Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Flashes of Wonder Prompt: The Oval and the Nova


UKA THE UNDYING, the zombie sorcerer, is experimenting with flashes of dark magics to blast the minds of bards! Illustration provided by Mustafa Bekir.

"Flashes of Wonder" is posted irregularly. It will feature a sword and sorcery flash fiction prompt. -JRC

The Enigmatic Oval Room

There is an oval-shaped room. The floor is a seamless marble slab. Embedded in the marble slab are esoteric designs rendered in tiny threads of precious metal that glint and sparkle in the light. When anyone walks into this room, they are beset by vertigo, nausea, and a terrible sense of wrongness. If anyone lingers in the room, they get ear ringing, headaches, and bleeding from the nose and eyes; if they are foolish enough to linger, their skin becomes as wax and they melt and eventually disappear, evaporating like morning mist. If one listens closely, several sibilant whispers can be heard speaking in the room in tongues unknown.

Darko Suvin, a theorist of distinctively speculative fiction (i.e. science fiction, fantasy, and supernatural horror), developed the concept of "novum" in his famous monograph, Metamorphoses of Science Fiction (Yal UP, 1979). Suvin's "novum" are a fictional objects or entities that signal to the reader that the virtual world they are reading about is not constrained by established physical laws of known science. The unreal laws that govern this unreal world are different and mysterious. Accordingly, for Suvin, in much speculative fiction, "novum" cause a powerful artistic effect called "cognitive estrangement," a unique habit of mind, a form of intense intellectual hospitality that--and most importantly so--permits authors and readers to connect and harmonize over the hitherto unimaginable, e.g. bizarre plot hooks and conflicts that characters must respond to and sometimes (often) resolve through action. 

We offer the "oval room" (described above) as one of those "nova," as defined by Suvin. Using the "novum" of the enigmatic room above, write a sword and sorcery flash fiction of 400-800 words where a protagonist's desires are contradicted or impeded by the room and where that conflict is eventually resolved. In other words, write a story about how this room is encountered, how it throws up a roadblock to a character's pressing desire, and how that roadblock is overcome (or not) by that character.

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