First Page Friday #31: Science Fiction

About First Page Friday

First Page Friday is a blog series where I provide a free edit and critique of the first 500 words of an unpublished novel. Read the excerpt without my notes first and leave your vote in the poll. Afterward, feel free to leave a comment for the author. Feedback is always helpful!

Science Fiction – L. Matthew Foster

Once, the rising stars symbolized hope and adventure. Today in Perth, Earth’s defense city, children clenched their eyes while resting in their beds and feared any glance at the stars before sunrise.  From the corner-office conference room, I stared at the star-illuminated waves, crashing against the shoreline. “Ministry of Defense Forces, the Honorable Gilbert Zahn,” a young lieutenant announced. I spun to attention in the leather chair. The leaders, gathered at this strange hour, rose to attention. As customary, the civilians remained seated, but everyone wanted Zahn’s attention. I inched to the chair’s edge and anticipated his entrance. Recalling my first day on the station, indoctrination briefed this tradition as a sign of respect to the civilian’s authority. They were full of shit.

Zahn’s espresso leather loafers squeaked on the concrete floor. He motioned his hand downward for the group to relax. The beaded armrest caught his jacket and disclosed his suit’s silk lining with floral patterns. The sheen from his bespoke sleeves faded when the windows tinted from the tranquil views to white-noise static. The latest pop-diva’s music hummed in the room. These arcane security measures sparked memories of my mentor’s favorite coffee lecture, Security by Obscurity. Tom had ridiculed these procedures. “Do our security teams think music will stop an advanced enemy from listening?” 

My aura sank deeper into the government issued chair and I rubbed the razor scar below my chin line. Tom remained in critical condition after the pressurization accident back on the station. A week ago after grav-ball, I had hit the showers and Tom stayed to stretch. I was in full lather when the alarms burst over the station’s intercom. Half dressed, I slipped into the passageway and found the commotion. The medical techs rushed Tom to the infirmary with a mobile lung respirator hung over his oxygen-deprived body. Now sitting in his chair with a banner streaming his name: Dr. Tom Waldon. I regretted my joke. “Old man, the stretches will kill you before the gravity does.” 

“Good evening,” Zahn said.

 The leaders robotically mumbled back the pleasantry. He headed the oblong table and peered over to Director Lawrence, the head of the Office of Future Warfare (FU-WAR for short). With a cheap grin, Director Lawrence snapped from her chair.

 Director Lawrence gripped the podium and peered down at the group, standing two meters tall. “Today marks the forty-third anniversary of the attack on Hong Kong. On that day, we lost seven million lives and society learned a new enemy lives in our backyard. The enemy has waited and grown their foothold in our solar system.” 

Her lace macramé ankle boots clicked as she paced along the front wall. “Recognizing this historic inflection point, Earth’s strategy to defend against the unknown alien insurgence shifted from protracted land wars with each other to a unified whole-of-world. We were once a society of many, and today we build solidarity.”  She focused on each leader one-at-a-time.

 

Reader Participation – What Do You Think?

Before reading my take on this novel opening, please take a moment to record your thoughts in the poll below.

Your thoughtful critiques and suggestions for the writer are also welcome in the comments section. Explaining your vote gives the author even more insight into where they’re hitting the mark and where they can improve.

My Feedback

 Critique Key

Original Text is in italics. (Author is already using italics, so my comments are going to be underlined this week)

Red is text I recommend removing.

Green is text I recommend adding.

Blue is my comments.

Orange is highlighting.

Science Fiction – L. Matthew Foster

Once, the rising stars symbolized hope and adventure. Today in Perth, Earth’s defense city, children clenched their eyes while resting in their beds and feared any glance at the stars before sunrise. < Wouldn’t the stars be gone after sunrise? The wording implies that they can look at the stars after sunrise.  From the corner-office conference room, I stared at the star-illuminated waves, crashing against the shoreline. “Ministry of Defense Forces, the Honorable Gilbert Zahn,” a young lieutenant announced. I spun to attention in the leather chair. The leaders, gathered at this strange hour, rose to attention. < Watch out for using the same phrase so close together. As customary, the civilians remained seated, < I assumed that there were no civilians present based on the previous line. but everyone wanted Zahn’s attention. < Who is everyone? I got the impression this was a small meeting room. How many civilians are present? I inched to the chair’s edge and anticipated his entrance. Recalling my first day on the station, indoctrination briefed this tradition as a sign of respect to the civilian’s authority. They were full of shit.

Zahn’s espresso leather loafers squeaked on the concrete floor. He motioned his hand downward for the group to relax. The beaded armrest < I really can’t imagine what this room is like. I assume only his chair has a beaded armrest? What’s the style of the room as a whole? caught his jacket and disclosed his suit’s silk lining with floral patterns. The sheen from his bespoke sleeves faded when the windows tinted from the tranquil views to white-noise static. < I had to read this line twice to understand what you meant, but that could just be me. The latest pop-diva’s music hummed in the room. These arcane security measures sparked memories of my mentor’s favorite coffee lecture, Security by Obscurity. Tom had ridiculed these procedures. “Do our security teams think music will stop an advanced enemy from listening?” 

My aura sank deeper into the government issued chair and I rubbed the razor scar below my chin line. Tom remained in critical condition after the pressurization accident back on the station. A week ago after grav-ball, I had hit the showers and Tom stayed to stretch. I was in full lather when the alarms burst over the station’s intercom. Half dressed, I slipped into the passageway and found the commotion. The medical techs rushed Tom to the infirmary with a mobile lung respirator hung over his oxygen-deprived body. < Personally, I feel like I don’t know enough about the narrator to be ready for back story. Now sitting in his chair with a banner streaming his name: Dr. Tom Waldon. I regretted my joke. “Old man, the stretches will kill you before the gravity does.” < It’s not clear to me when he made this joke – before, after, or during Tom being transported to the infirmary?

“Good evening,” Zahn said.

 The leaders robotically mumbled back the pleasantry. He headed the oblong table and peered over to Director Lawrence, the head of the Office of Future Warfare (FU-WAR for short). With a cheap grin, Director Lawrence snapped from her chair.

 Director Lawrence < Her name is repeated too many times too close together.gripped the podium and peered down at the group, standing two meters tall. “Today marks the forty-third anniversary of the attack on Hong Kong. On that day, we lost seven million lives and society learned a new enemy lives in our backyard. The enemy has waited and grown their foothold in our solar system.” < I feel like you’re gearing up for an info dump, which I’m not ready for. There’s not been enough to hook me into the story.

Her lace macramé ankle boots clicked as she paced along the front wall. “Recognizing this historic inflection point, Earth’s strategy to defend against the unknown alien insurgence shifted from protracted land wars with each other to a unified whole-of-world. We were once a society of many, and today we build solidarity.”  She focused on each leader one-at-a-time.

My Overall Thoughts

The writing itself has no major problems, but it feels to me like the narrator is an afterthought rather than a key player in this scene. I’m sure there are unique things about the universe you’re writing about that could be used to hook the reader into the story, but this isn’t doing that for me.

Key Places to Improve:

  • I’m not sure where this scene is going, but I’m not convinced it’s the best way to introduce your narrator. He seems to be doing nothing more than sitting and observing (not ideal activities for a main character). It’s not clear to me why he’s there or why the reader should care that he’s there. He has a snarky/sarcastic voice that is very common across all genres these days, but I’m not sure what makes him unique or why readers should care about him.
  • There aren’t enough details for the reader to be able to imagine the scene. I think they’re in some kind of conference room based on the leather chairs, but I don’t really know. There were too many question marks in my mind as I read through this for it to suck me in.
  • Spend some time figuring out the best “hook” for your story. The first page should promise what’s to come. The hook/promise could be a great narrative style, a fascinating conflict, a unique universe, etc. Figure out your “hook” and put it front and center so that your first page really stands out.

The Writeditor’s Grade (out of 5): 2

The writing never really drew my attention in a negative way, but it didn’t draw it in a positive way either. The content didn’t excite me, mostly because there seemed to be no connection between the narrator and what was happening in the room.

A note on the grading scale: The rating of the first chapter does not indicate the rating of the novel as a whole nor does it indicate the writer’s overall ability.

Submit to First Page Friday – (currently OPEN to submissions)

***Please read this entire section before submitting***

Due to the amount of time it takes to respond to each email and due to the volume of submissions received (I booked 4 months in about 2 weeks), I am changing the submission and selection process for First Page Friday for my own sanity as well as to increase the quality of the series.

Submissions will no longer be accepted on a first come, first serve basis, and I will no longer be scheduling posts in advance. I will review submissions once a week and choose a first page that I feel provides the best learning opportunity for readers. This means that as much as I would love to respond to every submission, you probably won’t hear from me if I don’t select your first page. It also means that I may select your first page months after you submit it (you are responsible for updating or pulling your submission as needed).

To Submit, send the following information to ellenbrock@keytopservices.com or if you have trouble with that email address (as has been the case for some of you lately), send it to editorbrock@gmail.com:

  • The name you want used on your post (real name, pseudonym, or anonymous)
  • The first 500 words (Don’t stop in the middle of a sentence, but don’t add sentences above and beyond 500 words)
  • Any links you want included with the post (website, Amazon, GoodReads, Twitter, etc.)

Title your submission email: SUBMISSION: First Page Friday – [Genre of your book]

If you don’t tell me your genre, I cannot choose you for First Page Friday so please include it!

If you need to update or revoke your submission, title your email: UPDATE: First Page Friday – [Genre of your book]

If you are also interested in my editing or mentoring services, please send a separate email from your First Page Friday submission so that I can address it promptly. I will only open as many submission as it takes for me to select a first page, so I probably won’t get to your email for several weeks.

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***A few people have emailed asking if they can have a private first page critique. I am more than happy to do that, but due to being completely booked (I’m working 10-11 hour days!), I have to charge $25 for private, offline first page critiques. Thanks for understanding!***

About the Editor

Ellen Brock is a freelance novel editor who works with self-publishing and traditionally publishing authors as well as e-publishers and small presses. She owns the editing company Keytop Services and the writing and editing blog The Writeditor. When not editing, she enjoys reading, writing, and geocaching. Check out her freelance novel editing services and mentoring.

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10 thoughts on “First Page Friday #31: Science Fiction

  1. PinkLed (@PinkLed5) says:

    I had a very hard time following who was who and what was happening. I think this was due to several things. First, there wasn’t enough description to engage my mind’s eye and form a coherent picture of the story in my imagination. Where is the main character and who are the people around him? First there are children in their beds and then he’s sitting in a room, I think. Also, there were many short sentences that tripped up the pacing for me and commas where they shouldn’t be, throwing me off. For example “I stared at the star-illuminated waves, crashing against the shoreline.” Additionally, I found several of the sentences difficult to understand because of how they were worded. Such as: “The sheen from his bespoke sleeves faded when the windows tinted from the tranquil views to white-noise static.” Finally, there was a lot of telling instead of showing. One example of this is: “The latest pop-diva’s music hummed in the room.” What did it sound like? I think this is a lost opportunity to draw the reader into the ambiance of the room.

  2. giambed says:

    II found the writing style a bit hard to follow (I had to keep re-reading sentences), but aside from that, I think the first 500 words are trying to do too much, e.g. introduce you to the narrator, introduce you to his backstory (with Tom, his mentor), introduce you to the leader, introduce you to Director Lawrence, introduce you to what’s happening around the globe and how it started 43 years ago, etc. That’s an awful lot for 500 words! I think the author would be better served to introduce the narrator (if that is the POV character) in a simpler setting, perhaps with a hook at the end that clarifies all is not as it seems – the world is at war, or something like that.

  3. R.E. Vaughn says:

    I try to find and then follow the “music” to a particular writer’s prose (no matter the genre), but could not do so in this story. While I love short sentences and the sometimes staccato impact they leave as I read through, I felt that chop-chop pattern way too much as the author moved from one subject to the next. Ideas or visions should form in our minds as we read along the string of words, but that just didn’t happen here. A stronger voice, an ardent observer’s voice should predominate here and the voice in this tale was more of a mechanized broadcaster, giving us just a snippet before moving on to the next detail. Made my head spin. In my opinion, I believe most of my difficulty in reading and then interpreting, or at least trying to interpret the writer’s intent or conveyance of thought, came from the lack of visuals. I read, “The leaders robotically mumbled back the pleasantry,” and was lost. Is this a cultural lingo? Even if it is, it should be wrote simpler and in plain-Jane English (I imagine five different readers might have five different visuals as to what this means as it currently reads). All in all, the story did interest me and I’m sure it had somewhere it was headed. This is a good example of a story worthy of a rewrite so we can actually figure the direction it’s headed. Keep at it!

  4. Hailey says:

    I thought there was a lot of description in this story, maybe too much. My prediction was that Ellen’s critique would be highlighting adjectives. It might be better to make the description describe the people, instead of what they’re wearing.

  5. trazanacho says:

    Hmmmm… I’m thinking I should write my critique before I read your edit, and the others comments. Seems like most everything I want to say has been said. I am most in sync with Giambed – I felt like I had eaten a lead sandwich and it was sitting in my stomach refusing to move. This was WAY too much information and I had the same exact reaction of having to reread way too many sentences.

    I definitely sympathize with the gaffe of using the same name/title too many times in a paragraph. Guilty as charged, myself. WHILE I’M WRITING, it doesn’t jump out – but boy, on the first edit, I’m cringing at how many times I have to find different ways to identify who the subject of the paragraph is.

    This makes me automatically wonder if this piece is a first draft. That would explain a lot.

    Don’t stop, Mr. Foster – kudos to you for putting yourself out there.

  6. Andrea says:

    I’m intrigued by the idea of a defense city and wonder why there’s so much fear. I would suggest focusing on the present moment in the conference room and add more feeling and conflict between opening characters. Good start!

  7. Martin says:

    Like the Andrea said, the first couple lines planted an interesting idea, but I felt it was immediately discarded to take us to a room where I never understood what was happening, so I lost that initial interest.

  8. Sue says:

    I’m possibly intrigued by the story – but – I’m not at all sure about some of the thoughts of the narrator. Presumably male (razor scar on chin), astronaut – would he really be commenting on lace macrame boots and having his aura sink? And wouldn’t it be a DE-pressurization accident? Why did the director have a CHEAP grin? It doesn’t seem to fit the situation being described.

    I really like SF as a genre and yes, I would like to know where the story’s going.

  9. Juan Zung says:

    I really like the premiss and find these kinds of settings great platforms for entertainment and social commentary. I might’ve liked these 500 words better if they came after a more dynamic sequence highlighting the violence and direness of this world’s condition.

    Keep writing, Mr Foster! It takes guts to put yourself out there for open and anonymous critique.

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