words because there's so much info packed in there. Good job.

SamaLamaWama's picture
SamaLamaWama from Dallas is reading Something Wicked This Way Comes July 20, 2014 - 5:33pm

Hi Liam, this was a great story. When you think about, nothing really happened as far as present time action except for him getting on a flight, and yet it felt like so many things were happening at once. It had a great Goodfellas feel to it with the charismatic, barely remorseful narrator. Great job. ~Sam 

Liam Hogan's picture
Liam Hogan from Earth is reading Hugo Nominations July 21, 2014 - 1:51am

Thanks Sam, glad you enjoyed it! You're quite right, not much happens on this third trip, the dangers of a non-linear timeline! I could have done this "straight", but it pretty much started in my mind from that check-in desk question, what if there were a third class of traveller, and hopefully, this is the more amusing story shape. Though perhaps I should seed it with more ways that our MC could end up in jail, before he finally does.

RhysWare's picture
RhysWare from Worcester, England is reading The Warriors July 23, 2014 - 12:43pm

Hi Liam

Finally got round to reviewing yours, sorry about the wait!

The story didn't quite catch me. It's certainly an interesting idea, and I was really hoping that something interesting would happen but it seemed not to. I think we're obviously fans of different types of storytelling, and this just felt a little too much tell instead of show. I didn't really see much conflict, it was just a series of things that happened. I've got a couple of small criticisms, but overall the piece just didn't entertain me too much.

Right off the bat the writing seems a little too convoluted. 'she faltered as she looked down at the luggage scales, and saw no luggage there, as she looked up for my hand - for my outstretched passport - and once again, saw nothing there.' This just seemed strange and didn't really flow well.
I am thrown off a little by the repetition of words, like 'stretching the already stretched', and, 'that harsh country's harsh name,' but that's no big thing.
There were a couple of areas where the grammar felt a little off, but, again, no big deal, especially as this is a first-person perspective.

Overall, there wasn't enough conflict for me. The majority of reviewers really rate it though, so it's certainly got a chance! Good luck with it.

Rhys

EdVaughn's picture
EdVaughn from Louisville, Ky is reading a whole bunch of different stuff July 26, 2014 - 9:51am

Hey Liam, I suck at reviewing so sorry if this is short. First, I thought the writing was good. I didn't see any typos or clunky sentences or things that didn't make any sense. Everything was tight. My problem was the story itself. I thought it was brutally dull. Full of exposition with a severe lack of dialogue, and nothing ever really happened. Sorry to sound so harsh but I just don't think it's my type of story is all. 

I think if you replace some of the expanatory aspects of the story, the parts where the main character is telling the reader what happened, with dialogue and more interaction between characters, it'll be less tedious on the reader. This is an example of what I mean. It's just a long expository paragraph without much dialogue. You kind of do this throughout. I would suggest chopping it up a little to speed the story up. 

Occasionally, Sergei drew me aside to talk business. On a shooting range an hour from the Capital, he wanted to know how the policy of relocating prisoners was going down back in the UK, and who the main opponents were. As he blasted another target to confetti (Sergei preferred high calibre weapons, anything less than an AK47 was, he said, a lady’s gun) he joked that perhaps he – or rather, Vaskia and her even more spectacular friends – could win them over, and I agreed, whilst wriggling a finger in my stilling ringing ear, though joking back that he’d need boys just as pretty for his main opponent, the shadow foreign minister. He nodded, thoughtfully as he handed me a loaded shotgun. That was before the press got wind of the story, of course. No-one ever knew who leaked the surprisingly high quality digital photos. In the end, all the charges were dropped, probably as much because it was beginning to look like a homophobic witch hunt as the doubt over the credibility of the evidence, but by then the shadow foreign minister had resigned, the usual “not wanting this to be a distraction” excuse while the leader of the opposition distanced himself from anything that might sully their ‘family values’ stance. It was fortunate indeed for Sergei that the not quite-so-honourable member for Basingstoke’s replacement was more keen on fostering UK/US relations than squabbling over pro or anti European sentiment, and if anything, actually supported the extension of the use of Burana for middle to lower level criminals as well, despite being on the wrong side of the House. Though what a Jaguar-driving champagne-swigging Saville-row suit wearing MP was doing on the Labour front benches was always a bit of a mystery to me. Apparently he’d come into a considerable sum of money - family inheritance, or some such. Truth was, I had other concerns as the scandal played out, such as counting the bricks in the basement cell wall at New Scotland Yard and stealing myself for the next interrogation, so maybe I wasn’t quite so au fait with all that was going on in Whitehall as I should have been at the time.

Overall, the story was a bit uninteresting for me, but the writing was good enough that it deserved a thumbs up.

 

Neil Krolicki's picture
Neil Krolicki from Denver is reading What Suzy & Chuck Tell Him To July 26, 2014 - 12:24pm

Hey Liam,

Think you win points for having the widest scope of any story I’ve read in this competition. There’s been plenty of talk about dark city alleys and rundown warehouses, but I’ll be damned if I’ve seen another one mention ‘Kyzilkyzstan’.  So instantly you had my attention with the ‘international crime’ flavored opening.

Your narrator is distinguished right off as a super intelligent and geo-politically versed guy. He’s got a deep understanding of not just the physical environment, but it’s history and textiles, for god’s sake - so, again, I know from the get-go that the narrator is probably smarter than me, hah.

The flow of the writing is fantastic, not lingering too long in any one place and I think you shrewdly realize there’s only so many tricky foreign words a reader will go along with before they start skimming - the balance is precarious, but I think you pulled it off.  Great overall voice, nice turns of phrase like ‘paint stripper vodka’ and a good sarcastic bend on everything.

My main critique is that the ‘telling vs. showing’ ratio really leans to the ‘telling’ end of the spectrum. As mentioned, you have this ambitiously scaled story with particulars on shadow ministers, UK prisoner politics, war hungry foreign dictators - and to cover all that ground you don’t get to ‘unpack’ very much. While the information is all great, I didn’t have time to ‘ground’ very often. To linger in a scene long enough to really get a feel for these places & characters (outside of your narrator). Maybe you’re ultimately hoping to extrapolate this story into a novel? If so, I hope you’d pump the breaks a touch and dig into some physicality of your scenes: the feel of the grease on the AK-47, the way Sergei licks the corners of his mouth too much - some more ‘showing’ when it applies, please.

A couple ‘rhymey’ phrases that landed funky for me: 

‘pissant patch of parched land’ - ‘earthly and earthy charms’

Super easy fix, but double-spacing this document would be a real help - without paragraph breaks I assumed some sentences would pertain to the former and it took a sec to realize we were actually jumping scenes completely. Like I said, quick formatting fix - pfffft, done.

Really fun read, Liam - thumbs up. Best of luck with this,
NK

Tim Hennessy's picture
Tim Hennessy July 28, 2014 - 12:18am

Liam-


Your story feels like it has much larger legs than space of a 10 page short story. Do you envision this as something longer?
The story itself needs more room to dramatize the events your narrator is explaining. We move from one thing to the next, I never got much of sense of a plot. I know that our main character is a naïve diplomat who gets easily manipulated and framed, but his journey is more exposition heavy than actually dramatized events.

Like the meeting with Sergei, for example, it would better serve the story to have the back and forth negotiations play out so that we can get a sense of the characters and the stakes at hand. Presumably, your main character has some skills to be in his position, exploring more of the nuances of this deal will allow him to be outwitted and not just an out right fool as he comes off. I’m thinking of how Armando Iannucci shows us the foolish and occasional competent sides of his characters in political power.

I do like the narrator’s voice and the tone that you’ve established. You’ve got an interesting set up, like I’ve repeated, you really just need to give yourself the space to explore the scenes more deeply to set up the drama. 

Best, 

Tim 

Bob Pastorella's picture
Bob Pastorella from Groves, Texas is reading murder books trying to stay hip, I'm thinking of you, and you're out there so Say your prayers, Say your prayers, Say your prayers July 28, 2014 - 12:45pm

Thumbs up for me. Wished some of the secondary characters could have been fleshed out just a little more, probably an issue of the word count constraints than anything else. The way you handled the foreigners dialogue was superb, so that was an automatic thumbs up. It pains me to see an otherwise decent tale slaughtered by the authors mishandling of foreign characters English tongue. There's not much more I can add here that others haven't already stated. Good job. 

Josh Zancan's picture
Josh Zancan from Crofton, MD is reading East of Eden by John Steinbeck July 28, 2014 - 1:17pm

Liam,

Really great story.  First and foremost, I love the flow of your writing.  It clicks along very nicely, and has a sort of poetic quality to it - something I think many undervalue.  When the words themselves are so pleasant to read, it allows all the details to just seep in almost without thought and creates a truly immersive experience.

In terms of the story itself, I think you unfolded everything well.  Glancing at previous comments, it seems some might have had an issue with the expositional nature of the story, but that didn't hinder anything for me, because I think your story structure and the way you presented everything was just so well done.  I still didn't realize where the story was going until I was reaching the end and you began to reveal why he was a prisoner.  Hell, at one point I forgot he was a prisoner until you brought it back to that.

I only have one piece of criticism, but it's something minor, regarding the transition in the beginning between the character as a prisoner and the character as a government official.  On one hand you carefully, and skillfully, made the transition between the two.  It was very smooth.  However, I wasn't totally clear at first that the transition occured.  As I read, I had to stop for a moment and get my bearings straight.  A quick re-read of two the preceeding paragraphs sorted it out for me, so it didn't totally knock me off the rails or detract from the story.  Reading it through yet again, it's even more obvious to me what was happening, but I think my initial confusion came from describing the flight.  I wasn't sure if we were seeing the character as a prisoner or an official, because he spoke about both the business trip and his prison sentence.  I don't think anything drastic needs to be done to remedy this - maybe include a more specific detail regarding the time frame.  For instance, "So government business was the reason for my first trip, X years earlier" or something to that effect.  But it's your story and you know better than I do how to best make that adjustment it if you choose to do so.  Of course, my confusion with this could be a me-thing rather than a story issue.  Perhaps it was perfectly clear to other readers.

I know I spent more time in this review talking about one minor critique than I did the positive stuff (everything else, essentially), but I always want to be as clear as possible if I'm going to point out something I saw as a negative.  Overall, I thought this was excellently written and structured.  I don't understand how you don't have a higher upvote percentage.  I've seen stories get upvoted during this contest solely on the fact that it had potential, even though the reviewers themselves said it was nowhere near good/finished (one of the consequences of a workshop/contest hybrid, perhaps), so it's a shame to see something like this be so underrated.  Great work. 

Thanks for the read.

Josh

Liam Hogan's picture
Liam Hogan from Earth is reading Hugo Nominations July 28, 2014 - 2:39pm

Thanks Josh, interesting to hear of your initial confusion, and while as you say it may be clearer (or clear enough) on a re-read, it's always good to see where the hiccups are, as it's damn near impossible to spot them yourself.

Damon Lytton's picture
Damon Lytton from Augusta, Kansas is reading Oxford Time Travel Stories by Connie Willis July 30, 2014 - 8:16pm

Hey Liam,

This wasn't a bad story, but I have a hard time liking it.  There's some good comedy in there and some great descriptions.  However, I found myself wondering when the story proper was gonna start.  You spend the first two-and-a-half pages describing the country, which is good, but it might be a little too much and a bit repetitive.  And then I finally feel like the narrative is going somewhere only for it devolve into quick flashes of debauchery and I never felt like that was going to be the endgame.  I felt like that was a means to an end.  I'd have like to see more clearly defined moments as opposed to the montage style you have here.  Although I did love the irony of the MC being sent to a prison he helped establish as an overflow destination.

Overall I can't dislike it.  It takes a lot for me to downvote and this was too well written for that.  This is a thumbs up for style and the hope that some more substance is injected later.

Damon Lytton

Liam Hogan's picture
Liam Hogan from Earth is reading Hugo Nominations August 1, 2014 - 7:36am

Thanks those who have read and given their thoughts! Glad most of you found it funny - it's perhaps not the most thuggish, and certainly not the most noir, of the submissions, but hey, it's what my febrile imagination choose to come up with.

Couple of comments on overall feedback - thank you for suggesting it was well researched - I;m not sure that's entirely true, but if it sounds convincing, then I've conjured up a plausible fantasy, at least.

As it's not too far over the 3000 word limit, and packs a lot in, a few readers have suggested it could do with being longer. We'll see - I had to do some work to get it over 3000, I'll need to be convinced any added scenes are merited.

Quite a few people have suggested it is more tell than show. I'm not going to disagree, but I do think that it's a wee bit dangerous to take this writerly advice and level it at everything. The truth is, you can't show everything, not in all stories, and you can easily bog a piece down in fully showing stuff that it is background, or moves the piece along. (I'd far rather just tell a little and skip the potentially boring scene...) For example, to have covered the court scenes in this piece would have entirely changed what it is about, and probably wouldn't have made it any the more interesting for it - I'd have to do a lot of work to introduce a handful of new characters who are only in that scene, and a lot of work to keep that in anyway amusing.

Also, as this is a first person piece, and told from the point of view of someone looking back to where they are now, too much showing would have made that viewpoint not work so well. Not that this was the only viewpoint to be used (a few people suggested that they got a bit lost in transition) but for what it is, I reckon the balance of fairly limited dialogue and a fairly large amount of wry back-story telling was about where I wanted it to be. I.e., as I have to tell, keep that telling entertaining. Perhaps I could have left the opposition leader's fall from grace out of it, and just leave it as his indiscretions to Sergei...

The biggest plot hole is perhaps the crime itself, in deciding whether it was accidental, or deliberate. I guess that's the bit I'll want to play around with most. That and, as ever, doing anything as I go along to add a bit of colour and humour.

Though the biggest problem I can see, is finding a natural home for this writing. Not sure where I would ever send it out to after a rewrite! Might have to sit in a bottom draw until that very particular submission call out...

Thanks again, all. See you back here in a year's time. (Fantasy, perhaps? Bewitch-Us? )

Liam