View Full Version : Critique if you can.

Home - Discussion Forums - News - Reviews - Interviews

New reviews, interviews and news

New in the Discussion Forum

July 13th, 2004, 03:07 PM
I got some good advice from a user on another forum about shoring up my use of adverbs, so I went back and made a couple of corrections to the first chapter of my novel. Tell me how it reads now if you can... is it grabbing you properly? Do I need more description? Most importantly, how is my avoidance of adverbs working? All comments appreciated, and sorry this is so long.



‘Desist, citizen!’ The command came entirely without warning. Automatically her thoughts ran to the netlink nestled in her left ear, but it was a useless gesture; she had received no warning at all, which meant that Vasily had either been caught so much by surprise he had not had time to warn her… or he had sold her out.

The aroma of sweet opium lingered, a morning fog around the pale skin of her face, as she smoothly shifted mental gears; so Sergei had been right about him. Her mouth immediately soured at the thought, but it was the most likely explanation. Vasily was clearly not affiliated with either the Downlink Program or the Syntel people, (‘blackbirds’ as they were known on the street, so named for the jet black trench coats they wore so arrogantly) and that made him either an undercover Syntel agent or a nobody from the criminal fringe, just trying to make a few daera with freelance work. She was fairly certain he wasn’t the former; he had been far too inept and trusting, accepting the first payment offer immediately with wide eyes, and not bothering to haggle at all, or even question her strategy behind the IA she had outlined. Besides, if he were indeed with Syntel, why had he even bothered to agree to work with her in the first place? Once she had outlined her intentions for the Infiltration Action she was even now being interrupted in the middle of, he could have simply arrested or killed her on the spot.

‘Citizen,’ the voice thundered once again. ‘You are ordered to immediately desist your activities and place your hands on your head. Failure to comply immediately will result in deletion.’

The voice was calling her ‘citizen’ instead of her real name, but that didn’t mean a whole lot. The blackbirds called everyone ‘citizen’, whether you actually were one or not. She dared not turn to look around the shadowy opium bar in the direction of the voice, even to see what she might be facing. Years of work on the street told her that the voice was probably not coming from a mouth, but from an amplified netlink or some other communication device; judging by the direction of the sound, probably from a booth near the front entrance. She smiled to herself in spite of the situation: Just the place a typical Infiltrator would expect an attack from.

The fact that nobody in the place had moved an inch told her that the blackbirds were using an aural tunneler, a useful gadget that could broadcast sound down a narrow pipe directly from source to target, without anyone outside of the pipe hearing even a whisper. The quality of this particular model must be exceptional, because she had been unable to tell the difference between it and a real, speaking person. She made a note that it was something to tell Halcyon about the next time she was at Eight, her current debrief safehouse. Downlink used numbers to designate all their safehouses. It made for better operational security, since the numbers never changed but the locations did. At least, that’s what a stern faced operations officer had told her in an orientation lecture when she had thrown in with the organization the previous year. Although she never regretted her decision, she sometimes wondered when her luck would sour and she’d be tossed off this mortal coil and into whatever passed for an afterlife in this nightmare of a reality.

She firmly ordered her mind back to the present, as the situation she was now in could go from disaster to catastrophe in a heartbeat if she didn’t take control, and she had no intention of finding out about the afterlife just yet.

She closed her eyes and mentally scanned her options. If she turned to face the voice, an action termed hostile by their glorious governmental leadership, she would be attacked and probably killed by sources she had not identified, from a direction she didn’t anticipate. Not the best course of action, she decided. Natasha had not been blind to the danger now facing her, and it had not been the first time she had been in similar situations, however something about this particular event just felt wrong. It all felt like a setup, and she trusted her nose in such things far more than the supposedly ironclad Downlink intelligence reports, which had promised a minimum of personal risk for this infiltration. She didn’t know what was triggering her unease, but her instincts had saved her many times in the past, and she wasn’t about to ignore them now. Something in her head told her that if she obeyed the order and surrendered she would be facing swift and violent deletion, probably by way of the furnaces. The fact she had initiated the infiltration against the personnel records of the Union’s most important, and supposedly top secret GeoSat, would not be lost on those who had ordered her detention. They would be quick to make sure she never told anyone who might follow her footsteps and discover what she already knew but couldn’t yet prove.

Fortunately, she had prepared for this type of situation in advance, and now experience dictated her next move. Slowly, almost theatrically, she moved her hands off the symmetrical holoboard that served as her current netlink input, and placed them on her head. In bringing her hands together she was now able to let the index finger of her left hand put enough pressure on the soft flesh between her thumb and index finger on her right hand.

This caused an extraordinary sequence of events to occur. The small pressure sensor in her hand at the juncture of her thumb and index finger was normally inactive, lest she accidentally trigger it at an unwanted time, but tonight it was readily awaiting the moment it would be called upon to transmit its heavily encrypted instructions to the parties involved at the other end of the event chain. Once Natasha applied the necessary pressure, the device broadcasted a short message along an extremely narrow frequency, using her body as a booster, should the distance between sender and recipient prove too great. The coded transmission was away in a space of nanoseconds, and the device then went dormant, lest it become identified and localized.

The signal was to her real backup, the one she had not told Vasily about. Putting all her faith in a single spotter would have been foolish, even with a dedicated Guardian like Sergei, but if Vasily was something more than a common fringer, unlikely as it was, he would know this and be ready for trouble. She stretched out with her mind, using her limited Psicom training to attempt a brief contact with Sergei, who was across the street with that wicked looking gauss rifle he always liked to carry. With it’s adaptive optical sights he could fire at targets as far away as low earth orbit, and with the caseless magnesium-ferrite rounds traveling at three quarters of the speed of light, he would probably hit them, too. Tonight he was using a z-scope, a new Fabritech Industries model according to her photographic memory, to monitor the action within the bar. The thing she hadn’t counted on was the aural tunneler, and because of it, he would have no way to know they were moving on her until they were too close for him to fire. Worse, they might have realized she had backup outside, and had already moved against him. Her mind went into a brief flurry of panic, but then relaxed as she abruptly made psionic contact with his mind. She tensed, coiling her muscles as she awaited the sound of splintering wood and ferro-plastic which signaled Sergei’s gauss firestorm, but nothing happened. Her mind racing, she quickly reached out again to touch his mind, and this time took the time to make a more solid reading of his emotional textures. Her mind recoiled in horror, even as she kept her face impassive.

July 13th, 2004, 03:59 PM

You suck. More please!

Seriously, I liked it a lot. The writing carried nicely. It had the cyberpunky 'in slang', but the slang was cohesive and well introduced enough that it made sense. Your explanations of the technology meshed well with narrative.

Good pacing. It was slow, but the slowness conveyed a sense of the main character having a very sharp mind and doing a lot in a little bit of time.

Only two things, one is nitpicky. It should begin:

‘Desist, citizen!’

The command...

With the dialogue as it's own paragraph.

My other suggestion is to watch out for run-on sentences. For example:

Automatically her thoughts ran to the netlink nestled in her left ear, but it was a useless gesture; she had received no warning at all, which meant that Vasily had either been caught so much by surprise he had not had time to warn her… or he had sold her out.

Despite your impeccable use of puntuaction, the above unit is a sentence, and it's a very long one. For this type of scene (semi-frantic, controlled through warring successfully with panic), short sentences work best, imho.

Great stuff. I wanna read more!


July 13th, 2004, 04:08 PM
Roger that. I'm going to go ahead and post most of the rest of the chapter, for those that are interested. I'll fix that run-on sentence, too. Thanks! Keep the comments coming!


He was smirking. Worse, he was not even outside covering her. He was inside the bar, somewhere behind her, and at that moment, even with her limited ability with the thoughtwave processing aspects of the psionic disciplines, she knew she was ****ed. Vasily had probably not betrayed her. Vasily was probably not even alive. Sergei had sold her to the blackbirds, or worse, was one himself. That thought sent a chill to her very core, for she knew if he was directly associated with Syntel then she was only scant minutes away from torture and eventually death, as Sergei knew everything she had done in the 6 months he had been her Guardian. Death didn’t hold much fear for Natasha; she had learned to live with it, because it was all around her, and she faced it on a near daily basis to some degree, but torture was another thing entirely. It was an abstract concept that was simultaneously horrible and strangely distant, because nobody who was ever interrogated by the blackbirds had lived to tell their story. Yet, they knew that torture was embraced by the blackbirds and their illegitimate government because every once in a while they’d leave a corpse, or what remained of one, at the door of a Downlink safehouse, just to show that they were both brutal in their methods and they knew where you lived. The fact that they never actually managed to find an active safehouse was a point of contention; the blackbirds claimed to have raided safehouse Sixteen almost 2 years ago, killing 11 armed Infiltrators in the process. The media, which trumpeted the Syntel victory over the ‘terrorists’ as proof that the government was cleaning up the streets for the common people, largely ignored the fact that the building had not been in use by Downlink for almost 6 months, and had turned into a refuge for vagrants.

Natasha Alexandrov’s mind now accelerated into full-blown panic, but unable to actually do anything to sway her fate, she sat rigidly, attempting to stay composed, yet terrified beyond description. Time passed by into eternity, and still she sat alone and terrified. After a solid minute of silence, she started to wonder. What the hell was going on? They had her locked down now, and thanks to Sergei, they knew she had no backup coming. So why wasn’t she on her way to Syntel Quarantine? Her mind raced, searching for a possibility, but found none. Perhaps they were toying with her? Some sort of male ego trip to show they had power over her, perhaps. If that was the case, it was childish and rather a break from normal Syntel procedure. Their public face was nothing but professional… but then she remembered, rather darkly, that nobody in the bar except her knew that she was seconds away from detention and quarantine, thanks to the aural tunneller. The blackies were making her sweat, under the gun, for some sort of perverse pleasure, but she was far too disciplined to give them any satisfaction out of it. She pursed her lips and closed her eyes again, concealing her sparkling navy blue pupils, and tried to relax.

Her eye color was artificial, yes, but then, most everything in her world was. She didn’t know any women in Downlink who had kept their genetically inherited eye color; even the ones who liked their original color had changed, usually multiple times. Like fingerprints, retinas were far too easy to use for identification in the modern world, and people in her line of work tended to avoid identification. So, like the rest of the women who ran regular infiltrations, she went to see Medical Administrator Trent every few months. Cosmetic Laser-Eye procedures gave you one hell of a headache, but at least they were fairly safe, even for a mostly incompetent physician like Samuel Trent. The word was that he had lost his state medical license when he had rather spectacularly botched a chest procedure on an elderly woman who just happened to be the grandmother of some bureaucratic file sorter. Natasha believed it, as it fit with the ‘incompetent drunk’ image he wore like a second skin, but she didn’t know how he had managed to walk away with his life after an incident like that. The bureaucrat was probably some nobody, she had decided, who the higher-ups decided deserved incomplete justice, or at least their version of it.

‘You can put your hands back on the table now.’ The male voice cut through her thoughts with smoothly crafted syllables, and she resisted the urge to jerk around to identify the speaker. The voice continued, ‘Nice and slow now, don’t give my friends an excuse to delete you. They would like nothing better than to see you die in immense pain.’

She shivered involuntarily, but complied, slowly lowering her hands until they rested on the base of the holoboard at the edge of the table. An arm leaned over and depressed the switch on the holoboard’s projection unit, cutting off the power and causing her hands to drop to the table. The figure moved into view, sliding into the overstuffed booth on the opposite side of the wooden table. He was a middle-aged man, looking to be in his early 50s, with shoulder length white hair, unnaturally blue eyes, and a face that looked younger than the rest of him did. His nose was standard issue, and his facial features were very plain and average. He could easily walk down the streets of any Legislative District in City 24 and blend in well with the general populace. He wore an air of deadly competency upon his person like a second skin, as well as a black leather trench coat with silver trim that ran from neck to ankle. Clearly, he was a blackbird. He spoke first:

‘Jennah Matrik, 42, wife of Herman Matrik, 47, two children, Tomas and Ralf, residential apartment located at…’ Natasha tuned him out, silently horrified that they had managed to run a retinal on her in the last few weeks without her realizing it. Retinal scans usually gave the recipient a curious tickling sensation as the laser light scanned the retina, something to do with the way the cornea senses the pressure of an acutely focused beam, according to doc. She probably had misunderstood him, and even if she hadn’t, he was probably way off anyway. Still, if the blackbirds had discovered a way around the problem, whatever it was, and found a way to do covert retinal scans, it would mean even more trouble for dozens of groups, Downlink included.
Jennah Matrik… that was certainly the correct identity for the retinal print template that she had used the last time she had gone to Trent for a swap. It had been chosen, as all prints were, for proper facial and ethnic matching, so if she should ever be questioned on the street they would likely not waste any time on her, for after all, Jennah Matrik was a simple industry drone, of no interest to anyone, who had gone to Trent in his legitimate days for optical work. When he left government service he took all his templates and files with him, on the likely chance he’d be practicing medicine on the wrong side of the law. It was illegal as hell, but so was everything else he’d done with his career.

She watched the man intently, knowing they were building to something important. There was no way they were so inept as to go to all the trouble to confront her like this in public if they truly thought she was simply a drone. They’d have simply had a squad pick her up and then deleted her without a second thought. In practice, there was no democratic legal system in place in any of the cities that made up the Unified Union; the people who made the laws were above the laws, and that was that. Anyone could be picked up at any time, for any reason, and interrogated or killed without so much as an honest explanation to even his own family, much less the news media. She pulled her thoughts together and focused her mind again, as the man seemed to be winding down his recitation.

‘…fully aware that you are not her. We know this mainly due to the fact we picked up the real Jennah Matrik a week ago. You see, when we caught you using her retinal template we knew she was a collaborator. No,’ he raised a dismissive hand, ‘obviously not a full member; during her session she was far too unconvincing about her involvement with your group.’ And Natasha knew that mantra well.

One must know the truth, or at least something of the truth, in order to lie convincingly.

July 13th, 2004, 04:09 PM
He smiled, a sinister, sadistic smile, and Natasha knew that they had killed poor Jennah, and without even getting any useful information or a confession from her. She felt a pang of guilt, as the woman really was a nobody who was in no way affiliated with Downlink. She had just happened to go to the wrong doctor, and that was that. For her bad luck she earned a trip to the furnaces. A faceless death for a faceless drone, that was how the blackbirds saw it, but Natasha squelched her guilt and pity, because she knew that she would likely be joining her before the night was over. She kept her face impassive as he continued:

‘I’ll get right to the point.’ he said, and removed a datastick from an inside pocket of his trench coat, inserting it into the receptacle on her holo projector, returning the device to a powered state. Evidently he wanted her to review the contents of the datastick, because the projector was aimed in such a way so that she was the only person who could view it. Cheaper holocomputers like the Bitac 212 and the Fabritech HB did not have a polarity field cancellation layer on the backside of the projection field, so in theory a person who was well versed at reading backwards could easily watch your actions while using one of those models. Typically, though, anyone with something to hide didn’t use anything made by Bitac, for dozens of reasons.
She made no move to put her hands on the holoboard, because she knew they wouldn’t be so insane as to let her have access to it at such a critical moment. She was right. The man reached over the table and pressed a key on the board to bring up the input menu, then selected the datastick and activated the contents. He did this all without being able to see the visual feedback of the machine, which showed he had some experience with her particular model.

‘Greetings Natasha.’ The synthesized male voice coming through the netlink via the holocomputer was not that of the man sitting across from her, and he made no move to explain it. He was watching her very closely, though, with a look that unnerved her even more than she expected, given her situation. ‘Before we tell you what we require of you, we want you to be absolutely clear on the situation you are now irrevocably involved in. First, we know your name is Natasha Alexandrov, we know you currently reside in Habitat Module 9414 in Acrology 9, and we know every detail of your life for the last 6 months, including the infiltrations you performed against both Syntel data archives at Centerpoint, the spectacular death of your mission partner as you fled from the botched surveillance action at Praetor Station, and even the recent equipment lifting you did with Sergei at Gorlan Holocomputers last week.’ Natasha’s mind spiraled in a freefall of confusion, denial, and fear. There was no way they should have this much information on her activities, but they obviously did. Why had they not detained her sooner? Surely the blackbirds would not have allowed her to do all the things she had done in the past year if they had known about it. Had Sergei been informing on her since the beginning? If so, why had they allowed her to continue her course? None of it made any sense!

‘No, I’m not with Syntel,’ The voice interrupted her thoughts, as if reading her mind. ‘But the man sitting across from you is. He is, as you guessed, one of their field agents, a ‘blackbird’ if you will, and one of their more crafty ones.’ Natasha noted his use of the word ‘their’ with curiosity. Was the voice on the datastick part of another organization? Before she could follow that line of reasoning, the voice continued.

‘Yes, he is in the dark right now as much as you are. He was tasked only to confront you, and make sure you didn’t escape. He was told only that it was a basic detention assignment, but this one is smart; he knows something odd is going on. No doubt he tried to view the datastick before confronting you, and found it was impossible to read without the decryption scheme used by your specific HC.’

That explained something, at least. She had wondered why the stick had been accepted into her system without so much as a single security warning, and now she had her answer: They had her personal encrypt. It was impossible, yet they had done it anyway. While the fact that they had it answered one question, it opened up about a dozen more, most of which relating to how they had managed to get it, and none of which she had any ready answers for. Hell, not even Sergei had her personal HC encrypt! She wanted to ask the voice who he was affiliated with, but since it was simply a recording she knew it would be futile. If the voice wanted her to know, he’d tell her.

‘I suppose’ the voice continued. ‘You’d like to know who I am and what organization I am affiliated with.’ Her eyes shifted up to the wall, as if searching for a photoprint of a distinguished political type, watching down on her with amusement. Damn, these guys are good.

‘I regret that I cannot disclose that at this time,’ Big surprise there. ‘However, I consider it irrelevant given your current situation.’ I’ll be the judge of that.

‘Natasha,’ and here comes the sales pitch. ‘We’d like you to come work for us, with the top Union science teams. The government has poured record funding into R&D in the past decade, far more than people are led to believe. We are not blind to the problems with the deadzone. The public doesn’t know that it will be over 50,000 years before living outside will be safe again, even in controlled conditions, but I’m sure you know.’ The voice was entreating, almost pleading now, but there was a hint of menace behind it.

‘Please, Natasha, come with us. Help us develop the necessary technology to save the human race from its own blunders.’ Natasha couldn’t help but admire them for trying. They knew exactly which buttons to press to get her attention, but she also knew that they knew, and that meant that they were just trying to control her through manipulation. Natasha knew the technology the Union was currently trying to develop would not be used for any noble purpose. She sat silently, unmoving, unwilling to respond in any way, as white hair continued to regard her as he would a highly unstable bomb, as if she might explode at any second.

‘You realize, my dear,’ the voice was almost conversational now. ‘That if you refuse my offer I will be powerless to save you from your own destruction.’ Yeah, and if I help you I ensure the destruction of everything and everyone good left in this world.

‘You have 30 seconds to decide. When you do, speak your response aloud. I’ll be listening.’ The voice made one final plea, ‘Natasha: Please make the right choice. You can’t do the world any good if you’re dead.’ With that, the datastick ejected itself and the holocomputer powered back down. White hair retrieved the data stick and replaced it in his coat pocket, returning to level his gaze upon her.

‘Well?’ he said. ‘I was told to expect an answer immediately.’
Natasha was many things… but she was not a coward. She took her hands off her head and crossed them across her chest, half expecting to die before she completed the move. She looked white hair straight in his cold, blue eyes and told him.

‘I choose death.’

ironchef texmex
July 13th, 2004, 04:35 PM
Avoidance of adverbs, huh? I'm going to make a couple of specific comments for you. Then I'm going to get all self-indulgent and make a grand, sweeping comment for everybody.

Does it Grab? You bet your sweet petunia. Success. It grabs.

Could have done it with a lot less text. Remember the infodumps? I'm not saying take out all description, the first part with the Syntal probably has to stay put, maybe one or two others. I'm saying a couple of blocks of text: the working of the aural tunneler, the info on the Gauss rifle, could have gotten out of the way and let us all read about the ambush in relative piece. The best parts are the first two paragraphs, the paragraph of her thought process during the ambush (particularly nice) and, of course, the last paragraph.

I'm serious, you don't have to describe every bit of tech the moment that you first call it by name. Some can wait. Some can just be left to the imagination altogether. Too much during a taut scene like this one and the reader forgets that they're supposed to be holding their breaths.

Now, about those adverbs.

One, you've still got a good number of them so -- I don't know -- maybe your original text was just swimming in them. But alot of readers read things like Stephen King's book on writing, read the part about all adverbs being evil, and then don't even bother to notice that King doesn't take his own advice. He used adverbs as much as anybody!

We do it over on this site sometimes too. It can be tempting to look at a strongly written story then only point out the single passive, hidden somewhere on page 6.

Do you have something against adverbs? If so, leave them out. If you agree that it weakens your writing, leave them out! But if not...... don't worry about it.

I just finished Iain M. Banks "Excession" - basically a five hundred page long adverb. Apparently the guy has not yet read Stevo's book. You know what? Excession was still a really good read. You know why? It grabbed.

Passives can be a problem. Adverbs can be a problem. But in my ever-so-humble opinion, that stuff is all just candy sprinkles on top of the triple decker chocolate cake.

Now go write some more stuff that grabs... and don't worry about the adverbs.

July 13th, 2004, 04:56 PM
I like this as well, I would suggest however that you up the pacing a bit. In the beginning the slowness was a nice way to imply adrenaline, but at this point things should take on more of a, First this, then this. This. Then this. type feel. Give her less time to think, provide less details. Paint with a broader stroke and only hone in for the fine detail work where it is appropriate.

I like your work a lot.