Honest Critiques

No, I mean it. REAL honest. Email your excerpts or full stories, up to 1000 words or so, to honestcrits [at] yahoo [dot] co [dot] uk. Synopses would also be welcome. My backlog is so daunting now that I recommend not submitting anything you are not prepared to wait a couple of months for a response on.
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  • Monday, August 15, 2005

    Source's Code

    Back after being away for the weekend. Here’s a bit of SF from Karen, called Source’s Code:

    At Dafydd’s signal, Jack, at the engineer’s console, finished the power-up as Molly reconnected to the ships’ interface. She adjusted the headset, pulling the exterior monitors to eye level before she reattached the finger sensors. This trip had allowed Molly to put the final touches on her bio-integrated piloting system. Once she was hooked in, she was able to control the ship as if she were the ship. She had cut out reaction time and allowed pilot to monitor all vital ships’ systems simultaneously. Molly was planning to sell the system to a USRMC contractor, and Dafydd’s share for giving her free hand with his ship, was an even half.

    Dafydd watched the comm screen carefully as Molly prepared for the jump.

    “Initialize the jump field and ready... five... four... three... two...”

    “Jump engaged... emerging into home space at coordinates... what the hell...”

    “Yow!” Jack exclaimed as a sudden wave of turbulence hit their vessel and tumbled it end over end. Molly regained control stabilizing the vessel just kilometers from their emergence point. Dafydd looked at the view screen just as the planetary base of Mabigon exploded into fiery debris. Then the ships’ warning klaxons began to wail. He looked at his systems monitor just long enough to determine the ship was not damaged, then started to rise just as the shockwave from Mabigon slammed the ship. He tumbled over the console, heard a snap, then felt a stab of pain in his left hand.

    “Broken,” he thought as he pulled himself up. He closed his eyes momentarily and was able to focus his mental facilities enough to will the pain away. It was a technique that his father had taught him and was one of the disciplines practiced by Avalon natives. He looked about the cockpit and determined that he was the only one with an injury.

    “What in the hell is going on out there?” He bellowed above the noise.

    “Sir, the fleet is under attack, sir!” Jack shouted in reply.

    “That’s ridiculous, there weren’t any open hostilities in the Pelouze sector when we left,” Dafydd said,” as a matter of fact, there weren’t any hostilities brewing in any of the settled sectors. Do you know if they were scheduled for exercises upon return?”

    “No, sir!” Ned Taylor announced, and then added, ”Dafydd, those ships don’t match any known design. Those ships aren’t human.”

    A third shockwave hit the vessel followed quickly by a fourth. The ship rolled again before stabilizing. Only Molly was able to remain at her station.

    “What the hell is going on here?” Dafydd yelled.

    “The alien ships are taking apart the fleet, and from a quick scan of the wreckage, not one of the convoy ships is still intact,” observed Molly.

    “Life Pods spotted, sir,” piped in a youthful, heavily accented voice,” but there’s a large alien ship that seems to be rounding them up as fast as the ships are destroyed.”

    Dafydd turned and nodded to his newest and only earthborn crew member.

    “Keep scanning, Jason. Put a tractor on any pod you can without attracting attention. Remember we only have defensive weapons.”

    “Yessir!” Jason replied and returned his full attention to the scans.

    Dafydd turned his attention to the controls in time to observe a huge alien ship heading toward them. The approach was so close that the spacial wave caused the small ship to rock in its wake. He half turned and shouted to Molly who was again struggling with the stabilizer controls.

    “Roll with the shock waves and merge with the debris field to make them think we’re dead. We’ll try to locate any survivors and then we’ll sneak away while they’re occupied,” Dafydd said.

    He looked around and saw the expressions on the crew’s faces.

    “We’re science-branch and we would have heard if a new contact had been made. These... aliens... have come out of nowhere, it’s obvious that they’re not friendly. We aren’t military, we can’t defend ourselves against that, we’re just not equipped. Hell, even the military has been scaling back on weaponry in favor of long range exploratory facilities.

    Aside from trying to find some survivors, we’re getting out of here before those aliens decide that we’re interesting. It’s our duty to report this, don’t you think?” Dafydd looked around at the crew, then continued, ”I seriously doubt USRMC has any idea of what’s happening out here so we better get closer to the center of the United Space Regions, and find some big guns to send back and sort this out.”

    Dafydd collapsed in his seat and reached in the panel under the arm rest for a med kit. What he found instead was an extra cache of rations. He patted the box fondly, grateful that he hadn’t let greed completely over come common sense. For once it was likely that food was going to prove more valuable than maltonite. He grimaced, partly from the pain that was beginning to edge back into his consciousness and partly from turning down the impulse laser that could have accompanied the maltonite.

    A weapon like that would come in handy if the alien ships decided that they were more than debris. He quickly suppressed the thought. A battle class weapon might actually attract the attention of the attacking vessels. He wondered if he should dump the maltonite, but no sooner had the thought crossed his mind than the ship was his by another shock wave which knocked Dafydd from his seat and he hit the deck with his broken wrist. Molly had abandoned her attempts to stabilize the ship and the Shamrock rolled like a lifeless vessel.

    A wave of nausea hit Dafydd as he tried to sit up. Motes swam before his eyes and he tried another mental exercise to banish the pain long enough to get to the sick bay. The break wouldn’t heal itself, although he knew tricks to speed up the process once it was properly treated and set. He pulled himself up smiling to himself ruefully. If the ‘Natural Humans’ or even the Deacons from Redemption knew the extent that many abilities had been developed by the people they derisively called ‘Elves’, it would make them more paranoid than they already were.

    Karen’s also sent her synopsis in so I can see where this is going next.

    I love SF. That said, I don’t think this is a particularly excellent example of the genre. The prose is a bit loose (the clunky first line, trying to pack too much in to a sentence, is a good example) but mostly it doesn’t seem to have the big idea that distinguishes the best SF from the run-of –the-mill.

    Essentially, a dimensional breach lets an alien invasion force into human space, and the aggressive bad guys start to take over planets. They appear to be stripping them systematically of their natural resources; the synopsis mentions water, which seems odd as water is one of the most abundant compounds in the galaxy (and pretty simple to get hold of if you have interstellar travel.) These days I’d expect the bad guys to be processing the planets into computronium or something.

    The crew of intrepid little starship the Shamrock is caught up in the initial invasion and the rest of the book is spent as they evade the aliens, find their way back to friendly territory, and then go on a mission to save a science team. The book ends with the aliens undefeated (there’s a trilogy in the works) and the humans beginning to train pilots to use the prototype ship technology alluded to in this excerpt.

    Karen’s synopsis is pretty long and dense, and despite that doesn’t contain much that will excite a jaded editor. The whole thing feels rather dated; the crew being hurled about, seatbeltless, in the excerpt, is something that Star Trek watchers have been chuckling about for years, and you might have caught the flavour of the Millennium Falcon at Alderaan in it too. It’s the Trek feel that predominates here. Is Daffyd’s seat with the handy little cupboard in it Captain Kirk’s?

    When I see something like this

    If the ‘Natural Humans’ or even the Deacons from Redemption knew the extent that many abilities had been developed by the people they derisively called ‘Elves’, it would make them more paranoid than they already were.

    I worry that the ostensibly pejorative term might be a way to smuggle Legolas in to an SF novel, apologetically. (Even if not, it’s a naked bit of exposition.)

    Nothing dates so quickly as the future. Karen’s bad guys are a symbiotic/parasitic dual species that reminds me strongly of Jack Vance’s The Brave Free Men, from back in 1973 – and you’d never call Vance the most cutting-edge of authors. (One of my favourites, nevertheless.)

    Neither the prose nor, I’m afraid, the story, look likely to create the sense of wonder that SF buffs will be looking for. If it’s thrillingly told, there might be a niche for it.

    A last note: Source’s Code is 106,000 words long. That could well be twice as long as is warranted.
    Torgo, 4:02 pm


    Thank you. Now see, that is something that my friends would never tell me. So often, you give a manuscript to someone to critique and they give you back a mish mash of 'it's ok, and correct a little spelling, and maybe find a grammatical error or two, but that's it. And, of course, the writer's group turns out to be either a love fest or an 'It's all about me' reading of one person's work.

    My main fear: Is this story too 'old'(Yes). Is this story too much like something else to be salable? (Seems like it.)
    Can it be fixed? (Since you didn't say 'run away and become a hairdresser' I'll take that as a yes.)

    The 'friends, family and writer's group' all say it's fine, send it off. Obviously it is not fine and the reasons for rejection are good. Therefore I'd tell myself to re-focus and re-write. Any other opinions?
    Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:45 pm  
    When you say too 'old' do you mean too old-fashioned (probably) or too old for YA readers (didn't think it was a children's book, so again, probably)?

    I wouldn't worry about it being too close to Jack Vance, the two aren't really comparable, but the Trekkiness of it might be a hindrance. Could be a help, if you find the right market, but then it's a bit on the long side, especially as a trilogy.

    Could it be fixed? I think if it's straight space opera, it needs to be pared down to the point where it's really punchy and full of excitement. If you find a really interesting SF idea to play with it can also save the book; Charlie Stross' 'Singularity Sky', for example, has a pretty dull plot about a backward society getting creamed by super-evolved alien intelligences, but you barely notice what with all the intriguing stuff about causality.

    You also need to keep a close ear on the rhythms of your prose, because it's all a bit flat at the moment. Read it aloud to yourself, with some brio, as if you were reading the audiobook version. With any luck you'll hear where it's going wrong.
    Blogger Torgo, at 5:59 pm  
    One thing I really liked was the bio-mod of molly. I don't know whether it's been overdone or not, but modding to integrate the human mind with computer systems is really cool to some people.
    Blogger Phoenix, at 7:09 pm  
    It's pretty 80s, 90s cyberpunk, and M John Harrison has gone even further since then in "Light" - the pilot completely surgically integrated into the ship. As always the proviso that if it's done really well, it doesn't matter that it's been done before.
    Blogger Torgo, at 7:22 pm  
    K. back to TORGO. This was a short story I wrote in the late 80's. Didn't know what to do with it so I sat on it. Started another story in 1998, and this turned into the back story. So instead of 'old' I should have said 'dated'.(Yes,this chapter this is as dated as my kindergarten photo, thank you.) But when you use friends for readers it is hard to get them to correct grammar, much less actually be pickey-critical.
    SPACE OPERA? Oh no, scarey thought, must fix that! I want people to wind up in a place where there isn't any 'Trekkie romping' going on. (I love Star Trek, but not in my book.) I'm inspired to take a couple of sick days and rewrite everything that was written before 1995. Will you say, 'shread the synopsis'?
    OH! and there are more stories here to read!!!
    Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:24 pm  

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