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CCC: cleverpun's Critique Corner #40 — Souls and Silicon · 2:58am Feb 12th, 2020

Review Index

Format Breakdown

I’m continuing my critiques of the entrants into the Imposing Sovereigns II contest. Today’s story is the fifth-best story I read in the entire contest; the last one I awarded points to. I would like to stress, however, that I only ranked them because FanOfMostEverything made me; they are all excellent.

Title: Souls and Silicon
Author: Syke Jr

Found via: That contest what I judged.

Short summary: Far, far into the future, everything is different. AI born of consciousness, spaceships, technology interlaced with magic… All these things and more have altered the very fabric of society.

One of these AI awakens to find her world at war, her society sundered by conflict. She remembers her name—Luna—and little else. The cause of this war, however, is a name she finds all too familiar.

Genre(s): Science Fiction, Adventure, Character Piece

The Title/Description: The title is fine: alliteration is always nice, and it gets at the point of the story well enough.

The description is a great example of how to give information to the reader and still hook them. It implies the barest basics of the world’s mechanics, and then drops a single potent detail.

The Critique:

This story possesses an engaging setting. Transhumanism is a timeless theme, and this story uses it to great effect. It asks some excellent questions: How does technology affect our lives? Does it change the definition of sentience? Is the danger worth the advantages? This and more is a classic use of the “science” in science fiction, and the themes are well-represented.

This setting is presented through worldbuilding well. I never felt lost or unsure about the world’s mechanics. There is some exposition dumping: Luna fills the old cliche of “character who doesn’t know how the world works, and so gets everything explained to them.” The exposition is generally not intrusive, and is reserved for the less intuitive parts of the world. It is also somewhat amusing to see Luna in the position of audience surrogate, but this is definitely one of the story’s more cliche elements.

The use of tense is also interesting. Luna’s sections are in first-person present tense, and it gives them a clear sense of immediacy. The story alternates between these sections and third-person omniscient narration sections in past tense. There are some tense shifts scattered about, and some annoying typographical gimmickry. More frustratingly, lots of passive voice sticks its head in at inopportune times. The third chapter in particular—the action-packed climax—uses a lot more passive voice than is justifiable, given the events that happen. It contrasts even more awkwardly with the aforementioned immediacy created by the present-tense narration.

Another common adventure cliche shows up in the middle of the story: Luna is too effortlessly successful. A significant plot point is that ponies have forgotten how old magic works. All new magic needs to be run through technology to make it work (ostensibly because it is so complex). Further, when code!Luna tells the ponies to build her a mechanical body, they flatly tell her it’s impossible. So of course, Luna accomplishes both of these things without much effort. I’m not even going to spoiler that: the story makes it clear what direction it is going. There is no tension or ambiguity in Luna’s successes.

This, by itself, is not exactly a problem. After all, “the good guy wins” is how most stories operate. The bigger problem is that Nightmare Moon is a flat villain: she possesses no interesting qualities. There are some bits and bobs about her that reference Luna’s self-doubt and fall to darkness. But for a virus, Nightmare Moon does very little infecting or corrupting. Her main characterization is her relationship with Luna, but it doesn’t receive any but the most token of mentions. There is no personality to her, and her personal connection to Luna is merely ornamental.

In a single sentence: An excellent setting and great worldbuilding are hampered by both a plot and a villain lacking in tension.

Verdict: Upvote. Despite the villain and the plot failing to surprise or even create tension, this is still a great story. I’m more than a little biased here. This was the only science fiction story in the contest. That definitely enhanced my estimation of it: science fiction has long been my favored genre. But even with that bias, this is still a story that holds something for those who don’t like science fiction.

To distort and change so deeply the world we know from the show, yet still have it be recognizable, is no small feat. Unfortunately, this story did seem hampered by the constraints of the contest. It feels more like the opening chapters of a novel than a finished story. But I would gladly read more in this setting, and there is enough of a conclusion here that I don’t need to.

Comments ( 2 )

Thank you. The shortcomings are something I was so aware of that I almost didn't submit. I'm glad I did, though. Next time I will make sure to work on the piece for a lot longer rather than doing nearly all of it in the last couple of days.

I actually had more scenes of Nightmare Moon, but I cut them when I re-wrote a lot of the middle section because it was both confusing and dry, as well as quickly promising to spiral outside of the word limit. The re-write didn't go super well and I ended up with less in the end, both of NMM and of Luna actually struggling like I'd outlined, but it was too late to do anything about it.

In any case, I'm honored you'd review it at all, so again, thank you.

5201956 As I mentioned in my review, I definitely noticed the constraints of the contest at play. It's not easy to write on a time limit (one of many reasons I've yet to participate in NaNoWriMo). The fact that it was still enjoyable—despite those constraints—is definitely praiseworthy.

The conflict between Luna and Nightmare Moon certainly took less time than I was expecting, and had a more open-ended conclusion. Length is certainly a concern during contests, but there was just so much more that could have happened or been said between them. Again, I'm biased, since Luna and Nightmare Moon—as well as their relationship—is one of my favorite things to see explored in fanfic.

Regardless, whether you write more of this story or not, it is still a good piece of writing. I'm sure that your future writing projects will use the lessons you learned from this one, and be even better. :twilightsmile:

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