First Page Critique: Bringer of Chaos, Harvest of Blood

 

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(Note from Sweet Joseph: Sorry that we are late this morning, TKZers! In absence of being able to determine why, I’ll chalk it up to a PICNIC (Problem In Chair Not In Computer) problem. Thanks for your patience.)

Greetings, TKZers, and join me today in welcoming Anon du jour who has submitted the first page of his work Bringer of Chaos, Harvest of Blood for examination:

 Bringer of Chaos, Harvest of Blood

At the end of Earth’s twenty-seventh century, genslaves, humanity’s genetic

creations, fulfilled man’s every desire. They rebounded from disease and injury as if

immortal. Bred to need no rest, labor-genslaves performed menial and repetitive tasks.

Mankind permitted enough intelligence to work, but not enough to aspire beyond their

station. Warrior genslaves possessed unmeasured strength and massive size. They

fought humanity’s wars, died so man didn’t have to suffer, and revived to fight again.

Healer-genslaves with skill in medicine designed cures for man’s diseases. Artists

created mankind’s beauty. Nurturers and teachers cared for humanity’s children.

Scientist-genslaves designed additional genslaves, to make man’s life even more

pleasant. All with genetic shackles of obedience, making them content to remain

subservient.

While humanity relaxed, secure in a position of power, genslave-scientists created a

new order of beings with free will. Did their creation arise from faulty programming,

or a desire for freedom? Unhampered by genetic restraints, these new creatures

took the name Ultra. Brains and brawn, they solved every problem, survived every

wound.

Untouched by disease and unthwarted by starvation, they beat the shackles of death.

They were immortal.

Immortality changed everything.

When Ultras demanded freedom, humans claimed them soulless, inferior,

unworthy, and undeserving of equality. Humans tried to silence them, and when

that failed, punished them.

The Ultras seized liberty by force. Emboldened by the Ultras’ success,

other genslaves rebelled.

Power tilted. Ultras made slaves of their former captors.

Yet among Ultras, leadership arose that considered humans redeemable. They

advocated human freedom and their own government. They sought an end to

galaxy-wide conflict. They sought peace to halt senseless death and destruction,

foster growth, and increase trade.

In 4536 AD, after centuries of war, Ultras and humans met to discuss a truce.

At the peace talks, the Ultras suffered betrayal at the hand of their own kind.

Captured, forced into cryogenic sleep, transported across the galaxy, abandoned

on a planet whose name meant ever living, a half-million woke in their eternal prison.

Too far out on the rim to be worth developing, Sempervia possessed few

natural resources. The scant supplies humans left would have meant starvation and

lingering death for mortals, but the immortal Ultras had no such mercy.

They survived.

For this reason, the first few years in Sempervian history are remembered as the Harvest of Blood.

Anon, I’m going to focus primarily on substance and a bit on form here, sometimes intermingling the two, so I would appreciate it if you (and those of you who are kind enough to spend a portion of your Saturday with me) would bear with me to the end. I hope that it will be productive for you.

Let’s begin with the title, which reminds me of one of those Swedish death metal records that Jordan Dane probably has in her record collection. It infers that your book would fall into the sword-and-sorcery subgenre, something like Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian or Fritz Leiber’s Gray Mouser. I expected demons throwing fire, beheadings, supernatural disembowelment, and other things which I won’t get into here. After reading your submission, however, it looks like you are shooting for a speculative history novel and series — a very interesting one — with some military elements thrown in, a book that a publisher such Baen,to name but one, does so well. The title really doesn’t reflect that. It’s somewhat of a misdirection.    I would change the title to something a bit simpler which gets your idea across, such as GENSLAVES: Volume One — Rebellion.

The big issue here, however,  is that what you have sent isn’t as a practical matter  the first page of a Chapter One. It’s not even really the first page of a Prologue. It is more of an outline for a future history spanning hundreds years which will provide the spine for a novel, or maybe even several novels. I think you have a terrific idea, but you don’t have the beginning of a story or a book yet.  You have a whole book you can fill, my friend, a whole book where you can show us what you envision as a future history instead of telling us.

One suggestion — out of many possibilities — would be for you to start the first page of your novel on Sempervia, your exile planet.  Present it from the perspective of one of the Ultras on the planet who is either 1) hacking their way through a bunch of their fellow Ultras to get to something they need, 2) trying to stow away onto a rocket back to Earth or 3) escaping from a peril. Show us that Sempervia is a bad, lousy place to live, one where unicorns are eaten and recycled instead of worshipped. Show us that while dropping breadcrumbs of the history and the backstory through the narrative. Mix it up a bit, showing how the inhabitants of Sempervia survive on a day to day basis,  revealing what their short and long term plans are, and exploring how they got to be there in the first place, all the while sticking to that outline.

Maybe you have already done all of the above in pages two through six hundred of what you have written. That is all well and good; but you need to start the book off in a different manner, in order to pull a prospective agent, editor, or reader into it. Think of your first page — going to back to the spirit which your current title evokes — as the hook which pulls the eyeball of the reader into the story. Folks have short attention spans these days. You need to grab them and keep them before they pick up the television remote and start streaming the first season of Animal Kingdom.

If you want a relatively quick and excellent example of how to do something like this, see if you can get a reading copy of the Gold Key edition of the comic book MAGNUS, ROBOT FIGHTER 4000 AD by Russ Manning ( from the 1963 edition, NOT the relaunches that have been published since) in your local library’s graphic novel section. The first few panels of the story, if memory serves, quickly give the readers example of robots doing drudge work before Magnus suddenly shows up, and, after fleeing from the robot police,  uses martial arts to kick rivets and take serial numbers. Manning gradually informs the reader as to how people let robots take over more and more duties (like making coffee, checking people into  hotels, and taking orders at Panera Bread) to the point where robots are running things and human beings are becoming subservient without really realizing it. It isn’t your plot, but it does involve a future history, and Manning, bless his heart, shows us all how to tell a future history story effectively. If you want a longer example, check out E. E. “Doc” Smith’s Lensmen series, or Robert H. Heinlein’s future history series. The latter is particularly accessible.

I have a couple of other points of correction, applying to form:

— Science fiction readers love those new names for future objects. You should be consistent when you create and use them. You start off with “labor-genslaves” (hyphen) and then you mention “Warrior genslaves” (no hyphen) instead of “Warrior-genslaves” before returning to “healer-genslaves” and “scientist-genslaves,” the latter of which turn into “genslave-scientists.” Since you started with “(insert type of genslave here) – genslaves,” when naming your characters, follow that format throughout your first page, and indeed, your novels, and the ones that will come later in this ambitious future history.

— If the genslaves were genetically shackled to be obedient, thus making them content to be subservient, they aren’t going to be emboldened by the Ultras’ success. “Emboldened” wouldn’t be in their genetic programming any more than “obedience” is included in a cat’s genetic makeup, even as they watch the dog doing so and thus being allowed to stay another day, go for rides, etc. Just saying.

— The first time that you mention that the high-end genslaves “took the name Ultra,” set the name off, like so:  “Ultra” or Ultra. Just the first time.

I will now remain uncharacteristically quiet (for most of the day) while our TKZers offer their own invaluable insight. And thank you, Anon, for stepping up and giving us a reason to be here today!

 

 

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8 thoughts on “First Page Critique: Bringer of Chaos, Harvest of Blood

  1. Great concept and I can totally see it as a hard sci-fi thriller. Everything Joe said is spot on. This is, at best, a prologue. It also reads like jacket cover material. Really, what you have here is a concept outline. A running line by line concept of the story. This is all backstory and telling.

    Start with some characters, some dialogue, some action and you’ll have a barn-burner of an action-adventure novel.

    Please come back again with a first page titled: 4356 AD – Sempervia and get the story started there.

    Terri

  2. Great concept but yawn… there’s no way I would read more than three paragraphs, either as a reader or as an acquisitions editor.

    Only well-established writers can get away with starting a novel with world-building… or James Michener. I want someone to care about–a character–and an intriguing situation that reveals that character.

    I also want a hint about what journey that character will take throughout the story, i.e., think about what you want your character to learn in the story, and then put that character into a “disturbing” situation that foreshadows what will happen in the story.

    A number of my writer friends are working on this type of story, and some of them fall into the same trap–they are so intrigued by the world they’re building that they spend pages describing that world before they get into the story.

    Is that a waste of time? For the reader, yes, but for the writer, it’s like a writing exercise that cements their imaginary world in their own minds, and makes writing the actual story easier because they’re not inventing everything as they go along (although as they go along new and magical ideas will intrude…and that’s the magic of writing fiction.

  3. It’s all backstory and has no business in the front of a novel. But you know what? You could write a separate novel using that first page alone. Create a set of characters to lead the reader through the development of the genslaves, then finally to the scientists (evil or not) who developed Ultra. What with the Ultra and humans fighting each other for centuries, you’ve got not just a novel but an entire series right there on that first page. Go for it!

  4. I agree, good concept. But it’s a bit shop-worn. Think Planet of the Apes. Before l’d use it, I’d have to have something new to say. That might be difficult given all 27 bizillon movies

  5. Thank you for the thoughtful suggestions on this submission. The section I sent was a one-page prologue for book two of a series. It’s intended to read like a dust jacket, so I was pleased to see that comparison.
    Not long after I sent it, I decided the title sounded more like horror than scifi and retitled it Bringer of Chaos: Forged in Fire. Bringer of Chaos: the Origin of Pietas (already published) established the legacy of the main character. Pietas is found in multiple books in my Sempervian Saga, an open-ended series featuring the immortals. Other series are off-shoots of this one. I decided to write his story in a separate series because I found it hard to understand his motives. These books are cementing them in my mind and I’m using material revealed about him in other books as fodder for this one. It’s been fun finding appropriate places to slip in easter eggs. His fans are enjoying seeing why certain things happened the way they did.
    I like the suggestion of titling the genslaves the same way. And I am already developing a saga for the other side. The Ultras were betrayed by their own kind, which Pietas will not let go unpunished. Establishing their motives and telling their stories is helping me enrich my story universe.
    This has been encouraging and thought provoking. Thank you for the feedback!

  6. For some reason, my comments from Saturday didn’t make it on the “Comments” page but I will again give a big THANK YOU to all who visited and participated (including Steve Hooley and Laura Benedict, whose comments seem to be popping on and off this post, for some reason). Also, a tip of the fedora to Steve, who took the time to make sure that I knew that my post was having trouble posting. Thank you, Steve!
    Anon/Kayelle, many thanks for coming on and submitting to us, as well as for your comments about your work in progress. Go for it! One suggestion…a glossary of characters at the beginning of each volume, with a short summary of what has gone before, would be invaluable to those of us of a certain age who are never certain where they left their car keys or, for that matter, the car. Thanks again!

    • Thanks, Joe. I relate to losing the car. When I go somewhere, I try to park so the car will be on my left when I exit so I can find it again. 😉 I’ve actually published a book called the Tarthian Empire Companion which has virtually every character up to now, plus a lot of my notes and definitions from my series. I added a section on world-building as well. My book An Immortal’s Guide to Tarth has a plethora of material about the Sempervians. It just finaled for the Ariana Cover Awards. I hadn’t considered adding names to individual books though. I’ll look into that.

  7. Kayellen, that’s a good way to keep track of your car! The guy you see in the garage, pointing his keyfob in every direction and pressing the lock button so that it goes “BEEP” is me.

    I’ve got a bunch of people waiting in line to jump up and down on my last nerve at the moment but when they leave I’ll check out the Tarthian Empire Companion. Thanks!

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