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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Short Works » Hazmat Seven

   
Author Topic: Hazmat Seven
Kolona
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Would appreciate some feedback on a short SF story (2400 words), or even on this beginning alone:

Riter jolted awake with his usual sense of alarm. Asleep at the console again, he berated himself, trying to blot the weariness from his eyes with a quick rub of his knuckles. With a distressingly familiar apprehension, he studied the instrument panel before him and groaned at the course corrections it indicated. The Hazmat Seven was another six light years off course.

Pushing his seat from the console with an agitated motion, he sat a moment, jaw clenched, hands gripping his knees, dark thoughts whirring through his mind. There had to be someone else on board. A computer glitch wouldn’t occur only when he slept. But he’d searched the ship — three times — and found no one.

The course corrections, each more difficult to undo than the previous one, were taking him beyond the known universe. Already he was out of subspace transmission range. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply, deliberately, trying not to focus on the bad joke aspect of this trip.

I'll even say thanks in advance for any comments.


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Rocklover
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Hi Kolona. Please allow me to play devil's advocate without taking anything I say personally.
First, how exactly does one chart a course to anyplace unknown? You say the ship is off course but that you are in unknown territory? Nit picky, I know.
Also, being light years off course, no matter what speed you are traveling is a pretty bad thing. Like making a wrong turn to LA and ending up in Flagstaff (which I've done.) It is no small thing! Perhaps a lesser distance would make more sense, or else a more serious sense of crisis is called for.
Second, the last sentense of the third paragraph stops the tension in its tracks. My gosh! There's somebody on board sabotaging the mission and can't be found, and that somebody's struck again! This is time for action, not an info dump. If you're going to do a "James Bond," I call it, meaning starting with a crisis and a bang, then get to it in one smooth, fast thread and don't tie it up with knots such as your "bad joke aspect" which is a distraction at this point. Work the info dumping in quick and fast to the action or save it for later.
And lastly, it seems odd that there is only ONE person on board (except the somebody, that is). For a mission heading into deep space, one would think there would be more than one person in the crew. If for nothing else, to spell each other off at the console. Why is this guy out there alone?
I like your first two paragraphs okay. Just finish what you started and don't get way off track like your captain is doing.
Best wishes.
Judith

[This message has been edited by Rocklover (edited March 28, 2005).]

[This message has been edited by Rocklover (edited March 28, 2005).]


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HSO
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I'll read it. Send it on.
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wbriggs
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I just have a hard time believing some things. He's jolted awake, alarmed -- because he's off course? By six light years?
If this is something that could happen while he was asleep (8 hours or less I'd assume), why not just do the course correction, and he'll be back on course within another 8 at most. I don't see why he'd wake up alarmed. Annoyed, I would understand.

>The course corrections, each more difficult to undo
Difficult to MAKE, I think -- he wouldn't want to UNDO a correction!
Why are they getting more difficult?
What is the known universe? It doesn't exactly have a sharp limit -- the Andromeda Galaxy is in the known universe, because we know of it, but we don't know it _well_.

Referring to a "bad joke" aspect makes his situation seem trivial to me, which I don't think you'd intended.

He also doesn't seem terribly alarmed for his physical safety, despite believing there's a stowaway on board who's causing bad things to happen.

I don't know the story, but I imagine this might work: start with the POV character's awareness, and fear, that there's possibly a stowaway on board. And the stowaway is breaking into the computer and altering the course, and who knows what else? That would scare me!


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GZ
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I'm willing to read.
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MaryRobinette
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I'm happy to read.

Meanwhile, I'll mention two things that came too mind. The first might just be me, but "Riter" resonates with "Riker" from Star Trek the Next Generation for me.

The second I'm bringing up because I see a fair number of people on the board doing this:

quote:
Pushing his seat from the console with an agitated motion, he sat a moment, jaw clenched, hands gripping his knees, dark thoughts whirring through his mind.

The way this is structured indicates that he is doing two actions simultaneously, in other words he is pushing and sitting at the same time. If you look at the sentence and try to move the opening clause to the end--which you should be able to do--you'll see that it doesn't make sense. On the other hand, "dark thoughts whirring..." fits just fine.

In the same sentence, "with an agitated motion" has a lack of specificity which makes it almost meaningless. It's the word "motion" that throws me. What is an agitated motion that one does while pushing? If you had said that "he pushed his seat from the console in agitation" I'd have been fine, but as it is, by adding the word "motion" I assume that he's doing something else in addition to pushing, but I can't imagine what.


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yanos
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Well if you read another. I was never one much for commenting on 13 lines, so I'll wait to see if you need a reader
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Kolona
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Rocklover, I appreciate your devilish advocation. Yours, too, wbriggs. And Mary's. HSO, GZ & Mary, I'll e-mail you shortly with the story. I'm making a couple adjustments as per some of the aforementioned advocations. Yanos, if you're willing to read, I'd be pleased to have you do it. Let me know if I may send the story.

Hmmm...HSO has a background in hazardous waste. I may not only get a bona fide offense, but a radioactive zinger to boot.


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Silver3
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I like it. It doesn't seem odd to me that he would feel alarmed; he's starting to wonder if he really is alone on board. Minor course deviations are still worrisome when there possibly is someone making them. And I personally don't think it odd that he would panic out of hand if all he has are suspicions (I would panic, but then I can't keep my head in dangerous situations and I know it).
I do agree, though, with wbriggs on the "known universe" ("charted universe" or something like that would sound a little less clichéd).
For me, it works in piquing my interest. Not in grabbing me, but then I hate being grabbed :-)

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Kolona
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Silver3, the 'known universe' thing was a concern of mine. Originally I had the 'inhabited universe,' but was afraid it would be taken that the whole universe was inhabited. 'Course the whole universe isn't known, either, so there was my dilemma. But modifiers seemed awkward, though I believe I'm reduced to that, since I need to differentiate between the habited part of the universe and the uninhabited. Right now I've made it the 'inhabited portion of the universe.'

Readers here are quite astute, although -- and I'm sure I'm alone in this -- I hate it when they point out where I know I'm wrong.


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HSO
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quote:
HSO has a background in hazardous waste. I may not only get a bona fide offense, but a radioactive zinger to boot

My background with hazardous waste isn't what it may seem. Rather, it was standing in a huge container that would eventually be buried in the ground, opening and spilling out the contents of 55 gallon drums that held oily rags, used motor oil and hydraulic fluid, degreasers, and who knows what else... A very nasty task, but we needed to salvage the drums. Anyway, all of that stuff was considered Hazmat. I guess the worst part about it was knowing it would be buried in the ground somewhere -- festering, perhaps seeping out of the container and contaminating the soil and underground water. I don't like thinking about it much, and I wouldn't say I'm pro-environment either... I just find it shameful that we can't dispose of things more adequately and just as inexpensively.

However, (as I mentioned in my crit), I had training in dealing with NBC (Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological) Warfare. I was the NBC NCO for my shop, which meant that if an attack happened, it was my responsibility to secure the area, move/isolate the injured, affected, and dying, and tell/teach the others how to clean up the affected site/persons/gear.

Let me tell you, the training was awful. Wearing that full NBC gear for one week every day, in the middle of a humid, North Carolina summer, while practicing and learning how to all of the stuff required to get signed off on it, was fairly unbearable. And, the movies they show of what happens to people in certain chemical attacks (so you can recognize they symptoms) still haunt my dreams to this day.

Of course, in typical military screwball fashion, I was the only qualified NBC person in my shop, so if I got killed in an attack, then the rest of fellow Marines would possibly be ass out, too. Though, I suspect others had had training at some point. Maybe.


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Survivor
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Of course everybody gets the basics...they'd be okay. It's the shop that would be a dead loss if there you weren't there.

Oh, and getting back to the topic, I'd certainly like to read this story.

On the subject of Rocklover's comments, there are some clarity issues that are highlighed by the misinterpretation. I see this form of travel as taking place in some kind of hyperspace or possibly by discrete teleportation, but perhaps you need to clarify it (possibly by giving it a name). I think Hazmat Seven is supposed to be some kind of scout or picket ship, and is supposed to be almost entirely automated, but I don't know how clear that is to other readers.

One particular thing that Wbriggs mentions, the things that happen when he's asleep aren't "course corrections". They're deviations, and they could have a name that would help indicate something about the mode of travel and why it's difficult to correct them.

Anyway, I like what I see so far.


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HSO
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I gotta say, I enjoyed this story -- especially the ending. That's not to say all is perfect, but it's very, very good. I hope this gets published, Kolona. Good luck.
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Kolona
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Now you've done it, HSO. You've really blown your prickly image with those kind words. But I do thank you. And for the great crit. (More on that in e-mail.)

quote:
there are some clarity issues that are highlighed by the misinterpretation

Survivor, that's what I surmised, so I know I have some tweaking to do.

Deviations! How did I not latch onto that word? Yes, yes. Good point. Thank you.

I'll send you the story shortly. Appreciate your willingness to read it.


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hoptoad
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Hi Semi-kolona
I would love to read it.

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Kolona
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<grin> Right to ya, hopdude.
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NewsBys
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I'd also like to read the whole thing.
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Kolona
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I'll send it on out, NewsBys. Thanks.
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GZ
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Kolona, I sent my crit out last night, but I've been having some trouble with my email getting bounced from other folks using your ISP, so let me know if you didn't get it. I have another address I can use to send from.
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Kolona
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Got it safe and sound, GZ. Took a quick look, and will digest it tonight. Thanks.
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