I thought I'd leave my comments til the last minute since I finally have a job and I'm much busier than before I wanted to build anticipation. I enjoyed the low turn out on this competition since it means we only get one vote, making it much more cut-throat than usual. No prizes for second best. The First shun all but the greatest of poets. As I believe the authors will be revealed tomorrow, I can dispense with the usual horror of having to review my own piece, which was the Order of Things. I was a little sad to see that no one seemed to twig that this story is basically a direct copy of the plot of the obscure 2002 Christian Bale movie Equilibrium. So the one bit of praise I got (Scalanex calling it creative), is in fact completely undeserved. Still, I think there's an OK idea somewhere there for a take on a lizard dystopia - which would not be blood and suffering but the oppression of excessive order. The film provided both the cool ideas for this story and its downfall: like Equilibrium, it is pretty bland and cliche in its approach to plotting, and the fact that it was so condensed to get it under the word limit just made the exposition feel even more stilted. Despite its abominable lack of paragraph spacing, I liked Rats in the Walls a lot. Its great strength lies in the attention it gives to the simple plot device of a dilemma. Personal wellbeing is weighed against doing the right thing. Obedience against heroism. Classic stuff, with an added layer of horror in the idea of approaching destruction, the terror of the very foundations (metaphor!) being undermined. There's even nice use of another cool device: the allegorical observation, and the lesson of the iguana. I must say, I don't understand at all what's going on with the floating ball of scales at the end, but the iguana scene leaves no doubt that it is our hero who is responsible somehow, so it works great. I always like a good twist, and so now I'm going to talk about Rat Dynasty. In every comp, there's at least one entry like this, where someone has had a great idea for a book/film and has written a cool set up or premise. Unfortunately these pieces are always let down by the fact that there's no actual story. Normally, like this one, they end just before the story begins. This leaves the reader wanting more, at least, but rarely is that desire ever sated. Sad times for story fans among us. There's nothing crueller than a great idea that doesn't come to fruition. Let's hope the author of this great idea decides to continue! Seriously though, Insects is great. It's always nice when one of the characters turns out to be possessed by a creature of darkness. I love all the stuff about the insignificance of mortals. My one concern is that there's not much of a story here. It's more of a conversation followed by an off-screen massacre. To whack out my old catchphrase: conflict should be dramatised, not debated. Instead of them talking about being insects, it should be shown by what happens in the story - throughout the story, not just at the end, although the end does work great in driving home the theme. It's a relatively minor complaint given that this is a short piece and a lot of fun as it is. What in the world could possibly cooler than rat wizards? Rat necromancers. Hells yeah. Regards has a really great atmosphere of gothic dread, what with the old church, graveyard, secret cult ritual and of course the zombies. I love the idea of a lizard secret agent, like vampire hunter meets superspy. However, I do feel the story is let down by a couple of things. Firstly, the first person perspective leads to a little too much telling and not enough showing. We shouldn't know everything the character knows, there should be more suspense, more emotional subtlety, little clues from body language rather than straight-up exposition. Secondly, after he escapes the undead, the whole thing seems a tad too easy for the lizard - there needs to be more of a sense of peril and a real chance of failure. It all goes too smoothly, which drains some of the excitement. Doesn't stop it from being a cool read, though!