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I finally have some time to give feedback to feedback!

Thanks to all of you who took the time to read these stories and leave comments and criticism! I do agree with most of what everybody said about mine. It certainly wasn't my best work. These GTA pieces are often pretty rushed. Course so are AAR posts, many times.

My story was an attempt to combine two settings/experiences: 1) Newt Gingrich wrote a historical fiction book about Valley Forge (he writes mostly alternate histories, but I think the one I refer to was true-to-life), and he dwelt upon the misery of the troops while marching in freezing conditions in a blizzard with practically no clothes or shoes. I tried to communicate the misery he did, though using a less miserable setting. But I also took the scene in the town from his impression of reaching Trenton and catching the British by surprise. 2) There's a scenario in the original Ghost Recon games where you're doing a mission in this dripping, flooding rainstorm, and you can see things in the distance only when the lightning flashes. I love that mood, and wanted to convey something similar.

I now return to edit in my review of the second story. This had some good lines in it, such as the boots reaching an acceptable stasis of wetness. There was a good focus on water and dripping and squishiness that made it clear how seemingly little Raf cared about this fight, and more about wishing he was dry, or at least not so damp. The one objection I have may merely be a flaw in myself, which is that when the lightening and dark towers started happening, I was expecting ominous dark events like a vampire or having the regiment be surprised by an even larger regiment, or something, but what actually did happen works well.

Thanks! I've only read one vampire book (The Historian, which was great!), so I guess it didn't occur to me that I might suggest such a setting, but in retrospect I can see how you might think that. :)

nr 2
Good opening, if a bit dreary. I note here a better balance, with a paragraph or two about rain-hating and then an attack being launched. Even if I find rain-haters miserable people who don't deserve to be in stories :p

The ending works, too, but I think the hate doesn't come through after the charge starts. We got it, sure, but Raf seems to have lost his hate of rain far before he said it in his mind.

Overall, a nice story, which I think stands by itself even if the tension is rather muffled by the rain ;)

To be honest, I love rain myself -- my favorite type of weather! ;) Thanks! You're right about his losing focus on the rain, but I tried to strike a balance between concern over the battle, and the rain.

Author #2: I like the brevity of the opening statement. It gives a really nice means of I trouncing the character, and gets the reader involved in the story straight away. I feel like I've heard the name Raf before in a character, though I can't think where... We get some good description in the first paragraph. I can really get a sense of the unpleasantness (if we are to out things mildly) of the situation, and, by extension, a good idea of Raf's own thoughts on the matter.

I thought the continued presence of the rain at the forefront of the story worked well. It really added to the mood of the piece. The paragraph with the boots worked well in this regard - acting as a neat little way of developing our view of Raf. The reiteration of the first line was also nice - sort of thing the piece together.

I thought the next paragraph was a tad hard to read - not in that it was illegible, but in that it didn't flow, to me at least, as well as its forebears. I think this was exemplified in the following sentence:

[...]Raf looked at his neighbor, skeptically, who looked at him resignedly… and then they both rose[...]

I think this is another case of adverb overload. This is how I would've written it.

Raf looked at his neighbour sceptically. He received a look of resignation by way of reply. They both rose.

This also eliminates the ellipsis, which is probably what makes that not flow for me more than anything. I would also note here that the speech could be perhaps be made a bit more clear. This could be done by simply spacing out the speech, and giving each new speaker a new line. For example, this:

A flash of lightning illuminated the sergeant’s face, as he drew near. “We’re going to hit the town in about an hour. We’ve got to march fast and hope to surprise them. With any luck, they’ll be drunk, and we can take the whole lot of them.” His shout drowned out a few hopeful cheers – men hoping to be able to loot afterward. “No soldier is allowed to drink booze that you find! You can take it with you, but if you so much as open the bottle tonight, so help me….” That was sufficient chastisement, and silence reigned again.

Could become:

A flash of lightning illuminated the sergeant’s face, as he drew near.

“We’re going to hit the town in about an hour. We’ve got to march fast and hope to surprise them. With any luck, they’ll be drunk, and we can take the whole lot of them.” His shout drowned out a few hopeful cheers – men hoping to be able to loot afterward. “No soldier is allowed to drink booze that you find! You can take it with you, but if you so much as open the bottle tonight, so help me….” That was sufficient chastisement, and silence reigned again.

We are soon reminded of Raf's thoughts of the rain. As I said before, I like the repetition here. It does a lot for the piece. Here, though, I would say that I think there are a few too many exclamation marks for my liking in the next few paragraphs. I'm not sure what others think, but I like to use them as sparingly as possible - though I guess it comes down to personal preference. When there are four in two paragraphs, though, I think it comes across more that I'm being shouted at than Raf (or the lightning - I liked the little comment here, by the way; very effective) exclaiming anything.

I liked the change of pace in the next few paragraphs. It echoed the change in situation very nicely. The last part was well done, as with the rest of the piece, though I still felt that there were a few too many ellipses and exclamation marks. I also liked the ending sentence. It closed the piece very nicely, and I found it rather intersting that Raf would be so fickle in his views. Maybe reflecting how grateful he was to still be alive? In any case, it was nicely done.

Overall, a very nice piece. It could maybe do with a little bit of revision in terms of punctuation, but very nicely done. I have no clue as to the author.

Ack! You're entirely right about the flow and the awkwardness of that paragraph. Your version is much better. Ellipses are a habit of mine. So are exclamation points. I should look into that. :D Thanks for the input!

Btw, you may be too young to pick up on the line I had in my feedback to you. It's from a Sting song called An Englishman in New York. "A gentleman will walk but never run," which I thought captured the Britishness of your piece very well. :) You'll enjoy the rest of the song as well.

Story 2

First off: I think the moral of the story is wrong. “Raf hates rain” – Raf successfully attacks a city – “Raf loves rain”. I think the proper line would be: “Raf loves it, when a plan comes together.”. At least one should be doubtful if Raf would still love the rain when the story had ended with the attack being a failure and himself lying near the city wall with a bayonet in his guts.

Apart from that it was a decent story. As I said, I love descriptions, so a bit more of it (sweat, heartbeat, fear, agony) wouldn`t have hurt, but nevertheless I like the setting.

Thanks! Yes, I could have described more. I was afraid it was getting too long already. You're right about Raf being very subjective about the rain. ;)

Number Two
Since I can't avoid comparing this one to No. 3, let's just start with that. One very important element from that story is missing, or at least incomplete, in the latter part of this story: proper surroundings. While reading about the soldiers charging through the forest, suddenly there's a ravine, and quite haphazardly the soldiers are teleported into "a" village. Where is this all happening? What does the ravine look like, and how does one run from the ravine to the village? If anything, it should have been mentioned more clearly that like us, Raf didn't know of his surroundings because of the storm. That being said, the writing itself was great, and save the few times I was perplexed by the sudden shifts, this story ran fluently and was fun to read.

Thanks! You're right about the descriptions. I was trying to emphasize that he couldn't see much of his surroundings because of the storm. But at the same time, I missed some opportunities, didn't I? I could have had a scene describing the water falling into the ravine (the column, it may not have been clear, was IN the ravine, which was below the river -- I imagined it as a sloping trail up the side of a hill that led to the village). Maybe I could have described something like a scene in Jurassic Park. With more time and more room for text I could have, and should have, done that. Again, I let the constraints on the story dictate what I tried, and maybe I shouldn't do that. Thanks for your compliments!

Author 2.
For one thing, I really like the engaging descriptions; the short, punctuating, fragmented sentences help establish the mood and the mindset of the man whose perspective we're taking. My biggest problem is that the story just seems kind of... flat and pointless, emotionally and thematically. Raf is marching into a battle he seems to expect to lose as he marches into it, but the deepest emotion of his we get treated to over the first half of the piece is, 'he hates the rain'. Maybe I would understand it more if you were trying to make a kind of L'Etranger-type point about a soldier's solipsism and emotional detachment from what he's doing, but the ending of the piece just seems to fly completely in the face of that. Or if you were expecting to make it more about his need for self-preservation, you might have added a touch more to the build-up in the first half.

The style of the writing is amazing, but the substance of the story kind of feels wanting in the weight you seem to want to give it through your use of the iteration 'Raf hates rain'...

Thanks! That "short, punctuating, fragmented sentences" thing is something I've come to prefer, as a style. I'd hesitate to call it Hemingwayesque, because I'm certainly not comparing myself, and I'm also not actually a huge fan of Hemingway. But he was right in that -- short, staccato sentences can often set a scene better than a rambling, descriptive sentence. I tend to use that style, not just with this scene. But you're right, there's not much point to the story. :D I could have done a better job at that. What I was aiming for was a sort of soldierly detachment infused with cyncism -- the rain was as much an enemy to him as was the enemy itself, and as they say "cynics are never disappointed". He was "going through Hell, and determined not to stop" as Churchill would say, but Raf felt like he wasn't much in control of his life. In a way, his anger at that was directed as much at the rain as at anything, and that's also partly why he switched in the end, because he felt the anger gone. I'm not sure if it really works, or even if it could, but that's more or less what I was aiming for. Thanks for your comments!

Author 2

Good pacing. I followed the text without losing my concentration and interest. I would have liked a few more details concerning the back story, but otherwise, a good entry.

Thanks! Not a whole lot of time for details, I thought, but maybe that's a self-imposed limit.

Each story took the theme of rain and presented their own unique take (kind of like Iron Chef, but I digress). The posted commentaries and critiques succinctly covered anything I would point out, so there's no sense rehashing.

My following comments are general in nature, and apply to each entry. Bear in mind this has nothing to do with the quality of the writing (which was very good), or the use of the theme (again, very good). What you take away from my comments is totally up to you.

The biggest problem was structure. Each story spent an inordinate amount of space establishing the setting and characters but failed to deliver a proper climax and resolution. Taking the time for setting and character is good, if the tale is novella length or greater, but the nature of the GTA is more suited to a short story, or in some cases, flash fiction. What does this mean? It means you have limited space to grab the reader's attention and take him or her on a ride to a satisfying conclusion. In short, you should start the story with a bang and end it with a bang, or at the least, a meaningful ending. Too much time spent on setup usually results in a weak payoff, and the reader feels cheated. A friend in a writer's critique group I was involved with had a habit of saying "This is a good story, after you trash the first three pages." After grinding teeth over wasted effort, we would generally concede the man had a point. You have limited space to work with, so don't waste it.

In conclusion, jump into the tale with both feet, bring out any backstory and character development via dialogue, character mannerisms, and most importantly, showing, not telling. By the quality of the writing in these entries, I think each of you is more than capable.

Thanks, LD! Bang, climax, bang... Sounds like a good recipe for a short story. I'll see if I can focus on that next time, and get a better outcome. Seems like most AAR posts (in fiction) are essentially this, too.

I do not normally give critique myself when I run the round as I know who wrote what, but I do have one niggling thought on these submissions and frankly, it is mine own fault that it is so. I gave out the subject of Rain and I thought it was a good one. However, the word itself was used so many times in each entry, as I read them I began to regret it. Personally, I hate it when I read through what I wrote and see a word overused. I cannot imagine what I would have done with this topic. ;)

Guilty as charged, I think. ;) I had the basic scene planned out within moments of seeing your challenge for "rain" but maybe that meant I hadn't given enough attention to proper focus.

Thanks for running this round! I'm really glad to see this up and running again!

Thanks to those of you who commented, and thanks especially to those authors who chose to showcase their work in GTA.

Participation by both commenters and authors is ABSOLUTELY what makes this work. Without either (and I've seen rounds where either or both were in short supply), this falls apart.

Rensslaer
 

coz1

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It's been a couple of weeks to allow for feedback and I am wondering if we are ready for a new round? Not as much later discussion as I'd hoped but that may well be due to many getting their first sniff of the GtA. I would definitely highlight LD's post as terrific feedback because that is what this is...a crash course in reader feedback that teaches. His advice to hit the point quick is a good one, I'd say. Use the space to experiment but remember what that experiment is at the end. You won't get casual appreciation here. But what you will get is honest advice on how to be a better writer. I'd call that valuable. :D

I know we had some that wanted to get in late last time around so hopefully we'll see some hands go up this time and so the topic is...A Rivalry. CK fans may appreciate this one. ;)

Looking to post submissions around the 7th of June so the first four that PM me get dibs. Who's ready?
 

Rensslaer

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Great to hear, Coz! Hope you're getting the replies you need.

Thanks for running this! It can be frustrating, but of course it's fun too.

Renss
 

coz1

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Thanks Renss. It is my pleasure. And indeed, we have our 4 writAARs! Look for their submissions once I have received all of them by the 7th.
 

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I'm looking forward to seeing another round of writing - good to see that this initiative is back for the long run. I certainly enjoyed taking part last month - and would urge anyone to do so if they had the time.
 

Gen. Marshall

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Or how about you don't participate again and write us a Katzmayr Dialogue?

That said, I'll surely leave some guesses behind when I get back from New Amsterdam.
 

coz1

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Reminder for our AuthAARs - submissions due by tomorrow. I've two of four so far. I look forward to the turnout. :)
 

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OK, we have all four submissions and now it's time to post them. Recall that our theme this round is - A Rivalry.

As usual, once all four are posted you are free to comment away giving your thoughts on what worked and what did not and hopefully offering up suggestions as to how better the work. No rudeness, please. But certainly feel free to give honest constructive critique. Above all, enjoy!
 

coz1

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Author #1


The officer’s metal insignia were still shining. There was not a speck of dirt on his uniform. His shoulderboards indicated that the man was a Major, but he was still quite visibly younger than thirty. Unusual, for a man of such high rank. Perhaps this was a brilliant tactician, who had led his troops with such valour and expertise that he would be awarded a high rank at such a young age? He certainly seemed to think so. However, his insecurity in the leadership role he exercised, his jumpy reactions every time a shot was audible in the distance, in fact every single one of his motions gave away that this man was a clerk rather than a front-line officer, and an inexperienced one at that. Ambient artillery fire made this officer hit the dirt, both figuratively and literally. The soldiers surrounding him had no intention to do so; they were far more experienced than their commanding officer. As a Feldwebel picked the Major up from the ground, the latter looked at his uniform in disgust. A huge smudge of mud covered his right thigh.

Pavel Kirilov watched as the scene unfolded. Although the Major and his men were over 600 metres away, Lieutenant Kirilov had no trouble distinguishing the soldiers, looking through his telescopic sight. He moved his right leg slightly. He had been lying in the same place for almost three hours now, and one of the bricks lying around on the floor of the destroyed building had left a deep mark in the sharpshooter’s flesh. Three hours he had spent on the ground floor of this forsaken building, another twelve spending the night in its damp basement. The life of a sniper was a far cry from their heroic depiction in the newspapers and on national radio. It was all about waiting, waiting for the right place and time to take a single shot. Kirilov could have taken that shot… but he didn’t.

“Wot’s the matter, Lieutenant?!” It was the loud, boorish voice of Serzheant Fedir Burdukovsky that had broken the silence.
“Shhh. Quiet, Fedir. Sounds reach far in this urban wasteland.”
“Why you ain’t taken no shot, sir?”, the Serzheant said in a considerably softer voice.
“Something isn’t quite right. Have you seen that man?”
“Seems rather stupid, Lieutanant.”
“Yes, he is. Doesn’t look like our described target in the slightest. We are looking for some kind of brilliant mastermind, worthy of my shot.”

Fedir grabbed his backpack.

“Looking for the photograph? Don’t bother. Come a bit closer, Fedir.”

He put down the backpack and inched forward to his commander. As loud as he usually was, the Serzheant now used his training to move silently, almost inaudibly, towards the brick wall. Kirilov gestured towards one of the bricks in the wall. Sticking your head out in this place was dangerous, so experienced sharpshooters preferred to take cover in a low place, with minimal visibility. As Fedir removed the brick, though, he had an excellent view through the destroyed houses onto the square in front of them, and immediately looked at the German headquarters. The Lieutenant told him to do otherwise.

“It isn’t about that officer. I want you to take a look at the buildings on the left side.”

The structures on the left side of the square closely resembled the ruins they were currently positioned in, but they seemed just a bit more destroyed, they seemed to give just a bit more cover. Fedir counted at least five places in these ruins that would give them a great shot at their target. Even further to the left, a road cut through the ruins. If they wanted to reach the new position, they would have to cross that open space.

“Great cover, sir, but it’s damn close to the Germans.”
“I’m not talking about cover for us. I think there’s an enemy sniper out there.”
“Wha? An enemy sniper?”
“An enemy sniper, waiting for us to take the first shot, waiting for us to make the mistake to shoot this idiot. It’s a trap, son, and I don’t intend to fall for it. I’ve killed thirty-three of their kind, and now they want to return the favour. Well bad luck, Fritz, you’re up against the wrong guy.”
“What we gonna do about him?”
“We, Serzheant, will go and get him.”

Lieutenant Kirilov pulled the loading mechanism of his Mosin Nagant rifle to discard the five bullets in its clip. Out of his pocket, he took another one, a bullet with a tip painted black, and pushed it into the chamber.

“That German shall be on the receiving end of this bullet, Fedir.”

-----

Somewhere in the ruins surrounding the squares, would this German have taken position. Much like his Russian counterpart, this man would have been in his position for a long time, a day perhaps. Much like his Russian match, this German sharpshooter would be one of the best in his army, for only the best were selected for counter-sniper missions. Was it the infamous sniper, affectionately known as “Spectre”? Most likely. One thing above all was certain: Lieutenant Kirilov and his spotter were in for a tough fight.

Fedir had thoroughly scouted the area before they had taken their position, and with his guidance, it didn’t take the team long to get to the road. Although every brick wall seemed similar and the ruins were hardly distinguishable, the Serzheant managed to find his way, avoiding a Panzer IV tank which had been standing in between a set of generic walls. The vehicle was empty, and the crew had got out for a rest, but it was imperative that they didn’t alert anyone to their presence and position. When up against a foe like the Spectre, even the slightest mistake could be fatal. So, in order to avoid having to fire any gunshots that would alert every foe within a 2 mile radius, they had to take the long route around any possible contacts.

After an uneventful journey of an hour and a half, Kirilov and Fedir had covered a distance of just over 500 metres as the crow flies. They stacked up at the corner of what had once been a post office. In front of them, the cover of the ruins ceased to exist. From their original position, it had seemed a road, but from their current point of view it more closely resembled the wide steppes across which the Wehrmacht had made its lightning advance towards the city. The Lieutenant peeked across the corner and took the time to consider his surroundings. A slightly larger, more intact house dominated the road. From the windows on the top floor hung banners, red as blood with a swastika prominently displayed in a white circle. Inside the windows, the vigilant black-uniformed soldiers who had sworn to further the ideology behind this flag by force. National-Socialism, he wondered; what does Socialism have to…

A flash.

Immediately, Kirilov retracted his head and leaped backwards.

“Yer seen him, Lieutenant?!”
“He’s there! I saw the sunlight reflect off his scope!”
“Where?”
“Second floor of the white building on the left. He’s in one of the windows.”

Fedir cocked his PPSh submachine gun, but quickly stopped as his commanding officer stared at him.

“What were you going to do with that piece of scrap metal, Serzheant? We are facing a dedicated, experienced sharpshooter. We can’t kill him from here. We can’t cross the street from here. We have to use our wits. Our wits, Fedir! I can’t believe I hadn’t thought of this…”

As he finished his last sentence, Lieutenant Kirilov lent weight to his words by walking back towards a pile of rubble on the other side of what had once been a courtyard. He stopped three metres short of his apparent destination, and looked at the ground. A manhole. He removed the cover, and gestured for his spotter to lead.

“After you, milady.”
“Oh boy, we’re in for som’ nasty crap.”

The sewers were nothing short of Fedir’s description. Artillery fire from above had made some of the foundations collapse into the flowing water, and in these places a huge mess of blood and sewage had been amassed. The walls, in fact everything around the two soldiers was filthy. Since the war began, these sewers hadn’t been kept up, and it showed. Aside from the material unpleasantness around them, there were the huge rats and insects. Some of them looked awfully aggressive - all looked lethal.

Luckily for Kirilov and Fedir, their route through the sewer wasn’t very long. Here, they were unopposed, and the short distance they had to cross underneath the street was quickly covered. A small, equally filthy tunnel branched off from the main one, leading to a conveniently placed manhole which the two would use to exit the sewers. Kirilov grabbed the slimy spokes, and started climbing until he reached the manhole cover. He listened. German voices could be heard, but they seemed to be far away. He grabbed the lid, and moved it just enough to be able to take a look at the surface. The ruins all looked similar, but they seemed to be on the other side of the road. Through a window, he caught a glance of the white building where their opponent was hiding. The Lieutenant looked around some more, and spotted the Germans he heard before. They were closer than he thought, and they had eyes on the manhole. He quickly closed the cover.

“We wait here until dark. Get some sleep, I shall take watch.”

Fedir Burdukovsky sat down on the soaked floor. He looked at the rats, which had kept their distance up to now. He looked at the cracks in the ceiling, which would surely collapse after the slightest of shocks. Although he was tired, this was not the place to sleep.

-----

Five hours later, he was woken up by his commander. At first, he was fuzzy, unaware of his surroundings. Then, swiftly, he jumped up from his position against the wall, and started clubbing the rat which was clinging on to his right leg. The vile creature took a surprising amount of hits, before it let go and ran away into the main tunnel, where his colony was waiting. Fedir examined his thigh. It seemed he was lucky; the rat had torn apart his trousers, but it hadn’t bitten.

“Let’s get the hell outta here, sir.”
“Yes… Fair point. I’ve done some reconnaissance while you were asleep.”
“And? Wot’s yer plan?”
“I’ll take overwatch from the only intact building near our manhole. You will flush him out.”

Fedir realised very well that he had been given the more dangerous task, but he was just glad to be out of the sewer. As the Lieutenant moved to his position on the third floor of the house he had mentioned, the Serzheant used the cover of darkness to run across an open space, towards a building of which the broken walls gave him a secure position to appreciate his surroundings. He looked at the manhole, at the Germans which were near it, at the ruins surrounding him, and finally at the white building itself. A straight alleyway led from his current position towards the house. He looked at his commander, who had assumed his position, and started walking along the side of the alley. At every corner, he stopped, and made sure the area was clear before moving on. At the third and final corner, he stopped. Three patrolmen were walking towards him.

Fedir’s heart started pounding as he grabbed his PPSh submachine gun. He knew that shooting it would give away his position. He clung onto a building and remained motionless for a moment, which seemed like an eternity. With every step his enemies took, the Serzheant became more nervous, and his finger reached for the trigger of his gun. Then, they stopped. A mere five metres from his position, the soldiers started a loud conversation about beer and women. As they turned around to regroup with the other soldiers, one Corporal stayed to take a leak. He never knew what hit him. The steel blade of a Russian knife had made a clean cut along the soldier’s spine, cutting open his lungs and heart.

One minute later, the late Corporal lay on the ground, missing his own helmet and jacket, with a Russian tunic covering his head. Fedir looked at his new uniform. It might not fool anyone for long, he thought, but it should give me the element of surprise. He grabbed the Corporal’s Karabiner 98k bolt-action rifle and sneaked towards the white building. Now was the time to finally take down the Spectre, who had bothered them for so long. Quietly, he pushed open the wooden back door.

Lieutenant Kirilov put down his rifle and looked at the windows on the second floor. It was here he had seen the Spectre. Would he still be there? Would the Serzheant’s attack be sufficient to lure him out of cover? He scanned every window with his binoculars. Nothing. Then, suddenly, he saw a sliver of a shadow falling on one of the windowsills. Kirilov picked his Mosin-Nagant sniper rifle back up, and looked through the scope. The shadow was gone, but he knew where his opponent was. Did the Spectre know where he was? Kirilov rolled behind cover and moved to another window. He franticly scanned the windows again. There he was! Swiftly, Kirilov took aim and pulled the trigger.

A flash.

A fraction of a second later, thunder.

The pain, spreading all over his body, made Fedir twitch as a black bullet tip drilled itself into his right thigh. Blood poured out of his wound, and he dropped to the ground. He didn’t know where the bullet came from, until he turned his head towards the window, and realized what had happened. All this time, they had been chasing a spectre. All this time, they had been chasing a figment of his commander’s paranoia. There was no enemy. Just him, the Lieutenant, and the bullet in his leg. Our worst rival, he thought, is within ourselves.

The black bullet tip came to ignition, and exploded.

Fedir was no more.
 

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Author #2


Few remember the exact circumstances which led to the first shot fired in hatred that fateful day, but one man knew them all too well. Or, at least, Raul Hernández believed he knew them well.

That very afternoon, two armies stood arrayed opposite each other upon the field of war. While their eyes betrayed nervousness, their bodies were steeled for the battle to come, determined to achieve victory in the clash that lay ahead. In the space between them lay their prize, a glittering silver sphere, and as a whistle pierced the air the orb was hefted into the air by a mighty blow. The melee began in earnest, and the roar of the voices around them responded in a crescendo of cacophony.

It was not too long ago that these warriors had been simple, perhaps even ordinary young men, and indeed many looked forward to returning to such a life once this day was over. However, once they donned their nations’ colours, these men were no longer mere youths but veterans, champions upon whose shoulders rested the dream and aspirations of thousands of their fellow countrymen.

These men were heroes. And at that very same time, they were villains.

Outwith the field of green, a throng of raging, seething barbarians encircled the armies. Waving banners and banging drums, members of two unruly tribes rained abuse and bile upon the members of the field whose colours displeased them, and chanted obscenities and curses as if they were charms to ward off the evil which stood at this moment before their eyes.

Yes, there were demons more monstrous and despicable yet than the dark cadejo or the siguanaba. These were the ordinary, inseparably similar men, whose lives and aspirations were now forever branded and attainted by the heretic colours they wore. They were doomed to bear the burden of an entire nation’s hatred, and to watch their countrymen erupt into violence around them.

Several miles away, Raul Hernández watched the scene unfold, seated in the comfort of his private office. His feet were propped up on the table before him, upon which also rested his cap and a box of cigars, among other papers and personal effects. Though he did not see any of the action directly, simply watching the sky above the stadium told him all he needed to know. It was not long before the first firework darted into the cloudless blue sky, momentarily streaking it with bloody crimson. That flare was soon joined by a second, then a third, as a plume of smoke began to grow in the horizon.

Raul reached for the top drawer of his desk, retrieving his personal firearm and inspecting it to ensure that it was loaded. With this done, he then lit a cigar and took a deep, long drag, reflecting on what he was about to do. How would historians remember his victory to come? ‘The Liberation War’, they would call it, or perhaps ‘The War for Justice’, but perhaps he liked the sound of ‘The Overwhelming Victory over the Persecutor’ best.

It was not merely sport for which Raul fought. For too long his people had been oppressed and discriminated against, despite all the contributions their hard labour across the border had brought. They had been hated, resented, unjustly expelled from their employment, and evicted from their homes. Worst of all, rumours had already begun to fly that a campaign of genocide against his people was in the making.

It was irrelevant as to whether such hearsay was true, of course. All that mattered was that these rumours existed, and had driven his citizens at home and across the border into panic and despair. With this very legitimate justification, it was only right that Raul laid claim to the territory across the border his citizens now occupied, and generously extend his aegis of protection by annexing that land into his country.

With his resolve now fortified by nicotine, Raul picked up the telephone, and spun the numbers to contact his chief of staff. It was not long before the other man’s voice could be heard on the other end of the line.

“Buenas tardes, General Hernández. What are your orders, sir?” The voice of Raul’s right-hand man had been rendered gravelly by the poor quality of the connection.

“It is time. Execute Operation Fútbol.”

“Yes, my President.”

Replacing the phone, Raul glanced at the clock on his wall. The half hour allocated would be more than enough time to prepare the rapid strike team. The air force would begin bombing in five minutes, targeting the enemy’s hangars, airfields, and fuel depots. Once the surprise attack had disabled the enemy’s air force and dented their technological and numerical superiority, ground troops would be able to advance in order to secure the territory which was rightfully theirs. And Raul would be there at the forefront of the battle leading his men, a champion of the modern age. A hero who would rescue his people and vanquish a hated rival before the eyes of the world.

Raul rose from his seat, and latched his pistol in its holster before placing his military cap upon his head. Tongues of flame had already begun to lick the sky above the city, and he could imagine the shouts and cries of the angry mobs flooding out of the stadium and rampaging through the streets. Watching his own capital burning filled Raul with a morbid pleasure. It was the satisfaction that his people were prepared for war, and desired nothing less than victory with all their hearts.

Lifting his cigar from his lips, he wistfully dreamed of how he would repay that carnage and suffering upon his enemies a hundredfold, and blew a ring of smoke as a toast to the warriors of his nation.

“Libertad, Unión, y Cristo. Glorious shall we be.”

Raul turned out to be wrong. A defeated aggressor is known as nothing more than a villain, or so the history books of greater nations of the world have made it out to be, and his glorious war would be known by the most ignominious of names.
 

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Author #3


A Rivalry


Some say it all began with the tub of lard, the squeaky door, and the vicar, may God have mercy on his rotten soul. And the trampoline, lest it be forgotten.

Others claim that it was a case of incompatible personalities; that they just rubbed each other wrong, and that that's all there is to say. Yet others proclaim it entirely political, the struggle of two strong men, who both wanted to be king in the north.

The immortal Bard's lost play, the biting political satire "Romeo, Juliet, and that other guy", is said to have portrayed the rivalry as a tragedy of manners. There are no known extant copies.

The rivalry itself as it played out in the game of kings is well known. King Demid I "the Noble" of Poland and Sweden struggled for years against king Leif II of Denmark, the most powerful monarch of the middle ages. Denmark, that had for so long looked west and south, now turned its attention to Norway. Their struggles varied from the petty to the absurd. No slight was too little, no diplomatic snub too outrageous, no accident too unlikely. As the naked cabaret incident stands silent witness to. Yet in spite of this, they never but once came to blows, always seeking to hinder the other's actions by indirection rather than confrontation.

An astonishing find in the library of the late earl of Fuenen promises sheds new light on the subject. It appears to be a fragment of a copy of an older work written by the late earl's distant ancestor, sir Thorvald the Bold (?-1280), and is a rambling commentary on the kingly rivalry presumably dictated by sir Thorvald himself to an unknown scribe. The fragment is much damaged and only the first few paragraphs have been restored, but they hint at tantalizing possibilities:


-----​


I am an old man now, and my mind wanders occasionally, but in my youth I was one of the king's companions, and as merry a bunch of hell-raisers as ever were seen seen were we. We hunted, we drank, we whored, and we fought. How we fought. Summer, now, that was the proper time for fighting, and ever we greeted the coming of spring joy, knowing that our time would come, but winter held its own dark amusements in the cold north.

Through the darkest of winter nights we rampaged through the capital's inns, visiting upon them vice without end.

It didn't last.

Never shall I forget the day that he entered the king's life. It was during the Revolt of the Dark Apples back in 1232 or 33, that word arrived that Sweden had a new king, Demid, first of his name. His majesty being much preoccupied with domestic affairs and Sweden being the mess that it was in those days, nobody at court paid much attention to Swedish affairs, something that may seem surprising now but made sense then. In those days Sweden was ruled by the king of Poland, following the usurpation by Demid's father, Feodor I, the "magnanimous", at the close of the 12th century, and Sweden was quite possibly the only realm in the world more dismal than fractured Poland.

Our majesty the king sent the upstart a humorous coronation gift in response. A silver piss-pot with the inscription, "Let he who is too poor to own a pot to piss in use this."

An innocent jest, you might well think, but king Demid was not amused and he retaliated by gifting our king a full slop-bucket upon the birth of princess Ida the next year, a childish gesture if ever I saw one.

Naturally, such an insult demanded a response and we were all set to invade Sweden and burn it to the ground, but the good king refused. He considered it unsporting to raise the might of Denmark against so feeble an enemy, and instead designed the most delicious retaliation, asking us, his boon companions, to aid him with advice. Truth be told, none of us could match him for devilry.

Small of stature and sharp of wit were she, her assets firm and in the right place, oh yes, her lips as dark as sin. The woman he procured for the first part of his plan was the type to make men howl at the moon and make the lame rise in her honour. Seeing her was to desire her, and she left broken hearts and flaccid organs behind when she was she was shipped off for the Swedish court. Where she came from I never knew, but she was Lady Marianne when she left the Danish court the heiress to huge tracts of land, and she had a history to prove it.

When news of the scandal at the Swedish court reached us a year later, we gloated, I as much as any. While good sir Henning of the Boat Anchor was responsible for supplying the wicked vicar, did I not suggest the trampoline without which the bedroom gymnastics would have been impossible? All of Europe laughed at the scandal of the king Demid, the goat, the vicar, and the maid.

This was all fun and games with no harm intended, of course, but the reprehensible Polack didn't see it that way. I know that some slanderous good for nothings, may God visit boils upon them, claim that it was our good king Leif who introduced a political dimension to what had until then been good-natured ribbing. Not so, I assure you, not so. The truth is that it was wholly king Demid's fault that the kingdom of Norway was drawn into the argument, making of that frozen realm a proxy battleground for the growing rivalry between the kings competing for its favours.

King Gudmund II of Norway then being in his minority, the question of whether Norway should cling more closely to Denmark or to Sweden was suddenly on everybody's lips. To our very great surprise. When we should have been plotting against the emperor or crusading in Hispania, the nobles of the realm were clamouring for the king to do something, anything, to show the flag in Norway. A realm with the net value of a barrel of fish and the strategic value of a dead duckling.

Clearly, somebody had been inciting rumours and influencing people, but our good king was ever competitive. If somebody offered him a challenge, he would meet it. Even if it was a damn silly one.

<ILLEGIBLE>

It took me four years and two squires to tech the bear to grunt in passable Norwegian.

<ILLEGIBLE>

In 1243 a terrible lawnmower accident spoiled the cabaret. "Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn". May God have mercy on his rotten soul.


The remainder of the fragment is currently being studied at the university of Copenhagen.
 

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Author #4


Guo Rui set down the brush with a snap and examined his testimonial, bearing the title ‘Remarks on the Recent Famine of the Eighth Year of Xining – Petition for the Immediate Release of the Duke of Jing from His Wrongful Imprisonment’. The penmanship was deliberate, neat and miniscule, easily read by any literate man or child; not the flowery ‘running script’ so many other young men were so keen on adopting, which the young xiushi Guo felt to reflect a slovenly and corrupt mind. He folded up the testimonial and tucked it beneath the sleeve of his robe, striding out the door of his dormitory toward the Imperial Palace.

Guo always enjoyed walking the streets of Bianjing, which during the Qin had gone under the name of Kaifeng – though this period of Song was of course a much more enlightened age. The marvellous smells of fresh-grilled meat and spices wafting off of the outdoor stalls, decorated with a thousand coloured lights, mingled with the late afternoon air off the lake; the busy noise of commercial intercourse and the calls of shopkeepers and the drivers of street carts juxtaposed – others might say clashed – with the tranquillity of the natural atmosphere. It was from just such clashes that the great poets of ages past were made, he reflected wistfully. It was as he was allowing such thoughts to drift into his mind that he noticed the minister He San walking in the same direction as he was.

Unconsciously, young Guo began to stiffen his shoulders and pick up his pace. He San was a sympathiser with the exiled statesman Sima Guang and his elder clique, and an intractable opponent of the Duke of Jing; but between the two of them were only a few years’ difference. Even so, at every turn He San stood in his way, belittled him and slighted him with insincere praises before the Emperor and his court, or attempted to stymie him in his recommendations. In He’s eyes, Guo was merely a ‘xinjin xianbo zhi shi’ – a ‘newly-promoted youngster’ and opportunist who was using the Duke of Jing’s ambitious Xinfa reform programme to advance his career. If only He could understand that one does not notch a boat in midstream to find a sword lost overboard!

Guo and his fellow young officials appointed by the Duke of Jing meant no disrespect to the elder generation, but the Duke had faced times when poor peasants laboured under oppressive taxes and needless imposition by the military. He had seen how merchants and great landlords used their influence to avoid paying their own share of tax, or scavenged off the plight of the farmers by employing them at the most paltry of wages. And he had fought the ignorant officials and beneficiaries of nepotism who, with their rote learning, either benefitted from the corruption which went on right above their heads, or had not the slightest idea how to combat it.

Had not the Master said, ‘What use is it for a man to memorise three hundred of the Songs, if he cannot act when entrusted with government?’? Was this truly so hard for He San to understand? Such angry thoughts tormented young Guo as he approached the gates of the Palace.

By now he was shoulder-to-shoulder with He San.

‘Good evening, Minister He,’ Guo Rui spoke.

The minister merely treated Guo as if he were not even there.

The nerve of the man! Guo had to keep from curling his lip in umbrage. But that was not the worst of it. The worst of it was: Guo actually respected Minister He. If He had merely been a drunken and dissolute layabout, or a corrupt tool of the elder clique interested merely in the comfort of eating easily from their rice bowls, Guo could simply dismiss him as yet another problem needing reform. But He was actually intelligent, driven, and in his own way as idealistic as Guo himself was.

Facts which were not lost on Guo, no matter how much he might wish otherwise.

Practically shanks-mare now, they strode into the courtyard as the gates opened before them, and walked up the stairs at the same measured pace – neither one wanting to rush before or tarry behind the other; neither one wanting to give the other the satisfaction of seeing his rival breach decorum. Guo Rui kept one hand firmly upon his testimonial, feeling sweat from his palms slick the wood beneath and praying to Heaven that it did not smudge his careful writing. But he could not slacken his grip.

The two crossed the square courtyard and entered the rear hall, where each took up his place on opposite sides of the room and knelt formally with the other courtiers and petitioners. Before them was seated the young Emperor Zhongzhen, of an age with Guo Rui.

Court business proceeded as usual. Guo Rui listened attentively to the voices of the Emperor and the other courtiers as they began their deliberations, waiting anxiously for mention of what was to be done about the imprisonment of the Duke of Jing. He San knelt in similar poise, looking for all his genteel erudition like a tiger awaiting its prey to move into the open, to make the kill.

At last, the moment arrived. The Emperor began speaking about the famine.

‘… what We must do with regard to the plight of Hebei’s farmers in the wake of their disastrous locust plague, of which the honoured minister Zheng Xia made Us aware of late. Alas, with the Duke of Jing having resigned and given himself over for imprisonment over the issue, We must find another solution to the crisis.’

‘With respect to your Imperial Majesty,’ He San spoke up, ‘the Green Shoots law implemented by the, ah, outstanding talents promoted by the Duke of Jing has only made the problem worse. The farmers granted their loans were forced by the tyrannical local administrators under the Duke’s regime to repay them when they had nothing to pay them with, and they were sent home to their lands to starve. We cannot look either to the Duke of Jing or to his appointees for advice in this time. This lowly and ignorant minister humbly recommends that your Imperial Majesty heed the advice of Su Shi, whose warnings and exhortations to your imperial Majesty on the Green Shoots law have in this time of crisis proved most prescient…’

‘Your Imperial Majesty,’ Guo Rui approached and kowtowed, presenting his testimonial into the August Hand, ‘this unworthy and uncultured person begs your Imperial Majesty’s pardon and indulgence for his interruption, but these malicious slanders against the Duke of Jing cannot be allowed to continue! Perhaps the worthy minister He San disdains the August Memory to distort the clear reading of that proposal I am sure your Imperial Majesty clearly remembers: “Farmers
 desirous
 of borrowing 
money 
before 
the 
harvest 
should 
be granted 
loans, 
to 
be 
repaid 
at 
the 
same 
time 
as 
they 
pay 
their 
tax, 
half 
with 
the 
summer 
payment 
and 
half 
with 
the 
autumn 
payment.” Also, “In 
the 
event 
that 
disaster 
strikes,
 the farmers 
should be 
allowed 
to 
defer payment 
until 
the 
date 
when 
the 
next 
harvest 
payment 
would 
be 
due. 
In 
this way 
not 
only 
would 
we 
be 
prepared 
to 
meet 
the 
distress 
of 
famine 
but since 
the people 
would receive 
loans 
from
 the 
government,
 it 
would 
be 
impossible 
for 
the 
monopolistic 
houses to 
exploit 
the 
gap 
between
 harvests 
by 
charging 
interest 
at 
twice 
the 
normal 
rate.” This plague of locusts and this famine are indeed a great tragedy for the people of Hebei, and there is not one amongst us in your Imperial Majesty’s service who does not grieve at their pitiable condition; however, if force was used by those responsible for collecting the loans, the fault lies with those who interfered’ – here Guo chanced a well-timed glare in He’s direction – ‘with the proper administration of the law – not with its author.’

‘We recognise the justice of Scholar Guo’s defence of the Duke and his reforms,’ the young Emperor inclined his head ever-so-slightly. ‘However, We must remind the scholar that the Duke offered his own resignation on account of the Hebei famine. We cannot force his return.’

‘This unworthy and uncultured person would not dare to presume thus upon your Imperial Majesty’s patience. But, may it please your Imperial Majesty, the power is in the August Hand to secure the Duke’s release from gaol and his return to civilian life.’ Guo bowed and gulped. This was the greatest risk he had ever incurred to his own career.

‘The Scholar Guo Rui is indeed audacious,’ came He Shi’s voice from behind him and to his right. Guo felt his stomach clench. ‘This lowly and ignorant minister may be mistaken, of course, but it did sound to me as though he was calling into question your Imperial Majesty’s wisdom in sending a tyrannical and impious lord to prison for bringing disaster upon the common people and undermining the faith of Heaven in your Imperial Majesty’s enlightened rule.’

‘If the Scholar Guo Rui is indeed guilty of such doubts, as is not entirely clear to Us,’ the Emperor spoke carefully, ‘he would by no means be the first. The eminent elder Sima Guang is known for sending Us on a most dependable basis his warm regards and advice along with his doubts of Our rule.’

Was that Guo’s imagination, or did he detect a note of humour in the August Voice? Whatever the Emperor’s intention might have been, it had certainly caused He San to check his tongue. Guo Rui bowed deeply to hide a secret grin, and returned to kneel at his mat on the left of the room.

~~~​

Several months later, Guo was again out walking on the street by the lake near the Imperial Palace. He took a much more leisurely pace than he had on that day, and could afford to turn his back on the stalls and the merchants to indulge in the pleasure of gazing out over the lake. The poet’s life… perhaps that was what he truly desired after all. He became aware of a presence next to him, and he felt his stomach clench as he recognised the man.

‘Well, you got what you wanted,’ Minister He spoke.

‘Pardon?’

‘Your Duke was released. I heard that his Imperial Majesty named him Governor of Jiangning.’

‘Indeed?’ asked Guo Rui. ‘I’m happy to hear of it.’

The minister harrumphed. Clearly he did not share Guo Rui’s reaction. ‘I wouldn’t know if your testimonial swayed the August Mind. You know as well as I how highly our Emperor regards the Duke. But… you did speak well, that day.’

Guo Rui bowed. Though he would admit it to no other man or even to his own betrothed, Guo felt not merely the fierce, cold righteousness of vindication, but actually a keen surge of warmth toward He San for that mere gesture. He San would never countenance the Duke of Jing’s reforms, but at the very least Guo now knew that he was capable of some degree of respect for those who did support them. And they would have clashes in the future, Guo was in no two minds about that. But they would not clash in a spirit of revenge. They would ascend the platform as archers in competition, and descend the platform as fellows.
 

DensleyBlair

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Great to see another round - and with four entries, too. As with last time, I'll review each in turn (and hopefully get around to all of them this time.)

Rather traditionally, I'll start with:

Author #1​

I enjoyed this piece - I liked how it seemed to have a very definite structure in terms of the story. The first paragraph was a solid start, though there were places where, for me, it didn't flow. That's not to say it wasn't well written - as it was, but there were just a few things like comma placement and punctuation choice that I would have done differently. It's personal preference, though.

From what I gleaned from the story, the setting changed in the second paragraph. You might consider adding some sort of indicator that it has done so, maybe a:

--​

or something similar. The second paragraph was well done, though - I think more so than the first, possibly because its subject matter actually developed.

One thing I wasn't sure of, though, was the characterisation of the Serzheant in terms of speech. I'm assuming the 'wot' and such was supposed to be either a Russian accent, or perhaps indicative of some sort of crudeness as far as speech is concerned - further hinted at with 'loud' and 'boorish.' In any case, I read his character as a Cockney, which I'm not sure was entirely what the author was going for. I may be wrong, and it could just be me, but you might want to have a look at it.

I'd also suggest adding line breaks between each piece of speech. It makes it easier to read, especially on a screen.

The next few paragraphs were generally well-written.

My next point, though, would also relate to speech. Take this:

“Great cover, sir, but it’s damn close to the Germans.”​

That, to me, screams Lieutenant George, and seems incongruent with the rest of the Serzheant's characterisation - especially the [somewhat Scottish] 'wha?' a bit further down (though that may have been a typo.) This little dialogue just seems a bit too, well, British, to convince me that I'm dealing with two Russian sharpshooters, and is something I'd have a look at.

I think the next few paragraphs do a good job of furthering the story - and I like how this piece is decidedly story-oriented - but there was something about them that bothered me. I'm not sure what it was, exactly, but I have a suspicious it may be to do with some of the word choices.

Take, for example:

[...]a set of generic walls.

The use of 'generic' just seems a bit - odd, to me at least. It's definitely not a word I would have chosen, and doesn't really fit for me. Having read this line, I think I may have hit what's annoying me:

After an uneventful journey of an hour and a half,[...]

It seems almost like someone is describing what's going on for a lighthearted documentary or article. Mentions of the pair having travelled 'as the crow flies' and being near 'what was once a Post Office' compound this. I think there's a slight description overload, and what is being described doesn't really gel with the theme of the piece for me. It's almost as if we have someone writing about a hard-hitting war scene only to focus on the postal service - not entirely congruent.

That isn't to say, however, that this is poorly written - I enjoyed the piece a lot. I just think that, had the author had more time to polish, some things could have been altered.

The next thing I'd comment on is this:

“I’ll take overwatch from the only intact building near our manhole. You will flush him out.”

If I had a day to waste Googling TV Tropes, I'd find the 'proper' name for it, but this sentence seems to me like Pavel is very deliberately describing something he probably wouldn't. For me it's just like he has said something, only to say 'but of course we all know that.' It's as if Pavel is explaining something essentially redundant for the benefit of the reader, which is fine, but doesn't really come about in natural speech.

Ultimately, I think you would be better served writing:

"I'll take watch," Pavel began, "you will flush him out."

As Fedir nodded and made his way over to his position, the lieutenant took up his own - on the third floor of a nearby building, miraculously still intact.

Obviously, that's not to say that what you've written is in any way bad, just not entirely fitting - or so I would say.

I actually thought that the latter parts of the piece were the strongest, and really enjoyed seeing the story resolve. I certainly hadn't expected Fedir would become 'no more,' though perhaps I was being naïve.

Overall, a solid piece - though I have no idea as to the author.

Oh, and Renss, I checked out the Sting song. I'm only partially acquainted with his work - I own Walking on the Moon and Roxanne, and studied the rather nondescript Every Breath You Take in school - but I enjoyed the song. I actually ended up buying the Godley and Creme song of the same name, which is also a good one if you are unaware of it ;)
 

Seelmeister

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Author 1


I thought this was a solid story, the ending was well supported by the evidence of exhaustion throughout. Kirilov appears calm and assured - almost bored at points, and as a result his character exudes confidence and experience.

As Densley has pointed out above, the word generic is a bit jarring, made me pause to consider and didn’t feel entirely appropriate.

Fedir is unfortunate and evokes the readers sympathy, although this is largely down to his own naivety – again the author has done well to support this with evidence throughout the story and especially in the dialogue between the Fedir and Kirilov.

On the dialogue, Densley has already made the point that the language choice and perhaps tone didn’t entirely fit with the characters. I already automatically read Wot and ain’t in a cockney accent. I suspect this was an attempt to establish that Fedir was less educated, to further highlight the distinction between Lieutenant Kirilov and Serzheant Fedir – which did succeed, but a better approach may have been to use simpler words instead of slang.

Over all, very enjoyable, and of the four rivalries this was the only one to deal with the lives of ‘ordinary’ people.


Author 2


I enjoyed the way this piece considered the conflict from more than one point of view. The line;

These men were heroes. And at that very same time, they were villains.

encapsulates this well, although the use of a short sentence, and two short phrases meant it could perhaps have flowed slightly better.

The description of ‘seething barbarians’ made me initially think this piece was a medieval or ancient battle, but the mention of a private office casts doubt on this before it becomes clear that this is much more modern.

Interesting that the piece sought to describe the rivalry between peoples, which I think it did very successfully.

In the space between them lay their prize, a glittering silver sphere, and as a whistle pierced the air the orb was hefted into the air by a mighty blow.

In this sentence, one of the occurrences of ‘air’ could have been substituted which would have improved the flow I feel.


Author 3


A gripping start, which fills the reader with questions from the first sentence. What was done with the lard? Who snapped because of a squeaking door? The structure is brilliant hear, with the addition of the trampoline piquing my curiosity.

The narrator clearly writes from the Danish point of view – their insults are ‘humorous’ and an ‘innocent jest’, which the Swedish riposte is ‘a childish gesture’ or ‘an insult [which] demanded a response’

Being presented as the incomplete extracts of an old parchment was great, and really added to the piece. It ended in a similar manner to the start, and leaves the reader wondering whether the author was in fact endeavouring to teach an animal to grunt Norwegian, and how the unfortunate vicar met with his fate.

The tone of this entry is whimsical, and was very enjoyable for that.


Author 4


This piece really brought the intrigue of the imperial court to life. Guo Rui is well introduced to the reader, who follows the audience with the Emperor firmly in his camp.

There is a tension running through the piece – it is clear that the stakes are high. I did feel slightly underwhelmed when Guo Rui took the plunge and suggested the release of the Duke – it was clear that this was a turning point – and it should have perhaps been drawn out slightly longer. In addition to He Shi’s response, a third persons shock at the audacity would have prolonged the suspense. The Emperors’ reply also very quickly lets Guo Rui off the hook – perhaps he could have opened with the [punishment should such an offence have taken place, paused, and then dismissed the allegation.

I enjoyed the complexity of Guo Rui’s rivalry with He Shi – not just a straightforward disliked or envy, but well mixed with respect. The resolution appeared fitting given the characterisations


-----

Overall, I thought these were four very enjoyable pieces of writing. Well done to all the writers, it was very interesting to read such a variety of different takes on the topic. I hope that there is something in my feedback that may be useful, and I hope that once the identities are revealed I can find some more of each writers work to enjoy.

I don’t feel I am familiar enough with the prolific writers on these forums to hazard a guess as to the identity of the authors, but hopefully after a few more rounds I’ll get up to speed. Thanks to Coz1 for organising this and setting an interesting topic.
 

Gen. Marshall

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Alright, they are here. Nice!
I'll give this a shot as well then, starting with Number 1.

No. 1
This was a nice piece, especially the unexpected ending. It was also a long piece, and perhaps that is the cause or result of one of the biggest flaws of this story. Apart from minor things like the misuse of "generic" and the Britishness of the characters (Fedir actually reminds me of Baldrick), the major issue I had with this story was in the part around the first break. Anything from "grabbing the backpack" to "the flash" just didn't seem to flow. While the setting of the rest of the story was tense, that part was more of a description of a casual walk. I think this has more to do with the overall lack of anything interesting story-wise than the use of words. This story would, in my opinion, be much better off if the snipers' hiding place was placed just next to the road and the sewers. The rest of the story was solid though, and I liked the fact that it was about ordinary WWII people. Because of this, my best guess is Rensslaer, even though the style doesn't quite match his previous submission.

No. 2
"The first shot"? Brilliant. I don't think I have ever read such a comparison between football and war. Teams standing opposite each other, barbarians surrounding them - "Barbarians" being a soothing description of most football fans. The transition to actual war was hard to grasp at first, but again, brilliant nonetheless. It's the next part where something just isn't right. It took me half an hour to find out what, and even then I don't think I really know what it is. I -think- it has to do with the transition between the decisions and thinking of Raul, and explaining to the reader what is going on, and a description of the battle plan. The latter, in my opinion, is not necessary and clutters up the story. The first two should just be separated more. Given that Raul is the President, perhaps a speech would have done the trick. As for the author? I have no idea.

No. 3
Never have I seen such a nonsensical story. Quarrels over a piss-pot? Not to mention the introduction which made even less sense than the rest of the story. And that's a good thing. It was hilarious. The point of view from which the story is told only adds to the comedy, being so oblivious of the Danish rudeness / upset about the Swedish jokes and all. Now, I'd love to give some constructive critisism, but I think that will be up to the other commenters this time around. Now, I have a feeling I know this author, and style, very well. But at this time, I can't seem to recall where I have seen it before. Forum searching time!

Edit: If only because of the familiar style, I'll go with Avindian.

No. 4 in a later post
 
Last edited:

Rensslaer

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As has become typical, I'm going to start my feedback from the back, as many commenters start from the front, and authors may not get to see their #4 story reviewed as much.

Author #4

Some very fine touches of realism in this piece. The writing brush. Styles of script. All this adds depth, and immersion, which is great. This, and other elements, shows a familiarity with the culture that seems to go beyond mere research.

Furthermore, I really like the level of detail of the surroundings. Sometimes an author can dwell too much on that, letting the detail get in the way of the story. But this one has good balance, and it adds to the atmosphere.

The feelings of affront both Guo and He are feeling come through really well. They're well described, and make sense in context. Their reactions are understandable as a part of human nature, which is well represented. It reminds me of The Good Earth, which seems mostly to be about human nature, which drives us to seemingly unreasonable conclusions and actions.

I liked the analogy of the boat and the sword. I didn't understand its meaning, but I concluded that it was applicable to the situation, and was probably a good point, which was sufficient! :) The author allowed this conclusion by not explaining, and not explaining added to the immersion of the story, which I thought was clever.

Curling his lip in umbrage, eating easily from their rice bowls... Culture-centric phrases, which again add to the story. And good command of the English language, knowing which words to use. Genteel erudition.

At first, it was unclear to me who was in front as they were walking the same direction, such that I was confused when Guo caught up with He. At first I was thinking Guo was trying to avoid He, by hurrying his step to keep away from him.

The tension of Guo's suggestions to the Emperor is apparent too. Frankly, I'm reminded of the pecking order of my cats, like when they confront each other, and one loses his nerve and looks away - the gentle inclinations of the neck that indicate he's bowing to a superior. lol Obviously, the situations are different, but I suspect the setup and signals of deference is similar.

He's immediate strike against a perceived weakness, when he recognizes the bold move that could undo him, is well thought out by the author. The Emperor's response was great. It's a minuet of careful calculations, meanings and intonations, true to the Chinese cultural style.

The ending is well-crafted and heartwarming -- a recognition of a well-played hand, and a grudging gesture of respect between rivals.

In the last paragraph, I'm a little confused by the sentence about "Guo now knew that he was capable of some degree of respect for those who did support them." Was that supposed to be "He" instead of "he"? Or did you mean "did not" instead of "did"? Or am I just confused, which is certainly possible? :)

I'm going to venture a guess that this is Tanzhang, as he's the only member with Chinese characters in his name, which displays a level of immersion with the culture that would match what I'm seeing from this author. In looking through his AARs I can't find narrative scenes, but the depth of his historybook stories would match what I'm seeing here. Either way -- whoever it is -- this is a really well written scene that draws the reader in.

Nicely done!

Rensslaer

(comments on the other stories coming soon!)
 

coz1

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It's been just under a week and we have 4 great critiques (or part thereof) and over 500 views since posting.

The work is being read, folks. Keep it up! :)
 

Mithfir

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I'm not a good critic, but I'll share my impressions. Here goes:

Author 1

Well executed pace. A good balance of details, dialogue and actions. However, I’m not fully convinced with the rivalry concept in the ending. Is chasing a shadow a rivalry? I’m still wondering...

Author 2

It ended way too soon! I wanted more! Also, without a clear antagonist, I had trouble picturing the rivalry in this story. However, Raul was an interesting character and it’s a pity the story was too short. There should be a part 2 to this.

Author 3

Hmmm the ending left me confused. Is this a journal entry? It broke sharply with the rest of the story, which is unfortunate in my opinion. I was expecting blood, war, scandals and dignified insults or a part two! Lady Marianne with lips as dark as sin? Oh my, I am taking notes and am completely aroused enthralled interested in that figure of speech. Being easily seduced by this writer, I am going to guess aniuby wrote this one.

Author 4

I believe this story grasped the rivalry concept the best. The tension is evident between the two men, even if in the end, they transcended the rivalry into a fellowship (of the ring?). This would have made a good movie scene in one of those ancient China films starring Chow-Yun-Fat or Jet Li. It reminded me of a particular scene in “Hero” when Broken Sword writes “Our Land” in the sand, which eventually changed the Nameless Hero’s choice regarding assassinating the emperor... I got carried away, sorry. I liked this.
 

Gen. Marshall

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When are the authors revealed? And, perhaps more importantly, when is the great Fan of the Week going to comment? ;)
 

Rensslaer

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When are the authors revealed? And, perhaps more importantly, when is the great Fan of the Week going to comment? ;)

Coz1 has said he does not like to comment on these while he's running the show, as he is the "moderator" and therefore has a role that might somehow be compromised if he were to offer opinions. I happen to disagree with him, and I actively commented when I was running this. I think Coz should change his mind! ;)

Rensslaer