A little known part of DefCon is its short story contest. A different theme is provided each year and anyone can submit. The winner gets two free tickets and some recognition, as they say, time permitting. So not exactly a top draw of DefCon, but it did interest me, an avid reader and writer, and fifteen others who submitted stories. They are all listed here with links for your possible reading. I will also review the winning story, a fine effort by a young author with a good surprise ending. My sincere congratulations. Plus, I’m compelled to make some constructive criticisms of the contest, not the winner.
DefCon 31 Chart of All Submissions to DefCon 31 Short Story Contest
|1st Place – Lavender Dreams by Godly Avenger.txt |
PDF version, format changed and put on this blog, without edits
|2nd Place – Deep Dreams by KR.txt||6.4 KiB|
|Ave Maria by Anna Sinfonia.txt||78.0 KiB|
|Doppelganger by LeftShift.txt||31.3 KiB|
|Garbage Day by Bern.txt||6.1 KiB|
|How We Almost Lost Our Future by .txt||26.6 KiB|
|Lost in Thyme by Serum.txt||56.5 KiB|
|OPERATION VERITAS by Ralph Losey.txt |
PDF version with illustrations added.
|People’s choice – Surrender the Future by Jun34u.txt||34.4 KiB|
|Reader by Smallcat.txt||12.4 KiB|
|Restored Hope by Atomic.txt||10.0 KiB|
|The Divine OSI Tragedy by Ralph M. DeFrangesco.txt||11.9 KiB|
|The Grey by L.P.txt||13.7 KiB|
|The Invitation by .blazed.txt||6.0 KiB|
|The Subtle Art of Clock Watching by JJMR.txt||19.1 KiB|
|Tunnel Vision by Rex.txt||19.2 KiB|
Review of the Winning Story: Lavender Dreams by Godly Avenger
The author of Lavender Dreams is identified only by a handle, Godly Avenger, as it traditional at DefCon. First of all, great title for a hacker punk story, where lavender is a favorite color and all of DefCon seems kind of dreamlike. My sense is this is written by a very young author, whose icon may be shown here. I like how “he-they” as the handle I found identifies, uses sensory perceptions and colors in the writing. Plus the informal stream of consciousness style draws you in. The story has an underlying gay theme, and a nice surprise finish, which I won’t spoil by this review. I hope he/they are encouraged by this win and will go on to bigger and better things.
The book starts off evoking a sense of rain. Great way to start, but…. I was a bit put off by a missing word, rain, in the third sentence. Oh well, no biggie. Avenger’s story was error free after that. He-they liked to use the F word and I suspect the judges liked that too. Past winning stories had the same slangy teen style. I don’t talk like that, so this is just a personal observation.
As to the story, it is a dystopian future, of course, and big corporations have taken over the world, of course. The hero was a lone hacker, fighting back against the bad corporations and secret rich rulers. The hero also had a device in his head allowing direct access to the new internet. Here’s the bio-hack description (note, errors seen are in the DefCon publication, and were not the writers fault, but rather DefCon’s as explained below).
A direct interface, a bio-augmentation directly inserted into my brainstem to jack in without any additional hardware. Incredibly dangerous to install and use. Not illegal, butâ€¦ highly discouraged. The benefits far outweigh the dangers though. Iâ€™m not limited by the time it takes my eyes and ears to register stimuli; itâ€™s like another sense entirely. Makes things much faster on the Net.Godly Avenger
So, looks like another one of Musk’s ideas worked. The solo hero, like the author, is identified only by his handle, Jabberwocky. I like the name. For reasons not explained in the story, Jabberwocky seems to be a very rare person to have such bio-augmentation. If I were a hacker then, or rich, or both, I would certainly want one, or two.
With the gizmo in Jabberwocky’s head, and his awesome rep from prior hacks, he was recruited by a secret group to hack into a highly defended computer of one of the world’s worst mega-corps. I seem to recall last year’s contest winner involved a solo attack by hacker genius too. The judges seem to love red team penetration descriptions, the more technical the better. Thank goodness this story, Lavender Dreams, did not get bogged down by overly complex technicalities. The main theme was really a love story in a dystopian future, and the start on a path to reconciliation. Well done.
The story ends with a nice surprise twist, which I wont spoil by revealing. I think that good ending is what sold the judges. It is no big spoiler to share that the story also closes with a gay kiss, resolving some built up sexual tension. That is not the kind of pentest result I expected.
Constructive Criticisms About Contest Rules
The contest required required text submission in May and June, well before the August 13, 2023 event. No complaint about that. It gave DefCon judges time to read them all and select a winner. My complaint is with the required format, the text file only submission rule. Way too old school for my taste. It’s like from the fifties with old mainframes. You had to submit text only, no styles, not even bolding or para breaks. No metadata whatsoever! No cover art allowed either, much less illustrations of any kind. IMO, illustrations have always been a part of writing. Think of the ancient hand written texts. Ascii text is suitable only for a computer to read. Obviously the folks at DefCon that run the short story contest do not agree. They say the words, well the ascii text anyway, should speak for themselves. Again, I respectfully disagree.
I write with the latest writing tools and in a multimodal fashion, incorporating words and visuals, and certainly with gobs of metadata. Just text alone is too stifling. Not even ChatGPT does that anymore! So the full metadata illustrated version of my story, as I prepared it, but could not submit, Operation Veritas, is posted elsewhere online and shown below too. It includes many MidJourney illustrations, forbidden by the contest rules. Interestingly enough, there were no rules about use of generative AI. Too bad, it does catch typos.
So, don’t blame me if the linked stories in the DefCon created chart above are difficult to read, at least, as is online. This is a DefCon production and their format. It basically forces a reader to use special software for conversion. Some of the characters online for the stories are, in fact, unreadable gibberish. I suggest all submissions be in Adobe, so that anyone can read them without having to transfer to other software. Yes, I know Adobe is hackable, but precautions can be taken. DefCon 31 has posted other Adobe PDF files.
To improve its readability, I went ahead and converted the winning story, Lavender Dreams by Godly Avenger, from a txt file to Adobe, so that humans can more easily read it. No other changes. The unreadable characters in the DefCon linked ascii version are still unreadable, probably most are just apostrophes, but rather than guess and make a mistake, I left it as is. I did the same format conversion for my story too, Operation Veritas, but included the illustrations too. You can also see it on the PDF reader below, but you have to open it up to full screen mode (upper right hand corner arrows) to make it big enough to read (zoom it too).
Suggest you read all of the entires. Congratulations again to the winner, Lavender Dreams by Godly Avenger.txt, and second place winner, Deep Dreams by KR.txt, as well as the “peoples choice” winner, Surrender the Future by Jun34u.txt.
Copyright Ralph Losey 2023 — All Rights Reserved