Review: A common enemy

As mentioned in my preview post, I had guessed that this work was written in something other than English, and it’s clear from some holdover ¡punctuation! that this must have been either written in Spanish and then translated or at least written in a word processor with Spanish language settings. Regardless, the prose makes sense although at times word choice comes across as awkward. A few passes by a native speaker would have helped, but as it is, I had no problems following the story. If this is a translation, it would be nice to have access to the original language version in parallel to the one actually submitted to the competition.

[Some spoilers follow beyond this point]

The main character is a bit of a stereotype: a government spook who has smoked, drank, and lived a hard life while shouldering top secret responsibilities, and now just wants to live out his last few weeks in peace before he succumbs to lung cancer. Of course, that’s not to be — there’s an emergent situation that needs expertise only he can provide.

The premise is a reach: during the Cold War, the US launched a kinetic weapon that between slow, steady acceleration over 30 years and occasional gravity assists from close planetary flybys, is now moving at relativistic velocity. Somewhat amazingly considering the duration of its flight and its current speed, it is still on target for Moscow. If people knew about this for the last few decades, how come no one worried about it until now?

Putting aside the premise, the rest of the story works pretty well. Folks in Washington know that Moscow is about to be hit and need to figure out what do to with their foreknowledge of the impending disaster. First and foremost, since these are all national security folks, their greater concern is about Russia’s reaction to their capital being destroyed by a space-based weapon.

Should they attempt to divert blame to another country? That option is explored, but not viable, leaving the story’s main narrative: what if the attack were framed as part of an alien invasion?

Most of the game-changing decisions come late in the game, and the author provides a mechanism to go back to a critical branching point to explore these alternative endings. I particularly appreciated some of the twists that came right towards the end of the game, and found this to be the most entertaining part of the story.

Evaluation:

Story: 6. Writing for the cloak and dagger bits came off as clichéd, but the idea of a threat posed by a kinetic weapon and some of the twists at the end were well done.

Voice: 6. I think this category was the one most affected by translation issues.

Play: 6. Some of the sections were longer than necessary without advancing the action. The author made interesting use of color for dialogue — each character’s words were printed in a unique color. I found this more distracting than helpful.

Polish: 5. The story needs more proof-reading, both for minor errors in spelling and punctuation and more conceptual review to smooth over some translation-related issues.

Technical: 6. No problems. Some innovation with regard to jump back to branch points and an in-game countdown timer.

JNSQ: 0

Preliminary Score: 5.6

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