Wednesday, May 15, 2013

May Secret Agent #31

TITLE: Savage Jungle
GENRE: Middle-grade Science Fiction

I rip the wrapping paper off the present without removing the bow, lift the lid off the large cardboard box, and peer inside. A small chip rests on the bottom.


“It’s a book,” Uncle Tonas says, eyes wide in his thick-jawed, tightly muscled face. “Go on, download it.” He leans forward, monstrous broad shoulders and all, a cigar between his pointer and middle finger. The total opposite of me. Sure, I’m only twelve years old, but my overly large black sweatshirt and baggy jeans hide the fact I’m as skinny as Uncle Tonas’s pinky finger.

As I pick up the tiny chip and insert it into my Multipurpose Bracelet, I feel his gaze as my parents look on from the couch. My MB registers the chip, and asks if I would like to download the book The Top 200 Most Treacherous Creatures in the Universe.

“Yes,” I say, and it starts to download. I turn to Uncle Tonas and force out, “Sounds val.” Slang for “valuable resources,” they’re all anybody cares about these days now that humans have explored every planet in the universe.

But don’t get me wrong. The book really will be a val read, especially since I live on the most boring planet in the universe. But I’m confused. Uncle Tonas usually gets me the coolest presents. Last year for my eleventh birthday he got me a fluorescent slug from planet Zambor in the Orion Arm.


  1. I'd like to see that last par at the top. It gives off real MG voice and the fluorescent slug is so MG boy they'll be slobbering to get their hands on it.

    The 'chip' in the first par threw me. I wasn't sure if it was a chip as in potato or a wood chip or...ok stupid me I should have seen it was MG/SF. Good luck with this. The title is intriguing, makes me think of a futuristic Lord of the Flies or something.

  2. I agree with Elizabeth. Try putting the "Last year for my eleventh birthday" sentence right at the beginning. It'll slot in there easily and really fire you out of the starting gate.

    If you're doing SF, be careful with your science. A flub in basic science can turn off even a very young reader who's familiar with the genre.

    Example: I'm assuming "every planet in the universe" might be a 12-year-old exaggeration, but if he's talking facts, we're talking maybe 100 billion planets, and that's if we're using "universe" like Arthur Clarke and the British to mean "galaxy."

    Put it this way: both "universe" (and even "galaxy" for that matter) are not terms you want to use lightly.

  3. I hope you keep the humor throughout the story. Not sure what a val read. If you make up words for the story, you'll need to define them at some point. Nice foreshadowing without being heavy handed, since I'm guessing that The Top 200 Treacherous Creatures will be revealed in future chapters.

  4. I was also confused with chip, but that's an easy fix, "micro chip," or something like that.

    I loved the comparison to the pinky finger, that gave us a good sense of the character's voice!

    I'm not sure if we need to know the age the way we do, "sure, I'm only twelve." We get the eleventh birthday soon enough so that gives us an idea and seems more natural.

    "But don't get me wrong" and "But I'm confused" in the same paragraph are a tad confusing, like wait, he thinks this gift is cool or no?

    I'm not sure that we need the whole "valuable resources" explanation. I think a middle grader could pick up that "val" is a stand in of sorts for "cool." I think we can also find out that humans have explored every planet later.

    Your MC has a great, real voice for a 12 year old boy here, and I agree, bring on the slugs and treacherous creatures!

  5. I'm not heavy into Sci-Fi, but because this was labeled Sci-Fi, I *wasn't* confused by the chip. But maybe if you add a little more description of the chip that would alleviate any confusion. I sense some foreshadowing that this book is going to have some meaning...I hope. :)

  6. I love your world building, it is present but subtle. I was little confused by the chip as well, but I'm not sure there's a better way to state it, unless you mention its use in the bracelet right away.

    I like the bracelet idea, but perhaps find a different terminology for it. We talk about Google Glasses, so maybe a name that sounds like a brand before a word like "wristband." Bracelet sounds feminine and I think marketers, even from the future, would try to make it unisex.

    Other than that, I like your voice and the way the story starts. I would want to read more. It was none too subtle that the character had to explain VAL, so if you can find another way to put in context clues, rather than stating it directly, that would make it so much better. Good luck!

  7. I think this sounds like a great start and a promising idea. It could use tightening to make it more captivating from the start.

    I'll echo what Mairead and Jenn said about finding a better way to put in context clues without spelling them out for the reader. Explaining things right away is a great way NOT to pull your reader in. Flesh out your world as you go along. The reader usually doesn't need nearly as much hand-holding as we tend to think they do.

    This is sci-fi so anyone picking it up to read it will expect different terminology. "Chip" didn't confuse me at all because: sci-fi. Also, you can tell us what "val" means without saying "by the way, that means..." Simply changing that pair of sentences to "“Sounds val.” Valuable resources are all anybody cares about these days" says the same thing without the narrator aside that pulls you out of the setting.

    I dislike the flat-out physical description just for the sake of physical description. That sort of thing rarely matters unless there's a reason we need to know what he's wearing and that he's skinny. An interesting thing to note is that descriptions are a excellent opportunity for character building. The things he notices and how he describes them show us what he likes or dislikes or what he's used to or not. A lot of the time we learn what we need to know from what the narrator DOESN'T say as much as what he does. Also, the fact that he talks so much about how big and muscled the uncle is implies that the boy is NOT these things. That may be all the physical description you need at this point. (Though I also think the amount of description of the uncle is overload here.)

    I don't understand why the uncle's eyes are wide and following that with the description that sounds like he's clenching his jaw makes me think there's something sinister here, then it turn out he's giving a gift...

    I couldn't agree more with the comment upthread about making sure your science/terminology is right. I seriously doubt "humans have explored every planet in the universe", which makes me doubt your narrator is reliable. Yes he's young, but that's a very specific statement and doesn't work as exaggeration.

    There's not enough MG sci-fi out there if you ask me, so get this one cleaned up and out there. It could really work in the current market.

  8. You're info-dumping early on, with explanations like what "val" means and how humans have explored every planet in the universe. I doubt your MC would be thinking about these things in this moment, so it feels forced.

    Try starting at another point, such as "Uncle Tonas usually gets me the coolest presents. Last year for my eleventh birthday he got me a fluorescent slug from planet Zambor in the Orion Arm." Continue from there: What super-cool, val gift has Uncle Tonas got cooked up THIS year? It's a... a... Oh. It's a book. (MC is not impressed.)

    Remember to intersperse your action with exposition, rather than switch between large chunks of each.