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Sample Critiques

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.)

Sample #1 ============================================================

Critique of:         The Duplicate War:  A Review
			by  David Lowe
By Riley

	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

	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.

Sample #2 ============================================================


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.

Robert Keating

Sample #3 ============================================================

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 

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 

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.

Good luck!

For what it's worth



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