Pacific Battle

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chrispenycate

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Well, having been forbidden to post my weak subject (the sex scene) I choose instead to post my weak subject (the battle).

This is well on into the story, which is in the collaborative universe (see workshop), so you already know the characters. (Well, Hilarious Joke does, but you would if you'd got to this point in the story by the conventional route)

Any comments welcome, though 'too many semicolons' is probably not worthwhile (unless somebody feels like telling me which compound sentences should be cut down to simple ones.

I'm afraid it's a bit long, but that's true of everything in this story.


“Horseman ahead.” This was not that rare close to the capital, but even so the beasts were expensive enough to make it worth mentioning.

“Could I use the roof of your vehicle, captain?”
“Indeed you may, would you like us to slow down?”

The horseman didn’t even bother to answer, merely stood up in his saddle, grabbed the roof-rack and swung himself up. Missing fuel tanks had been replaced by bolts of silk, cases and trunks, so he got even more height but an uneven footing. The binoculars he drew out were communications issue; twice the weight of the foreigners’, but he knew them better. The strange platform swayed, but didn’t jolt too much, and he could see the ambush prepared ahead of them. This meant they could see him seeing them, unfortunately, but it couldn’t be avoided.

“They’re dressed like brigands, but I don’t think even a peasant would be fooled. Fifty brigands this close to the capital, with horses like that and two field pieces? Even if they wiped us out the Kahn would know, and take action. And the fat one on the oversized horse; if that’s not the Kahn’s brother Takomiten I’m going to trade in these glasses for a desk job”

“Which means the Kahn’s at risk; we need to send back a couple of your best riders to warn him.”

“Splitting your forces, you’re as confident as that? We’re not at sea now, you know; a force that size can wipe you out, however good you are. Wouldn’t it be better if we all turned back?”

“Leaving a force that size coming up behind us? I don’t like it at all. Besides, they’ll be expecting us to run, so they’ll start moving out of their protection straight away, which will mean they’ll be easier to take out.”

“You’re serious about that, aren’t you? We’re twelve, and your proposing to send two back, not for reinforcements but to warn the Kahn. Then there’s the six of you, including Junko and the interpreter, who I don’t expect to be well versed in fighting, plus the perfumer and the Prince, who are more liabilities than support.

They’ve got fifty men and two light cannons. They’re heavy cavalry, which means muskets, lances and half armour, while we make do with pistol and sabre.” The vehicle had drawn to a halt, and occupants were changing places. Junko had pulled on a strange, lumpy jacket over her jump suit, and was going back to offer something similar to the Prince. The captain slid in behind the wheel, having added a solid looking helmet to the brightly coloured diplomatic uniform, making himself into the most spectacular target imaginable. Devices, presumably weapons, were being unlimbered, communications checked. “There is a reason they expect you to run away; you’d have to be insane to do anything else.”

“And I’m going to ask you and your men to hold back from the first engagement; you’ve said yourself you’re outmatched. I’d very much like to put the prince on a horse amongst you, but I’m afraid there’s going to be a force coming from behind you, to cut us off, so he’s probably safer behind steel.”

“But we are there to defend you.”

“Which you will be doing. Without too many of you dying, if all goes well. For the time being, hang back out of arrow range; we’re almost arrow proof. You’ve got the walkie-talkie, and know how to use it, but I suspect you’ll know sooner than we will when you can strike effectively.”

* * *​

“You will put this jacket on – it’s not as good as mine but it’s a whole lot better than nothing – and keep your sabre on hand, but sheathed, do you hear me? Do you want me to ride in here with you?”

“Is it fitting for the son of a Kahn to accept protection from a woman?”

“When the son is eight years old, and knows what the woman is capable of, I’d say it was acceptable, yes. But what I’m asking is, do you want me to?”

“Oh, Junko, how can I be afraid when you aren’t? Yes, I would like you here. What does that make me?”

“Sensible, and not cut out to be a warrior, I suspect. But your father already told me that. And I feel fear, too; if they win, you will be disposed of quickly. Can you imagine how long my death would take?”

* * *​

What were they playing at? His big horses could probably catch them in full gallop, but couldn’t maintain that pace for long. So he’d been hoping they’d get much closer before detecting his forces. When that stupid soldier had got himself seen (the general had conveniently forgotten that he himself had given the order that had put him in the line of view, not really believing either that they would set out today or the speed at which they would move.) he had assumed they would run straight away, and prepared for the chase.

But they hadn’t; and the general was uncomfortably reminded of his brother and the tiny Nippon woman, and how that had ended.

“Artillery, fire!” Not much chance of a hit at this range, and with only two field guns, but it might slow them, make them think.

Not a hope of that, though; they were ignoring it, and making straight towards his position; they decided too darn fast, these foreigners, and with no respect for the traditions. One just didn’t attack a numerically superior force head on; even those mad Arabs who still attacked the trading routes weren’t that mediaeval.

Now he needed to dress his ranks for a charge; those magnificent horses, so different from the tough steppes breeds, whose ancestors Ghengis Khan himself had brought from his far western conquests. When they got into a full charge, nothing could withstand them, certainly not that tin box bumping over the road towards them, or its escort following a few horselengths behind.

Somewhere on the left flank there was a commotion. More inefficient subordinates? The Kahnate had been peaceful too long; most soldiers never got a taste of real battle and panicked when confronted with it. No, this was real, and he worked his way up the highest hillock on this miserably flat terrain (if they’d had an extra day, even a few extra hours he could have organised a battlefield with a slope to charge down) and pulled out his glass.

The first thing to catch his eye didn’t even need the optics; a flaming horse, totally out of control, screaming its way across the field. That fact accepted, (if not totally understood; horses can’t burn) more fire-related facts came into focus; two of his troopers, rolling in the dirt, desperately trying to extinguish their uniforms, a couple of small bushes left on the edge of the fields cheerfully blazing, and a group of artillerymen desperately running away from…

The flash, and roiling cloud of smoke, as the ammunition cart went up didn’t really surprise him, as his capacity for surprise, never high, was almost burnt out by now. How had they done it? Witchcraft, demons? It didn’t matter. Cold steel won out over magic, any day, all the stories were clear on that.

The men’s long muskets were stacked by the camp; no firing them off horseback, even with the new cartridges replacing powder horns, they were far too clumsy an slow. But his men still trained with the traditional double-curved horse bows, and the foreigners would soon be learning about the weapon that had built the empire.

One of the men was hanging out of the side window of the vehicle now, with something, probably a weapon, in his hands. After a brief second looking along it he lowered it again, and death and chaos bloomed towards the centre of the line. Men and horses down (though not in flames this time), the cohesion of his force was shaken, and they were still beyond the range of any but the strongest archers. If they could pick his riders off at this range, then he needed to close, fast.

“Move forward, in formation, walk!” He could hear his orders being relayed along the ranks as he rode back down the hillock to take his accustomed place in the lead. A pity flags were useless for cavalry; when he was Kahn, the military would get free access to all progress that could be applied to war. How far had they come? He could no longer see far enough to judge distances, but surely far enough.

“Prepare bows, draw and… loose”

The metallic ‘swoosh’ of the multitude of deadly little projectiles brought back memories of training exercises and crowd control. Certainly, at the end of their trajectory they wouldn’t have the penetrating power he would have preferred, but they would still teach those foolhardy


He was almost though his men, now, and could see the vehicle again. They were still too far away to start a full charge, and the arrows didn’t seem to have made the slightest difference; the guy hanging out of the window hadn’t even pulled himself back in. He levelled his weapon for an instant, and another trooper went down under his horse Then the general recognised what was special; while his archers were aiming as much up as forward to get the range, and even muskets needed a lot of extra elevation, but this guy was aiming directly at them.
Which meant that he had much more range than that, and had waited to get accuracy.

He had to get that weapon or – as a head and arm poked out of the other side, and two more of his men fell in quick succession – those weapons. With those there would be no doubt who was the next leader; not that anyone would follow a Han, anyway.
 

Nik

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FWIW, it feels like an ISOT or 'side-skip' to ~Raj era...

Um, it doesn't quite read right. I'd try splitting a lot of the longer sentences to adjust the pacing.
 

Peter Graham

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Hi Chris,

A very nicely written piece from a nuts and bolts point of view. By the way, three cheers for the semi colons, say I!

I do have a few comments - take 'em or leave 'em as you will...

Firstly, there is what looks suspiciously like a massive info dump masquerading as dialogue:-


“Which means the Kahn’s at risk; we need to send back a couple of your best riders to warn him.”

“Splitting your forces, you’re as confident as that? We’re not at sea now, you know; a force that size can wipe you out, however good you are. Wouldn’t it be better if we all turned back?”

“Leaving a force that size coming up behind us? I don’t like it at all. Besides, they’ll be expecting us to run, so they’ll start moving out of their protection straight away, which will mean they’ll be easier to take out.”

“You’re serious about that, aren’t you? We’re twelve, and your proposing to send two back, not for reinforcements but to warn the Kahn. Then there’s the six of you, including Junko and the interpreter, who I don’t expect to be well versed in fighting, plus the perfumer and the Prince, who are more liabilities than support.

They’ve got fifty men and two light cannons. They’re heavy cavalry, which means muskets, lances and half armour, while we make do with pistol and sabre.”

The two characters speaking are both military men from what I can gather. They wouldn't need to explain themselves and their reasoning in such detail, even if one of them is more used to marine combat. In addition, it is difficult to garner much personal information about the characters from this exchange - they come across as a little 2-D, as though this whole exchange is just a means of letting the reader know precisely why decisions are being taken as they are.

There is also a tendency to rely on reported speech/thought as a means of explaining and describing the action:-

The flash, and roiling cloud of smoke, as the ammunition cart went up didn’t really surprise him, as his capacity for surprise, never high, was almost burnt out by now. How had they done it? Witchcraft, demons? It didn’t matter. Cold steel won out over magic, any day, all the stories were clear on that.

This style is, in my view, too passive. There is no flash or bang to the description of the battle. You need to make the battle the focus of the narrative - describe the noises, the sounds and the chaos. The reader should feel like they are in the battle, right there on the front line. If you look at a painting like "Scotland Forever" or "Quatre Bras", you can almost smell the powder and hear the neighing of the horses or the shouts of the ensigns. There is a vivid immediacy to the action which you really need to capture in this piece.

Tied in with this is your tendency to drift out of the action altogether and to intersperse the action sequences with unnecessary explanatory dialogue. You start telling us about where the muskets are kept and how they can't be fired from horseback. Your characters don't seem to react to what is happening - they seem detached from the action rather than integral to it, which in turn causes the description of the battle to lose a lot of tension and pace. We don't need to know where the muskets are kept or when they can and can't be used and, even if we do need to know, we certainly don't need to know about it right now when exciting things are happening like ammunition carts blowing up.

I'd say keep all explanatory dialogue away from the actual description of the fighting and concentrate on putting us there, in the middle of the maelstrom. Short, punchy sentences, lots of whizz-bangs and "here and now" action, and you'll have nailed it.

Regards,

Peter
 

Boneman

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Hi Chris,
good to see some of your writing up for grabs. I'm a little disappointed at the response from the chrons, considering how much work you always do for others......

Here's my sixpennyworth: Can you believe it? I found a grammatical error!! You've no idea how good that makes me feel!! Actually it's only a missing punctuation mark, but every little helps...... I'll show it in big red capitals when I get there. You'll notice I have a propensity to make suggestions of how to alter prose, rather than saying 'maybe you could write this differently'. If it gets very annoying, don't read further.....

So:
(unless somebody feels like telling me which compound sentences should be cut down to simple ones.

should be a bracket at the end of that sentence..... tee hee....

“Horseman ahead.” This was not that rare close to the capital, but even so the beasts were expensive enough to make it worth mentioning.

“Could I use the roof of your vehicle, captain?”
“Indeed you may, would you like us to slow down?”

The horseman didn’t even bother to answer, merely stood up in his saddle, grabbed the roof-rack and swung himself up.

The repetition of the word 'horseman' threw me a little. I wasn't sure if the horseman ahead is pulling alongside the vehicle and two people inside it are talking....... I assume there's a guy alongside the vehicle who's spotted another horseman ahead? Also, I haven't looked (deliberately) at any other threads related to this story, so I'm uncertain why you've mentioned the bit about the expense of horses, what it adds to the story. Ignore this if it's previously explained!

The binoculars he drew out were communications issue; twice the weight of the foreigners’, but he knew them better.

Erm...who's the foreigner? Are you saying he is? Again, not sure why this info is put in, wouldn't it be better to say - he drew his binoculars. ? And since the apostrophe is after the s, we're talking about foreigners not foreigner's. Unfortunately, I got hooked up on this line, thinking 'oh, he's got some binoculars from foreigners, but prefers the heavier standard issue. In which case why is it mentioned, and why should he have been using the foreigners' binoculars?' (Because that's what this sentence infers.) And really I should have moved on by now, the geezer's got some binoculars the rest is irrelevant....no?

This meant they could see him seeing them, unfortunately, but it couldn’t be avoided.

Damn you, Chris, it's that musical backgound thing. I can't stop singing the ABBA song now: "Knowing me, Knowing you, ahaaaaaaa" It's a bit clumsy, so p'raps: This meant they could see him as well, but it couldn’t be avoided. ??

“They’re dressed like brigands, but I don’t think even a peasant would be fooled. Fifty brigands this close to the capital, with horses like that and two field pieces? Even if they wiped us out the Kahn would know, and take action. And the fat one on the oversized horse; if that’s not the Kahn’s brother Takomiten I’m going to trade in these glasses for a desk job”

He's swaying around on the roof of a moving vehicle and talking conversationally when he's just spotted an ambush up ahead? And to mimic Peter, it's another (smaller) infodump. And where's his horse gone? P'raps if you left out some of the (possibly) unnecessary stuff it could read summat like:

“Hah!" he shouted scornfully. "Dressed as brigands! If Takomiten thinks I'll be taken in by that, he must be mad!”

Okay, maybe too many exclamation marks, but don't worry Chris will pick those up when.......aah.....hee hee, I remember now...... But it's shorter and sweeter, and gets it over much more urgently. I think Peter touched very well on the passivity of the writing, and a sense of urgency could help a lot.

Now, when does the vehicle stop and the horseman jump down? The vehicle stops in a few paragraphs, but only so the captain and tenille change places. Might be better if the vehicle stops when the horseman calls this out? And he scrambles down and remounts his horse (hopefully trotting along like a properly trained warhorse, or more likely brought to him by one of his men?). Then the conversation that follows makes more sense. But there's still no sense of urgency, especially if the Khan himself need warning.....

"Send your best riders to warn the Kahn."

"We must all turn back, we'll be overwhelmed, they have cannon and cavalry!"

The Captain slid behind the wheel, as Junko hurried towards the Prince.

"Hold your men back from the first engagement. You will know when to attack. And stay out of arrow-range!"

"Captain, we are here to protect you."

"And you will."

(I've taken out the bit that would have the big red pen........ see if you can spot it!)

Then the bit between Junko and the Prince, which I really like. The change in pov to the bad guy will work but take out the * * * before the prince and Junko speak, it's almost simultaneous to the other action, whereas it wil be okay to shift the action this way, to show us time/place have changed.

Peter's covered this bit, so start somewhere like:

Takomiten struggled to dress the lines. "Artillery, Fire!"

ie thrusting us straight into the battle, the maelstrom whirling around, and things going wrong, viz:

He watched in stunned disbelief as a horse, sheathed in flame, screamed its way across the battlefield.

Then the exploding ammunition, the men being cut down, blood sweat, tears and gore all over the place, and the realisation that the foreigners' weapons were vastly superior, and that he had to get his hands on them at any cost..........

But I do like where it's going, modern weapons vs tradition. If you can ramp up the tension/drama it's going to be great. Didja ever read Shogun?
 

chrispenycate

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Thank you all. I was beginning to think I was going to have to post some more dragon to get anyone interested.

I had assumed everybody who had read it had found it so bad they didn't want to upset me by saying so, ignoring the fact that I never hold back my comments.

One of my problems is that in fights I actually do keep thinking and analysing, while the general doesn't suffer from that at all. I've totally failed to get into his head (not that there's much in there getting in the way)

But I can't do battles yet, and I need this one (well, I suppose since it's a collaborative effort I could ask one of the others to write the battle and the sex scene, while I write their technical details, but that would feel like cheating.)

Basically, stop explaining why they're using bows when they've got firearms, their horses aren't like steppes ponies but more like the Persian Savaran's mounts, and a hundred other details and assume they'll believe me (the general wouldn't be thinking about things like that, I shouldn't).


But I still don't know if I can get the excitement into it, when I personally feel little enthusiasm for killing people, even if it needs doing.
 

chopper

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hello, i nearly forgot to post on this! i've been having trouble getting my linux netbook to interact with a windows-based wireless dongle, (as you would), so i've been distracted....

as ever with your stuff the world-building and layers are brilliant - there's stuff beneath the surface that you make us want to know much more about. you don't have to be enthusiastic about killing people - rarely a good characteristic in people, i've found - but perhaps you can turn that to advantage by writing about the effects and after-effects of a character's death more than the actual death itself. possibly badly-worded, that, but i think if you're less willing to kill off a character then their eventual death has more of an effect on the reader and the story itself.

otherwise: i'd personally look for more dialogue tags, if only to know who was speaking which lines (i'm easily confused).

steev
 

daisybee

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Chris, I have read this a few times now, and been wary of posting a response simply because the story itself is not a genre as such that I am familiar with.

Being unfamiliar with the characters, I admit to being a bit lost during the descriptions-and had to concentrate hard to work out who was who and what was where. Perhaps this could be addressed by naming the characters a bit earlier? We have a captain, but I assume that Junko et al are the main characters of this tale, so perhaps by alluding to them earlier would have allowed a casual reader like me a more identifiable protagonist to latch on to.
Or name the captain?

This may be irrelevant if this portion of the tale is part of an ongoing narrative where the players are well established, but i would think that strong identification would aid your tale no end by grounding the action and giving it the tension that it lacks a little.

I enjoyed the imagery, and wonder whether it would be workable to start the second portion with the reaction of the general to the ammunition cart going up-that is a strong image and also a pertinent one, which gets a bit bogged down in the text.

A lot of the info before that is mentioned could easily be adapted to be shared after the fact-through the generals reaction itself, which means we still get the technical description aspect of your writing but may also get a better feel for the general's character and it might be an angle which you find beneficial in exploring your characters on a deeper level.

Your piece has me very curious about the collaborative world, and I loved the Junko/Prince exchange, you obviously have a great handle on those characters and it shows beautifully.:)

Sorry to waffle.:eek:
 

sffhound

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Hey there :) Don't have much to say on this particular piece since the others have already done some excellent analyzing. I just thought I'd offer you the possibility to send the sex scene in a private message (or mail, if you'd prefer that) to me if you still want help with it. I know what a challenge those can be so if you want my help, it's here for the taking :)
 
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