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Ben_Sharp's picture


By Ben_Sharp in Teleport Us

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A phone call from yourself is great right? Except when the yourself that calls is not the yourself that you know, or even one that you like very much. The radiation count is through the roof and your lab grown burger is as tasteless as the globs of the meat-creature it was made from.
The pills will help, they say that the pills help. But then they say a lot of things, and I have never been one to listen...


Jonathan Riley's picture
Jonathan Riley from Memphis, Tennessee is reading Flashover by Gordon Highland February 3, 2013 - 8:01pm



Ben, this was just great. The narrative was extremely well done and the concept and execution were pretty perfect in my book. I had to think about it for a minute. Why would the future him kill the robot in the first place if his life is not so bad. But I assume if you lose your arm and are unable to work and become poor, you’d be desperate to make things change for the better at all costs.

Having Kyra see the screen was brilliant. Plus it oppens up the possibility for an infinite loop that just happens a little bit later in time. I usually find some constructive criticism to offer but I don’t think any suggestions I have could improve this. I may have to think on it.

One tiny typo I noticed on page 2 paragraph 4 sentence 2. Or the second page 8 (actually the 8’s are the only thing I didn’t get) you had the word “the” back to back when you only needed one.Great job. Thanks for sharing!


mattymillard's picture
mattymillard from Wolverhampton, England is reading Curse of the Wolf Girl - Martin Millar February 4, 2013 - 1:31am

Hi Ben!

I really enjoyed this, the plot line was good and the ending unexpected. Only some very minor points I'd mention as it was well written. I thought some of the sentences were too long - commas were used when full stop might have been better and added a little more clarity. I wasn't keen on a couple of the similes you used either, I think one was "like a tiny mollusc" or something along those lines. As I say minor though and possibly just a personal preference! A good read though.


Sound's picture
Sound from Azusa, CA is reading Greener Pastures by Michael Wehunt February 4, 2013 - 9:46am


That was really great stuff. I liked the voice, and all the tidbits of info you tossed in. There was a lot of info, but you dropped it in casually, and so it didn't feel like info dumps. I also liked the concept. It was, at times, confusing with all the he-who-is-not-me, the non-me, etc. But for the most part it was understandable.

Great work!


Ben_Sharp's picture
Ben_Sharp from London February 4, 2013 - 10:36am

Thanks guys! comments very much appreciated! Johnathan, nice spotting on the double 'the', I have removed the offending word. Thanks for reading. :)



Tom Elias's picture
Tom Elias from Maine is reading Everything I can afford or that is within arms' reach. February 4, 2013 - 10:16pm

Ben, this is edgy and disturbing, but I like it.  Check the formatting of sentences using quotes on page one.  Other than that, excellent.  The progression of this guy into a spiral of bizarre behavior, shown as his future self, is interesting.  You manage to pull off this trick without explaining the loop-back method, too, which only heightens the drama as successive transmissions come in.  In the end, I'm left wondering how he managed to transmit at all, and whether or not he should have obeyed himself.

Good work!

ArlaneEnalra's picture
ArlaneEnalra from Texas is reading Right now I'm editing . . .. February 5, 2013 - 3:50pm

This is the first temporal paradox that I've seen in the challenge so far, cool idea.  I like the dark and gritty feel you have when describing the environment around your character.  Where did you come up with that "wave of wierd ..." chunk?  It works well, just had me wondering what the heck was going on.

There were a few things in the formatting that caught my attention.  It looks like you have some hard returns in places where you meant to continue paragraphs.  For instance:

"... if it had always been there.

The I that was he moved from his seat then, ..."

A good way to spot those is to turn on display of non-printing characters.  

Also, it would be a good idea to read through looking for run-on sentences.  For example the paragraph/sentence on the first page: "I was greeted ... " should probably be broken up into at least two sentences or punctuated with ';' not sure which would be better.  There were a few others like that in the story as well.

Good job!


Ben_Sharp's picture
Ben_Sharp from London February 6, 2013 - 1:16pm

Many thanks for the reading/comments. I see what you mean about the formatting, I have taken another pass and fixed it up.


Thanks again, glad you liked it.


Paper_Junkie's picture
Paper_Junkie from MN is reading A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again February 7, 2013 - 12:30pm

I enjoyed this!  You executed your idea pretty well, and I like the "wave of time" concept. 

WonBlackGuy's picture
WonBlackGuy from Tulsa, Oklahoma is reading Between the World and Me February 8, 2013 - 4:00pm

Thoroughly enjoyed this story. Really good work! I dug the concept and the "twist" ending. My only beef is that I felt a few sentences ran a bit long and were somewhat wordy. Sometimes stating things simply works better and helps the reader avoid confusion. Strong story, though. Keep up the good work!

Ethan Cooper's picture
Ethan Cooper from Longview, TX is reading The Kill Room, Heart-Shaped Box, Dr. Sleep February 9, 2013 - 10:14pm

Ah yes, finally some time-based sci-fi in this challenge! Loved your plot. Everything fits, and it all makes sense.

I don't have a ton to add to what everybody else has already said, because it really is a good story. Yes, it needs some grammar work and some polish. Really analyze those sentences and make sure they're clear. Read them out loud and see how they sound. If a listener would get bogged down, then it probably needs revised.

I was a little confused when the time wave was first introduced--but so was the MC, so perhaps that's normal. Still, might want to look at that section to see if anything can be clearer.

I think you story needs a different title. Scrap isn't really what it's about.

I'm not totally cool with how it ends. I mean, why would he wish pain on his future self?--especially considering he'll be that person in a year. The rules of your time-portal aren't detailed out, but maybe he should just remember to remind his past self to lock his door?

I love time paradox stuff. :) You keep writing, and I'll keep reading.

adrenokrome's picture
adrenokrome from United Kingdom is reading Altered Carbon February 11, 2013 - 6:09am

I really enjoyed this, a lot has already been said previously, grammar, style etc, but I think your story has a very good pace and rhythm, a pleasure to read.

WANichols399's picture
WANichols399 from New York is reading In Extremis February 13, 2013 - 10:45am

Dear Ben,

Great finely tuned work.  Your style is very inviting, you want to keep reading,  The Me calling Me concept could be technically confusing but you managed to avoid any of that without being to  wordy-not an easy task. 

Ben_Sharp's picture
Ben_Sharp from London February 13, 2013 - 3:17pm

Thanks guys! Much appreciated. :) I am in the process of taking another look at some of the sentence structure, so will hopefully get a new version up soon. 



SamaLamaWama's picture
SamaLamaWama from Dallas is reading Something Wicked This Way Comes February 14, 2013 - 12:29pm

Unique & Twisted—my favorite combo. Great writing. I loved this guy. You did great work here. The only thing I would suggest is breaking up your paragraphs a little more. If you flip through your pages, they’re all the same 5-10 sentence structure. It helps to break it up with a little white space, so it’s not so uniform. That’s my only suggestion.  

Great Job ~ Sam

klahol's picture
klahol from Stockholm, Sweden is reading Black Moon February 16, 2013 - 3:52am

Great Scott! A temporal paradox! 

Love the tone, love the voice, love the implied dystopia (without actually going there). 

Temporal paradox stories are a real challenge. You pulled it off. As with all good such stories, you managed the elegant way of sidestepping a potential show-stopping plot hole. 

Well played, sir! Solid thumbs up.


JC Piech's picture
JC Piech from England is reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest February 16, 2013 - 9:33am

Excellent stuff!! I can see why this story has been so popular. I loved it. 

I know Ethan questioned why your character would wish pain on his future self, but for me that gave the ending real impact. I completely understand why he would wish pain on his future self - in much the same way as when we do something bad, and we get that self-loathing feeling. I saw it as a bit like a self-harming act, which was made even more possible by the fact that he couldn't relate to his future self as himself. Does that make sense? Haha.

My one nit-pick is: maybe go through it and cut some 'that's. I noticed quite a few unnecessary ones.

Thanks for submitting this! I loved reading it :D

Ben_Sharp's picture
Ben_Sharp from London February 17, 2013 - 3:01am

Thanks! You got it. :)

Hmmm i do seem to have over indulged in 'that' a little. I will cull a few. Thanks for reading/review!



Catherine Christine's picture
Catherine Christine February 19, 2013 - 5:37am

I love the way you use colour to really bring things to life visually for readers, and the subtle humour that somehow mixes so well with such a dark topic. 

I also find the small triumph of good over evil (your current self hoping the future self feels the same pain as his twisted life is set back to a one armed existance) a brilliant way to conclude the story.

It reads brilliantly and you really get drawn in - well done!   :)

C Patrick Neagle's picture
C Patrick Neagle from Portland, Oregon is reading words, words, words February 21, 2013 - 2:33am

I like this concept. I also like that as many questions aren't answered as are (I like a bit of residual mystique in my reads). The 'time wave' idea (a la the *shudder* movie adaptation of  Ray Bradbury's "The Sound of Thunder"?) is a great way to circumvent the paradox of temporal communication.

First, although there's nothing wrong with your lead-in, methinks it would be much more powerful if you jumped right into the protag seeing himself on the vidScreen, something like: "Apparently, I was calling myself. In any case, there I was, staring back at me from the vidScreen" but done, y'know, with the voice you created for your character. That gets the reader's attention right away (and I think I'm focusing on it because I often wait around to grab my reader's interest in my own writings).

The pronouns were difficult, as one would expect. If you can clean them up even more, do, either by always using "I" and "me" (maybe with the add-ons "TV me" and "TV I") or...or...or...well, I'm not sure. There's something glitchy there and it throws me out of the story when I let it.

Although I very much like the android-next-door idea and the way she plays into the story, her appearance may need to be fleshed out more. As it is, the visit feels plugged into the story and as a reader I'm thinking, "Was that just so we could see the meat?" until we discover why we've met Kyra. "Dressed-to-kill" is, of course, very nice.

The protag's 'voice' is nicely ironic/self-deprecating, too. I'd say that even more humor wouldn't hurt the piece any, and would make the horror/humor of the final scene stand out that much more, too.

I enjoyed it.

PS (post-reading of the comments above): I agree with JC's thoughts about the protag wishing harm on himself. For me, it was a perfect ending.

Adam Jenkins's picture
Adam Jenkins from Bracknell, England is reading RCX Magazine (Issue 1 coming soon) February 28, 2013 - 12:22am

This had a really good flow to it.  The language could be simpler, but you weave in some good imagery - the epileptic fly right at the beginning for instance.  It's something I think you'd only get away with in the first person.  I did wonder why Kyra acted the way she does at the end, it's only something seen via the screen, though perhaps she was in long enough to see the future protag on the screen first.  The last couple of paragraphs are a little off in terms of tense I think - "I heard cracking noises" which makes it seem like he's reporting on the past, when that is obviously not possible from the last paragraph.  I thought the line about the arm coming off at the elbow was too much as well.  There doesn't seem to be much in the way of pain coming through.  The protag talks dispassionately about what is going on, and there is little sense that he is in there feeling it as it happens.  I did like that last part.  If that was happening to me I'd feel exactly the same way.

Wendy Hammer's picture
Wendy Hammer from Indiana is reading One Night in Sixes March 27, 2013 - 6:10pm

There was a lot of fun to be had in this story.  I thought the beginning was particularly good. I liked the details and the humor.  The way a lot of your comparisons and the character's observations sort of looped back on themselves fit the paradox theme and were amusing.

One of my favorites was the paragraph about hearing your own voice on the radio.  The echoes and defamiliarization were really solid. I also thought the description of Kyra was cool. I liked how it developed through opposition (not like the loud brutes, not human) and comparison (like the soon-to-be burger meat). 

Sometimes it does tip over a little bit into something too self-conscious. It starts to sound a little awkward or contrived:  "But I digress", maybe some of the phrases like "how in fuckville", etc. Really, though, that's more a matter of taste, I think. I didn't completely dislike it, but it did take me out of the flow of the story.

Overall, I think this is interesting and well written.  A bit of polishing, a bit of trimming, and it will be even better. 

Thumbs up!


Alastair Reynolds's picture
Alastair Reynolds April 25, 2013 - 2:21am

Hi all

This is the second of the four stories I'm going to comment on here (I'm not doing them in strict order) and I'll begin by repeating what I said in the notes to "The Gorund", which is that I'm here to offer honest criticism and (hopefully) one or two useful suggestions. Before I get into that, though, I want to emphasize that it really does take some courage to put a piece of fiction up on the web for all to read and comment on. So congratulations to the writers here, not only for finishing their stories, but for also having the guts to offer them up for critiquing and taking the observations in the right spirit. Nothing here is set in stone and my thoughts should most certainly not be taken as gospel. I've been writing and selling short fiction for nearly 25 years but there are still days when it all still feels deeply mysterious.

Anyway, with that in mind, on with the comments.

This is a twisty little time-paradox story that reminded me of the work of Philip K Dick. It's not just the time-paradox theme (plenty of those in science fiction) but also the dystopian feel of the future world and the odd little details salted through the narrative - the burgers as food source, the android woman living in the same building, the drugs being delivered in the postal system. There's a lot of stuff going on in what is a relatively short narrative, which doesn't come close to using up the maximum word allowance. The "hook", of the message from the future, is very effective.

There's no right or wrong length for a short story but (unusually) I would actually suggest that this is one that might benefit from being expanded a bit, so that the ideas are given a bit more room to breathe. It all happens at breakneck speed and I think it suffers a bit because the events are jammed one after another with no room for the protagonist (or us) to reflect on the weirdness of the situation. For instance, the protagonist seems to accept the reality of the time travel communication very easily - perhaps too easily? Granted, we're told that lots of weird stuff has happened, but getting a message from yourself from a year in the future? We don't know enough about the future world to know how "reasonable" this is, which is another sense in which the story might gain from a bit of elbow room. Does time travel exist in this universe? Has it been done before? If the protagonist's future self can hack into a videoscreen to make it send signals into the past, he must either be a physics genius or it is in some sense a "normal" thing that can happen in this world, albeit a bit illegal or dangerous? It could be that the drug enhances his mental capacities to the point where he can make a time machine, but if that's the case I think we need a bit of backstory to make it credible.

On a more general point, a story needs to leave the reader with something to think about - a theme or point or observation that has been developed and which lingers after the last page has been read. My initial reaction, on finishing the piece, was "so what?". We've been presented with a situation and a time-paradoxical resolution to that situation. But we've seen that sort of thing a zillion times in other SF stories and films (think of the vanishing images in the photographs in Back to The Future) and any story touching on that theme now has to go beyond it. The story touches on the nature of free will, for instance. How much freedom do the two actors in the story have? Are they stuck in a causal loop or can they break out of it? If the guy *had* gone to work that day, would he have still lost his arm?

If you've been caught up in a time paradox and it's brought home to you the notion that free will is totally illusory, what would that do to your state of mind? Would you ever be able to live normally, or would you always feel that you were a kind of automaton, being moved about by external factors?

I'm not saying this is the theme you need to build on but I do think the story needs to be making a larger point. That's why Philip K Dick's stuff is still read - on one level, it is all just androids and time machines and weird drugs, but on another he's saying deep and resonant things about the human condition. This is a tough ask, though, and it's much easier to say "make your story about a big universal human theme" than to actually go ahead and write it.

I'll just end with a few thoughts about the writing. One thing I notice with a lot of short fiction is that the writer is trying way too hard at the start, straining for effect, leading to a lot of awkward, run-on sentences over-stuffed with adjectives and so on. Later, as the writer gets into the groove of the story, things settle down and the prose actually becomes more effective. I think you can see this in the way your third section (the one beginning "I made the decision.") is trying a lot less hard to than in the opening paragraph, but it's actually punchier and reads more naturalistically. Ultimately this is about narrative voice, which is a vast topic, but I'd suggest taking a look at tightening your sentences, keeping them shorter (as a rule of thumb) and actually trying less hard to be "vivid".

Anyway, hope some of that's useful, and good luck with the story and whatever else you write.






ArlaneEnalra's picture
ArlaneEnalra from Texas is reading Right now I'm editing . . .. April 26, 2013 - 7:35am

I asked this one in PM a short while ago, but I'll go ahead and repeat the question here just to get it out in the open:

Your comment at the end about openings being overdone is similar to something I noticed while reading through other entrants.  There were a number of stories where I thought the story would be great if they cut the first several paragraphs entirely and started with what was left.

It's enough to make me wonder if writing a "throw-away" opening, something you know you're going to either cut or heavily rewrite, to get over that hump might make sense.  I know in what little I've written, the first few paragraphs are usually the most heavily revised. Then again, early drafts kind of fall into that category anyhow.  What do you think?

Alastair Reynolds's picture
Alastair Reynolds April 27, 2013 - 7:59am

ArlaneEnalra: There are a couple of issues here. The first is that it's very easy to start a story in the wrong place - the right place often being later than you think it is. So a lot of openings can be sacrificed purely in the interest of getting the reader into the story faster and losing unnecessary wordage. The trouble with this as a piece of advice is that you may not know where to start until you've really nailed down the story's essentials. Personally this one still trips me up and when I start a story, there's an extremely good chance that the beginning of the finished and polished story won't look much like the one I'm starting with. However, I am getting slightly better at anticipating roughly where I want to be.

The second issue is one of overwriting because of the expectation that you have to have a killer, grab 'em by the throat opening. That, and the tendency to frontload too much background into the opening paragraph or two, leading to a dense, exposition-thick narrative which is trying to juggle too many balls at once.

There is definitely value in the killer opening but equally, readers (and editors) will not be turned off by a quiet, understated opening that only hints at developing mysteries, provided it is competently done. You certainly do not need to grab them in the first line, or even the first paragraph. You probably need some sort of firm narrative hook in the first page, but even that's not set in stone. The bottom line is that the reader will take a lot on trust if the narrative voice is assured and seems like it's heading somewhere. A lot of writers are too self-conscious in the opening lines, looking like they're trying too hard, but by the time they get into the mechanics of the story, they often settle into a more automatic mode of writing which often feels more confident.

A lot of this, unfortunately, comes under the heading of "stuff you figure out eventually". You just have to write a heap of stories until some of the basic narrative tasks become almost second nature. My own semi-relevant anecdote is that after a few sales early in my career I hit a dry spot for a few years in which nothing sold. One day, instead of trying to write the ultimate award-winning SF story, I sat down and wrote a piece which was basically just like an X-Files episode. It wasn't trying to be anything other than a bit scary and exciting, and I didn't sweat hours trying to write the perfect opening. And it sold and although it was never going to a classic of the genre, it unlocked that door for me and I was able to keep on selling afterwards.



klahol's picture
klahol from Stockholm, Sweden is reading Black Moon April 27, 2013 - 10:13am


Do you realize you are setting the bar for your fellow authors who've committed to giving us critiques? I mean, this level of excellence in the feedback will get you beaten up at the next book fair. Awestruck. Hope your peers match you. 


ArlaneEnalra's picture
ArlaneEnalra from Texas is reading Right now I'm editing . . .. April 27, 2013 - 11:09am

I'll have to agree with Klahol on this one!  Excellent insight!

Ben_Sharp's picture
Ben_Sharp from London April 28, 2013 - 8:48am

Hi Alastair, many many thanks. Tis a marvelous patch of feedback. I do plan to go back and flesh out the story a bit, and will address the cramped start as well. I have noticed that i tend to do that, and with the novel I am working on, am currently stripping out the whole first chapter, throwing it away and drip feeding the information back throughout the narrative. I will attept the same kind of thing here. (@ArlaneEnalra, There is your 'throwaway opening'. :)

I do also plan to get into the Crystex a bit more, where it comes from, the mood altering effect, etc. 
Anyway, MANY thanks again. Your time and feedback in much appreciated.



Liam Hogan's picture
Liam Hogan from Earth is reading Hugo Nominations April 26, 2013 - 5:12am

Hi Ben,

Congrats on winning an author review - and I'm also playing catchup on any winning entries I didn't get to read! As I see Alistair has already reviewed, I'll probably not be adding much, but I'm deliberately not reading his first!

Conversations with self sets the bar high - they can be very good, but great care needs to be taken. How would you react?  Our narator here is a little distanced :

"It seemed that I was calling myself. Strange..."

But he accepts it without a quibble. This suggests - and other elements do - that our protagonist is somewhat drugged - and he alludes to this when he wakes "I was still out-of-it from sleep hangover and the Crystex I had taken". This makes things rather interesting, if the anti-rads are kind of narcotic, or kind of mood stabilising.

All of which - so far - is promising, even if I had to make quite a jump to assume this from the first call alone. So I wonder if it's a little too subtle?

I think, neat as the conclusion is, that I'd also like to see what he would have done if Kyra hadn't entered the room. Was the junkie future self enough of a warning, say, for him to NOT keep those pills? Or (paradoxically) does seeing his future self use one as  drug, get him experimenting?

I assume for common sense sake, that although Crystex prevents some radiation damage, his claims he can go out without a suit, are crazy talk! It would be nice if the "now" me recognises this!

Some more "tech" notes :

I can't easily buy the sea being more polluted than the land - it should in fact be more immune to radiation?

For scavengers, the post is a little overreliable, (who makes Crystex? Where does the copper go?) and the assumption that people don't move around an empty city is a little odd - this is necessary for the old man to have built up a years supply (which is how big?) in his mail box. Does it have to be that many? It's pushing the boundary of belief a little...

If androids exist, why do humans risk radiation full stop? Why not let them do the scavenging? (Surely meat farming is less dangerous!)

"I mean, I think I owned a screwdriver" - he scavenges copper cables - he's a hands on sort of guy, perhaps without finesse, but he knows how to dismantle stuff? (And though this is his job, is it enough to title the story? Are there any other names you could use?)

Ultimately, an interesting and well told story, (good stuff!) but possibly slightly missing the right character or rather depth of character to tell it. He is largely a pawn of his future self, without much in the way of free will or ambition, or feeling. Can we get to like him a bit more, before you destroy him? (Maybe, for example, he has feelings for Kyra. In which case, we want a lot stronger reaction when he is accidentally shown what happens in the future...

Now, to read Alistairs comments! :)


Ben_Sharp's picture
Ben_Sharp from London April 28, 2013 - 8:53am

Hi Liam, thanks for reading! I agree with your points, especially the Crystex-drugged character portion. When i go back to this i will be adding a bunch more info, on that, where it comes from and more about the outside world. Although not too much, as i like the semi-mysterious nature of it. :)