Young Adult Science Fiction – Editor Critiques


Orion.
A
Breeze of wind whistles through the open window. Blowing the curtains sideways knocking the Tracy McGrady bobble head on to the floor next to the bed. It hits the metal leg making a high pitch noise. While it echoes around the room a squeaking ache noise starts coming from the bed. On the bed lay a sixteen-year-old teenager shaking his right leg rapidly. His skin color is close to bronze with a buzz cut hairstyle, wearing no shirt just blue ripped jeans on. The teenager’s eyes are open and staring at the ceiling with his arms laying behind his head. Wondering about how the first day of school is going to be tomorrow. It’s his sophomore year and he is overly excited, but his face doesn’t appear that way. His face has no facial expression at all, just a plain face. He takes a long breath in and pauses for a moment. He then releases the gasp of air and rolls over to his side.

I’m not sure if “Orion. A” is some sort of chapter title or a formatting mistake. “Breeze of wind” is odd and unnatural. The first two sentences should be one sentence. The first four sentences feel as if they could be condensed down to one. A “squeaking ache noise starts coming from the bed” is going to come across like something sexual is going on. Why is he shaking his leg? There are lots of issues with the wording and grammar so I’m assuming English isn’t your native language. You’re probably going to need to find someone to proofread your writing for you to make it more readable. There is too much focus on his facial expression and the description of it could be cut down significantly. Overall, there isn’t a hook here and the writing feels very wordy.


I know they’re still out there, Thomas thinks as he studies the unchanging darkness through the windshield of his trusty, old Bronco. “Presumed dead” was a statement he refused to accept. The possibility of their survival is one of the few hopes he still holds on to.
Hidden treasures came to mind when they first found the map on the back of the letters, thanks to Emily’s deductive skills.
This relentless feeling in his soul has only grown stronger as of late. It has become a calling, inexplicable and unavoidable.
He’s not usually one for such action and has only been driving a year. This time, however, he has help. He glances over at the pretty girl in the passenger seat.

“Trusty, old Bronco” reads a bit funny to me and feels outdated (not suited to YA). “Was a statement he refused to accept” is a bit awkward and is also in past tense when the rest of the paragraph is in present tense. The wording of the second paragraph is awkward and would be smoother if broken up into two sentences. I would also start with “when they first found the map” rather than “hidden treasures.” “This relentless feeling in his soul” seems melodramatic. “It has become a calling” feels a bit stuffy/formal for YA as does “not usually one for such action.” The third paragraph is too vague to hold any meaning or to function as a hook.


I was eleven when the Kaibutsu destroyed my home. At first they emerged as a tiny black cloud in the sky but within minutes they swarmed over our farms, our schools, our parks, and our houses. They flew low to the ground and spewed fire, igniting everything I had known and loved.

People told me I was lucky that day, that I was lucky my brother and I had been playing near the river, lucky that a stranger had seen the sky and pulled us into a concrete bunker, lucky to have viewed the giant pillars of smoke rising from the ground and live to tell about it.

Days later the Kaibutsu razed the land, demolishing any structures that had not been burned to ash and blown away by the wind. Within a week they had begun their work. Day and night the Kaibutsu removed mounds of soil and rock, tunneling deeper and deeper into the earth, ever searching for the precious minerals they craved. Some said their tunnels grew to reach more than a mile into the earth. Others said the tunnels must be more than ten miles deep by now. I didn’t care how deep they burrowed into the earth like worms. All I knew was that the Kaibutsu had left a gaping, empty hole where my life had once been.

Opening with backstory about a disaster that destroyed the protagonist’s home or family is fairly common. I would consider whether you really need to start with this backstory. “Within minutes” weakens the second sentence. What do these Kaibutsu look like? I can’t visualize them. Are they bugs? Dragons? I’m not sure if they’re small or large. “Within a week they had begun their work” threw me off because it wasn’t clear that their “work” wasn’t demolishing the houses (which already happened). The backstory starts to get boring by halfway through the third paragraph. I would probably recommend starting elsewhere.


Marcel Dillon looked down from the 3,000 metre summit felt like the King of the world.

He stood with his back to the telescope, the dark wings of the dome open wide to expose the illuminated structures beneath them. His hands cupped the steel flask of hot coffee, and he shivered as the wind whipped at his jacket. He looked over his shoulder to see if he was alone.

No one had followed him out. The concourse in front of the observatory was bare apart from the squat mass of their old Land Rover Discovery, which sat there waiting to take them back down to civilisation. Ahead of him, the arid slope of the Cerro Armazones swept away in darkness.

He leaned back, and looked up through the bitter, clear air to the starlit trail of matter that made up the local arm of the Milky Way.

My God, he thought, we must go there, we must.

The first sentence isn’t grammatically correct and is also a bit cliché, which is a shame because the writing in the rest of the excerpt is much stronger. I’m not sure what you mean by the “dome” of the telescope or the “illuminated structures,” but I’m assuming it has something to do with this being scifi. “His hands cupped” could just be “he cupped,” but I might be overly picky when it comes to unnecessarily attributing actions to hands or other body parts rather than the character himself. “Wind whipped at his jacket” is a really common description, not quite a cliché, but common enough that I think it weakens the sentence. The voice is solid and there’s a nice flow. I would keep reading.


Times of great strain require great sacrifice.

That’s what Christa Crawford’s mother told her trying to convince her then 11 year old daughter that what was best for her was to remove her from her extended family, friends, city, planet, solar system, life.

She was told that her sacrifice would be the salvation of the human race. Not a light thing to place on the narrow shoulders of someone not yet at puberty.

But the Earth was not willing to sustain humanity’s abuse of her much longer, which forced the lives of Christa’s small family — just her mother and her — to join with roughly a quarter of a million others in an asteroid turned generation ship to the stars.

The second paragraph is awkward because it’s such a long sentence. “Salvation of the human race” is sort of a cliché phrase and even though you’re using it to convey how dramatic the situation was made out to be, it still gives a bit of a generic vibe. It feels like you’re summarizing the premise of your story rather than pulling the reader into a compelling scene. If possible, start the novel with a scene rather than this setup information. I need a character to connect to, a clear problem, an interesting setting, etc. to get excited about this story.


Mom hit the soldier on the head with his torch, then we slipped out the back of the canopy of the grunting truck, the radio the German colonel nabbed us for, clutched under my mother’s arm. As the green Opel Blitz truck faded into the dusk over the Vistula River Bridge, we stood, immobilized in horror, gazing upon our small town of Maly as it burned, fire licking its buildings into ash that once filled our lives with hope.

“Mom,” I whispered to her, grasping her hand, a grip that reflected my pain. “Our home.”

The center of Owoc Market Place where I’d rode on the multicolored merry-go-round with Mom and Dad before Germany invaded Poland, smoked a spiraling gray cloud into the orange flamed sky – memories burned into ash.

Starting with action can work, but this feels like an excerpt taken from the middle of a scene. There is too much packed into the first sentence which makes it hard to understand and to feel oriented in the scene. When they get out of the truck, there should be more sense of urgency to reinforce that they are trying to escape, otherwise there seems to be no tension about getting caught. The last sentence of the first paragraph means the ash filled their lives with hope. I would cut out the second use of ash in the third paragraph because it feels redundant. This could be a nice place to start the novel, but the reader needs to be better oriented to the scene and the writing needs to be smoothed out.


Not even Colin Graham Cole thought he’d get the internship.

His fencing championships, boxing titles, and academic record crammed into the single-page application did not compensate for his last name at the top. His family didn’t have money or status-not like the others. He trained himself for disappointment. But, it never came: today, he somehow stood beside four other interns in the debriefing room. Today, he would go Inside and be firmly on the path toward becoming an Officer-toward making my name more important than all the rest.

Instructor Caius prowled past the line-up of five Rookies interns, growling, “Why all boys? They’re useless.”

The wording of the first line gave me the impression that I should know who Colin Graham Cole is, which made me pause. “He trained himself for disappointment” reads a bit awkwardly and I think it could be reworded to something like, “He had prepared himself for disappointment.” I’m not connecting to this character because I don’t really understand the setting or what type of officer he’s becoming. Rather than fencing and boxing, perhaps you could introduce some worldbuilding by giving him accomplishments that reflect the scifi setting. This would help get the reader oriented and would probably help with creating a hook.


The walls were fortified steel and concrete, neutral grays lit by harsh white lights mounted in the two-story high ceiling. The floor was concrete, too, but they’d let me sit on a soft, checkered blanket in front of the little glass statue.

It was a small figurine of a woman— the famous hero Gaea, the one I was to replace one day. Though it was crudely carved, created to be broken, she had solid stance, her hands on her hips, and a vague attempt had been made to chisel out her famous musculature. They hadn’t bothered to give her a face, but it didn’t matter. At this point, I recognized Gaea from pure gesture.

I focused on the four-inch statuette again, but it didn’t budge. Dr. Kim promised it was only three ounces heavier than yesterday’s statue, but I was starting to doubt his claim. I frowned at it, squinted at it, made furious gestures with my hands, but Gaea didn’t move. At four and a half years old, I still hadn’t built up much patience.

“They’d let me sit” doesn’t flow as smoothly as I would like. I think “they had given me a soft checkered blanket to sit on” (or something similar) would read smoother. I think the second paragraph could be condensed. For example, you could jump from “created to be broken” to something like “but I recognized her solid stance, hands on her hips, and her roughly chiseled musculature.” The character being four and a half is a bit jarring in a way that’s almost funny since the voice is mature and then suddenly the reader is imagining it coming from a four-year-old. I’d mention her age earlier or make it clear that she’s looking back on a memory with an older perspective.


Carpenter Harris had found herself in another routine. But unlike her two jobs or her graduate school degree, this routine was solely for her. A routine where she knew exactly what she’d see through every step of the way. That routine came to a swift halt when she noticed an odd shape on the trail’s embankment. She had decided to go investigate. Slowly and steadily, Carpenter bound over to the shape. The steep incline was much more difficult to navigate than she initially realized. She used her hands to keep herself steady, grabbing onto exposed roots and dry branches for further stabilization. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Carpenter arrived at the odd shape.

“Routine” is repeated too many times which seems both vague and clunky. “Had decided” should be just “decided.” “Slowly and steadily” is a cliché description that I recommend avoiding. “Initially realized” should instead be something like “expected” or “anticipated.” “Further stabilization” reads awkwardly and isn’t needed. The odd shape is an interesting hook, but the writing itself needs strengthening.


Sigma Kepler Seven spun quietly in sspace. Small ships scurried around the planet. Going from one nation state to another, transporting people and goods. The people of course were slaves and the goods were for the most part drugs and other illicit substances. Of course larger ships sat in orbit for exportation of these goods as they got into lot sizes. They ignored the Warships that dropped out of hyperspace six hundred light minutes from the primary. The Heavy Cruiser and two light cruisers moved quietly toward the planet the four destroyers zipped ahead of them. Pirates and smugglers were not known for maintaining their sensors and other secondary systems. At the last minute the one ship raised the alarm, and the small craft scattered toward the hyper limit.

There’s a typo in the first sentence which doesn’t make a good impression. “They got into lot sizes” could be worded in a clearer way. Because you aren’t giving the reader any characters to worry about or invest in, it’s tough to be concerned with what’s going on. This gets boring very quickly because the ships are moving about without the reader having any sense of why it matters or why they should be invested. Pull the reader closer to a character as early as possible.


I was taught to fear the stars…

Looking up, there they were in all their deceptive beauty. My parents got to enjoy their magnificence. It wasn’t fair. For my generation, being able to see stars in the sky meant the death of thousands.

My bloodied fingers stuck to the wheel as I repositioned them. The floor of the boat puddled in red signaling me I was running out of time. I wiped my nose trying to stop the blood from running into my mouth, which was a current narrow stream faucet.

“I don’t want to die. I’m not going to die. I’m going to focus and do what Dad told me to do,” I thought and as I wiped more blood from my nose. It was then I noticed my hands were stained red too. The hem of my cotton dress dripped onto my shoes.

“I was taught to fear the stars” doesn’t have any clear meaning and the paragraph that follows doesn’t make it much clearer so I think it’s not as strong of a hook as it could be. “It wasn’t fair” seems a little petty/odd if the stars mean thousands of people die. “Puddled in red” is awkward wording. “Which was a current narrow stream faucet” is worded oddly and also refers to the mouth not the nose (based on the sentence construction). It doesn’t seem noteworthy that her hands are stained red since she’s wiping blood from her nose. This could be an interesting place to start, but I think more clarity would help.


A dead leaf smacked into Ember’s face. Her eyes snapped open.
She jumped back. Her paws slipped on the frosty bark. She landed with an oof on her stomach, legs splayed around the branch she’d been standing on. Her heart pounded in her ears.
‘It was a leaf, Ember,’ she thought. ‘Just a leaf. A very late leaf. Ow. Well, that was graceful. Beautiful form for someone downed by rotting tree debris.’ She sighed. ‘So, why don’t you just hang around like that for a few moments? Or you could get up. You should, now that your legs are all nice and scraped up. But do I really want to?’

This seems to be MG rather than YA. I’m assuming that she is sitting in a tree when she’s hit by a leaf? This could be clearer. How would a leaf knock an animal/creature from a tree? The long section of her internal thoughts is a bit awkward and feels too lengthy. I’m not sure you’re starting the novel at a compelling point in the story.


Mage was running full tilt through the village’s lazy afternoon crowd when his sister’s voice stopped him.
“Mage! Come back! Help me!”
Mage skidded to a halt so fast, his pet dragon, Methuselah, bumped into his back. Undeterred by the small flying lizard, Mage turned around looking for his older sister amongst the midday shoppers.
“Sketch?” he called. She’d been right behind him till a few moments ago. He spotted her several meters back, her brown hair had started to escape from its long braid and her cheeks were flushed from running. Her bow creased as she scowled down at the mess on the street. The load she had been carrying, their father’s lunch, had been knocked from her hands by a careless vendor’s hover cart.
“Mage!” She called again. “Help me pick this up before it gets trampled.”

I’m pretty sure this is MG rather than YA. The opening dialogue gives the impression something a lot more interesting is going on so it’s a tad disappointing that she’s just dropped a lunch. Describing the lunch as “the load” seems odd to me. I’m not sure what you mean by “her bow creased.” I’d like a stronger sense of Mage’s personality, what might be at stake for him or what might be motivating him, just a hint at something more.


Colonel Thaddeus Rogers wouldn’t have ever imagined that humans could live in a planet like Gemba. This close to Kyeva, her radiation made the sky a shiny blue that was irritating to look at for a prolonged time, without mentioning the unbearable heat, which was even dangerous, known to cause spontaneous ignitions of the petrochemical residues that were extracted from this planet’s mantle. His race, as he constantly corroborated, were able to withstand any extreme circumstances that could bring them closer to their long-wanted revenge.
When he had heard about the Falkovs, he had scheduled the trip without a second to lose, not even realizing how far away his ambition was taking him. As far away as to the inner edge of the goldilocks zone. An endless sea of synchronously working deep-well extractors pointed the way from the heliport in the city of Rodos to their breathtaking residence.

Nothing about the content or style feels like YA. “Without mentioning” reads awkwardly and isn’t working well. “Even dangerous” seems disposable to me. “His race, as he constantly corroborated” is very difficult to understand without reading the sentence a second time. The last sentence is also hard to understand and I found myself rereading it to decipher the meaning. YA readers aren’t going to work this hard to understand what you’re writing so I’d opt for a simpler/clearer style.


Dani crept down the stairs of the expansive front porch dragging a tattered suitcase behind her. She had haphazardly stuffed her entire life into a single piece of luggage. She wiped a tear from her charcoal lined eye and slammed the driver’s side door shut. The house looked peaceful in the fading shadows of moonlight. Its’ perfect exterior hid the crumbling family inside. A family she was no longer a part of and never really had been. Dani looked away from the house and knew for certain she would never return. Never.

This comes across as very melodramatic which makes it hard to take Dani seriously or to invest in what’s happening. Specifically “Its perfect exterior hid the crumbling family inside” feels very melodramatic. Because it seems she is being melodramatic, the reader doesn’t feel sorry for her or worried for her but rather assumes she’s exaggerating about her family crumbling because of teen angst. Why does Dani creep down the stairs and then slam the car door? To me, this gives contradictory vibes.


The sound is felt before it is heard. The rattling vibration of a distant fight between ground and steel. He recognizes it immediately after years in the belly of that monstrous beast. The shaking from the engines soothes like a mother’s womb, yet every stroke of the valves, every beat of his heart works relentlessly to bring them into harms reach. Now, all it takes is a subtle resonance through the body to cause it to trigger fight or flight responses and the urge has never been this intense. You’re never at war with yourself like you are fighting in one.

Cold and restless feet slowly walk in place on a thin veil of snow revealing dark rock beneath. Jenner Krauz is a bit too tall and lean for his station but relentless and intimidating. Just what high-command wants in an officer. He chooses to hide his calculating eyes behind a pair of blackened round glasses held in fine brass arcs. Reading people indiscriminately gives him self-confidence at the cost of some distance to the crew that the other officers don’t struggle with but that’s fine by him. They can call him whatever they want behind his back as long as they follow the Stabskapitänleutnant’s orders when he faces them. Now if only that worked on the approaching figure perhaps he wouldn’t even have to freeze his toes off out here.

There are some strong elements to your voice, but too often the wording is awkward, odd, or clunky. Some of it can’t be understood until reading it a second time (which most readers won’t bother with). For example, “fight between ground and steel” doesn’t have any clear meaning when first read. “Through the body” seems initially to refer to the ship, but I think it’s meant to refer to a person. “Like a mother’s womb” is cliché.

The wording of the first and fifth sentences of the second paragraph are odd in a way that makes them harder to understand. I’m not sure what you mean by “blackened” glasses (Are they dirty, old, or something else?). My brain isn’t even going to attempt to pronounce “Stabskapitänleutnant” because it’s too long and too much effort to sound out. You will find most readers are going to fill this in with a shortened or nonsense sound to avoid sounding it out.


Zoe woke to the familiar, metallic smell of dry blood and antiseptic, and bandages wrapped tightly around her skull. Immediately, she knew the update had been a success. Slowly, her eyes peeled open, painful light piercing her retinas. A low rumble of voices drifted from the living room, quickly fading with the light as her fragile grasp on consciousness was lost.
She woke again to dappled orange light on the ceiling. She gradually sat up and surveyed the slowly spinning room, nausea eventually subsiding. Drowsily, she fumbled under the bed to find her slippers. She stood, holding onto the bed’s headboard and took her nightgown from the bedside table. A lock of mousy brown hair fell from it as she put it on.

I like the opening hook and the questions it raises. A character waking up, their eyes adjusting, and feeling nauseous is a pretty common combination of events that might be too expected and could undermine what could be a compelling hook.

This doesn’t mean you have to change the opening entirely, but I definitely recommend minimizing obvious/standard descriptions that readers have seen over and over: “metallic smell of dry blood,” “bandages wrapped tightly,” “light piercing her retinas,” “voices drifted” “spinning room,” “mousy brown hair.” This might seem nitpicky, but a high concentration of common descriptions gives an unoriginal vibe to writing.


The next time I open my eyes I have a throbbing headache. My head is pulsing at the same rhythm as my heart. Sometimes harder, sometimes softer.
Slowly I push myself in a sitting position and the pulsing decreases a little bit. I see my sleeves are covered with sand and those small leaves that stick easily to the fabric. Then world starts spinning around and it takes about twenty seconds to focus my eyes again.
Looking around, I see my surroundings disappearing in black. The clouds are clustered together above my head, so no moonlight can lighten up the road or the trees along the road. The shadows start to take up the spaces between the trees around me. None of the street lights are on and my eyes can’t see much in the dark.

The description of the headache could be limited to just the first sentence with no loss in understanding. It feels dwelled on for too long. “Those small leaves that stick easily to the fabric” is vague and unclear. As someone who lives very far from any beaches, I don’t know of any leaves that would be near the sand. “Twenty seconds” feels oddly specific.

I think maybe something supernatural is going on with things turning dark, but with the mentions of clouds and streetlights it seems as if perhaps it’s simply getting dark outside. This could be clearer.


The kaleidoscope of light refracted from the tall crystal-like corridor gave me the strangest thought.
Look at all that wasted space! Twenty meters of vertical architecture, and the student’s pushed into the bottom as if peer pressure had grown so strong it now stood in gravity’s place. I couldn’t explain it. Unless the best students in the galaxy were stupid… Or maybe weightlessness wasn’t as amazing as I made it out to be…
Instead, I revelled in my freedom, pushed off the metal floorboards, floated clear of the guidance bars and slid along the glass to the top of the tall crystal arch. My skin tingled as I towered stories over the crowd.
– ‘right boys ‘n girls, wish there were more of us, or fewer of you. Said the tall man who faced the passengers. The twenty-year olds crowded around the two men while I clung to the ceiling above.

The first paragraph makes the character seem petty, which I don’t think is necessarily your goal. Unlikeable characters are fine, but I’m not sure that’s your intention here. Starting with a character complaining can make it more difficult for readers to connect.

The dialogue is formatted incorrectly. I expected the students to be teenagers based on the mention of peer pressure, the genre being YA, and the character/narrator sounding like a teen.