Nathan Bransford, Author

Monday, August 9, 2010

Page Critique Monday

Don't let any San Franciscans trick you -- yes, San Francisco is having the coldest summer in fifty years, yes, San Franciscans will complain like the dickens and act like it's the apocalypse with a side of brimstone, but press us and we will reveal that no, we don't want to trade with your heat wave, thankyouverymuch. The complaints are a ruse. You've been warned.

Now then! Page Critique Monday!

Refresher on how this works:

- If you're interested in submitting a page for a future critique, enter it in this thread in the Forums (and be sure and check out the directions in the first post).
- I use a random number generator to select the winning critique.
- Please please please remember the sandwich rule when offering your thoughts: positive, very very constructive thoughts, positive. I mean it. Err on the side of being nice.

As of this posting there were 410 posts in the thread, and the number that the good machine at gave me was..........


Congrats to Petronella, whose page is below.

Thistledown: Genesis
Genre: Science Fiction

Chapter 1: Jay’s Story: Birth

I became aware when the first of my six brains activated. At the same time, the Library, a vast fount of knowledge, linked to my newly activated brain. One of the many librarians allowed me access to but a tiny part of the vast database. Inspite of the small size of the area, I delighted in all the knowledge I found there. Into my dark, silent world came light in a rainbow of colours, and sounds in a range of tones. I learned of other things I needed to know about when the day came for me to leave the gestation tank in which my body took form. It would be a long time before that would happen. In the meanwhile, I played in my part of the library.

Moments before my birth, the second of my brains activated. This one governed movement, both automatic and volitional. Others of my kind would guide my automatic motions, and later teach me to undertake the volitional movements, which would be with me for the rest of my existence.

I waited, impatient to be born. After an indeterminate period of time, the top of the tank slid aside and a blurry red-lit world revealed itself. Two pairs of hands helped me to a standing position. The owners of the hands wiped the clear birth fluids from my body, making certain most the the jelly-like substance fell back into the tank.


Beth said...

Intriguing. It sounds really goopy, though. I like aliens.

"It would be a long time..." is passive.

I was confused by some of the stuff in the second paragraph. "Others of my kind would guide my automatic motions." Does that mean other brains? Or other aliens or cybernetic robots or whatever the MC is? Also, why would other whatevers need to guide the MC's automatic motions? They're automatic.

Julia Rachel Barrett said...

I am loving this cold weather! I would not go back to heat and humidity for anything! Well...I'll qualify that statement - my husband would have to drag me kicking and screaming back to heat and humidity, which is pretty much the way he dragged me to Cali - I worried about becoming Californicated! Too late!
The fog is perfect.
First page - interesting. I make it a point not to critique.

Anonymous said...

The concept hooked me, however the writing confused me. The first page is very passive and seems somewhat stilted. I sense what the writer is trying to accomplish, but I don't think his writing is yet equal to his ideas.

I would recommend the author find a vehicle to improve his writing style because he clearly has a great (BIG) idea that will make a compelling story, but I am afraid the current level of writing would not make it through the agenting/publishing labrynth.

I hope he/she will put the time in necessary to mold and polish their style as it would be a shame for someone with that much imagination to fall short due to problems that can be easily remedied with time, instruction and effort.

Best of luck.

gsfields said...

Despite a few awkard sentences, I was drawn into the story.

One sentence in particular bothered me,

"After an indeterminate period of time, the top of the tank..."

As a software developer and network analyst, I couldn't reconcile how the computer brain couldn't tell time. All computers have clocks.

You set up the anticipation, so just say something like, "Finally the time arrived and the top of the tank..."

Bane of Anubis said...

FWIW, I think starting with the last paragraph of the passage would be stronger.

Personally, I didn't have any issue with the writing/style/etc -- kind of fit the alien character, IMO... just think the first two paragraphs are backstory that don't pull the reader in all too quickly and could be better incorporated later.

Jon VanZile said...


I think there are some pretty awesome ideas wrapped in this enchilada of an opener. The idea of the six brains felt very unique and fresh, and there were some very interesting things hinted at. It's intriguing just on the strength of the concept.

However, if I was your editor, I'd ask you to pull me closer to the idea. I wanted you to show me what's happening. I want to feel it, experience it as if I was also waking up, brain by brain, in a tank of goop. I'm afraid you've managed a certain detachment from the material here. Instead of describing what happened, tell me how it felt to experience it. I don't know if that makes sense, but this seems like such an interesting idea that I found myself wishing for Jay's total immersion rather than the narrator's dispassionate observation.

Amy Lundebrek said...

I'm totally hooked by the idea, but I had to read many of the sentences two or three times to understand.

LaylaF said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
LaylaF said...

I think the story sounded absolutely fun and fascinating. Loved the idea about the brains being activated etc. Great first sentence. But then followed by the next one which didn't make sense to not a complete sentence. The sentence structures in general are a bit awkward and confusing. If the writer corrected that problem, I think it would be a big hit!

Kate said...

Well, I don't usually read sci-fi, so I'll say that upfront. I agree with some of the other comments: there's a lot of passive voice going on and it does feel a bit stiff. However, someone brought up that this makes sense...coming from an alien and all. I think it just needs some tightening/organizing. Otherwise, the concept sounds pretty neat!

robinC said...

The concept is great. Love the six brains and the idea of this alien – or whatever it is – being born.

I wasn't as drawn in at the beginning as I would have liked, and I think it’s because it feels like you’re using more words than you need to explain the situation. (You lost me at librarians) I also don’t understand the passage of time, on the one hand you mention near the end of the first paragraph that this “being” will be in this tank for a long time, but in the third paragraph the being (Jay?) is born.

I like the third paragraph a lot - great descriptive words that made me really see/feel the scene. You might consider starting there, with the actual birth instead of the explanation of the Library. And weave in all the important facts (if they are indeed important) as the story moves on.

Good luck! It sounds like an awesome story.

Maya said...

I thought it was very cool. I love the idea of 6 brains and it was certainly an intriguing first page.

I would get rid of some of the vague statements and replace them with more specific ones.

Example: "I delighted in all the knowledge I found there." What things? Math? Physics? Philosophy?
"I learned of other things I needed to know..." Like what?

Great start though, and good luck!

D.G. Hudson said...

Thanks #59-Petronella for offering your page for critique! I'm a sci-fi fan, so I like your intro.
One caution, though, on first reading I kept getting the visuals from the film Matrix. I'm left wondering who owns "those hands" that helped Jay out of the birth tank?

Nathan, San Francisco has enough going for it that a cold summer is no big deal. We West Coasters (even in Canada) are a tough breed. We just carry on and wear our summer clothes regardless, with a hoodie of course. When you live in an interesting place, you take the crummy weather in stride. Because, when it's nice, the west coast is beautiful.

k8 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Aunt Boomie said...

Interesting to consider a world in which we are aware at birth. The vagueness of the setting might be intentional, but as a reader I would like to experience this new world alongside the narrator. For example, the narrator says, "I delighted in all the knowledge I found there." Well I want to delight in it, too! Perhaps expound on the "light in a rainbow of colours" and "sounds in a range of tones." Provide specific colors, figures, images and sounds ...concrete images that will help make me feel as delighted as your narrator and eager to experience more.

Unrepentant Escapist said...

I like it. I would keep reading. I want to find out what happens next. You had me at six brains.

However, you would lose me if we didn't get to some hint of plot conflict in the next five or six pages or so.

I would also like to see more specific descriptions. It seems like a lot of telling instead of showing. No five senses stuff (though this might be intentional if your alien has no senses outside that which is fed to the brain by computer--if so, that's an interesting challenge for a writer to take on). For example, instead of saying the character was aware, I think it would be stronger if you had a specific detail. What awareness actually means. Ie, "When the first of my six brains clicked on, I woke up surrounded by a green gel that felt and tasted like ice. The sound of my own slow heartbeat thudded in my ears." Or something. Some sensation. This is made more difficult because your alien may not have a heart or know what ice is, so adjust to yourself at will. I need to feel the texture and fear of darkness to feel the wonder at the light of knowledge entering it.

I really want to know more about the librarians. What do they look like? Are they impersonal? Do they talk to him/her/it through the computer? I've always wanted to live in a library, so I like the concept.

A Rose by any other name... said...

Very intiguing, Petronella.

Anyway, I find that most of us tend to write a few dithery paragraphs until we hone in on the story.

I agree that the first paragraph is back story, but the second begins with an attention grabbing sentence and could well be a natural starting point. However, "Moments before my birth" and "after an indeterminate period of time" seem to be two contradictory phrases, so you would want to smooth that glitch out a bit.

Other than that, I see great potential for this story. It looks like a fun read. Congratulations,


Kate said...

Oh, and I'm not complaining about the temperatures. I love hot beverages and hoodies. People who complain about this weather have clearly NEVER BEEN TO HOUSTON IN AUGUST.

swampfox said...

Great SciFi concept, but delete " which my body took form." We already know that's what happens during gestation. And delete the next sentence, also, in favor of a better way of showing the person is still in there.

"...Indeterminate period of time..." doesn't work for me, but you have snared my interest in exactly what it is that comes out. A person, an alien, a predator? All we really know at this point is that whatever it is, it has six brains.

Reminds me of that show, Babylon 5, when the alien dude had six, well, six of something else.

Thanks for sharing.

Sue said...

Intriguing. You have a wonderful imagination.

Jeff said...

I agree that this is intriguing and very much a workable physical premise, but I always associate light with movement. And the plugging into the library, as great an idea as that is, I also associated with movement, so those things might need to be ironed out. They could be the crux of the whole story. I think the passive voice might work in this instance because the being isn't functioning actively yet. I think this could easily develop into a classic science-fiction story with an exciting plot and with a universal human endeavor-to move from passivity to activity. Interesting!

Petronella said...

I thank you all for your comments. You've given me quite a bit to think about. I kept the library at a minimum because by the end of the chapter the MC is disconnected from it and will never be linked to it again.

Will give all ideas presented consideration, specially about starting with the last paragraph.

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