Reviews for The Harvesting
Solemn Coyote chapter 1 . 11/28/2015
Good, solid intro. Establishes principal characters and tone in a brief line, and gives you the rest of the story to expand on it.

"Blood bleeds coward instead of red." This line felt flat to me. If you just said "blood bleeds coward," I might've accepted it with less hesitation, but this way felt like you wanted to say "blood runs yellow".

"Sheepskin courage" that is an awesome line, and I can't tell if that's like the gallows' root thing where there's a deliberate sexual undertone to it. i.e. the courage is a condom over worry.

This is utterly fantastic. I like how there could be anywhere between zero and one hundred percent supernatural element to it. There's an overwhelming barrage of autumnal themes, but they all play well together and the world that you've built is deeply gothic and fallow with possibility.

I'd utterly love to see more of this. It puts me strongly in mind of Amanda Downum or Ekaterina Sedia, and I would impulse buy a continuation of the premise if I saw it on a bookstore shelf.
m. b. whitlock chapter 1 . 8/16/2015
So, I was kind of expecting a lot from this, based on your highly perceptive and sophisticated reviews. I have to say not only am I not disappointed, I am really quite impressed! Really, this is wonderful, gripping storytelling. It has all the elements I look for in short fiction, a believable, compelling voice/protagonist who displays a clear character arc, a fascinating, fully realized and original setting/world, and a story that has both a beginning, middle and end, and a provocative edge that reflects issues in our own contemporary society.

I have a lot of notes so I’ll just get right into it. I hope you don’t mind the degree of detailed crit in some sections. I’m sure you would catch a lot of these little language things on your own in your next draft but anyway…

“When they came for you, if I said I never wished for it, it would have been a lie.”
I love the opening. It brings up so many questions that pull one into the story. I wonder who the narrator is and why she or he has such a complicated and combative relationship with the character addressed as ‘you’. I also am curious who ‘they’ are. Immediately I get hints of an authoritarian ‘they’ who ‘come’ for people. A dark tone from the get. Like it!

Now you give us a little more color, the tint of the setting, it’s late autumn, it appears:
“The season is thick with cold and rusted leaf, swirling death rattle on the wind.”
Great foreshadowing with ‘rusted’ leaf and ‘death rattle’, hints at the ‘plated metal’ the corrupt officers wear and, of course the waves of death that we are soon to learn of.

I get a little confused here:
“It was a miracle you even made it through the culling, then again, your madness has always been well hidden.”
I don’t understand why it is remarkable to get through the culling process. Do ‘they’ only choose those who are strong, are there tests? If you expand this story (and I hope you will) this is an area where I would like more detail, more information about the culling process and requirements.

Little confused here too:
“If you weren't already cracked before you went into the wilds, you'd never come back in one piece anyway.”
This comes off to me as a little contradictory. Is Marian saying only ‘cracked’ insane men make it back in one piece or the opposite? It seems to me like maybe she’s saying that those who *aren’t* crazy before they go into the wood *come back* cracked anyway…?

“leaving in rows shepherded by officers in their flapping white and white tunics and plated metal, ushered into the cruel ritual of manhood.”
I find the ‘plated metal’ detail interesting setting wise, especially with the cigarettes and cigars the men smoke. It gives me impressions of the US Civil War or early WWI with some cavalry officers wearing decorative plate…? Of course this could be more late European Middle Ages through the 16th century, especially with the ‘gallows root’ and ‘culling’ and other more medieval/gothic elements… Great mix anyway. It works overall, at no point was I like ‘That’s an anachronism!’ or anything. ;)

Don’t know if ‘dissent’ works that well for me here:
“the sneering *dissent* of the military,”
Maybe use ‘disdain’ instead of ‘dissent’? He may well be a ‘dissenter’ his views may ‘dissent’ from those of the military leaders but dissent really means ‘a difference of opinion’ so I don’t see how it can be ‘sneering’ in this instance.

“You were just like any other angry boy, growing up without any dreams or fathers, rolling smokes and spitting brown juice between your teeth *in a desperate attempt at masculinity*.”
I love the sentence above but I don’t think you need that last clause ’in a desperate attempt at masculinity’. It’s just that I feel like I totally get it from the preceding section. It feels a little too ’spoon fed’.

This section works really well as a transition to Marian’s backstory:
“Boys were boys longer than girls were called girls—I was woman when I was 16, and you were 20 and still just a boy.”

I get just a tad confused here because at first I thought walking outside the walls was part of her duties as a ‘woman’:
“walks outside the wall to the wandering willows out in the marshes.”

Missing a word here I think:
“The summer moons were waning, the hunters were coming back ** frontiers still haunted with darkness.”

“Brief couplings before they were driven to more barren fields, while we'd ripen with woolgathering complacency.”
Really like how you continually weave metaphorical threads of sheep, wolves, and wool. Gives the whole thing a dark fairytale cast. Great!

“”And then our body is taken away from us," I confided in you once, you too young to father children to be concerned.”
This where I first get the overarching theme of lack of autonomy equals lack of control over one’s body, how young men slaughtered in war and women forced to bear future soldiers (in a sense being raped) are both victims of a society that holds no value for individuals, a doomed society that eats its children, male and female alike.

I wonder how much time has passed because here he sounds more like a man than a boy (at least adolescent or old enough to father children):
“You'd let me talk and talk, you never speaking, as if listening, and then you'd say: "They'd come for you, if they knew," as if it were a compliment.”

I like the Jann character and how you use him as a contrast and challenge to the young man.
“How every open wound had to seared shut because they could smell it. How every recovered body came back in pieces so it wouldn't be corrupted.”
Also, grisly clues of the mysterious horror that lies in wait for the hunters.

“skulking-dog stare.”
Good touch upon the hunting motif there.

“"Women—do you think you have it any better, Marian? How old are you, 20, 21? No children yet? They'll come for you too.””
I really love these lines between them, how he seems to change his mind about whose fate is worse, his or hers, knowing that she too will be culled most likely.

“and I was scared of his wraith when I should have been scared of the wolf.”
Wow. Really curious why Marian fears Jann’s ‘wraith’. Also, the wolf inside the main young man character comes out under the sheepskin… Like it.

This is just beautiful:
“The moon has now turned her face away, but the meager smile gleamed a single truth, curling into a feral snarl.”
Love those words ‘feral snarl’. :D

“It's because you're more afraid of the monster you've sown in me than you are of the devils out there.”
This raises lots of great questions. Is he so afraid to become a man and have the responsibilities of fatherhood that he would rather face the wraiths? Or does he know he’s bred a true monster? Has he really been more of a monster than simply a selfish boy who resents anyone who forces him to grow up?

Great work. I would love to read more. :D Think you have a really good shot at winning the WCC.

Very best!

m. b whitlock
alltheeagles chapter 1 . 8/12/2015
RG Depth

The opening was a three-step journey for me: first, I formed the impression that the narrator doesn’t like ‘him’ all that much, then I gathered something bad is going to happen, and finally I told myself, Aha! non-modern setting. Good job getting so much down in those few words.
Plot-wise, there isn’t that much happening on stage, so to speak, but a whole of stuff simmering in the background – what do they hunt, why is the recruitment something so grim, what is this unknown menace that they all face? It’s the kind of plot that invites re-reading, and from the perspective of the writer, that’s good cause you want your stuff to be read carefully.
The narrator has a strong voice emotionally – I’m getting bitterness at her fate, along with resentment at the weakness of ‘him’ and possibly frustration at herself for being attracted (I think) to him. Other than that, we know little else about her, so I suppose that makes her just that much less relatable.
By the time I get to the closing I am no closer to understanding what’s going on or what has been implied, but nevertheless there is a sense of closure. However, it’s more like a ‘Right, i’ve got here from over there, wherever here is’ than a clearcut ‘ah, I get it now’ feeling. Maybe I’m just not very good at reading between the lines...
lookingwest chapter 1 . 8/11/2015
Daaaaamn, this is good. Not just saying that because I know you, either, haha. This blew me away, what a gem! I don't know if I can even be that constructive right now with this - I noticed really, only a few little spots where some smoothing out of the writing could be done - "rattles" perhaps, instead of "rattle" in the second paragraph. But those are all minor shrug-offs that didn't detract from enjoyment, so beyond that I really got nothin', haha.

I won't lie though, this was also a challenging piece and you had me skeptical at first if I could keep up with it. It's written in a way that demands concentration from the reader, but in a way that smooths itself out by the end and you had me won a few paragraphs into it - plus answered along the way (such as the gender of our narrator, or if it would matter). It's not an "easy read" in a genre sense, because there are so many complex things going on, but I super super love that, and I absolutely love how there are these mythic moments - we've got a lot of witchy cool imagery with the gallows root, even just using phrases like "cry-wolf" evoke things like fairy tales. Woods, words like "harvesting" - I love how there's a juxtaposition of the title in that way, between women and bearing children, plus this "harvest" of men who have to go out to kill these monsters.

You really should seek publication for this, my friend :) And ahh, the dialogue was framed *so cool* I really love the man's dialogue and how you framed it in a way where we're sort of pulled in an out of these different scenes, the dialogue looping us back in until our narrator threads us back out again. It was such a cool technique and spoke to a very nice cadence of pacing, too. Plus everything that was spoken about or brought forward was so vital to the story, character-wise or world-wise. And ahh, like when the man is like "women aren't forced into servitude" but then there's this complex thematic wondering if the narrator in regards to bearing children - and how yes, obviously, children are something that are wanted sometimes, but sometimes they're not, perhaps a societal "forcing" as well (not in the sense of rape, but just in the sense of pressure, like the pressure of society to get married, if that makes sense). And that fight, between "who has it worse" or "men vs. women" here almost comes subtly across until at the end it's there, and so relavant!

This is a piece I feel I can come back to, as well, as glean something new from it each time. Favorite moments... The frame of the guise of masculinity in the "A year ago" paragraph was so nicely constructed. We never get like, super clear "this is what these characters look like" moments, but we do learn so much of what they're like, through action, and even they're habits "rolling smoke, splitting brown juice." "And then you blew me down into the cellar..." was a paragraph that ended so beautifully on that word "willow" - eee, so good! And of course, I loved the last paragraph.

Such a strong piece! You've got my vote, woman! :D I am so thrilled you put this up! Thank you for the dark delight!