Thursday, July 02, 2009

New Beginning 658

Waurubr T’Saurakil, Consul to Earth of the Third Kimust Empire and captain of the Gaia-class space ship Daughter of Nausk, shook with rage as he gave the order to open fire. ‘This is for Hamari,’ he thundered through his side-mouth, as the first of the electromagnetic pulse devices detonated three thousand kilometres above the surface of the planet below. ‘And this is for Tureni’, as, ten milliseconds later, the anti-proton particle cannons - carried by autonomous micro-scout craft in higher orbits - obliterated the entirety of the planet’s satellite communications and feeble space-based weapons in a single all-spectrum flash of annihilation. The second wave of EMP weapons finished off the few electronic devices still operating on the planet after the initial blast – mainly those military systems the humans foolishly considered to be ‘hardened’ – leaving only a few subterranean facilities still operating. Waurubr, his anger now abating, instructed the ship’s synthetic control-mind to show him a selection of images of the destruction he had wrought. He growled with satisfaction at flying craft falling from the sky, roads blocked by immobile ground vehicles and, most of all, at the simultaneous blinking out of lights across the whole of the dark side of the planet. He briefly considered a last assault to dig out the buried electrical activity coming from the human government forces but, after a moment’s thought, decided that it would be more of a punishment for the planet to leave them be.

Mike sighed in exasperation as his boss, Tim, walked into the room. “What’s wrong?” asked Tim.

Mike threw his hands in the air and said, “I received this block of text via an intergalactic broadcast channel and I can’t decipher it for the life of me!”

Tim took a look at the message. “Hmm, let’s see...Waurubr T’Saurakil? Kimust, Nausk, Hamari, kilometres, Tureni . . . Ah, don’t worry about it, Mike. This text is clearly written in an alien language that no human could possibly comprehend. But you get high marks for effort--I would’ve stopped reading after the first line.”

Opening: Fred.....Continuation: Matthew


writtenwyrdd said...

The chosen continuation illustrates the sad truth, that this opening is so jammed with strange words, description and background information that it's impenetrable.

By the time I got to the side mouth my eyes were crossing; and by the time I got to the dialog they'd swivelled backwards in my head. This beginning needs most of its substance chopped and the rest reorganized to form a logical, cause and effect narrative so readers can follow the logic, too.

First off, I suggest paragraphs. Give our eyes a break! And second, don't start with all the background info. Your first sentence tells (too much) and doesn't show anything. You could just say "Captain T'Saurakil gave the order to open fire." We don't need to know everything about him at once.

And the "This is for Hamari" line is jarring because I don't have a clue what it means yet. I suggest you merely say, "As the first electromagnetic pulses detonated above the planet below..." [and then add that he did something that explains why they are bombing a planet.]

Logic of action has to flow through the scene. Yes, you start with something happening, but you have to help the reader immerse themselves in the scene. And by just dumping his huge paragraph of stuff with no introduction is not going to really interest them in your story.

Mame said...

Does the synthetic control mind get better performance? Or does it start to break down after 3,000 light years?

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I did stop after the first line.

Steve Wright said...

Well, it gets straight into the action, there's no denying that.

But. "Waurubr T'Saurakil"? Look, I admit I made up a "Zorpha Qv'naul" for a GTP a little while back, but that was ... you know ... a joke.

Why do hostile aliens (they seem to be hostile. Well, Mr. T'Saurakil certainly seems a bit miffed about something) have a class of spaceships named after a Greek earth goddess?

There seems to be a lot of pulp-SF style over-description here: "anti-proton particle cannons", "autonomous scout micro-craft", "synthetic control-mind". These things always ring a bit false. I'm typing this comment on a machine that was SF itself back when I was a kid reading "Doc" Smith - but it's not my "radio-networked artificial reasoning device"; I just call it a laptop.

Space opera is a semi-respectable field, these days, ever since Iain Banks started writing it ... trouble is, that means you've got stiff competition in that field. And in space opera, bigger is better, when it comes to technology - and your EMP weapons and autonomous scout micro-craft aren't, actually, all that impressive. Your Daughter of Nausk wouldn't last ten milliseconds against one of Banks's Culture warships, or, for that matter, against "Doc" Smith's Skylark of Valeron, back in its day. You've got to think really big in this genre.

(Yes, I know Iain Banks has silly names in his space operas. But he makes a sort of a running gag out of them ... and the names people actually use tend to be easy to pronounce, or easier than "Waurubr" anyway.)

Sarah Laurenson said...

Boy. His anger doesn't last long. Revenge (I suppose) fixed it really quick and now he's happy to relax and leave some of those pesky humans alive. Definitely not a human character.

I agree - this is too much too soon. And too dense - need more white space please. There are very few authors who entice me enough to wade through a book that requires this much work.

150 said...

I quit early too. The thing is, even if the opening line was "Tom Jones, Consul to Mars from the American empire and captain of the Enterprise-class space ship Daughter of Barry, shook with rage as he gave the order to open fire," I would still have quit, because the subject of that sentence is twenty words long and frankly I was getting bored waiting for a verb. I think this needs to be heavily cut and rearranged with the emphasis on action, not the (not unfamiliar) alien details. Like:

The first electromagnetic pulse device detonated three thousand kilometres above the surface of Earth. "That is for Hamari," thundered Consul Waurubr through his side-mouth. "And this is for Tureni." The second wave of EMP weapons finished off the planet’s satellite communications and space-based weapons.

The ship’s synthetic control-mind showed him images of the destruction he had wrought. Waurubr growled with satisfaction. Flying craft falling from the sky, roads blocked by immobile vehicles, the simultaneous blinking out of lights across the dark side of the planet. He considered a last assault to dig out the buried electrical activity coming from the human governments, but decided that it would be more of a punishment to leave them be.

(I don't really know how that is supposed to be punishment...)

Eric P. said...

Have to say I like the EMP weapons. But then I like most things that share my initials.

Although stories that involve the entire Earth being destroyed will always have a special place in my heart, I just can't get into this one. The problem is that this is just a bunch of names in search of a picture. What does it look like, feel like, sound like, when an anti-proton particle cannon sends off an all-spectrum flash of annihilation? That's a concept that's outside of most of our experiences, so show us what happens, don't just tell us the name. Same with most of the rest.

Dave Fragments said...

He considered a last assault ... but decided that it would be more of a punishment to leave them be.

False hope. He left them false hope.

This is to dense for a general audience.

Evil Editor said...

Is consul the right term for this guy? A consul, as I understand it, is someone appointed to live in a foreign country and look after his own country's commercial interests and assist his own people living in that country. So this guy from the Third Kimust Empire should be living on Earth, and probably shouldn't have a second job as captain of a space ship.

Empires do have military leaders. If America's consul to France were plotting to wipe out the entire country, he/she would be recalled immediately and we would assign our military to take over the destruction of France. A consul destroying a planet is like a plumber destroying Minnesota.

Matt said...

A wrestler destroyed Minnesota.

I didn't notice the misplaced consul title because I was too busy trying to sort out the alien names. To be fair, consul could have a different meaning on Warble's...(checking) Waurubr's home planet.

Having strange names in your book is okay (to a certain degree), but you have to introduce the reader to them in small doses.

Start out with Warble--maybe he's in his room praying to his god for the sins he is about to commit or something--and introduce us to the other strange names when necessary.

_*rachel*_ said...

My eyes went wide and I started trembling. No, really. That many gibberish words so close together sends me into shock.

Look, I know you're not going to name your characters Bob or Sally. But could you at least use words that you don't get by slamming the keyboard?

Simplify. Please. Now, if I were to rewrite this:
"This is for Hamari!" he thundered as they fired the first. "And this is for Tureni!"

In less than a minute, the human planet was gone.
You've got a whole lot less information, but you've got the action into something people will read.

none said...

Clearly I have read WAY too much bad SF, as I had no difficulty reading this at all. It's all those years in slush, I guess.

Oh, and people who can't cope with 20-word sentences, you might want to avoid Charles Dickens and Virginia Woolf, as their sentences often go into the 100s.

I felt very distanced from this, and didn't care at all, even though presumably I was being blown to atoms along with my cat, and really ought to care. There's no human dimension to this, so, la.

Evil Editor said...

Unchosen continuation:

"qaStaH nuq? nuqDaq 'oH puchpa''e'"? asked the only remaining Klingon. "Heghlu'meH QaQ jajvam" he screamed as the lights faded from his console.

--Aimee K. Maher

Steve Wright said...

Buffysquirrel, I grew up reading "Doc" Smith and Isaac Asimov and prose stylists of their ilk, so I didn't have any trouble reading it either.

Who was it who said that the Golden Age of science fiction is about fifteen? I would probably have lapped this up when I was fifteen. But that was long ago and far away, and my tastes have changed since Jim Callaghan was Prime Minister. (Or Jimmy Carter was President, if you prefer.) The new, grown-up, 21st Century Steve recognizes, sadly, that Smith and Asimov are a bit on the clunky side.

Aimee, my Klingon dictionary is in my other jacket; could we get a translation please?

GenreReviewer said...

As BuffySquirrel said, "I felt very distanced from this, and didn't care at all....There's no human dimension to this, so, la."

I could follow this, but I wasn't engaged by it. Everything happens in a white space: we don't know who he is as a person (i.e. why should we care?), what happened to make him act this way ("revenge" is too vague to engage my interest), what he looks like, or what his surroundings looks like. You tell us more about the weapons, which I don't really care about without this other information. However, I'm not looking for an infodump, either.

I'm guessing you'd be better served by starting this story a little bit sooner in the timeline so people can understand why this is happening.

pacatrue said...

Yep, paragraphs are good. But it's possible there's a formatting issue in the email or something.

Starting off with an alien destroying the Earth is all good, but it sure does sound like you are giving the reader tons of explanation along with the action. The scene doesn't feel lived in by its characters.
As someone said, the various weapons used will have names, not descriptors. I think you can draw this out quite a bit and make it more interesting. If your reader can't hang with the destruction of the world for a page or two, they're not going to make it no matter what you do.

This reminded me somewhat of Hitchhiker's destruction of the world for a new expressway. Even though there's a lot of wrath being wrathed, I don't really feel the emotion. If this is just set up for the human survivor story to follow, would you want to start with those human survivors? Could be very cool to see the weapons at work from the perspective below. If our alien captain is a main character, let's spend some time with it and really get what he's so pissed about.

Mame said...

I can't find the website translator I used.

It was something along the lines of "What the hell" and "This can't be good".

Mame said...

You know, I don't think it's that hard to make up a language that people can stomach. Borrow a yappy one year old and hit the record button.

Anonymous said...

GUDwin's law: As a comment trail grows longer, the probability of Buffysquirrel mentioning she reads "slush" increases...

Xenith said...

Too many proper nouns in the first sentence, that is the problem.

Is this supposed to be humorous? With some paragraph breaks, the first sentence obliterated and some of the other sentences shortened, it could work.

If it's trying to be serious hard or military SF, this is not going to work. Too pulpy. Too distant.

If it's some bizarre TV episode or dream before the mundane regular story starts, um, no. Don't do that.

Jeb said...

[i]Although stories that involve the entire Earth being destroyed will always have a special place in my heart... [/i]

Mine too. Ditto movies that toast New York City. That it's been done a thousand times is testament to its enduring popularity, because, honestly, haven't we all had days when nuking the world seemed like a viable option?

All the comments I might have made on this opening have been done, so I will merely add, "Take the crit to heart, author. You will likely have a willing audience for an accessible Earth-destroying story."

Adam Heine said...

I'm concerned that this is all just set up for a different story, one that takes place on post-apocalyptic Earth and has nothing to do with Waurubr T'Salkinfeld.

_*rachel*_ said...

My problem with the first sentence is twofold: 4 made-up words and a really long title, which interrupts the flow of the sentence. It's actually quite similar to a technique used to great effect by the illustrious--though often impoverished, just like my little brother was before he got his first allowance, after which he saved money like crazy, just like he saves candy for as long as he can (up to a year or so) so he can have it for college and not go candy-less while he's there--winners of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, which has recently posted its 2009 results, which are enough to keep me laughing for ages because they're so funny I'm glad I wasn't drinking anything, because I really do care about this laptop, which was once owned by a man with many cats, who probably loved both him and his laptop--and they did love his laptop, because we found some cat hairs on it. True story! Though yours isn't anywhere close to that bad; I just figured I'd mention it because of the writing prompt.

Dave Fragments said...

I'm concerned that this ... takes place on post-apocalyptic Earth and has nothing to do with Waurubr T'Salkinfeld.

I thought of that when I read the opening. What if the story is of the survivors of Earth who go out and seek revenge on Waurubr T’Saurakil.

If that is the case, then put this aside and start with the survivors crawling out of the rubble.

Or alternately, tell the story from the earth side POV and leave Waurubr T’Saurakil out of it until the end.

Min Yin said...

I didn't have any trouble getting through this, but I was a little distracted by the fact that the consul was able to speak a whole sentence-plus ("This is for Hamari, and") in less than ten milliseconds. Also, he has time to calm down and issue a command to his ship before the airplanes have had time to fall from the sky. Is he operating in a much speedier reality?

Also, this particular premise (wiping out communications/ electricity with a giant pulse) is not especially unique in SF. Can you think of another way of wreaking planetary havoc that gets your premise where it needs to be?

Xenith said...

Nah, it's someone playing a computer game.

Xenith said...

Anon: Stay away from Buffy's twitter feed!

Mame said...

"because I really do care about this laptop, which was once owned by a man with many cats, who probably loved both him and his laptop--and they did love his laptop, because we found some cat hairs on it."

~I can only die so many times in one f&%$ing day.

_*rachel*_ said...


I did wonder a bit about the timing, but he's got a side mouth--I'm presuming that means more than one mouth--so I'm not sweating it yet.

none said...

Lol, Anon :). I shall try not to mention it quite so often in future!

And Rachel...that wasn't hard to follow :). And yes, cats do love laptops, with that special cat love reserved for anything warm.

Ruth (Book Focus) said...

Eh, I probably could have followed it too, but it's so long and dull I gave up after the first line... and then felt lazy so went back and skimmed the rest of it. It's translatable, if you put the effort in. But it. Is. DULL.