Judge’s Comments on Shortlisted Stories for the What If Contest

Judge’s Comments on Shortlisted Stories for the What If Contest

1: “What If The Human Breath Could Kill?” By susan
Susan had very big ideas, or just one idea that was too big for the skill currently in her possession. Though I couldn’t picture the world, I sensed that the writer is one that would find stories set in the here and now less challenging. Perhaps it was the unweildy science, but I think the story was just not what this writer could handle.

2: “What if alien spies walked amongst us?” By Olan
This story would have worked better if the writer had a better grasp of the genre and knew that believability is key to science fiction. Also, had he chosen to use alternate realities instead of the planets of Sol, this story would have had a better chance at succeeding. A good try, but Olan needs to read loads of speculative fiction.

3: “What If We Could Travel Through The Ground?” By Telsumbini Mashi.
Another story with potential that suffered from the way it was told. Believability is lacking here. It pays to do some research about the science of it, especially when writing science fiction, or where the science is the most important aspect of the story.

4: “What If Abacha Did not Die!” By Adeshola, Omoniyi
Alternate history by Adeshola aptly captures what naijastories mean to accomplish with this contest. However, like many of the stories I’ve read here, it would have read better had more editing been done. Omoniyi needs to read Eghosa’s “to Saint Patrick” if she has not yet read it.

5: “What If We Could Rewrite Our Memories…” by Raymond Elenwoke
Raymond is an old hand at this, but while his story didn’t suffer from most of the issues I had with others, I couldn’t shake of the feeling that he did not give this his best shot. I obviously expected something stronger, speculation wise, than a touching story, even if well written. This is like your best student scoring a c in an exam you know he/she could ace with an A+. Still, this is way better than many I’ve read here.

6: “What If Travelling into The Future Is possible” by Nwaokafor Francis,
A fine example of research well applied. This writer is familar with the genre. I enjoyed this story and really want to see more from this writer. However, there is a trap in leaning too much on the science side of things—you’ll have to really convince serious SF freaks that your speculative science is practical in the context of your speculative world, saying it is does not quite cut it, show how.

7: “What If Cyborgs Are Employed To Tackle Terrorism” by Hymar David
An intriguing story. The type story that you’d love to read over and over. The writer has a vivid imagination and the beautiful tendency of ignoring political correctness. A believable story. However, like many here, it suffers from lack of proper editing. Also, David needs to read more SF and seriously think about a future in speculative fiction.

8: “What if Nigeria lost its Identity?” By writeman
Absolutely love the idea behind this story. Cultural assimilation is something I am very interested in. Would that the writer had studied the genre a little more. The choice of names also did disservice to the story. Avian made me think of birds.

9: “What If Nigeria Has No Secrets?” By ‘Femi Gabriel.
Scary take on the invasion of privacy by governments already ongoing but with a flip: the government are also on the receiving end. Sad that the writer couldn’t handle the topic better. A potential, needs a better applied imagination and approach.

10: “What if… We could hear people’s thoughts”
This story began with a lot of promise and the writer appeared to be heading somewhere, then everything began to drag. Why the writer did not introduce a conflict into this story beats me. A little more imagination would have sealed this.

11; “What if…Every woman had an implanted sexual body counter” by Jill A
This is what speculative fiction is all about! Impressive! This reads like a story, truly believable. This is writer I would love to work with. If Jill decides to focus on speculative fiction, she will make a big splash.

12: “What if Warri was a country: Warri 2052” Aghogho Sam
A good effort undermined by apparent careless use of time and setting. The writer would have gotten away with it had he not exported characters from present reality into the scene and missed their origins, unless Asari Dokubo is from Delta and not Rivers state. I did feel a pulse, the deeper, more intrinsic, part of the story that dealt with culture and how some things never change. Also treated was what if a Nigerian state successfully secedes from the nation.

13: “What if it is possible bring back the dead?” By IZUZU CHIMDI KELECHI
I like how this story grew in complexity, but felt the science of it left a lot to be desired, and that is a problem especially as the science of it all is very important to this story. It is very important to research topics you are writing about; this enables one to better explain the HOWS and WHYS. Too many questions left unanswered, not good to leave people wondering, unless that makes the telling more intriguing.

14: “What If the Cure for HIV…” By Eletrika
There are issues with the writing, structural editing issues. The story is also not as imaginative as it could have been. Eletrika tried, but this story kind of dragged for too long and was especially predictable. There was no ‘okaaaaay’ moment and some research on the topic would have sufficed: she could have considered the progress in the fields of medicine now and perhaps taken us well away from the conventional 20th century lab setting.

15: “What if you could switch souls” Olubimo Tobi
This story had the potential to be one of the best in this contest, if only the writer had done a better job with it. It is one of those stories that thrive on speculation, especially when it has the element of the otherworldly. This one dwelt on souls, when in essence it intended to focus on body-switching. This is also a topic that speculative fiction, and non-fiction as well, has treated severally over the years. Ann Rice did an outstanding treatment of body swapping in ‘Tale of the body thief’. Good effort, but not good enough. Too many questions left unanswered.

16: What If Manic Schizophrenia Was Curable But At A Price? “ By Nicole Bassey
Very good writing; sentences are crisp and waffles reduced to the barest minimum. Nicole can write and I am almost sure she does poetry too, and is good at it. While the writing is great, the story does suffer, not from balance of science or believability but from the writer’s inability to structure the beginning of the story clearly: there was no intro to the main characters mental state before we hear about side effects. There is also the issue of miss-used SF term: Android for Cyborg. Nicole will go far if she keeps working on her craft. I bet she’s read some couple of SF before. No rooky here.

17: What If Nigerians Were Being Mind Controlled By The Government? By Nnandez Godson Aniagudo
Nice story. Strong start, strong middle, very careless ending. The writer killed the effect of this story by making it all a dream. This is speculative fiction, dreams are supposed to breathe here. This is a lovely use of the power imagination by the way, even if negated by editing issues—as many stories here are.

18: “What If The Bini Empire Had Grown Into A Great Digital Metropolis?” By Fatima Abokaso
I could see what Fatima was trying to achieve and how inexperience got in the way of what would have been great story telling. This is the only story of its type here and it was a brave, even if unwieldy attempt. I think this writer should read more and revisit this story. Also, it would have made better sense if it had an identifiable structure.

21 thoughts on “Judge’s Comments on Shortlisted Stories for the What If Contest” by Admin (@ogaoga)

  1. Going by the comments on the shortlisted list by the judges, it flags up a lack of imagination and inability to research on the part of a majority of contributors. Without being critical, the success of the so called ‘Chick Lit’ and sex themed genres is more to do with our more sexualised societies globally than anything else (look at which stories are read more often than others on NS).
    Why are there not more crime, science, futuristic, psychology etc genre writers out there? Why are people not exploring their writing spectrum more and delving into areas alien (pardon the sci fi pun) to them?

    1. @AlabaOk

      I agree with you whole heartedly. I’ve been wondering about the other genres myself. Don’t we do that in Africa? Trying my hand at crime and mystery for now.

      Thumbs up to you for bringing this up.

  2. @Fredrick-chiagozie-Nwonwu I wish you had elaborated on why you think my story was not so believable. Astronomy is an area I have always had an interest in and read on. Astronomers often call Mars, Earth’s twin. This is because, Mars, like earth, has a weak magnetic field, produces little inner heat and spins as slowly as earth does.. and this is just are just a few of it’s similarities. Mars also has cave openings (which could indicate how they could live underground, and as far as i know, the probes sent to mars have not explored the caves found on mars. Also it is believed that beneath the surface it is warmer and there’s water and since its closer to the core, the gravity underground could be similar to earth’s gravity).. Science proves that the the environment and gravity of a place, or in this case, planet affects the creatures found within it. So with this, it is plausible that martians can have the same skin, look and structure as humans….

    I guess the mainstream idea on how aliens should look like was a reason it didn’t seem plausible….

    However, you critiqued the stories well and you write amazing science fiction. Well done

    Nb: He is a she.

    1. Mazi Nwonwu (@Fredrick-chiagozie-Nwonwu)

      @Olan, I guess you’ve answered your question. You just outlined how the world you envisaged is possible… perhaps if you had done so in the story. for example, using a paragraph from your story, let’s try this:
      White birds flew across the blue sky and the Nigerian sun bathed the land in orange. It was a time when nature was at one of its best displays, yet I felt heavy and grey inside, because it reminded me of how different tvrel, my home planet (which earthlings called Mars), was from gevla–earth. While the skies are blue here, they are dark purple on tvel, and no living thing exists on the surface, so no flight of bird-like creatures. Tvel intrigued me, it did all of us. under the surface however, the path evolution took was not so much different than it did on earth.
      the idea is to give us a vision to work with. You can break rules, but give us a reason why it is possible to break these physical limitations. Take Spiderman for example, why do you believe someone could walk on walls and hang upsidedown from ceiling, or shoot webs from his arms? You believe because someone created a would, broke some physical rules and told you how and why those rules where broken, and you believe this only within the context of the Marvel Universe. It may seem tedious to set scenes, but for each story you only have to do this once.
      show more, tell less. I know you already have an idea what your alien and his world look like, show your readers, don’t expect them to know what’s on your mind.

      He/She, sorry, but Olan is a very androgynous name :)
      Keep writing bro

      1. Mazi Nwonwu (@Fredrick-chiagozie-Nwonwu)

        note, was writing from my head. Second mention of Tvrel should read ‘gevla’ :)

        1. Mazi Nwonwu (@Fredrick-chiagozie-Nwonwu)

          Also forgot to use your name for Mars–Blarkinta :)

      2. @Fredrick-chiagozie-Nwonwu Lol. I assumed my mention of the red sandy surface and silvery red night sky would take care of that. Guess I was assumed wrongly.I guess I wasn’t able to fit my description within the word limit. I cut out some flesh along with fat. Lol.

        Thanks for the feedback, its really cool to be able to get a feedback from the judge.

        1. Mazi Nwonwu (@Fredrick-chiagozie-Nwonwu)

          you’re welcome. I guess I did’t want to leave you request hanging ;)

  3. Well said Sir @Fredrick-chiagozie-Nwonwu …Well said…Hehehe… You know na,

  4. Mazi Nwonwu (@Fredrick-chiagozie-Nwonwu)


  5. @Fredrick-chiagozie-Nwonwu I didn’t exactly end the story with it all being a dream but with the possibility that it was a dream. Remember, his mind was supposed to be wiped of the memory of his entire knowledge of everything he had experienced as regards the alien and mind control device. What if the mind wipe hadn’t been done properly and he could remember much of what happened but it’s all fuzzy, so he wasn’t sure if it was a dream or reality?

    He could have been set up to be asleep at his laptop after being mind wiped with the typing on the screen so if he remembers anything, it would feel like a dream.

    That was the kind of end i was going for with my ending.

    1. Anyway, this is my first attempt at sci fi – usually, i’m more at home with humour. I just hpe I did well with my story.

      This is also the first contest i’m entering.

  6. Nice analysis.Congrats to the winners in advance. Anyway I had so much fun with this competition. My story did not make the long list but I really enjoyed writing it. And I loved reading some of the entries.

  7. @fredrick-chiagozie-nwonwu, I have deep respect for your ‘eyes’ sir!!! I equally admire them. :) Very honest and professional criticism here!!!

  8. @Fedrick-chiagozie-nwonwu Very honest comments that resonate with most of us. The entries were very strong. What bothers me is that most of these writers ll probably not write a word of speculative fiction again. This was a first for most of them. If they do this regularly , the sky ll be but a spring board to new galaxies.

  9. I was humbled by most of the works I saw posted. Indeed it is my first real shot at the Sci-fi genre. Thanks for your words. The Sweet and the salty.
    I dunno if Sci-fi is for me but I did enjoy writing that piece. Ok ok ok ok, I know I can edit better, just too busy cutting things to size to meet the word limit to spare some thought for the appearances, which obviously is everything

  10. I agree with most of the judge’s prescription, read some and felt that way too.

  11. this was a good analysis…well done judge…

  12. Very good analysis….thanks

  13. I thought the “what if” contest results would be announced today?@ogaoga

  14. Hmmm….interesting and well-written analysis. More of this.

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