We're aware of an issue with converting some DOC, DOCX, ODT, and RTF files to EPUB through our Ebook Wizard.

At this time, we're investigating the problem and looking for a solution.

If you've encountered this issue while converting your file, we suggest attempting to create and upload an EPUB directly to our system.

While there are a number of EPUB conversion options, Calibre (Download Here) has shown the best results for creating an EPUB for the Lulu system. Please review their extensive Help resources (Found Here) to create an EPUB 2 that our system can validate.

We've also created this Forum Thread. Post questions here and we'll do our best to respond and assist.

Beta Readers Wanted for Literary Review

I'm a first time novel writer, though I have written shorter forms of literature before, mostly for myself or for websites. Mainly, I'm an artist and a photographer, but I had an idea that just wouldn't leave me alone. So, last year, I decided to make it happen. It's a hard science-fiction story, and I spent about a month writing the backstory to it and describing all the technology and alien cultures. Then, I wrote the whole novel in about three months. It's 108,000 words, but I wrote some appendices that fill it out to 126,000 words. It has been revised several times since then without any major changes to narrative structure.

I think it's pretty good. My brother, who is an avid science-fiction reader, thinks it's good. But, I've had tremendous trouble getting anyone else to read it. People promise to read it and then...just don't. This has been really frustrating. I'm sure many of you can relate. They say to get as many people as possible to read it, but so far I'm batting about...well, zero, discounting my brother.

I think the vast majority of typos and any other grammatical or spelling issues have been worked out by now. What I really need is a good, honest literary review that will tell me if people like the story, if the narrative works, and if the characters are good. I think they are, generally speaking, but one can get too close to one's work and become blind to its faults, or conversely see too many. Sometimes I feel the characters are too shallow or that the prose isn't very rich. I think I'm good with dialogue, but you never know. Thus, I'm very interested in what other people have to say.

Is anyone interested in reading it? Are there trades that go on here? I'd be happy to review someone else's work in exchange, though naturally I can't do that for everyone because I'd have scads of books to read.

Thank you for your help or advice.

—Michael
«13

Comments

  • Post a few pages -- say, the opening, or perhaps a passage that's giving you fits -- and let us take a look. You'll definitely get comments, and most of them will be helpful.
  • ToryTory Reader
    I write science fiction too and I know how you feel about not having anyone to read your book and give you feedback. Except for my best friend, who has been tirelessly reading my chapters and giving me feedback, I really didn't have anyone else who was willing to do that. While I would not be able to read the entire book, I think a chapter or two would be fine.
  • I've seen a few posts of this sort and I think it's a really great use of this space. I might set up some guidelines for requesting reviews and pin it to the top of Author Workshop, but in general everyone should feel comfortable asking for advice and posting excerpts here.
  • I agree with Skoob: posting a short excerpt---say, the first chapter---would be enough for a good start.
  • Papi_SoñolientoPapi_Soñoliento Southern Escarpment Hill Country Librarian
    I don't want to sound like a wet blanket, but as a rule the people you want to read your work to give an opinion aren't your best friends or relatives. The reason being some simply won't be honest about the quality or problems inherent in your work.

    Then there are people like my mother, who would savagely denigrate any literary effort of mine simply because she could; perhaps she thought it was fun or it was her honest opinion but either way it was far from helpful.

    Cliff and Ron are correct in that posting an excerpt is enough to get a sense of how you're doing.

    If you need betas to read the entire work: https://www.google.com/search?client=ubuntu&channel=fs&q=beta+readers+free&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8

  • Thanks for the feedback, everyone. I wouldn't mind posting a chapter here at some point, but then, it's not really quite what I'm aiming for. I really want feedback on the story and characters as a whole rather than just eyeing a chapter or two. I don't feel like I'm struggling with any particular part. Sorry if that sounds a bit overly confident or something. It's just that I'm at a point where I don't feel that there's anything about it that could be analyzed without taking in the whole of the work, if you see what I mean. Also, it's a story that unfolds in scope as it progresses. It starts very small with one man, then expands to a larger group, then expands off-world with aliens and space battles, though the main character remains central to it all. I suppose that's typical of a lot of stories, but I'm just not sure if a few chapters would get me the kind of feedback I need as a result.

    Nevertheless, I think I'll post the first chapter here later today.

    —Michael
  • Okay, here is the first chapter of the novel. It's called "When Morpheus Overslept".

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

    WHEN MORPHEUS OVERSLEPT

    Chapter 1

    A mirrored steel surface slides smoothly and silently through a glooming darkness. It is barely visible, almost camouflaged, as it reflects countless dim stars all around it. Massive it is, sleek and long, one hundred meters in length and ten meters in diameter. Its base is nearly cylindrical but tapered to a point on the front end. There are engines at the tail of the ship. Black, circular emitters, raised against a flat grey surface, are the only part of the craft that is not silvered metal. Except for a name etched and imprinted upon the starboard side, “Morpheus I”, it is unmarked. Only a slight haze of space dust mars its otherwise unblemished and polished surface.

    At the head of the ship’s interior, in the command cockpit, a massive window takes up nearly the whole space, with a view out the ship’s prow. A sleek black glass panel juts from the wall underneath the expansive window. Two plush seats clad in a dark fabric are set before this panel. Seatbelts lie at the sides, currently unused. The control center is empty. Data projected brightly in glowing letters against the window constantly shifts against the darkness of the sky and distant stars. Lights on the panel flash silently in seeming unison with this stream of information. There are no buttons, just smooth glass aglow with flashing symbols. Here, the ship’s main computer quietly and incessantly checks every function of the ship several times a second, using its quantum computations to predict what hazards might lie ahead.

    A red-orange light flashes urgently on the panel, and one line of text gleams boldly on the window, as if having for a long time gone unanswered:

    SPEED IN EXCESS. TIME DILATION NOW x13.396039. DECELERATION REQUIRED. PENDING GRAVITON FIELD LOCK ON NEAREST CELESTIAL BODY.

    Outside the cockpit and along a relatively narrow corridor, there are dozens of small windows in the walls; so perfectly integrated are they, that it is not immediately evident that a small hatchway accompanies each window. It is the same level of engineering that made the seams invisible on the outer skin. These windows view not the stars outside. Each instead looks into the interior of a hibernation pod. Twenty-five line each dorsal side of the ship. Peering into one of the windows reveals a spartan bedroom complete with a tube-like bed (sized for one person) and a hibernating occupant within. Above each person is a clear plastic shield. There are no signs of breathing or other movements among these occupants. Data is also projected on the silvery walls of each of these compartments, ticking off clock-like the same information as the computer. An occasional bounce of the lines traveling across the screens indicates that the passengers are alive but in deep sleep.

    Beyond these rooms at the rear of the spacecraft is a massive engine, which occupies nearly one third of the entire ship. Inside is a spherical chamber. All steely and mirror-like, it hums away, a ghostly flare of light emanating from its center, deep within a silvery core. There is an electrical crackling sound buzzing around the walls, carrying the immense power that these engines produce throughout the entire ship.

    Humming as they are for over forty-one years, these mighty engines have driven this spacecraft trillions of miles, at almost inconceivable speeds, driving it towards a dusty brown planet that just now begins to appear in the window of the ship’s cockpit.

    Morpheus-I finally neared its destination…

    At once, there was a shrill, pale shriek emitting from the corridors of the ship—an alarm pulsed out!

    QUANTUM PREDICTIVE COMPUTATIONS INDICATE IMMINENT EMERGENCY. EXECUTIVE DECISION REQUIRED. INITIATING REVIVIFICATION OF MISSION PERSONNEL.

    Inside each of the pods, wall panels lit up. The lines on their screens started to bounce faster. Slowly and steadily, visible breaths emerged from the lungs of the pods’ occupants. A few minutes later, those inside subtly stirred, awakening.

    Suddenly, outside, a long, dark rope-like object sprung from the darkness surrounding the ship and wrapped itself around the exterior. Dense and thick like the trunk of a tree, it struck against the ship’s hull with a heavy thud. Then, another, and another. Wrapping around the now vulnerable ship, soon there were six or more of these limbs squeezing the lone spacecraft. The ship began to rumble and quake. There was a dreadful creaking that echoed within, the unmistakable sound of metal bending and tearing.

    In the cockpit, an alert flashed on the window.

    WARNING. PRESSURE ON EXTERIOR HULL NOW EXCEEDING DESIGN TOLERANCE.

    It was a futile warning that was repeated aloud on speakers throughout the ship in a bland and vaguely feminine voice whose tone belied the urgency of the situation.

    There was another squeal of bending metal and a deafening rattle that reverberated along the corridor. The ship shook violently. Outside, more thick, black tentacles enwrapped the ship.

    Suddenly, there was a grievous tearing sound, a terrible and unmistakable sound of metal grinding and shearing away. The computer alerted anew.

    WARNING. HULL BREACH IN SECTION D. REPEAT. HULL BREACH IN SECTION D. ENGINE CORE INTEGRITY NOW COMPROMISED.

    Then, a heavy thud sounded out from one of the sleeper chambers—the sound of a powerful metal latch being released. Then, another, and another, and another, barely a half second apart, in a series running down the corridor, first from starboard, then from the port side of the spacecraft.

    WARNING. RADIATION LEAK. REPEAT. RADIATION LEAK. EXECUTIVE DECISION REQUIRED. EJECTING ALL LIFE PODS.

    Suddenly, there was an explosive sound, like an intense release of compressed air. Three life pods launched from near the front of the ship on the starboard side, fleeing silently away into an empty, dark starscape. Then, two more launched from further to the rear on the same side. The computer voice blared again.

    WARNING. EXTERIOR OBSTRUCTION RESTRICTS EJECTION OF LIFE PODS. REPEAT. EXTERIOR OBSTRUCTION RESTRICTS EJECTION OF LIFE PODS.

    There was again a loud report as a pod, this time directly behind the cockpit on the port side, was ejected, but this was to be the last. The computer issued its final alert.

    WARNING. FUSION CORE CRITICAL. IMMINENT FAILURE OF DRIVE SYSTEMS. REPEAT. FUSION CORE CRITICAL. TRANSFERRING ALL FUNCTIONS TO COMMAND POD.

    The grinding of metal reached a fever pitch; it was now deafening. There was a hissing of gas escaping and the sound of the computer’s alert became fainter and fainter.

    WARNING. ATMOSPHERIC PRESSURE BELOW MINIMUM REQ….

    The computer voice was silenced.

    And then came a blinding blaze of light, and the spacecraft was instantly broken asunder. Silently, thousands of its shiny pieces of metal tumbled among the stars, reflecting the dim light. In their wake, a giant rope-like mass hovered for a moment and then darted away, tumbling towards the planet below.

    Henry was startled awake by a loud rush of air and a metallic thump that shook his insides. Startled is perhaps a strong word, since his mind was still sluggish and unaware of his surroundings. It takes a lot to stir a person from long-term hibernation so quickly. His last memory had been of Dr. Brouwer removing a band from his arm as she completed an injection of Hypnos-23, the new hibernation drug developed for their mission to TRAPPIST-1. They had completed their slingshot around the Sun, accelerating to half of light-speed, and then around Jupiter, flinging Morpheus-I even faster, to an almost incomprehensible speed of three-quarters the speed of light.

    As they had approached the end of the heliosphere and the final navigational adjustments were made, the only action remaining was to put all of the remaining personnel into deep hibernation. He was the second-to-last to sleep. Dr. Brouwer was best qualified to administer the drug, as it required the most exacting dose, and she was left to initiate her own hibernation.

    This was something that had often been discussed in the countless meetings prior to this mission; whether she should be left alone to accomplish this task. This was not to impugn her abilities, but merely a regard for her safety. An accident would leave her with no recourse, since the recipients of Hypnos-23, once hibernating, could not be awoken for at least several months. The amount of food in storage was limited, and every meal, every ounce of supply material, was needed for survival at their destination.

    He could still see her face hovering over his, her long red hair flowing about her shoulders. “Now, just lie still for a few moments,” she was saying, her pale blue eyes gazing into his. For several moments, as these thoughts floated across his mind, he was still in reverie, not sure if dreaming, remembering, or now experiencing reality.

    He had been vaguely aware of the sound of the computer blaring away with its futile warnings as well as some flashing lights nearby—perhaps the pod’s wall screen—but only now was he coming fully to his senses. There were no dreams in hibernation—neural activity was too low—but it had felt like a dream in those first few moments, yet without the understanding to comprehend the events.

    Now, what had felt uncertain and vague shifted sharply to reality. Suddenly, he heard again in his mind what the computer had said, Warning. Fusion core critical! His eyes snapped open and he quickly pushed away the clear plastic shield that covered his bed. The thick lid hinged upwards. He felt like he was freezing, his body temperature still not quite normal. Thankfully, the computer had already removed the automated PICC line.

    He swung his legs over, tried to rise and immediately fell to the floor. The whole room was swimming back and forth, and he couldn’t focus his eyes. It felt as if the pod was moving quite rapidly. There was a vibration underneath, but with the relentless swaying of the room, he couldn’t be sure what that meant, or if it was even real. Was the computer initiating re-entry?

    Recovery from hibernation was time-intensive and usually required a shot of neural stimulants to fully recover, the lack of which resulted in dizziness, nausea, cognitive impairment, and a host of other unpleasant symptoms that he was now experiencing.

    Dr. Henry Sullivan was in his late thirties, tallish with dark wavy hair and dark brown eyes. Relatively pale in complexion, his wiry frame gave his face a somewhat gaunt appearance for his age, but his eyes—though a trifle red-rimmed and bleary for the moment—were usually bright and engaging, indicating a high intellect.

    He gathered himself and stumbled towards the pod’s hatch with its tiny window, grasping for purchase at the door with his long arms. Desperately trying to focus his vision, he managed to see just in time—much to his horror—his own ship shrinking away into the distance, as the pod tumbled from it at a dizzying speed. “Ejected?” he asked himself in shock. “Why?”

    But, it was not the separation from his ship that truly terrified him in that moment. It was the massive collection of tentacles that squeezed at the lone spacecraft, visibly tearing its hull. He was reminded of an old movie starring James Mason that he once saw as a child—20,000 Leagues Under the Sea—and an image of a massive squid enveloping the submarine upon a stormy sea. “What the hell is that thing!” he gasped. Indeed, the creature was uninterpretable. There was no body per se, just seemingly endless limbs, writhing like many animated black vines.

    Right before his eyes, the tentacles squeezed and tore at the silvery craft, and in one final stroke the ship was rent in two and a bright burst of light flashed from its end, scattering countless fragments silently in the depths of space. As he quickly averted his eyes from the blinding flash, he knew that the engines had exploded. The core had gone critical as the graviton field generators lost computer control. The computer must have predicted the ship’s destruction and ejected his pod, though it would have struggled to predict such an unexpected occurrence as this. He hoped that others had made it, but it appeared that all the pods on the port side were still in their bays when the ship ignited. He could not see anything on the starboard side.

    As the burst of light faded, and his eyes recovered, he saw the tentacle mass still there unharmed. It lingered for a moment among the glittering pieces of debris as they flashed in the pale rose-colored light. Suddenly, it spread its seemingly countless arms in a radial fashion. It was over fifty meters in diameter. There was no head, eyes, mouth, or any other visible organ, just a mass of grey-black arms radiating from a central point. But for a vague glistening shine upon its skin in the faint sunlight, it would have been almost concealed in the nearly empty starscape. It lingered for a few more seconds and then spun away, almost gleefully, like a happy wheel of death. He could not see where it headed. This was all there was time for as the scene rapidly retreated into the distance, becoming little more than a speck as the pod accelerated towards the planet below.

    The wall screen in the pod was flashing and another audible alert sounded.

    PLANETARY BODY IN EVIDENCE. MINIMAL BATTERY POWER AVAILABLE FOR PLANETFALL. HUMAN DECISION REQUIRED.

    The pod’s secondary-computers were online and tracking the nearest planet. The graviton field generators would automatically lock onto the planet and soft-land. Each hibernation pod was designed to be a self-powered escape craft that could also be used as temporary living quarters when they reached their new home. At this moment, he was silently thanking those engineers that had long argued for such a contingency—despite cost overruns—in what now seemed like ages ago back on Earth.

    But, what hope was there? He could be a dozen light years from their destination. All his colleagues could be dead, all the supplies on the ship were destroyed, and he could be marooned on some desolate barren world. The thought was terrifying! This had been the worst nightmare scenario when planning this mission. His only chance was to contact the other ships for potential rescue.

    As survival instincts kicked in, he searched among the spartan chamber’s compartments for a neuro-stimulant. Just as he began this search, a wave of nausea swept over him and nearly doubled him over. These aftereffects were no joke! Thankfully, each pod was fully equipped, and a medical kit stowed under the hibernation bed was his salvation.

    Although he was educated as a physicist and engineer, all personnel chosen for this mission had been extensively cross-trained for many years prior to departure. Basic medical training and phlebotomy were part of the curriculum. Steadying himself against the increasing rumble of the pod, he swiftly administered a self-injection before he became hopelessly incapacitated by the symptoms of long-term hibernation.

    As his head slowly cleared and the dizziness subsided, he turned to more important matters. Already, the pod was being buffeted. It felt like it was beginning to skip along an atmosphere. He sat at the chair before the wall screen and tapped upon its surface, instructing the computer to show a live video of the dusty planet somewhere below. The visual systems in the pods were much inferior to that of the main ship and lacked the quantum prediction and fractal algorithms for high-quality imaging, but he could see that the planet, rapidly growing bigger, was very familiar.

    The planet was rocky and brown with a thin pinkish atmosphere and mountainous, ice-capped polar regions. Could it be TRAPPIST-1e? Could they have become shipwrecked just as they reached their destination? The Daedalus project had gathered volumes of data on this planet, so he was very familiar with it.

    Something was not quite right however. The atmosphere was not as expected. Data now indicated a different oxygen-nitrogen ratio than recovered by Daedalus. There was also more water, about 200% more, including a few sizable lakes. Temperatures were hovering at a slightly chilly but survivable 10.6 degrees Celsius. Daedalus had confirmed that the planet was rotating and not tidally locked as originally supposed, but the rotation observed was very slow. This planet turned once every twenty-four hours. Somehow it was even more livable than expected.

    A low alert, sonorously pulsing in regular tones, broke his concentration momentarily; the computer was unable to connect with the other ships. Those sister spacecrafts were now traveling at three quarters of light speed, and it would not be possible to communicate with them for a potential rescue until they approached their destination and decelerated. This meant survival for months would be required on this planet, whatever its condition.

    This was not his immediate problem however. Critical decisions needed to be made. Survival on a truly desolate planet would be impossible. Thankfully, this planet was showing all the signs of being life-sustaining. Nevertheless, it would still be best to try and land near a water source. Perhaps near one of the poles? Alas, he did not think the pod had the power to reach those parts; its meager quantum batteries were not up to the task, and the starting point had been far from orbital range. It was never meant to be flown like a space shuttle! Not to mention the rocky terrain and cold in that locale would make for difficult survival conditions. Near a lake would be better, he thought.

    His hands danced across the lit wall screen, steering the pod towards the nearest visible lake, somewhere along the equator. It lurched suddenly. The graviton field generators—meager though they were compared to the main ship’s graviton drive—were working, dragging the pod against the massive gravity of the planet, using its own nearly limitless forces against it. At once, another alert rang out, and an inset opened on the wall panel, flashing in red:

    ALERT. BATTERY POWER NOW BELOW 50%. >55% REQUIRED TO REACH DESIRED LOCATION. ENGAGING DRIVE SYSTEMS TO REACH THIS DESTINATION WILL RESULT IN PLANETFALL IMPACT IN EXCESS OF DESIGN TOLERANCE. RECOMMENDATION: ABORT CURRENT NAVIGATIONAL PROGRAM.

    “Damn!” he exclaimed aloud, “these pods really are a one-shot operation.” He had two obvious choices—try to make orbit and wait until a favorable location rotated underneath him, or alter course to something within the limits of the available power. Though the batteries were self-recharging, they needed full rest to do so. And he wasn’t sure if the power was sufficient to hold orbit for more than a single rotation of the planet below; it was thus best to make a quick decision. Life support was limited.

    In the meantime, the pod continued rapidly downwards towards the chosen destination. The temperature was rising quickly, and a thin layer of sweat broke out upon his skin. It was more than the heat that was causing it as he struggled to make a decision. The pod began rattling more loudly as the buffeting from the planet’s atmosphere continued to worsen. He was coming down whether he was ready or not.

    “Think, damn you, think!” he grimaced. But it was like swimming in treacle to do so. He was used to coming up with quick, novel solutions to problems. Back in his Oxford days, he had been known for thinking fast on his feet and doing most of his calculations in his head. This relative superpower had continued well into his teaching days and the fifteen years of work on the Morpheus project. This time however there was a handicap—hibernation sickness, producing a brain fog that was thicker than pea soup.

    Just as he was starting to feel slightly overwhelmed, another alert appeared on his screen.

    ALERT. ARTIFICIAL STRUCTURE IN EVIDENCE. ARCHITECTURE DEFIES EXPECTATIONS FOR PLANETARY PROFILE.

    “What the bloody hell is that!” he gasped. The computer was right. Rolling onto the view screen, as the pod headed west along the equator into the planet’s counter-clockwise turn, was a vast complex of artificial structures, partly covered by a massive dome. The image was still distant and blurry, but there was no question as to what he was seeing. The dome was missing large portions of its smooth surface, through which the fragmented artificial structures could be seen. It was already well north and west of his chosen destination, by some considerable distance—hours by foot at least. The decision was made; he needed to be as close as possible to this city, whatever its condition. Consequences be damned.

    He reduced power to several sub-systems, including air recycling, and reset navigation to take the pod beyond the lake and towards the city. I’ll breathe better on the ground, he thought. And if I don’t make it, it won’t matter anyway.

    WARNING. SPECIFIED DESTINATION REQUIRES AN EXCESS OF REMAINING BATTERY POWER. PRESS OVERRIDE ENABLE TO CONFIRM. EMERGENCY LANDING SYSTEMS NOW IN OPERATION.

    He confirmed the computer’s query.

    WARNING. LANDING PREDICTED TO BE IN EXCESS OF DESIGN TOLERANCE. >90% PROBABILITY OF DAMAGE TO POD SYSTEMS.

    He silenced the audio warnings with a wave of his hand over the screen; they were now on visual only. He would perform the calculations in his head, and the computer’s constant warnings would be a distraction. An emergency like this required less obvious decisions, decisions that the computer couldn’t devise. The pod had some small amount of thruster power in addition to the graviton field generators. One shot only, these would have to bear more of the brunt of the required landing than previously considered safe. It was now do-or-die. The pod was coming in hot!

    As the pod descended, the heat became almost unbearable. The speed was more than was originally planned, but he was saving power for emergency deceleration as close to the ground as possible. His agile fingers again flowed deftly across the panel. The computer confirmed his own calculations. He would have to pull about 5 G’s in the last few seconds, but it was more than within his capacity. Yes indeed—the adrenaline was helping his mind to wake up!

    A dusky brown surface was filling his screen now and he could see many features—including something that looked like a dusty fragmented road and a gap in the low mountain range. It all flashed by too quick. In these final moments, time seemed greatly accelerated. Thirty seconds to full thrusters. The wall screen pulsed in red with a warning message.

    WARNING. SPEED NOW 55% IN EXCESS. IMMINENT COLLISION EXCEEDS DESIGN TOLERANCE.

    He ignored it.

    Twenty seconds…

    SPEED NOW 60% in EXCESS.

    The pod now rattled relentlessly.

    Ten seconds…

    SPEED NOW 80% in EXCESS.

    So severe was the shaking of the pod, he felt as though he would be thrown from his seat.

    Five Seconds…

    IMMEDIATE DECELERATION RECOMMENDED. The computer warned urgently.

    Four…Three…Two…One…

    He activated the retro-thrusters and simultaneously put the graviton field generator on maximum!

    The pod lurched violently as if thrown about in an earthquake. An ear-splitting burst of escaping air was heard as the thrusters fired. Henry felt as though he were being flattened into the floor, and there were pinpoint flashes of light in his vision. And with a final jolt, he was thrown about the tiny room, leaving his chair and falling to the floor. He saw a shower of stars, and all went black.
    -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Thanks for reading.

    —Michael
  • I have two comments after a quick read:

    1) I consistently felt I was being told the story, rather than seeing it unfold. Passive voice exacerbated this to the point that the action of the ship being assaulted felt slow. Almost calm. There was never a sense of urgency.

    2) Adjectives. The language is riddled with adjectives that detract more than brighten the story.

    The premise doesn't lack interesting elements, but I think there is a some work that can be done developmentally (showing vs. telling, passivity, sentence structure) to liven up the telling.
  • Paul_Lulu said:
    I have two comments after a quick read:

    1) I consistently felt I was being told the story, rather than seeing it unfold. Passive voice exacerbated this to the point that the action of the ship being assaulted felt slow. Almost calm. There was never a sense of urgency.

    2) Adjectives. The language is riddled with adjectives that detract more than brighten the story.

    The premise doesn't lack interesting elements, but I think there is a some work that can be done developmentally (showing vs. telling, passivity, sentence structure) to liven up the telling.
    I think I understand where you're coming from in your reaction. I would ask if there's any point where you feel the passive voice and/or show vs. tell abates in the story? Or do you feel that they are continuous throughout the whole chapter?

    The reason I ask is that it is mostly deliberate at the very beginning. You may have noticed that the tense changes at one point. This was intentional. The idea being that you are given an omniscient tour of the ship before the action begins, as if floating as a ghost around it, thus increasing the feeling of isolation and loneliness, and then the alarm on the computer jars you out of that and changes the tense at the same time. I almost second-guessed that decision, and if that is the reason you're reacting the way you are, then it would help me to rethink it. I also considered making that part a separate chapter or prologue, or separating it out with "# # #".

    If the feel of show vs. tell doesn't change at all throughout, then I suppose I'll have to have a good rethink about it because I don't know how I'd write it differently. Some of it is dictated by having no character at first, if you see what I mean. Without someone under direct threat, someone that everyone already knows, it's hard to create urgency.

    Also, would you mind giving some examples of number 2? As it stands, I'm not entirely certain what to make of that feedback. Could it be a difference in stylistic choice?

    —Michael
  • The tense change does help, but I still felt like I wasn't ever "in the moment" at any point. Particularly, opening on a passive-voice telling of events risks losing a readers interest before they're invested.
    I do think the content of your opening is strong, but the formation of it doesn't inspire to find out what happens next.
    As for my point #2, take your opening sentence: "A mirrored steel surface slides smoothly and silently through a glooming darkness."
    It's not just the use of adjectives, but the way the entire sentence is structured, from the alliteration to the over descriptive language. Something like "A point of mirrored steel pierces the void of space" gets me the same visual I think you're aiming for, without forcing me to stumble over words.
    Overall, the story does catch me toward the end. I just felt like I had to struggle to "get there" with it, and in doing so I don't feel any investment in the character.
    You said "Without someone under direct threat, someone that everyone already knows, it's hard to create urgency." and I couldn't agree more. This is one of the fundamental challenges of writing good, well-paced fiction. But doing so is also key to snagging our interest from the onset and making us want to know what happens next.
  • Thanks for your feedback. I really appreciate it. I think it has helped me. I don't think the opening chapter can possibly be too strong, so anything that improves it will help me get an agent.

    To that point, I gave it a good examination last night with your points in mind, and I think I know what happened. I am now seeing myself weakening the action by the use of 'was' and 'had been' added to the sentences—a proper use of passive voice, but passive nevertheless. For example:

    "The whole room was swimming back and forth, and he couldn’t focus his eyes."

    Which might read better as:

    "The whole room swam back and forth, and he couldn't focus his eyes."

    Another example is:

    "At this moment, he was silently thanking those engineers that* had long argued for such a contingency—despite cost overruns—in what now seemed like ages ago back on Earth." (*improper use of 'that' instead of 'who' as well)

    Which would read better as:

    "At this moment, he silently thanked those engineers who had long argued for such a contingency—despite cost overruns—in what now seemed like ages ago back on Earth."

    Another one:

    "Although he was educated as a physicist and engineer, all personnel chosen for this mission had been extensively cross-trained for many years prior to departure."

    I rewrote it as:

    "Educated as a physicist and engineer, Henry nevertheless had been extensively cross-trained like everyone else chosen for this mission."

    Are those good examples of what you're talking about?

    I think I now remember how this happened. This was the first thing I wrote in this novel, and I initially wrote the whole chapter in the present tense. And then, I realized it wasn't working and aggressively rewrote most of it into the past tense, which is probably why I went so strong with 'was' everywhere. It's all correct usage of passive voice, but it still drains the action. It's a perfect example of a writer being too close to his work and not being able to see it.

    —Michael
  • The examples above are all great representations of the kind of fine tuning I think you're story can benefit from.

    Getting too close to the work is hard to avoid and even harder to spot sometimes. I don't think you need to completely abandon the passive voice - it's not my personal preference but I'm just one reader. I do think that using it very carefully and being aware of the pace your carrying the reader along at is crucial when employing the style you use.

    All in all, I think you've got something good here and it just needs that fine tuning
  • Papi_SoñolientoPapi_Soñoliento Southern Escarpment Hill Country Librarian
    I've found it useful to get a manuscript done then work on other projects while the initial work cools down [a year or two if need be] in order to look at things objectively when I get back to editing and fine tuning.

    Once you've stepped back for a bit you'll often find yourself going over lines and wondering why you phrased them the way you did when rewording them works better.
  • I was going by what Stephen King said, which turned out to totally be my instinct as well. He said never take more than three months to write a first draft. Otherwise, it takes on an 'alien feel'. That last part is subjective, but I think he meant that the parts don't gel with one another because they've been written months (or more) apart, and one's writing changes over time. Plus, the idea can ripen or rot in your mind, or morph and shift, as time passes. Best to get the whole thing out and then refine it like a sculptor sculpting a rough model into the final work. Basically, stories are simple, and it shouldn't take that long to construct a basic story, and if it does, you're probably overthinking it.

    That chapter was the first thing I wrote because I was trying to get an image out of head as quickly as possible. Now, I can see it more objectively with some prompting. I just spent the whole afternoon re-writing it away from passive voice. If some of you would like to see the rewrite when I'm done, I'll post it. It might make for a useful exercise.

    —Michael
  • Papi_SoñolientoPapi_Soñoliento Southern Escarpment Hill Country Librarian
    Yeah Stephen King is good, but what I was talking about was getting your draft done then letting it sit. The reason being you want to approach your draft the way an editor would, as if it were someone else's work. Stephen King has editors and if you're doing it for yourself, you need to be able to take out that red pen and mark up anything that doesn't work in order to tell the author [you] to fix it.

    Fact is I can let a partially finished story sit for years and finish it later because it's still one of many going on [refining itself] in the back of my mind. My father once said he had one of them there pornographic memories, and I has a touch of that.

    It it would help you tweak your work, feel free to post it.
  • I think Paul has addressed the passive voice. I felt the same thing; it was difficult to engage in the story.

    Wait, let me say this first: It's a great story this far. The idea that you're setting up, this entire Trappist-1 Robinson Crusoe thing, is a great idea. There's a lot that can be done with it, and I'd keep reading to see where the story went from here. I would be hoping that you didn't draw TOO heavily from "Passengers" or "Robinson Crusoe" or from "The Martian," but at the same time, man and machine against space and the unknown... I'm hooked. Now, let's talk about storytelling.

    The opening portion -- setting the stage, and telling us about the ship -- had a lot of artistic filigrees that started to detract a bit from the story. For example, "These windows view not the stars outside." That's an artistic filigree; it's more about ornamentation than storytelling. You can have a few sentences like that, and they are pretty when used in moderation, but they can obstruct the flow when they're too obvious. I found myself having to read that paragraph twice to absorb the information about the design of the ship.

    As for the pacing -- When the first tentacle wraps around the ship ("20,000 tera-leagues from the sea") I would break the scene and flash immediately to the mind of Dr. Henry Sullivan:

    "Sullivan's eyes snapped open. Something was wrong. He couldn't move yet; he was still rising from the deep cyber-sleep that Dr. Brouwer had induced with her Hypnos-23. It seemed like moments ago that she had injected him, and yet here he was, and the ship was in danger. A shudder ran through the pod..."

    With the break and snap-transition, we suddenly find a point where we can engage. We are no longer passive viewers watching a stately spacecraft from ten million miles away; we are in the pod with Dr. Sullivan. We are feeling the ship shudder, the ominous oh-crap moment.

    I would encourage you to think of the narrative as if it were a movie. We see the ship in long-shot, we pull in through the front viewscreen, we see the pods, the chambers, the messages on the screen, the time dilation... 13x? Wow, that's some relativity you got going on there.

    We're still in long shots, though we're narrowing in. Snap back to a longer shot in the control console, urgent alarms. Snap to very long shot exterior, the tentacles. But there needs to be an absolute moment when we cut to a close shot of Sullivan, or possibly a POV shot as he awakens. We need to pucker when he puckers.

    I see that Stephen King is an influence on you, and that's very good for two reasons; first, King has an imagination that is miles wide. Literally anything might happen in a Stephen King novel. Second, King knows how to crawl into a character's mind. When King tells you what a character is doing, you are there, in the character's body. Those chills are running up your own spine.

    Now, you can't tell an entire story in super close-up. The whole thing can't be POV. But you need a balance where on the one hand, the scene can change rapidly, but on the other hand, the reader will go along with the flow, and feel engaged throughout.

    You've got something here, but there's work to be done. Getting it on paper -- that rough draft that King talked about -- that's the first part. And once it's on paper, if it starts to feel alien, that's a good thing, because you need to see the story with the reader's eyes at that point.

    Anyway, good start, keep working, and let's see what you can do with it.
  • By the way, thank you for submitting a passage in proper English sentences with good grammar and spelling.
  • Thanks for the compliments, Skoob. I appreciate them. Don't worry. There is no influence from The Passengers, since I've never seen it. I had to go look it up actually. It doesn't sound like it's at all similar to my story except for the sleeper ship thing. If anything subliminally inspired this chapter it would have been the climax to the film Gravity with Sandra Bullock, but the story is a completely different one. The story is nothing like The Martian either. It goes in a much more esoteric direction eventually. The scope of the story expands twice, in a, hopefully, believable way.

    I can see what you mean about cutting the action with the first grab of the tentacles. Currently, the story does back up the action slightly to show it again from Henry's perspective, all of which was totally deliberate. I'm concerned with having to contrive a reason why he can't do anything about it while it's happening, which is why I had him already ejected by the time he's fully awake. If he awakens and knows what is happening while the ship is being destroyed, people may not comprehend why he can't stop it without a lot of exposition or an info dump explaining it. Also, there's the fact that there are multiple people on the ship and they're all being awakened simultaneously, so the improbability factor is increased by 50 -- surely, readers will ask, wasn't it possible that at least one person could awaken in time? (not that this situation was something they could stop.)

    I'll consider it though. If other people come back with the same thought, then I'd have to rethink it.

    The lonely, stately spacecraft aspect was actually deliberate. I like the cinematic feel too, but novels allow for different ways of telling a story. I felt like it started out in the more descriptive style of a novel and then progressed into more of an action story.

    Anyway, I already rewrote it away from the passive voice, and this gave me more opportunities to develop the character through throwaway lines. I moved a few of the lines to 'thought bubbles', which are something I'm using throughout the novel for the main character--much like Dune. Also, I realized that the description of the ship doesn't flow in the right direction. I started by describing engines on the outside and then go to the cockpit, then the corridor, and then back to the interior of the engines, then back to the cockpit where the alarm goes off. So, I changed it to engines outside, to engines inside, to corridor and pods, to cockpit, then explain that the cockpit is empty, then the alert on the screen sounds out, and the action starts. The 'tour' flows much better that way.

    I'll post the updated version shortly.

    —Michael
  • Skoob_ym said:
    By the way, thank you for submitting a passage in proper English sentences with good grammar and spelling.
    I know what you mean. I've seen a few excerpts posted on this forum for comments, and, without naming names, I was amazed at the fundamentals not being observed. Things like not forming dialogue correctly, or sentence fragments, or improper paragraphs.

    One thing you can do to catch typos when you review something you've read over and over again is to have Adobe Acrobat read it aloud to you. The computer will read every word exactly as you have written it. I do that and just sit there with the Word file open in front of me while I listen, and if I hear any typos, I just immediately correct them.

    —Michael
  • Just KevinJust Kevin Lulu Genius
    "I really want feedback on the story and characters as a whole rather than just eyeing a chapter or two. "    potential agents or publishers will often read even less than that to gain an idea of how you write. Very often that's all a potential buyer will read, also. In a Preview, while they are deciding to buy or not.

    Myself and my friend combined know everything there is to know, but he's not here.

  • Just KevinJust Kevin Lulu Genius

    There's a lot to read there, but my first thoughts on the very first lines, are these - I would not call that "massive." I know it's a small point, but it does make me wonder about the rest. As a matter of interest, here are some sizes

    http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-QF5ox1F72hI/TonzTjIg_8I/AAAAAAACaYQ/aa0OF8_isfE/s1600/starship_comparison_chart_002.png

    Myself and my friend combined know everything there is to know, but he's not here.

  • Papi_SoñolientoPapi_Soñoliento Southern Escarpment Hill Country Librarian
    Would a length of roughly 16 km with a cross-section of approximately 5 km qualify as somewhat large?

    There's a lot to read there, but my first thoughts on the very first lines, are these - I would not call that "massive." I know it's a small point, but it does make me wonder about the rest. As a matter of interest, here are some sizes

    http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-QF5ox1F72hI/TonzTjIg_8I/AAAAAAACaYQ/aa0OF8_isfE/s1600/starship_comparison_chart_002.png


  • Ron MillerRon Miller Professor
    edited January 28
    I recently had to do a series of illustrations of the different TRAPPIST-1 planets and I thought you might like to see what I came up with for TRAPPIST-1e ...


  • Wow--that's just the way I described it! Wait until you read chapter 2.

    Thanks for sharing that.

    —Michael
  • Wow--that's just the way I described it! Wait until you read chapter 2.

    Thanks for sharing that.

    —Michael
    Cool! I'm looking forward to it! The TRAPPIST-1 system has fascinated me ever since its discovery. I've done illustrations of each of the planets...with more on the way, no doubt.

  • There's also a scene in the book where TRAPPIST-1d makes a close orbit--since all the planets in the system orbit at vastly different rates--and it appears like a large moon in the distance. It causes windstorms to kick up on TRAPPIST-1e. It may not be scientifically accurate. In reality, the planets are probably much further away than that, but we'll call it artistic license. I didn't originally have the TRAPPIST-1 system as my setting but once it came out in the news, it seemed obvious.

    Do you do illustrations for a living? I might need you to do my cover whenever this book is done.

    —Michael
  • Papi_SoñolientoPapi_Soñoliento Southern Escarpment Hill Country Librarian
    edited January 28
    Ron creates wonderful illustrations and covers. He did my first three if you need to see quick examples.
  • I already looked at your books on Amazon yesterday, Cameron. If Ron did the cover for "Mono-Earth", then I'm sold. That cover is fantastic. I'm also an oil painter, so I know good art when I see it. I'll have to check out that book sometime. For the moment, it's in my Wish list.

    —Michael
  • greyowlstudiogreyowlstudio Author
    edited January 28
    Okay, here's the revised version. I suddenly realized I had a character--the computer. The computer already had a name, but it wasn't used in the first chapter, until now. We'll see if it helps to create more urgency by transferring some of the plight to the computer. Also, I'm considering making this two chapters instead of one. The first chapter would be a short one, but in a way, it's a natural break point. Let me know what you think.

    Chapter 1

    Silently, a mirrored steel surface slides through the darkness of space. It is barely visible, almost camouflaged, as it reflects the countless dim stars around it. It is nearly cylindrical but tapered to a point at its prow. It is a relatively small ship, sleek and long, only one hundred meters in length and ten meters in diameter, but its seamless hull reveals it to be a masterpiece of engineering and design. Except for a name etched and imprinted upon the starboard side—'Morpheus I’—the ship’s metal skin is unmarked. Only a slight haze of space dust mars its unblemished and polished surface. At the tail of the ship, there are engines. These black circular emitters, raised against a flat grey surface, are the only part of the craft that is not silvered metal.

    Behind the black emitters is a massive engine, which occupies nearly one third of the entire ship. Inside is a spherical chamber. All steely and mirror-like, it hums away, a ghostly flare of light emanating from its center, deep within a silvery core. An electrical crackling buzzes around the walls, carrying the immense power throughout the entire ship.

    Beyond the engines, and along a narrow corridor, there are dozens of small windows in the walls; so perfectly integrated are they, that it is not immediately evident that a small hatchway accompanies each window. These windows view not the stars outside. Each instead looks into the interior of a hibernation pod. Twenty-five pods line each dorsal side of the ship. Peering into one of the windows reveals a spartan bedroom complete with a tube-like bed and a single hibernating occupant within. Above each person is a clear plastic shield. There are no signs of breathing or other movements among them. Data projected on the silvery walls of each compartment shows the life signs of the fragile occupants within, and an occasional bounce of the lines traveling across the screens indicates they are alive but in a deep sleep.

    At the head of the ship, in the command cockpit, a massive window takes up nearly the whole space, with a sleek black glass panel that juts from the wall underneath it. Data projected brightly in glowing letters against the window constantly shifts against the darkness of the sky and distant stars. Lights on the panel flash silently in seeming unison with this stream of information. There are no buttons, just smooth glass aglow with flashing symbols.

    A red-orange light flashes urgently on the panel, and one line of text gleams boldly on the window, as if having for a long time gone unanswered:

    SPEED IN EXCESS. TIME DILATION NOW x13.396039. DECELERATION REQUIRED. PENDING GRAVITON FIELD LOCK ON NEAREST CELESTIAL BODY.

    The streams of equations are produced by the main computer as it quietly and incessantly checks every function of the ship and monitors the life signs of its vulnerable human charges. Its name is NISQA, and it is the greatest achievement of its designers, the result of decades of technological advancement, all for one purpose—to shepherd these colonists to their new world. As the only guardian of these fifty souls, NISQA continuously uses its quantum computations to predict what hazards might lie ahead. Their protection is its first priority. Although two plush seats clad in a dark fabric are set before this array of equipment, seatbelts lie at the sides, currently unused. The cockpit is empty. Only NISQA is needed now for the ship’s operation.

    NISQA has piloted Morpheus-I alone for over forty-one years, and the engines at its command have driven this spacecraft for trillions of miles, at almost inconceivable speeds, towards a dusty brown planet that just now begins to appear in the window of the ship’s cockpit. Morpheus-I finally nears its destination…

    At once, an alarm pulsed from the corridors of the ship!

    QUANTUM PREDICTIVE COMPUTATIONS INDICATE IMMINENT EMERGENCY. IMMEDIATE VICINITY PROVIDES INSUFFICIENT MASS FOR EVASION OF HAZARD. INITIATING CLASS 1 EMERGENCY. THREAT TO HUMAN LIFE IS IMMINENT. REPEAT. THREAT TO HUMAN LIFE IS IMMINENT!

    The warning was repeated aloud on speakers, echoing throughout the corridors in a bland and vaguely feminine voice whose tone belied the urgency of the situation. But no one was yet awake to hear.

    Outside, a long dark rope-like object suddenly sprung from the gloom surrounding the ship and wrapped itself around the exterior. Dense and thick like the trunk of a tree, it struck against the ship’s hull with a heavy thud. Then, another, and another. Wrapping around the now vulnerable ship, within but a few heartbeats, six or more of these limbs squeezed the lone spacecraft. The hull of the ship rumbled and quaked. A dreadful creaking echoed within, the unmistakable sound of metal bending and tearing. NISQA alerted anew.

    EXECUTIVE DECISION REQUIRED. INITIATING REVIVIFICATION OF MISSION PERSONNEL.

    Inside each of the pods, the wall panels began to light up. The lines on their screens started to bounce faster. Heartrates began to increase, and slowly and steadily, the occupants of the pods began to breathe, their chests visibly rising and falling more rapidly. Within a few moments, those inside subtly stirred, slowly awakening.

    NISQA alerted once again.

    WARNING. PRESSURE ON EXTERIOR HULL NOW EXCEEDS DESIGN TOLERANCE.

    The only response to NISQA’s warning was an ignoble one—a squeal of bending metal and a deafening rattle reverberated along the corridor, and the ship shook violently. Outside, many more black tentacles enwrapped the ship. Suddenly, the engines stopped humming, and a crackle of electricity burst along the metal skin of the narrow corridor. From the rear of the ship, there came a grievous tearing sound, a terrible and unmistakable sound of metal grinding and shearing away. As if becoming desperate, NISQA sounded a klaxon, which echoed through the corridor in alternating tones, and the screen in the cockpit flashed with alerts, even as the glass fractured in a long web of cracks.

    WARNING. HULL BREACH IN SECTION D. REPEAT. HULL BREACH IN SECTION D. ENGINE CORE INTEGRITY NOW COMPROMISED.

    The ship began to list and tilt towards the rear, and outside the hull fractured again with a resounding crack. There was a hissing sound as the carefully preserved atmosphere of the ship began to drain into the depths of space. And a jet of white flame burst out of a crack in the engine’s spherical core.

    WARNING. RADIATION LEAK. REPEAT. RADIATION LEAK. SITUATION NOW UNTENABLE. EXECUTIVE DECISION REQUIRED. EJECTING ALL HIBERNATION PODS.

    A heavy thud sounded from one of the sleeper chambers—the sound of a powerful metal latch being released. Then, another, and another, and another, split seconds apart, in a series running down the corridor. Suddenly, with an explosive sound like a burst of compressed air, three life pods launched from the front of the ship on the starboard side, fleeing silently away into an empty starscape, narrowly avoiding the black tentacles that flailed nearby. Then, two more launched from further behind on the same side, as the hapless NISQA spoke again.

    WARNING. EXTERIOR OBSTRUCTION RESTRICTS EJECTION OF HIBERNATION PODS. REPEAT. EXTERIOR OBSTRUCTION RESTRICTS EJECTION OF HIBERNATION PODS.

    Only one more pod launched with a sudden thud, this time directly behind the cockpit on the port side, but this was to be the last. NISQA issued its final alert.

    WARNING. FUSION CORE CRITICAL. IMMINENT FAILURE OF DRIVE SYSTEMS. REPEAT. FUSION CORE CRITICAL. TRANSFERRING ALL FUNCTIONS TO COMMAND POD.

    The grinding of metal reached a fever pitch; it was now deafening as the hull shredded, twisted apart by the black limbs. The hissing became louder as the air continued to escape, and the sound of NISQA’s alarm became fainter and fainter.

    WARNING. ATMOSPHERIC PRESSURE BELOW MINIMUM REQ…

    But NISQA’s voice was silenced. And the silvery spacecraft blazed with a blinding flare of light as it was broken asunder. Silently, thousands of pieces of metal tumbled among the stars, reflecting their dim light. In their wake, a giant rope-like mass hovered for a moment and then darted away, tumbling towards the planet below.

    (potential chapter break) 

    Henry startled awake, woken by a loud rush of air and a metallic thump that shook his insides. Startled is perhaps a strong word, mentally he was still sluggish and unaware of his surroundings. It takes a lot to stir a person from long-term hibernation so quickly, and the process was still incomplete. His last memory had been of Dr. Brouwer removing a band from his arm as she completed an injection of Hypnos-23, the new hibernation drug developed for their mission to TRAPPIST-1. They had completed their slingshot around the Sun, accelerating to half of light-speed, and then around Jupiter, flinging Morpheus-I even faster, to an almost incomprehensible speed of three-quarters the speed of light.

    As they had approached the end of the heliosphere and the final navigational adjustments were made, the only action left was to put all of the remaining personnel into deep hibernation. He was the second-to-last to sleep. Dr. Brouwer was best qualified to administer the drug, as it required the most exacting dose, and she was left to initiate her own hibernation.

    He could still see her face hovering over his, her long red hair flowing about her shoulders. “Now, just lie still for a few moments,” she was saying, her pale blue eyes gazing into his. For several moments, as these thoughts floated through his mind, he felt as though he were still in reverie, and he was not sure if he was dreaming, remembering, or now experiencing reality.

    He had been vaguely aware of the sound of the computer saying something, as well as some flashing lights nearby—perhaps the pod’s wall screen—but only now was he coming fully to his senses. There were no dreams in hibernation—neural activity was too low—but it had felt like a dream in those first few moments, yet with no comprehension of the events.

    For a moment or two, he thought he might be back in his apartment on the Phillips International Space Halo. He wanted to curl back up in bed, pull a warm blanket over his head and go back to sleep, but somehow, he knew something was wrong. Suddenly, he heard again in his mind what NISQA had said, Warning. Fusion core critical!

    His eyes snapped open and he quickly pushed away the clear plastic shield that covered his bed. The thick lid hinged upwards. The cold air rushed in and he shivered uncontrollably; he felt like he was freezing. His body temperature was still not quite normal, and the thin white bodysuits they wore for their hibernation were less than adequate. Thankfully, NISQA had already removed the automated PICC line.

    Dr. Henry Sullivan was in his late thirties, tallish with dark wavy hair and dark brown eyes. Relatively pale in complexion, his wiry frame gave his face a somewhat gaunt appearance for his age, but his eyes—though a trifle red-rimmed and bleary for the moment—were usually bright and engaging, indicating a high intellect.

    Where is Dr. Brouwer? he wondered. NISQA was supposed to have woken her first. He swung his legs over, tried to rise and immediately fell to the floor. The whole room swam back and forth, and he couldn’t focus his eyes. The pod was moving rapidly. He felt a vibration underneath. It didn’t feel normal, but with the relentless swaying of the room, he couldn’t be sure what that meant, or if it was even real. Is NISQA initiating re-entry?

    He had studied the side effects of the Hypnos-23 hibernation drug in medical training—cognitive impairment, dizziness, and nausea—and he could now tell that the drug’s developers knew exactly what they were talking about. His mind was like pudding. The room was swaying violently. And the less said about the state of his stomach the better.

    He gathered himself and stumbled towards the pod’s hatch with its tiny window, grasping for purchase at the door with his long arms. Desperately trying to focus his vision, he managed to see just in time—much to his horror—his own ship shrinking away into the distance, as the pod tumbled from it at a dizzying speed. “Ejected?” he asked himself in shock. “Why?”

    It was not the separation from his ship that truly terrified him in that moment however. It was the massive collection of tentacles that squeezed at the lonely spacecraft, visibly tearing its hull. He was reminded of an antique film that he once saw as a child—20,000 Leagues Under the Sea—and an image of a massive squid enveloping a submarine upon a stormy sea. “What the hell is that thing!” he gasped to himself. Indeed, the creature was almost uninterpretable. He saw no body per se, just seemingly endless limbs, writhing like many animated black vines.

    Right before his eyes, the tentacles squeezed and tore at the silvery craft, and in one final stroke the ship sheared in two and a bright burst of light flashed from its end, scattering countless fragments silently in the depths of space. As he quickly averted his eyes from the blinding flash, he knew that the engines had exploded. The core had gone critical, spilling its fusion fuel everywhere. NISQA had predicted the ship’s destruction and ejected his pod, though it would have struggled to predict such an unexpected occurrence as a space monster attack.

    As the burst of light faded, and his eyes recovered, he saw the tentacle mass still there unharmed. It lingered for a moment among the glittering pieces of debris as they flashed in the light. It spread its countless arms in a radial fashion. It looked to be over fifty meters in diameter. Henry could see no head, eyes, mouth, or any other visible organ, just a mass of grey-black arms radiating from a central point. But for a vague glistening shine upon its skin in the faint light, it would have been almost concealed in the darkness.

    It shuddered in a peculiar vibration as if invigorated by its destructive act, and its limbs writhed again in a wave towards their tips. It lingered for a few more seconds and then spun away, almost gleefully, like a happy wheel of death. He could not see where it headed, and this was all there was time to see as the scene rapidly retreated into the distance, becoming little more than a speck as the pod accelerated towards the planet below.

    For a brief moment, Henry hung his head in shock and sadness. I wonder if anyone else made it? he asked himself. It had appeared that all the pods on the port side were still in their bays when the ship ignited. He could not see anything on the starboard side.

    The wall screen in the pod was flashing and another audible alert sounded.

    PLANETARY BODY IN EVIDENCE. MINIMAL BATTERY POWER AVAILABLE FOR PLANETFALL. HUMAN DECISION REQUIRED.

    The pod’s secondary-computers were online and tracking the nearest planet. Each hibernation pod was designed to be a self-powered escape craft that could also be used as temporary living quarters when they reached their new home. At this moment, he silently thanked those engineers who had long argued for such a contingency—despite cost overruns—in what now seemed like ages ago back on Earth.

    But, what hope is there? he thought. I could be a dozen light years from our destination. All my colleagues could be dead, all the supplies on the ship are destroyed, and I could be marooned on some desolate barren world. The thought was terrifying! This was the worst nightmare scenario, one that everyone had hoped wouldn’t happen when they were planning this mission. His only chance for long-term survival was to contact the other ships for potential rescue, but right now, there wasn’t time for that. Henry knew that the graviton field generators would automatically lock onto the planet and soft-land, but he wanted to be in control of the situation. He wasn’t going to let the pod computer decide his fate.

    He brushed thoughts of despair aside as his survival instincts kicked in. He searched among the spartan chamber’s compartments for a neuro-stimulant. Just as he began this search, he was nearly doubled over by a wave of nausea and stomach cramps. These aftereffects are no joke! he thought, as he gasped for breath. Thankfully, each pod was fully equipped, and he fell to his knees and clawed for the medical kit stowed under the hibernation bed, fighting the urge to dry heave as he did so.

    Educated as a physicist and engineer, Henry was nevertheless extensively cross-trained in medicine just like all the personnel chosen for this mission. Steadying his hand against his trembling and the increasing rumble of the pod, he swiftly administered a self-injection before he became hopelessly incapacitated by his symptoms.

    He kneeled there for a moment or two as his head slowly cleared and the dizziness subsided. There was a sudden jolt as the pod buffeted against the atmosphere for the first time. Climbing into the chair in front of the wall screen, he tapped upon the screen’s surface, instructing the computer to show a live video of the dusty planet below. The image was still blurry—thanks to the pod’s inferior imaging systems—but he could see that the planet, rapidly growing bigger, was very familiar.

    The planet was rocky and brown with a thin pinkish atmosphere and mountainous ice-capped polar regions. Could this be TRAPPIST-1e? he pondered. Could we have been shipwrecked just as we reached our destination?

    The Daedalus project had gathered volumes of data on TRAPPIST-1e, and Henry had memorized all of the most important information. Something wasn’t quite right. He could immediately see that the atmosphere was not as expected. The data indicated a different oxygen-nitrogen ratio than recovered by Daedalus. There was also more water—about 200% more, including a few sizable lakes. Temperatures hovered at a slightly chilly but survivable 10.6 degrees Celsius. Daedalus had confirmed that the planet was rotating and not tidally locked as originally supposed, but the rotation of this planet was much slower than predicted. It turned once every twenty-four hours, just like Earth. Somehow it was even more livable than expected.

    A low sonorous alert broke his concentration momentarily; the computer was unable to connect with the other Morpheus spacecraft. Those sister ships were now traveling at three quarters of light speed, and it would not be possible to communicate with them for a potential rescue until they approached their destination and decelerated. This meant survival for many weeks would be required on this planet, whatever its condition.

    This was not his immediate problem however. He needed to make critical decisions in order to ensure that survival. This planet showed all the signs of being life-sustaining, but it would still be best to try and land near a water source.

    The poles have the most water, he considered briefly. Although it is mostly frozen.

    But the pod had been ejected far from orbital range and was never meant to be flown like a space shuttle. Its meager quantum batteries were not up to the task of reaching a polar region. Not to mention the rocky terrain and cold in that locale would make for difficult survival conditions. Near a lake would be better, he thought.

    His hands danced across the lit wall screen, steering the pod towards the nearest visible lake, somewhere along the equator. It lurched suddenly. The graviton field generators—meager though they were compared to the main ship’s graviton drive—were working, dragging the pod against the massive gravity of the planet, using its own nearly limitless forces against it. Another alert rang out, and an inset opened on the wall panel, flashing in red:

    ALERT. BATTERY POWER NOW BELOW 50%. >55% REQUIRED TO REACH DESIRED LOCATION. ENGAGING DRIVE SYSTEMS TO REACH THIS DESTINATION WILL RESULT IN PLANETFALL IMPACT IN EXCESS OF DESIGN TOLERANCE. RECOMMENDATION: ABORT CURRENT NAVIGATIONAL PROGRAM.

    “Damn!” he exclaimed aloud, “these pods really are a one-shot operation.” He had two obvious choices—try to make orbit and wait until a favorable location rotated underneath him, or alter course to something within the limits of the available power. He wasn’t sure if the power was sufficient to hold orbit for more than a single rotation of the planet below. It’s best that I make a quick decision, he concluded. Life support will only last about fifteen minutes at this rate. Sure enough, the computer flashed a red bar on the screen indicating the life support systems’ dwindling power.

    As the pod plummeted rapidly downwards towards the dusty planet, searing into the atmosphere, its outer hull began to glow. Suddenly, it was very hot, and a thin layer of sweat broke out upon Henry’s skin. It was more than the heat that was causing the perspiration as he struggled to make a decision. The pod rattled loudly as the buffeting from the planet’s atmosphere worsened. He was coming down whether he was ready or not.

    “Think, damn you, think!” he grimaced. But it was like swimming in treacle to do so. In his Oxford days, both as a student and a professor, he had been known for thinking fast on his feet and doing most of his calculations in his head. Though he was used to coming up with quick solutions to problems, this time he had a severe handicap—hibernation sickness, producing a brain fog that was thicker than pea soup!

    He struggled to calm himself as he suddenly realized he was breathing in gasps. He took a moment to remember his training and control his breathing. Just as he was very nearly feeling overwhelmed, another alert appeared on the screen.

    ALERT. ARTIFICIAL STRUCTURE IN EVIDENCE. ARCHITECTURE DEFIES EXPECTATIONS FOR PLANETARY PROFILE.

    “What the bloody hell is that!” he gasped. The computer was right. As the pod headed west along the equator into the planet’s counter-clockwise turn, rolling onto the screen was a vast complex of artificial structures, partly covered by a gigantic dome. The image was still distant and blurry, but there was no question as to what he was seeing. The dome was missing large portions of its smooth surface, through which he could see the fragmented artificial structures. It was already well north and west of his chosen destination, by some considerable distance—hours by foot at least. The decision was made; Henry wanted to be as close as possible to this city, whatever its condition—the consequences be damned.

    He reduced power to several sub-systems, including air recycling, and reset navigation to take the pod beyond the lake and towards the city. I’ll breathe better on the ground, he thought. And if I don’t make it, it won’t matter anyway.

    WARNING. SPECIFIED DESTINATION REQUIRES AN EXCESS OF REMAINING BATTERY POWER. PRESS ‘OVERRIDE ENABLE’ TO CONFIRM.

    Henry pressed to override, and the screen began pulsing in red lines indicating power flowing to the emergency landing systems. The computer pulsed in a high chirruping alert and spoke again.

    EMERGENCY LANDING SYSTEMS NOW IN OPERATION. WARNING. LANDING PREDICTED TO BE IN EXCESS OF DESIGN TOLERANCE. >90% PROBABILITY OF DAMAGE TO POD SYSTEMS.

    He silenced the audio warnings with a wave of his hand over the screen; they were now on visual only. He preferred to perform the calculations in his head, and the computer’s constant warnings were a distraction. There was no time to be a cautious ninny. An emergency like this required less obvious decisions, decisions that the pod’s computer, in its limited imagination, couldn’t devise. NISQA was a computer he could trust—he had designed that one—but not this pod.

    The pod had some small amount of thruster power in addition to the graviton field generators. One shot only, these would have to bear more of the brunt of the required landing than previously considered safe. This time, it was do-or-die. The pod was coming in hot!

    His fragile craft bored through the thickening atmosphere, and the heat was becoming almost unbearable. The less-controlled plummet was deliberate, he was saving power for emergency deceleration as close to the ground as possible. His agile fingers again flowed deftly across the panel. The computer confirmed his own calculations. He would have to pull about 5 G’s in the last few seconds, but it was more than within his capacity. Yes indeed—the adrenaline was helping his mind to wake up!

    A dusky brown surface filled his screen now and he could see many features—including something that looked like a fragmented road and a gap in a low mountain range. But, it all flashed by too quickly. To Henry, time seemed greatly slowed down now as the adrenaline took over and the drugs cleared his head. He steadied his hand over the controls, ready to activate full thrusters at the need moment. He possessed a perfect sense of time, and he counted down in his head, trying to focus on the numbers to keep himself calm. The wall screen pulsed in red with a warning message:

    WARNING. SPEED NOW 55% IN EXCESS. IMMINENT COLLISION EXCEEDS DESIGN TOLERANCE

    He ignored it and focused on his internal counting.

    Twenty seconds…

    SPEED NOW 60% in EXCESS.

    The pod bucked relentlessly now.

    …Ten seconds…

    SPEED NOW 80% in EXCESS.

    He felt as though the pod’s shaking would throw him from his seat.

    …Five Seconds…

    The computer flashed urgently in red…

    IMMEDIATE DECELERATION RECOMMENDED!

    …Four…Three…Two…One…

    Henry activated the retro-thrusters and put the graviton field generator on maximum! The pod lurched violently as if thrown about in an earthquake, and he heard the thrusters fire with an ear-splitting burst of escaping air. Henry felt like he was being flattened into the floor, and he saw pinpoint flashes of light in his vision. With a final jolt, he was thrown from his chair. Falling to the floor, his head struck something. He saw a shower of stars and all went black.

    —Michael

  • Papi_SoñolientoPapi_Soñoliento Southern Escarpment Hill Country Librarian
    Ron did both "Regeneration" covers as well as the "Mono-Earth" cover. If you prefer print you can PM and I'll send you a link to the more economical publisher-grade hard copy.

    Ron does do commissions, I'd suggest sending him a PM or visit his site http://www.black-cat-studios.com/

«13
Sign In or Register to comment.