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Last week, the FiMFiction Writeoff Association, a group that normally does MLP fanfiction writing contests, decided to do something a little different: original fiction. Some of FiMFics best writers took the chance go write about anything except ponies for up to 8,000 words, and to prove that they can create "real" (IE, publishable) works. There was even a cash prize at the end.

Overall, things went great. There were a lot of strong entries, and I would highly recommend all the winners if you're in the mood for an original short story. But I wanted to review one story in-particular, IDDP by Cold in Gardez.

Be warned, the tone of this review isn't going to be nearly as light-hearted as my past blog reviews. Though I'll endeavor to keep things cheerful with pictures.

Normally, I'm a big believer in Death of the Author, the mindset that you should look at a  piece of writing like you didn't know (or didn't care) who wrote it and why. I go into stories with the idea that writing has to stand on its own, and "author intent" matters a lot less than what was actually written. But for this story, I had a lot of trouble with that. IDDP is a story about the war in Afghanistan, and Cold in Gardez served there for some time. It's even where his handle comes from (Gardez being a Afghan province, that yes, gets damn cold). When CiG first came to my attention, he was writing his ponyfic from a barracks and uploading it in his limited time. And he still wrote more than me! Go figure.

CiG has moved onto a safer deployment since then in the land of Sake and Anime Figurines, and I've gotten to know him well enough he's a real person to me instead of just "Lost Cities Solider Guy." But that image that was my first impression of him -- ponyfic from the steppe -- has stuck with me even as we've been in more frequent contact. Suffice it to say, he has a lot of authority to talk about what the war was like, and as someone whose job brought him in frequent contact with the locals, he can even talk about it from both sides. It was hard not to keep that out of my head as I read the story, and it made the events depicted therein seem far more real.

For the record, they aren't real. The story is not based on any specific events. But it can be easy to forget that when you're reading it.

IDDP is a story about a mistargeted drone strike -- or rather, the internal bureaucratic followup after one occurs. The protagonist, Major Martin, is the investigating officer looking into what caused a predator drone to miss its intended target and instead strike a small single-family home nearby. You won't find any crime drama here. Nobody, not even Major Martin, expects this to be anything more than a formality. His conversations with the analysts, the pilot, the liason, and the CO who ordered the strike all have an open tone to them. No one is worried they'll get in any trouble.

And in the end, they don't. The very first theory proposed for the accident is a mechanical failure -- sometimes the laser targeting system just jumps by a few degrees for a moment. And in the end, that seems to be the case. The laser targeting system spazed out a half-second at exactly the right time, when the target was near the house and the missile was too close for the pilot to make a manual correction. Not good for the pilot's career, perhaps, but it's an open and shut case.

But that doesn't mean it's an open and shut story, because Major Martin leans quite a lot along the way that has nothing to do with why the laser targeting system failed. He learns about the intended target, simply referred too as the man on the motorcycle, because that's all the analyst knows about him. Literally all. He's a man on a motorcycle, and he once gave an insurgent a hug when they passed by each-other in front of a mosque. In the analyst's mind, that's enough to get him labeled a terrorist, and put on the task force's kill list.

They missed him with this missile, but as she explains, that's not the end of the world. They can always kill him later. And will.

He learns about the pilot, more concerned with his career than with the fact that he just blew up a family home -- convinced that nobody got hurt because he didn't see anyone run out of the compound to escape or take cover. He learns about the liaison, who paid $3,000 to the family of the girl the missile killed, in the hope that it will persuade them not to become terrorists. And he learns about the CO who ordered the strike, who justified it under the stories naming doctrine. In Defense of Designated Persons. IDDP. Or if you prefer, military self-defense.

Self-defense. A kinetic strike with a Hellfire missile, fired from a drone ten thousand meters away, was self-defense against a man with an automatic rifle whose effective range was three hundred meters? I tried to fit those pieces together and drew a blank. “What do you mean, sir?”

“Just call me Eric, man. And it was an IDDP strike. In defense of something, I forget what it stands for. Ask the legal guys.”

“Uh, right. Eric.” I jotted down ‘legal’ in my notebook. “I’ll do that.”

“Great. Anything else?” He stood, making it clear that he did not, in fact, believe there was much else.

Legal is more than happy to help Major Martin. IDDP, he comes to understand, is defined as the right of a military officer to defend himself or his unit against anyone he feels is an imminent threat, which has been legally clarified, in the Afghan conflict, to mean, "Anyone who I think might threaten me at some point in the future."

Which in practice, of course, means anyone at all.

IDDP doesn't offer much -- or really, any -- closure on its events. We never learn what happens after the report, who the real target was, or what the consequences may be. The story doesn't feel incomplete though. The lack of follow up is clearly a stylistic choice on the author's part, and serves as the arch-typical fog of war. We never learn what happens because the character never learns, and never will, and that bothers us as much as it bothers him. This is a mood piece, pure and clear. Nothing gets explained, and nothing gets resolved. We're just left guessing and wondering, and the uncertainty that brings is half the point of the story.

On purely Death of the Author merits, I'd give this story an 8/10. It's good mood piece, particularly for its length, but it's construction isn't particularly remarkable, and it leans heavily on its contemporary setting to avoid having to give descriptions or explain itself. I'd say it's like a particularly visceral story of a child getting hit by a car. Yes it's contemporary, and yes it's sad, and yes you've written it well enough that I will feel emotions about how sad it is, but it doesn't really say much. But as I established earlier in this review, I can't quite bring myself to Death of the Author this one, and that changes a lot.

I had a lot of trouble reviewing this story, because the thing I really wanted to say about it could be -- not unfairly -- construed as a deep insult to the writer and a good number of his coworkers. I spent a lot of time deciding if I wanted to go that way or not, and honesty won out over diplomacy. Because, at its heart, IDDP is a Banality of Evil story, and that's why I can't forget who the author is. Because the fact that it feels so much like real events, and was written by someone who was there, turns what would otherwise be a well-constructed-but-unremarkable portrait of a fictional tragedy into a tiny glimpse into a very real tragedy that unfolds every day.

None of the soldiers in IDDP are evil as such. None of them are even really bad. They're obedient, and law-abiding, and when they're callous it's because they've been ordered and trained to be callous. But make no mistake, in the end, this is a story about a group of soldiers who accidentally kill a little girl as part of a botched attempt to murder a man for once having touched an insurgent. And they all get away with it and go back to what they were doing.

There's a lot I could say about the drone war (Spoilers! I'm against it), but this blog post isn't the time, and truthfully, the drone is perhaps the one character in this story who doesn't bear any blame for what happened. Robots may make stories like this easier to tell, because they put you so far away from the bloodshed, but in the end they just do what the buttons tell them. Replace all the specialists with infantrymen and the drone with a long range artillery round, and this story could have been written about a war fifty years ago. Part of being an effective solider is dehumanizing the enemy -- being able to destroy a target instead of murder those guys. But it's easy for that mindset to subtly run out of control, and when it does, the results are terrible.

IDDP was an excellent read for me, moving and gripping, without overstaying its welcome. While the descriptions are a bit sparse, I strongly recommend it.

Final Review: 9.5/10

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  • Viewing 146 - 150 of 150
#149 · 1w, 2d ago · 1 · ·


Like Right Here?

Thank you for reminding me that story existed. :)

#148 · 1w, 2d ago · · ·

I read your story, The Wizard and the Chalkboard, a while back and for some odd reason I found myself remembering it today. I spent 30 minutes searching my bookshelves wondering when I read that and trying to place who wrote it.

Stories that make me think of them and smile a while later are ones I must favorite. Damn shame Fimfic doesn't allow you to post stuff that short. Maybe make a home for these kinds of odds and ends? I'm sure you would enjoy thinking up a clever name for it :pinkiehappy:

#147 · 6w, 2d ago · · ·


I'm so sorry for my part in this.

#146 · 6w, 2d ago · · ·

I liked the fic just fine, so please do not take this personally... damn you for writing it and making it a fad that everyone is jumping on the bandwagon for.

  • Viewing 146 - 150 of 150
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