review of "On a String" by course teacher Dr. Tom Williams

Unfortunately, I had some problems with Tom's handwriting when transscribing this. Hope I got it half-right ;-) The gist becomes clear enough though.

"Number one, I think you do succeed in making this a story for more than just D&D players, especially in the first and last sections. Section 2 seems directly for the players and the discussion of strategy and method; is likely to be lost on non-players as myself. Yet it doesn't seem too important to know exactly what all the jargon means, and it’s only a reflection of the lack of control Jeff has over his “character” and thus, his own life.

I guess what I like best in the story are sections 1 & 3, namely because they seem the most crucial to the overall story’s theme. Were this to stop after #2, I think it would be a joke for D&D heads; but with the addition of 3 it becomes more of a philosophical treatise (though I don’t know how seriously to take this. That is, I don’t quite believe [that] your philosophy of living is that our lives are ruled by chance and [that] gods play dice with our lives. But who knows?) Still, #1 comes across as the most vivid and imaginative section, primarily because of its well-detailed and -drawn setting and mood. You really draw [..] a picture there, and one can feel Grakk’s every step, every thought, every breath. This, however, does serve to pale the other sections in comparison. To me, they are composed entirely of voices and lack real settings. I don’t think, though, that you need to bring a lot more description into them, that is more description as in the first section (I feel that, for the most part, the setting in section two would be pretty banal, though section 3 might be fairly interesting. For instance, what does the [?] look like for Asmira and what does the “board” [i.e. playing board] look like?). I’d think that a bit more detail, however, would give us a fuller and richer story. As it seems, the latter sections exist solely to make a point and not [to] develop the story.

This is ultimately the problem faced by the writer with a kind of philosophical bent: when does the story make clear its world view without sacrificing the conventions of tale-telling? Again, I’m not sure how serious to take this: if I’m primarily to laugh (knowing that section 3 is merely a continuance of a “joke”) or if I’m to ponder the existential rumination - that indeed our world, which we believe as full of choices and fueled by our own thoughts and actions, is as hazy and vague as the world that “Grakk” lives in. For certainly he believes [that] what he’s doing (though he wonders why he doesn’t remember much about his childhood and why he’s here in harm’s way) matters, just as Jeff believes that he is the one who’s decided to peddle [pedal!] his bike home and have a beer. If you find that the story (the title of which is dual: there is a “string” connecting the 3 sections, as well as the more obvious allusion to puppets and puppeteers) is more of an insider’s joke, then, by all means, only minor adjustments need [to] be made; but if it’s or more import - [..] of the way the world and the heavens connect - I’d like to see more in the way of section 2. Namely, less strategy discussion, and more of a sense of the characters believing that they are acting of their own volition. Because the story stops after Grakk is done. What we get often is, though dialog, directions. We’re told in section 2 to see Grakk’s life as unreal, just a game. Same thing in section 3, though it’s now Jeff and Eric’s lives that are part of a big game. I think you want the story - or the alternate narration - to get as much “story” as the first section does, so that if we can conclude that there is either a joke or a world view herein, it stems from narrative, not from authorial direction.

Liked it a lot, though. And hope you want to do more with it.”


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