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Aaron Martin's picture

Of Flesh and Steel

By Aaron Martin in Teleport Us

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It's a cutthroat galaxy out there. With their stocks falling, the competition closing in, and their own disgruntled workers conspiring against them, what's a greedy robot manufacturer to do? Downsize? Outsource? Dip into the slush fund to make those pesky union types look the other way? Sure, but that's so 21st century. Why not use your own products to solve the problem?

This is the tale of the hardest working robot assembler (with a pulse) that Ramey Cybertronics ever employed. Oh, and his a dangerous rival, a chirpy robot, a grumpy foreman, a few hundred disgruntled workers, and the nefarious machinations of... well that would be telling.



Phillip McCollum's picture
Phillip McCollum from Southern California is reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks February 24, 2013 - 11:47am

Aaron, this was a fantastic story! Not only was the subject matter entertaining, but you have some excellent writing skills. The dialogue, flow, narrative, character traits... all very well done. You obviously have talent!

I don't really have much in the way of real criticism, so my apologies for that. I just couldn't find anything about the story I didn't like.

Aaron Martin's picture
Aaron Martin from the Pacific Northwest is reading The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson February 24, 2013 - 1:53pm

Thank you Phillip, this is my first time letting anyone read my work so naturally I spent two whole weeks toiling over it before I submitted it. I was hoping it would be a great chance to grow as a writer 'cuz what's the point if nobody ever reads it, eh? Thanks again for taking the time to check out my story!

Joe P's picture
Joe P from Brainerd, MN is reading Pet Sematary February 24, 2013 - 2:32pm

Nice debut!  Your story has a solid sense of place and setting.  A familar location, like a factory floor, makes it easy for the reader's imagination to leap to more fantastic events in the familar setting.  A fun story too.

Something was goofy with the paragraph formatting though.  Or maybe it was something that happened uploading it.  Might want to check on that.  It could make the dialogue easier to distinguish.  Or maybe it's just my machine.

klahol's picture
klahol from Stockholm, Sweden is reading Black Moon February 25, 2013 - 7:28am

This was a triumph. I'm making a note here - huge success. 

Very enjoyable read, and a fresh break with the dystopic dystopias, of which there are a great many (mine included). 

I did kind of get lost a bit with the running to and fro and the pranking at times, but your consistent humor and the believable and likeable characters kept me fascinated throughout. 

Great work! 


Aaron Martin's picture
Aaron Martin from the Pacific Northwest is reading The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson February 25, 2013 - 12:32pm

Joe P, Glad you enjoyed it. I couldn't ask for anything more. About the formatting issues... I'd like to get to the bottom of this but I'm at a loss right now. What I did was set the spacing to 1.5; the doc was created with Microsoft Word 2007. Do you think it was due to the spacing?


Klahol, thank you for reading. I am thrilled to get some positive feedback. I'll admit it was a challenge cramming all the plot I wanted into the 4000 word limit and I bet all that condensing was a factor. This was a far cry from my last story which was 33,000 words / 44 pages. After that experience, (the endless editing... ugh) I definitely prefer to write shorter stories now. 

ArlaneEnalra's picture
ArlaneEnalra from Texas is reading Right now I'm editing . . .. March 9, 2013 - 9:42am

Excellent story!  I liked how you setup a cycle with the robots taking over from the humans only to start producing their cyborgs which might someday be their own replacements.  My biggest complaints with the document have to do with formatting and proof reading.

On the formatting, it looks like you set a first line indent for only some of your paragraphs and not all of them.  There are several potential ways to get around the issue, but the one that I'm most fond of is using "styles".  They allow you to define common formatting for each part of a document and then allow you to change all parts of a document tagged with a given style at the same time.  You probably want to take a look at this video or one of these.  It's definitely worth the time to figure them out!

Other than that, Excellent Work and Keep at it!

Aaron Martin's picture
Aaron Martin from the Pacific Northwest is reading The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson March 12, 2013 - 1:48pm

Thanks for giving it a read and for the advice on formatting. Sounds like I can avoid having to do it manually, which is obviously a plus. I'll check it out!

Adam Jenkins's picture
Adam Jenkins from Bracknell, England is reading RCX Magazine (Issue 1 coming soon) March 10, 2013 - 4:13am

Very enjoyable story.  When I read the first paragraph, I thought you might be going a little over-elaborate on the language, but you don't at all.  Instead it provides a great parallel with the end section - Wednesday 0701.  That we basically follow 33X's transition from being built to being on the factory floor working is very good.  The characters are very good, though for some reason I kept on getting confused between Harmon and Hamm.  My very minor quibbles are that the dialogue can be a bit hard to follow at times, with who is saying what.  The sudden shift from taking lunch in the canteen to a conversation occurring two weeks previously also threw me a little - took me another read to realise it was in the past.  Very minor points though.  This is well written, fun to read, and one of the best stories I've read so far in this contest.

Aaron Martin's picture
Aaron Martin from the Pacific Northwest is reading The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson March 12, 2013 - 1:59pm

Harmon and Hamm... I can see where you'd get confused about the names. I'm sure I read somewhere about avoiding similar names for that very reason. Thank you so much for the critique. This story went through two major revisions and actually ended up a lot different than I intended originally. I had to cut a lot of plot out. In fact I completely scrapped my first draft halfway through when I realized I'd already flown way over the word limit. Anyway, thanks for checking it out. Good to hear that you enjoyed the story!

Linda's picture
Linda from Sweden is reading Fearful Symmetries March 20, 2013 - 11:35am

Well this was certainly interesting. At first, I thought all the technical talk word put me off, but you've baked it into the text almost seamlessly and after the first few paragraphs I didn't even notice anymore. Overall, your prose is very accomplished. I agree with Adam though, it wasn't until halfway through the story I could tell Harmon and Hamm apart. It's no big deal, but it might be worth changing one of the names. I like Harmon as Harmon though, so I would suggest changing Hamm. And likely this is just me being thick, but I didn't really follow what happened at the end. I don't know if you struggled to stay within the word limit for the challenge, but if you revise for other purposes, you might want to consider fleshing out the last few paragraphs a little.

Either way, this is a quirky and fun story, and something of a futuristic take on a classical setting.
Thumbs up, thank you for sharing!

Aaron Martin's picture
Aaron Martin from the Pacific Northwest is reading The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson March 23, 2013 - 9:46am

Hey Linda, glad that you liked it and it's good to have some constructive criticism. I think you're both right and I will definitely change Hamm's name to reduce confusion. Also, I don't blame you for being a bit confused at the end:

<Spoiler> My first few drafts attempted to show an unscrupulous organization that deprives its factory workers of their humanity and eventually leads these greedy superiors toward the same fate. To do this I wanted to introduce a new line of "Superviso-Bots" (cheesy name I know, but it kinda fits) who would gradually replace the white-suited factory managers. Meanwhile, Bossman Hamm would slowly turn into a cyborg, and eventually be unrecognizable. This of made it too long and I had to cut a lot out. On the flipside, watching my word count really helped me cut back on unnecessary prose. Definitely a learning experience! Again, thanks for reading.

Liam Hogan's picture
Liam Hogan from Earth is reading Hugo Nominations March 25, 2013 - 3:03pm

Hi Aaron,

This is a fun one, but it's an unpolished little gem, so bear with me as I throw out a few thoughts. Hope they are of use!

Lets start with the positives - I like "low tech" feel to this - a most un-sophisticated construction line, woefully low productivity rates, pranks, mistakes... Its kind of the opposite to the I-Robot sort of factory we might expect.

I like the bookendings - the repeat of the transformation of raw material to finished product. Makes the story title a sensible one. In all likelihood it would begin as a sheet of pre-made steel than an ingot, and 10 minutes is awfully fast to make the transformation, so you may want to finesse this a little!

It can be tricky working out who is saying what, you could do with "handing over" a bit better. Dowd and Harmon are surnames, so it's initial unclear if Ricky is one of them, by first name - as you have the convention of "engineer dowd" and engineer Harmon, use the same for Ricky (Apprentice if he isn't at engineer level).

Similarly, "logistor" is introduced as a new word after 33x arrives at cubicle 9, so shortcut any doubt by using the two terms together - "Logistor 33x". All of which will make it easier to follow!

"They two were more alike than Harmon wanted to think." - "The" rather than they?

Sentry Droids- I think we want a D23 as well as a D22? Split the actions up by the pair of them? It's all D22 at the moment!

There are some more typo's later on, so do take care as it would be a shame to have them detract from the story. (E.g. "Dowd's hardened mask cracked, ever so much."

Ultimately, it is unclear how come Ricky ends up in 33x which is the bot they processed together the day before. "Similarly, why would Ricky the Logistor do Harmonn the "favour" of liberating him from his bot?

I'd also like to see a trigger point, for the conversion of employees to Logistors - it could even be the recordings of Ricky's failings. (If Hamm is seen to leave and speak to an unknown person that might signal the project?) I'd also like to see something odd that 33x does that reminds Harmonn of Ricky, something he can dismiss, or 33x can explain away.

Other issues include the rapid rate at which Hamm upgrades, the "Dowd never followed him" swiftly followed by encountering him in Cubicle 9, and how/why it is that the pranks start again - if this is because Ricky is seeking revenge, then the fact he is reprogrammed so easily to take out Dowd is a bit much.  Also, "heavy tank-treads" - yet the sentry bots seem twice to have snuck up on their victims... hmm...

In all likelihood you are aware of some of these issues and have difficulty patching them up when the word count is so close to the limit - I'd recommend seeing what you can cut and then doing a clean up (it's funny how the clean up normally adds not removes words!)


Aaron Martin's picture
Aaron Martin from the Pacific Northwest is reading The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson March 30, 2013 - 9:51am

Hey there Liam, I can't thank you enough for such an in-depth critique, especially since many of these issues were not remotely on my radar. As for the interpretation that Ricky was turned into 33X, this was not my intention. The bots are meant to represent totally inorganic entities, while the cyborgs are the titular unwilling products of "flesh and steel" (though it sounds like I need to clarify that distinction better). Now that you mention it, I actually like the idea of the workers being converted into a more "robotic" form (perhaps just the brain, or part of). Oh, and I had to laugh when you mentioned that bit about Sentry Droids sneaking up on people with heavy tank-treads... oops... maybe they're just reaaaally well oiled! Seriously though, thank you for taking the time - I have a lot of work to do, don't I? Hmmm, what would you charge for your editorial services... hypothetically? :)


Liam Hogan's picture
Liam Hogan from Earth is reading Hugo Nominations March 30, 2013 - 11:59pm

Quid pro quo - If you haven't commented on my piece Xenophobe, then doing so would be fair payment... :)

(It doesn't have to be in quite such depth as I usually do, but do feel free to go to town, I'm going to use all comments to get a balance of which direction to pull it into!)



John Joseph Adams's picture
John Joseph Adams from New Jersey May 10, 2013 - 12:45pm

If I’m being totally honest here, had I come across this story in the slush pile I would have rejected it very early on and it was a bit of a slog for me to get through it. I was never really engaged with the story at any point, and I felt no connection to the characters or what was happening to them. The prose on a line by line level is competent, but lacked clarity and specificity at times. I think the biggest problem with the story, though is that it really feels like it could have been written fifty years ago and the all the tropes feel so familiar.

I really apologize for being so negative. I would encourage you, if you intend to keep writing short stories, to read a lot more short fiction, and to maybe focus on current stuff rather than classic stuff.

As to the challenge parameters:

-Explore a utopian/dystopian theme: Between the two, this story is obviously more dystopian, though I’d be disinclined to consider the story fully dystopian myself. If I were editing an anthology, for instance, it would seem to me too slightly relevant to dystopian fiction for inclusion, based on the theme alone.

-Feature a technology that's scientifically plausible: Yes.

-Feature a non-human character: Yes.

Aaron Martin's picture
Aaron Martin from the Pacific Northwest is reading The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson May 16, 2013 - 8:55am

John -

Thanks for giving my story a read. Sorry it was such an unsatisfying slog. I'll admit I struggled with this process and my inexperience came right out on the page, err... screen. If it's any consolation I have no desire to submit my stuff to any serious publication at this point (and the slush piles will be better for it). I entered this contest as more of an exercise than an outlet for what I really want to say as a writer so getting advice, especially from a pro, is far more valuable to me than any contest. That is the real goal here, so I thank you.

- Aaron

John Joseph Adams's picture
John Joseph Adams from New Jersey June 21, 2013 - 3:39pm

Hey Aaron,

No need to apologize; if anyone should apologize, it's me for being so blunt! I'd encourage you to keep trying. It's a long road to publication for most people; it's just a matter of putting the requisite amount of work in. Good luck!