Here are the first 13 for the first four chapters of my SF novel, Symbiosis. I have posted this for chapter 1 before only, I would love any feedback people have to offer. Kathleen mentioned in another thread that we can post first 13s for multiple chapters. I'll write a short chapter synopsis for each first 13.
Chapter 1: An unnamed person becomes a passenger in their own body as a sentient parasite assumes control of their functions. The host struggles in vain for control of their own consciousness. This entire chapter is only two pages long.
quote: Darkness, complete. Optic nerve inputs diverted. Host consciousness feedback detected. Risk negligible, disregard. Assuming motor control. Hands wrap around cold metal. Arm thrusts forward into unsuspecting flesh. A sharp, gurgling gasp. Warm liquid sprays on face, tastes of iron. A voice rises to anger. Comprehension suppressed. Body pivots, arm snaps, steel flies. Angry voice silenced. Simultaneous thuds on ground. Retrieve projectile. Retrieved. Legs move and arms pump. Action potentials modulated, muscular contractions optimized. More puzzled voices advance then recede. A shout from behind, rushing footsteps follow. Body weaves effortlessly between sensed obstacles.
Chapter 2: Omar Ajami, a physician who thought a life as a cruise ship doctor would help him escape traumatic memories of his prior life as a combat surgeon, awakes in the ship's engine room to find himself wounded and surrounded by a pool of his own vomit and two corpses, one human, one alien. The ship is dead in the water with just a few systems running on auxiliary power. Ajami investigates. In the ship's infirmary, he receives a phone call from Marshall, the ships security officer.
quote: Doctor Omar Ajami awoke to an assault on three of his five senses. The sour taste of a partially digested meal lingered on his tongue. The acrid stench of the same encrusted his cropped beard and pooled inches from his nose. The thin struts of metal grating cut into his cheek. Only his eyes and ears were spared immediate offense. His eyes because his vision was blurred, and his ears because the room he lay in was silent. Omar cocked his ear and held his breath, listening for any sound at all. Something was definitely wrong here. Judging from the metal grating, he deduced that he lay on the Royal Empress’s engine room floor. The hum of the ship’s generators was unexpectedly absent. If the generators were out, the ship must be relying on auxiliary power. Without propulsion she was dead in the water.
Chapter 3: Omar struggles to reach Marshall's position several decks above Omar's current location. For the first time, he encounters living alien beings and manages to evade them. While sneaking to Marshall's location, he sees a number of ship passengers being taken by the aliens in an unusual manner. He realizes that he'd been taken by one of the alien beings as well. He reaches Marshall, who has a plan to get help. The plan goes awry as they are ambushed by a swarm of the alien creatures. Omar succumbs to the assault but is not killed.
quote: Heeding Marshall’s advice, Omar eschewed the narrow utility stair case. Instead he chose the wider passenger stairs where the carpeting would muffle Omar’s footsteps and where each flight of stairs opened up to a deck landing, providing several avenues of escape. Omar crouched and slowly ascended from the Gala deck. The crunching of the carpet fabric beneath his feet seemed as loud as the Jolly Green Giant wading through an Iowa corn field. The strip lighting on the nose of each stair seemed like spotlight illuminating his position. Omar thought that despite all the talents he’d been given in life, right now he’d gladly trade them for the stealth of Musca domestica, the humble housefly.
Chapter 4: After the assault, Omar experiences an unusual dream sequence as the formative experiences of his life are flipped through like a person flipping through a rolodex.
quote: Little Omar’s eyebrows furrowed as he stared at the rainbow of foam tiles on his bedroom floor. Mother kneeled beside him and pointed at the letter imbedded in tile directly in front of him. Her black hair escaped from an elastic band as she cocked her head and smiled. “Can you say ‘B,’ habibi? This is the letter ‘B,’ as in Bob.” Little Omar’s lips sputtered as he tried to form the sound. “Beeeeeeee!” He clapped his hands and giggled. “Good boy!” His mother joined him and sang a letter of the alphabet with each clap. “A-B-C-D-E-F-G-” Little Omar squealed with delight. The second hand of the wall clock halted for a moment, then resumed in fits and stops.
Wow, I'm intimidated by critting four 13's at once. Its possible that each one should go in its own thread, with a synopsis to bring the reader up to your starting point. Especially if you want to post a re-write at the top of the thread. They could be linked...
Chapter 1, Version 1: I am not hooked. It is too disjointed, distant. I would rather meet your MC before he is invaded, get a chance to know and care about him, and then see what happens when he is invaded, with the shift in POV woven in somehow. I like the idea though.
It is an interesting piece written from the perspective of the alien; its mind sounds very mechanical, almost robotic. Because of that, some word choices that reflect an understanding of human emotions and perspective didn’t seem to fit: unsuspecting, anger, puzzled, rushing, effortlessly. The first couple of times through, I didn’t know what the thuds represented; I thought they were his own footsteps, until I realized it was falling bodies.
[This message has been edited by MrsBrown (edited October 06, 2010).]
Chapter 2: He woke up? That strikes me as a cliché character introduction. “Assault” promises action, but the following lines are a very slow opening; lingered, encrusted, pooled all imply a prolonged stillness from which he hasn’t yet recovered. (That may all be fine, it was just the word assault that threw me.) You can cut “Only his eyes and ears were spared immediate offense.” Mentioning “his ears” adds nothing; the same is true for “three of his five senses”. Suggestion: Have him already awake, experiencing his sensations, but cut unnecessary words.
Next paragraph, cocked his ear makes me think of a dog, since I have the impression he isn’t moving his head. Don’t need “here”. Watch out for overuse of “was”. I like how you start to dip into his thoughts with “Something was definitely wrong”, but then you pull back out with “he deduced”. Then the rest dips back into his head (which I personally like), although the line “The hum… was unexpectedly absent” seems to me to pull way out, into an observer’s perspective. The line “without propulsion she was dead in the water” is the hook. (Would they still use the term “water” to refer to outer space?) Edited: OH, they are in a ship, not a spaceship! The aliens confused me. Again, starting chapter 1 in a defined setting appeals to me.
Overall, its an interesting story idea.
[This message has been edited by MrsBrown (edited October 06, 2010).]
Thanks again for your feedback, its very helpful.
I am aware it is cliche to start with waking up, but in the particular case of the story, the fact that he was asleep is integral to the plot. Maybe it won't be as much of a problem if the story introduces Omar earlier.
Really what happens is that Omar's body has been hijacked by what appears to be a sentient alien parasite in chapter 1, and his consciousness is being suppressed by the alien. Due to the nature of the way the parasite controls its host, when it disconnects from the host the process is physiologically traumatic for the host.
So Omar is knocked out and wakes up in front of a pool of his own vomit. He doesn't know that he was used by this parasite to do some unsavory things, so he basically investigates something that he does not know he was used to do.
quote:Maybe it won't be as much of a problem if the story introduces Omar earlier.
Agreed. I had no idea that the host human in Ch. 1 was the same person as Omar. My eventual discovery of that fact could be quite jarring.
I remember discussions about withholding. I suspect in this case, it could work well to let the reader in on the secret, and let us watch Omar make the discoveries. I think that might add to the tension. But then again I don't know enough about you're story.
I've read this probably ten times in the last couple of days. Let me say, I really love the idea based on the extra things you've told us, especially the kind of reverse mystery aspect where he's investigating himself.
The first chapter intro though, it just doesn't click for me. I hesitated to post this because I really don't have a viable alternative. You could just take out chapter one entirely, but then you start the entire book with waking up which is a bit blah. You could start out with a mundane scene with Omar on the ship and then cut to the waking up, but that will probably just seem contrived. You could start out with the POV of the person he kills but a lot of people don't like when you kill what seems like the main character right out of the gate.
I honestly just don't know. Maybe make it a bit more about Omar in the first bit and not so much about the parasite. You mention in your chapter summary that he's struggling for control but we don't see that struggle in the beginning at all.
coralm, thanks for your note. The story gets a bit more complicated than what I mentioned, in that the alien parasite that assumes control of him is actually breaking protocol by supressing Omar to the extent it has done. The alien race has a range of beliefs centered around "ethical" use of host organisms. It can be summed up thus: "parasite vs. symbiont." Later, when Omar becomes 'inhabited' with another of these aliens, this distinction is explored and relationship becomes more complex.
I've been thinking about alternative starting points as well, including some of the ideas you suggested. There is a significant relationship between Omar and one of the people he unknowingly murdered. It is basically a relationship in which Omar and a woman who works in the ship infirmary with him love each other but have not taken the first step. The benefit of starting the story a bit earlier in the plot is that this relationship can be explored before she dies, making her death carry more impact. The main conflict of the story won't be evident in this chapter, and so the question is, is it legitimate to use the tension in the 'unspoken romance' between the two to carry the story for a chapter until we get into the alien invasion of the cruise ship?
Also, the struggle for control comes up afterthe first 13. Its not really a struggle, but in essence his consciousness temporarily breaking through the supression and questioning what is happening.
[This message has been edited by Osiris (edited October 07, 2010).]
[This message has been edited by Osiris (edited October 07, 2010).]
Well you can certainly try it out and if it doesn't work as the first chapter you may be able to recycle it later as a flashback or even an associated short story. I actually wrote up short (1-2 pages) stories for several of the characters in my novel as a sort of "this is how John got here" character development exercise. I had a lot of fun with it and it gave me a very good idea about some of the motivations of my characters.
[This message has been edited by coralm (edited October 07, 2010).]
quote:The main conflict of the story won't be evident in this chapter, and so the question is, is it legitimate to use the tension in the 'unspoken romance' between the two to carry the story for a chapter until we get into the alien invasion of the cruise ship?
Personally, I would say yes, but I always like to see a bit of romance worked into a story; can't speak for anyone else. Could the character/romance intro include news about strange things happening elsewhere in their region of space? (I've no idea.)
The Chapter 4 intro sounded contrived. When our toddler was just learning to speak, he was nowhere near ready for letters. Maybe have a collection of stuffed animals, pick up a bee, and get him to say "Beeeee". Then he'll want to say it over and over again (and grab the bee and gnaw on it a bit). Perhaps keep the letters and make him a bit older, referring to Mama or Mommy.
The Chapter 4 POV was problematic too; it sounded like he was observing, not living that scene, because of the reference to Mother (maybe that's what you wanted?). (EDITED: the references to Little Omar are like that too--I think you do want it to seem like an observer looking at his life, but whose POV is it? Is Omar dreaming about the alien's viewpoint?)
I keep coming back to this one because I like your ideas so much. Keep at it
[This message has been edited by MrsBrown (edited October 08, 2010).]
Thanks again MrsBrown. My father says the same thing, he likes to see a bit of romance in stories as well.
About Chapter 4, I am very surprised you felt it was contrived, as it draws directly from my personal experience observing my wife teaching my son letters. I would say toddler are a very different bunch, and learn different things at different rates. He turned two in September, and knows letters A through E, and just yesterday amazed us by putting together a six word sentence.
And you are dead on about the POV. Whats happening is the sentient parasitic alien is plumbing his memories of formative experiences. In the first 13 of this chapter, the alien is trying to learn his language, hence it is using his memories of learning to learn English. Later in the chapter, it continues to use this memory mining (that Omar experiences as controlled dreaming) to find out what motivates him so it can manipulate him to it's own purposes, but also understand how it can develop a symbiotic relationship with the humans. The arc here is what seemed to be a sentient parasitic alien species is actually sentient symbiotic alien species, but Omar only learns this through his relationship with the alien.
It sort of gets back to the whole 'two minds in one' thing, where the POVs of both alien and human are mixing. Its a hard thing to pull off, as I am learning.
If you are interested and have the time, I wouldn't mind a critique, and would be happy to return the favor.
[This message has been edited by Osiris (edited October 08, 2010).]