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ender.che.13's picture

The Gorund

By ender.che.13 in Teleport Us

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Description

When the innerworkings of the world around us are left to their own devices, strange things begin to happen within the walls.

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Comments

ender.che.13's picture
ender.che.13 from Northwestern U.S. living in the southeast peach. is reading Ken Follett March 17, 2013 - 7:25pm

I find the phrase "marginally oblique" marginally oblique.

He can bumble. Someone who's as wide as they are tall is more likely to bumble than to scurry. Some Bumble Bees Bumble Quickly.

If robots can drink alcohol as fuel, then my vacuum cleaner can ear rats, dammit! (Futurama)

Seriously, though,

I don't know as if I really thought of the second building as being actually any more run down than his own, but seeing things through his eyes, his pride in the way he cared for his own building give him a very judgemental perspective. And, speaking of perspective, I suppose that is kind of the question raised by his retirement. Yes, he is indeed in the silly human category, but, from the alteration to his point-of-view following the encounter with the other "Go-around", I think he would prefer to be the silly slave driver than the ignorant slave.

Thank you for the read, and I'm glad you enjoyed it. And your critique had a different flavor than those above, which I greatly appreciated.

Thanks!

Liam Hogan's picture
Liam Hogan from Earth is reading Hugo Nominations March 18, 2013 - 1:46am

I seem to remember thousands of rats, and nasty black mold... so I think the reader is going to think the other building is indeed a mess!

I wonder (now) if you need the second building. What if Gorund gets stuck for a few days, (on the ledge if you want to show the cityscape) and when he frees himself finds his replacement? Different angle, perhaps...

Anyhow, thanks for critiqueing my critique... ;)

Liam

ender.che.13's picture
ender.che.13 from Northwestern U.S. living in the southeast peach. is reading Ken Follett March 20, 2013 - 8:59pm

Oh, I didn't mean it that way. I was just kidding around. I really do appreciate your insight.

Alastair Reynolds's picture
Alastair Reynolds April 23, 2013 - 3:22am

Hi all. This is me, checking in to offer some comments on a number of stories. I'm going to start with this one and will aim to do about one a day. I'm going to be as truthful as I can - there isn't much point me being here otherwise. However, I would not want anyone to be discouraged by negative criticism. We have all been there and hopefully learned from the process. As a general observation, it takes a lot of sticking power to finish a story and quite a bit of courage to offer it up for reading and commentary in a public space, and both of those things should be applauded. Good luck to all the writers who have got this far.

So - on with the show.

My first feeling is that there's a nice idea here which isn't being served as well it could be by the manner of telling. The story, in a nutshell, is that the Gorund experiences a life-changing event which gives it a bit more perspective on its situation and leads it to rebel against its former existence as a kind of urban maintenance drone. That's a perfectly valid theme for a story - in fact it's probably been the basic template for thousands - but I think it needs a bit of rethinking to make the best of it. The two main difficulties in the telling, I'd suggest, are that the viewpoint is somewhat loose and inconsistent, and that, until the climactic scene, there is no one for the Gorund to interact with.

To address the second point for the moment, dialogue is an incredibly useful tool for the writer. It gives a story pace and colour, it can lend humour or tension to a scene, it breaks up the monotony of paragraph after paragraph of dry exposition. However, if you've only got one character in your story, the options for dialogue are a bit limited. For that reason, I'd always try to open up the possibilities for some kind character interaction early on in the narrative. If you can't do that, you could always have the lone character reflecting on some earlier exchange which happened before the frame of the story. In this case, for instance, the Gorund could reflect back on some pithy, character-revealing exchanges between itself and the two human workers it used to know. Or it could be listening to the dialogue of the humans in the room, thereby telling us something about their lives. I can't stress enough the power of dialogue on the page - it's one of the most effective strategies for making the pages fly by. You can have a story without dialogue but in that case the prose is going to have to do a lot more heavy lifting than is the case here. And even then, a dialogue-free story is going to be a tremendously difficult sell to a genre market. I can't remember the last time I read one.

Going back to the first point, I'd suggest that the story needs a significantly tighter focus on the Gorund. It's sort of in there at the beginning, but it gets woolier as the story progresses. If the Gorund has spent its entire life inside the walls of a big building, there's going to be a limit to how much it knows of the outside world. That's sort of hinted at in the scene where the Gorund gets outside, but it's violated in some of the descriptive usages. For instance, the details of the city's infrastructure are likened to spaghetti - but would the Gorund have ever had any reason to know what spaghetti looks like, much less spaghetti that's been played with by an angry child? Try and keep a really rigid hold on viewpoint - it will help the reader see the world through the character's eyes. The Goround would be much more likely to see the world in terms with which it is familiar - wiring, solder, and so on, than externalities it's not likely to have encountered. Why would it know about Taiwan, for instance?

Finally, I don't think the story plays entirely fair with us in terms of the final revelation. I am ready to accept that the Gorund is a robot with a degree of self-awareness, but much of what we're told earlier in the narrative seems designed to convince us that the Gorund is a living creature. It has a sense of smell, it has whiskers, it even has a potbelly. Later we are told that the Gorund is made of rubber and has glued-in hair. I was ready to accept that the Gorund was perhaps a genetically-engineered animal (it eats rats) but if it is a robot then the earlier details seem purposefully misleading.

All of the above doubtless seems harsh but to go back to my opening remarks, it does have the core of an effective story - it just needs to be brought out more effectively. I hope some of the above is useful.

best!

Al R

ender.che.13's picture
ender.che.13 from Northwestern U.S. living in the southeast peach. is reading Ken Follett April 23, 2013 - 5:22pm

I already know what I like about the story, and what's strong; I think the purpose of an excersise such as this is real, hard criticism more than anything else. Thank you for your input. I realize especially just how tightly I need to control the narrative. I was making descriptions based on side stories in my own imagining of the character and assuming that the audience would understand or reconstruct those stories organically for themselves. I think the best approach to a revision, from this perspective, would be to tighten the lines between what I say and what can or should be assumed (i.e. assume nothing; express only what is essential enough to warrant it's portion of the 4,000 word real estate).

Thank you again, so much.

Salut!

klahol's picture
klahol from Stockholm, Sweden is reading Black Moon April 26, 2013 - 10:36pm

Hey Reynolds, long time fan here. Cool to read your take on this story. 

I initially stumbled on the disjoint between the organic and mechanic Gorund. But first of all, the technology we're contemplating here - some sort of future AI-driven autonomous drone - could concievably be built with the illusion that it is sentient. We are nowhere near creating anything like AI today, so we don't know what would need to go into technology like that. But an idea could be that it needs to believe it is a real creature to behave and act like one. 

As to the whiskers and the fur and the plastic and the glued-in hair, that could follow the same principle. It's built to think of its own body as organic to act in the desired way. 

Just an idea. But most of all, the disjoint for me made the overall story more engaging, so I let it pass. I think this story has a fairytale vibe that sets it apart from most of the other stories in this contest. 

Alastair Reynolds's picture
Alastair Reynolds April 27, 2013 - 7:35am

Hi Klahol

I think I'd liked to have seen something earlier in the story that hinted at the Gorund's actual nature in a fairly subtle way: not enough to give the game away, but sufficient to foreshadow the ultimate revelation so that it seems inevitable in hindsight.

best,

Al

klahol's picture
klahol from Stockholm, Sweden is reading Black Moon April 27, 2013 - 10:02am

Ha! When I said I was a longtime fan, I for some reason confused you with Richard Morgan. This influenced my feedback on your critique a bit. 

I am a longtime fan of yours as well, though. But in regards to what we're discussing, you of all authors in my bookshelf strikes me as a guy who excels at throwing the reader in the deep end of the pool and having them swim their little hearts out to understand what's happening. 

The rules of a short story, I guess, are different to those of a novel. Especially, if like in this case, the rules are set and pretty strict as to both length and theme. A lot of the stories in this competition read like first chapters of a larger book, albeit a book you'd really like to read. 

I agree with you that if the story was meant to feel fully completed, a hook in the beginning that you return to in the end revelation would wrap things up nicely. 

In this particular instance, what really moved me was the tone of voice in the story and the way that ender.che managed to engage me emotionally with the scene where the Gorund discovers his true nature. I tried to have a nice, tight and well constructed storyline in my story, but I would really liked to have been able to convey emotions as well as ender.che did with the Gorund. 

Alastair Reynolds's picture
Alastair Reynolds April 24, 2013 - 2:47pm

That's exactly the right attitude. Above all else, no matter what anyone else says about your story (including me) you should always stick to your guns about the stuff that really matters to you. Good luck!

best,

Al R

ender.che.13's picture
ender.che.13 from Northwestern U.S. living in the southeast peach. is reading Ken Follett April 27, 2013 - 9:14pm

Klahol's (the author above) story was the one that really blew me away more than any other, and the one story that I expressed to my family as having been far and away better than mine.

I know he's not on your list, but you should definitely consider giving the story a quick read. It's incredible. Call Me Tim

And, I actually agree strongly with both of you. This is the first time I've written short fiction, and I struggled to squeeze things down into the 4k word limit. It was an excercise in pacing, a powerful one that I needed badly. And I think Klahol makes an excellent point about the difference between a novella+ vs. a short story. It's much like supplying a ship or a canoe to traverse the same body; each may have the same goods, but you'll have to push a bit harder to fit them into the latter.

Onward! To the next event!