Ookla the Partitioner

Reading Excuses - 12/03/19 - aeromancer - Stranger in a Foreign Land Pt.3 (V,G) - 5500

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This is the last part of 'Stranger in a Foreign Land'. It's a bit past midnight EST, and I'm not thoroughly satisfied with the ending, but everything else looks good to me, and judging from the comments, this would be decently received as a re-submission, so I'm going for it now. As this is the final part, I'm looking for critiques in general, but specifically as to how the story was wrapped up, any plot holes, and how you felt the overall tone of the story was. Character impressions would also be great, especially on everyone's favorite emotion-eating not-quite-dragon. 
 
 
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Overall, I think T was still a great character. He's very simple really, which means the characters have to dance around him to justify their actions, and it's a great way to show everyone's flaws.

That's where this starts to get into trouble. I didn't really like the introduction of random Christian faith to what otherwise was a secondary world fantasy for the first 90%. It reads like a prop to justify the actions of the main character, though the actions themselves are at best hypocritical. I detailed this more in my comments below, but I would liked either a much bigger buildup to Z being able to use a "faith shield" or something else entirely that doesn't set my teeth on edge compared to the rest of the story. The whole conceit is that seekers don't have magic, but then Z basically pulls out a different sort of magic for the climax, which weakens the rest of the story.

Aside from that I think the story has merit. There just needs to be more "surprising yet inevitable" and less "surprising and confusing" at the end.


Notes while reading:
pg 1: not sure if "centipede-laden" is the correct term. "centipede-bedecked?"

pg 2: "The room stank horribly, not the smell of a foul odor, but a pungent assault on the nostrils that robbed them of their ability to smell anything else."
--the room stank of something that didn't smell?

pg 3: "through the green eye"
--the scar actually ran *through* the eye, or over the eye?

pg 3: "It’s quite rude to leave someone out of a philosophy debate.” 
--hmmm...Do we know the rules of the town vs. what the seeker wants? I think we need a lot more preparation if we're going to have a conversation about what's ethical or not in a completely different environment from our own, where we don't even know the local rules.

pg 5: "If it helps, just think of me as a scavenger that puts the material to better use.”
--I mean, we use donated corpses for science now, so by our ethics N's experiments might not be unethical. I don't know enough of the world to judge, so it's hard to be sympathetic to the hero.

pg 5: "and a life is a life.” 
--but they're dead.

pg 6: "I’ve committed no crimes."
--unless her creations have been killing people, I'm sort of with N on this one.

pg 7: "the reason S left is because you did something truly awful, something which, despite his pride, forced him into abandoning you."
--maybe lead with this. The previous moral argument isn't very strong.

pg 8: “You’ve admitted to deliberately harming a human being, for your own gain.”
--again, I feel they could have led with this tactic.

pg 9: "slaws" -> "claws"

pg 9: “So, you’ve figured out my talons are poisoned, have you?” 
--a very telly line...

pg 11: "“I liked that arm!” N snarled. “Do you know how long it’ll take me to find one just like it?”
--Lol.

pg 11: “Don’t kill her out of anger.”
--does this affect something?

pg 12: "This will corrupt you."
--I have a hard time telling if this is an actual rule of the world, or something the seekers just believe. So far, this world has been pretty dark, literally and figuratively.

pg 12: "Taking things into your hands will destroy the person most important to you.”
--huh?

pg 13: "T’s eyes flared red."
--I don't really understand why Z let T go to the witch. He's been able to control T well so far, and if he knew this would happen, then it doesn't make sense.

pg 14: “Oh, that feels good.”
--what does?

pg 14: "“That’s a long story, and we don’t have the time for it."
--eeeeecxept otherwise this whole thing doesn't make sense. Why did the seeker let T loose?

pg 15: "This creature knows who his true master is.”
--is this saying N is T's creator? But she wasn't familiar with him.

pg 16: "Z believed in a greater purpose to all that happens."
--this is a bit too on the nose of "the power was inside you all the time." I'm struggling to believe Z can just put up a "belief shield" and save the day.

pg 17: “…Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” 
--ok, this popped me out. So is this saying seekers are some remnant of the Christian religion? That imparts a very specific worldview on this story that hasn't been there before.

pg 18: “Once they fall to negative emotions, T inflames them, and the cycle continues as they inevitably try to kill me.”
--soooo...even though Z is taking the high and mighty road, he's still responsible for the death of the witch. It's not self-defense. He knows what T will do.

pg 19: “he can never exceed the normal range of human emotions.”
--Yes, but human emotions can vary widely based on what external stimulus there is. I still say Z deliberately forced the witch to something she wouldn't normally have done, thus negating his view of the sanctity of life. He degrades the value of her life just as she was doing to her test subjects.

pg 20: “Guess we’re stuck here until I’m well enough to swing my sword."
--didn't they already clear a path on the way in? Just take the same one out.

pg 21: "you had no problem with showing up with that Witchbeast of yours, knowing full well that it would lead to N’s death.”
--glad someone brought that up.

pg 21: "He’s a force of nature, and one I can’t control."
--nope. He brought T into this situation. He's just as much at fault.

pg 22: “Faith in the One Above All.”
--eh, this leaves me with a bit of a bad taste. Z gets to be all smarmy about his religion when simultaneously invalidating his supposed beliefs. He's a hypocrite.


 

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Overall comments:

I wish this story were a postmodern deconstruction of why it's bad to think like an inquisitor and why it's a fallacy to take for granted that the viewpoint character is good. 

- Do you edit or are these first drafts? 

- there are many confusing things in the story overall; for instance I didn't get in the previous parts that the brightwolf spoke to P and how P is now using S's moral compass as an argument that the witch must be doing something bad if it scared even him; it's another motivation reveal that's not been foreshadowed. I can read through and don't care much but it's jarring, it's like having missed the episode in the series.

- the witch's personality isn't working; there's a part in the beginning where she is one person and then she switches for no reason, actually harming her own position

- fight completely unrealistic

- the story is suffering of the villain problem; because the MC has no clear personality and goals, I find myself sympathizing with the villain at the end because at least she clearly wants something with a passion

- I hate P.

- sorry, this part works least of all 3

- anti-foreshadowing

- suspension of disbelief suffers a lot due to lack of tension and showing actual danger

- T is the only good thing

- totally with @Mandamon ethics-wise (note I've only read his/her post after reading the story and writing my comments)

 

Comments while reading:

Pg.1 - good opening, I liked seeing the witch's instruments in the room

Pg. 2 - "That one’s appearance and weapons match one P. from the Guild." I would've liked her to pick on something that would feel very personal like a specific weapon or a mannerism or even his looks, like when Z made that first deduction on the brightwolf. This would make the story feel immediate and give character development to P.

Pg. 2 - "There’s no rule against tunneling out a lab" - I don't know how to read this tunneling bit, is it like quantum tunneling?

Pg. 3 - conscious is an adjective, conscience is the word you need; you've had this one once more in part 2

end of pg. 3 - I like the witch; she has a personality

pg. 4 - "who seeks to place herself as the supreme arbiter of morality" - she comes across as amoral and Z comes across as self-righteous, conceited, and naive when he states she's doing something she's obviously not trying to do; so far I haven't seen the witch doing anything especially vile so it's hard to take his word. He's naive at best and at worst he's trying to build himself a nice straw man that he can attack later on to support his own moral views. Is he an inquisitor? They think like that.

pg. 5 - so the witch is a medical practitioner; so far I believe her and am on her side (pending other revelations)

Z.'s little speech end of pg. 5 to beginning of pg. 6 is why the dark ages were called the dark ages; he's falling straight into villain camp for me now, typical inquisitor; supporting his narrow mindedness with the idea that a life is a life when those people wanted their remains to be put to good use in medical experimentation is just yuck

pg. 8 - "lies" - Oh! it says something that T's the only character i'm taking seriously between him, P, and Z

pg. 8 - "even your twisted mind had to acknowledge that you were harming them" - this comes across as contrived when it was already established she was using bodies already dead and that those people agreed to offer their bodies for experiments. Not both can be true.

pg. 8 - what she says about T comes across as contrived following P's statement of arrest; it's mustache-twirling "let me convince you I'm a villain". If she's so sure of herself that she isn't worrying about arrest, she wouldn't feel the need to talk so much with the people who came for her.

pg. 8 - she keeps piling on the 'let me tell you how villainous i am' after having tried hard to convince them she's ethical. It's not working. I thought she's an interesting character but 4 pages later I'm proved wrong; it's falling into cliche

pg. 8 - "your corpse will do nicely" had me rolling my eyes; does she have anything to back that mouth up with now that the centipede is dead?

pg. 9 - "the witch launched herself at P."  is not threatening, she's a woman and he has a shield and is armed; she should be dead in .5 seconds. She has nothing to back that mouth up with, which means she isn't thinking clearly, which means she's got a mental health problem.

pg. 9 - the talons are still not scary and P is a wimp; 2 inches of talons vs 36 inches of blade isn't a fight, is a slaughter. He's got a shield too so him fearing her is disgusting.

pg. 10 - "pattern of blocks and stabs" - fight is completely unrealistic. If he 'blocked' her 'talons' once, she'd have no fingers left. There is no such thing as fighting an armed opponent, as any good self defense video on YouTube will show. I recommend Ramsey Dewey's channel. It might work if the witch was established as an astounding fighter previously, but she wasn't. It's just some coward shithead trying to slaughter a woman in a basement without evidence because he's afraid of her big mouth and offended by corpses

pg. 11- quipping after harming an unarmed and weaker opponent is disgusting

pg. 11 - the claim she killed people is unsubstantiated. She said they were already dead and T didn't disagree, as I pointed out before. She didn't kill them, they were already dead, that's already established as true by T.

pg. 11 - "if you kill someone in cold blood, out of rage and hatred, that will destroy a part of you" - how about if you just attack them and cut their arm without evidence? I guess that's totally cool.

pg. 12 - "Cut off her arm if you must, to protect yourself" - hanging a lantern on the vileness of P attacking an unarmed woman with Z's ascent won't solve your moral problem as P isn't protecting himself. He's just a peasant with a pitchfork - worse, sword - attacking an unarmed woman without evidence. That's the whole shtick behind the inquisition and it's hard to trick readers into believing otherwise. Moreover, if I'm not invested in your protag, his words won't make me think better of that other jerk. They just make me think Z's self deluded.

pg. 13 - "Did… did she get me" - No dude, you're just a stupid coward

pg. 13 - no idea why T went on the witch's chest and why she isn't bleeding to death from her severed arm. Or maybe she is and these two dudes don't care. They clearly came here to kill her and that's it.

pg. 13 - 14 - if T is projecting the witch's emotions on them, he's clearly not eating but moving them; also I don't understand why that doesn't happen every time he's sampling feelings

pg. 14 "N. scored a series of slashes across left arm as she calmly walked past him" - last time I saw her she was on the floor, badly wounded. This isn't making any sense past 'she's the villain and the plot asked for it'

pg. 15 - Z's expositional dialog infodump on witch powers comes too late and still doesn't establish her as a threat to an armed fighter. Much like Z's poor excuse of P's armed attack on an unarmed opponent, it's too little, too late

pg. 15 - why is the witch still villain-monologuing to explain peristaltic arteries? it's a cliche. "No Mr Bond, I expect you to dine!" Also peristaltic arteries still don't explain the lack of pain. Does she also have the adaptive nociceptors of changelings in Culture novels? Why didn't these men notice she isn't bleeding, was it because they never tried to give their their victim first aid because they were too busy philosophising on the meaning of morality and their own motivations? Was it because they were too busy to frame her as super dangerous without any evidence?

pg. 15 reveal "we created them" was not only not foreshadowed but anti-foreshadowed earlier when the witch asked Z where he got T from

pg. 16 - the witch got T, injured P and got him out of the fight, and is now leisurely talking to Z instead of fleeing with T or killing them both quickly and throwing the bodies in the furnace or maybe using them in experiments. This shows me clearly she doesn't want to kill them because she's not used to killing people, or she simply can't kill them. In my mind, she's sitting a yard away from Z with T on her shoulder and talking without doing anything. 

pg. 16 - "A wall made of will, and determination" doesn't stop poisoned talons. Also makes me want to punch this guy because using telling as character development does the opposite thing. So far I haven't seen this guy willful and determined and his actions haven't showed him so. At this point, he's coming across as a Mary Sue because I have to be told he's these things without any merit on his side. He's just a self-righteous twit who lucked into a cool pet. His belief is also not established so using it now is Deus ex machina.

pg. 16 - "Z believed [...] greater purpose to all that happens, and there were greater designs in place" - this is called apophenia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apophenia; I thought this is a secondary world where magic might enact a greater purpose. But since you're introducing Christianity right away, it tells me the world is a lot more like ours than I thought. I kind of like that reveal, I don't have a problem with it and it ties in nicely with how Z was foreshadowed as an inquisitor. However, the great problem is that in the great real life, there's no such thing as a greater pattern and purpose, which means Z is self deluded.

pg. 17 - "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death" Now I know I was right that Z is an inquisitor. Since the witch didn't display any extraordinary power to harm them, I guess I was right in my first evaluation of them all. Two men, one armed, came to look for a woman who was probably schizophrenic, and finally killed her, justifying their deeds with a flimsy self-righteous ethical code. 

pg. 17 - that T kills the witch feels like on-the-nose moral fable ending. Neither P nor Z had to do it (not for lack of wanting), but the villain was killed by her own villainy. It doesn't work. It feels hypocritical. 

pg. 19 - Z is waxing philosophical some more and it's falling equally short

"That’s why she had no remorse for killing either one of us." - more trying to justify 'oh the witch was evil' without substantial showing of evidence prior

"And how it will happen, if they’re left unchecked" - by brave people like Z and P who got the thick side of the moral stick. I haven't seen any evidence they're good in this story and I can't assume they are just because we follow their viewpoint. There are stories with villain protags out there. I'm writing an antihero at the moment.

pg. 21 - "Nagischt brought this on herself with her own choices" It wasn't her choice that they invaded her lab. Z is so preachy.

end - T can't be blamed for his own nature. Z instead can be blamed for being a hypocrite who routinely uses T to kill while pretending to try to talk the witch out of it first. He's an inquisitor, and a symbol of what's wrong with how many religions are practiced. In fact, he embodies many things that are vile about Christianity, like othering, blaming mental illness on the sufferer, self-righteousness, judging others and so on. The 'lack of hatred' thing seems a poor excuse and he's probably having some sociopathic traits if he can distance himself so well from what he's doing. There's also tons of self-deception in him. I wish this story were a postmodern deconstruction trying to show why it's bad to think that way and why it's bad to take for granted that the viewpoint character is good. It's not that Z comes across as particularly vile, but if you look at what he does, and not at what he thinks about himself, things change. There's a jarring contrast between how he sees himself and what he does and that's called self-deception.

Edited by Lightbearer
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This might take me a while to get through. @Mandamon first. Overall, your comments are very helpful. I knew that this wasn't going to be where I wanted it to be because I haven't really done a story of this type before, and you've drawn a lot of things to my attention that really need fixing. There are a subset of problems that exist because of kind of a gap of understanding between us, so I'm going to try and go through the important points.

On 12/3/2019 at 11:02 AM, Mandamon said:

That's where this starts to get into trouble. I didn't really like the introduction of random Christian faith to what otherwise was a secondary world fantasy for the first 90%. It reads like a prop to justify the actions of the main character, though the actions themselves are at best hypocritical. I detailed this more in my comments below, but I would liked either a much bigger buildup to Z being able to use a "faith shield" or something else entirely that doesn't set my teeth on edge compared to the rest of the story. The whole conceit is that seekers don't have magic, but then Z basically pulls out a different sort of magic for the climax, which weakens the rest of the story.

It's not Christian faith, it's Seeker faith. I know the stereotype is to peg Christians as the religion of faith, but every religion has faith as a bedrock for said faith. Or, well, at least all those I'm knowledgeable about. It's also not exactly 'random introduction', Z. has been quoting Psalms for quite a while now. (Basically, every time he says something cryptic or unrelated, it's a Psalms quote.) I didn't want to be direct about it until the ending, which considering the length of the full short story seems to have backfired. But my original intention was to write this in about 10K words, so I think it could have worked if that had been the case.

The idea of the 'faith shield' isn't exactly magic. Or, at the least, I wouldn't define it as magic. It's something everyone is capable of and does not violate any understanding of the laws of nature or entropy. The point is that anyone has the potential to do what he did without magic. To understand it as a different kind of magic would greatly weaken the story, but I don't mean for Z. to have any kind of magic ability with his faith. It's the same faith any one of us might have, just applied against induced rage, which is within the normal spectrum of rage, again something any one of us could have. That was my intention, the execution might have been off.

On 12/3/2019 at 11:02 AM, Mandamon said:

Notes while reading:
pg 1: not sure if "centipede-laden" is the correct term. "centipede-bedecked?"

pg 2: "The room stank horribly, not the smell of a foul odor, but a pungent assault on the nostrils that robbed them of their ability to smell anything else."
--the room stank of something that didn't smell?

pg 3: "through the green eye"
--the scar actually ran *through* the eye, or over the eye?

'Centipede-bedecked' makes me think of wedding cake for reasons I have no idea of, so now I have an image of one made out of centipedes. Centipede-filled? Centipede-jammed? Centipede-obstructed?

The room's stink is based off formaldehyde, a disinfectant which is noticeable for not having a distinct smell, but instead just violates the nostrils. It's really nasty and gives me a terrible headache whenever I'm near the stuff. I've never found it to have a smell other than 'terrible', but some people find it smells like vinegar, apparently.

And N. lost an eye and just popped in a fresh one. So, the scar actually runs under it. I suppose it should be 'thought the green eye, but didn't leave a mark on it, somehow'.

On 12/3/2019 at 11:02 AM, Mandamon said:

pg 3: "It’s quite rude to leave someone out of a philosophy debate.” 
--hmmm...Do we know the rules of the town vs. what the seeker wants? I think we need a lot more preparation if we're going to have a conversation about what's ethical or not in a completely different environment from our own, where we don't even know the local rules.

pg 5: "If it helps, just think of me as a scavenger that puts the material to better use.”
--I mean, we use donated corpses for science now, so by our ethics N's experiments might not be unethical. I don't know enough of the world to judge, so it's hard to be sympathetic to the hero.

pg 5: "and a life is a life.” 
--but they're dead.

pg 6: "I’ve committed no crimes."
--unless her creations have been killing people, I'm sort of with N on this one.

pg 7: "the reason S left is because you did something truly awful, something which, despite his pride, forced him into abandoning you."
--maybe lead with this. The previous moral argument isn't very strong.

pg 8: “You’ve admitted to deliberately harming a human being, for your own gain.”
--again, I feel they could have led with this tactic.

Yes, the ethics of a witch should be very set up before this, especially considering that they're hunting one down. This seems like something that could be discussed during the tunnels when Z. is already discussing why he hates witches. Long story short, basically as long as the witch is using human corpses with the express permission of the person when they where still alive is generally fine (though depends on town to town), and animals are fine. (Though they are encouraged to keep their experiments away from small children.)

N. is meant to represent the other side of the argument in regards to Z, and this is the reason I didn't want to lead with the 'she's been doing experiments of humans' bit. Based on your responses, you seem to be closer to N's perspective than Z's (though not in the killing-people sense, obviously). Though, given that Z is a religious fundamentalist and N stands a bit closer to utilitarianism (taken to an extreme), I would hazard a guess that most people would feel closer to N's side. Which is more or less what I expected, and also why Z is not permitted to walk over everyone else and have everyone agree that he's right.

On 12/3/2019 at 11:02 AM, Mandamon said:

pg 11: “Don’t kill her out of anger.”
--does this affect something?

pg 12: "This will corrupt you."
--I have a hard time telling if this is an actual rule of the world, or something the seekers just believe. So far, this world has been pretty dark, literally and figuratively.

pg 12: "Taking things into your hands will destroy the person most important to you.”
--huh?

It's something that Z believes is a rule of the world, that all actions have impacts on the person who does them, and doing something like taking another human life for the wrong reasons will corrupt the person who did them. For reference, see the Dark Side in Star Wars, which I think is actually a pretty decent representation of the religious perspective of 'turning evil and redemption', though obviously speaking to a serious member of any faith and they'll point out all the flaws. (The point is that it's a way to think of how corruption works, not that Star Wars is definitive on religion. Except for Jediism.) 'The person most important to you' is a euphemism for 'yourself', in other words, P.'s first and foremost responsibility is to protect himself, and thus not corrupt himself my killing in anger.

On 12/3/2019 at 11:02 AM, Mandamon said:

pg 13: "T’s eyes flared red."
--I don't really understand why Z let T go to the witch. He's been able to control T well so far, and if he knew this would happen, then it doesn't make sense.

pg 14: "“That’s a long story, and we don’t have the time for it."
--eeeeecxept otherwise this whole thing doesn't make sense. Why did the seeker let T loose?

pg 15: "This creature knows who his true master is.”
--is this saying N is T's creator? But she wasn't familiar with him.

All this needs a bit more explanation. Z really should just drop a line saying that T's emotions overtook him at that point, and N. is just saying that out of conceit as a Witch, so that could be clearer. For what it's worth, most Witchbeasts are created with some kind of safeguard to stop them from killing Witches, so N. genuinely believed that T couldn't hurt her at all. Except T's a failed experiment, and that part of him was a bit faulty. (It's worth noting that T killed his Witch creator within five minutes of being created.)

On 12/3/2019 at 11:02 AM, Mandamon said:

pg 18: “Once they fall to negative emotions, T inflames them, and the cycle continues as they inevitably try to kill me.”
--soooo...even though Z is taking the high and mighty road, he's still responsible for the death of the witch. It's not self-defense. He knows what T will do.

Oh, absolutely. It's a bit similar to the scene in Words of Radiance when Jasnah goes about at night in the dangerous part of town with all her jewelry on. Z knew full well what was likely going to happen. It would be a hard sell of 'self-defense' given that. I should point out that Z's not a pacifist, he is a religious fundamentalist. He's perfectly alright killing people while taking the high and mighty road.

On 12/3/2019 at 11:02 AM, Mandamon said:

pg 19: “he can never exceed the normal range of human emotions.”
--Yes, but human emotions can vary widely based on what external stimulus there is. I still say Z deliberately forced the witch to something she wouldn't normally have done, thus negating his view of the sanctity of life. He degrades the value of her life just as she was doing to her test subjects.

pg 21: "you had no problem with showing up with that Witchbeast of yours, knowing full well that it would lead to N’s death.”
--glad someone brought that up.

pg 21: "He’s a force of nature, and one I can’t control.
--nope. He brought T into this situation. He's just as much at fault.

pg 22: “Faith in the One Above All.”
--eh, this leaves me with a bit of a bad taste. Z gets to be all smarmy about his religion when simultaneously invalidating his supposed beliefs. He's a hypocrite.

And this is where Z would argue with you on two aspects. He would say that while T's nature is adjust people's state, T cannot force them to do anything. Thus, any actions they make, even under T's influence, are still actions that they bear responsibility for. (Now I'm reminded of an argument between Ham and Breeze in Mistborn: Final Empire.) It's at this point that I, as the author, step in and say that, insofar as T's powers go, they will never fully incapacitate a person's ability to choose. That is, send a person into a rage, yes. Frothing berserker rage where they can't tell friend from foe, no. The story wouldn't work otherwise. But, yes, the Witch would not have necessarily made the choices she did if T wasn't present.

The second thing Z would tell you is that his view on sanctity of life is fine. Believers in sanctity of life don't necessarily believe that life should be taken under no circumstances, only under very specific circumstances. N doing experiments on humans and her attempt to kill humans, i.e. Z and P stripped her of 'right to live', and thus there's a clear distinction between Z taking N's life and N's approach to her test subject. In Z's eyes, N deserves it.

That's not to say that everyone agreed with him. P didn't, naturally, which is one of the reason that he exists in the story. I'm not saying that you would be wrong in viewing Z as a hypocrite, but I think that Z would be able to draw a line for himself with a clear divide.

Overall, thank you very much for your comments! I was kind of worried about the reception this would get, seeing as its a topic that isn't usually submitted and you've given me a very helpful and different perspective on a lot of this. If you'd like to continue any of this as a discussion, I'd be more than willing to have it.

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@Lightbearer Thank you for your comments as well. Some of your comments are good, and you've done a good job pointing to many of the flaws in this submission, which I definitely appreciate. However, a good portion of your critique was interlaced with your own personal commentary and feelings against the submission itself. It's very apparent from what you've commented that you're a staunch atheist, and what's more, you seem to harbor a dislike for the parts of a religion which you do not agree with. I would also hazard a guess that your knowledge of religion isn't that great, considering that you didn't pick up on any of the religious subtext up until now, and that you also went with Christianity with your go-to choice for a comparison religion. None of which is a problem if you were commenting on the story as you objectively saw it. However, you've let your personal feelings cloud your judgement, and what's more, you've been downright disdainful to what I would consider to be the core of the story I'm trying to tell. It's not my place to judge, but it does seem to be that your critique is biting enough to come close to violating the RE Code of Conduct. I don't care about the insults, personally, but this might not have gone without consequence if you had done it to someone else, so if nothing else, you might want to consider this a warning. What I do care about is the fact that, as I've mentioned, you let your feelings cloud your judgement, and it's difficult to separate mistakes I made with personal grievances you have in your critique. Unfortunately, as a result of this, I don't think there would be anything meaningful gained by having a further discussion over what you've commented. If you wish to discuss the difference of our opinion, I would have no problem doing that under the correct format, however as this is a discussion of a story I've written, this is not the correct format for such a discussion.

Again, thank you for taking the time to read and critique my story.

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I still remain confused by the motivations and goals in this story. Was the goal to kill a witch? To investigate a problem? To show the duplicity of Z's world view? To have a philosophy debate? I'm just left very confused by what I read. There was worldbuilding and it seemed interesting, and there were characters that seemed interesting, but I didn't really see those things interacting much with each other, so I don't really know what I'm supposed to have understood or gained from reading the story with them both together in it. 

As for T, he is still amusing here, and I still like him, but his use by Z leaves me dissatisfied. I think it is well-established that T is an animal and was acting according to his instincts. Z on the other hand, I feel like has more culpability. If you swim up to a hungry shark and get chomped, that's on you; but if someone else knows you just cut your hand and leads a hungry shark to your blood trail, I don't believe they would then be justified in claiming the shark nomming on you is your own fault, even if you got the cut doing something bad or illegal. I don't feel like the text really set up Z to be the sort of "distasteful protagonist who is still sympathetic" that his actions and reasoning around using T make him out to be, so I am left feeling dissatisfied and unhappy with this end. The fact that T ended up being used as little more than a tool left me feeling a bit dissatisfied as well. I thought that he was one of the stronger characters in the piece, the one with the most connection to the world. 

 

As I go:

"statures of All Cracked Hollows" -- statutes? 

"Flavored like tar" -- I like the phrase here, it's very evocative, but it seems a little uncharacteristically flowery for T. Maybe it's WRS, but I feel like he's mostly just named emotions before, not described them

"appease your conscious" -- conscience?

It feels odd to me that this story seems to be hinging on depth of knowledge of S's character, when it feels to me like he was treated as little more than a plot device during his introduction. The lack of any concrete details of N's crimes makes me feel like P and Z were simply planning on killing her all along. This makes me want to root for N and makes me feel like I was mistaken in sympathizing with P and Z.

 I'm afraid after N loses her arm (which was very amusing), I started skimming. This feels like a kind of moralizing that I do not care for, and I don't believe there was much in the earlier sections to hint that it was coming, so it makes me feel a little bit frustrated that it is suddenly here. @Mandamon went into this in detail so I won't belabor the point. If this sort of message is desired in a work, for me at least, I feel like I need more overt support for it early on in the story. Referencing psalms brings with it the real-world associations to the real-world religions that created them. If the desire is just for religiosity instead of a particular religion, then I feel like maybe writing "psalm-like" original phrases would be better, since they could be more closely tailored to fit the specific in-world religion and wouldn't come with the outside associations actual psalms do. 

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13 hours ago, Ookla the Partitioner said:

It's not Christian faith, it's Seeker faith. I know the stereotype is to peg Christians as the religion of faith, but every religion has faith as a bedrock for said faith. Or, well, at least all those I'm knowledgeable about. It's also not exactly 'random introduction', Z. has been quoting Psalms for quite a while now.

 

11 hours ago, industrialistDragon said:

This feels like a kind of moralizing that I do not care for, and I don't believe there was much in the earlier sections to hint that it was coming, so it makes me feel a little bit frustrated that it is suddenly here. @Mandamon went into this in detail so I won't belabor the point. If this sort of message is desired in a work, for me at least, I feel like I need more overt support for it early on in the story.

 

On 12/3/2019 at 4:49 PM, Lightbearer said:

T can't be blamed for his own nature. Z instead can be blamed for being a hypocrite who routinely uses T to kill while pretending to try to talk the witch out of it first. He's an inquisitor, and a symbol of what's wrong with how many religions are practiced. In fact, he embodies many things that are vile about Christianity

@Ookla the Partitioner Just a note of clarification. I think all three of your critiques here basically pick up on Z quoting Christian faith. So even though you are explaining your work (in the forum, though not in the book), because the reader picks up on this as Christian faith, then that's how it will be perceived, no matter what you intend. That's the reason for these critiques. I think @Lightbearer had some really good points about the strawman arguments that were introduced and how they can be adjusted. In any case, there needs to be a lot more buildup.

I think rather than any of us being disdainful of the story you are trying to tell, we are attempting to give you our reactions, which would likely be the same reactions a multitude of readers would have if this were to be published. The fact that our reactions are more visceral is because this story touches on a nerve that is prevalent in our society, and thus needs to be approached with caution. It's great to write about and explore these concepts (and that's a big benefit of SFF in general) but on the other hand, it's also important to pay attention to how they are received, and if the response you think you will get is not the one you are getting, then you may need to look at the core concept of your story again.

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16 hours ago, industrialistDragon said:

I still remain confused by the motivations and goals in this story. Was the goal to kill a witch? To investigate a problem? To show the duplicity of Z's world view? To have a philosophy debate? I'm just left very confused by what I read. There was worldbuilding and it seemed interesting, and there were characters that seemed interesting, but I didn't really see those things interacting much with each other, so I don't really know what I'm supposed to have understood or gained from reading the story with them both together in it. 

As for T, he is still amusing here, and I still like him, but his use by Z leaves me dissatisfied. I think it is well-established that T is an animal and was acting according to his instincts. Z on the other hand, I feel like has more culpability. If you swim up to a hungry shark and get chomped, that's on you; but if someone else knows you just cut your hand and leads a hungry shark to your blood trail, I don't believe they would then be justified in claiming the shark nomming on you is your own fault, even if you got the cut doing something bad or illegal. I don't feel like the text really set up Z to be the sort of "distasteful protagonist who is still sympathetic" that his actions and reasoning around using T make him out to be, so I am left feeling dissatisfied and unhappy with this end. The fact that T ended up being used as little more than a tool left me feeling a bit dissatisfied as well. I thought that he was one of the stronger characters in the piece, the one with the most connection to the world. 

To answer your questions, no, yes, no, yes. There were a few intention in writing this piece, and I felt that this world was suited to do so. (Not to mention that I worldbuilt this a while back, so I had it lying around when I wanted to work on this story.) I feel that the setting does work with the theme if I was able to write on a larger scale, but as far as the short goes, it's really nothing more than a background.

Your 'shark-eating' analogy is actually a pretty good one, though there's a few slight difference I had in mind. As far as 'distasteful protagonist who is still sympathetic', that's actually more or less where I wanted Z to end up for the majority of readers. As morality does play a key part in this, obviously people with different mindsets will draw different conclusions. The goal is not to make the reader agree with Z, it's to make the reader understand Z, and I haven't really done a good job of that. That's the bad news. The good news is that I can use your responses to change the story (and certain events in it!) to make it easier to make it to do so.

T is a tool. Sorry. He wasn't designed to be anything but that. He has a few consistent traits, but he's susceptible to strong emotional overload, and I would lose a lot of my original intention if I fleshed out his character to the point where he would be wholly independent.

17 hours ago, industrialistDragon said:

It feels odd to me that this story seems to be hinging on depth of knowledge of S's character, when it feels to me like he was treated as little more than a plot device during his introduction. The lack of any concrete details of N's crimes makes me feel like P and Z were simply planning on killing her all along. This makes me want to root for N and makes me feel like I was mistaken in sympathizing with P and Z.

That's fair. S definitely deserves to be fleshed out more, if his lack of morals is what sets P off. P for his part, by the way, had no intention of killing N until N tried to kill him. Take her in, yes. I feel like a didn't to a good job of fleshing out the moral stances, and that a lot more enunciation should have happened. (N has been experimenting on live humans, though.) From P's perspective, his desire to kill her was a result of escalation after he tried arresting her for doing something wrong.

Z has a slightly different perspective, which was, more or less, either N stopped cold, or she died (though he wouldn't have interfered in P bringing N in alive once he defeated her).

17 hours ago, industrialistDragon said:

Referencing psalms brings with it the real-world associations to the real-world religions that created them. If the desire is just for religiosity instead of a particular religion, then I feel like maybe writing "psalm-like" original phrases would be better, since they could be more closely tailored to fit the specific in-world religion and wouldn't come with the outside associations actual psalms do. 

This is a good suggestion, except there's one small problem. I tried that. Remember the phrase that Z said in part 2? That was a psalm-like phrase (actually a paraphrase, but semantics). In fact, this entire piece has been littered with religious references, up to and including the title 'Stranger in a Foreign Land'. Z originally used a different phrase in place of 'valley of the shadow of death', but I swapped it back for this submission because I was worried that it'd go everyone's heads like that.

 

And, so long as I'm talking about that, I might as well include Mandamon's point.

5 hours ago, Mandamon said:

Just a note of clarification. I think all three of your critiques here basically pick up on Z quoting Christian faith. So even though you are explaining your work (in the forum, though not in the book), because the reader picks up on this as Christian faith, then that's how it will be perceived, no matter what you intend. That's the reason for these critiques. In any case, there needs to be a lot more buildup.

Maybe. I'm not convinced of this In general, I agree with you - the responsibility is on the author to make sure that his words are clearly understood, and not on the reader to figure out that the author meant something which is completely contrary to what he's written. If I've written something which is being misinterpreted, that's my fault, not yours. The thing is, I gave this submission to a friend of mine to read, and he had no problem identifying that I was referring to religion and faith in general in this submission, rather than Christianity, which makes sense, as he's a bit more familiar with religion. But I'm not sure there's a way to get this message across here. What I'm worried about is that anything I say will either go under the radar because it's not explicit religious enough (parts of this story) or that it'll be so in-your-face that the reader associates it with Christianity (other parts of this story). I mean, I can also beat the reader over the head and say 'Look! This is a part of the Seeker faith, and not anything else! It's just religious faith!" at which point I've no guarantee the reader won't look at it and say 'Ah, so it's an allegory for Christianity.' Also I'd be beating the reader over the head with a point, and I prefer not doing that when possible, I do have to draw the line somewhere.

The point here is faith, the kind of which is associated with organized religion, but without referring any organized religion specifically. Which I'm now not sure if that's even possible.

5 hours ago, Mandamon said:

I think rather than any of us being disdainful of the story you are trying to tell, we are attempting to give you our reactions, which would likely be the same reactions a multitude of readers would have if this were to be published. The fact that our reactions are more visceral is because this story touches on a nerve that is prevalent in our society, and thus needs to be approached with caution. It's great to write about and explore these concepts (and that's a big benefit of SFF in general) but on the other hand, it's also important to pay attention to how they are received, and if the response you think you will get is not the one you are getting, then you may need to look at the core concept of your story again.

This is why I'm engaging in conversation with you and industrialistDragon. I understand that this touched a nerve, and this is why I'm really glad you two gave me feedback (even though it can't have been easy), because I need this if I'm to figure out how to make this story function for a large audience, and it's very possible that I'll have to shift major elements to get out what I want the story to be. It's also why I'm glad that you're responding so we can have discussion about how best to right the mistakes and flaws in the piece.

But I feel no need to talk to someone who refers to my protagonist's belief in Divine Providence as delusional. There's a certain minimum I expect for this discussion, and that includes a respect for religious belief.

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I am not a staunch atheist, which is why I always loved Sanderson's treatment of religion. The way he shows (not tells) that people need it, the glimmer of hope in immortality he introduces in his work. My commentary on religion in this case explicitly referred to how it's practiced in real life, and particularly to the jarring dichotomy between moral teachings and application. I doubt anyone wants to dispute that any religion has poor practitioners. You surely understand that a story broaching a potentially difficult moral topic must be treated very carefully primarily by the one who writes it in order to ensure that ideas are passed with utmost clarity. Since stories are meant to induce reactions in readers, being upset when they do is a paradox. Especially when said reactions are induced by the characters.

Regardless, I apologize that my comments came across as disdainful. They are not -- and especially not to you personally. I understand why you take comments on the story personally, we all know what it's like having our brainchild criticized. However, mine are beta reader's comments with a good dose of understanding of how storytelling conventions work and seeing them misinterpreted when they were given in good faith is a great disappointment. I am sorry I invested time in this only to be told off for honest commentary when my positive commentaries previously were well received. Lesson learned, I will not repeat my imprudence.

That being said, I will repeat, at the risk of being banned if this is indeed what passes as an uprising against forum rules, that the problems with the story are the following:

- it's not set up that the witch is dangerous and she is not shown to be dangerous during the fight;

- it's not set up and shown that the characters have certain personality traits, we are told; what we are shown is quite the opposite of what we're told.

- in the absence of the above, a moral system in which it's okay for two men, one of them armed, to attack a weaker opponent is also not convincingly set up.

Because of this, we get the following problem. Readers are left to rely on preexisting conventions. One such convention is that, in our world, there was such a thing as the Inquisition. While historically the Inquisition did not do most of the things attributed to it in movies and books, the trope of the inquisition has been used so far and wide as to become ingrained in the reader's consciousness, e.g. Jordan's Children of the Light. Another is that if it looks and feels like a Christian prayer, then it is a Christian prayer, which is why Sanderson himself constructs religions from the ground up, with their own traditions, prayers, and beliefs in order to avoid confusion by literalist readers like me. Another trope is that of the enlightened medical professional of the Middle Ages, risking life and limb to steal bodies despite ignorant oppression in order to advance medicine or alternatively pursue own goals, one embodiment of the trope being Frankenstein. A writer must be aware of tropes and how they will be read, especially when they are played together and also happen to be in theme. The trope of the dissection rhymes too well with the trope of the inquisitor, especially when the inquisitor tells a prayer before killing the witch. I was shown a morally ambiguous deed done by a Christian and then judged for calling it.

Without the proper setup, the story pushes readers to assign these tropes on the characters, situations etc. I say 'pushes' because human beings like patterns and we will apply known patterns on new situations any time we can. That is how foreshadowing works in the first place.

If I am ever to be banned from anywhere for expressing eloquent criticism with arguments, I will not have lost anything.

Edited by Lightbearer
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4 minutes ago, Ookla the Partitioner said:

But I feel no need to talk to someone who refers to my protagonist's belief in Divine Providence as delusional.

Respecting your beta readers time is minimal writer's etiquette. Your comment above is explicitly disdainful and ad hominem because now you are framing me 'someoneas unworthy of being addressed; this isn't an attack on my discourse but on me. I am petrified.

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