First Page Friday #45: 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First Page Friday is a blog series where I provide a free edit and critique of the first 500 words of an unpublished novel.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 – by Chase Curtis

Three hundred years elapsed in less than a second. Slowing from light speed, energy recedes from an infinite line to a finite point. Lero-niat’s silver ship returned to real space and the second that had stretched to last three hundred years ended.

The cockpit came alive like pressing play on a paused video. The laser tore into the ship so bright it was blinding, intense heat filled the cockpit. The silver hull exploded inward hurling slivers of alloy faster than bullets, shredding consoles and primary systems.

Shrapnel sliced his side orange blood spattered the walls and ceiling. Atmosphere rushed through the hulls damaged section and the grey skinned pilot was tugged against the manual restraints that held him in his seat.

Wincing he pressed a hand against the wound to staunch the flow. He retched at the sight of the blood oozing between his fingers. Other hand a blur as he activated back-ups and repair routines. The breech began to dissolve, shrinking smaller and smaller until it vanished entirely. Hull sealed he fell back into his seat as the high pitched whistle of pressurization stung his ears.

The damaged craft vented smoke and atmosphere. Its mirrored hull reflected Saturn’s rings briefly as his saucer ship streaked past at impossible speed. He fought for control, as it jerked and shuddered wildly. The loud pops and sparks, the acrid smell of melted plastic remind Lero-niat his escape could have gone better.

“Computer damage report…” His blood stained everything the shrapnel had cut deep. He was having trouble forming coherent enough thoughts to communicate. He silenced alarms reached up and cut off the flashing yellow lights with his free hand. Then concentrating he tried again, “Computer damage report!”

The A/I’s screen flashed green then went black. Flashed solid green again and scrolled through a long list of nonsensical characters. The A/I’s bland voice began to list the damaged systems the A/I broadcasting directly into the pilot’s auditory centers “The De-Stabilizer beam breached aft sections one dash…”

“Computer, summarize.” Mind numb from blood loss he struggled to form thoughts and comprehend what the computers responses meant, distracted by the flashing colored lights across the display. As he struggled to input commands Lero-niat’s four fingered hands stamped the control board with orange hand prints.

“Synopsis…critical rupture of temporal dislocation field…”

The large black eyes narrowed, Lero-niat tried to sit up, wondered why the core hadn’t already been ejected into free space. “Computer commence core eject.”

“Impossible, but core implosion is not a primary concern.”

“And why is that exactly?”

“The ejector system was damaged if you had listene…”

“Computer…” Lero-niat interrupted he was tired and couldn’t deal with the computer’s eccentricities. “What is primary?”

The A/I sounded hurt, “Very well. Bio scans indicate core implosion will occur well after complete exsanguination and death.”

“Oh well at least there’s that…” The pilot sighed. “When I die my race will be extinct.” His shoulders slumped as he exhaled, and he stared up toward the dome ceiling of his ship.

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

Red is text I recommend removing.

Green is text I recommend adding.

Blue is my comments.

Orange is highlighting.

 

Science Fiction – by Chase Curtis

Three hundred years elapsed in less than a second. Slowing from light speed, energy recedes (This should be “receded” unless you are speaking generally rather than about this specific situation.) from an infinite line to a finite point. Lero-niat’s silver ship returned to real space and the second that had stretched to last three hundred years ended. < This phrasing was a tad awkward to read the first time. Overall, I feel intrigued by this opening.

The cockpit came alive like pressing play on a paused video. < It’s not clear to me if the cockpit is coming alive because the ship is powering back on (after some sort of period of being turned off) or because of the laser described in the next sentence. The laser tore into the ship so bright it was blinding, (semicolon, period, or a conjunction goes here) intense heat filled the cockpit. The silver hull exploded inward hurling slivers of alloy faster than bullets, shredding consoles and primary systems.

Shrapnel sliced his side (semicolon, period, or a conjunction goes here) orange blood spattered the walls and ceiling. Atmosphere rushed through the hulls < This apostrophe is required. damaged section and the grey (hyphen) skinned pilot was tugged against the manual restraints that held him in his seat. <“Manual” is not necessary here. It doesn’t tell the reader anything about the restraint.

Wincing (comma) he pressed a hand against the wound to staunch the flow. He retched at the sight of the blood oozing between his fingers. (I would add “his” [so that it reads “his other hand”] for clarity and smoothness, and connect it to the previous sentence with a comma.) Other hand a blur as he activated back-ups and repair routines. The breech began to dissolve, shrinking smaller and smaller until it vanished entirely. Hull sealed (comma) he fell back into his seat as the high (hyphen) pitched whistle of pressurization stung his ears.

The damaged craft vented smoke and atmosphere. Its mirrored hull reflected Saturn’s rings briefly as his saucer ship streaked past at impossible speed. He fought for control, as it jerked and shuddered wildly. The loud pops and sparks, the acrid smell of melted plastic reminded Lero-niat his escape could have gone better.

“Computer damage report…” His blood stained everything (semicolon, period, or conjunction needed here) the shrapnel had cut deep. He was having trouble forming coherent enough thoughts to communicate. He silenced alarms (comma) reached up and cut off the flashing yellow lights with his free hand. Then concentrating (comma) he tried again, “Computer damage report!” < Why did he need to repeat this? Did the computer not hear him?

The A/I’s < The slash in “A/I” doesn’t make sense. It should be written “AI” or “A.I.” screen flashed green then went black. (comma goes here rather than a period) Flashed solid green again and scrolled through a long list of nonsensical characters. The A/I’s bland voice began to list the damaged systems, the A/I broadcasting directly into the pilot’s auditory centers (comma or period) “The De-Stabilizer beam breached aft sections one dash…”

“Computer, summarize.” Mind numb from blood loss (comma) he struggled to form thoughts and comprehend what the computers < This apostrophe is needed. responses meant, distracted by the flashing colored lights across the display. As he struggled to input commands (comma) Lero-niat’s four (hyphen) fingered hands stamped the control board with orange hand prints (“handprints” is one word).

“Synopsis…critical rupture of temporal dislocation field…”

The (“The” seems awkward to me. I would use “his.” Or are you referring to the AI’s eyes?) large black eyes narrowed, (period, semicolon, or conjunction) Lero-niat tried to sit up, wondered why the core hadn’t already been ejected into free space. “Computer commence core eject.”

“Impossible, but core implosion is not a primary concern.”

“And why is that exactly?”

“The ejector system was damaged (period or semicolon) if you had listene…”

“Computer…” Lero-niat interrupted (period or semicolon) he was tired and couldn’t deal with the computer’s eccentricities. “What is primary?”

The A/I sounded hurt < His voice was described as “dull” earlier so I did not expect him to be capable of expressing emotion. It would be nice to show the computer’s eccentricities rather than stating it in the previous sentence – you could solve both of these problems at once and kill two birds with one stone. , “Very well. Bio scans indicate core implosion will occur well after complete exsanguination and death.”

“Oh well at least there’s that…” < This line feels a bit cliche. I feel like I’ve heard it too many times for it to be amusing. The pilot sighed. “When I die my race will be extinct.” < This seems a bit strange to say out loud. I think it would seem more natural if explained in narration. His shoulders slumped as he exhaled, and he stared up toward the dome ceiling of his ship.

My Overall Thoughts

This opening is a great example of how important it is to use correct punctuation. The first time I read this it was clunky and awkward because I got hung up on missing punctuation marks. The second time, it was a very smooth and entertaining read.

Overall, I liked this and don’t have too many complaints beyond the punctuation issues.

Key Places to Improve:

  • Punctuation! An agent/editor is not going to take the time to slog through writing that is not properly punctuated. It’s also a shame to have these errors in your work because they significantly reduce its quality by making it seem clunky when it’s actually quite smooth. I’m sure it reads very smoothly in your head! Punctuation helps convey that smoothness to the reader.
  • If Lero-niat already knew he was at risk of dying, briefly touching on him being the last of his race earlier in the scene may help it be a bit more dynamic and emotionally touching.
  • Likewise, I would try to show that the computer is eccentric if at all possible. This would help add complexity and emotion to the scene.

The Writeditor’s Grade (out of 5): 4

If you take away the punctuation problems, this is strong enough for me to read on, which is great. You don’t waste time dumping information on the reader and you pull us right into a conflict without leaving us totally grasping at straws to understand it. Overall, a nice job!

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.

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12 thoughts on “First Page Friday #45: Science Fiction

  1. Adrian Christiansen says:

    I liked the piece, and I would be interested to read more. The first paragraph began well, although I also thought the last line could be improved: “The three hundred year-old second…”?

    There were a couple of things – apart from the grammar, that is – that distracted me from the story. Forgive me for being a bit of a pedant about these things – they might sound pointless. The first thing was the question of who is shooting at the poor guy? We read about a laser, and then nothing more! Does Lero not feel the need to take evasive action, given that someone is shooting at him? Also, since he just exited a hyperspace jump (let’s call it that, for want of a better term) at “impossible speed”, how did they manage to shoot him? Did they know the exact time and coordinates of his entry into real space? And why? Is he carrying a message or precious cargo – does he think of these things and the implication of them falling into the wrong hands before dying? Some answers here might set us up nicely to carry on reading the next bit.

    The second thing is the way you scatter the pilot’s description throughout the text – orange blood, grey skin, four fingers, black eyes. I suppose the point is that he is an alien, but how much of this do you need to make the point. Do you need the four fingers? Do you need the grey skin? or the blood? Maybe just the black eyes or just the fingers? Perhaps you could keep us guessing about his origins until the very end of the 500 words, and then hit us with his black eyes and 4 long fingers to reveal his alien-ness.

    Lastly, have him fall back into his chair once his shoulders slump – it makes it physically easier for him to stare upwards. Stupid point, I know, but the text made me wonder how shoulders can slump (a forward and downward action), yet he looked upward.

    I really look forward to first page friday now. The texts and comments have been great.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I like this opening. I was able to visualize the scene well and was drawn in by the action. The descriptions are great and the action was easy to follow–once I slogged through the punctuation errors. I remember this from Novel Bootcamp, and while I had praise for the opening itself, I also mentioned that the punctuation needed to be fixed. Also, there are some sentences that need to be combined, and others that need to be broken into two sentences or connected with a semicolon or conjunction, as Ellen pointed out. These things are distracting to the reader, and I too feel that an agent/editor might let one or two errors slide by, but this many would land it in the slush pile. So far no one has much of a problem with the content itself, which means this is worth getting right–stuff like grammar and punctuation are just as important as story. I recommend Googling punctuation rules and guidelines for proper sentence structure to find some sites that will help in this matter. Fix that problem and this could be awesome!

  3. Anonymous says:

    I like this opening. I could visualize it well and the action drew me in. The descriptions are good, and the action was easy to follow–once I got through the punctuation errors. I remember this from boot camp. At the time, I had praise for the opening, but also mentioned that there were a lot of problems with punctuation and sentence structure that needed to be fixed. Ellen is right, an agent or editor would not put up with this many errors and would ditch it. It’s too good to end up in the slush pile, so I do hope you will take the advice and brush up on punctuation and proper sentence structure–they are just as important as story. I don’t know if anyone has a book on this to suggest? I would not recommend The Elements of Grammar–it’s too confusing and written with too many technical terms. Maybe Googling some sites would be best. Your hard work has paid off so far–this opening is so much better than the previous versions. Fix this problem and it will be awesome!

    • Julie Griffith says:

      Both of the above are from me. I thought the first one didn’t post, so I rewrote it and tried again. Sorry it’s on here twice. They say anonymous because I put my email in but forgot to put my name in. Oops x 2. Just ignore the second posting–they both say pretty much the same thing.

  4. Orenthal says:

    I find that reading your page takes me long than it should. I think this is because you often write your character’s motivation after his reaction.

    Here are examples:

    He retched at the sight of the blood oozing between his fingers.
    He fought for control, as it jerked and shuddered wildly.
    His blood stained everything the shrapnel had cut deep
    He silenced alarms reached up and cut off the flashing yellow lights with his free hand.
    The A/I’s bland voice began to list the damaged systems the A/I broadcasting directly into the pilot’s auditory centers
    he struggled to form thoughts and comprehend what the computers responses meant, distracted by the flashing colored lights across the display
    As he struggled to input commands Lero-niat’s four fingered hands stamped the control board with orange hand prints.
    Lero-niat interrupted he was tired and couldn’t deal with the computer’s eccentricities

    The last one, for instance, could be written like this: Lero was tired… he interrupted… The preceding: He smudged the control-board with bloody, orange hand-prints. It was a struggle to input commands. And… The display’s flashing colored lights distracted him, so he had to struggle to form thoughts. It was all he could do to comprehend what the computer responses meant.

    And so forth.

    I’m not sure if my criticism is reasonable, but it seems to me that if you did away with the word “as”, I’d be able to read your writing more quickly.

  5. Rob Walker says:

    As i understand it, travelling at light speed you experience everything at once. so as long as he is travelling at light speed nothing will have changed from accelerating to light speed to when he decelerated. So when he says: his escape could have gone better, it read to me as if the laser that tore into his ship happened just before hitting light speed, during his escape.

    im not a big fan of sci-fi books. But i must admit, grammar mistakes aside i did quite enjoy it. thumbs up from me mate 😉

  6. bluegreenaqua says:

    I enjoyed the action in this introduction. I’m definitely interested, even though the starship-battle scifi isn’t usually my type of fiction. So great job on that.
    My critiques may just be from me as an amateur to the genre, but I found the scifi phrases, like the first paragraph and the computer’s analysis, to be a bit distracting. I was either tempted to skim over them or to read them over and over again to try to understand what the problem was. The computer’s repetition in dialogue seemed, well, repetitive to me, but in a more annoying way than perhaps was intended. Though I definitely related to Mr. LN in that respect. (Again, it’s probably the genre, but the name would take a while to stick if I was reading).
    I’m curious about the “last of my race” idea and how that would play out, but I agree with Ellen’s critique; it was a bit out of the blue and awkward for me to think of someone pulling it off in real dialogue, especially when speaking to themselves (unless you are the Doctor. And I am really overusing parenthesis now.)
    Overall, cool opening. As a reader, I’d be pulled straight into the plot. Excellent.

  7. Brent says:

    I read a lot of science fiction, fantasy, and action books. I was turned off by this beginning. I traced my negative reaction back to the following two paragraphs:

    The cockpit came alive like pressing play on a paused video. The laser tore into the ship so bright it was blinding, intense heat filled the cockpit. The silver hull exploded inward hurling slivers of alloy faster than bullets, shredding consoles and primary systems.

    Shrapnel sliced his side orange blood spattered the walls and ceiling. Atmosphere rushed through the hulls damaged section and the grey skinned pilot was tugged against the manual restraints that held him in his seat.

    I found the description here to be overdone for an opening. What I get is a telling that’s pretending that it’s showing by using exciting words – like a teen describing a video game

    If I were writing this, I would either resign to telling this portion and leave out out the descriptors that cause the reader to try to imagine a whole world by the second paragraph, or I would describe what a laser melting everything in it’s path actually looks like – dripping white hot steel cooling to orange then to black.

    I think since you’re using 3rd person omniscient, then you need to say why the hull exploded inward. The ship is presumably pressurized, so any explosion at an outer wall should be outward unless it is hit by a missile.

    For a sci-fi reader, “silver” is a type of metal, not a color. So if you describe something as silver, the reader will interpret it as actually being silver, which means that at some point you’ll have to explain why a metal with relatively weak structural properties would be used for a hull instead of something like steel or titanium.

    You may want to start the story at the point immediately after the attack. You can say what happened by describing the damage to the ship and the emotions of the pilot while he has time to process everything that has happened.

  8. English Tim says:

    Hi Chase. Here are some points which may not have been mentioned:
    “Three hundred years elapsed…” Nice idea for an opening, and nice first line, but there are hundreds of words and phrases better than “elapsed”, which is too passive for Line One. End the paragraph at “real space”. The rest repeats your first line.
    “…paused video…” This is sci-fi. Do you really want Seventies imagery? Lero can trip light speed but can only afford VHS?
    “The laser tore…” and “Shrapnel sliced…” Brent made a great point here and in my opinion it’s quite easy to fix. The key is to stay focussed on Lero and how he’s dealing. As readers we want to be in the alien’s chair.
    I don’t think people retch at the sight of their own blood, or anyone else’s. If aliens are different, you’ll need to say so.
    “The damaged craft vented…” I like your descriptions and you have a very distinctive style but you have to find the correct balance between your poetic prose and our need for simple storytelling.
    I agree with Orenthal that you provide motivation after reaction, which is confusing for readers. When I read “Computer damage report…” I even suspected dry comedy because he was so relaxed about his ship in peril. This evaporated all the tension you had built up, which hopefully shows how important the point is.
    All the best.

  9. Lori Parker says:

    Jolly good show! My favorite phrase is “stamped the console board with orange handprints.” Imagery like that really brings it home for me.

    Orenthal’s notes are very helpful (so much so that I’m going to take a look at my last short fiction to see if I too provide motivation after the reaction).

    I don’t agree with Adrian Christiansen’s note regarding the laser. I understood the laser beam to have been shot just as he was entering hyper-speed so I wasn’t confused about that at all. Also, I liked the fact that you spread out his physical description throughout the first page and that it is so complete.

    Now, as a Science Fiction reader and writer, I have to respectfully disagree with Brent about using the word silver as a color. The fact is, Science Fiction is no different that any other genre when it comes to descriptions (unless you’re someone like Anthony Burgess of “A Clockwork Orange” fame and come up with your own language, of course) and that includes colors. Try describing an ice planet of frozen mercury without using the word silver, or the glossy finish of an interplanetary Samurai’s Katana.

    Alright, so your grammar and punctuation need work (hiring a professional proofreader might be helpful, if you can afford it) but otherwise, this story has a gripping first page and promises hours of exciting reading pleasure.

    All you have to do now is tell me how his race will live on . . . maybe fertilized zygotes in cryogenic chambers? -PEACE-

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