What’s In It For You?
In Bertand Cayzac’s “In the Secret Catacombs”:
The episode has all the elements and more of a scene from an Indiana Jones adventure. It may help to visualize most of the action as taking place all at once. What dramatic techniques are used to denote a progression of action in the scene?
In previous parts of “Figs & Riesling,” the ghost of Friedrich Engels makes cameo appearances by virtue of his history of the German peasants’ war. In this scene, the ghost talks to Jenny Appleseed about the underground labyrinth. What two elements of comic irony characterize his speech?
Jenny Appleseed can supposedly make prognostications five centuries in advance. Is the note about her alleged ability ironic or sarcastic? Hint: when was the sarcophagus hidden, and how long has it been in the labyrinth under the peak dominating Scherwiller?
Why is the cleaning lady’s recitation of the old incantation repeated? Why is it significant that the inscription is written in an obscure rustic dialect that only the cleaning lady understands?
In Gabriel Timar’s The Hades Connection, chapter 18:
In part 1, the Prime Minister is introduced to George, Esther, and Mike and then turns to their bodyguards and dismisses them. Why can he not possibly do that? Where are the bodyguards?
Mike Horn introduces George Pike as being “of the planet Khomu.” If the bodyguards were actually present, what might their reaction be?
In part 2, George Pike proves he’s from outer space, has advanced technology, and wants to save Earth from falling into the Sun. The Prime Minister seems to be convinced, and yet he also seems unaccountably incurious:
Aside from the obvious question “Why haven’t our own astronomers noticed the shift in Earth’s orbit?” what other question does the Prime Minister fail to ask? It’s a question that one would expect to occur immediately to a politician.
Throughout the novel to date, Pike spends almost all his spare time anticipating or reminiscing enjoyably over casual sex. What is the function of these incidents? For example: do they add comic relief? And yet the memory of Capt. von Vardy’s love interest in Mogadishu is touching. What might be going on with Pike? Are we being led to expect something more?
The center of Tabaré Alvarez’ “The Troubleshooters” is the steadily growing attraction between Dutch and Mrs. Medina. And yet neither they nor the author ever mention sex or even any explicit interest. With what techniques does the author engage the readers in the romance without ever telling them outright that it is a romance?
In D. A. Madigan’s “A Dish Best Served Cold”:
- John Commander recapitulates the almost Sherlock-Holmesian reasoning he engaged in while being drowned by the White Pharaoh. The logic enabled him to deduce that the experience was not real. What hint could he cite from the Bodiless One’s own words that the trial by combat would be an illusion?
How does the style indicate that the story is a tongue-in-cheek parody of comic books and pulp adventure fiction? The Bodiless One says that the White Pharaoh’s story reflects base and material motives. Speaking as a literary critic, what else could the Bodiless One say about it?
Bonus question: What does the story have in common with the author’s “Meeting of the Mindless,” in issue 133?
Bonus Challenge: “A Dish Best Served Cold” is filled to bursting with plot ideas. The Challenge is: exploit any one — preferably no more than one, let alone all — of them. And remember: the conclusion must be as good as D. A. Madigan’s.
In Bill Bowler’s The Bohemian:
- Who is at the center of the story? Wally Wobble? Professor Mrak? Cynthia? What makes Paulie — in chapter 13 and earlier — a kind of scene-stealer?
Is Wobble a hero in any conventional sense of the term? Or is he a passive hero, one whose best course of action is to do nothing? Or is he a spectator in his own life?
Wobble is by turns an actor and a spectator. But even as a spectator, Wobble’s first-person point of view necessarily limits the readers’ access to second-hand information, such as the subplots involving Carlos, Professor Mrak, and even Cynthia.
How might the subplots be integrated into the story without blurring the focus? Changing from first-person partial omniscience to third-person full omniscience would allow the subplots to develop; but wouldn’t the shift in perspective require another dramatic or narrative device? Wobble is emotionally isolated; since he doesn’t have a close friend to talk to, might he communicate his feelings to the reader by way of a diary?
In what two instances — one of which is in an early chapter — does Wobble rebel against authority figures? Does his action have any consequences?
Readers may suspect Mrak of murdering Cynthia, but does Wobble go that far?
Does Wobble agree with with Professor Mrak’s politics or does he maintain strict neutrality? Is there any clue in the last two chapters or an earlier chapter to indicate he might not be entirely in sympathy with the Bohemian?
Does the story conclude or does it simply come to a halt?
In Bob Brill’s “City Man, Mountain Man”:
- The story’s settings are extreme opposites. Does the story contradict or implicitly confirm one of the maxims of La Rochefoucauld: “We are never as happy or as unhappy as we think”?
The story is based on an American cultural archetype: the pastoral myth. How would American readers perceive the story if the myth were reversed, making the city the focus of all that’s good and the frontier the focus of all that’s bad? Readers in other countries won’t necessarily share the same cultural presuppositions. How is the story read outside of America?
Oonah V. Joslin’s “Fret” recalls the battlefields of the First World War. The title can mean any number of things. Would you have preferred a place name for the title? Something else?
In Rob Crandall’s “Harper’s Pond,” Harvey drinks from the fountain of youth. But his rejuvenation seems to involve a bargain or exchange. What is it?
Stefan Brenner’s “Andy’s Innings” is culturally encoded; it can be understood only by readers familiar with the game of cricket. Others can visualize part of the action by translating it into terms of baseball, such as home runs and fly balls. What is the connection between the game and Andy’s fatal heart attack?
In Marta T. Coppola’s “Fortune Cookie,” who is “he” and who is the narrator?
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