New entry Dec 02
How to Write SF
The Craft of Writing Science Fiction that Sells by Ben Bova, best-selling author and six-time Hugo Award winner for Best Editor. (This is one of the books your ol' Critter Captain learned from himself, and I highly recommend it.) (Also via Amazon)
New Book from a Critter Member**NOW IN PRINT EDITION TOO!** Awesome new book, HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR SPECULATIVE FICTION OPENINGS, from a Critter member whose unearthed a shard of The Secret to becoming a pro writer. Really good piece of work. "...if you're at all concerned about story openings, you'd be nuts not to read what Qualkinbush has to say." —Wil McCarthy, author of BLOOM and THE COLLAPSIUM
is Dying has been Replaced
THE SIGIL TRILOGY: The universe is dying from within... "Great stuff... Really enjoyed it." — SFWA Grandmaster Michael Moorcock
Announcing ReAnimus Press
If you need help making ebooks from manuscripts or print copies—or finding great stuff to read—look no further! An ebook publisher started by your very own Critter Captain. (And with a 12% Affiliate program.) [More]
These are actual critiques from many moons ago. (We've got a lot more members now. :-)
What's it like to run a story throught Critters?
It's like running your child through the gauntlet -- whatever blemishes it has will be revealed.
Each story submitted to Critters is available to all the members to review (350 of them, as of 2/1/98). Manuscripts are sent out in batches each Wednesday, with critiques due a week later. I send out approximately one ms. per week per 15 members, which results in each ms. receiving 15-25 critiques (though some have had as many as 40; shorter ones tend to get more). Most are thorough -- not simply "I liked it" or "I hated it," but why and possibly with suggestions on how to improve it. Some examples are below. Critiques run about 800 words on average (by that logic, each submission gets on the order of 17,000 words of critique).
Of course, you won't agree with every comment, though if you hear the same thing several times -- think hard about it.
Most members are themselves writers, and find the process of reviewing is itself helpful to their own writing. Many members are scientists and comment on technical accuracy. Some members are long-time readers of SF/F/H and know what's been done before; and we have at least one web-zine editor. In any event, the stringent participation requirements do their job, ensuring both quantity and quality of comments.
To give you an idea of the kind of information a critique can give you, here are three sample critiques of one member's story (entitled, "The Duplicate War: A Review"). Most people divide their comments into two types, "global" and "local" (macro/micro, nats/nits, -- overall thoughts, characterization, underlying idea, dialogue, storytelling, vs. typos, logic errors, grammar problems, confusing sentences, etc.), though some just write up their thoughts in prose. (Several articles on how to critique are on the 'resources' page.)
I enjoyed reading this story but did find the reading a challenge. The structure of an opera review with historical notes is very creative but is quite complex. It also limits dialog and I find reading stories without dialog more like reading essays, which is not as much fun.
I had trouble with the scientific explanation. The story simply stops in the middle and gives a short explanation. This stopped the story but did not provide not enough information for me to buy on. A longer explanation would have certainly brought the story to a screaming halt.
The aerospace economy reference also did not ring true for me. I work for NASA and face it every day. The entire NASA budget is just a drop in the budget and a political football. If it were canceled completely it would have little effect on the American aerospace economy. The military space program is much bigger (but largely secret) and it is a small part of the total military aerospace effect. The rolla-coaster effects have to do with military budgets and little to do with NASA.
I also had difficulty with the ending. I seems to me that there would be thousands of duplicators left laying around. Surely other sociopaths would continue to use them for disruptive purposes. Perhaps some special weapon to search out and destroy the duplicators would solve the problem.
In the long term I would think that duplicates would have serious health problems. They simply constitute a enormous breading ground for disease agents and they all have exactly the same immune system. I think there would very quickly develop a Scott plaque. I do not see how they could last long enough to explore the stars.
Sorry to be so negative. I hope these obliterations help you to get your story published.
The most valuable portion of any critique is "what I didn't like and why". Unfortunately, (for the critic) there's not much wrong with The Duplicate War: A Review. I will try to be as specific as possible with my praise so you'll know what you did right.
The vehicle of an opera review to tell your tale is an excellent one. I have seen this approach before and it is very effective as long as it keeps moving. Your tale moved at a brisk (but not rushed) pace.
>>The photograph of his father in the wheelchair that had brought him back from Vietnam could be dusted... The paragraph this line appears in is an excellent example of characterization by setting and the line I referenced is the wonderful little detail which completes the scene and sheds a little light on who Scott is.
>>The networks showed the tape over and over; he sat up drinking strong coffee and watched Michael every hour until dawn. I think that ammending this line to end "...and watched Michael die every hour until dawn" will add impact and help justify Scott's actions later.
>>Scott studied the portable duplicator in puzzlement; it was an apparently simple device that in its contracted state IT could have fit into a woman's pocketbook. If you read this sentence without the capitalized IT, I believe you will agree that the word IT should be deleted.
>>When Bulgin awoke in total darkness, he sat up... This paragraph uses incorrect science. SF can use imaginary science but it cannot use incorrect science. There are two types of night vision devices available, light amplification and thermal sensing. Thermal sensing devices show heat gradients and will readily show outlines of people and objects (most objects in a room are not at the exact same temperature) but are not sensitive enough to show details such as which keys Bulgin pressed. Light amplification devices will show such details but require some light (advanced models work quite well on even very dark nights) to amplify. A small closet in a basement at night (total darkness, you say) will not provide enough light.
>>Sooner than we deserved, the curtain rose on a new day. The opera critic is a harsh one! His comments were a wonderful bonus to the story and this line was his best.
>>They even duplicated tanks. This line is not needed and worse, it doesn't work. How did they accomplish this? No tanks that I have ever seen (or imagined in futeristic stories) would fit into a one cubic meter space.
This is an excellent story and should see publication. It is on par with what I see in the short SF markets. Good luck.
David Please forgive all punctiation and spelling mistakes in advance.
Extremely well written. You've obviously written before, as I see from your bio. Your images are accurate, descriptions believable and real. No misplaced modifiers, no said bookisms, etc. I enjoyed reading it. Inventive, original, good pace, neat idea for telling a story.
My only question at the end was Where did Bulgin get the duplicator? Your reference to the keypad makes me think he built it, but how?
This story takes place in 97, pretty near future. Maybe put it a bit further ahead?
I was unclear a few times as to when he'd switched frm his review to a re-telling of actual events. Maybe clearer transitions to flashbacks. PLace the opera in the obvious present, be clearer with your re-telling of past events. I think that what makes it unclear is that you have a passage where you drop into Scott's POV (starts with 'Scott gave the signal abnd his men burst into the little room...') while the rest of the manuscript is the reviewer's POV
My physics is rusty, I would imagine that's true for most people. Might want to find a way to slip in a more #layman's# explanation of the Conservation of Energy and how the duplicator works. I know you put a little bite in there about how the duplicator works, (wormholes and such) but I didn't really understand it. Go into it, come out the tail, and you're twinned, but why emerge in our universe? Wouldn't you be stuck in the alternate? Maybe a rewrite for us thick headed ones.
'...a mirror-surfaced 10 centimeter cube with what once had been a calculator keypad embedded in its upper surface.' take out 'what once had been a calculator' so it's 'with a keypad imbedded' You mention the keypad bit later and do a better job of describing it at that point
'Scott was the little brother, not the younger brother;' Take out the second brother. "Scott was the little brother, not the younger;"
Ref para that starts 'For a crew of school teachers, autoworkers, and computer jocks...' I'm in the Air Force, and no one really saw combat experience in the gulf. Only people who really gained combat experience were the pilots, and even then it was tactical bombing experience, not head to head dogfighting. A few Marine squads encountered fire clearing Kuwait city, but that's about it. Most reservists served at home, keeping things running, although some did go to the gulf. Most of those that did served in support positions, not combat. Vietnam was the last small unit combat experience for the US, though Bosnia is looking good. If you put it a bit more in the future, you might be able to get away with making them Bosnia vets.
When Scott enters the code, the date backwards. He enters teh same date as teh Bulgin from the day before. Does the code change each day? Would it be the date of the present day?
Good story, good writing, original way of telling it. It was a pleasure to read. Suggest Analog 1st, then maybe Science Fiction Age (though they're a bit more soft/social SF) then Asmov's or Aboriginal. Expanse maybe (see SF Age note). Century too.
For what it's worth
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