Twelve years ago Rocks read an issue of Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine after someone left a copy in the break room. Really it was more an anthology, the size and pulpy consistency of a paperback. The thing that struck him about it was how all of the stories hinged on, really acted as a kind of pretext for, One Big Idea. All of which Rocks has since forgotten. Though he does remember thinking that none of those stories' One Big Ideas warranted the amount of narrative overhead they entailed, the fictive baggage carried.
If Asimov's tastes haven't changed since 2005, this Godsteel cap would be perfect for it. It's well written. And its One Big Idea—that the extremely rare and valuable metal harvested from some space meteor is so much stronger and harder than any earth alloy as to be impenetrable—really reminded Rocks of that dogeared little zine.
Anyway, to demonstrate its strength and impenetrability, and also to show off his great wealth, the evil Godprince who serves as the story's antagonist liked to armor himself in it and walk back and forth within easy range of enemy archers defending the castle he and his army of highly expendable and much maligned conscripts have laid siege to (though Rocks kind of wondered why the enemy didn't get one of its arbalist sharpshooters to try to shaft this asshole in the eye, or maybe catapult him with a piano or sack of boiling oil or something). As it turns out, one of the grunts who serve as protagonists just happens to have a tiny piece of this extremely rare and valuable metal in his possession, barely enough for an arrowhead.
Except to remind the reader that everyone hates the evil fucking Godprince, who cares not a whit for anyone's safety or happiness but his own, Rocks is not going to spoil the ending here. Those who haven't figured it out will probably enjoy. And even though Rocks personally did not overly grok to this seemingly well researched and certainly adequately penned tale, it's possible that his bepastured colleague and the tie-breaking arbiter here might. It's definitely an okay story. Still, no.
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Date: 2017/09/06 18:02
Spoiler, the Godprince’s horse gets it.
What is it? Why is it always the horse and cowfolk that have to take the brunt of the war violence? How would you like it if I rode you into combat and made you carry my fat ass until you dropped from exhaustion or got mowed down by weapons fire? You wouldn’t like it very much, would you? Well, I’m pretty sure that the Godprince’s horse didn’t either.
I can just see it now; Little Horse’s family is so proud as he graduates horse combat training. He is off to a promising career as a combat steed, mighty, strong, capable. Then the unthinkable happens. Little Horse ends up being the mount for the guy in the impenetrable armor, the asshole who likes to ride out in front of arrows and crap without a second thought.
Poor Little Horse is doomed.
No wonder Mennaus hated the Godprince. The Godprince was a complete douchebag.
Despite the horrendous fate of the horse, this cap was engaging and entertaining. I loved the flow, and the action was on pace. It is well written and enjoyable. So I have to disagree with my colleague Rocks, definitely yes.
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Date: 2017/09/17 14:54
The Architext, though immortal, is nevertheless a being of limited patience. "Get to the point," I often say, despite my power to freeze or accelerate the passage of time.
Clearly the author has a degree of talent. At no point did I groan from clumsy constructions or hackneyed cliches. But in the case of this story I found myself wearying around page 7, wondering when a plot would kick in, or at least a tension particular to one of the characters. It's quite clear that there's a military stalemate in play so the first question at issue is how it would resolve. But that's not an interesting tension for a reader; we need answers to the less evident question, namely why we should care. In this story the reader's loyalty is bestowed on the protagonists only after the Godprince reveals what a moron he is by scampering around the battlefield in his Godsteel armor. But that's rather late in the story. (Earlier on, displaying disregard for his own troops and a nonsensical siege plan, the Godprince seems a weak military strategist-- would it not be more logical to use the archers to provide covering fire for the infantrymen? Rather than have them knock on the front door while molested by arbalests? But this is not in itself the kind of character flaw that makes us wish for his death in quite the same fashion as his later undeserved boasting does.)
The tension I sought finally appears around page 14, when we begin to wonder whether the kluged arrow would succeed or fail, although it serves the reader no benefit that he/she is unaware of its intention. My initial guess while reading was that the heroes would use it to assassinate their own leader. That thought was quickly dashed; the follow-up thought was that the protags would fire it and then it would be fired back at their side. [Spoiler alert: both theories were half-right.] The Architext likes his plans explicit. When we're privy to the thoughts of a character, it's a distracting, artificial form of tension to be denied the knowledge of his plan. In fairness, it works in cartoons-- "I've got a plan! First we frshsrhsrhhhshhrshrshshshs." But in cartoons we don't have the same close point-of-view as short stories. It's when we know the plan, but it goes wrong, and the characters struggle to resolve it (or fail to do so) that things become interesting. In this case my guess was close enough to keep it flat for me, and I think that would be true for most adult readers. I did enjoy the climactic turn of events, though. I'll spare the spoilers but I will say the whole theater cheered.
The characters are drawn solidly in the brief range they're given to show themselves--perhaps the Tongue/Brain business is a little on-the-nose, but it's effective and memorable, so it worked okay for me. Still, I might suggest trimming it down and starting the story with the Godprince revealing his asinine nature, and Mennaus hatching an assassination plan that very moment. The first half is otherwise nearly as tedious for the reader as it is for the characters. It's effective at establishing the situation, but it's taxing to the attention span, and fixing that should be the priority in a short story.
A few pedantic notes: A mantlet is a large wooden shield for archers. A manlet, as reliable sources tell me, is a gym rat with a Napoleon complex. I was more interested in my interpretation based on the initial misspelling of "mantlet" in paragraph two, as another wherein archers hide behind disposable, Munchkin shields. It was not to be, I quickly ascertained.
10 pages in: Haltan? Do you mean Ultan, or has the scene moved in the interim? Confusion has been created, evidently of the unintentional sort. Be consistent.
“What’s this, another mouse?” is my favorite line of the story. Suddenly I'm transported to "Of Mice and Men" and "Flowers for Algernon" simultaneously.
Despite my omniscience, I had to look up "pauldron" and "arbalest". Credit to this author for teaching me some new words, which might prove handy the next time I lay siege to a 15th-century city.
The closing line is weak. "And there's honey, too, if you want it." I don't know that a Joycean epiphany could mark the closing gong in a genre piece, but it shouldn't feel like a totally random line from the middle of a conversation, either.
Overall, while the author has demonstrated a high level of overall quality, the yeasts here haven't quite risen for me. It needs another couple hours in the oven.