Selective Education in a Sci Fi world: 1371 words

Pentagon

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#1
Dear Chrons,

Please find my submission for critique.

Some of the themes I have considered are asked specifically at:
Temporarily child protagonists?

For reference, this is an opening chapter.

Regarding the critique, I am interested in any and whatever feedback people feel appropriate! :)

My apologies if I have missed a critique rule.


****

Collectively ruthless and individually ambitious the Solar System Trading Company had quickly spread throughout the stars. Diplomats, soldiers and merchants alike championed what would become human interests. For when the political power commanded by the organization outweighed that of sovereign planets, both the independence of those planets and the difference between the two ceased to be.

For the billions of citizens living in the new order, ambition was not fulfilled or stifled by nepotism unlike their alien democratic neighbors. Whilst the careers of most were tempered by natural ability, personality or life chances, in the absence of democracy the only limit to a citizens place in the universe was their natural ability and their education.

Tamara’s father: a professor in theoretical physics had taken over a decades’ paternity leave to prepare her for the thirteen plus selection exams. An ever popular mascot of the University corridors, the toddler and then child was gently spoiled by the many professors and technicians who came to know her. A quiet child; she would sit in the back of classes, sometimes to listen to her mother teach, but always to learn. She wouldn’t say much, but her work ethic and that of her father earned the respect of much of the physics faculty who in turn offered to teach the young student whatever they could.

As the day grew closer, the corridors grew quieter. Some staff wished her luck, others fretted that it was too much pressure at a young age grimacing at the memory of their own 13 plus. The Dean, with a child of his own a few years younger, clapped her on the shoulder and sent them on their way. If Tamara herself was concerned she didn’t show it. When staff spoke to her about it she just smiled and asked them again what they thought of whatever subject. The exams themselves were conducted off world, hosted by the Navy. As the day came, parents across the small colonial world made the pilgrimage to the continental spaceport where great shuttles awaited to ferry them into space.

Few children looked confident, some cried, others sat in nervous trepidation. By their nature quiet individuals, Tamara and her father sat calmly in a corner. If some children were repeating formula parrot fashion, desperately cramming in the last moments before the exam, such exercises were beyond her. She would either know it, or she wouldn’t. Instead, they cheerily discussed which theories to use as a basis or example in certain expected questions. The exercise itself wasn’t much more helpful than that of repeating facts. They knew which models she was most familiar with, but the exercise in physics was one they were both comfortable with and it helped the nerves.

Upon arrival the queue was long but fast moving, as students and parents lined up to enter. The Navy dressed in ceremonial sky blue escorted the students through to their desks. Tamara studied the setting with interest before speaking up.

“If these exams are for me, why are the Navy making such a fuss?”

“I don’t know darling.”

In truth he didn’t want to have a conversation, but he agreed that the Navy had pulled out all the stops. From the fighter craft flying escort to the shuttles to the gleaming ceremonial parade dress, the whole experience was meant to impress. At the front of the queue the Warrant Officer asked her name, took their form and ordered an awaiting Corporal to show her through. Despite having had over a decade to think about it he couldn’t think of what to say, words stuck in his throat as his only child slipped her hand from his, smiled up at him and followed the Corporal out of sight. He thought to message his wife and then the Dean before remembering that phones were prohibited on board, people had gone to prison for attempting to cheat the thirteen plus. He joined the other parents, remarking how nowhere else had he seen such a mix of people. Rich and poor, mining families and socialites alike rubbed shoulders united in that they were all parents. The opportunities they had had given their children notwithstanding, now it had all been said and done, the regional governor holding court in a corner with other anxious parents was as powerless as he was.

The Admiralty wasn’t going to waste this opportunity at a captive audience however, and as soon as the last child had taken his seat they were separated into groups and taken on a guided tour. The Warrant Officer spoke enthusiastically, expertly fielding questions and by and large the parents were distracted. The tour wasn’t just designed to distract however, it was to instill a sense of stability and protection. Everything was comparative, from human interceptors racing against confederation models to anecdotes from skirmishes, everything impressed human superiority. They may have been at peace, but you got the feeling someone had forgotten to tell the Navy.

Finally, his ‘class’ of forty were sat in a spacious hall where he could concentrate on the task of fretting unabated. The exam finished at 18:00 hours and sure enough by 18:05 students began milling in. Instead of his daughter however, he was greeted by a Major. “Professor Baum?”

“Yes Sir?”

“Professor, there is nothing to worry about, your daughter is perfectly safe. She has been selected for a viva secondary examination. Whilst I am not at liberty to discuss the specifics of the exam, I can state generally that you must be very proud.”

“No father isn’t Major” he replied nondescriptly.

“I always look forward to this day, I suppose that’s cruel of me, do you think?”

“In a way, I’ve looked forward to it for a very long time.”

“And that’s the point isn’t it. You can’t argue against money, but there are decent parents and there are those that arn’t. Every year I see parents from the poorest fields of life who have scraped and saved, clawed together every penny they’ve had, all to prepare their kid for the thirteen plus.”

“I thought you said you looked forward to today?” He replied dryly.

“I… have a respect for the process then.”

The Major led him through a different set of corridors, keeping the conversation flowing, trying to look nonchalant. “I hope I don’t sound sycophantic, but I read your book, many years ago. I had to check that you were the right author.”

“You must get to speak to a great deal of interesting people.” He replied neutrally, not missing the careful flattery.

“You’d be surprised” the Major remarked cheerfully, “there are a very many people who don’t live up to your expectations. It’s like I was saying, I think actions speak louder than words, don’t you? I fear that far too many don’t bother, once they’ve won the whatever award.”

“Well, I haven’t produced anything in thirteen years."

“Apart from that kid currently sitting in the Captain’s Office?”

“Well yes.”

If the first tour had been designed to give an impression of power and security, the second was more personal. The Major made it look impulsive, as if he had just thought to show him this state of the art gymnasium or that library but each room seemed chosen because it might make a parent feel more enthusiastically about their child joining the Navy.

“She’s done well hasn’t she?” He asked.

“I’ve been with you since she went in.”

He began to feel better, recognising the Major’s playful evasion for what it was. “In your experience then, how does she compare?”

“Between you and me, the way the Captain was raving about her, he’d have already given her, her own frigate if he could.”

“She’d like that.”

“I’ll speak to procurement, you can tell her.” He smiled.

The professor hestitated, truth be told he’d worried for the possible viva. He’d hoped that she wouldn’t need to take it, but for all his preparation he hadn’t known how the quiet mascot of the University would cope quizzed by stern officials. Nor had he known how enthusiastic the Navy’s public relation campaign could be.

The Major interrupted his musings, “I suppose you’d like to speak to her?”

He wondered if the man had been paged, or rather if the whole conversation was scripted.

“Yes of course.”
 

The Judge

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#3
I've only got a few minutes while dinner is cooking, so I can't do anything in depth. However, I think that this isn't the best of starts for a novel. While I can see why it attracts you as a beginning, because you're explaining everything and setting the story up, for me it's coming over as all telling instead of showing, and it's acting as a huge info-dump. I'd be much happier if the information about the system was properly integrated into the story as and when needed.

That's not to say that you have to start the story later than this. Having her as a child in the opening pages still might work if it's done through her eyes and made a little bit more ... um... well, interesting. (Sorry.) Try writing the scene from her POV, showing her emotions/fears/excitement as she goes into the viva, but without all the dumping of information about the situation. It might be difficult getting into her voice, though -- and to be honest from the little bit we see of her I'm not sure you're anywhere near there. Otherwise, you might be better off starting much later when she's an adult, just before the story's inciting event.

Your punctuation is a bit adrift, by the way, especially regarding dialogue tags. Have a look in the Toolbox The Toolbox -- The Important Bits -- there's a post by Jo about it. You might find the other posts of interest and help, too.

Good luck with it.
 

Brian G Turner

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#5
The opening isn't really a story as much of an essay - you really need to focus on the character POV as much as possible, unless you're going to wow us with some technical/social/historical insight, which I don't think this is - it comes across as basic world-building you can drip through the rest of the story.

You could also benefit from reading up about POV use and practise getting closer to the character - it's really hard to do, but the better you get at this the more your story will come out.

For a book covering pretty much all the technicalities of writing, I always recommend Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer - it really is worth reading through that.

Hope that helps. :)
 

tinkerdan

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#6
This is a great start. And I think I've an inkling of what is ahead and a notion of the world.
I'll try not to dwell on the usual notion that this has the earmarks of every first time author, because I've no idea other than this piece just where you are in writing, however the first four paragraphs lose me because they are only there to give us some small amount of world building and a smidgen on back-story along with some names of organizations. The initial POV is indeterminate, I really didn't sense a POV. Until:

"I don't know darling."

Even then I wasn't immediately certain who spoke that.

The story would be served better, perhaps, to start near this point in the father's POV and use that to give us intimate knowledge of the main character to be and some important details that are difficult to find in this. He could give us a proud fathers view of her strengths and weaknesses, her challenges and the stakes, and even a bit of the payoff for success or the loss from failure. You could do this in one paragraph from the father's point of view and then you could get on with the story while you pepper in some of the details from the first four paragraphs, when and if it makes sense for them to be there. You could use it to explain why dad thought taking off 10 years to focus on his child's education outweighed his own career, what award he was given, what the award was for, and if that is even related to his being a physicist. Also what relationship does the Navy have to the Solar System Trading Company. And is that Solar System Trading Company or The Solar System Trading Company. What you have is good, because it makes all these question; however the answers might make all of that four paragraphs of info-dump actually fit into the areas around the dialogue between the father and the people escorting him around.

Just something to think about.

Now comes this::

For the billions of citizens living in the new order, ambition was not fulfilled or stifled by nepotism unlike their alien democratic neighbors. Whilst the careers of most were tempered by natural ability, personality or life chances, in the absence of democracy the only limit to a citizens place in the universe was their natural ability and their education.
My intent is not to get into politics; however it does need to be said that democracy doesn't automatically equate to nepotism although I can agree that nepotism can be seen in democracy. That said most political systems can also be said to have that wishy washy relationship with nepotism. That much said there is a flaw in logic that says::

in the absence of democracy the only limit to a citizens place in the universe was their natural ability and their education.

You might be better to state that ::

in the absence of nepotism the only limit to a citizens place in the universe was their natural ability and their education.

Unless the goal is to give the narrator at this point some sort of strange political viewpoint.
 
Last edited:

yorelm

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#7
It's looking like a trend: the first few paragraphs had me glazing over the words since no *story* was happening, just densely written exposition. The writing itself was nice, but more in a textbook sort of way. I feel the "formula" should generally be--story first, information second. Provide the info within the story as pertinent, not standalone right upfront.
 

The Judge

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#8
Pentagon, the other thing you might find of help is read through the threads in Critiques -- the more the better. And for recent threads, offer your own thoughts on the piece in question -- critiquing someone else's work is an excellent way of learning how to improve one's own.

Look in particular for threads where it's the opening scene which has been put up, think about them and read the comments others have made. I suspect you'll notice that the ones which get most plaudits, and the ones you like best, are those which have start in a much more impactful way, where the background information is drip-fed into the piece, and where there's a strong voice.
 

Joshua Jones

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#9
Yeah... I am with @tinkerdan regarding the starting point. I think that, if this were Star Wars, the first several paragraphs would be scrolling toward the stars. Unfortunately, that just doesn't work for writing. You could simply cut off the first few paragraphs and start with the nervous children waiting for the exams, and sprinkle that information throughout, and I think that would make your introduction much stronger.

I like the concept, though. I look forward to seeing how you develop this!
 

Pentagon

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#10
Thank you to all the kind comments and the brutally honest ones as well.

My own writing experience has been predominantly not fictional, so it's interesting that themes of that seem to have manifested itself. Something that I perhaps hadn't appreciated.

Having stalked chrons for a little while it's funny that the 'show not tell' and 'don't-use-prologues' are messages burnt into the mind, but they have a way of seducing you anyway. But yes, I was a little worried that that was the case.

I suspect that I will shift the above into a 'research' folder of scriviner, never to be seen again.

There is definately a difference between themes which might be interesting to me, and themes which make a good story.

Being the product of an extreme selective education system is something which will have a profound influence on a character, but I will have to find a more effective way of that coming across.

The 'democracy is bad' theme is one which I am quite fond of, especially in the way it shapes the human's relationship with aliens. I think there are certainly scenes where you can have humans being proud of their technocracy and a genuine belief that democracy leads to nepotism which they are afraid of. That is not to say that is the case, just what the dominant perspective is.

However, I will have to give some thought to whether that is a theme I want to force upon a reader. I feel you need to choose your battles and it seems something that people can become emoive about.

I will give some thought, but I think the two themes that I wish to keep from the above will be:
1. Hyper selective education system
2. Friendly military PR campaign

If these are the two most important themes then I will need to find a way of introducing the character and these themes in less boring and more effective ways.
 

Jo Zebedee

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#13
Got to remember, I'm not a speechwriter anymore!
Not only that... your message is subject to what others take from it. I wrote a ( popular, as it turned out) novel about an alien invasion of Northern Ireland (where I’m from; child of the Troubles etc etc) and I wrote it to deliberately have nothing to do with the Troubles... except people (some) see it as an analogy to them (and a bad one: see above, it isn’t one) I have learned to accept it is their right to do so.

As time went on I realised that of course it - and all my work - is infused with my past including my belonging to this complex land. And those themes are through it all.

We can’t remove our themes. But we can allow the story to come to the fore - and trust our themes will be in it (in my case, identity and the need to accept conflicting views in a post-conflict society*). But I’d never try to write a book about those - I just trust, now, that they will be there xx

*please may we remain so
 

ctg

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#14
****

Collectively ruthless and individually ambitious the Solar System Trading Company had quickly spread throughout the stars. Diplomats, soldiers and merchants alike championed what would become human interests. For when the political power commanded by the organization outweighed that of sovereign planets, both the independence of those planets and the difference between the two ceased to be.

For the billions of citizens living in the new order, ambition was not fulfilled or stifled by nepotism unlike their alien democratic neighbors. Whilst the careers of most were tempered by natural ability, personality or life chances, in the absence of democracy the only limit to a citizens place in the universe was their natural ability and their education.

Tamara’s father: a professor in theoretical physics had taken over a decades’ paternity leave to prepare her for the thirteen plus selection exams. An ever popular mascot of the University corridors, the toddler and then child was gently spoiled by the many professors and technicians who came to know her. A quiet child; she would sit in the back of classes, sometimes to listen to her mother teach, but always to learn. She wouldn’t say much, but her work ethic and that of her father earned the respect of much of the physics faculty who in turn offered to teach the young student whatever they could.

As the day grew closer, the corridors grew quieter. Some staff wished her luck, others fretted that it was too much pressure at a young age grimacing at the memory of their own 13 plus. The Dean, with a child of his own a few years younger, clapped her on the shoulder and sent them on their way. If Tamara herself was concerned she didn’t show it. When staff spoke to her about it she just smiled and asked them again what they thought of whatever subject. The exams themselves were conducted off world, hosted by the Navy. As the day came, parents across the small colonial world made the pilgrimage to the continental spaceport where great shuttles awaited to ferry them into space.

Few children looked confident, some cried, others sat in nervous trepidation. By their nature quiet individuals, Tamara and her father sat calmly in a corner. If some children were repeating formula parrot fashion, desperately cramming in the last moments before the exam, such exercises were beyond her. She would either know it, or she wouldn’t. Instead, they cheerily discussed which theories to use as a basis or example in certain expected questions. The exercise itself wasn’t much more helpful than that of repeating facts. They knew which models she was most familiar with, but the exercise in physics was one they were both comfortable with and it helped the nerves.

Upon arrival the queue was long but fast moving, as students and parents lined up to enter. The Navy dressed in ceremonial sky blue escorted the students through to their desks. Tamara studied the setting with interest before speaking up.

“If these exams are for me, why are the Navy making such a fuss?”

“I don’t know darling.”

In truth he didn’t want to have a conversation, but he agreed that the Navy had pulled out all the stops. From the fighter craft flying escort to the shuttles to the gleaming ceremonial parade dress, the whole experience was meant to impress. At the front of the queue the Warrant Officer asked her name, took their form and ordered an awaiting Corporal to show her through. Despite having had over a decade to think about it he couldn’t think of what to say, words stuck in his throat as his only child slipped her hand from his, smiled up at him and followed the Corporal out of sight. He thought to message his wife and then the Dean before remembering that phones were prohibited on board, people had gone to prison for attempting to cheat the thirteen plus. He joined the other parents, remarking how nowhere else had he seen such a mix of people. Rich and poor, mining families and socialites alike rubbed shoulders united in that they were all parents. The opportunities they had had given their children notwithstanding, now it had all been said and done, the regional governor holding court in a corner with other anxious parents was as powerless as he was.

The Admiralty wasn’t going to waste this opportunity at a captive audience however, and as soon as the last child had taken his seat they were separated into groups and taken on a guided tour. The Warrant Officer spoke enthusiastically, expertly fielding questions and by and large the parents were distracted. The tour wasn’t just designed to distract however, it was to instill a sense of stability and protection. Everything was comparative, from human interceptors racing against confederation models to anecdotes from skirmishes, everything impressed human superiority. They may have been at peace, but you got the feeling someone had forgotten to tell the Navy.

Finally, his ‘class’ of forty were sat in a spacious hall where he could concentrate on the task of fretting unabated. The exam finished at 18:00 hours and sure enough by 18:05 students began milling in. Instead of his daughter however, he was greeted by a Major.
This is mainly exposition. In places it's heavy and it forces the reader to skip ahead, instead of you hooking them to the piece. When we tell people to show-and-not-tell, this is a perfect example for why, but it's not beyond the salvage. You can either cut it out or you can write it out as a drama. These days when you start writing a new story, you have to understand that unless you're talented, these first iterations are telling you -the writer - the world, the characters, and the events happening in it. If you would do at least a couple rewrites, you could start seeing that there is story behind them façade marked with the exposition. So, don't give up and show things into the virtual deskdraw, it's not helping you, unless you already have a new story to fill this place. Get over it, please.

“Professor Baum?” The major standing on the doorway asked.

“Yes Sir?” Professor Baum looked up from the table, where he'd been studying biological samples. "How can I help you?"
This is where your story begins, and this is the place where you hook the reader. I added a few lines of description as an example for you to see how you can add colour into your piece.

“Professor, there is nothing to worry about, your daughter is perfectly safe. She has been selected for a viva secondary examination. Whilst I am not at liberty to discuss the specifics of the exam, I can state generally that you must be very proud.”

“No father isn’t Major” he replied nondescriptly.

“I always look forward to this day, I suppose that’s cruel of me, do you think?”

“In a way, I’ve looked forward to it for a very long time.”

“And that’s the point isn’t it. You can’t argue against money, but there are decent parents and there are those that arn’t. Every year I see parents from the poorest fields of life who have scraped and saved, clawed together every penny they’ve had, all to prepare their kid for the thirteen plus.”

“I thought you said you looked forward to today?” He replied dryly.

“I… have a respect for the process then.”
When you do the dialogue, you have to understand that it is your place to provide description for the readers. You show talent on making dialogue, but unlike with the speech writing job, this is the place where you step out from it and provide the context outside the dialogue. Sooner you provide the characterisation the better. Now it's completely missing and while we encourage the writer to vague in the description, being without action is one of those things you shouldn't be doing.

How do you see in your head these character doing things in between the lines? Can you put it down and use just one character as your MC to provide the narrative?

The Major led him through a different set of corridors, keeping the conversation flowing, trying to look nonchalant. “I hope I don’t sound sycophantic, but I read your book, many years ago. I had to check that you were the right author.”

“You must get to speak to a great deal of interesting people.” He replied neutrally, not missing the careful flattery.

“You’d be surprised” the Major remarked cheerfully, “there are a very many people who don’t live up to your expectations. It’s like I was saying, I think actions speak louder than words, don’t you? I fear that far too many don’t bother, once they’ve won the whatever award.”

“Well, I haven’t produced anything in thirteen years."

“Apart from that kid currently sitting in the Captain’s Office?”

“Well yes.”
I think you're not doing a very good job on the world building with vague, non-existent descriptions, even though you have a perfect chance to provide characterisation for the characters, places and to the current events. You do well on providing the past through the dialogue. But, as you can guess it's not enough.

If the first tour had been designed to give an impression of power and security, the second was more personal. The Major made it look impulsive, as if he had just thought to show him this state of the art gymnasium or that library but each room seemed chosen because it might make a parent feel more enthusiastically about their child joining the Navy.

“She’s done well hasn’t she?” He asked.

“I’ve been with you since she went in.”

He began to feel better, recognising the Major’s playful evasion for what it was. “In your experience then, how does she compare?”

“Between you and me, the way the Captain was raving about her, he’d have already given her, her own frigate if he could.”

“She’d like that.”

“I’ll speak to procurement, you can tell her.” He smiled.

The professor hesitated, truth be told he’d worried for the possible viva. He’d hoped that she wouldn’t need to take it, but for all his preparation he hadn’t known how the quiet mascot of the University would cope quizzed by stern officials. Nor had he known how enthusiastic the Navy’s public relation campaign could be.

The Major interrupted his musings, “I suppose you’d like to speak to her?”

He wondered if the man had been paged, or rather if the whole conversation was scripted.

“Yes of course.”
This is the first good bit in the story, where you are showing a promise to be able to write a well flowing narrative. Can you rewrite this beginning and do it properly? I know from my experience that my words can be harsh, but I'm trying to teach you to see your mistake and become better. I believe you can do it, but it is going to take time. Unfortunately.
 

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