Wednesday, April 15, 2009

20 Secret Agent

TITLE: Noah Zarc
GENRE: Middle-grade science fiction

JJ felt the heat on the soles of his feet intensify, even as the ever-thinning air grew colder. His thermo-suit popped and rattled, and he was sure it would disintegrate before he tore free of Earth’s gravity. Sam isn’t going to like this, he thought as he watched the blue sky above darken. He dared not look down. The act of turning his head would most likely send him careening off course, causing him to plummet back to the surface, eight miles below. Nevertheless, he knew he was still being followed. The blip on his heads-up display flashed a rhythmic red pulse. The beeping was slowing, so he had built some distance on the robot drones, but he knew they were still there, watching him rocket toward the blackness of space.

His brother Ham had told him the suit would never hold up under these conditions, but JJ knew Ham was just trying to discourage him from trying. “Don’t even think about trying to leave Earth in the thermo-suit,” he had said. “You’ll just burn up. Then we’ll have to tell Mom and Dad why their youngest son is nothing but a floating cloud of ash, drifting over the Atlantic.”

“Then why's the suit retrofitted with a second stage booster?” JJ asked.

“Because,” his sister Sam interrupted. “Some day, we might need it.” She pointed to Ham and herself. “In case of an emergency.”

Well, if this wasn’t an emergency, JJ didn't know what was.


  1. Definitley hooked! I'd love to see an MG sci-fi book, and this seems interesting. There were a couple of spots where you could tighten up a bit, but overall I'd read on!

  2. Sounds interesting. I couldn't tell if he was in a rocket ship or not until the end when I realized he was just in his suit. I'd read on.

  3. This sounded a little interesting. I would probably keep reading just to see what happens.

  4. For a middle grade novel, this strikes me as fresh and original.

    I like the contrast between the strange futuristic world and the familiar sibling relationships. There are nice touches of humor, too.

    Your first paragraph is a bit long for this age group, especially as you are introducing a lot of foreign concepts, so you might want to consider breaking it into two paragraphs after "he watched the blue sky above darken."

    I also had trouble picturing what he was doing. I figured he's just in the suit with some sort of jet pack, right? You might want to make it a little clearer. Also, where is he going? He's obviously escaping but where, exactly, does he plan to land?

    I'd definitely keep reading.

  5. Very interesting. I'd personally like to see a bit more urgency in the first paragraph- there were a lot of long sentences that I felt slowed the pace. I heard somewhere that shorter sentences quicken the pace- and a chase scene is fast-paced by nature.

    I also feel that the brief flashback to what his brother had said disrupted the chase scene- maybe that could come later when the chase is over.

    Overall though, good job! I'm wondering why he's being chased and would probably read on.

  6. You got me...very hooked.
    I think you can drop the nevertheless and start a new paragraph with he didn't have to look down, he knew he was being folowed. I think nervertheless doesn't quite fit for the transistion.
    Loved the family squabbles pre-occuppying while he faced impending doom, very funny and very human.

  7. I'm hooked!

    I agree with adding more intensity and making the sentences shorter for MG.

    I love that this is Sci/Fi too (that's one of my genre's) and I am so curious to know why JJ is going into space and what will happen to him - what are those robot drones up too???

    Great job!

  8. Very interesting. I would read on.

    I think you could break that chunk of a paragraph up into more manageable pieces.

    Good luck!

  9. I'm hooked. This is a great start! Tight writing, interesting characters, and an immediate conflict. What more could you want?

  10. Great start! The only thing that made me wonder was... Sam wouldn't be the only one to not like it if he burned up because the suit disintegrated: your hero probably wouldn't like it either!

  11. You've got some great lines in there. This one: "...youngest son is nothing but a floating cloud of ash, drifting over the Atlantic." and this one: "Well, if this wasn’t an emergency, JJ didn't know what was."

    On the other hand, this sentence is a bit long and isn't quite as nice and direct for your middle graders (or me who has a similar short term memory ): "The beeping was slowing, so he had built some distance on the robot drones, but he knew they were still there, watching him rocket toward the blackness of space."

    There is some need for adventure stories for younger boys and you might have it.

    Oh yeah, and I'm hooked. I want to see what happens on the next page.

  12. I think you have a good premise, but it doesn't quite work for me. This is an exciting scene, but he's awfully reflective and pensive. I feel like it needs more urgency and the sense of fear.

  13. Nice middle grade set up and premise, but some of the structure and language seems a little challenging for middle grade. But I'd read on for a bit to see more...

  14. There might be tense problems... like when he recalls the conversation. It took a second read before I realized it wasn't the present.

    I was also confused about all the people you mentioned - but that was cleared up with the flashback.

  15. I like this. Looks like a fun story.

    I agree that the first paragraph should be broken up and a few of the sentences tightened.

  16. I think this sounds interesting. Iwant to know what the emergency is and what kind of world they're in. I also like the high stakes. Good job and good luck!

  17. It's a good start with lots of tension and action right off the bat, but I think it could still be stronger. Shorten the sentences and use more active voice/word choices to really heighten the tension.

    Also, some grammatical things that struck me:

    I think you're intent is that the suit might not make the reentry, right? If so, it should be: "and he WASN'T sure it would disintegrate before he tore free of Earth’s gravity. "

    Also, direct thoughts should be in italics. Because you changed the tense here, I'm assuming it's meant to be a direct thought: Sam isn’t going to like this, he thought

  18. Interesting. Yes, I'd read on.

  19. Cool! I loved this. Fun title, play on words. Hooked.

  20. Tension, action, introduction of characters: all in all, a good set-up to a possibly intriguing story. I'd be happy to read more.

    Although -- Sam and Ham as matching names bothers me a bit.

  21. Thanks everyone for the comments. (Not sure if we are supposed to give up our identities yet, so I'm posting anonymously.)

    All very good suggestions that I'll have to consider seriously. I was curious to see if anyone brought up the Ham/Sam issue, and our Secret Agent didn't disappoint. I've struggled with this a bit, but the original idea was to base the names off the Biblical characters of Noah's sons, Hem, Shem and Japhith. (Ham, Sam and JJ). Anyone else have any thoughts on that?

  22. I'm interested in the story and I'd read more. I was confused about Ham and Sam -- at first I thought Ham was a typo. Then I got pulled out of the story while I figured out who was who. Maybe make the names a little more distinct?

  23. I may just go to "Hamilton" since that is his full name, and it fits his character better anyway. Thanks all.

  24. Just thought I'd add my voice to the chorus of those who liked it, but thought it needed a little more urgency. The Ham, Sam thing didn't bother me.

  25. I liked this but I'm confused about one thing which threw me off right from the start. What is making his feet burn if it's so cold? I really want to know what the emergency is. If he's the youngest, why don't his older siblings make sure he doesn't leave? I was a little confused about what Sam wouldn't like in the beginning. I'd read more to see where this goes, though. Nice style.

  26. I like Hamilton much better than Ham. Hamilton is my family's beloved character from Maggie and the Ferocious Beast and it's a nice name. The Sam/Ham thing would bother me to read in an entire book.

    I like the passage and the last sentence is a nice hook!


  27. I like that it starts with some solid action. The story line sounds pretty familiar, so I would want to read a little more to find out what's unique about it. I'm not quite hooked, but maybe after reading more I would be.