I really liked this story and world it’s written in. The descriptions of claustrophobia at the start set the tone well for the following action, and Andrei is a well realised snoot, but one I somehow like and have sympathy for, which is difficult to manage so well done! I’d also say descriptions like mercury vapour and the underground cave etc are great, the type of locations and descriptions I’d love to steal for GMing. Very nice. The prose is good too!
There are a few points I’d suggest and I’ll address them in the categories listed in the critque section:
1. Characters – the anciliary characters feel a bit thin here, but in a short story I’m not sure that’s really a huge problem (I’m assuming this is a complete short for the sake of the critque). Savella gets the most air time, but she’s not really involved in the climax, so she feels out of place and more like a secondary device to show Andrei’s discomfort with women/other people in general.
2. The dialouge at the start with the foreman left me wondering who was speaking here – I don’t think the dialouge itself is an issue, just the placement of the lines. This is more to do with clarity really than dialouge actually now I think about it. The part where Savella massages his shoulders made me think she was speaking the opening line as well until it’s clarified in the next line.
3. I think pacing is probably the biggest issue with the story. It’s set up well but then meanders a bit with the dinner and the research of the mines. That whole section felt slow, particularly about three paragraphs in and the story hadn’t really moved on anywhere. I think the details about how pressing time is and Andrei’s motivation for his investigation are good inclusions, so if you can work them into the start then all the better, but I felt a little like the whole second section didn’t really advance the story. This would leave more time to explain stoneform or have some minor encounter in the town prior to the caves perhaps to build tension?
4. I’m not entirely sure what the theme was but I’m shit at theme, either putting it in myself or figuring out someone elses, so that’s probably on me. If I had to guess it would be the disdain academics hold for gained “life knowledge” maybe?
5. Just for my own knowledge – is this world entirely closed by caverns? I couldn’t decide if the world itself is underground or if I just imagined that. Cool if yes 😀
6. Few odd word choices – like “relief” in the opening paragraph instead of belief, and “persisted” instead of “subsisted” in the section on dining.
All in all I like this story. I like Andrei (though god knows why), I like the world, I like the idea of unreality and mines and an autocratic republic sending out asshole scholars to search for tears in the fabric of the universe. It just needs a little tidying 🙂 I hope that was useful – I’m no professional so please take anything I say with a pinch of salt.