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Saturday, December 23, 2017

The Friday Challenge • Judgment Day

The votes are in, and the winner of the 11/17 Friday Challenge, by an overwhelming margin, is “A Once a Year Gig,” by James Westbrooks. We’ll have more to say about that one in a bit, but first off, congrats to James for the win!

Now, as promised, here are our comments on the other finalists.

» “No Christmas Without Santa,” by Gary Cuba

What can we say about this one? Gary Cuba has been a regular contributor to Stupefying Stories and SHOWCASE since “Oogie Tucker’s Mission” appeared in issue #3, and as always, this story does not disappoint. In the space of 250 marvelously succinct words he delivers a complete and horrifying little tale of a Christmas gone terribly wrong, and proves once again that ending a story with the anticipation of impending doom is often more effective than actually putting that doom onstage. Very well done.

» “The Real Saint Nick,” by H.L. Fullerton

H.L. Fullerton is another longtime contributor whose name we were happy to see in the inbox again, and had this one come in as a regular submission and not as a Friday Challenge entry, I probably would have accepted it and published it anyway. The story of a fairy princess and her husband, a dryad, banished to the mundane world and trying to make sense of Christmas—well, that alone is charming and funny. But then add in the element of a wife trying to let her intelligent but not altogether perceptive husband know that they are going to have a baby—well, that won me over. This one is charming, and funny, and sweet, and sentimental, and all in all, a perfect fantastic Christmas story. Personally, this one was my pick to win. I guess that says something about my quirky sense of humor.

» “Grodie and The War on Christmas,” by James Rye

James Rye is a stalwart member of the original Friday Challenge crew, going back to the dawn of time, or at least to “Armstrong” in the original print-only incarnation of Stupefying Stories, and it was great to find his name in the inbox again. This story is not as well-polished as some of the other submissions we received, but he does a terrific job of taking the tired “war on Christmas” meme and turning it into a snarky first-person-shooter action/adventure story. Great fun!

» “A Once a Year Gig,” by James Westbrooks

Finally, the winning story, by relative newcomer and previous Friday Challenge winner James Westbrooks, provoked some interesting debate around here. It’s well-written, and a classic crossover mashup—of Clement Moore’s “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” plus Star Wars, with a faint whiff of Dune—of the sort that’s defined humorous SF ever since Isaac Asimov was a teenager. Most of us found it pleasant, amusing, and deserving of the win.

But that’s where the discussion took an interesting turn. While most of us liked it, the Token Generation Z member of the panel said, “I hate it. It’s yet another fan-boy inside-joke crossover story, and those were old before I was born. My Dad likes those stories. It’s the kind of story every freshman creative writing student cranks out because it makes her professor laugh and gets her an easy A.”

Well. That certainly was an unexpected reaction. But it got us thinking...

As regards the 12/08 Friday Challenge, we had the very unusual result of the judges opting for "no award." The rules do allow for this, in the event that we receive no entries deemed worthy of the win. For the 12/08 challenge, the TGZ’s arguments carried the day: the few entries we did receive were mostly "robot noir" crossover mashups and extended fan-boy insider jokes, so this was declared to be a Lousy Challenge, and I have been forbidden to use it ever again.

However, after further discussion, we have decided to put the TGZ’s proposition to the test, and in a few minutes we’ll be posting the second part of this experiment. be continued...

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