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Or addresses. While awaiting the critiques on my book, I decided I'd dabble in writing short SF stories for the first time since college. I have written three already (since Sunday) and I thought I might like to submit them to whatever SF magazines are still around. I haven't seen one since perhaps high school, so I don't even know which ones still exist.

Does anyone know of web sites (or addresses) of legitimate SF magazines that are taking story submissions?

Here is the web page at scifi.com: http://www.scifi.com/scifiction/. Click on the Submission Guidelines link on the left. (They're looking for original stories between 2K and 17.5K words and pay .20/word.) Does anyone have any experience, pro or con, with scifi.com

Thanks!

Mark.
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Why not check out a meta-search site? Ralan's lists hundreds and hundreds of speculative fiction markets (SF, Fantasy, Horror) along with a brief description (pay rates, word length, etc.) and links to websites for more info.

Spec Fiction is all I write, and when I am ready to start submitting a new story, Ralan's is the first place I look for markets. Honestly, I cannot recommend this site highly enough.

http://www.ralan.com/

I have lots of experience with scifi.com. This is normally the first market I submit to since they have the highest pay rates--twenty cents per word! A market needs only pay three cents per word to be considered a "professional" market. Their response times have been typical for the industry (one to two months) and they have courteously rejected everything I've ever submitted to them. 8-)

Good Luck and Keep Writing.
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James: Thanks for the link: I took a look at Ralan's. It looks like it has a lot of useful information. It was interesting to look at some of the requirements for anthology submissions. One only wanted fiction set in Western Australia, another only horror and dark fiction involving members of the media, and a third wanted only horror/sf stories about ground vehicles (preferably cars). Talk about niches! <g>

Mark.

P.S. What a disparity in pay! Saome pay nothing, others 0.5-3 cents a word, while Playboy will pay up to $5,000 and Zoetrope is offering $1,200.
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There is the grand daddy of them all, Locus -- I'm assuming you've at least joined SFWA and signed up for Locus? And the Sci-Fi and Fantasy Writer's Market is a pretty major resource as well.

Do not dismiss the "Contributor copy" small print publications -- it's a great way to build up a resume. In fact, Stephen King talks about how this very subject in "On Writing".

You HAVE read it by now, right?

I would say that my three books I consider required reading for all aspiring SF&F writers are:

"On Writing" by King
"How to write Fantasy & Science-Fiction" by Card
"Elements of Style" by Strunk and White

-Hook
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>>>>There is the grand daddy of them all, Locus -- I'm assuming you've at least joined SFWA and signed up for Locus?

Hook: No, I haven't. I have only been seriously writing SF for three months and hadn't even heard of SFWA until recently. I've browsed the site, but I haven't joined.

>>>>Do not dismiss the "Contributor copy" small print publications -- it's a great way to build up a resume.

I'm not dismissing anything, but I'd rather try selling a story for $5,000 (Playboy) or $1,200 (Zoetrope: All Story) before I give it away or sell it to a new publisher for $10 (as Amazing Journeys is offering for 3K-20K stories!) or go the profit-sharing route (per Trip The Light Fantastic, and others).

>>>>In fact, Stephen King talks about how this very subject in "On Writing".
>>>>You HAVE read it by now, right?

Hey, I only heard of it for the first time a few weeks ago.

>>>>I would say that my three books I consider required reading for all aspiring SF&F writers are:

The first two are on my to do list; I already have a copy of Strunk and White at work.

Thanks for the suggestions.

Mark.

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I'm not dismissing anything, but I'd rather try selling a story for $5,000 (Playboy) or $1,200 (Zoetrope: All Story) before I give it away or sell it to a new publisher for $10 (as Amazing Journeys is offering for 3K-20K stories!) or go the profit-sharing route (per Trip The Light Fantastic, and others).

Well, wouldn't we all? =)

This may sound patronizing, but the following I consider legitimate advice, so please don't be offended: you're just starting out, so concentrate on getting accepted and recognized, NOT on getting paid!

You are apparently VERY prolific. Writing is not a problem for you, you can always "make more". The competition in the fiction market is incredibly fierce, and the competition for the journals with decent pay is particularly so, thus the odds of a new writer breaking into that market from the get go are very low. I'm not saying it's impossible, but the odds are way more in your favor going in low and slow, and then building up.

Playboy gets over one thousand submissions a month. Do you think they read all those, or that you'll have any chance in hell of having your submission read? The typical sifting mechanism that most magazines and agents go through is something like this:

- is submission packet poorly packaged?
- wordy, effusive or poorly done cover letter?
- any prior publications?
- has writer indicated that they're familiar with this market?

The cut-off is different for each location, but by and large with the sheer number of authors out there, often the triage is capricious, merciless and excessive. Perfectly good stories never get read because the author didn't include an SASE or e-mailed it instead of sending a printed manuscript, etc. In fact, a lot of good stories are rejected simply because the first paragraph wasn't that good.

Once again, On Writing has a good discussion about the submission process. It's a two or three evening read, really. Not to belabor the point =)

With for-pay journals, you're looking at turnaround times in measured in months. With the smaller journals, you'll often (but not always) get a personal reply from an editor instead of a pink rejection slip with no commentary. You'll have a faster turnaround time, better feedback, and overall probably a better feeling of satisfaction and progress early on. To me, that's more important than the first early checks.

You don't go into writing for money until after someone has paid you at least once ;)

-Hook
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>>>>This may sound patronizing, but the following I consider legitimate advice, so please don't be offended: you're just starting out, so concentrate on getting accepted and recognized, NOT on getting paid!

Hook: That's reasonable, although I'd like to do both....

>>>>You are apparently VERY prolific. Writing is not a problem for you, you can always "make more".

Maybe so, but it's not exactly cookie-cutter. (Duh!) I have no idea how many stories I can come up with, or how many great vs. very good vs. mediocre ones there will be. I wouldn't mind essentially giving away a piece of micro fiction, or other short story that I wrote in a couple of hours, but it's harder to convince myself to sell a 4,000 word story that maybe I spent weeks on for $10, even if it gets me "published" (especially if the publication is one with a circulation of 500...).

>>>>thus the odds of a new writer breaking into that market from the get go are very low. I'm not saying it's impossible, but the odds are way more in your favor going in low and slow, and then building up.

I guess the big question is how much weight do they give an author whose cover letter says that they have been published in five journals that they have never heard of before, vs. one story in Analog or Asimov or Weird Tales?

>>>>Playboy gets over one thousand submissions a month. Do you think they read all those, or that you'll have any chance in hell of having your submission read?

Well, assuming that they don't *only* look for established writers, they have to read *some* of the others. Maybe they read only the first page of the ones that aren't printed on pink scented paper using nothing but the Wingdings font and shipped in Christmas wrap, but they obviously must read something. You can't win a race you don't enter....

>>>>The typical sifting mechanism that most magazines and agents go through is something like this:
- is submission packet poorly packaged?
- wordy, effusive or poorly done cover letter?
- any prior publications?
- has writer indicated that they're familiar with this market?

An article I read about submitting manuscripts recommended inexpensive manuscript boxes available at office supply stores. As for the cover letter, I can't tell what a specific editor is going to like or dislike, so I wasn't planning on saying much in mine. Short and simple. As for "familiarity", to what are you referring?

Something that is driving me crazy is the discrepancy in all the advice for submitting manuscripts. Some writers say to ignore the publishers and submit to agents only. Others recommend skipping the agents until a publisher agrees to buy the story, then get an agent to help hammer out the contract. Some recommend sending the entire manuscript, others only the first three chapters and a synopsis, and still others only a query letter, and then whichever the agent/publisher prefers (all or first three chapters) if they are interested.

Even the "standard manuscript format" isn't standard from source to source. Some say Courier only, others any monospace font, as long as it's readable. Some say use a cover page, while others say start the story immediately below the title, in case the cover page gets torn off (and your address is lost), and so on.

I printed out about two dozen sets of submission guidelines from ralan.com, and half of them want something different from the other half. (Most take only printed manuscripts, some take e-mail attachments, and a few ONLY take text pasted into an e-mail. <sigh>) I've decided that it isn't worth the bother to pay to have a manuscript returned (especially for a short story). You'd probably have to reprint it anyway for the next market. Just a SASE for the reply.

>>>>With for-pay journals, you're looking at turnaround times in measured in months. With the smaller journals, you'll often (but not always) get a personal reply from an editor instead of a pink rejection slip with no commentary. You'll have a faster turnaround time, better feedback, and overall probably a better feeling of satisfaction and progress early on.

That's good point, although I have seen quoted response times for no-name publications ranging from 2-weeks to 8-weeks. That's better than 3-5 months for some of the big names, but not by much in some cases. (And, of course, some don't quote a response time.)

>>>>You don't go into writing for money until after someone has paid you at least once ;)

In your view does it count that I've had a (nonfiction) book published before? (It may not sway a SF reviewer much if any, but it matters to me as it relates to my view of being a paid author.) I have also received two $1,500 "author recognition" payments for white papers accepted by the IBM developerWorks web site. And, of course, I'm paid for my writing on a daily basis as a technical writer. Again, I realize that it's a different field, and it isn't freelance, but I'm still used to being paid for my writing, even if not necessarily at my usual rates. <g> (Hey, how about that AlienSkin publication that's paying a whopping *1/2* cent per word!)

Mark.
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>>>>That's good point, although I have seen quoted response times for no-name publications ranging from 2-weeks to 8-weeks. That's better than 3-5 months for some of the big names, but not by much in some cases. (And, of course, some don't quote a response time.)

Actually, I'm going to contridict myself here. I looked more closely at the guidelines I printed out and found that there is no hard and fast rule about whether the big guns will take longer than the unknowns. Look at the following quoted response times:

Well-known (by me at least)
----------
Asimov's Science Fiction - 5 wks
Scifi.com - 5-8 weeks
Fantasy & Science Fiction - 8 wks
Playboy - 8-10 wks

Who?
----
Zoetrope: All Story - 5 months
Glimmer Train - 16 weeks
Absolute Magnitude 8 wks
MarsDust - 8 wks

The Best Response Times Claimed (of those I'm looking at)
-------------------------------
Vestal Review - 2 wks
Oceans of the Mind - 3-4 wks (if submitted via e-mail)
Abyss & Apex - 4 wks
Adbusters - 4-6 wks
Amazing Journeys - 4-6 wks
Byline - 4-8 wks
Asimov's Science Fiction - 5 wks
Scifi.com - 5-8 weeks
Games - 6 wks
Trip the Light Fantastic - 6 wks

Mark.
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like to submit them to whatever SF magazines are still around

.. has the writer indicated that they're familiar with this market?


You've already touched on this point, but only in passing. I'd like to stress it. While a lot of submissions do get rejected because the author "didn't include an SASE" or because "the first paragraph wasn't that good," obvious (to the editor) lack of familiarity with the market is also an important factor.

Playboy might pay the most, but the type of story the Playboy editor is looking for differs radically from what the editor of Analog is seeking, which in turn differs somewhat from what the editors of IASFM or F&SF want. Even within a well-defined genre, there can be significant (if subtle) differences between publications (and between editors, it a magazine has recently undergone a staff change), and it can be a waste of time (or even worse -- editors sometimes do talk to each other, you know) to submit to a magazine that doesn't typically publish your "type" of story. So while it's fine to target the highest paying (or most prestigious) magazine first, it should be with the added restriction of "highest paying magazine for which this particular story is suited."

As I've mentioned before, I spent a few years as editor-in-chief of a computer magazine. It was a small enough operation that I read (well, at least glanced at) everything that came in. It's amazing how many would-be writers thought that a computer magazine whose focus was regional (Asia) and on business/personal PC use would be eager to publish a story about their vacation in France, or about a local business (well, they do own a computer), or a review of the city's Asian restaurants, or a cyberpunk SF short story, or ... well, you get the picture. Some of these pieces were even interesting enough that I read all the way through, and enjoyed them. But no way they were suitable for publication in "my" magazine. And if the same writer sent me two obviously unsuitable submissions, I'd probably remember the name, and his third submission would get kicked back without even being opened.



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>>>>Playboy might pay the most, but the type of story the Playboy editor is looking for differs radically from what the editor of Analog is seeking, which in turn differs somewhat from what the editors of IASFM or F&SF want.
>>>>It's amazing how many would-be writers thought that a computer magazine whose focus was regional (Asia) and on business/personal PC use would be eager to publish a story about their vacation in France, or about a local business (well, they do own a computer), or a review of the city's Asian restaurants, or a cyberpunk SF short story, or ... well, you get the picture.

Will: Thanks for the reply. I understand what you're saying. That's why I printed out the submission guidelines for each of the publications I was considering, because most include a brief summary of what they are (or are not) looking for. (Some are more detailed than others.) For example:

ADBUSTERS is dedicated to reinventing the outdated paradigms of our consumer culture and building a brave new understanding of living. We relish all truly political materials, whether they be scholarly probes into the decline of civilization, environmental forays into the forests, sci-fi carpet rides into cyberspace or humorous spoofs about commercial culture. More than anything, we seek compelling ideas that further the critical perspective and offer activist solutions. Our language is culture jamming: the new activism.

From reading that I know they accept sci-fi, but only if it has some sort of edgy political/activist slant to it. Others specifically exclude horror or time-travel or other genres and subgenres that I might or might not otherwise have considered sending.

I certainly would be sending a sci-fi story to someone who only publishes travel articles, or vice versa. In the case of Playboy, they specifically mentioned SF, although they didn't define what kinds they preferred or wouldn't consider.

Mark.
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>>>>I certainly would be sending a sci-fi story

Whoops. Make that "wouldn't"....

Mark.
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From reading that I know they accept sci-fi, but only if it has some sort of edgy political/activist slant to it. Others specifically exclude horror or time-travel or other genres and subgenres that I might or might not otherwise have considered sending.

That's a good first step, but it's also important to read a couple of issues of each the magazines that you submit to. It's not uncommon for an editor to say what she wants, and then when you read the magazine, you realize she wants something else (based on her acceptance history).

Before submitting to any magazine, I would highly suggest grabbing a couple back issues from a library or other source and just reading their material, then ask yourself, "Does my stuff fit in with this?"

The last thing you'd like to see is to end up talking to an editor on the phone (hey, it happens) because they find a piece interesting but not quite what they want, and they reference a previous issue or their magazine and you have no idea what they're talking about. This happened to a relative of mine. From what she told me, the conversation went like this:

<editor> We thought your piece was really good, but it doesn't quite match our style.
<her> Hmmm, what do you mean?
<editor> For example, you know our Crime Series, right?
<her> Uhhh....
<editor> The column written by Alfred? It's in every issue, about the science of crime stopping?
<her> Oh, um, yeah.
<editor> Well, which of those did you find most interesting?
<her> Uhhh....

And it kind of went on like that for 5 minutes before she fessed up that she had made the submission blindly. The editor rarely gets offended, but it really does look bad.

The typical excuse is "I don't have time to read all that stuff!" And I think the typical editor's response is "Well, I don't have time to read YOUR stuff, but you expect me to, right?"

Libraries, learn to love them =)

-Hook
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>>>> That's a good first step, but it's also important to read a couple of issues of each the magazines that you submit to. It's not uncommon for an editor to say what she wants, and then when you read the magazine, you realize she wants something else (based on her acceptance history).

Hook: That was the plan. It might be a bit tougher to do with the no-name pubs, though. (One suggested ording a copy of their pub, for $9. What do they pay authors whose works they accept? A copy of the pub in which the author's works appear. At least they don't make you pay the $9 to get it.... <g>)

Thanks.

Mark.
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looked over the list of markets ... reviewed the guidelines for each ... itentified which ones I thought my stories would be suitable for ...

Excellent. This is what spells the difference between an "aspiring" writer and a (someday) "published" writer.

The creative process of writing is only half of the picture. Unless you (in the generic sense; I don't mean "you" specifically) are content with passing your creations around to a few friends, or putting them in a drawer/chest a la Emily Dickinson, then you also have to contend with the practical/business aspects. At that point, your story/book becomes a product, and the writer must undertake the role of market analyst/salesman/promoter. A different, but equally important, skill set. Even the best story won't sell if it doesn't reach the right market/editor. Sure, it takes time, it takes effort, it takes perseverence, but it's something that can't be skipped or done half-heartedly (unless you happened to be very lucky). It's not glamorous, it's not intellectually stimulating ... but it's necessary.

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(Just out of curiousity, in Stephen King's book "On Writing" did he happen to mention how many rejection slips he got early in his career? Dozens? Hundreds?)

He talks fairly extensively about the rejection process, and from what I recall, he received a LOT of them -- enough to fill up one of those paper spikes and then some.

If I start with Analog and work my way down to Joe Blow, it'll take longer, but at least then I'll know it wasn't worthy/appropriate for the others.

That's a good point, and obviously it's up to you how you want to approach it, but my personal goal is to get some type of movement happening as soon as possible.

Momentum is your friend, and nothing can kill it quite like a flurry of writing then rejection slips and no publications for a year or two.

When I wrote my first magazine article, I submitted it on a Monday and got a call from the editor on Wednesday saying they wanted to publish it. It was with a smaller (now defunct) magazine called PC Techniques, but it paid well ($400 in 1993 for a 1200 word article).

The money was nice, but the important thing is that by starting at the lower rungs, I was heavily encouraged to continue writing. That was a huge boost to my self-confidence, and then I started writing a lot more prolifically once I realized that people liked my writing.

Granted, this is a lot of projection on my part, so obviously filter it through an anti-Hook polarization device, but I'm not sure I would have bothered writing a book if my first couple articles had been rejected and/or had been sat on for 4-6 months.

If you can maintain your enthusiasm through a lot of pink slips and slow editors, then by all means start from the top and work your way down. There is nothing wrong with that, but it means that it may take a couple _years_ before you see something accepted. If the average turnaround time is 8 weeks, that's 6 submissions a year. The first tier will consume your first year, and barring a lucky strike, it'll be into the second year before you hit the high-probability stuff.

Or do you mean once a publisher says, "Yeah, I like it. Just change the format to my guidelines."

Yes. And a good agent should know what each publisher will want, and they'll call you up and say "Hey, can you print this out like this so I can submit it to our next publisher?"

My book and one of the shorts are hard science.

Ah, okay, the snippets I saw were short enough that it looked more like space opera to me. Do you actually go into the real science of the subjects, or do you do a cursory examination? The depth of the real science is what differentiates hard sci-fi from lighter fare.

For example, Peter Hamilton's "Night's Dawn" trilogy has a lot of elements of hard sci-fi themes, but it is so lacking in any real science that it's clearly space opera.

(Playboy's includes "A little advice for the new writer", for example, so evidently they don't discard everything out of hand that doesn't come with a lengthy list of prior credits.)

Don't get me wrong, they don't discard this stuff out of hand-- I mean, this is how they make their living! They HAVE to foster a community of new writers just to ensure content for the future. But they do have a short leash when it comes to how much they're willing to tolerate improper adherence to submission guidelines.

Sure, I guess some places might actually throw away a manuscript, sight unseen, because it was 12 point courier instead of 14 point helvetica, but I doubt most places are quite that Draconian. Now, if you have a six page cover sheet, submit in long hand, it's too long, and don't include an SASE, yeah, it's probably going straight to the trash bin.

The guidelines are typically there to increase your chances of having your story looked at. When they say "new writers", they often mean people that write a story and then don't understand the process of submission and end up wasting everyone's time because they screw up the process.

As much research as you've done into this, I'm sure you're stories will be looked at. Also, very short pieces are popular because they help with printing constraints -- if they go a little under page count one month, they'll often look for a 900 word story to get in there, etc.

The first few rejection slips are always interesting, in my opinion. It lets you learn how much information they'll return to you.

A relative of mine submitted a story to Playboy once and got rejected, and it was the happiest moment of his life. Why? Because the rejection slip had a handwritten note on it that said:

"Not what we're looking for...do you have anything else by chance?"

That was enough encouragement to keep him going for a few more years =)

-Hook
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>>>>Excellent. This is what spells the difference between an "aspiring" writer and a (someday) "published" writer.

Will: Let's hope so.... <g>

Thanks for the encouragement.

Mark.
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>>>>That's a good point, and obviously it's up to you how you want to approach it, but my personal goal is to get some type of movement happening as soon as possible.

Hook: There's nothing wrong with that. My plan is to start at the top and work my way down. If I get a hit on one of the little guys, I'll probably be sending more stuff their way. But if I'm brilliant enough (or lucky enough) to land Analog or Playboy on my first try, then look at what I wojuld have wasted if I had started at the bottom and sold the same story right off.... If all the big names reject the stories, then I'll know to concentrate on the little fish for a while.

>>>>When I wrote my first magazine article, I submitted it on a Monday and got a call from the editor on Wednesday saying they wanted to publish it. It was with a smaller (now defunct) magazine called PC Techniques, but it paid well ($400 in 1993 for a 1200 word article).
>>>>The money was nice, but the important thing is that by starting at the lower rungs, I was heavily encouraged to continue writing. That was a huge boost to my self-confidence, and then I started writing a lot more prolifically once I realized that people liked my writing.
>>>>Granted, this is a lot of projection on my part, so obviously filter it through an anti-Hook polarization device, but I'm not sure I would have bothered writing a book if my first couple articles had been rejected and/or had been sat on for 4-6 months.

Maybe that's why our outlooks are different. Although I had been writing technical stuff for company use for years, my book was my first attempt at an external for-payment piece. I sent out two synopses simultaneously. I got back one letter almost immediately saying that they weren't taking any more submissions on the subject of OS/2 (they already had more OS/2 titles on the market than everyone else put together, I think). A few days later I got a call from the acquisitions editor of McGraw-Hill asking for some sample chapters to look at (even though I didn't yet have anything close to completed yet--I was just trolling for interest. I told him I could have three rough-draft chapters to him in two weeks. A week after that, I had a contract in my hands. So my experience was that starting at the top sometimes pays off. Maybe it won't go as smoothly with SF, but for all I know it will. Time will tell.

>>>>Ah, okay, the snippets I saw were short enough that it looked more like space opera to me. Do you actually go into the real science of the subjects, or do you do a cursory examination? The depth of the real science is what differentiates hard sci-fi from lighter fare.

It depends on the topic and how crucial it is to the story. When I was writing about how the refining process would need to be done to extract oxygen from Hematite (a type of iron oxide), I did research on the subject so I could speak intelligently about it. This was a key hook in the book, so I didn't want to come off as a buffoon to a metallurgist or geologist who might be reading the book. On the other hand, I realized that the average reader wouldn't really care for the nuts and bolts of the electrochemical process of smelting iron oxide ore, so I had to draw the line somewhere. (My mother still thinks it's too technical, even though it isn't all that detailed.)

But beyond the process itself, I went into the ramifications surrounding it (we need to build an air scrubber somehow to absorb the extra CO2 that we're exhaling and any air pollution we create via the refinery process which isn't as airtight as it ought to be; how the refinery can't take atmospheric input to separate the C from the O2 in the atmosphere--that's what the inoperative life support system is for). That sort of thing. I also went into the process of running computer sims to figure out the best place to attach a spare maneuvering thruster to the hull so the ship wouldn't go spinning off wildly when the unbalanced thrust was applied, and how they had to account for where the reinforced places in the hull were, and where the nearest fuel line could be tapped, and the fact that they had to build a hardpoint for attaching the external thruster to the hull, and that it needed to be built in two pieces so that the mass (not weight) of the thruster assembly wouldn't be too much for two space-walking crewmen to handle, and so on.

I didn't go to the depths of actually supplying schematics or mathematical equations, but I did spend a lot of time thinking through what had to come first,and what had to happen before that and before that, and what followed. It wasn't simply, "They kicked in the hyperjet drives and bingo, there they were." The whole first part of the book was heavy on how they fix this and how they jury-rig that to survive a few more days, and so on. I don't know if it would be considered "very hard" SF, but it's at least "medium hard" (firm? <g>) I would think.

Here's a brief passage from Chapter 2, where the protagonist is dictating into his personal journal some of the problems relating to adding the third thruster:

Copyright 2003 Mark T. Chapman. All Rights reserved.
At first glance, it might appear that adding a third thruster would increase our speed by 50%, from 14 kph to 21 kph. Unfortunately, it's not that simple. If Shamu had been designed to support three *evenly spaced* thrusters that would be true. But because the ship wasn't designed that way, it's likely that the temporary hardpoint won't be up to the stresses of a thruster running at full speed. Even if it is, the rest of the ship isn't designed for the unevenly distributed stresses -- our makeshift layout only minimizes the stress; it doesn't eliminate it. So we're going to have to throttle back all three of the thrusters. (That may be for the best, as they weren't designed for lengthy full-power operation anyway.) This means we won't get 21 kph out of the thrusters. We may not even average the 17.9 kph we need to reach the asteroid in time. However, we'll be a lot closer to it than if we were to stay with two thrusters at only 14 kph.

We *may* be able to tweak some extra power out of the thrusters by adjusting the fuel mix, but as Tom pointed out, with three thrusters we'll consume 50% more fuel than with two thrusters, leaving us only two-thirds as much burn time. Worst case, we can't use up more than half of our fuel trying to fly as fast as possible to the asteroid, because we have to reserve the other half to slow down again. These are all problems that we have to solve in the simulations before we can use the third thruster. Still, the longer we wait before we light #3, the less time we'll have to take advantage of it.


That's probably not the most detailed discussion of technology in the book, but I think it shows that a lot of thought went into "what if". (Earlier I had some simple calculations to show how much speed to needed to close the gap before they ran out of air, and I mentioned a second set of sims that would have to plot the most efficient route through the asteroid belt, given the unbalanced thrust.)

>>>>Momentum is your friend, and nothing can kill it quite like a flurry of writing then rejection slips and no publications for a year or two.

True, but on the other hand, right now I have only four stories written. If I got an immediate hit and they say "Hey, do you have any more like that?", I might not yet have anything suitable to give them (although I'd certainly start writing! <g>). If it takes months to sell one I should have a few more of almost any type (of the ones I'm interested in, that is) written by then, which might actually help the momentum, if I have another one ready to go. (Or, at least it sounds good in theory.... <g>)

>>>>As much research as you've done into this, I'm sure you're stories will be looked at. Also, very short pieces are popular because they help with printing constraints -- if they go a little under page count one month, they'll often look for a 900 word story to get in there, etc.

Yeah. That's part of the reason I've "spread out" my stories. One is <500 words, one is 1,000, another is about 1,500, and the fourth is <4,000. I wasn't looking at specific targets (except to have a few flash pieces written for the markets that only deal in those), but I knew that different pubs have different needs. I thought it was interesting that Weird Tales specifically mentioned the really short stuff: "Most of what we buy is shorter than 8000 wds. ... Short-short stories (less than 1000 wds or so) are very hard to write, but they are easy to sell." The two pieces I have written so far that fall into their definition of short-short aren't in the right genre for WT, but I'll definitely keep the short-short story in mind when I think about horror/fanasy/dark fiction. If I can think of a good story that I can write in <1K words, I'll definitely submit it to WT.

It's funny that as a reader, I really don't care for ultra-short fiction, because just as I get interested in the story, it's over. But I find that they're fun to write. I don't have to get heavily involved in details for something that short. It's especially good for humorous pieces. (Just as it's difficult to write for a 60 min. sitcom, it's harder to maintain the humor in a long story.)

>>>>A relative of mine submitted a story to Playboy once and got rejected, and it was the happiest moment of his life. Why? Because the rejection slip had a handwritten note on it that said:
>>>>"Not what we're looking for...do you have anything else by chance?"

My mother had several similar experiences when she was shopping around a couple of novels she wrote. Many of them said things like, "The writing is outstanding, but not exactly what we're look for. Keep going and you're bound to be successful." She finally got fed up and decided to write a Harlequin romance. She said they are so boilerplate that anyone could write one. All through it she kept saying, "This is so easy, but these books are such drek." Finally she submitted it to Harlequin. When she read the rejection slip she burst out laughing. To paraphrase, it said, "We suspect that you are an established writer who is attempting to branch out into another genre. Unfortunately, your disdain for the material comes through in your writing. We recommend that you return to your established market niche." She said, "I can't argue with that assessment. I really hate that type of book." <g>

Mark.
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On the other hand, I realized that the average reader wouldn't really care for the nuts and bolts of the electrochemical process of smelting iron oxide ore, so I had to draw the line somewhere.

This is more subjective, but in my opinion hard sci-fi is where you have the serious science down, but then to be any sci-fi, the science has to be key to the story.

Delving heavily into science without it being relevant to the story (relevant meaning "ties to a plot point"), then it comes off as nerdy techno-geek stuff, without about as much value as graphic sex scenes that have no other point than to titillate the reader briefly.

At first glance, it might appear that adding a third thruster would increase our speed by 50%, from 14 kph to 21 kph.

This isn't true. Number of thrusters won't increase speed, it increases acceleration. Top speed in outer space is not limited by your thrust, it's limited by fuel, thruster efficiency and time.

(BTW, I'm not trying to bust your balls on all this, but I figure some tough love early is probably better than nothing =) )

True, but on the other hand, right now I have only four stories written.

Actually, now that I think about it, the right approach might be to do a shotgun approach to multiple venues simultaneously, choosing the stories to match the right target. This lets you have multiple simultaneous submissions out there without doing simultaneous submissions of the same piece, and in the process gives you a lot more feedback quickly. I would definitely lean towards that direction if I had that quantity of material available.

-Hook
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>>>>This is more subjective, but in my opinion hard sci-fi is where you have the serious science down, but then to be any sci-fi, the science has to be key to the story.

Hook: I agree, but there is such a thing as overdoing it. Quoting from the Analog submission guidelines, "Basically, we publish science fiction stories. That is, stories in which some aspect of future science or technology is so integral to the plot that, if that aspect were removed, the story would collapse." That's certainly true in this case. But I also liked what Artemis Magazine (who?) said: "Technical accuracy is an absolute requirement, but don't bog down the story with unnecessary technical detail: remember that in good "science fiction", both terms ought to receive equal emphasis."

>>>>Delving heavily into science without it being relevant to the story (relevant meaning "ties to a plot point"), then it comes off as nerdy techno-geek stuff, without about as much value as graphic sex scenes that have no other point than to titillate the reader briefly.

Exactly, although I have nothing against gratuitous nudity/sex scenes. Gratuitous technobabble, on the otherhand.... <g>

>>>>At first glance, it might appear that adding a third thruster would increase our speed by 50%, from 14 kph to 21 kph.
>>>>This isn't true. Number of thrusters won't increase speed, it increases acceleration. Top speed in outer space is not limited by your thrust, it's limited by fuel, thruster efficiency and time.
>>>>(BTW, I'm not trying to bust your balls on all this, but I figure some tough love early is probably better than nothing =) )

Not a problem. Thanks for pointing out the difference. That's exactly why I was looking for reviewers to help me sanity-check the book. But won't increasing the acceleration ultimate result in increasing the speed (even if it isn't the only factor)? (Besides, I didn't say that adding throusters would increase the speed by 50%, I said it might appear that way.) As for fuel and time, those are finite, as I pointed out, so I don't think that's a problem. They can only keep accelerating for so long because a) they need to reserve at least 50% of their fuel for deceleration (and hopefully for later maneuvering, if they survive), b) they also have to be able to decelerate in time, c) they have to do it all before they run out of air, and d) because these are maneuvering thrusters (not main engines), they aren't designed to run for more than a few minutes at a time, maximum, not hours or days, so the crew is being cautious and not running them nonstop.

At least I didn't make the mistake some writers have of treating a space ship as if it will stop coasting (pesky inertia) just because it runs out of fuel. Or acting as if just because an object is weightless it has no mass (such as one man trying to push an entire spaceship by himself. <g>) I have seen or read both of these non-nos in SF before.

>>>>Actually, now that I think about it, the right approach might be to do a shotgun approach to multiple venues simultaneously, choosing the stories to match the right target. This lets you have multiple simultaneous submissions out there without doing simultaneous submissions of the same piece, and in the process gives you a lot more feedback quickly. I would definitely lean towards that direction if I had that quantity of material available.

Okay, I'm confused. Why *wouldn't* someone have enough material to do this? Unless they sell everything they write immediately, or they wait for years while shopping around one story without writing any others, wouldn't the stories tend to pile up after a while?

I was actually looking at a two-pronged approach: a) send several stories to several different markets concurrently, and b) whenever possible, send the same story to several different markets. There are *some* (not many) that allow simultaneous submission ("simsubs"). For example, Vestal Review, Funny Times, Zoetrope, Glimmer Train, Oceans of the Mind and Absolute Magnitude all permit it (of course one piece won't appeal to them all, but possibly to two or three at a time). Naturally, that only works if you send to two (or more) markets that permit it, and not to one that allows it and one that doesn't. (In the case of Glimmer Train, they ask for a 2-month head start before you send to others, and Oceans of the Mind asks that you just let them know that you're doing it. Hey, maybe that gets them to hurry up and look at yours before the 2 months are up! <g>)

Some also accept multiple submissions (meaning that you can send them two or sometimes three submissions in a month, or between quarterly issues, or whatever. Some of these include Glimmer Train (3 per quarterly "reading period"), Funny Times (no limit stated), and AlienSkin (2 per month).

Combining approaches would seem to "shrink the publication horizon" somewhat. With enough stories covering enough genre markets, you could probably keep a lot of balls in the air all the time. (Some humor, some horror/fantasy, some hard science, some lighter stuff, some SF/fantasy, and all divided among flash/micro fiction and longer pieces.)

That would *have* to be more efficient, and hopefully more effective, than sticking exclusively to one genre and submitting to one market at a time. Of course, it probably requires setting up a spreadsheet to keep track of what you sent to whom, and when, and what their stated response time is (so you know when you can give up on them and forward to the next on the list, if you don't hear back).... <g>

Mark.
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But won't increasing the acceleration ultimate result in increasing the speed (even if it isn't the only factor)?

Speed is nothing but acceleration over some time. Acceleration will increase your speed by some certain time 't', but it won't increase your top speed. This is how ion drives work, for example -- they have almost no appreciable thrust, but because they're highly efficient (relatively speaking) a system using ion engines can attain very, very high speeds. It just takes a long time to build up to that point.

When talking about space ships and "speed", saying it can go such-and-such speed isn't particularly meaningful. This is why many sci-fi stories talk about things in terms of pounds-thrust or G's acceleration, because that's really what matters.

Why *wouldn't* someone have enough material to do this?

Not everyone is prolific. Some people may only write one good short story a year because of time constraints, etc. At least, until they get enough feedback that they can justify working on fiction more.

That would *have* to be more efficient, and hopefully more effective, than sticking exclusively to one genre and submitting to one market at a time.

Yes, and if you're looking for good feedback quickly, then that's exactly what I would do.

-Hook
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>>>>Speed is nothing but acceleration over some time. Acceleration will increase your speed by some certain time 't', but it won't increase your top speed. This is how ion drives work, for example -- they have almost no appreciable thrust, but because they're highly efficient (relatively speaking) a system using ion engines can attain very, very high speeds. It just takes a long time to build up to that point.
>>>>When talking about space ships and "speed", saying it can go such-and-such speed isn't particularly meaningful. This is why many sci-fi stories talk about things in terms of pounds-thrust or G's acceleration, because that's really what matters.

Hook: Thanks for the primer. In this specific case, what matters to the crew is that they have 69 hours of air left. They have to move the ship 1143 km in 64 hours to reach the asteroid that has the iron oxides they have to refine into iron and oxygen (allowing 5 hours for the extraction and refining). They are trying to figure out whether adding a third thruster will give them enough additional thrust to get them there in time.

It's easy enough to say "If I have x kilometers to go, and y hours to get there, I need an *average* speed (taking into account acceleration and deceleration) of z kph to get there. But I don't know how to convert pounds of thrust into kph. I suppose I could be a bit more generic and say "given the pounds-thrust of the two thrusters (without going into specifics), adding a third would boost the thrust by 50%, less a fudge factor to lessen the stresses on the temporary hardpoint..." etc, and not go into as much detail, but I think some detail adds to the realism of the situation. But only if I can do it correctly and nontediously.... Any suggestions? The details of determining how fast they can go and whether they will make it in time only affect a few pages out of the whole book, so it shouldn't be too much trouble to correct them, once I know how to word it.

>>>>Yes, and if you're looking for good feedback quickly, then that's exactly what I would do.

It's worth a shot, anyway. Thanks again.

Mark.
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It's easy enough to say "If I have x kilometers to go, and y hours to get there, I need an *average* speed (taking into account acceleration and deceleration) of z kph to get there.

Welcome to calculus =)

But I don't know how to convert pounds of thrust into kph.

Well, in theory you wouldn't use pounds, but probably kilograms of thrust or Newtons. This is how large boosters are often rated (meganewtons of thrust).

One newton equals the force required to accelerate one kilogram of mass at one meter/second/second.

But only if I can do it correctly and nontediously.... Any suggestions? The details of determining how fast they can go and whether they will make it in time only affect a few pages out of the whole book, so it shouldn't be too much trouble to correct them, once I know how to word it.

It would take a while to compute everything out. Personally, if it's not particularly relevant to the story, I'd just fudge it and summarize.

-Hook
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>>>>It would take a while to compute everything out. Personally, if it's not particularly relevant to the story, I'd just fudge it and summarize.

Hook: I came to the same conclusion while I was awaiting your response. I basically stayed with what I had as far as talking about needing enough thrust to average a certain number of km/hr to reach the asteroid in time. I just removed the references to absolute speeds (thrusters rated at 14 kph of speed, etc.). There was some minor tweaking required to work around this, but nothing major. ("We need enough thrust to average 17.9 kph for the entire trip, taking into account accelerating for half the trip and then decelerating to a complete stop at the asteroid." That sort of thing; just spread over a couple of pages rather than crammed into one sentence like the preceding one.)

Thanks again for your help!

Mark.
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Chapman208 writes (in part):

Thanks for the primer. In this specific case, what matters to the crew is that they have 69 hours of air left. They have to move the ship 1143 km in 64 hours to reach the asteroid that has the iron oxides they have to refine into iron and oxygen (allowing 5 hours for the extraction and refining).

I reply:

I'm new around here but this discussion raises some red flags for me. I've been reading SF since I was about eight. As a kid I typically devoured a book (or more) per night, and even now, as an attorney, husband, and father of an active three-year-old, I still find time to do a fair amount of reading. I subscribe to Analog, Asimov's, and Fantasy & Science Fiction and do my best to keep up with them. My reaction to your brief descriptions of your stories was: "Hasn't that been done before?" That's not fatal, of course. But if you do something that's been done before, especially if it's been done a lot, you'll need a new take.

I'm also concerned that the science is materially inaccurate. To me, the numbers in your orbital scenario seem big enough that orbital mechanics will be a significant consideration. In other words, you can't simply point your ship at the asteroid (or whether the asteroid will be when your trip is over) and fire your rockets, because your increased speed relative to the sun will drive you into a higher orbit. The usual way of matching orbits (which is what you're trying to do) is to decelerate, thereby dropping into a lower and faster orbit. You wait a while until you've passed the object you're trying to catch, then accelerate to rejoin the object in its higher orbit. The process is described in, for example, Emergence by David R. Palmer (not a terribly good book, just the first that came to my mind with an orbital matching scene).

Any hard SF editor, such as, say, Stan Schmidt, will consider this basic orbital mechanics. If you betray unfamiliarity with it, he will reject it out of hand (because he knows that many of his readers expect accuracy in this aspect of the stories he publishes). I would expect the experience to reflect adversely on your ability ever to enter that particular market. I am seriously concerned that you have not done enough science homework to satisfy the rigor demanded by the hard SF market.

Best of luck to you. I look forward to your work hitting my bookshelf. --Bob
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>>>>My reaction to your brief descriptions of your stories was: "Hasn't that been done before?"

Bob: Thanks for your comments. I'm not sure to what you are referring, though. Are you saying that other books/stories dealt with finding iron oxide ore on an asteroid and refining it to extract oxygen to save the crew's life? If so, I haven't seen it done before, but as I haven't been reading short stories for years I may have missed it (although I haven't seen the issue come up in any of the thousands of SF books I have read over the years). Or did you mean something else?

>>>>I'm also concerned that the science is materially inaccurate. To me, the numbers in your orbital scenario seem big enough that orbital mechanics will be a significant consideration. In other words, you can't simply point your ship at the asteroid (or whether the asteroid will be when your trip is over) and fire your rockets, because your increased speed relative to the sun will drive you into a higher orbit. The usual way of matching orbits (which is what you're trying to do) is to decelerate, thereby dropping into a lower and faster orbit. You wait a while until you've passed the object you're trying to catch, then accelerate to rejoin the object in its higher orbit.

I'm don't think this is precisely the same sort of situation. We have a disabled ship, adrift in the asteroid belt, moving at more or less the same speed as the asteroids around it. They have no main engine with which to shoot past their target (which may well be ahead of them; I didn't specify) and then wait. They have only low-power thrusters and they are only going a short distance, so I don't think the issue of an orbit really applies here. (At a distance of, say, 2-3 au, the small arc of the orbit they are traversing may as well be a straight line (just as we don't have to worry about the curvature of the earth when we walk across the street). The ship's computer will compute the trajectory of their flight. They are only concerned with whether they can accelerate enough (and then decelerate) to reach the asteroid in time. Out of the entire book, this topic takes up parts of 2-3 pages, so it's pretty trivial in the overall picture. I want to get it right, but it's not a significant portion of the book that would require rework if my description os off. More of the book involves the electrochemical/mechanical process of extracting and refining the ore (which is scientifically sound), the use of nanobots for medical and repair/assembly purposes (also scientifically sound, from what I have read of nanotechnology developments), and some fanciful alien technology (which may or may not be more scientifically sound than phasors and transporters).

>>>>I am seriously concerned that you have not done enough science homework to satisfy the rigor demanded by the hard SF market.

I have done a fair amount of research on the parts that I knew I needed to. The aspect of orbital mechanics that you (and Longhook) mention is one that I overlooked. I hope there aren't any other such fundamental flaws in my use of scientific principles. That's part of the reason I asked for readers to help me "sanity check" the story and the science. So far I have gotten feedback from two reviewers and neither has pointed out any other such problems (but, unfortunately, they didn't point out this one either). I don't know how scientifically knowledgeable the various reviewers are. I already have six reviewers actively reading the book, and a couple of others in reserve, but perhaps after the first batch are done I'll ask for a few more to help me look for holes in the science. You (and Longhook) are welcome to volunteer, if you're interested. (So far, the comments I have received dealt with some stilted dialog in the ferst few chapters and other minor points--nothing major, and they both seemed to enjoy the overall story, which is encouraging.)

>>>>Best of luck to you. I look forward to your work hitting my bookshelf.

Thanks -- me too! <g>

Mark.
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Chapman208 writes (in part):

I'm not sure to what you are referring, though. Are you saying that other books/stories dealt with finding iron oxide ore on an asteroid and refining it to extract oxygen to save the crew's life?

I reeply:

I was referring to this, from an earlier post in the thread:

The book delves into the mechanics of space-folding spaceflight (at least as it pertains to the starflight engine I hypothesized), mining/refining in space, nanobots as both minute mechanics and as medical techniques, and the mechanics of the transportation portals, for example. The story goes into the process by which a person might become invisible, and the physical results (how would someone whose eyeballs become transparent be able to see? Wouldn't their inorganic teeth fillings and freshly-eaten food stay visible? What about their hair and nails, which couldn't have absorbed the potion yet?). The three other shorts are lighter, even mildly humorous, but I try not to limit myself to only one style or genre. (So far I have an alien invasion, a 14-year-old time traveler, an invisible man, and a sci-fi author who meets aliens in his house, among my stories.)

The other main point that jumps out at me from your descriptions is that the stories seem to be about the science. In my view (and I believe some disagree with me about this), good fiction, including good science fiction, should be about people. I would much rather read about how your protagonists react to their problem, with the nuts and bolts of their solution as mere context to their reaction, than read about the solution itself, no matter how "gee whiz" it might be.

Think Sundiver or Startide Rising. Brin's technology was more than enough to evoke my sense of wonder, but it was, and remained, background. The books were moving because I cared about the people (and dolphins, and chimpanzees, and aliens). --Bob
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In my view (and I believe some disagree with me about this), good fiction, including good science fiction, should be about people.

The way I'd put it is "Good science fiction is about how people react to fictional science and technology".

A neat new breakthrough in the field of [whatever] might be interesting in its own right -- if you're reading Scientific American. To become interesting, as fiction, it really needs characters that people can identify with.

Aldiss's Helliconia series suffered from poor characterization in a lot of ways, but it was still an incredibly interesting faux documentary. But as fiction, it was rather bleh.

To your typical reader, the interest lies in how a society, an individual or a group of people react to and handle this new data. They often project themselves, their peer group and their society into a situation, subconsciously, and part of their empathy and acceptance arises from how they would react in similar circumstances.

Of course, Stephen King has a lot to say about this, and makes a very strong case that "people read about people" (yes, anyone who has NOT read On Writing and fancies themselves a writer should be feeling ashamed by now =) ).

(NOTE: I have no idea about the characterizations in Mark's manuscript, I'm just rambling about characterization in general)

Somewhat related to this, I'm on a mailing list for role-playing game developers (people who like to make their own paper and pencil RPGs), and one of the questions was about "the social effects of magic". The thread is long and varied, but it really did make me stop and think about how poorly so much fantasy has handled this subject.

If magic was provably potent and existed, the fact is that it would radically affect a society to its core, depending on the nature of the magic, its potency, and ubiquity. Wizards would be reviled, worshipped, deified, killed, etc. depending on the circumstances.

-Hook
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Mark,

>>>>But finding a good agent and having them willing to take you on as a client are two
entirely different things.

Sure. But how does one find out who the good agents are? Is there a ranking somewhere?
<g>

If you've been on the SFWA website, you'll find good information on how to find an agent (and avoid the con artists) on that site. There's also an organization for agents -- AAR (Association of Author's Representatives) -- whose agents have to abide by their rules, including no "reading fees." They're on the web if you want to check out which agents are members.

There's also the Novel & Short Story Writer's Market, which your local library should have. Have you visited the Writer's Digest website? They have some useful advice. Also, try this website: http://www.sfwriter.com/agent.htm -- there's some interesting information on this page. This website has been recommended by several sources: http://www.anotherealm.com/prededitors/pubagent.htm

Whatever you do, remember, you want an agent who makes their money when they sell your novel -- not one that charges you any types of reading fees, or sends you to a "book doctor" or "editor" for a "reasonable fee" (the so-called agent is probably getting a kickback; this is how the dishonest ones make money off hopeful writers.

Hope that helps.
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>>>>I was referring to this, from an earlier post in the thread:

Bob: I'm afraid I'm still not clear on what it is you think has been done to death? That paragraph described a book and a short story about an invisible man, and then mentioned three other short stories. I'm sure the invisible man story has been done many times, but how many have tried to look at the physiological/psychological effects of the transformation, rather than the gee-whiz results of being able to sneak into buildings unseen, etc? (That wasn't rhetorical. I honestly don't know how many times that has been done.)

>>>>The other main point that jumps out at me from your descriptions is that the stories seem to be about the science. In my view (and I believe some disagree with me about this), good fiction, including good science fiction, should be about people.

I agree completely. I tried to strike a balance between the interactions between the characters, the psychological aspects of events, action sequences, nuts and bolts science, and gee-whiz alien technology. The only reason I was describing only the technology in earlier posts was that someone had suggested that my stories seemed to lack the hard science that Analog is looking for (of course, a book isn't going to be submitted to Analog anyway), and I posted a passage to show that I did try for some hard science.

I also include a fair amount of humor (conversational, not pratfalls) counterbalanced with some graphic scenes of physical attack and even torture. (I tried not to get too gory, but I did want to inject some realism to show that even the good guys can get seriously injured. Did Capt. Kirk ever get more than a scratch on his head and a broken rib?)

It's hard to represent the complexities and subtleties of a book in a few sentences or a short passage posting, so I'm not surprised that they are giving off mixed messages (not enough science to one poster and too much to another). I have gotten feedback from three reviewers so far. All pointed out areas where it could be improved, but all said that they thought it was a good read and they would buy it if published. (Perhaps they are all being polite, but their critiques weren't scathing; they merely suggested some ways to strengthen given chapters. So I'm inclined to believe their overall positive assessments.)

I'll be sending the latest draft of the book to my friend in the UK late this week. He and I will work together during his vacation on implementing some of the suggestions that he and other reviewers will have made by then. I may open the book to a second round of reviews at that time, if you are interested. (If so, just drop me a private e-mail.) At this point I'm hoping for a couple of people with strong science backgrounds who can let me know if I messed up anything besides the speed vs. acceleration issue raised earlier.

>>>>I would much rather read about how your protagonists react to their problem, with the nuts and bolts of their solution as mere context to their reaction,

How about this then:

The following is Copyright 2003 by Mark T. Chapman. All rights reserved:

We heard Guido's peals of laughter turn suddenly into shrieks of terror, which attenuated as he fell to his death kilometers below. We rushed over to the low transparent wall at the edge of the platform in time to see the chair-bucket disappear into a cloud hundreds of meters beneath us.

Cap and Tom and Sparks and I stared at one another in horrified, stunned silence. How could it happen so fast? There was nothing we could do but watch helplessly.

“My G--“ Sparks began, then choked up. He put his hand over his mouth.

“Wha-what happened?” Tom asked, his normally olive complexion gone as pale as Sparks' and mine. “H-How? These things have been operating for billions of years. Why now?”

We had no good answer to those questions. “I...guess everything breaks eventually, even Progenitors' stuff.” I said in a monotone, still trying to understand myself what went wrong.

“What are we going to do now?” Sparks ventured. “We don't even know where his body is. What are we going to tell his wife -- and baby?”

“That we got him killed.” I was numb. “He was the one who was always worried about being killed by aliens, and we teased and cajoled him into coming along, and we got him killed by an alien device on an alien world.”

“Oh, sweet Jesus,” Sparks said under his breath. Tears ran down his face, unnoticed.

I looked over at Cap and thought I saw a moist glint in his eyes as well. But I was having trouble seeing clearly myself, so I couldn't be sure. Tom sat down heavily, like a marionette whose strings had suddenly been cut.

“What do we do now?” Tom asked softly, echoing Sparks' earlier query.

“We go home,” Cap answered heavily. “We go home.”


I'm sure it loses something, read out of context, but I hope it demonstrates that there is a lot of human reaction to events, as well as soul searching, in the book.

Thanks for your comments.

Mark.
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Thanks, Athena!

Mark.
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Guess what? The first post in this thread was selected as a Hot Topic! Here's the link: http://www.fool.com/community/hottopics/2003/ht030821.htm

The post is listed under Lifebeat. As as result I get a free month's extension to my subscription to TMF. (That makes two years and two months, so far....)

Not a big deal, really, but I thought it was cool. I didn't think that the post itself was all that wonderful, so perhaps it's really the entire thread that deserved the honor. At least, *I* think the thread has been very informative and useful! Thanks, guys!

Mark.
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I may open the book to a second round of reviews at that time, if you are interested.

Here's the problem -- I'm just woefully reluctant to allow the opinions of anyone that "knows" me. I know that when I'm asked to critique someone else's stuff, it's very hard for me to be honest, even if they're only a faceless entity on the Internet. Some people can be scathing, but I don't think it's in our nature to alienate and hurt people we have no beef with.

What I was thinking would be neat -- and there has GOT to be something like this out there -- is a Web site devoted to authors who can post fragments (1-2 pages) anonymously and also critique anothers anonymously. A complete double blind -- you don't know who you're judging, and they don't know who is judging you. THAT would be a good way to get honest criticism.

As my "contribution" -- and trust me, I'm not comfortable being this critical -- I'm going to whip out the red ink and annotate your passage. Now, I'm not a published fiction author nor an editor, and I'm not putting too much thought into this, so take it for what it's worth. I also didn't put my text together, nor did I proofread it, so feel free to rip into it, I have no emotional investment with it =)

Overall, my biggest concerns are: passivity in description; stilted/unrealistic sounding dialog; and the reactions themselves just feel very unnatural.

We heard Guido's peals of laughter turn suddenly into shrieks of terror, which attenuated as he fell to his death kilometers below. We rushed over to the low transparent wall at the edge of the platform in time to see the chair-bucket disappear into a cloud hundreds of meters beneath us.

Way too passive and not vivid enough. Second sentence is much too long -- six prepositional phrases! You can probably skip the "hundreds of meters beneath us" because the reader presumably understands the layout through prior description.

Guido's laughter suddenly turned into shrieks of terror, attenuating as he fell. We rushed to the edge of the platform in time to see the tops of the clouds swallow his chair-bucket.

Cap and Tom and Sparks and I stared at one another in horrified, stunned silence. How could it happen so fast? There was nothing we could do but watch helplessly.

SHOW, DON'T TELL. Anyway...

the combination of "stunned" and "horrified", to me, detracts. Choose one or the other so you can flow it for maximum impact, but personally I'd prefer not even stating that and let actions depict the scene a bit more vividly. The last sentence is unnecessary, that should be a given from the context, unless you're trying to explain a character's state of mind, and I would argue that's better done by showing.

For a brief moment, Cap and Tom and Sparks and I stared at each other in stunned silence.

“My G--“ Sparks began, then choked up. He put his hand over his mouth.

Much better -- show the reaction, don't tell us about it. Why is he covering his mouth?

"My G--" Sparks began, then choked up.

“Wha-what happened?” Tom asked, his normally olive complexion gone as pale as Sparks' and mine. “H-How? These things have been operating for billions of years. Why now?”

Personal bias, but I'd ditch the explicit stammering. The complexion thing doesn't flow and isn't active enough.

"What happened?" Tom asked, the color draining from his face. "How? These things have been operating for billions of years...why now?"

We had no good answer to those questions. “I...guess everything breaks eventually, even Progenitors' stuff.” I said in a monotone, still trying to understand myself what went wrong.

The first line is redundant and dry -- of course you don't have answers, don't state the obvious.

"I guess everything breaks eventually," I said listlessly. I looked around at the platform. "Even Progenitors's stuff."

“What are we going to do now?” Sparks ventured. “We don't even know where his body is. What are we going to tell his wife -- and baby?”

Blah. It doesn't sound natural at all to me.

Sparks sighed. "Well, now what?" He looked at the billowing clouds beneath us. "We don't even know where his body is. And we have to tell his fam -- Christ, what are we going to say to her? Or to the baby?"

“That we got him killed.” I was numb. “He was the one who was always worried about being killed by aliens, and we teased and cajoled him into coming along, and we got him killed by an alien device on an alien world.”

"The truth," I said numbly. Tom frowned, looking at me for an explanation. "He was the one who was always worried about being killed by aliens, right? And what do we do? We tease him and pressure him into coming along with us and sure enough, we get him killed by an alien device on an alien world."

“Oh, sweet Jesus,” Sparks said under his breath. Tears ran down his face, unnoticed.

Unnoticed by whom? Presumably by him, but I'd just ditch that word.

“Oh, sweet Jesus,” Sparks said under his breath. Tears ran down his face.

I looked over at Cap and thought I saw a moist glint in his eyes as well. But I was having trouble seeing clearly myself, so I couldn't be sure. Tom sat down heavily, like a marionette whose strings had suddenly been cut.

Decent, I'd rewrite it a bit mostly because I kept using 'look' too much in my own edits.

I thought I saw a moist glint in Cap's eyes as well. But I was having trouble seeing clearly myself, so I couldn't be sure. Tom sat down heavily, like a marionette whose strings had suddenly been cut.

“What do we do now?” Tom asked softly, echoing Sparks' earlier query.

Decent.

“We go home,” Cap answered heavily. “We go home.”

Feels cliche. Repetition of something in a heavy voice is overdone.

Cap exhaled sharply. "We go home," he said. He turned and walked back to the lift, glancing back at the platform's edge only once.

-Hook
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...upon further review.

Too many adverbs. Stephen King rants a lot bout adverbs, in fact that's one of his major beefs. When editing your text I used "said numbly" and "said listlessly" when I know I shouldn't have -- bad habits die hard.

They're okay in moderation, but they often become a crutch for description.

For many readers, it's a subconscious effect, but noticeable, when there is a lot of "answered breathlessly", "sighed listlessly", "looked angrily", "scowled fiercely", "breathed quietly", etc.

-Hook
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LongHook, I feel the same way about adverbs. They're my own pet peeve. My opinion: the way someone acts or says something should be evident either in the dialogue or description itself. Yet another reason to have a good vocabulary!

CK
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Chapman208 writes (in part):

I'm sure the invisible man story has been done many times, but how many have tried to look at the physiological/psychological effects of the transformation, rather than the gee-whiz results of being able to sneak into buildings unseen, etc? (That wasn't rhetorical. I honestly don't know how many times that has been done.)

I reply:

I can't give you a count (or even an example), but I'm confident it's been done multiple times. Generally, the story was about something else, and one of the characters needed to go invisible. The issues you're dealing with are mentioned in passing -- for an example from my imagination: "Obviously, I couldn't leave and I dared not be seen. I quickly tossed my clothes into the hamper, downed my invisibility potion, and buried the flagon in the hamper as well." --Bob (who, for reasons that should now be obvious, does not aspire to write fiction professionally)
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I don't really intend these comments as criticism, but simply to illustate how my mind works while churning in editorial mode (which it is now, since I've been copyediting all day and into the night, and still have a lot of pages to go). If I were editing the excerpt, these are the kinds of things I'd flag for a rewrite:

peals of laughter turn suddenly into shrieks of terror, which attenuated as he fell

Attenuated? It's a fine verb, but it's too "technical" for the context. It distracted my attention from the action -- I spent several seconds wondering just how the sound of his shrieks changed. Did they become weaker as the distance grew? Thinner? Did the pitch change as his velocity increased?

Cap and Tom and Sparks and I stared at one another

The four are standing in a line at the edge of the platform, right? But "stared at one another" sounds rather like they are gathered round in a circle. If they are in a line and Cap and Tom and Sparks are staring at "I," then Cap would not be able to see Tom or Sparks' faces.

He put his hand over his mouth.

Why? From surprise? In dismay? To stifle a scream? Because he felt as if he might vomit? Be more specific.

Sparks ventured

A person might "venture" an opinion if they fear being rebuffed or criticized. But I don't think it's the appropriate verb when someone simply asks "What do we do now?"

Tears ran down [Sparks'] face, unnoticed. ... I looked over at Cap and thought I saw a moist glint in his eyes as well.

The "as well" suggests that the tears on Sparks face were noticed after all. (If it was Sparks who didn't notice, how does the narrator know this? The "voice" here is "I," not 3rd person omniscient so that we know what is going on in Sparks' mind.)

sat down heavily, like a marionette whose strings had suddenly been cut

Cliche alert! If the way that he sat is important, describe it in visual terms instead of relying on a metaphor.

Again, I don't intend my comments as criticism. But if the manuscript happened to wind up on my desk for editing, those are the kinds of nit-picking comments the author could expect.
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SW,

Good, concise commentary there, wish I'd caught those structural/consistency issues. One thing though:

Cliche alert! If the way that he sat is important, describe it in visual terms instead of relying on a metaphor.

While I agree that the marionette thing is borderline cliche, I happen to like effective metaphor that isn't played out. The type of thing good comedians use (Dennis Miller being the obvious one), or the stuff in Snowcrash by Stephenson.

There is a big difference between "The moon was like a malevolent eye" and well written metaphors.

Again, I don't intend my comments as criticism.

Ummm...why not? If there's some toe stepping going on here on my part, I'd like to shut up.

-Hook
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Some tiny suggestions to add (feel free to take these with a big shake of salt, because I'm not an experienced fiction writer).

1. I'm just echoing the writer's mantra: show, don't tell.
But I was having trouble seeing clearly myself, so I couldn't be sure. Tom sat down heavily, like a marionette whose strings had suddenly been cut.

I drew in a breath, feeling it rattle in my throat. Damn this controlled atmosphere. It was making my eyes sting, and I wiped away the tears that threatened to cloud my vision. Tom's legs seemed to collapse as he plopped on the floor. The thud reverberated along the platform.

2. I like to eliminate "he said" at times to keep things flowing.
“We go home,” Cap answered heavily. “We go home.”

"We go home." Cap walked back to the lift. I could see his neck muscles tense as he resisted the urge to look back.

Anyhoo, those are just a few random thoughts. Good luck!

CK
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I don't intend my comments as criticism...

Ummm...why not? If there's some toe stepping going on here on my part,...


I wrote my comments before I read yours, so no intimation of "toe stepping" intended.

I simply meant that my few, selected comments do not constitute valid editorial criticism: too brief, too focused, and too out-of-context.

It's one thing to flag a few editorial queries. But bearing in mind that the novel is already completed, I'm not conceited enough (even if I am an editor) to say, "OK, now go back and rewrite the whole thing in the style I'm suggesting" -- which is essentially what "criticism" of the excerpt would imply. Also, my career has been as a non-fiction editor. Without a few fiction novels under my belt, I don't feel I have the expertise/experience to say "Trust me. I know what I'm talking about." When it comes to fiction, all I can say (editorially) at this point is "I know what I like." And that may very well not be what other people like, or what the author is aiming for.

Fiction is not my baliwick.

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But bearing in mind that the novel is already completed, I'm not conceited enough (even if I am an editor) to say, "OK, now go back and rewrite the whole thing in the style I'm suggesting" -- which is essentially what "criticism" of the excerpt would imply.

I don't think that's the case. Do you have to be an artist to identify good art? Or a musician to know when you like something? Sometimes having a passing familiarity with the skill necessary can hinder or help the ability to critique a piece, so by and large I'd argue that it's a non-issue either way.

Without a few fiction novels under my belt, I don't feel I have the expertise/experience to say "Trust me. I know what I'm talking about."

Well, I don't know if anyone here can honestly say "I know what I'm talking about" since, as far as I know, none of us are published and highly successful fiction writers. Granted, I do get extremely assertive about some stuff, but that's from reading enough about the process that at the very least I think I understand the superficial concerns. But that's still a far cry from first-hand experience.

When it comes to fiction, all I can say (editorially) at this point is "I know what I like." And that may very well not be what other people like, or what the author is aiming for.

Sure, but that's a given. We express our opinions and commentary, and Mark (and whoever else opens themselves up) can accept or deny our "contributions". At the very least everyone's comments are food for thought.

Also, the vast majority of sci-fi out there I consider complete crap. I mean, utter and complete crap. There are very famous and well liked authors that I can't stand, and some authors that I greatly enjoy who are very obscure. So in the end, anyone who is being critiqued needs to understand that different people have different viewpoints.

I absolutely loved "The Fifth Element" and really thought "The Matrix" was average. Most people are quite the opposite.

-Hook
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the vast majority of sci-fi out there I consider complete crap

It was Theodore Sturgeon, I think, who said: "Ninety percent of science fiction is crud. That's because 90 percent of eveything is crud."

Also, hard core science fiction fans distinguish between ersatz "sci-fi" (of the Star Trek, Star Wars variety) and "real" SF. The term "sci-fi" is considered a pejorative.


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Also, hard core science fiction fans distinguish between ersatz "sci-fi" (of the Star Trek, Star Wars variety) and "real" SF. The term "sci-fi" is considered a pejorative.

There was a discussion of this on another board (All Things Sci-fi?), where I just classify between hard sci-fi and space opera. There was a pretty lengthy thread on this.

Star Trek, Star Wars, et. al. are strongly in the space opera camp. Bear, Aldiss, etc. are in the hard sci-fi camp.

-Hook
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>>>>I know that when I'm asked to critique someone else's stuff, it's very hard for me to be honest, even if they're only a faceless entity on the Internet. Some people can be scathing, but I don't think it's in our nature to alienate and hurt people we have no beef with.

Hook: I understand completely. It's hard for most of us to intentionally say something that someone else would find hurtful. I'm as thin-skinned as the next guy, but as a technical writer I'm used to people changing my writing or suggesting that I rewite an entire section of a document. I don't necessarily agree with the suggestions, and I don't always like having my "deathless prose" mangled by plebians <g>, but I usually can recognize when something is an improvement over the original. I am all for constructive criticism. It's the "This is the worst tripe I have ever read" type comments that I can do without. <g> As long as the comments are couched as suggestions for improvement I'm all for them.

I'll have to think about some of your suggestions to see what I want to do with them, but I do have responses to a few:

>>>>“My G--“ Sparks began, then choked up. He put his hand over his mouth.
>>>>Much better -- show the reaction, don't tell us about it. Why is he covering his mouth?

You've never seen anyone put their hand over their mouth when they're grief-stricken? I'm not sure I can explain *why* someone does that, but I have seen it happen. It seemed like a natural reaction to me.

>>>>Personal bias, but I'd ditch the explicit stammering. The complexion thing doesn't flow and isn't active enough.
>>>>"What happened?" Tom asked, the color draining from his face.

I was trying to avoid saying that the color draimed from his face because I had already used that phrase earlier (in another chapter).

>>>>“Oh, sweet Jesus,” Sparks said under his breath. Tears ran down his face, unnoticed.
>>>>Unnoticed by whom? Presumably by him, but I'd just ditch that word.

That actually should have said "unheeded". He was aware of the tears, but (unlike most situations where men are gathered together) he didn't care if anyone saw him cry.

>>>>Decent, I'd rewrite it a bit mostly because I kept using 'look' too much in my own edits.
>>>>I thought I saw a moist glint in Cap's eyes as well.

I agree. It reads better that way.

>>>>“We go home,” Cap answered heavily. “We go home.”
>>>>Feels cliche. Repetition of something in a heavy voice is overdone.

Perhaps so, but it's the only time I use it in the entire book.

>>>>Cap exhaled sharply. "We go home," he said. He turned and walked back to the lift, glancing back at the platform's edge only once.

Better. Thanks. I'll mull over your other comments. I appreciate the feedback!

Mark.

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>>>>...upon further review.
>>>>Too many adverbs.

Hook: I presume you meant in your edits. I don't believe I used any in the original text. I made an effort to remove nearly all of them in the second draft. I think I left a few where the tone wasn't intuitive.

Mark.
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>>>>peals of laughter turn suddenly into shrieks of terror, which attenuated as he fell
>>>>Attenuated? It's a fine verb, but it's too "technical" for the context. It distracted my attention from the action -- I spent several seconds wondering just how the sound of his shrieks changed. Did they become weaker as the distance grew? Thinner? Did the pitch change as his velocity increased?

Wil: I wasn't trying to use big words for the sake of using big words, but "faded away" just seemed too weak. Attenuated fit perfectly, but I suppose if someone doesn't understand the meaning of the word it loses its effect. (Of course, that's true of any word, big or small. One of my pet peeves is when people use foreign phrases when plain English would do, forcing me to either try to look up the phrase or guess at the meaning. For example, “The perfect cake is the sine qua non of the carefully planned modern wedding.” Not everyone takes latin in school. If you don't know what the phrase means, the sentence is meaningless. Why not just say “The perfect cake is essential for the carefully planned modern wedding.”?)

>>>>Cap and Tom and Sparks and I stared at one another

The four are standing in a line at the edge of the platform, right? But "stared at one another" sounds rather like they are gathered round in a circle. If they are in a line and Cap and Tom and Sparks are staring at "I," then Cap would not be able to see Tom or Sparks' faces.

Good catch. How about "Cap and Tom and Sparks and I backed away from the edge and stared at one another"?

>>>>Tears ran down [Sparks'] face, unnoticed. ... I looked over at Cap and thought I saw a moist glint in his eyes as well.
>>>>The "as well" suggests that the tears on Sparks face were noticed after all. (If it was Sparks who didn't notice, how does the narrator know this? The "voice" here is "I," not 3rd person omniscient so that we know what is going on in Sparks' mind.)

As I mentioned in an earlier note, it should have said "unheeded". He didn't try to brush the tears away, or turn so the others couldn't see him crying. (Surely I don't have to explain *who* isn't heeding the tears....)

>>>>sat down heavily, like a marionette whose strings had suddenly been cut
>>>>Cliche alert! If the way that he sat is important, describe it in visual terms instead of relying on a metaphor.

It may be borderline cliche, but it paints a vivid picture of someone flopping down on the floor.

>>>>Again, I don't intend my comments as criticism.

As I said earlier, I have nothing against criticism as long as it's constructive and not simply cruel.

Thanks for your feedback!

Mark.
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>>>>Tom's legs seemed to collapse as he plopped on the floor. The thud reverberated along the platform.

CK: Not how I would word it, but I understand your point. I could have said "Tom sat down heavily as his legs collapsed beneath him." but I like the imagery of the marionette, even if has been used before.

>>>>"We go home." Cap walked back to the lift. I could see his neck muscles tense as he resisted the urge to look back.

Not bad. How about if I combine yours and Hook's, and a bit of my own:

Cap took a deep breath and exhaled sharply. “We go home,” he said, squaring his shoulders. It might have sounded uncaring to someone else, but we knew better. Cap turned and headed back to the portal. I could see his neck muscles tighten as he fought the temptation to look back one last time.

(I thought about "It might have sounded uncaring to someone who didn't know Cap, but we understood the depth of his pain." but I decided that simpler was better in this case.)

Mark.
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>>>>Well, I don't know if anyone here can honestly say "I know what I'm talking about" since, as far as I know, none of us are published and highly successful fiction writers.

Hook: Even then, what works for Clancy is different from what works for King or Asimov or Jacqueline Suzanne. Everyone has a different style and while short choppy sentences work better in an action thriller, longer poetic prose might be better in a romance novel. To some extent the genres dictate style, and even substance. A writer would (or at least should) never spend pages explaining how the public bus in the movie Speed works (internal compustion engine, hydraulic brakes, etc.). Yet it's something of a necessity to explain to some degree how technology works in SF.

>>>>Sure, but that's a given. We express our opinions and commentary, and Mark (and whoever else opens themselves up) can accept or deny our "contributions". At the very least everyone's comments are food for thought.

Absolutely. Even if I discard the specific suggestions offered for a given passage, the fact that it bothered someone is enough to make me take another look at it and see if I can improve it some other way.

Mark.
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>>>>Also, hard core science fiction fans distinguish between ersatz "sci-fi" (of the Star Trek, Star Wars variety) and "real" SF. The term "sci-fi" is considered a pejorative.

Wil: It depends on the individual. My wife and I used to attend the occasional SF convention, until we got tired of the attitude of many of the geeks who live and die SF. One so-called "fan" actually had the nerve to tell me that I wasn't a real SF fan unless I attended x number of conventions a year. Never mind the fact that I have read thousands of SF books and stories over the years, or watched practically every SF movie ever made, etc. As far as I'm concerned, he was more fanatic than fan.

By the same token, anyone who gets offended by the term Sci-Fi is taking themselves (and the genre) way too seriously. There is no hard and fast definition that Sci-Fi = schlock and SF = good writing. I use both terms interchangeably and if anyone is offended by my use of the term Sci-Fi, well, screw them. There are far more worrisome problems in the world to get worked up over, IMO....

Mark.
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Hook: I presume you meant in your edits. I don't believe I used any in the original text.

Both. I was guilty of it, and you used it twice successively (final two paragraphs, "asked quietly" and "answered heavily").

-Hook
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>>>>Both. I was guilty of it, and you used it twice successively (final two paragraphs, "asked quietly" and "answered heavily").

Hook: So I did. However adverbs *are* acceptable if used judiciously, especially when the dialog alone doesn't supply the "tone". For example, it is unneccessarily to say: "'Go to hell!' he said angrily" because it is apparent from the dialog that the individual is angry. On the other hand, "What do we do now?" by itself doesn't tell you if he is angry, fearful, crying, speaking softly, whispering, or talking normally. I don't see a problem with supplying "he asked softly" to indicate the mood in this case. One might argue that the preceding prose should lead the reader to an understanding of the character's mood, but when people are in shock or suffering from grief, there are a whole range of emotions that can flash through their minds one after another. The reader can't possibly know which one is currently holding sway in the character's mind, but one simple adverb can settle the matter. Of course, "softly" isn't a specific emotion, but it eliminates anger and possibly fear from the equation, and allows the reader to "hear" the dialog as intended.

Could I have written a paragraph to precisely identify Tom's emotion at that moment? Sure, but why write a paragraph if one word will do?

(I'm not advocating rampant use of adverbs; I'm only saying that there shouldn't be a blanket prohibition against their use now and then, where appropriate.)

Mark.
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Hook: I took another stab at this passage. I used some of uour (and others') suggestions, and added some of my own ideas. I'm sure no one will say that it's perfect as is, but I hope it is at least significantly better than before. (Changes and additions are highlighted in bold. Deletions are unmarked.)

The following is copyright 2003 by Mark T. Chapman. All rights reserved.

* * * * * * * * * *
Guido's peals of laughter turned suddenly into shrieks of terror, his voice fading away as he fell to his death. We rushed to the edge of the platform in time to see Guido disappear into a cloud hundreds of meters beneath us.

Cap and Tom and Sparks and I backed away from the edge and stared at one another in horrified silence. How could it happen so fast? There was nothing we could do but watch helplessly.

“My G--“ Sparks began, and then choked up. He covered his mouth with his hand, eyes wide in shock.

“Wha-what happened?” Tom asked, his normally olive complexion gone pale. “How? These things have been operating for billions of years. Why now?”

I shook my head, still trying to understand what went wrong. “I...guess everything breaks eventually, even Progenitors' stuff.”

“What are we going to do now?” Sparks asked, with a tremor in his voice. “What are we going to tell his wife -- and his baby? We don't even know where his body is.”

We tell them the truth: that we got him killed.” I was numb inside. “He was the one who was always worried about being killed by aliens. We teased and cajoled him into coming along, and what happened? He was killed by an alien device on an alien world.”

“Oh, sweet Jesus,” Sparks said under his breath. Tears ran down his face.

I thought I saw a moist glint in Cap's eyes as well, but I couldn't be sure. I was having trouble seeing clearly at that point.

Tom sat down heavily, like a marionette abandoned by a child. “What do we do now?” he asked softly, echoing Sparks' earlier query. We all looked to Cap, our leader.

Cap took a deep breath and exhaled sharply. “We go home,” he said, squaring his shoulders. It might have sounded uncaring to someone else, but we all knew better. Cap turned and headed back to the portal. I could see his neck muscles tighten as he fought the temptation to look back one last time. The rest of us -- minus one -- trailed listlessly behind him.

* * * * * * * * * *

Some comments re. the changes:
I left the mention of "hundreds of meters below" because although the sky city was described as floating among the cloads, there was no mention of where individual clouds were located (nor any need to do so earlier).

A few sentences may look similar at first glance, but have actually been rearranged (clauses moved from back to front, or to another sentence).

I preferred the previous marionette reference, but this way it shouldn't evoke thoughts of cliche.

Mark (sensing the sharks circling already <g>).
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I'm sure no one will say that it's perfect as is

I don't think the intent is to make you write a perfect passage, because there is no such thing. My own criticisms were intended to draw your attention to a pattern that you may wish to look for in the rest of your manuscript.

That is why a good book on writing style makes a much better investment than having someone copy edit a manuscript -- teach a man to fish, give him a fish, etc. etc.

I try to remember to proof read my own stuff because it illuminates my own tragic shortcomings (I overuse decorative adverbs like 'simply' or phrases like 'for example' and starting paragraphs with 'So').

-Hook
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>>>>I don't think the intent is to make you write a perfect passage, because there is no such thing.

Hook: Well, certainly. That was my point. Even some of those who critiqued the original disagreed with one another on some of the points. I was just looking for affirmation that the second version was better than the first. I'm not shooting for perfection, just improvement.

>>>>That is why a good book on writing style makes a much better investment than having someone copy edit a manuscript -- teach a man to fish, give him a fish, etc. etc.

I agree, but reading "don't overuse adverbs, write in active voice, don't tell, SHOW" doesn't help if you already know these things. There's nothing new there. But we all have blind spots in our writing. In Draft 2, and again in Draft 3, I made a special point to look for and correct these things, and yet I still obviously overlooked many of them. That's where having a third party (or many third parties) look it over and offer their opinions is helpful.

I don't necessarily agree with all the comments (and in some cases the offered alternatives may be even worse than the original). Yet the fact that the sentence or passage bothered someone enough to write about it tells me there is probably *something* wrong with it and I should at least consider rewriting that bit. I may write something completely different from what the reviewer suggested, but hopefully the end result will be better than the original, which should be everyone's goal (writer and critiquer).

That's why I appreciate the time you and others spent offering your suggestions. My first reaction sometimes is to bridle at the comments (after all, you just called my baby ugly!), but I always take a second look at the comments to determine whether they indeed have merit. As you saw from the second posting, I made numerous changes to the text (although not everything that was suggested) as a result. But in some cases, I'm not sure whether the changes were actually an improvement (the marionette line, for example).

Thanks again.

Mark.
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