Down by the River by J. H. McKay


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Post June 03, 2005, 10:03:57 PM

Down by the River by J. H. McKay

Man and alien find each other & strike an agreement. Things become so good, Man becomes suspicious of alien and plots to kill it. <br><br>Things don't go as planned.<br><br><br>When boiled to a nutshell, this sounds like a great plot. In practical application, however, I thought it was a slow read, especially by the time I got through both parts or this 34,800 word epistolary (if I used the term correctly) account.<br><br>The story was written in the guise of journal entries as Vern, the main character, chronicles his interactions with "Bert", his waaaay out of town visitor. In my opinion, this really hampered the rest of the story telling.<br><br>What I mean is that in "writing it all down for future generations to judge" you skip a lot. The world building is inconsistent. His discovery of the alien caught in the whirlpool was very well described, but Vern's meetings and interrogation by the government looking for Bert were not. Many of the entries were musings or Vern's view of the world, and not descriptions of the world itself. I guess what I'm trying to say is that the world didn't seem to "pop" and come alive for me as I read. It was flat--second hand, as it were. Hopefully that makes sense to Mr. McKay.<br><br>Character development is difficult to describe since some of the entries are 20 years apart. Still, it's obvious that Vern grows over the years. He's a good chap and I was sympathetic to him, at least at first. Later, well... he just didn't seem all that believable. I can't fathom any soul being so patient that he'd wait three years to ask the alien that's been plugged into the wall of his kitchen, in essence, "So, whatcha been doin' here the last three years?" It's true that curiosity killed the cat, but good grief.<br><br>I've never even considered being a suicide bomber, so I can't really say for sure, but I also had to question that it would take six months to gather the courage to blow up the alien from the time he had the bomb to when he really "tried" to do it. I would think the logical feeling would be one of relief, that once you got up your nerve to get the device and had it in your hands, you'd want to get it over with. Maybe your life would seem even more precious than before. Again, I don't really know this or not, but it didn't seem logical to me when I was reading it. <br><br>I guess it didn't seem consistent with Vern. He seemed the kind of guy where once he made up his mind, he did it. He lived alone, with his own wind-powered home. He was a self-reliant person who obviously made a few hard choices in his life, not someone who lived in a retirement community so he had people his own age around him for comfort. Does what I'm saying make sense?<br><br>Anne and the retired hood were woefully under-utilized characters. As only one of, what, four characters? They showed up for purposed events only: pushing Vern's doubt over the edge and getting the bomb. Apart from that they had no existence, and were subsequently cast aside. <br><br>Two items in the plot didn't seem to make sense to me. First, the references to nanotechnology to fix things and people's brain tumors caused me to infer that nannites reversed Vern's aging. If that was the case, wouldn't Vern have been carrying them around all the time. Is it not also logical to suspect that those same nannites could also report back to Bert what Vern was doing or saying? I mean, if you were Bert, wouldn’t you want to know what the only human who knew you existed and who’s continued secrecy you depended on, was doing? I thought that Vern should have known about the bomb.<br><br>Second, why did they have to go back to the river before Bert vanished? If he was "beamed" off, why make Vern walk? It could have been a planned effort since Vern walked to think, and that way he might better relate, but he also seemed to think just fine at his kitchen table. The aliens had obviously been to the house--the "rock" survival pod was gone & Bert now had a body. They clearly would been able to have a transporter lock on him there. Bert just vanished, so a ship didn't land and haul him off. The only really good reason I could think of doing it was an attempt by the author at a poetic link back to the opening crash, bringing things full circle.<br><br><br>Reading these comments, you'd think I thought the story was lousy, but that's not what I think at all. This was an ok tale. Vern was a likeable character who grew enough on me in the first piece that I was waiting for part two to see what happened to him. That anyone would wait expectantly for a month in itself shows that Mr. McKay has skill. <br><br>However, after investing this amount of my time (heck, it took two hours just to compose this critique), I wanted a bigger emotional payout. I wanted to get swept up in a grand finale. I wanted to know if Vern was really going to blow him up or not. However, the "climax" choice never got to be made, since the situation changed, and the story just sort of... ended.<br><br>Nate
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Post June 03, 2005, 11:13:25 PM

Re: Down by the River by J. H. McKay

Now this is odd... I state for the record that I liked this one, with provisions. Most of which were listed by Nate. But-- I find myself agreeing and disagreeing with Nate at the same time. Some of the things he didn't care for were just the points I liked best, and vice-versa. Which only shows you the diversity of the readers one can expect. This was a complex story, and by the end I felt the writer showed that he could actually have turned out a better one, but needed some critique during the writing.<br>I hereby nominate this one for the Most Deserving of a 2.0 version in the near future. Nate, Wishbone, Jeff, Bob, Tao-Pheonix, and countless others are far better than I at the art of the technical critique. I'm just a joe-average reader who can only go "hey, that was cool" or "was that what you meant? I didn't get that." LOL!<br>Crap, I'm long-winded. Forgive me. I've been working on my Nightwatch story again for the last 3 days...<br>OK, Short form: Nate's got the details, listen to him. But be prepared to say no to his suggestions when you feel he misunderstood something. *Then* try to figure out how to better say what you indended. Trust me, this can hurt. But sometimes, to make a story work best, you have to cut out or re-work stuff you really liked. My advice? Save an out-takes file for use later. But never be afraid to try out the suggestions your fellow writers and your readers give you. You can always change it back. LOL!<br>Dan<br>
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Post June 04, 2005, 12:47:35 AM

Re: Down by the River by J. H. McKay

Crap, I'm long-winded. Forgive me.
<br>Long winded? That was only your 3rd paragraph!<br><br><br>I still have so much to teach you, Grasshopper. :)<br><br>Nate
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Post June 22, 2005, 04:25:03 PM

Re: Down by the River by J. H. McKay

Thanks for the constructive feedback and critisism; it is much appreciated. I appologize for the delay in replying but circumstances were such that I wasn't able to do so before now.<br><br>Believe it or not I actually started this story intending it to be a 5,00 or less word short story. It was supposed to be just a simple tale of human finds marrooned alien; human takes alien home with him; alien surreptiously takes over the world; alien leaves Earth after a while, say around six months; end of story.<br><br>However in the course of writting I became more and more involved in the idea of how different cultures and societies of differering levels of technological advancement interact. It is an issue that as often arisin in human history and would become particulary pertinent in any contact that might ever occur between humans and aliens. It is also a very complicated issue that I probably should have just briefly touched on if at all.<br><br>In any event the main consequence of my losing sight of just trying to tell an interesting and believable tale as that I stretched out the timeline in order to give more time for the impact of Berts presence on Earth to make itself felt. It also caused me to do such things as introduce the character of Anne not just for the purpose of "pushing Vern's doubt over the edge" but to try to illustrate the benefits that can come from the introduction of foreign technology properly utilized. I was trying to create a dilemma for Vern - the sense of loss of human control over Earth's destiny versus the very benefits that were coming to Earth, and to his friend Anne in particular. To be continued. :)<br><br>Sorry about the delay in continuing this, though I doubt it matters to anybody but myself, but just for my own sake in getting my thoughts down I'll carry on.<br><br>I could go on in the same vien about how losing sight of my main goal of telling an interesting story caused me to alter it in unfortunate ways; but in retrospect I think my experience in writting this story has been an object lesson in the dangers of trying to make your characters fit in with a point you are trying to make and making them conform with an unwieldly plot line. Another instance was the unbelievability of having Vern wait 3 years before really quizzing Bert on his activities.<br><br>The reference to nanotechnology was an instance
Last edited by jhmckay on July 15, 2005, 06:08:59 PM, edited 1 time in total.

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