Opening Excerpt

ColGray

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Aug 9, 2023
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339
This is the opening of a space opera sci-fi and I'm thinking of using it as part of an agent query package. From a use-case and introduction standpoint, I think it reads like the book will be mil-scifi and isn't, so I'm interested to hear assumptions along those lines.

Really appreciate thoughts and critiques!


------------------


The Salmon Dance, Premiere-Class Merchant Vessel
Status: Bent


The pinnacle of human f*ck ups spread out before her, bruised light casting the promenade in ill colors.

Six Eigyr Bhatia dismissed her armor’s passive aggressive warning, ending the Saturday night red alert. She had no intention of opening her helmet to the mélange of rot and decay.

The vessel’s mall had probably been beautiful once, but the soft curves of garden wall and overhead walkway had been turned jagged and angular by the bend. Tiles that had been white obrounds when the ship bridged were now picket shaped, their swooping lines collapsed into points. The light made it look like they were walking on scales carved from old bone.

Engineered dogwoods peaked between levels, creamy flowers on full display. Eyes on the trunk, Eigyr stepped to the left, noting their perfect symmetry.

“Bend got the mall—tag it all for collapse,” she told the rookie, Mooks. Her One claimed the ex-corporate marine had potential. She had her doubts. Too much bravado. Too much marine dumbshit.

We aren’t the military, and this isn’t an op: we clear bents and we salvage.

The play of snk snk snk came through comms and her wuddy bracer vibrated.

A red dot turned white on her HUD.

“Bent, half in a chair. Old. Mostly dead,” Reyes said over comms.

“When Reyes says, half in a chair—” Mooks began, speaking on their private channel.

“He means the bent literally transverses into and through a chair and both the bent and chair are intact and functional. He’s telling us there’s an active Reimann,” she answered.

Mooks kept his silence, but his heart rate increased in the HUD.

He didn’t believe. Not yet. He was so sure Sixes just told stories. That they were just like his dumbshit buddies back home. No one believed, not until they saw something they couldn’t explain. Not until their brain fogged trying to understand how a body could unfold. How reality could be permeable.

But he would.

And then he’d either die, break or kill the bent.

No way but through. No one but us.

Boots softly clicking, they walked to, and then stopped at, the first door. The soft angles of the doorway remained gentle curves. She pressed her wrist to the door console. After a heartbeat, the console lit green, accepting the override code embedded in the proximity field of her wuddy bracer.

The door petaled open, revealing an expansive suite. The entry was a mix of personal space and a large console working area littered with small piles of plants. Her suit registered low-density paper mold spores. This might be the place. Piles of dust sat next to lush thyme sprigs. Some kind of herbalist? Perfumier?

The floor tiles were teardrop-shaped to match the tables, and in a swirling, unbroken pattern. Nothing amiss. No hard lines. No hard angles. She stepped inside and looked down the hall. Scans from her armor showed it sank back twenty meters and contained no obvious irregularities.

“Big unit,” she said. “Elmore’s right that this place had money.”

“Scarcity economics,” Mooks said, and she mentally rolled her eyes at him. Twenty-eight years in corporate polities, but he’d been White Flag for a month and was spouting post-scarcity economic magnanimity like a university freshman. She stepped down the hall and checked the rooms: bathroom, bedroom, another bedroom, storage room. All clean. All soft. Not the goal.

The back was an open kitchen and living space, a lifeless display dominating the rear wall. High-backed and plush, a turquoise L-shaped couch revealed two forms stretched out. A young couple in the peak of health, bowls, mugs and cloth napkins behind them on a small counter. They’d planned to eat after bridging.

Instead, they’d spent a quarter millennium asleep in a quiet pocket of space, heads centimeters apart.

Eigyr felt more than heard Mooks bring up his weapon, and she motioned one arm down. They were clean. She left them in the ignorant embrace of bridge sedation drugs.

Tag: Green

An hour later they’d cleared twelve units, finding mainly desiccated corpses and the occasional healthy, unconscious body. Nothing off. Nothing wrong.

After a decade of clearing bents, she could feel the whisper. Hear the tingle. It was here: they just hadn’t found it yet.

Don’t look for trouble.

Things were going well. The map was a littered with green dots and Reyes and Vic were prepping to enter the data core. Even Mooks was doing okay. The kid’s numbers were elevated, but reasonable. He could hang.

She popped the next door and highlighted the immediate spike in wood and paper mold.

An older couple, still breathing, reclined in chairs in the massive foyer.

Who puts a foyer on a ship?

Carving tools and scattered supplies dominated the room’s center. Moving stone, wood, and tools, plus custom soundproofing, and ventilation, their condument must have cost a small fortune.

But the results were beautiful. Faces, each unique and carved from different varieties of wood and stone lined long tables. Long-bearded old men that whispered wisdom. Voluptuous women with aquiline noses and flowing locks that suggested shoulders. Each polished to a glossy sheen, catching and refracting light on the dips and swells of the surface.

It was like standing in front of an audience. It was engrossing.

She had a foot down the hall to the living area when she recognized the whisper. The tickle in the short hairs on her neck.

Mooks, lulled by the quick clears, brushed into her back, unable to erase all his momentum. She turned around, and he danced out of her way.

Eigyr’s eyes moved from one statue to the next. Man. Man. Woman. Child. Old man. Whisper.

Mooks dropped the mirror from his helmet, his face a silent question. He looked at her, looked at the table, then back at her. He couldn’t feel the whisper yet. He hadn’t yet made friends with breaks in reality.

She hoped he never would, but knew it was coming.

Tapping her ring finger on the stock of her weapon, a spotlight bloomed, lighting the stone face: a grinning, wizened visage rendered in peach-colored stone impregnated with cloud cover white swirls. He had dog-tail eyebrows and a bushy beard. The left eye twinkled cerulean blue, the light catching cut topaz.

The right eye socket consumed her light.

The whisper intensified. The brain knew when something was wrong.

She grabbed and lifted the heavy cloth draped over the table, revealing a spike of gnarled nothingness projecting through the table. It folded in upon itself, splitting along multiple vectors before tapering and thickening, swaying and sliding on the invisible currents of gravity.

Her mind itched. She had to see where it went. She had to look away. Look away. But it fell into the floor. It pierced the rear wall. It fell forever.
 
Overall: I liked the last bit the most. I liked the setting up of the scene and how we are taken through the search with building tension and I liked there was a payoff at the end.

I personally have been burned too many times by books that drown me in jargon and then go nowhere. I would keep reading as long as you got rid of the jargon and I could sense that you were going to resolve the promises you have made (By the end I'd like to know what the bent is what bridging is, what that spiky thing is and yes, how one tiles a floor with tear drop shaped tiles. I don't care about Elmore.)

PS. You mention this will be space opera and that would disappoint me a bit. Your writing style is distinct and the ideas look very promising, and I would be more satisfied with a hard ideas rich Sci-Fi, rather than something involving fast ships and guns and tribes on many planets. Just IMO.

(My reading below is very reactive. I've done this for other people and I like it being done for my stuff so I can see how each sentence is affecting my reader's mind). It's not sustainable for whole books, which is why short excerpt critiques can be quite informative.)
The pinnacle of human f*ck ups spread out before her, bruised light casting the promenade in ill colors.
The Martian was where I first encountered four letter words in the narrative at the very opening. I suppose it works for most people, but it starts to turn me off. I know we have to start with a bang, but IMO writing "f*ck" in the first line is trying too hard. Minority opinion very likely.

Six Eigyr Bhatia dismissed her armor’s passive aggressive warning, ending the Saturday night red alert. She had no intention of opening her helmet to the mélange of rot and decay.
These first two sentences show a particular voice. I'm ok with it and am now expecting a decent amount of snarky humor through out.

The vessel’s mall had probably been beautiful once, but the soft curves of garden wall and overhead walkway had been turned jagged and angular by the bend. Tiles that had been white obrounds when the ship bridged were now picket shaped, their swooping lines collapsed into points. The light made it look like they were walking on scales carved from old bone.
Nice description, slightly different voice from what I was given to expect, not entirely seeing the scene, but I'm still curious about "the bend". I am disturbed by the addition of the new term "bridged". I don't do well with books that throw a lot of terms my way immediately because my experience has been that they mostly don't explain them even at the end, making the whole thing annoying.

Engineered dogwoods peaked between levels, creamy flowers on full display. Eyes on the trunk, Eigyr stepped to the left, noting their perfect symmetry.
Nice imagery but left confused by the last bit. How can I look at the trunk and stll note the perfect symmetry of all the trees. Is it the trunk's perfect symmetry. It was confusing enough to mess with my immersion.

“Bend got the mall—tag it all for collapse,” she told the rookie, Mooks. Her One claimed the ex-corporate marine had potential. She had her doubts. Too much bravado. Too much marine dumbshit.
Now I have to deal with "Her One". I'm mostly ok because I understood this sentence.

We aren’t the military, and this isn’t an op: we clear bents and we salvage.
Nice, the setting is progressing.

The play of snk snk snk came through comms and her wuddy bracer vibrated.
I'm lost.

A red dot turned white on her HUD.

“Bent, half in a chair. Old. Mostly dead,” Reyes said over comms.

“When Reyes says, half in a chair—” Mooks began, speaking on their private channel.

“He means the bent literally transverses into and through a chair and both the bent and chair are intact and functional. He’s telling us there’s an active Reimann,” she answered.
I started to lose patience at this point. The amount of jargon exceeded my interest in the people and events.


Mooks kept his silence, but his heart rate increased in the HUD.

He didn’t believe. Not yet. He was so sure Sixes just told stories. That they were just like his dumbshit buddies back home. No one believed, not until they saw something they couldn’t explain. Not until their brain fogged trying to understand how a body could unfold. How reality could be permeable.
We're in Mooks head now?

But he would.

And then he’d either die, break or kill the bent.

No way but through. No one but us.
Are we back in the first character's head? The bent is being revealed a bit here, so I want to understand, but my immersion is being hampered.

Boots softly clicking, they walked to, and then stopped at, the first door. The soft angles of the doorway remained gentle curves. She pressed her wrist to the door console. After a heartbeat, the console lit green, accepting the override code embedded in the proximity field of her wuddy bracer.
We're back in the original person's head. I get we are world building, but the "wuddy bracer" doesn't appeal to me because it feels like its a trivial thing like an ID card or a phone with contactless payment and I don't want to be overloaded trying to figure out what this word means right now. I want to know what "the bent" is.

The door petaled open, revealing an expansive suite. The entry was a mix of personal space and a large console working area littered with small piles of plants. Her suit registered low-density paper mold spores. This might be the place. Piles of dust sat next to lush thyme sprigs. Some kind of herbalist? Perfumier?
What place? I didn't know we were going somewhere in particular.

The floor tiles were teardrop-shaped to match the tables, and in a swirling, unbroken pattern. Nothing amiss. No hard lines. No hard angles. She stepped inside and looked down the hall. Scans from her armor showed it sank back twenty meters and contained no obvious irregularities.
Very sorry, this is a me thing, but the moment you say tear drop shaped floor tiles I'm off on a tangent trying to see how that would work and I know it doesn't and now a part of my mind will be constantly harping on that. I guess the important thing is that they are looking for jagged edges.

“Big unit,” she said. “Elmore’s right that this place had money.”
Ok, now I gotta remember "Elmore". I do this too in my stories - introduce names in conversation - but when I read it, I realize my reader's brain will have a small part that's now going Who's Elmore?

“Scarcity economics,” Mooks said, and she mentally rolled her eyes at him. Twenty-eight years in corporate polities, but he’d been White Flag for a month and was spouting post-scarcity economic magnanimity like a university freshman. She stepped down the hall and checked the rooms: bathroom, bedroom, another bedroom, storage room. All clean. All soft. Not the goal.
More jargon to remember or wade through. But at least I know we are looking for something.

The back was an open kitchen and living space, a lifeless display dominating the rear wall. High-backed and plush, a turquoise L-shaped couch revealed two forms stretched out. A young couple in the peak of health, bowls, mugs and cloth napkins behind them on a small counter. They’d planned to eat after bridging.

Instead, they’d spent a quarter millennium asleep in a quiet pocket of space, heads centimeters apart.
Ok, finally some information about "the bend" and "the bridging". I don't know what to do with it, but finally ...

Eigyr felt more than heard Mooks bring up his weapon, and she motioned one arm down. They were clean. She left them in the ignorant embrace of bridge sedation drugs.

Tag: Green
I'm assuming they tagged the people? The clean bit suggests something bad happens and people have to be killed etc. if they are not clean.

An hour later they’d cleared twelve units, finding mainly desiccated corpses and the occasional healthy, unconscious body. Nothing off. Nothing wrong.

After a decade of clearing bents, she could feel the whisper. Hear the tingle. It was here: they just hadn’t found it yet.

Don’t look for trouble.
Ok, suspenseful part is coming up. Routine something mission and now we have some foreshadowing.

Things were going well. The map was a littered with green dots and Reyes and Vic were prepping to enter the data core. Even Mooks was doing okay. The kid’s numbers were elevated, but reasonable. He could hang.

She popped the next door and highlighted the immediate spike in wood and paper mold.

An older couple, still breathing, reclined in chairs in the massive foyer.

Who puts a foyer on a ship?

Carving tools and scattered supplies dominated the room’s center. Moving stone, wood, and tools, plus custom soundproofing, and ventilation, their condument must have cost a small fortune.

But the results were beautiful. Faces, each unique and carved from different varieties of wood and stone lined long tables. Long-bearded old men that whispered wisdom. Voluptuous women with aquiline noses and flowing locks that suggested shoulders. Each polished to a glossy sheen, catching and refracting light on the dips and swells of the surface.

It was like standing in front of an audience. It was engrossing.

She had a foot down the hall to the living area when she recognized the whisper. The tickle in the short hairs on her neck.

Mooks, lulled by the quick clears, brushed into her back, unable to erase all his momentum. She turned around, and he danced out of her way.

Eigyr’s eyes moved from one statue to the next. Man. Man. Woman. Child. Old man. Whisper.

Mooks dropped the mirror from his helmet, his face a silent question. He looked at her, looked at the table, then back at her. He couldn’t feel the whisper yet. He hadn’t yet made friends with breaks in reality.

She hoped he never would, but knew it was coming.

Tapping her ring finger on the stock of her weapon, a spotlight bloomed, lighting the stone face: a grinning, wizened visage rendered in peach-colored stone impregnated with cloud cover white swirls. He had dog-tail eyebrows and a bushy beard. The left eye twinkled cerulean blue, the light catching cut topaz.

The right eye socket consumed her light.

The whisper intensified. The brain knew when something was wrong.

She grabbed and lifted the heavy cloth draped over the table, revealing a spike of gnarled nothingness projecting through the table. It folded in upon itself, splitting along multiple vectors before tapering and thickening, swaying and sliding on the invisible currents of gravity.

Her mind itched. She had to see where it went. She had to look away. Look away. But it fell into the floor. It pierced the rear wall. It fell forever.
Very nice! Very poetic! I liked this bit because things were happening and I didn't have to wade through a pool of jargon.
 
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Super helpful, thank you!

  • Re: opening line: I never read the Martian but read Project Hail Mary and Weir, i guess, does the same thing -- but had my opening line approx 3 years before that! (How much does that matter? 0.00%) But also, yes. It might be too polarizing.
    • Also, Eigyr's voice is roughly 12% swear words.
  • snk snk snk was some onomatopoeia -- cleaned it up to be clearer.
  • I'd never considered the section where you wrote, We're in Mooks head now?, could come across as changing POV's -- it was meant to be Eigyr considering the rookie. I've adjusted to make that clearer. -- THANK YOU
  • Tear drop shaped tiles -- I was thinking arabesque (as the technical term/shape) but was trying to avoid that as some people may not know that's what the shape of tile is called. But also, lol, yes, I would spiral the same way, too!
  • Jargon: Couple of questions
    • Six Eigyr, One Elmore -- did you get that the numbers were rank/role?
      • Elmore is also on-screen in about 1500 words and, overall, a major character
    • Bent, Bridge, Reimann
      • The name of the book is Bent. The central conceit is that people figure out how to make wormholes (bridges) but sometimes something goes wrong in those wormholes and people come out as bent monstrosities.
      • My assumption is that a sentence like that would be on the back/inside cover and any reader would have that lingo going in--but not sure if that is a fair assumption?
    • Noted on terms like wuddy (wrist-buddy pip-boy style personal device). It's explicitly explained in a couple chapters, but avoiding having someone notably comment on the every day (e.g. You have an iphone? You mean that thing tens of millions of people have and use every day? I sure do!) It isn't required so i cut it.

More broadly, the total intro chapter is a long 4000 words and right after this cuts out it goes into exactly what a Reimann and a bent are by showing them and what it means in the world and to Eigyr/Mooks. I'm trying to build up tension to get there, but maybe I need to cut forward a bit faster.

Re: top comment on space opera: It's definitely NOT a story about fast ships or pew pew fights and they never set foot on a planet. It is a largely mid-hard scifi family drama focused on inter and intra-generational stories mixed with the role morality plays in science and exploration. But there are factions, politics and one large battle and trying to quickly condense, Yeah, but what is it, into a few words most closely fits with space opera. I think? I dunno. Very open to suggestions on other things to term it.

Again, really appreciate the feedback and taking the time!
 
I will add a note on jargon at the end, because I struggle with it too.

before that! (How much does that matter? 0.00%) But also, yes. It might be too polarizing.
  • Also, Eigyr's voice is roughly 12% swear words.
It is an effective technique to write in the voice of the character even if it isn't first person. It's a very personal opinion that I don't like it. I lead a sheltered life where my spouse is the only person I ever hear swearing.
snk snk snk was some onomatopoeia -- cleaned it up to be clearer.
I got the onomatopia bit but was thrown by "her wuddy bracer vibrated" to the extent that I thought it was a victim of several typos.
I'd never considered the section where you wrote, We're in Mooks head now?, could come across as changing POV's -- it was meant to be Eigyr considering the rookie. I've adjusted to make that clearer. -- THANK YOU
I decided that could be it, but some helper words would be nice. I also like to try writing third person as if it were first, but third needs helper words sometimes, otherwise it becomes too ambiguous to decide that it's very voicey third vs change in POV.

  • Tear drop shaped tiles -- I was thinking arabesque (as the technical term/shape) but was trying to avoid that as some people may not know that's what the shape of tile is called. But also, lol, yes, I would spiral the same way, too!
Oddly, arabesque I have heard before, but not obrounds. It was more me thinking you can not tile (without gaps) with only tear drop shapes.

  • Jargon: Couple of questions
    • Six Eigyr, One Elmore -- did you get that the numbers were rank/role?
Did not get this.

      • Elmore is also on-screen in about 1500 words and, overall, a major character
Ok.

  • Bent, Bridge, Reimann
    • The name of the book is Bent. The central conceit is that people figure out how to make wormholes (bridges) but sometimes something goes wrong in those wormholes and people come out as bent monstrosities.
Aaaah don't spoil it for me :) I'm ok with some words not being explained right away. My issue is if I can't make headway with the story because too many words on the page are hard to decipher.

    • My assumption is that a sentence like that would be on the back/inside cover and any reader would have that lingo going in--but not sure if that is a fair assumption?
The key concept, especially if you want a slow reveal, is ok to keep a little mysterious.

  • Noted on terms like wuddy (wrist-buddy pip-boy style personal device). It's explicitly explained in a couple chapters, but avoiding having someone notably comment on the every day (e.g. You have an iphone? You mean that thing tens of millions of people have and use every day? I sure do!) It isn't required so i cut it.

More broadly, the total intro chapter is a long 4000 words and right after this cuts out it goes into exactly what a Reimann and a bent are by showing them and what it means in the world and to Eigyr/Mooks. I'm trying to build up tension to get there, but maybe I need to cut forward a bit faster.
No. I had zero problem with not knowing what "the bent" was and things associated with it. I just did not like mysterious words for things that _sounded_ like they were pedestrian (like a watch or a rank etc.) because that got in the way of sentences making sense.

Re: top comment on space opera: It's definitely NOT a story about fast ships or pew pew fights and they never set foot on a planet. It is a largely mid-hard scifi family drama focused on inter and intra-generational stories mixed with the role morality plays in science and exploration. But there are factions, politics and one large battle and trying to quickly condense, Yeah, but what is it, into a few words most closely fits with space opera. I think? I dunno. Very open to suggestions on other things to term it.
That's great! Would definitely offer to (slowly) beta read it if you want.

Ok: Jargon

This should be a separate discussion post on chrons but here is what I wrestle with: How do I world build without overwhelming the reader?

My strategy now is to feed in the cool bits in a trickle and not to name them before, or name them in the same scene as some other new thing has been named. This is simply because of my own reactions as a reader. Some people want twenty made up nouns on the first page otherwise why read SF/fantasy at all? I like it better when you realize the world is strange gradually and you can wonder at one thing at a time. So the nouns come slowly and hopefully the reader knows what they mean and can internalize them as they go.

Then there is the question of odd names for commonplace things/concepts. If a thing is basically a radio, I now call that thing a radio (or some now accepted previously odd term like commlink). I actually like stories where people go around saying things like "Lets take the stairs" and later you realize "the stairs" are a portal or something, but they actually work like stairs. I like this better than stories that start out with "Lets use the hopabujunk" and 100 pages later you realize its stairs.

Then there is the question of do I write "stairs" when I'm narrating and "hopabujunk" in dialog? This can make things worse if its ambiguous and a totally made up word but it also adds color, which we all need. I'm trying to make a compromise in my writing where I try and structure things so that meanings are easy to decipher.

So it would be something like

"Let's use the traveler," said Stacey.

Bracey thought for a moment. The traveler would get them there faster, but it was hard to overcome the fear of being disassembled into nothingness and then reassembled light-years away. Then there was the nausea to consider.
 
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I actually like stories where people go around saying things like "Lets take the stairs" and later you realize "the stairs" are a portal or something, but they actually work like stairs.
Holy crap, I love that. I've seen that. I've read that. I've never thought of that or in that way.

Related, I have a friend (first reader, actually) and he put it to me like this: You don't need to put every cool idea you've ever had into the first book. Pick what works and save the rest. It's some of the most helpful advice i've received. But also, call it stairs but it isn't stairs. I love it.

Oddly, arabesque I have heard before, but not obrounds.
And I only learned about pickets when i tiled out backsplash! The use-specific knowledge is super interesting. I'm not sure if other people who write scifi do this, but math and physics are very much not my day-to-day but I've learned a lot about math theory and a bunch of other stuff in the course of writing and researching. (Legit, Wikipedia Reimann. He's an incredibly interesting physicist/mathematician/cryptographer). One of the things I really love about writing is cultivating ideas and then going, Yeah, but how do i ground this?

I lead a sheltered life where my spouse is the only person I ever hear swearing.
You know when you read something and the author says, they swore up a storm and it made so-and-so blush? I'm... i'm him. I'm that guy. I make pirates blush. I don't know when it happened. I'm pretty sure why i know it happened. But it happened.

Also, i'll send you a convo on beta reading. I've just started to submit queries but i've got 0 illusions about needing additional editing. I also posted up in the beta reading forum: happy to return the effort.
 
Probably echoing what has already been said, but I was able to follow all the jargon fine - it was just a bit unpleasant to have to do so several times per sentence. I like telling the reader what is happening in the language of the time, then letting them figure it out as they go along, but there are limits to how much of this even the most avid Gibson fan can tolerate before it becomes a distraction from the actual story - a story which exists even in a version with all recognizable words.

But I like what you're doing and how it is written otherwise. I just don't know if that is a good thing as most readers aren't like me.
 
I am very interested in reading your works, but;
My dyslexia is so bad that I only got through the first 2 sentences, then I shut down. (That's me and not your writing. :) Thats good because your writing is challenging me!)
So, I'm going to take this like reading a 10K, and start from the notes and read up to the nitty gritty. So, I'm going to start from Swank and read up through yours and msstice's conversation up to your submission! (Very sorry, but I'll respond in time. :))
 
Probably echoing what has already been said, but I was able to follow all the jargon fine - it was just a bit unpleasant to have to do so several times per sentence. I like telling the reader what is happening in the language of the time, then letting them figure it out as they go along, but there are limits to how much of this even the most avid Gibson fan can tolerate before it becomes a distraction from the actual story - a story which exists even in a version with all recognizable words.

But I like what you're doing and how it is written otherwise. I just don't know if that is a good thing as most readers aren't like me.
Yes, very much so! I agree.
 
An hour later they’d cleared twelve units, finding mainly desiccated corpses and the occasional healthy, unconscious body. Nothing off. Nothing wrong.

After a decade of clearing bents, she could feel the whisper. Hear the tingle. It was here: they just hadn’t found it yet.

Don’t look for trouble.

Things were going well. The map was a littered with green dots and Reyes and Vic were prepping to enter the data core. Even Mooks was doing okay. The kid’s numbers were elevated, but reasonable. He could hang.

She popped the next door and highlighted the immediate spike in wood and paper mold.

An older couple, still breathing, reclined in chairs in the massive foyer.

Who puts a foyer on a ship?

Carving tools and scattered supplies dominated the room’s center. Moving stone, wood, and tools, plus custom soundproofing, and ventilation, their condument must have cost a small fortune.

But the results were beautiful. Faces, each unique and carved from different varieties of wood and stone lined long tables. Long-bearded old men that whispered wisdom. Voluptuous women with aquiline noses and flowing locks that suggested shoulders. Each polished to a glossy sheen, catching and refracting light on the dips and swells of the surface.

It was like standing in front of an audience. It was engrossing.

She had a foot down the hall to the living area when she recognized the whisper. The tickle in the short hairs on her neck.

Mooks, lulled by the quick clears, brushed into her back, unable to erase all his momentum. She turned around, and he danced out of her way.

Eigyr’s eyes moved from one statue to the next. Man. Man. Woman. Child. Old man. Whisper.

Mooks dropped the mirror from his helmet, his face a silent question. He looked at her, looked at the table, then back at her. He couldn’t feel the whisper yet. He hadn’t yet made friends with breaks in reality.

She hoped he never would, but knew it was coming.

Tapping her ring finger on the stock of her weapon, a spotlight bloomed, lighting the stone face: a grinning, wizened visage rendered in peach-colored stone impregnated with cloud cover white swirls. He had dog-tail eyebrows and a bushy beard. The left eye twinkled cerulean blue, the light catching cut topaz.

The right eye socket consumed her light.

The whisper intensified. The brain knew when something was wrong.

She grabbed and lifted the heavy cloth draped over the table, revealing a spike of gnarled nothingness projecting through the table. It folded in upon itself, splitting along multiple vectors before tapering and thickening, swaying and sliding on the invisible currents of gravity.

Her mind itched. She had to see where it went. She had to look away. Look away. But it fell into the floor. It pierced the rear wall. It fell forever.
Your opening certainly captures attention and immerses the reader in a rich, mysterious, and somewhat unsettling universe. It does an excellent job of world-building and introducing terms and concepts (like "bents" and "Reimann") that hint at a complex backstory, without overwhelming the reader. There's also a palpable tension that runs through the piece, amplified by Eigyr's calm competence and Mooks' inexperience and disbelief.

Assumptions and Expectations:​

While you're concerned about it reading like military science fiction, I can see why that impression might form. There's a lot of tactical detail, specific jargon, and hierarchical structuring (Eigyr as a veteran figure, Mooks as a rookie). This does lend itself to the 'mil-scifi' genre. However, it's also evident that Eigyr and her crew are more in the line of explorers or salvagers rather than soldiers. The focus seems to be on the weird and wondrous anomalies ("bents") they discover, which lends it more to the space opera or even the cosmic horror genres.

Suggestions:​

  1. Clarity: While the world-building is immersive, some readers might find the jargon and terminology a little heavy to start with. You might consider sprinkling in a few more clues early on to help guide the reader. What are "bents"? What's a "Reimann"? Providing context or even a quick definition could help.
  2. Pacing: There's a lot of detail in the environment, which is great for painting a vivid picture but can slow down the pacing. This is especially true if you want to establish that this isn't a typical 'military op' story. You might consider increasing the pace at which the team moves through this derelict space, highlighting more of the strangeness and danger of their work.
  3. Character Development: Eigyr is clearly competent and experienced, but a hint of her own vulnerabilities or personal stakes could make her more relatable. Mooks serves as a counterpoint to her experience, but he seems to be reduced to a stereotype ("Too much marine dumbshit"). Adding layers to their personalities early on could engage the reader more deeply.
  4. Dialogue: Some of the dialogue feels slightly expository, serving more to inform the reader than to be natural conversation between the characters. This is a common challenge when there's a lot of world-building to cover. One approach is to weave this information more organically into their conversations.
  5. Genre Indicators: If you're concerned about setting expectations, you might include elements that are more characteristic of space operas (grand destiny, complex relationships, etc.) or cosmic horror (unknowable entities, existential dread) earlier on to steer away from the 'mil-scifi' expectations.
Overall, you've got a compelling start with a lot of potential. Your concerns about genre expectations are valid, but they can be addressed with some adjustments in pacing, character depth, and exposition.
By the way, I hope this is helpful! You've got the foundation of an amazing story, and I'd love to read it someday.
 
@BlueMorpho Really appreciate it! Yes, definitely helpful!

  1. Clarity / Jargon— Noted and knew it was a potential issue. I’ve pulled this back further. Post edits from today/yesterday, I think the only remaining jargon are: bend/bent, bridge, Reimann, Six and One.
    1. I also added in a quick couple lines (of highly expository dialogue, whee) trying to clarify bridging and the relationship between bends and bridges. It should also clarify that bridging is intentional (use of tech) and something people do.
We aren’t the military, and this isn’t an op: we clear bents, take tech and salvage.

“How far’d they try to bridge?” Mooks asked.​
“They bridged -- bend just means it went bad,” she said, shrugging as she looked around. “They’ve been suspended for two centuries, so second, maybe third gen bridge tech. I’d guessing three hundred light years. Five hundred, tops.”​

  1. Pacing— I’ve gone back and forth on this approx 6.5 million times. It was initially a slower build at 10k words but I cut it back to 4k words and feel like I hit the minimum for establishing everything I’m trying to establish, BUT, I also recognize I might be trying to establish too much! Here’s how I’ve broken out the 4k words for the intro.
    1. The total intro is 4k words
      • 0 - 1000 are character intro, mood & world, tension build.
      • 1000-2400 are first payoff for tension + world and first escalation of danger/world.
      • 2400-3000 are first escalation payoff + second escalation
      • 3000-35000 are second escalation payoff + establish central mystery/motivation
      • 3500 - 4000 are escalation of central mystery/motivation + world expansion and stakes raising
    2. In the end, I need
      1. To intro Eigyr and Mooks and the world
      2. Some messed up stuff to happen to them
      3. Them to find a baby and establish the central mystery
    3. The pacing picks up as things go along, but if someone stops reading after 250 words, that doesn’t matter.
  2. Character Development
    1. Eigyr has some issues about 500 words after the bit i shared ended
    2. Accepting that Eigyr is the one describing Mooks, does he come across as being actually dumb or just new and being judged harshly?
  3. Dialogue
    1. Yes — tradeoff between speed and exposition. I’m not sure I can fix that.
  4. Genre
    1. This is my fear (that this reads like MilSci) and I’m not sure how to pull that back harder. If people have ideas on how to do that, I’d really appreciate it.
      1. Ideas I’ve tried:
        1. Making this not the intro – doesn’t work bc it’s a time jump to the main story and this needs to happen first. I’m also being intentionally coy on dates because it would resolve the inciting mystery pretty quickly
          1. I might do this as a(n undated) flashback later but I think this does a great job of establishing the stakes and conceit of the world and would struggle to create another scenario capable of showing the same.
          2. It would also de-escalate the entire narrative
        2. Starting at the first escalation – doesn’t work due to WTF is happening?
        3. Comms channel between Eigyr and Elmore, making it clear they’re there for the salvage and looking for a book—gets very wordy and I’m not sure it works.
Really appreciate you reading and commenting. I mentioned to THX1138 (and in the beta reader thread) that I'm happy to swap beta reading of some or part. The book is complete* and I'm working on agent queries at this point.

*as much as anything unpublished is "complete" :)
 
After reading your submission and @msstice and @BlueMorpho critiques, there is not much more I can add. I am familiar with msstuce's writing and critique ability's, and clearly you and BlueMorpho are on that level too. So, my few words worth:

You refer to bend as meaning something went bad, so make the word stand out so it means what you want the reader to understand what your story telling. Instead of bend, write it as Bend, benb or even more effective, BenD.
Your first sentence is perfect for this. We all know what 'Frack' and 'Felgercarb' mean, so do the same:

The pinnacle of human BenD ups spread out before her, bruised light casting the promenade in ill colors.
The vessel’s mall had probably been beautiful once, but the soft curves of garden wall and overhead walkway had been turned jagged and angular by the BenD.



As far as the military confusion goes, both military and salvage type stories tend to read alike. But again, it's in the wording:

Six Eigyr Bhatia dismissed her armor’s passive aggressive warning, (sounds military)

Six Eigyr Bhatia dismissed her industrial armor’s passive aggressive warning,
Six Eigyr Bhatia dismissed her protective salvage armor’s passive aggressive warning,
(either sound less military.)

And give the characters something to hold on to that indicates that they are a salvage crew; large crowbars, cutting torches, cumalons, handheld structural scanners. Their suits may have sensors built in but take some of it out and put it into their hands.

Like the others have said too, looking forward to reading more! A great story idea you got going here.
 
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This is the opening of a space opera sci-fi and I'm thinking of using it as part of an agent query package. From a use-case and introduction standpoint, I think it reads like the book will be mil-scifi and isn't, so I'm interested to hear assumptions along those lines.

Really appreciate thoughts and critiques!


------------------


The Salmon Dance, Premiere-Class Merchant Vessel
Status: Bent


The pinnacle of human f*ck ups spread out before her, bruised light casting the promenade in ill colors.

Six Eigyr Bhatia dismissed her armor’s passive aggressive warning, ending the Saturday night red alert. She had no intention of opening her helmet to the mélange of rot and decay.

The vessel’s mall had probably been beautiful once, but the soft curves of garden wall and overhead walkway had been turned jagged and angular by the bend. Tiles that had been white obrounds when the ship bridged were now picket shaped, their swooping lines collapsed into points. The light made it look like they were walking on scales carved from old bone.

Engineered dogwoods peaked between levels, creamy flowers on full display. Eyes on the trunk, Eigyr stepped to the left, noting their perfect symmetry.

“Bend got the mall—tag it all for collapse,” she told the rookie, Mooks. Her One claimed the ex-corporate marine had potential. She had her doubts. Too much bravado. Too much marine dumbshit.

We aren’t the military, and this isn’t an op: we clear bents and we salvage.

The play of snk snk snk came through comms and her wuddy bracer vibrated.

A red dot turned white on her HUD.

“Bent, half in a chair. Old. Mostly dead,” Reyes said over comms.

“When Reyes says, half in a chair—” Mooks began, speaking on their private channel.

“He means the bent literally transverses into and through a chair and both the bent and chair are intact and functional. He’s telling us there’s an active Reimann,” she answered.

Mooks kept his silence, but his heart rate increased in the HUD.

He didn’t believe. Not yet. He was so sure Sixes just told stories. That they were just like his dumbshit buddies back home. No one believed, not until they saw something they couldn’t explain. Not until their brain fogged trying to understand how a body could unfold. How reality could be permeable.

But he would.

And then he’d either die, break or kill the bent.

No way but through. No one but us.

Boots softly clicking, they walked to, and then stopped at, the first door. The soft angles of the doorway remained gentle curves. She pressed her wrist to the door console. After a heartbeat, the console lit green, accepting the override code embedded in the proximity field of her wuddy bracer.

The door petaled open, revealing an expansive suite. The entry was a mix of personal space and a large console working area littered with small piles of plants. Her suit registered low-density paper mold spores. This might be the place. Piles of dust sat next to lush thyme sprigs. Some kind of herbalist? Perfumier?

The floor tiles were teardrop-shaped to match the tables, and in a swirling, unbroken pattern. Nothing amiss. No hard lines. No hard angles. She stepped inside and looked down the hall. Scans from her armor showed it sank back twenty meters and contained no obvious irregularities.

“Big unit,” she said. “Elmore’s right that this place had money.”

“Scarcity economics,” Mooks said, and she mentally rolled her eyes at him. Twenty-eight years in corporate polities, but he’d been White Flag for a month and was spouting post-scarcity economic magnanimity like a university freshman. She stepped down the hall and checked the rooms: bathroom, bedroom, another bedroom, storage room. All clean. All soft. Not the goal.

The back was an open kitchen and living space, a lifeless display dominating the rear wall. High-backed and plush, a turquoise L-shaped couch revealed two forms stretched out. A young couple in the peak of health, bowls, mugs and cloth napkins behind them on a small counter. They’d planned to eat after bridging.

Instead, they’d spent a quarter millennium asleep in a quiet pocket of space, heads centimeters apart.

Eigyr felt more than heard Mooks bring up his weapon, and she motioned one arm down. They were clean. She left them in the ignorant embrace of bridge sedation drugs.

Tag: Green

An hour later they’d cleared twelve units, finding mainly desiccated corpses and the occasional healthy, unconscious body. Nothing off. Nothing wrong.

After a decade of clearing bents, she could feel the whisper. Hear the tingle. It was here: they just hadn’t found it yet.

Don’t look for trouble.

Things were going well. The map was a littered with green dots and Reyes and Vic were prepping to enter the data core. Even Mooks was doing okay. The kid’s numbers were elevated, but reasonable. He could hang.

She popped the next door and highlighted the immediate spike in wood and paper mold.

An older couple, still breathing, reclined in chairs in the massive foyer.

Who puts a foyer on a ship?

Carving tools and scattered supplies dominated the room’s center. Moving stone, wood, and tools, plus custom soundproofing, and ventilation, their condument must have cost a small fortune.

But the results were beautiful. Faces, each unique and carved from different varieties of wood and stone lined long tables. Long-bearded old men that whispered wisdom. Voluptuous women with aquiline noses and flowing locks that suggested shoulders. Each polished to a glossy sheen, catching and refracting light on the dips and swells of the surface.

It was like standing in front of an audience. It was engrossing.

She had a foot down the hall to the living area when she recognized the whisper. The tickle in the short hairs on her neck.

Mooks, lulled by the quick clears, brushed into her back, unable to erase all his momentum. She turned around, and he danced out of her way.

Eigyr’s eyes moved from one statue to the next. Man. Man. Woman. Child. Old man. Whisper.

Mooks dropped the mirror from his helmet, his face a silent question. He looked at her, looked at the table, then back at her. He couldn’t feel the whisper yet. He hadn’t yet made friends with breaks in reality.

She hoped he never would, but knew it was coming.

Tapping her ring finger on the stock of her weapon, a spotlight bloomed, lighting the stone face: a grinning, wizened visage rendered in peach-colored stone impregnated with cloud cover white swirls. He had dog-tail eyebrows and a bushy beard. The left eye twinkled cerulean blue, the light catching cut topaz.

The right eye socket consumed her light.

The whisper intensified. The brain knew when something was wrong.

She grabbed and lifted the heavy cloth draped over the table, revealing a spike of gnarled nothingness projecting through the table. It folded in upon itself, splitting along multiple vectors before tapering and thickening, swaying and sliding on the invisible currents of gravity.

Her mind itched. She had to see where it went. She had to look away. Look away. But it fell into the floor. It pierced the rear wall. It fell forever.
I am certainly not an expert, but my one overriding thought is wether you could intersperse the first 'scene setting' paragraphs within the dialogue below it. It's great descriptive prose, but could it be better with dialogue?
 
I am certainly not an expert, but my one overriding thought is wether you could intersperse the first 'scene setting' paragraphs within the dialogue below it. It's great descriptive prose, but could it be better with dialogue?
Oh that's a really interesting idea. I will give that a try. Thank you!
 
This is cool!

There's one line that caught my attention and I don't think others have mentioned it.

When a character says "scarcity economics", does this imply that somewhere, somehow people have unlimited access to and use of all resources?

This scenario usually is only possible in fiction settings like Star Trek, where magic technology exists that can make whatever you tell it to for free. In that case, why bother scavenging shipwrecks?

Or is it more of an ephemeral political ideal of some faction in your worldbuilding, if White Flag is a faction?

Anyways, I was pulled in and would read more.
 
@Logan Selmes Welcome!

You got it, yep. There are multiple factions subscribing to different political philosophies, some of which are corporate-centered capitalist oligarchies and some of which are post-scarcity collectivists (plus other flavors not at an extreme). White Flag is a neutral polity (ergo the name) with a specific role as a transportation accident remora.

There's a device called a, Meator, which ingests flavinoids, yeast and fungus to print foods--biologically, all the aminos a human body requires, but with better flavor and across numerous forms (liquid (coffee), meats, veg, etc.) Given what I can already see with 3D printing, the idea that we could print chicken protein seems realistic. The more traditionally capitalistic polities control or outlaw Meators, ensuring that food and other staples are costly, and that "proper social order" is maintained through scarcity.

While I'm not a big Star Trek fan, I always thought their most interesting story was DS9 because it showed the conflict and difference between capitalism vs post-scarcity and it was an intentional element i wanted to explore. The question became, How do people assign value to ideas, time, or things and it's a central motivator for one of the POV characters.

I appreciate the kind words!
 
Interesting ideas.

I will say though, the ability to 3d print foods does not reduce the scarcity of raw products, including flavinoids, yeast, and fungus.

As I see it, capitalistic societies would sell as much of the technology as possible instead of outlaw it. Otherwise it would be like Henry Ford making 10 cars a year instead of as many as possible. For the same reasons that cars were so hard to get in the Soviet Union for the average citizen.
 
If the capitalist groups owned the technology and didn't have to license it, probably? Population size comes into play. People have populated many planets at this point and there's close to 100 billion living people, split across the many polities. For the capitalists, political stability is tied to employment and people having enough to eat but not too much. There's both political and monetary incentives to maintaining a work-intense food creation method. To use your example, if Ford could sell a car for $10 but spent $3 on labor, $3 on supplies and $4 to license any engine that converted fuel into motion, and each car produced decreased worker wage dependence, he'd either try to build something else or wouldn't make many cars.

Agree that the yeast and fungus require inputs to generate but space is full of element rich moons/asteroids/planets. Scooping up base-elements to feed your grow vats costs little but time (and again, a difference between capitalist vs collectivist societies: one would control access to those zones with dense nitrogen supplies, the other allows free access). It's also a way to minimize waste management--feed it to the fungus!

Finally, it gives a fun area to explore where new/current ships have Meators +yeast/fungus vats (slim, compact) and older ships have hydroponics bays (large). It becomes a central design difference and informs things like ship size, crew size, travel distance capabilities, etc.. When capitalist polity ships have meators, they also charge for usage--it's not just free food, it's either controlled in a mess hall or acts like a vending machine.
 
If the capitalist groups owned the technology and didn't have to license it, probably? Population size comes into play. People have populated many planets at this point and there's close to 100 billion living people, split across the many polities. For the capitalists, political stability is tied to employment and people having enough to eat but not too much. There's both political and monetary incentives to maintaining a work-intense food creation method. To use your example, if Ford could sell a car for $10 but spent $3 on labor, $3 on supplies and $4 to license any engine that converted fuel into motion, and each car produced decreased worker wage dependence, he'd either try to build something else or wouldn't make many cars.

Agree that the yeast and fungus require inputs to generate but space is full of element rich moons/asteroids/planets. Scooping up base-elements to feed your grow vats costs little but time (and again, a difference between capitalist vs collectivist societies: one would control access to those zones with dense nitrogen supplies, the other allows free access). It's also a way to minimize waste management--feed it to the fungus!

Finally, it gives a fun area to explore where new/current ships have Meators +yeast/fungus vats (slim, compact) and older ships have hydroponics bays (large). It becomes a central design difference and informs things like ship size, crew size, travel distance capabilities, etc.. When capitalist polity ships have meators, they also charge for usage--it's not just free food, it's either controlled in a mess hall or acts like a vending machine.

Right now around the world intellectual property rights are totally ignored all the time. Clones of luxury autos, smartphones, and even of branded 3d printers. It’s basically impossible to enforce even within our little present day one-world expanse of humanity.

Anyone can hire a team to copy a technology or product and sell it for cheaper, which is what happens constantly and internationally.

Henry Ford actually did spend a lot of money on wages and supplies, that was the not deciding factor in production, profit was.

in history there are few places that actively restricted consumer access to automobiles, such as the Soviet Union.
 
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Agreed on the current state of IP theft, and happy to have a longer discussion on why and how that perpetuates (and how such activities would be dealt with when there are far fewer state actors, each of whom sees mutual benefit in rigid enforcement), but maybe in a different thread.

The wages are incidental to the underlying world-building: the majority of states have both an active incentive to institute scarcity and intra-dependency and an active disincentive to allow people to skirt imposed scarcity. Some few states eschew the item-centric mindset, and welcome it's use because it frees their population to pursuits of their own desire. Other states view being able to generate nearly any food at fractional cost, labor and footprint as a stepping stone to societal collapse and anarchy.

Put another way, some people see limitless low cost, low labor, low footprint food and marvel: My gosh, if people didn't have to worry about food, what else could they do? Others see the same inputs and grow fearful. Each side then acts accordingly.
 
Agreed on the current state of IP theft, and happy to have a longer discussion on why and how that perpetuates (and how such activities would be dealt with when there are far fewer state actors, each of whom sees mutual benefit in rigid enforcement), but maybe in a different thread.

The wages are incidental to the underlying world-building: the majority of states have both an active incentive to institute scarcity and intra-dependency and an active disincentive to allow people to skirt imposed scarcity. Some few states eschew the item-centric mindset, and welcome it's use because it frees their population to pursuits of their own desire. Other states view being able to generate nearly any food at fractional cost, labor and footprint as a stepping stone to societal collapse and anarchy.

Put another way, some people see limitless low cost, low labor, low footprint food and marvel: My gosh, if people didn't have to worry about food, what else could they do? Others see the same inputs and grow fearful. Each side then acts accordingly.
I think the bigger issue is that on a cosmic scale there is always a physical scarcity of all resources, not just food.
 

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