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Author Topic: Ports (science fiction story)
James Riser
Member # 10222

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The following is the opening of my science fiction story, Ports. It's about 7000 words in length. What I'm looking for is a critique for the opening, or a critique on the entire work.

If you choose to read the entire story, I will gladly read a story of yours of the same length and provide comments.

Thank you very much.

Sid Blum sat in the the maternity ward of St. Phineas Hospital. A hologram screen floated in front of his face. He pointed his eyes downward to scroll down and skim the news page: The Human Fundamentalist increased their attacks on augmentation hospitals around the world, the black market of Los Angeles was flourishing with new Grades, New Light Technologies got a generous government grant for new research and the comedy movie that Sid planned to see received horrible reviews. He blinked several times to move to a new page and bought tickets for the film anyway. What the hell do they know, he thought. With a wave of his hand, the screen rapidly shrunk down to nothingness. He reached behind his head, unplugged the cord from his neck Port and winced in pain.
“Still not fully healed yet?” The obstetrician asked as he entered the room with a data tablet.

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Not a bad opening, though you can definitely do more with the language to bring the reader in. The first line of the story is a bit dry and static. It's not doing much to bring me into the narrative or make me want to read further.

How did Sid sit? Was he reclining? We he upright? Even that, though, wouldn't be the greatest opening sentence. I guess the story is about 'The Human Fundamentalist', though it could also be about the black market of Los Angeles. At this point, I have no idea where it's going.

But I do get a sense that you have an idea of where you're going. I'm willing the bet the first page can be moved further along in the narrative, or cut altogether, because I have a feeling that the story picks up by page two or three.

Anyway, I'll swap something of similar length with you. Just email me.

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This opening has a cyberpunk aesthetic. Sid Blum reads a hologram news feed using a Port cord while in a maternity hospital ward. His reading interests are cyber technology, blackmarket cybernetic upgrades, radicals opposing cyber augmentation, and a government grant to a presumably cyberspace company. His interest is focused most on a film of some sort.

I don't see a strong and clear dramatic complication setup. I see a routine with possible antagonizing interruptions implied. A dramatic complication is a personal antagonizing want and problem or wants and problems wanting satisfaction. I infer Blum will have problems accomplishing augmentations he wants, one he might have recently had done that's not quite healed that may either or also complicate his life.

That he's had the procedure in a maternity ward is interesting. I'd want to know what that's about soon.

That, though he's a cyber punk is interesting, he's going to see a film in person with a companion seems out of context. Maybe he and the companion will view the comedy film in cyber space together. Maybe "film" is an idiom for privately viewing a digital narrative. I don't know. Maybe the "film" is an actual theater screening. That's a feature I feel needs further development so it's clear whether the film is a theater or cyber screening.

The first sentence, as Denevius notes, is static voice. Note that the verb "sat" is an indefinite use of a simple past tense verb as an ongoing action of an indefinite time span, static action, in other words. A definite verb or any time significance would make the sentence's context and texture definite. I infer Blum waits for a cyber installation to heal sufficient for him to be discharged. Because he winces removing the Port, perhaps the Port he uses to access the news feed is an upgrade. Perhaps plugging into the Port might be a stronger, though earlier, moment to open the story, or the moment of the Port upgrade procedure.

Starting with a focal character's name introduces the agonist character, perhaps the story's protagonist; however, the narrative distance is remote, being from narrator perspective, viewpoint, and voice. Blum cannot see himself sit, sitting, etc. Narrative distance, though, closes artfully after that one sentence, into Blum's perceptions, thoughts, and actions. Frankly, that first sentence implies the narrative point of view of the whole will be the narrator's and Blum is the subject of an observer, though the fragment's remainder is Blum as objective observer of the news feed. Unsettled narrative point of view, in other words.

Adusting the opening sentence might, for example, place Blum in sentence object position and acted upon by an action. The sentence as is does introduce a focal agonist (contestant), by default of first position, first introduced character of the narrative, the protagonist agonist. Introduces a setting, the St. Phineas hospital maternity ward. Perhaps a sensory description would do as well, say Blum sees, hears, touches, or smells a "telling detail" about the maternity ward. Staying with him seated, maybe a sensation and an attitude he perceives about the seat. //Discharge lounge chairs at St. Phineas hospital maternity ward felt comfortable, though Sid Blum was anything but comfortable after the Port upgrade procedure.// My voice though, and my small creative vision imposition, intended to illustrate the above guidance.

Two grammatical issues with this clause: "The obstetrician asked as he entered the room with a data tablet." The clause is a cluttered dialogue and action attribution. The dialogue attribution should begin with "The" in lower case, because it begins the attribution clause for the obstetrician's dialogue clause question.

Joining the action clause to the attribution clause with the conjunction word "as" is faulty grammar. On one hand, use of "as" _as_ a time coordination conjunction is a grammar fault. "As" is a correlative conjunction, _as_ I've used now twice in this paragraph: underscored.

On the other hand, joining the speaking action to the physical entry action implies both actions are concurrently parallel, simultaneous both in occurrence and time significance, as well as sequential emphasis, that either the doctor entering the room or the speech is more significant. They are not simultaneous actions in any regard. Speaking is once and done, not ongoing for the longer span of time the obstetrician approaches Blum. I have an image of the doctor drawing out his speech while he enters the room.

Actually, when a physical action occurs sequentially to a dialogue action, the physical action itself does the dialogue attribution. Where an action attribution serves, a following dialgoue attribution clause adds new context and texture to the dialogue, though after the speech. I infer Blum notices the doctor before the doctor speaks. Then Blum hears the doctor speak. Then reacts to the doctor's speech. That is logical and natural causation. Visual and perhaps aural sensation of the doctor's entry, aural sensation of the doctor's speech, Blum's reaction to the doctor's entry and speech.

I think more specificity is called for from what Blum reads. Detail about a specific Human Fundamentalist attack, detail about New Light Technologies' specific research direction, detail what the comedy film is about that interests Blum.

The colon following "skim the news page:" is grammatically correct for introducing a following list, though the capital case "The" following the colon is not indicated unless it is part of the Human Fundamentallist title name, part of the proper noun phrase.

For prose, a serial list takes the serial comma, also known as the Harvard or Oxford comma. A comma separates each sequential list item. A comma should also precede the conjunction word joining the final item: "new research[,] and the comedy movie". This is prose, one, not journalism, which is the only writing that omits the serial comma. The missing serial comma signals perhaps an unintended correlation. Also, because the list is on the long side and each item is also long, the serial comma signals a strong and clear separation between the next to last and last serial item. I see the government grant to New Light Technologies was for both "new research and the comedy movie that Sid planned to see". Confusing without the serial comma.

I'm intrigued by the name Sid Blum; that's a decidely noir name. Noir generally is a hardboiled cynic protagonist's adventures in bleak settings. That to me is an artful protagonist's name choice for its implications. Artfully subtle. Actually, for me, Blum's procedure, that a radical fundamentalist group opposes that sort of procedure, and that he's a noir archetype implies more in subtext than seems on the surface.

[ April 27, 2014, 03:27 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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James Riser
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Thank you. Your feed back is useful as always. I'm glad you noticed the cyberpunk elements.
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If you still want a reader for this, I'm game. I was too busy with life when you posted this, but I have time, now.
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Recommend combining the first two sentences into one: “...Hospital, a hologram screen floating...” This makes it read faster.” Does it matter if Sid is sitting? Could start with, “In the maternity ward...a hologram screen floated in front of Sid’s face...” This way the reader gets to choose Sid’s posture.

There is some repetition, such as, “He pointed his eyes downward to scroll down and skim the news page”. Recommend deleting “scroll down and”.

I don’t believe “with a data tablet” is necessary. Mention the “tablet” in the course of the scene. Saying it “up front” like that is like a new actor not knowing what to do with his hands. It’s kinda “stuck there” in the reader’s face. If mention of the tablet is slipped in later, I believe it will read more smooth and confident.

Otherwise it reads very smart to me.

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I can read it to. If you send it to me I'll send you something of mine of about the same size.
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New Member
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I'd be interested in reading your story. Be warned, it might take as long as a week and a half to get back to you, depending on how much I have to work.
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