First Page Critique -The Lunar Lifestyle

THE LUNAR LIFESTYLE

We booked the cheapest seats on the rocket, which meant that neither of us faced a window. If I craned my neck, I could see the other couples sitting in the expensive seats, ogling at space and Earth through their window views. I didn’t let it bother me. Once we got to the moon, everything would be free.

I turned to Matt and pointed out a leftover drop of puke drying on his chin. He wiped it away with his sleeve. He didn’t do so well with g-forces.

“Any regrets?” I asked him.

Matt shook his head. “We can always video chat my parents. Or your aunt. And we’ll make new friends up here.”

“I guess you’re right.”

“Besides, Clara, it’s a fresh start. Think of it that way. A start for our family, you know?”
Matt yawned and thumbed through the Rocket Passenger Safety Handbook as we waited to disembark. It occurred to me that there was no point in reading the Rocket Passenger Safety Handbook at the conclusion of a one-way trip. But he’d had a rough flight, so I didn’t say anything.

Matt and I had lived in Lake Placid, New York. Matt taught sixth grade math, and I’d taught seventh grade geography. Eventually, they had to close the school because parents were getting concerned with the levels of radiation in the lake, so we signed up to go to the moon.

Matt and I hadn’t met at school, actually. He tells everyone that he fell in love with me at first sight. I’d stood out to him, apparently, in my bright green sundress on a warm winter’s morning at the dentist’s office. I’ve never had the heart or the courage to tell him that I’d only worn it because I’d been too lazy to do my laundry, and it was the only thing I had left. I certainly hadn’t fallen for him as I waited to be de-plaqued. Matt had grown his bushy red hair out into a bushy red mustache back then. I considered it something of a public service when I made him shave.

Our rocket docked directly inside the lunar base. There were six or seven other bases scattered around the moon-China had one, as did Russia and a few other European countries-but Matt and I would be part of the first group to settle the new American base.

My Critique by Nancy J. Cohen

Being a science fiction fan, I loved the opening. I surmise Matt and Clara are married and are about to embark on a new life on the moon. The point of view is clear, and I’m interested in these characters and their new adventure.

But then the story segues into a flashback that stops the forward motion cold. Starting with this paragraph— “Matt and I had lived in Lake Placid…” and ending at the next paragraph, “…when I made him shave”—it’s all background info that could have been woven into the story later or brought in via dialogue.

Then suddenly the rocket is docking. I would have liked to stay in the moment during their voyage to experience it with them. Their reactions would help the reader learn more about these characters via conversation and their gut responses to the trip. The voyage went too fast.

Also, you’re telling rather than showing. Instead of “Our rocket docked directly inside the lunar base,” let us share this trip through their sensory impressions as the rocket turns, descends, decelerates and docks. Does their pulse race? Their stomachs churn with anxiety as the ship tilts? Their hearts lurch as the vehicle thumps to a landing? I want to smell the rocket fuel. In other words, show—don’t tell. This could be an exciting trip told through the viewpoint of these newlyweds. But you lost me at “Matt and I…”

4+

23 thoughts on “First Page Critique -The Lunar Lifestyle

  1. Same reaction, Nancy… as soon as the backstory started, the writer lost me. Loved the concept, however. (Used to be a member of the SF Book Club; got a new book every month.)

    I got a little confused over the genders until Clara’s name was mentioned, but the fact that the writer had to insert her name into dialogue threw me, too. Generally not a good idea. A simple but unique gesture, common between couples, might have solved the problem.

    I don’t know why, but the mention of puke threw me off, too. Guess I don’t like puke mentioned, especially so early in the story, before I’ve had a chance to care about the characters.

    The writer hasn’t yet developed his/her voice, in my opinion. Voice will draw me into a story almost before anything else. Lots of miles of writing solves the problem.

    I think we have a storyteller here who simply needs to keep on studying the craft and writing, writing, writing.

    • You’re right about the puke, now that I think about it. Not a nice image to have up front and center on the first page. He could have a pale complexion instead.

  2. Ditto the above, especially the gender issue.

    Likewise the timeline “speed bump” – way too fast to get from Florida to Tranquility Base, or else Clara let Matt wear the puke for too long…

    I also think there are way too many “hads”~ I had / he had / we had / I’d…

    One last not to pick, if I may… In the back-story, at:
    “Matt and I hadn’t met at school, actually. He tells everyone that he fell in love with me at first sight. I’d stood out to him, apparently, in my bright green sundress on a warm winter’s morning at the dentist’s office.” ~
    It may be me, but I think the “actually” and the “apparently” are either superfluous, or at best, misplaced.

    I would say my two cents, but it’s either more than two points, or no sense at all…

    🙂

  3. Concur with the above statements, specifically Clara’s abrupt name drop. You could establish her gender in the puke paragraph. Had she ever had morning sickness (even if she lost the baby)?

    I liked the puke bit – made it real. 🙂 The beard info could be worked in at that point and that would help define the characters as adults.

  4. Agree and the first page is a great way to introduce some ‘here and now’ sensory impact and I would have liked to have felt what it was actually like traveling in the rocket. I think good science fiction pulls us into a new world and creates it such that we want to be immersed in it – here I felt there was too much distance and backstory to get emotionally engage in the characters or their journey.

  5. I’m good with the premise of a couple moving to the moon to start over. However, I’m immediately pulled out of the story by the science. They don’t get window seats, so they can’t see the view, but they’ll be to the moon soon, and suddenly they are. Um, isn’t the typical voyage for humans around three days? While a few things have been shot up there in less time, there would still be plenty of time for walking/floating around. After all, the moon is nearly a quarter million miles away. Wiping puke off one’s sleeve implies that the characters are wearing regular clothes, no spacesuits, that the spaceship is filled with breathable air, and that there is some sort of artificial gravity, and yet there are still the g-forces (but maybe not Garn scale illness). I like SFF as well as I like thrillers, and am perfectly willing to suspend my disbelief for all sorts of scenarios, but I’m having a hard time buying that much change in technology. If there is that much change in technology, then it doesn’t make sense to me that these paying customers are going to be part of the first US base.

    Agree that the backstory is not the right choice on the first page. I would definitely like more of the space voyage/landing from the couple’s point of view; their sensory experience. What’s the experience of docking in the lunar base? How does it feel? Does it have a feel of finality? Maybe they do catch a glimpse of the shrinking earth from the window, even if it is over someone else’s shoulder.

    • You are sharp, catfriend. I didn’t even think about the shirt sleeve. They’d have to have artificial gravity and breathable atmosphere plus inertial dampeners or whatever scifi stories call it. As for the time factor, we’ve all mentioned their journey happens too fast. The science, or at least a technobabble explanation, is totally lacking. This isn’t an airliner with normal seats. It’s a spaceship. More description would help, but I think Brian has the best idea. Start the story when they arrive.

  6. I think this all can be fixed by starting at the real beginning, and for me it would be the minute the first step onto the moon. Of course, I’d toss in an an immediate problem.

  7. I’m with Brian and everyone else. For me, if I have to tag something as BS (backstory) on the first page, it’s hard for me to go past it. I too think the story may be starting in the wrong place & if that BS is needed in story (even just to warm us up to the characters) it would be better placed farther in.

    I too am a sci-fi gal and usually sci-fi starts with some combo of a really cool, problematic location/situation, and/or cosmos shattering problem(s) – “How I picked your mother?” is not so much fun (unless it has something to do with “as we whacked into each other during emergency decompression of the ship under attack from something” 😀 ).

  8. I love having a scifi first page for a change for critique! I’m not an expert on the subject of ” world building” in scifi, but some of the terms used here didn’t really convey The type of world I would expect to associate with a lunar base. I just took a tour of the SpaceX facility, for example, and loved the immersion in new technologies and terms I heard about there for the first time: “Falcon Heavy”, “Merlin engines”, “Crew Dragon Spacecraft”. A fictional rocket world should be populated with its own terms and references to technology, in order to be convincing to the reader.

  9. I agree with everything that has already been said, especially about starting in the wrong place. Maybe the writer could have started as they were getting off the rocket and having to deal with bureaucracy and scary safety lectures. And it needs some excitement. Throw in a little action like a minor decompression accident that has people rushing around and airlocks slamming shut. Something to show the danger of living on the moon. I would like a little more dialogue to get a better understanding of both of the characters. Something that reveals more personality and not just why they’re on the moon. I agree that the technology seems a little advanced for the first moon bases, perhaps changing it to Mars would fix it as we would have to advance a lot to be able to set up permanent Mars bases.

  10. Nancy, you’re exactly right with your comments.
    Something that wasn’t right for me is that in the first paragraph other couples are “ogling at space and Earth through their window views” which implied for me that they are flying, seconds later they are waiting to disembark, but in the last paragraph the rocket is docking.
    An idea for a different starting place for this story could be a conflict on Earth that makes the option of relocating to the Moon almost their only choice…
    As always, kudos to the writer for submitting!

  11. I agree with all points made by Nancy.

    If you sprinkle in some sensory responses, then it would put some zing in this scene. As it is, you’re just telling another story that doesn’t feel any different than the next one.

    I’m not much of a sci fi person, but this would keep me going. But one minor detail I need to bring up:

    “Matt had grown his bushy red hair out into a bushy red mustache back then.”

    The first mention of bushy red hair I’m thinking on his head, then you throw out the “into a bushy red mustache” and I was like wait….huh? 🙂

  12. I’m not a fan of sci-fi at all, but I positively loved this opening line. I have to insert it here so I can read it again: We booked the cheapest seats on the rocket, which meant that neither of us faced a window.

    What a great opener! Could almost suggest a dark noir novel featuring desperate individuals caught up in their own bad choices. In any case, I must agree 100% with Nancy’s entire critique. The sudden info-dump slammed on the brakes and took me right out of the story. The information is necessary, yes, but not necessary to ladle out in one big gulp like that. Better to weave it in to the story with a dexterous hand. If the author can come up with that sensational opening line, he/she can certainly fix that little problem.

    I would also dig up a better title. That one isn’t going to draw anyone to this book.

    • You’re on the mark with the title, Mike. I have to agree. The Lunar Lifestyle, while intriguing, could be better. Because if that’s all this story is about, where’s the conflict and tension?

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