Adult Science Fiction – Editor Critiques

Dusk settled down around me as I stood staring at the beginning tree line of a forest. A gentle, but cold breeze wisped thru tall, white quaking aspens. These aspens gave way to smaller then massive redwoods.

Shivering, I pulled the hood of my deep red sweater over my head. Where was I? What was this place? This was nowhere I could recall in the Pacific Northwest, where I called home. I stood in awe sensing an energy emanating from the forest. Taking a few steps forward, I placed my hand on an aspen and could feel energy coming from the tree, as if I were holding my cell phone as it continually vibrated softly.

Time quickly passed as I stayed stunned, hand on the tree. Night took over from dusk, yet I could still see a great distance. My eyes seemed to transition to a nocturnal animal’s allowing me to see further than my normal. Not only my sight was enhanced, buy my hearing as well. The rustle of the quaking aspen’s leaves was as loud as kettle drums crescendoing up for the final boom of the 1812 Overture.

“Beginning tree line of a forest” is awkward and could be cut down to just “tree line” or “edge of the forest.” I don’t think the opening paragraph has enough of a hook. “Where I called home” is awkward/unnatural. I would cut the repetition of “energy” in the second paragraph. I would also cut the comparison to a cellphone. You can describe the tree as “vibrating” without the need to compare it to a cellphone. “Further than my normal” is awkward as is “not only my sight was enhanced.” This could be an interesting place to start the novel, but the writing is frequently awkward or oddly worded.

“Saber Steele,” the judge’s deep voice reverberated through the large courtroom. She leveled all five eyes on Saber, their crystalline surface making them appear as if they were glowing. “You are found guilty of aggravated assault. The High Court sentences you to five years of community service. On Earth. The Case of Chase Maxwell of GIZMO vs. Saber Steele has come to rest.” The judge wrapped her lower set of arms up around her shoulders, folding her primary set neatly on the podium in front of her.

“Earth!? You can’t be serious!” Saber exclaimed. She focused on the biggest eye, in the center of the V’Kaly’s face.

“Order, Ms. Steele,” the judge warned. She drew a clawed hand down her beak, a dark olive green that contrasted against her lavender skin.

Strange looking aliens/creatures are very difficult to take seriously in adult fiction. Unfortunately, every time another strange element of the judge’s appearance is introduced, the scene feels more humorous. The first paragraph is fine, but the next two both made me chuckle. This seems like backstory that probably doesn’t need to be at the start of the novel. The reader doesn’t have any sense of the character’s home or why leaving it matters so there isn’t much tension. I recommend starting earlier (to orient the reader to her home planet) or starting later (and conveying this backstory after the reader is hooked).

Viv laid awake staring at her white ceiling fan as it circulated the air in her large room. She was on top of the blankets, her fingers intertwined, and her hands were folded over her stomach. She watched the chains sway in a rhythm to the speed of the spinning. She wondered how much time remained before she had to face this agonizing day. A few moments later the alarm clock rang, ripping through the silence that surrounded her. It had been days since she slept. Each long waking night Viv would lay in her bed counting the individual popcorn on her ceiling, fearing sleep and the dreams it would possess. She sectioned the popcorn into groups, there were 447 in the north-east sector, 462 in the north-west sector, 598 in south-east, and 635 in the south-west.
Her body felt as if it weighed one thousand pounds, and her broken heart begged an overactive mind to stay in bed all day. Viv pulled her sluggish body out of her half empty bed and trudged her way to the bathroom down the hall, the same bathroom she had used all her life. She cherished the sound of the wood creaking beneath her feet. Viv rubbed her eyes wiping the sleep away and began her morning routine methodically, watching herself go through the motions. She brushed her teeth, tied her long blonde hair in a ponytail, and slipped on her running clothes and shoes. She ran down the stairs, with impeccable grace, grabbed a water bottle from the kitchen counter. Before opening the door, she adjusted the watch that she always wore on her left wrist.

Unfortunately, this is a bit tedious to read. Not wanting to get out of bed is understandable, but it’s not entertaining without letting the reader know what is special or unique about her situation. There are too many mundane details without enough foreshadowing or worldbuilding to keep the reader engaged. I think you’re probably not starting at the right point and most of this could be skipped.

A Prologue
…September 30, 3642 GC

Tu sat in the only chair in the room, a small box on the desk in front of him. A timer methodically counted down with flat beeps that bounced off the the plain, concrete walls. The hard plastic chair he sat in, with its molded peaks and dips, was a poor fit for his body (a part of him wondered if it was a good fit for anyone’s body), and his long legs, gangly with adolescence, constantly seemed to be sticking out at the wrong angles. He shifted, trying to get comfortable, but comfort was impossible to find. The bright, white lights set into ceiling were reflecting off the muted white walls, and they drilled into Tu’s eyes. He blinked, trying to clear the pain away, but his eyes soon returned to the box on the desk in front of him and the countdown next to it.

He wanted to pick up the the spatial puzzle, hold it, move it, manipulate it, try different solutions not so much to find an answer but to just see what different shapes he could make. But he looked up at the static instructions hovering above the display that read, ‘DO NOT TOUCH’ and resisted the urge. He had to solve the puzzle in his mind. He had to do as he was ordered. That was important. Bad things happened when he didn’t do as he was told.

He focused on the puzzle in front of him and thought through the manipulations instead. A few minutes later, he picked up the puzzle and untangled the blocks. The timer on the display stopped counting and the display disappeared. He wondered if that would be it for now but no, another puzzle appeared on the display, this one mathematical. He rubbed his eyes and began to pull the equation apart.

“A timer methodically counted down with flat beeps” seems wordy to me since “methodically counted down” is inherent to a timer. Why does only “a part of him” wonder if the chair is a good fit for anyone’s body? It seems to me that something like “he sometimes wondered” would make more sense. There’s a lot of time spent on his discomfort with the chair and lights but it’s not clear how it’s relevant. I’d work towards cutting down the first paragraph by a couple of sentences or more. I assumed the walls were grey when they were described as “concrete walls” but they are later described as white.

I like the second paragraph a lot more and there’s a couple of nice hooks. “Thought through the manipulations” could be worded more clearly. Why does he pick up the puzzle if he’s not supposed to touch it? I like this enough that I would keep reading for a while but I think the writing could do with some tightening and some improvements in clarity.

The stench of the industrial district clung to her coat and hair as she stepped off the trolley, the ostentatiousness of the upper crusts’ triumph almost burning her eyes with the way it glittered. Buildings blazed in shades of gold and white, the crystalline quality of the glass and bright lights beckoned her towards her destination: the Mystic Lounge. She took a long drag on her cigarette, her lip curling in distaste as a man in a fine overcoat tipped his hat in greeting. These people were only polite when she dressed in a way that convinced them she belonged. If she were to walk about in her dirty coveralls, her headscarf askew and curls flattened by sweat, they would take offense at her very presence.

She took a turn down a side street, weaving between dumpsters and lamp posts, her beaded dress swishing in the silence. She could see the rear of the Mystic from where she stood. She would only need to cross the next street and she would be there. Tonight; as with any night, she would sing for the entertainment of the city’s elite, she would go home smelling of cigar smoke and expensive perfume, feeling exhausted in ways she’d never expected. She trotted the last few feet to the door, stomping out her cigarette before entering the building.

The first sentence isn’t as clear as I would like because it’s not clear what “upper crusts’ triumph” refers to. If all the buildings are bright and shiny, then it doesn’t seem as if she’s beckoned towards a specific location. I would consider cutting “her lip curling in distaste” because it makes her seem petty as well which reduces sympathy. How many dumpsters and lamp posts are on a single side street that she needs to weave between them? If she sings every night, then it doesn’t make sense that she will be “exhausted in ways she’d never expected.” Your voice is pretty strong but make sure to prioritize clarity and accuracy above writerly wording.

DSM Boone sailed through the vacuum of space for thirty-four days to arrive at the edge of the asteroid belt. For 5 weeks that crew had been preparing their equipment, and themselves, for this moment. Lassoing an asteroid and securing it in a graphene cage presented an unknown number of risks.

Greg Daniels sat straight in his captain’s chair watching as his prey grew larger on the main bridge view screen. Like a sprinter set at the starting line waiting for the signal gun to go off, every muscle in his body was on alert. Millions of thoughts ran through his mind, and endless check list of systems and procedures that he had to make sure worked in unison to make this happen. The job of a Deep Space Mining vessel captain came with more responsibility than one person should have to bear. After this rock was back at The Ranch, the processing station located at the moon, his magic number would be 9.

“Captain. Asteroid VVA2217 has been confirmed. You are cleared to execute your contract.” From his observation station Hunter Bailey, ISC on board representative, gave Gregg the legal green light to go into action.

Personally, I would like to get oriented to Greg in the first paragraph to give more relevance to the crew preparing themselves and their equipment. I’d cut the simile about the sprinter, it isn’t needed and it’s taking up too much space. “Millions of thoughts” seems a little generic and I’d probably cut it and go straight to explaining the checklist of systems. “More responsibility than one person should have to bear” seems perhaps a bit melodramatic. I don’t understand the last line of the second paragraph.

Crap, I was already twenty minutes late. Late for my new job, again, great. Navigating through the maze of homeless people strewn across the concrete steps up to the San Francisco Art Gallery, I thought, maybe I could charm my boss again and get off the hook. I figured that’s what got me off last time. I saw it in her face as I apologised. She melted. I was just stuck with one of those cute, innocent, faces — freckled puffy cheeks, big green eyes and a bob of very yellow blonde hair.

Towards the top of the steps a woman slept under a soiled blanket, her head propped on her sleeping dog, a dirty mutt as malnourished as her. She wasn’t much older than me, maybe in her late twenties only. I dropped some change into the can next to her. I’d seen her before but last time I didn’t give her anything because she was awake, looking at me. I didn’t want them awake when I did it.

There’s a lot of focus on the homeless but without giving a clear sense of why it matters or how it conveys her characterization until the end of the second paragraph. Prior to her giving money to the homeless, it’s not clear if the narrator feels sorry for them or is disgusted by them. The narrator describing how she’s cute will likely be unappealing to a lot of readers. A character running late is a somewhat common opening so make sure to bring something interesting or unique into the story as quickly as possible.

“The real question son, is who d’ya need dead?” the man asked me. He took the tin of chewing tobacco I slid across the table.

I had met this man before, years ago. My father told my sister and me to stay away from him, and people like him. I didn’t even know his name, he said he never risked giving one. But now, he was my only connection, my one hope for revenge.

“Have you heard of Dr. Richard Hanson?” I asked.

The man chuckled and drank his moonshine.

“I have alright. He does a lot of good out here, brings food, water, medicine. Why him?”

“That’s not important.”

I didn’t want to linger here longer than I had to.

I like the hook and the writing is smooth. I read the full excerpt (though I’m not including all of it). My only recommendation is that I’d like to see a bit more personality from the character or maybe a bit of foreshadowing within the next few paragraphs to help the reader to stay engaged with the conversation.

Those two chuckleheads, Mackey and ’Scutto, practically fling their tools onto the floor and scram out of the workshop. It oughta be a clue—what with the screaming and all—but I figure an ice cream truck must’ve pulled up or something. Anyway, I can’t be bothered, on account of I’m extracting a stubborn hex bolt that one of those morons screwed into the wrong goddam spot. My money’s on Mackey.

It takes patience, steady torque, several judicious squirts of machine oil, and a dash of prayer, but I finally coax a quarter-turn out of the bastard. Nothing’s stripped. Nothing’s snapped. Doesn’t get better than that. The hard part’s behind me, so I celebrate by rocking back on my heels and planting a smooch on my trusty, three-quarter-inch wrench. Men’ll cross you the first chance they get, but my wrench has never failed me. We’re both about to get back to the bolt but don’t. Instead, I straighten up.

I found the first paragraph a bit disorienting. Were Mackey and ‘Scutto in the same workshop as the narrator? If so, wouldn’t they have mentioned why they were running away and/or wouldn’t the narrator have seen/heard what they’re reacting to? What does “my money’s on Mackey” refer to? These questions feel like a lack of clarity rather than a mystery.

It’s not clear why he’s so happy to have successfully turned the bolt and so his reaction seems a little off/dramatic. I think you’re going for a humorous tone, but I think the voice just isn’t quite there yet and the events seem odd/unclear as a result.

“I’m not looking for happiness; I’m just looking for a way to make everything hurt a little less.”

Langley turned to gaze out the window of the vessel, meeting the reflection of an exhausted young woman in the glass. Her pale blue eyes drooped, tired but vigilant, her indifferent expression masking muted sadness. Choppy strawberry blonde locks fell around her lightly freckled cheeks, her lengthy mane brushing the bandages wrapped about her neck. She made a frown at the endless sea of clouds churning beneath them.

The other passenger, an older man adorned in a decorated military greatcoat, addressed her sternly. “That’s not what I’m asking, Lieutenant. I want to know if you have plans for the future, if there’s anything you’re looking forward to now that the war’s over.”

The opening dialogue feels a bit melodramatic, and the older man’s dialogue emphasizes that she’s being dramatic when he says “that’s not what I’m asking” (which gives the sense she is being dramatic even when unwarranted). Describing a character by having them look at their own reflection is a trope and I recommend avoiding it because it will likely look amateurish to agents. I’m not sure there’s enough of a hook in where you’re starting the novel.

Three figures under the hoods sit at the massive table in a dim room. One of them, moves as if it is a shadow and stands up. It is a man dressed in an adorned garment and as he walks around the table, a long cloak flutters behind him. He turns towards the others, a convex mask with no features of human face flashes under his hood.
“He won’t show up,” an elderly voice is muffled under the mask.
“He may have been prevented”, says the other figure at the table.

A lot of the phrasings are odd/off: “under the hoods,” “as if it is a shadow” (should be “he”), “adorned garment” (this feels oddly vague), “no features of human face,” and “He may have been prevented” (which doesn’t sound like natural speech).

I’m not including more of the excerpt, but I did read a few more paragraphs. I think you’re being too vague about what’s going on which makes it difficult for the reader to get invested.

AD 2387 – Paris, Confederated States of France

Fluorescents flickered overhead, the dull buzzing of the tube lighting was the only sound in the room. She stood at a row of windows looking down over the busy mech bay below. Her employees, clad in black coveralls, scurried about their duties. She watched a handful of them bring welding torches flaring to life as work began on refurbishing a large robotic arm. She stared at the dancing light of the torches, then looked down to the datapad in her hand, the translucent plastic of the screen blipped a dozen reports that needed her attention. Financials dipped toward the red, repair and equipment manifests blinked angrily, the company was short on both money and ammunition.

She sighed.

There were a great many things she could go without, in her line of work, creds and ammo were not on that list.

She glanced at an empty in-box, all her normal clients hadn’t needed her services; there were no riots to put down, no raiders to fight off. Things were peaceful; they had been for far too long. She wasn’t in the business of peace.

Mentioning the lighting twice in the first sentence (flickered and buzzing) seems unnecessary as the light isn’t important. Likewise, mentioning the torches twice (when they’re welding and when she stares at them) feels unnecessary. In addition to those minor cuts, I recommend moving the descriptions of what her employees are doing to after you introduce the problem (not having work, money, or ammo) to create a stronger connection with her.

Lastly, I’d give some demonstration of her personality to make her more interesting as a character. I don’t feel as if I’m developing a connection to her because I don’t have a sense of who she is.

Technically speaking, when you’re in the hibernation chamber, you’re dead. Death, it turns out, is not final, if it happens inside one of these feats of science. The first time I went in, I expressed my concern about dying to my Tech. He said something about it happening so quickly that my organs would sustain only minimal damage. I didn’t find his words all that comforting, but I went in anyway.
The Techs call the revitalization process ‘waking up,’ but that’s the wrong word. Coming back from a hundred-year death has very little in common with waking from slumber. It feels more like you’re suddenly on a merry-go-round that’s spinning too fast.
This time, the world came screaming back to me, each ray of light pricking my retina, each sound beating on my ear drum. The world was spinning, and if there had been anything in my thawing stomach to vomit, I’m sure I would have. Slowly, the feeling of cold metal touching the bare skin of my back and arms came rushing into my confused brain. This isn’t a room, I thought, it’s a cage. My heart surged in my chest as panic started in, and I began pushing the walls with my hands and kicking with my feet. They wouldn’t give.

“These feats of science” feels a bit weak and makes the sentence fizzle out a bit. Cutting “but I went in anyway” would increase the pop of the last line of the first paragraph.

The second paragraph would benefit from a clear explanation of how waking from hibernation is different from waking from sleep (for example, mentioning the nausea). The Merry-go-round comparison seemed to imply disorientation to me rather than nausea.

It’s not clear why he starts to panic. The third paragraph feels simultaneously immediate and distant (as if this happened a long time ago) and committing to one approach or the other would help with clarity and consistency.

Ali stashed her greasy jumpsuit behind a stack of containers. Turning to her reflection in the window, she adjusted the secretly purchased green dress. Beyond the duraglass, dozens of shuttles flew about lazily to and from the many ships held out by the long docking arms of Castor Station.

Too short and loose, the green sequined rag did its best not to flatter her figure. She tugged at the bottom hem to no effect, in an attempt to cover more than her butt cheeks. It would have to work, months had going into planning for what Ali was about to do and an ill-fitting dress would not stop her.

The first paragraph would benefit from a stronger hook. What is the emotional context? How does she feel about hiding her jumpsuit? Is she nervous she’s going to be caught, worried her jumpsuit will be stolen, or does she just always store her jumpsuit behind the containers?

How does she feel about the dress being short? Is she embarrassed? Is it the wrong type of dress for the occasion? There’s not enough context to hook the reader.

Maybe the stars are misaligned tonight. The glares and sharp looks shooting out from the crowd have more of an edge. After last week’s riot, the constellations of antagonism are more emboldened than ever before. A decade ago world-class boxing matches were held in this venue, and once a month they still have Spanish language fights, but tonight it’s a punk show. Buzzing guitars on stage mirror the buzzing expectancy of the crowd. Eight bands with a double bill, the two British headliners have never played in Los Angeles before, and the show sold out in a day and a half. The gravity of the lineup has drawn punks from all over Southern California most represent one of two factions: skinheads or hard-core.

Between bands in the opening act section of the program, there is no sun in the solar system of punks milling around on the floor of the giant auditorium. Louden and his friends didn’t catch the first act; traffic and the social scene in the parking lot chewed up too much time. It was some local band he never heard of anyway so missing them is no big deal to him, but one of the guys in the car was bummed about it. He’s friends with the bass player or something.

The first paragraph led me to expect that the POV is someone on stage. I can’t tell if the first paragraph is meant to be from Louden’s POV.

The first paragraph would benefit from being streamlined. Why does it matter that boxing matches were held in this venue? This pulls the reader’s focus away from the point and makes it difficult to understand what you want to bring across in the paragraph.

The first sentence of the second paragraph doesn’t make sense to me.