Well, not unexpectedly, THE KEYSTONE was not one of the five sci-fi novels chosen for the semi-final round of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award.
The quarter final round is judged by contract reviewers hired by Publisher's Weekly. Here's what mine had to say about my MS:
quote:Although mired in spots in impenetrable techno-jargon and hobbled by a sappy love triangle, this space opera has its moments. Captain Kate MacClaine is newly returned from a ten-year hitch as an intergalactic scout, when bureaucratic red tape snarls her next assignment and she is compelled to sign on as pilot of the Royal Avatar for Archie Spencer, her ex-husband, whose path she crosses at Nalix Base. Archie, who is galactic royalty, is traveling with his niece, Julie, whom Kate immediately takes a shine to, and his prissy fiancée, Diana, who is provoked to cat fighting by Kate’s presence and drawn into awkwardly written scenes of competition for Archie’s attention. Though Archie affects the persona of the rich playboy, he’s a serious student of science and military strategy whose university dissertation on using smaller spaceships to traverse the universe through space “jumps” was suppressed by palace bureaucrats more interested in building fleets of large supercruisers. Kate soon learns that they are on a mission to investigate ancient, forgotten jump solutions and prove the truth of Archie’s theory -- a gambit that puts them in the crosshairs of feuding factions of Archie’s royal family. After a sluggish first half, this story picks up momentum and eventually cruises to a finale full of firepower and excitement. But the characters never rise above the level of cliché, and the story seems more a romance laced with science fiction elements than a science fiction story with a love interest.
The quarter-final reviews are notoriously harsh, but I was disappointed in this one. The reviewer appears to have only skimmed the story, although that in itself may say something about the MS's quality.
This reviewer is a humorist's nightmare: the reader who not only doesn't get the joke, but doesn't seem to realize that a joke has been made. If you just read this review you'd have no idea that this is a comedy. It's one thing for reviewers not to find the jokes funny, but it's positively disconcerting for a reviewer not to notice the jokes at all.
Without the humor, this story has no emotional impact. All you'd have left would be people in space suits taking themselves far too seriously. Captain Kate's youthful romantic agony is played for laughs, but it's also the gateway to caring about her. Matters of the heart are uncharted space for Kate, but the way she navigates them is a send-up of the Golden Age space hero's intrepid determination in the face of the unknown.
None of the irony in this story seems to have stuck for this reader. On the other hand the things that do stick continue to amaze me. From my perspective the third act space opera is cobbled together out of spare parts, but this guy thinks its the best part. Even *I* wouldn't characterize the finale as "full of firepower and excitement". It makes me wonder whether there's a future for me in writing formulaic adventure yarns.
I'm gratified at the reviewer's read on Archie, which is spot on, but I wonder if that's more a product of what the reviewer wanted the story to be, which I take to be more of a straight-up space opera. His position seems to be that you can write a sci-fi fiction story, or you can write a love story, but you can't write a story that's both. This is not the first time I've run into that attitude, so maybe there's something to it.
I'm disappointed in this review, not because the reviewer didn't like the book -- I wasn't expecting that. I'm disappointed because I thought I might be able use the PW review as kind of a poor man's story developmental editing. Unfortunately my attempt to reach this particular reader was such an abject failure that there isn't much here for me to use.
I do recommend people enter ABNA next year. Overall it's a terrific contest, but keep in mind a lot depends on which reviewer you draw. I had good luck in the first round with the Amazon Vine reviewers, and bad luck with my PW reviewer.
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quote:I'm gratified at the reviewer's read on Archie, which is spot on, but I wonder if that's more a product of what the reviewer wanted the story to be, which I take to be more of a straight-up space opera. His position seems to be that you can write a sci-fi fiction story, or you can write a love story, but you can't write a story that's both. This is not the first time I've run into that attitude, so maybe there's something to it.
I beg to differ. Try reading Lois McMaster Bujold. Specifically: CORDELIA'S HONOR, BARRAYAR, A CIVIL CAMPAIGN, and CAPTAIN VORPATRIL'S ALLIANCE. For an alternate lifestyle romance, ETHAN OF ATHOS. None of these would be a story, let alone the award winning story many of them are, without the romance element. (BARRAYAR won the Hugo and Locus awards and was a Nebula nominee, A CIVIL CAMPAIGN was nominated for the Hugo and Nebula awards, and CAPTAIN VORPATRIL'S ALLIANCE is currently a Hugo nominee.)
Now, admittedly, none of those are also humorous (although A CIVIL CAMPAIGN does have its funny moments).
Now, I really have to wonder about this reviewer because I thought the humorous aspect was clear from nearly the beginning. The mashup of "Golden Age" tech with a space-faring empire alone should have made that clear.
Bad luck getting that critiquer, who was clearly expecting something very different.
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Humor is SO subjective. I confess to having read one of Terry Pratchett's books and stopping after a couple of chapters because, although I could see that "this" was supposed to be funny, and "that" was supposed to be funny, it didn't make me laugh. And I'm sure there are gazillions of people who would be shocked that I didn't appreciate Pratchett's humor. <shrug>
Other things make me laugh, and some of them might actually overlap with other things that make Pratchett fans laugh. (I thought A CIVIL CAMPAIGN had some great humor in it, in places, by the way.)
The bad luck is that you didn't get a reviewer with the right kind of sense of humor to appreciate what you were doing, MattLeo.
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And congratulations of going as far as you did. The Keystone is a unique work. Different from the current slab of sf/fantasy clones. This is its charm--and simultaneously its handicap in this contest, in my humble opinion.
Someone looking for classic EE "doc" Smith space opera would delight in the "large supercruisers,...a mission to investigate ancient, forgotten jump solutions...(and) feuding factions of Archie’s royal family." The off-beat comedic (and nostalgic) 1940's love triangle film elements,however would likely confuse and possibly irritate a reader not expecting (or understanding) it.
Different drummer and path less taken and all that. Move it on to the next level, I say.
Respectfully, Dr. Bob
P.S. It is amazing to me how so many do not recognize our genius...until they do.
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