09 December 2011

Rejection Letter #1 from Bewildering Stories

Hello, Duncan,

Thank you for "Mosquito-Things." We're receptive to comic horror here at Bewildering Stories.

This particular flash fiction seems to fit the genre, especially since the narrator seems to realize the truth of Oscar Wilde's epigram: "The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about." The Ulblings control the universe but ultimately decide that the narrator is not worth bothering with.

I'm not sure I understand this sentence:

They run the mosquito-things from their future into our past-- and vice-versa-- and pull time forward with the resonant tension of their flight.

I'm reminded of what is probably the most famous line from the old "Amos 'n Andy" show: "Whut? Diamonds [the present] is wuthless?!" The mosquito-things are taken from a time that does not yet exist and are sent to a time that is now immutable. I feel a little sorry for the mosquito-things; it's hard to get more irrelevant than they are.

Part of my job is to represent the readers to our contributors. Thinking of a reader locked in place in front of a computer screen or holding an iPad in hand, I have to wonder whether readers will get past:

They started coming-- or maybe I let them into my dreams, or maybe I came into their dream, I don't know, but I started seeing them

Granted, we have an unreliable narrator, but readers will wonder what the point is in his questioning himself with two "maybes." Nothing would be lost if he simply described the mosquito-things' effects on his dreams. In any event, I would recommend omitting the exposition and starting the story with "I only suspected their presence at first."

As for the middle, readers will wonder how the narrator learns that the masters of the universe are "Ulblings." The narrator does some research and leaves it at that. The upshot is that the readers have to take the Ulblings as axiomatic. Readers won't do that; they'll want to know what the Ulblings' motives and objectives are.

As for the ending, the mosquito-things look at the narrator but, unaccountably, fail to see him. They ignore him and go away. And then he starts screaming? I'd think he'd be relieved.

Yet nobody else can even hear a mosquito.

More accurately, I think, "mosquito-thing." People normally can hear mosquitoes.

I'm afraid I have to invoke a couple of our editorial principles:

• It's perfectly okay to depict insanity, but one must not induce the same condition in the readers. That is, sharing a narrator's mental state ought not to be a prerequisite for understanding a story.

• We can't accept stories that end "But it was all a dream" or the equivalent.

Can you send us something else? We'd be glad to consider it.

Don Webb
Managing Editor
Bewildering Stories
"Ars longa, vita brevis" -- rough translation: "Proofreading never ends."