One sentence worldbuilding contest results

Wow.  Jesus.  That was hard.  First, I went through all the entries looking for two things: 1) Do I really love it, and 2) Is this the best or only entry from this person.  That got me down to 35 entries.  I want to say, at this point, that there are a lot of entries that didn’t make this cut that make me really, really, want to read the story, and that all of the entries from here on did.

The next phase was hard: I asked my self how much did I want to read the story, plus how well did it imply things about the world?  I sorted these into, “Oh, fuck yes,” and, “almost oh, fuck yes.”  There ended up being 19 “Oh, fuck yes” entries.

I got it down to 15, then glared at the spreadsheet and realized I had to change the rules a bit.  There will be 5 honorable mentions, 5 runners-up, and 5 winners.  All of these are listed in the semi-random order my spreadsheet put them in.

Here are the honorable mentions:

  • Experimental Error:The very last issue of the Journal of Artificial Intelligence ran an editorial that considered whether robots were sentient and if so, whether they were capable of understanding that we were, too.”
  • Chris Wallace:I bought my watch because it was self-winding, purely mechanical, and had no electrical parts, which is why I still love it and why it’s the only thing that still works.”
  • Stevie:I have always wondered if we woke her, with our shaft drillers and our tunnel borers, or whether, instead, it was the natural rhythm of her life to sleep and wake, and this was just her time; she has never answered me, and longevity is seldom the fate of those who presume too far on the patience of a god.”
  • Jsimon:The dog-spirit nipped playfully at my toes, which made me realize I’d already drifted some distance from my body.”
  • evergreen:I woke up when the subway pulled into the Haight Street station and the police got on to ask the riders to show their bar codes.”

Here are the runners up:

  • Pamela Dean: “All the trees and goblins had run off the vases again, so that Daisy was furious and the Queen, as threatened, fell into the most annoying sort of decline.”
  • mandrake:The Cloud was full of lunatic scientists, leaders, and the occasional Pope, but the first of the Uploaded to remain sane turned out to be a twelve-year-old-girl with terminal cancer and an excessive love of Hello Kitty.”
  • Private Iron:I have no time to tell stories, but my dim-witted friend here keeps copious notes, some of which are highly incriminating and all of which are heresy.”
  • Star Straf:Every morning I wake to fresh scars that my body double earned in the war.”
  • Nils Weinander:On a cold September morning, an exiled angel lay on a roof above a backstreet in Norrmalm, Stockholm, watching two garbage collectors pulling back in horror as they found a mutilated body behind a container.”

And, finally, the winners.  Five of them, all of whom will receive autographed copies of the next Incrementalist novel:

  • bckinney:The legionnaires drove the sandgrouse from the oasis, and the spirits from their shrines, but they could not quiet the ghosts on the salt-flat wind.”
  • Jo Walton:Grandma always told me if things got bad to look for a Carthaginian ship, and now, with cops from seven planets on my tail and the High Priest of Baal so close he was practically tying knots in it, I took a glide around the port trying to look as if I was taking an idle interest in spidersilk and shadesong instead of weighing up whether I was desperate enough to take her advice.”
  • chaos:The murder charge didn’t stick because I’d backed him up first, but that left me on the hook for neuroprivacy invasion and the HIPAA violations that go with that, not to mention old-fashioned assault and battery.”
  • Cpaca:It was a simple mistake – they told me it was Wednesday, so I figured the Norse Gods had won here.”
  • Barbara Robson:In 9,998 out of 10,000 parallel worlds, I am madly, passionately in love with you, you bastard.”

There.  Congratulations!

And, everyone who entered: Please write those stories!  I want to read them!

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31 thoughts on “One sentence worldbuilding contest results”

  1. Woo! I guess now I *definitely* need to write the salt-mummy story, huh?

    Definitely agree that every one on this page is a story I’d read! My personal favorite might be Cpaca’s because it’s so wickedly concise.

  2. Thanks and congratulations to all concerned; it’s been a wonderful way to remind ourselves that telling stories is an ancient and honourable part of what makes us human, notwithstanding the yelps of feral dogs in the distance…

  3. Wow, so many of the entries were amazing, I never figured to get into any kind of final list. Openings are not my strong suit. I’d read ALL of these stories, so I hope people will get to work. I’m looking at you, Star, though not just at you.

  4. I’ll have to drop you a line with my mailing address and a real email address.

    Expanding that paragraph out:

    ““It was a simple mistake – they told me it was Wednesday, so I figured the Norse Gods had won here. Translation spells can be annoyingly literal at first unless you’re willing to pith the souls of one or two locals to give yourself a context, and that was something I was trying to avoid. That sort of necromancy leaves a distinctive trail.”

  5. @CPaca That would be awesome! I use gmail, and the first part is jenphalian. (Pleasing use of the word ‘pith’, beeteedubs.)

  6. It’s an honor to be mentioned. ;) If I do ever succeed in nailing that story into place, I believe it will be a novel. A weird one.

    Here’s the rest of the first paragraph:
    I woke up when the subway pulled into the Haight Street station and the police got on to ask the riders to show their bar codes. I had gone wrong again, for the second time in a month.
    I had intended to go all the way to Ocean Beach, but I got up and inserted myself into the mass of flesh extruding itself through the train door onto the platform to avoid them; fortunately it was rush hour and they weren’t scrupulous about holding us back. I don’t have a bar code, and even though the officers I’ve discussed this with have taken it pretty well, for police, they didn’t like that. It makes them think I might be an illegal immigrant, or a street person, or a member of a bat-wacky religious cult, which is particularly unfortunate because all of these things are more or less true.

  7. bckinney, yes — please, please, please write the salt-mummy story! While I admire all 15 of the finalists & winners, yours stands out as the most lyrical to my ears. I keep re-reading it for the sheer pleasure of the cadence, for how perfectly the cadence fits the words.

    I am not (yet) familiar with your work aside from this single sentence — a single sentence leaves me wanting to read *everything* you’ve written. Seriously; it just plain glows.

    So. Are you published? Under what name? (My quick online search turns up Pamela Kinney and Joe Kinney, but nothing that maps to the initials BC.

  8. This entire experience was wonderful! @skzb, thank you for an excellent contest. Being mentioned by and among authors I’ve read and admired for years means more than you could know. Everyone else, thank you for your fantastic entries. I enjoyed reading every one.

  9. Congratulations to everyone! I’m no writer nor native english speaker, but it was a lot of fun just to participate and specially to read the entries.

  10. The horrible thing is that, since that last comment, I’ve actually come up with an outline for a story based on the first paragraph. I’m not a bloody writer – but I’ll suppose I’ll have to try putting it down in bits and bytes.

  11. Oh wow! I never expected to be on that list! Now I just have to find the time to write the end of the story. Well, everything in between would be nice as well, but I haven’t got a clue what it will be…

  12. Bit overwhelmed. It is an honor just to be run over, I mean runner up :)

    Now the pressure to actually let the dominoes fall from that first set up. If only I was a runner up to Jo Walton on all my writing endeavors. That would be something.

    Thanks for the fun SKZB and everybody!

  13. I almost never comment here and stumbled across this whole contest today entirely by accident, but CPaca, if a book whose first sentence was *that* existed, I’d buy it.

  14. “CPaca, if a book whose first sentence was *that* existed, I’d buy it.”

    “It was a simple mistake – they told me it was Wednesday, so I figured the Norse Gods had won here. The terms and conditions of the CPaca Plug-In Internet Banking App Beta 1 license agreement applies to your use of the software.** PRE-RELEASE SOFTWARE LICENSE TERMS CPACA PLUG-IN INTERNET BANKING APP PROFESSIONAL, BETA 1 These license terms are an agreement between CPaca Corporation (or based on where you live, one of its affiliates) and you. Please read them. They apply to the pre-release software named above, which includes the media on which you received it, if any. The terms also apply to any CPaca • updates, • supplements, • Internet-based services, and • support services for this software, unless other terms accompany those items. CPaca Corporation accepts no liability for results when using this app, including damage to data or computers, loss of property, security or privacy breaches, alopecia, myopia or unexpected metabolism crashes “

  15. Geri – Thanks! That’s so flattering, you know how to make a writer happy! Sadly, nothing of mine is yet published. I sold one short story to a market called Fictionvale, but it’s going under; supposedly it’ll someday publish its final issue (with my story), but I’m not holding my breath.

    Nevertheless, one of these days soon I’ll be published as Benjamin C. Kinney! When it happens, I’ill announce it on website and twitter… which supposedly are connected to this wordpress account gravatar thingy, but if not they’re at and @benckinney.

    Oddly, when I set aside my writing dreams for many years, my worry was “I can’t turn a narrative into good sentences.” Exactly the opposite of my problem now: I can produce a gorgeous sentence or image, but I wrestle with story structure and clarity.

    Last year I wrote two different *ending* pages of the salt mummy story for a writing exercise, but I still don’t even know whether it’s a short story, a novel, or what. But it’s got a world, a theme, a protagonist, and a lovely first sentence! I just have to finish some of my current projects first (posthuman artificial intelligence romance, Jewish mythology in the Hungarian Revolution, and conquistador dragons).

  16. Well, that’s a brutal if valuable lesson in the dangers of open-ended commitments.

  17. Congratulations to all the winners! I loved reading all of the entries; very entertaining way to spend a few hours at work…

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