Book Jacket


rank 2731
word count 45185
date submitted 10.10.2008
date updated 10.02.2009
genres: Fiction, Science Fiction, Comedy
classification: moderate

Fiery Shadows on a Barroom Wall

Rick Scharf

Dark comedy soft sci-fi for those who don't like sci-fi.


In an office in the far future Erwald creates one market survey after another. Discontented, his only daily relief is to build utopias inside his mind while he hides from reality in one of his company's lesser used restrooms.

Greta has no need for such imaginings. She knows that the best of all possible worlds is about to come. It will be given by the race of extra-terrestrials currently directing operations through her favourite guru.

Meanwhile the entire Earth is overseen by a jealous computer, one that wants no competition from other intelligent machines and which for its own purposes has created a simulated universe within itself. Indeed the book's narrator is a smugly satisfied inhabitant of the simulated Earth who loves to expound on how it is his world that is by far the best of all possible places in which to live.

It is a story of adventure, a story of longing, it gives a workable cure for capitalism and many, many other answers too - though all of them only virtual.

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barroom, belief, capitalism, philosophy, reality, satire, utopia, virtual, work

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Patty wrote 1964 days ago


Some comments here, for you to do with as you wish.

I like the voice, and Il ike the setting. This is some sort of absurdist new world with gadgetry-gone-feral and strange rules. I couldn't fathom what Clennsen meant.Maybe I missed it, but I couldn't really work it out from the context either.

I also think you should establish a clear character and a clear problem for him to solve. Erwald doesn't as yet feel like a character. He observes, but doesn't feel part of the world. He has an office, butnot that many feelings, or backstory. Not that we need all of this in chapter 1, but we need to know that there is a backstory. We also need to know that there is (or will be very soon) a problem for him to solve, or something is about to happen to him - a mystery, and accident, an alien invasion - whatever.

Bakrobi wrote 1865 days ago

Love the first sentence.

Scrap wrote 1897 days ago

I'm coming back for another dip - I wish I had more time!!! Thank you for being so entertaining, just what the lable said. Later.

oldcurmudgeon wrote 1931 days ago


I enjoyed this. Erwald is a character almost any guy can identify with – the self-consciousness of adolescence and so on. I loved the idea of joining the directors’ gang on condition of keeping a straight face. His having to figure out how to walk naturally – really good and funny. I’m still not sure, after four chapters, who the narrator is, but that doesn’t matter too much – I suppose we’ll find out later on?

Some of the problems with it, by my reckoning:

It is overweighted with exposition and underweighted with narrative thrust. You should move the story along faster and integrate the backstory/background more smoothly. There are large chunks of exposition, explaining the backstory and generally opinionating. Where possible, you should communicate these in the course of telling the story, rather than just devoting large blocks to exposition, and let the reader just infer from the action.

The descriptive writing focuses too much on the general rather than the particular. More sensory detail in the descriptive passages would give the narrative more immediacy. When you’re describing something – the village, say, where the awakenee narrator finds himself – pick out individual details, incidents, rather than saying “there were pretty houses and horses and vintage cars” or whatever. Pick out one man, one house, one car, whatever. You can particularise bits of the exposition, too. For instance, when you describe the genesis of the Host you might attribute it to one particular software engineer and show the development through his eyes rather than just having generalised “teams of scientists”.

Good story, but you’ve got to get into it faster.

4dprefect wrote 1938 days ago

Hi Ricky. Not sure why I haven't come across this before. Perhaps the cover didn't tell me clearly enough it was sci-fi comedy. Which I'm a great fan of myself. This has a clever and entertaining voice and I like the way you kick off with a quite mundane observation about a company coffee room. That in itself is very Douglas Adamsian. I'd like a clearer sense of Erwald, in the same way we had a really clear idea of Arthur Dent in the Hitch Hiker's book, because it is through his eyes we will be exploring the further absurdities of the world/universe you've created here. And I think the situation needs to develop faster to throw in the conflict and drama that even a comedy needs. But I do like the tone in which this is written. One further word: when I last made it to the Ed's Desk with my previous book, they said there was no market for sci-fi comedy. I don't believe that for a second, but I only mention it here because it's an indicator that Harper Collins are not the ones to chase with a sci-fi comedy and I'd only hope you are pursuing other avenues with this - perhaps smaller and/or more specialist publishers or agents. Best of luck with it, in any case. Glad I got to read a little of it at last.

mskea wrote 1943 days ago

Have just read the first ch of this - sneaking into authonomy for a few mins in middle of Christmas prep.
The opening was a good hook - the description of the coffee room and the implicatins about the company was cleverly done - particularly liked phrase - '...unavoidable downturn in daily activity...'
The indication that we were in a different 'world' simply by the 'Clennsen' reference was excellent.
Characterisation of Su was also good - the details given re talking, detecting moral flaws / pointing them out, - I don't like her and know I'm not meant to.
However there were a few probs for me - the most important one being the intro of 'I' right at the end. Makes me feel cheated in a way - I have just begun to think of Erwald as the mc and now 'I' appears - presumably must be the mc. IMO it is a mistake to leave his introduction so late. - Danger of making whole of ch1 redundant.
The only other issue I had was Erwald's internal reaction to saying'No' to Greta. - 'suavity of his answer'?? - I wanted to laugh here, but didn't think we were in comedy territory. The problem with this is that it jerks me out of the story - not what you're wanting.
All that said I do want to know who the 'I' is - and I want to know more about the type of world depicted here.
So good luck with this - on my watchlist.

Margaret (Munro's Choice)

jeremycage wrote 1948 days ago

I put this on my watchlist for the same reason as one of the commenters below: it's not a typical science fiction story. Since I generally like this kind of fiction, I will take a look at it again later when I do not have a TPS report to finish. I particularly like how you bring Clennsentine into the story without hitting me over the head with what time of year it is and what the holiday means, et cetera.

I shouldn't base any kind of serious criticism on a drive by reading of the first chapter, that there is a little too much depiction of feelings: you are telling me how your narrator feels rather than showing me. I'm not saying that the narrative discourages me from reading further: I guess what I'm really saying is that the same sort of spareness with which you treat Clennsentine might be useful in letting me into your narrators head Gradually rather than all at once.

But the very opening is wonderful. We're working in different genres, but if you want to go check out my thriller "A Rush to Judgment," and tell me what you think, that would be great. Sometimes a perspective from a different genre is really what you need.


Reeshar wrote 1951 days ago

Thanks for the comments, Allen. Chapters 1 & 2 have now been considerably tidied up.

GeekMaiella wrote 1952 days ago

Chapter 2

-Nice tidbits of info about the hows and whys of the scanning. Good detail, brief, and interesting.
-"She'd had my brainwaves to read for over a century..." Huh? He's over a hundred years old and had porn mags on his toilet floor all that time?
-"...riding the perfect wave..." Great analogy!
-Not sure about a footnote for Host. It takes the reader completely out of the story, enforcing a rule upon them. This bit could be easily slipped into the conversation, since they are already talking about Host.
-"Pseudomonas..." Interesting tidbit, but overkill. While she is still talking about abstracts, it was enough to say bacteria can be good, bad, or indifferent with the basic examples you cite.
-Good heavens, Sadie's a blabbermouth! Sum it up, Honey!

This chapter reads quite different from the prior chapter. Faster pace, more involving, hints more toward the plot, etc. It still could use a bit of a trim, I think, as Sadie is lecturing, verbally clubbing Erwald and the reader over the head.
The obvious parallel to the Matrix may be a killer, especially where that story was so popular with TONS of peripheral marketing into games, books, comics, fanzines, anime, etc., it will be difficult to convince an agent or editor of its originality.
To make this ms truly soar, I think it requires that originality stated right in the beginning somehow with that *great* hook about the narrator. I'm not saying you should give it all away, but give us a glimpse.
If you decide to edit this, send me a note so I can check it out again. Take care!


GeekMaiella wrote 1952 days ago

Hi, Reeshar-

Below, I've made notes as I read. Please don't weigh any of the words here too heavily, as I'm no expert. They are merely one readers opinions.

Chapter 1

- Nice opening line. Gives the story a jump, sets an expectation we're about to benefit from an insider's insight. The follow-up sentence, however, describes a very familiar, very common setting, which does little to suggest the workers should be getting on with their work. Does it stink? Is the fridge full of weeping, sagging chinese food containers? Are there roaches or rat pellets? In otherwords, what would make this room seem different from another breakroom? Show us why few people would want to spend any time there and get back to work?

-I can appreciate the tension of being an insecure guy faced suddenly by two attractive women. There is a lot of decription here, such that I see every bead of sweat on Erwald's brow as he is trying to be suave and sophisticated. A tad too much, I think, as it slows down the pace of your story. Large paragraphs between quick lines of dialogue make it feel like slow motion to me. Cut it way back to what you feel is the essence, and let the reader infer the rest.
-Ah, to the WC, the only true office refuge when one does not want to be seen! :)
-I like the solitary introspection: why the insecurity despite his successes and attributes... Getting more of a sense about him here.
-"Looks always win over usability..." Oh? This seems less so today where the modern user is demanding performance and comfort at a level on par with appearance, the best products balanced in all three. Again, just one person's thoughts.
-Cynicism = Realism. I love it! And you give it such strength when Erwald justifies it by saying depressed people are more realistic than optimists. Webster couldn't define cynical better than that!
-" your soul a window..." this sentence feels a bit awkward. I also think you should give the window comment a little more description like 'unclouded', 'focussed', or 'squeaky clean' to reinforce the 'truth' of cynicism in Erwald's mind.
-I skimmed ahead to see how much farther the cynic train went. While I can believe Erwald would go that long in his postulations and rememberances, I don't really want to go for the whole ride. Sum it up for me in the best lines like the kind you wrote earlier. Keep it fresh and rolling so I don't get bogged down too long on a side note.
-*Very* clever way to introduce the narrator. THAT'S the kind of stuff I love to see, and I wonder if you shouldn't consider putting it at the beginning. It brings the tone, the excitement, the mystery, into play. It is a great hook, and I don't think you should leave it at the end of the chapter where an editor may never see it!

There are very good things in this chapter. I get the character of Erwald and his desire for esapism. I can understand his rambling, unchallenged mind sifting though moments in the past, searching for an understanding perhaps, or maybe just trying to relieve the tedium of being himself. And I got a good surprise when the narrator reveals himself.
I feel that, while illustrative, this chapter could be trimmed down. There is plenty of thought evident here and I know that it would be hard to do. I would never suggest it, of course, unless I strongly believed your writing would be the better for it. Get to the heart of it. Show me who's who in the sharpest terms and get that story rolling! :)

On to Chapter 2

Corinna Turner wrote 1955 days ago

Just had a look at the first chapter. I very much like the way you introduce the narrator at the end, that's attention catching and makes me want to read on.

A couple of things i noticed:

'probably because of rather than' – 'probably because of, rather than' would be easier to read.
a questioning – of questioning

Erwald – I liked this name
And I particularly liked the 'am i missing something or...' line

oldcurmudgeon wrote 1957 days ago

I’ve read the first couple of chapters and will definitely come back for more (tied up reviewing someone else at the moment). I really liked it. I’m not a sci-fi fan, but this is not your usual sci-fi story – it has more to it than whizz-bang contraptions and facile, Douglas Adams wannabe witticisms. The whole Matrix idea is full of philosophical possibilities, and I have the feeling you’re on to some of them. I disagree with the earlier commenter who wanted you to give Erwald more clarity (he’s very clear to me) and a clear problem to solve (it’s refreshing to get away from the usual start-with-a-bang formula, and Erwald’s voice is absolutely entertaining enough that one doesn’t need to be plunged immediately into strife and mayhem: clearly, he’s already a conflicted character at odds with his world, and that’s plenty enough to keep me interested). I’ll be baack!

Bakrobi wrote 1961 days ago

Hi Ricky

Wow, I can tell that you're British from the humour, which is great. That was a weird comment, but I just had to say it.

I liked chapter 1, but something about the narration seems a bit....detached, maybe? When I say detached, I mean from the situation, like the narrator doesn't really care what he's reading because he was forced to do it anyway.

Maybe read through it again and see if you see what I see so you can see about changing it a little; but if you don't see what I see then that's ok too, and you can totally ignore what I just said I see...saw. It's still an interesting read, anyway :3

Patty wrote 1964 days ago


Some comments here, for you to do with as you wish.

I like the voice, and Il ike the setting. This is some sort of absurdist new world with gadgetry-gone-feral and strange rules. I couldn't fathom what Clennsen meant.Maybe I missed it, but I couldn't really work it out from the context either.

I also think you should establish a clear character and a clear problem for him to solve. Erwald doesn't as yet feel like a character. He observes, but doesn't feel part of the world. He has an office, butnot that many feelings, or backstory. Not that we need all of this in chapter 1, but we need to know that there is a backstory. We also need to know that there is (or will be very soon) a problem for him to solve, or something is about to happen to him - a mystery, and accident, an alien invasion - whatever.

sippy v. wrote 1976 days ago

looks really good, love the what I have read so far. I can easily back you from what I have seen


Reeshar wrote 1982 days ago

Two more chapters (in 3 parts due to size constraints when uploading) are now available.

Reeshar wrote 1985 days ago

Thanks for the nice comment, James. Is there anything you think I could change for the better? Much as I like praise I could also do with some constructive criticism. Thanks.

James Lark wrote 1986 days ago


I like this a lot - you have a strong voice and your prose is engaging and easy to read. I'll certainly be coming back for more!

Reeshar wrote 1988 days ago


Thanks for the comment. I'm not sure about the alternating storyline bit either. It would be nice to get some more comments on this one.

Bill Nz wrote 1991 days ago

Hello Richard,

I like this a lot. For me the way the two stories alternate and juxtapose is intriguing but I'm not sure all readers will get it. Maybe you've given yourself a bit of an uphill battle with this one, but I do like the characters and some of it is really funny. Good luck with it. Any chance of publishing a few more chapters?

K. Kylyra wrote 2003 days ago

Hi Richard!

Thanks for taking a look at my work (scheduled in November for some re-writing on the opening). Glad you found my comments useful :) Will be reading more soon!

MikeWill wrote 2004 days ago

Hi Richard. This is excellent. It's intriguing, witty and draws the reader along nicely. To provide some constructive criticism, I think you could start at para 3 and use'Erwald' instead of 'he' to avoid confusion. I'm looking forward to Chapter 2.

K. Kylyra wrote 2004 days ago

Hi Richard! This is a really unique viewpoint you're writing from. I'm not the best grammarian but it reads a bit oddly. I was confused a bit at the beginning scene in the lunchroom. You state that the lunchroom was empty except for the 2 women, then you begin to reference 'he' (Erwald). This sets the reader up to expect the narrative from Erwald's point of view, but the true narrative isn't his. I don't know if you could introduce your 'I' narrative a bit sooner; I can see how you'd want to use it as a hook at the end of your first chapter, but it might assist your readers in following your story if you bring it in sooner.

You've got some great descriptive scenes here to build on. Your comments on a company's lunchroom is so spot on it had me smiling (worked at many places like that!).

I'm watchlisting this to come back to.