Critiquing Critique: My Postmodern Foray into Metaliterature

I often go to groups of writers to ask for feedback on my work, and while I am grateful for their comments sometimes I am also frustrated by the way they approach critiquing. I decided that perhaps having gone through so many critique meetings I may have enough material to write a novel about it. I finished the first chapter and even submitted it to other writers for critique so  they can critique my critique of their critique of my writings. (It’s probably the most postmodern thing I have ever done, although I’ve realized this only in retrospect.) So far I haven’t continued writing this novel, but eventually I may if I find enough time in my schedule.

Note: I should really write an introductory chapter explaining the setting of the novel, unfortunately I’m not sure how to do it without making it boring. Just so you know, the entire novel takes place in a café where half a dozen or so writers are gathering to critique each other’s writings.

Robot-Lincoln’s eyes glowered with a demonic red light when he saw an approaching army of space-zombies against the background of the Milky Way as he perched on the rings of Saturn.1 The Pandamonium amalgam in his robot veins boiled with rage as he sensed the telepathic messages commanding the space-zombie army from the Zombie John Wilkes Booth who is trapped inside the core of the planet XMF694.B by the curse of a cabal of Voodoo priests.2 Forever banished from the face of the blue planet by this curse, Zombie-Booth summon swarm after swarm of space-zombies to destroy earth. Only Robot-Lincoln, constructed by the best scientists of Northrop-Grumman from indestructible Pandamonium, is capable of saving earth.3

Robot-Lincoln leapt off the rings of Saturn at superluminal speed towards the advancing space-zombie army, tightly gripping his axe Hroðgar in his right hand. He smiled maniacally as he stared into the demonic eye of one space-zombie with a glance so powerful as to cause instant insanity to any living or undead being, then swung Hroðgar into the abdomen of the wretched zombie causing it to instantly explode with the force of a million supernovae, an explosion that continues to echo through the universe today in the phenomenon of gamma ray bursts. As each zombie leapt towards Robot-Lincoln it was annihilated by the blessed Hroðgar, a steely wonder forged from the stolen hammer of Thor, reinforced with the degenerate hearts of a hundred neutron stars, honed by Hephaestus to cleave hadrons into quarks.4

As the surviving zombies were retreating from the carnage, Robot-Lincoln grabbed a super-duper-nova and tossed it at the defeated zombie army, then flew into intergalactic space to escape the explosion, which was of such intensity that it wiped the zombie army from history so it never existed in the first place.5

Robot-Lincoln then scanned the galaxy for other space-zombie forces commanded by Zombie-Booth when he spotted a turban poking through the Eagle Nebula. Switching his vision to infrared he saw Robot-bin Laden hiding inside the dust clouds, and swooped down to karate-kick him back into the oblivion from whence he came. But Robot-bin Laden quickly spotted Robot Lincoln, then pointed his arms which were made of flamethrowers and directed the demonic blue flame of a quintillion jinns at Robot-Lincoln.6 The flames easily deflected off of Robot-Lincoln’s Pandamonium armor, but in rage Robot-Lincoln threw Hroðgar at Robot-bin Laden.

Quickly Robot-bin Laden pulled out his hellsword, a weapon still burning of the hellfire from when it was forged in the bowels of Satan’s lair, and knocked Hroðgar back towards Robot-Lincoln. Robot-Lincoln quickly donned on shades to protect himself from the evil light emanating from the hellsword, a light that causes mass extinctions.7 Catching Hroðgar in his right hand he raised his left arm which is not an arm but a pistol that shoots planets, and fired six planets traveling at a million times the speed of light at Robot-bin Laden.8 Robot-bin Laden dodged the planets Matrix-style, leaving them to fly to the edge of the universe where they tore six wormholes in the fabric of spacetime.

Robot-Lincoln advanced towards Robot-bin Laden to tear through his armor made of an inferior grade of Pandamonium with Hroðgar, but as Robot-Lincoln swung his sacred axe at the evil robot it was blocked by Robot-bin Laden’s hellsword. The force of the clashing blades caused gravitational waves so intense that they rippled backwards in time and changed history so now Robot-Lincoln’s legs have turned into alligators and Robot-bin Laden’s flamethrower arms turned into octopus tentacles.9 Robot-Lincoln swung his alligator legs at Robot-bin Laden, gnashing through and severing the tentacles gripping onto the hellsword. Robot-Lincoln took the hellsword and cut a gash into the fabric of spacetime, and kicked Robot-bin Laden as he yelled “THIS IS SPARTA!!!”10 Robot-bin Laden fell backwards into the gash, after which Robot-Lincoln sealed the rip in spacetime with his bare hand so that Robot-bin Laden fell into hyperspace where he was tortured for all eternity.
Karl Williamson

What the hell did I just read? What the fucking hell? On a scale of 1 to 10 I rate this story as a -19, but in truth mathematicians haven’t invented a number to appropriately rate this story. The overly florid prose, the bizarre “plot” if I may call it that, and the overall ridiculousness of the premise of the story result in a clusterfuck of demonic swords from hell that emanate light that cause mass extinctions clashing with axes forged from the stolen hammer of Thor. At the same time I applaud anyone who has the creativity and imagination to come up with this bullshit. Anyone can write a mediocre story, but only a true genius can write something this awful.

I looked around the table, awed not by the ridiculousness of what I just read, but by the seriousness of the people reading this story. My eyes grew large as I saw Abbie, Taylor, Rachael and Miles studying the manuscript as though it were a technical document, without any emotions. Once in a while a person nodded and made a note on the paper, then took a sip of coffee, but that’s all the reaction there was from this group. How can anyone read this with a straight face?

When Miles saw everyone had finished reading he smiled and said, “Does anyone want to go first?” Rachael glanced at me with a nervous look as though she wanted to speak, but Taylor said, “I’ll go first.”

With a completely indifferent look on her face, she said without looking directly at Karl, “I’ve detected some confusing tense changes as well as a few run-on sentences. In fact the entire story seems to be made of run-on sentences, you must watch out for that. There are some grammatical errors I have fixed for you. That’s all I have to say. You have good…diction, I guess.” Taylor handed her notes to Karl, looking down at the desk the whole time.

What?! You just read a story about ROBOT-LINCOLN FIGHTING ROBOT-BIN LADEN IN OUTER SPACE and the only things that bothered you were the run-on sentences?! Jesus Christ.

Rachael turned towards Karl, stared into his face and said, “You described Robot-Lincoln’s eyes as ‘demonic’, but he’s the hero of the story, isn’t he?”

“Of course,” Karl responded.

“So use a word that’s less demonic to describe him.”

Karl thought for a moment, then said, “I’ll change it to ‘infernal’, because the word ‘infernal’ is less demonic than the word ‘demonic’.”

This has got to be the least insightful comment made about the story so far. Nobody cares whether or not Robot-Lincoln is a hero or villain. What matters most is that Robot-Lincoln is the most badass motherfucker in the entire galaxy, if not the universe. He radiates awesomeness from every square inch of his Pandamonium armor, and you are made more awesome by being in the same galaxy as him. Literature is full of outlaws who are ‘heroes’, some even do evil deeds. Audiences still cheer for them because they exude awesomeness from every pore of their skin. There are more important questions to ask about the story such as what the fuck is Pandamonium and where can I get it so I can inject it into my veins and fly off the rings of Saturn at superluminal speed to FIGHT ROBOT-BIN LADEN IN OUTER SPACE?

“I also noticed that you used the word ‘demonic’ quite a lot, I think it’s too repetitive.”

Karl listened intently to Rachael’s comment, writing notes on his paper and saying, “Used too much ‘demonic’, got it.”

“And also, you spelled ‘ax’ with an ‘e’, which is…”

“The non-American spelling, I know,” Karl smiled, “I used it because I thought it looked cool, the same reason I used ‘supernovae’ instead of ‘supernovas’ and spelled ‘Hroðgar’ with an ‘ð’.”

Rachael looked surprised, as though Karl was more intelligent than she thought. She continued, “There’s one more thing that bothered me, you wrote about ‘a pistol that shoots planets,’ at first I thought it was a pistol that shoots bullets at planets, but then I read more and realized it was a pistol that shoots planets as bullets. That was confusing, that’s all.”

Karl nodded, then said graciously, “Thanks for catching that, I appreciate it.”

This is amazing, based on the feedback so far you couldn’t tell that the story is about ROBOT-FUCKIN’-LINCOLN FIGHTING ROBOT-FUCKIN’-BIN LADEN IN OUTER SPACE. (Sigh.) Let’s see if we can do better than this.

It was Abbie’s turn to give feedback. She glanced over at Karl, then looked back at her notes and said, “I agree with everything Rachael said…” She paused for a moment to gather her thoughts, then continued, “…I think there were too many descriptions in the story. They are all well-written, but providing so much detail is very confusing, especially for an action scene like this. I would say that less is more in your case.” She then handed her notes to Karl.

Finally, someone who gives reasonable comments, instead of obsessing over details of grammar, orthography and semantics. In a sense, yes, lines like “a steely wonder forged from the stolen hammer of Thor, reinforced with the degenerate hearts of a hundred neutron stars, honed by Hephaestus to cleave hadrons into quarks” are unnecessarily overwrought and distract from the action of the story. But they are so cool! It’s a kind of poetry that transcend the quotidian and leap into infinity. It’s like how the ancient Homeric poets use stock-phrases like “gray-eyed Athena” over and over. Nobody fucking cares about what the color of Athena’s eyes are, but I bet it sounds really cool in ancient Greek. Take away elements like these and the story would be more readable, but would be 99% less awesome. I would say it’s a tough call. For me, I would leave in them in because it’s hard to improve on a literary mess like this.

I realized my turn had come. I was suddenly stricken with nervousness as I stuttered to provide feedback. Looking into Karl’s attentive eyes I said, “Your story is…good. You have a very good…imagination. I hope you keep trying to…improve your writing skills.” A chilling silence fell over the room as I nervously looked at the eyes of the others staring at me.

Miles looked at me and said, “Are you finished?”

I paused for a second, then said, “Yes.”

I handed the manuscript back to Karl as I realized I didn’t write any notes on it. “Did you really write this or did Michael Bay have a yard sale and you found a box of his rejected manuscripts?” I asked.

The tension in the room was broken and the entire table burst into laughter, Karl smiled and said, “No comments.”

It was Mile’s turn to critique Karl. With the usual wry smile on his face he said in a charming Southern accent, “You have quite an imagination, and the ability to write well. But sometimes an active imagination can go too far, and leave the audience feeling alienated. Just for my knowledge, which audience are you writing this for? And excuse me for my slip-up as I usually don’t end sentences with a preposition.”

Karl shrugged and said, “I don’t write for any audience, I write for myself.”

“Now who gave you that advice?”

“In your book ‘A Guide for Aspiring Novelists’ you said, ‘writing should be the expression of the soul of an individual.’”

Miles chuckled, then said, “Of course, of course, but these are not the only concerns. What I’m trying to say is do write for yourself, but you should always keep in mind your audience. Thank you for sharing your short story with us, it was immensely entertaining for all involved.”

“Oh, this isn’t a short story,” Karl said, “This is Chapter 1 from a book I wrote called ‘Battle Royale Apocalypse’, a novel in which Robot-Lincoln battles a succession of galactic overlords until he fights the Dictator Maaxwwkddd in an apocalyptic battle in 11th dimension hyperspace for the fate of the multiverse.”

Holy crap! He wrote more of this bullshit?! I already feel my sanity slipping away after reading Chapter 1, I would probably end up in an asylum in a straitjacket if I read the rest of his…I would like to say book, but no book can contain the insanity of his mind. Either the book instantaneously self-destructs after it is printed since no known material in the universe can contain the awesomeness of his words, or the universe will collapse on itself from the existence of such an insane object.

When Miles wrote in his book ‘writing should be the expression of the soul of an individual’ his imagination was not fertile enough to consider people like Karl. Despite being a published author, he is much less creative than a kid who played too many video games and listened to too much heavy metal music.

As we were about to leave I asked Karl, “I have a question, if Robot-bin Laden has flamethrowers for arms, how can he hold onto a hellsword?”

Karl’s eyes lighted up and said, “You’re right, I should say that he has flamethrowers mounted on top of his arms.”

Suddenly I realized how stupid the question was. If Robot-Lincoln can chop a space-zombie and make it explode with the force of a million supernovae, surely I can accept the fact that Robot-bin Laden can grip a sword with arms made of flamethrowers. What the hell am I even saying? I’m turning into a science fiction geek! (Sigh.)

1. Wha…how…I mean…there are so many things wrong with this sentence that I have no idea where to even start. Why is there a Robot-Lincoln? What the hell are space-zombies doing in this story? Why is Robot-Lincoln in outer space in the first place? Oh dear god, I have to read through the entire story and this is just the first sentence.

2. Okay, by the second sentence all story-telling logic has been tossed out the window. I’m not even going to try to comment on how none of this makes sense. Instead I’m going to make sarcastic comments as I read this.

3. Yes, because if you want to build Robot-Lincoln you would contract the task to Northrop-Grumman. If this were a movie I’d bet the Northrop-Grumman logo would be emblazoned on his chest.

4. Yeah, forget the Large Hadron Collider, let’s build a giant axe.

5. Remember, when wiping out an army of space-zombies, use a super-duper-nova. Accept no substitutes.

6. Just in case you don’t know, jinns are the same things as genies. So spraying a quintillion Robbin Williams clones set on fire at Robot-Lincoln is not enough to even slow him down.

7. “Donned on shades.” Because the phrase “put on sunglasses” does not sound cool enough.

8. Yeah, fuck you, Einstein!

9. Believe it or not, this is one of the least ludicrous sentences in this work.

10. Apparently cutting a gash in the fabric of spacetime is child’s play, if you’re Robot-Lincoln. You can also send the fabric of spacetime to the dry cleaner’s nowadays. You will get a heart attack when you see the bill, though. Also, using catch phrases from population action movies is really original.


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