Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Public Slushpile Winner #3

TITLE: The Victorious Dead
GENRE: SF/Space Opera

“Where the hell is my ship, Skrankle?” Captain Vaslisha Tor Dain slammed the salvage dealer against the peeling office wall and pressed hard on his neck. She swore and stepped sideways as the putrid orange slime he oozed in self-defense crept towards her feet. If he ruined her second favorite pair of boots, she was going to do more than choke him—providing the smell that came along with the slime didn’t suffocate her first.

Vas was a simple sort of mercenary. All she wanted in life was her ship, her crew, and a good fight. Now this whimpering scum bag destroyed that. Her gut knotted up as worry and anger fought inside her. Anger was an old friend. Worry was far closer to a stranger and she liked it that way. Skrankle was getting to share all of her feelings first hand and wasn’t faring well from it. The dark blue patches covering his red fleshy cheeks couldn’t bode well for his continued survival.

Vas squeezed his neck tighter.

More orange slime dripped down the wall behind Skrankle. His left arm twitched out and tugged futilely at her hand. He got enough air to choke out a few words, “I said to you, Captain, Victorious Dead is in slip five. There she’s been all month.”

Vas increased pressure on his throat until he darkened at least two more shades, then let him collapse. She wiped her hands on her heavy brown duster. While not traditional starship mercenary garb, it suited her just fine. “Slip five is empty, Skrankle. You were supposed to fix her. Not lose her.”

The Ilerian gathered himself and slithered to his desk. He slurped into his chair with a heavy sigh and nasty sucking sound. The rustle of bureaucratic skill he demonstrated in calling up his vid-screen indicated he’d recover from her stranglehold. Unfortunately.

“Records of mine say the Victorious Dead docked here twenty-nine days ago. Scheduled decommission ten days ago…”

Vas pulled her heavy blaster free of its hip holster the instant “decommissioned” left his thin purple lips. “You ripped my ship apart?” The polished tip of her weapon found a home against his temple. The urge to pull the trigger made her mouth go dry, but the need to find her beloved ship forced her finger to stay still. An odd feeling slammed into her, starting in the pit of her stomach and clawing its way up to her throat. It took almost a full minute to recognize it as fear. She forced it back down.

Skrankle whimpered, and frantically pushed a few more buttons. “No, I’m sure there’s mistake— a mistake. Yes, yes. Mistake, I’m sure.”

She kept the blaster to his head and leaned over to look out into the space station shipyard through the slimy window of his office. Vas tried not to think what he’d done to the window to leave that light green ichors on it.


  1. I'm still not sure what a space opera is or what makes it different from scifi, but there's good voice here as well as some nice world building.

    I do see some opportunity to tighten up your writing and get rid of some internal monologue/explanation (or at least delay it) to make this scene read a little faster.

    I'm not sure I'd read on, but this is more an issue of my genre preference than anything you've done here.

  2. This isn't my genre, but I like this because it's fun, and I get a real sense of character and voice immediately. But please, speed up the pace just a bit. The second paragraph can either be cut in half or you can drop it entirely.

  3. This excerpt made me laugh out loud-you definitely caught the voice of the MC and the prose fits the subject perfectly!

    If I had a nitpick, it would just be to cut the scene a bit so as to pick up the pace.

    Otherwise, well done!

  4. There's definitely good stuff here. I feel the captain's anger, and I get her character real well.

    What dragged the scene down for me were the long expositions between dialog. Some of it fits (like the action), some flows but could be tightened (like the second paragraph -- I'd scratch all but the first three sentences, for example), and some seems out of place (like her thoughts about her clothes).

    If the prose continued like this, I probably wouldn't read on much farther. Vas is an interesting character, but I can only take so much explanation while I'm waiting for the action to happen, you know?

  5. Good voice and I like how you got into the action right away.

    I do suggest you introduce Skrankle's name sooner. I had to reread a bit to connect him with Vas's victim at first.

    Loved the line about the ooze ruining her second favorite pair of boots. :)

  6. I loved the query and this is good too, but the way the author often stated the effect before the cause, (she swore and stepped sideways as the...) slowed things down because you're mentally backtracking every other sentence.

    And the way the opening conversation is broken with exposition makes it so that you don't know what the problem is that's provoked this fight until the fourth paragraph. It weakens the impact of the fight.

    The voice in the query and in the excerpt are great, but the writing slows the pace too much for me, especially for the genre.

  7. I loved the query, and I do like this, but I think a lot of it can be cut. Focus on the now, and let the backstory and characterization come later. What you need to do is hook early on, not give details. Those can wait.

  8. I really like the voice here and I definitely get a sense of Vas' personality and emotions in this scene.

    I would agree that there are certain areas where the writing can be tightened a little. The last couple sentences in the second paragraph read a little awkwardly to me.

    Also, I'm a visual thinker, so not being able to come up with a clear picture of where Skrankle was oozing slime from distracted me.

  9. I like that you've jumped right into the primary conflict here, and shown us a bit of your main character, but I did have a few niggling issues I'd like to make suggestions on:

    Having her swear and step sideways before saying why she's doing so was a bit confusing. Maybe reverse the sentence somehow?

    There are around a dozen sentences between her first line and his first line. Maybe cut out the second paragraph and slip that in gradually, so we continue on with the action?

    If Skrankle was intimidated by her, would he let out a heavy sigh?

    You say it took almost a full minute for her to recognize her fear, but I doubt Skrankle took a minute to respond if he was 'frantic'.

    Although this could use some tightening (with a little less repetitive description of his alien-ness), I'd probably continue reading.

  10. Yay for sci-fi!
    Anyway, i'd cut the second paragraph, or recycle elsewhere. The exposition and character explanation really slows the pace. Even if you just moved it down a few paragraphs, that would help. But so soon after the beginning it really pulled me out of the prose.
    I could also use more description of skrankle. Seeing what the aliens actually look like is so important to me when i read sci-fi. I want to know if he's bipedal, or a stack of rings, or a cilia waving snake that curves like a sin wave, if that makes sense. A sentence or two would be perfect.
    Otherwise, i enjoyed this. She seems spunky and tough, which is always nice. And again, yay for space!

  11. I love this line, I think it was used in the query: Vas was a simple sort of mercenary. All she wanted in life was her ship, her crew, and a good fight.

    I think it works to open the story. Then you could proceed with the action scene. I love a quippy line to set the scene rather than the scene itself that I have no context for, but that may be my personal preference.

    There's room to pare down some adjectives; some aren't needed at all, like the repetition of slimy. While an excellent word choice once, there are other ways you could creatively convey this same feeling using verbs and nouns. Maybe her blaster butted against the window and stuck to it.

    I liked the concept in your query, I would read on.

  12. I like it. Good, tight writing, You don't waste words on needless description. This is a highly prized trait in a sci-fi writer in my books.

    However, I think it's also a disadvantage. I could have used a tad more description of Skrankle - I was a bit adrift as to what he looked like.

    Other than that: Vas could use something, even if small, to make me root for her. Right now, she's just mean.

    Also, I dislike the names- especially 'Vaslisha', which was difficult for me to get my head around. That's personal preference though.

    All in all, really good. :)

  13. Good conflict to start with, and you're showing Vas's character well (though do watch for a few tell-y phrases.)

    My biggest comment on this is flow. The prose doesn't read as smoothly as it could, and I'd like to know just a little bit more of what Skrankle is. He's gross, whatever he is ;)

  14. You say "He got enough air to choke out a few words." At that point I expected a few quick, incoherent and desperate words, but then he says a perfectly thought out, formal sentence. That part made me pause and think about the writing.

    Also your main character is not very likeable...comes across as being a hardass just for the sake of being a hardass.

    I like Star Wars and I could live with the female Han Solo vibe, but again she'd have to be more likeable.

  15. I like the action in the first sentence, but the rest of the first paragraph bogs down the action, I think. Maybe cut everything after "pressed hard on his neck".

    The second paragraph has the same issues. It starts off really strong(I love the first sentence and how it gives insight into the MC) and then kind of meanders. And we have no idea who she's threatening until halfway though.

    Even with all the slimy description I never get a full picture of what Shrankle looks like. There's a lot of it, but it's all disjointed and spread out over lots of other things.

    I really like the third to last paragraph and the way it introduces the main conflict.

    I have no idea what a space opera is, but I'm definitely curious!

  16. Love the concept. I'd call it SF unless there is some weird soap opera twist to put it into a weird sub-genre!

    I'd definitely read on, but there is room to cut a lot of useless words. Now, up, out etc. And the last sentence sounds a little off.

    Sounds like a really fun read, love the MC - I'm reminded of Vash from Star Trek NG, both from the name and personality.

  17. Not sure what a space opera is:)

    I'd start with the description and then put in the dialogue. Nice job starting in action.

    MC is done well. I like her worry about the ship and recognizing her fear.

    I don't know what Shrankle looks like-other than that he oozes and has red fleshy cheekes and blue patches.

  18. I loved the query, and I think the story lived up to the hype. The MC is hilarious. I think there are just enough details to keep the story moving and allow imagination to fill in the gaps. I would LOVE to read more! Good luck!

  19. Re: Space opera. Apparently it means a lot of things.

    The most current definition I know is sort of the sci-fi version of "epic fantasy," like Star Wars. But mostly it's just a nitpicky distinction between different kinds of sci-fi.

    For me -- because the definition is fuzzy, because some of the definitions are pejorative, and because it's not a genre with its own shelves -- I would strongly recommend just calling this science fiction, especially when talking to agents and editors.

    This is from someone who tried (and failed) to query a "science fantasy" novel ;-)

  20. Thanks for all the great feedback! :)

    Yes, SF or Space Opera is hard to sell right now. The reason I stuck with space opera as a genre is that I recently had an NY editor request the full mss after reading the first page (as posted here) he really liked the space opera aspect (Star Wars is considered by many a space opera for folks still trying to figure it out ;)).

    But I got some wonderful feedback from you all- thank you all so much!

    The Author :)

  21. Late to the party...

    It was a pretty good read and I like the premise.

    I agree that Skrankle needs more upfront description. You tried, admirably, to work it into the narrative, but I felt like I was putting a puzzle together, which didn't help me in picturing the scene until the end. I also agree that the second paragraph (though I'd try to keep the first line) slows down the action in the scene. Also, the description of her fear from "The urge..." to "... forced it back down" seemed unecessary. I think it would read stronger if you just continued with his response.

    I felt the line about light green ichors was a little awkward.

    But I did like the voice and the set up. I think it'll be really great when it's tightened up.