Review: Empty Sea

empty sea

nuclear missilenuclear missile

Two nuclear missiles
(2 out of 4 rating)

This story begins with several tourists hiding in a resort on an out-of-the-way planet. They are hiding because some sort of armed conflict is taking place / has taken place outside. The early part of the story is written well; if you’ve ever been holed up in a hotel in some third world country, wondering exactly what the armed people outside are up to, then you’ll recognize the characters’ feelings.

I didn’t enjoy the later parts of the story as much, but at first I wasn’t able to identify my reasons. I scanned through the story a second time to try to understand my feelings towards it; I hope that my thoughts will help other authors improve their work.

The Spoiler Dragon

In addition to armed conflict, the story has human-enslaving robots and an attack by giant centipedes. I’m always complaining about “filler” (stuff unrelated to the plot) in stories, so why doesn’t a single story with three conflicts make me happy? Any of them could make a good science fiction story, so shouldn’t a story with all three of them be three times as good?

The first problem I identified might be called pacing. After the characters leave the resort, they wander around, then they wander around some more. The story is 40% complete before they encounter any other people (I won’t call them characters), who only serve to fill in details about the situation. The story is 56% complete before an “enemy” is spotted, and 58% complete before actual conflict occurs. (Percentages reported by my kindle are probably on the low side, since the story includes a couple of pages of author bio, etc. at the end).

The Spoiler DragonThe Spoiler Dragon

The second problem I identified was that the conflicts in the story seemed to be resolved too quickly and easily. Maybe there wasn’t enough build-up to them; if some of the first 60% of the story had led more directly to the conflicts, there would have been more tension. Slaver robots? Grab one, give it a virus, and they kill each other. Giant centipedes? Gun them all down. The characters didn’t need to decide among alternatives, and their plans worked without modification. I hate to see science fiction always follow a predictable pattern (the hero makes a plan, but there’s an unexpected problem with the plan, so the hero must make a brilliant new plan on the fly) but perhaps it’s a necessary formula to keep stories interesting.

Hard sci-fi fans will probably be bothered by the “empty sea” setting. All of the action portions of the story take place on a dry seabed. There is a large explosion at the start of the story, and a chasm across the seabed, so I at first assumed that an explosion or geological event had caused the water to drain away. However, it later turns out that there are “indigo bands stretching across the horizon”, which I interpreted as some kind of ocean barrier holding the water away from an area, but later it was implied that all the water from the sea was being held up in the sky somehow. To me, this didn’t hurt the story much, but if the title and setting of a story are based on something, it should probably be explained in more detail.

There were a few minor editing errors, but not enough to distract from my reading. I also felt that the male characters spent too much time crying (literally crying); to me, that’s not a typical reaction during a crisis. It wasn’t a major distraction, but it was strange enough that it briefly caused me to detach from the story and try to figure out why the characters were acting like that.

Finally, I have issues with the ending. The characters’ rescue is independent of any action they took or could have taken. A rescue force was on the way, so they could have just stayed in the resort and been rescued, or gone out into some farm fields and drawn crop circles and been rescued, or done anything else and been rescued. Maybe there are some examples that prove me wrong, but it seems that in a good story, the characters have an impact on the outcome.

The other problem with the ending is that the main characters are knocked out, and only learn about events second-hand when they wake up in the hospital. So, the last 12% of the story takes place after the action is finished. This is at least the second story I’ve read where the author used this type of ending; I don’t understand why an author would do so.

To illustrate my point, imagine George Lucas evaluating two alternate climaxes for the movie “Star Wars”.

Option 1: Luke Skywalker flies over the death star. Darth Vader’s tie fighters close in on his tail, blowing away Luke’s wingmen. Han Solo bursts in from nowhere, saving the day. Luke knocks his targeting scope to the side, and uses the force to hit his target and blast the death star into oblivion.

Option 2: Han sits in a bar and tells everyone how cool it was when Luke blew up the death star.


  1. Tajima Jenkins · · Reply

    “Maybe there are some examples that prove me wrong, but it seems that in a good story, the characters have an impact on the outcome.”
    The Big Bang Theory had a funny episode recently where Indiana Jones is described as being superfluous to “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Without Indy, the Nazis find the amulet, dig in the right place, take the ark to an island, and open it and melt their faces.

    1. Ouch, it didn’t take long for my point to be refuted! I guess you could say that without Indy, the Ark might not have ended up in a US government warehouse, but that scene is really more of an epilogue than part of the core story.

  2. Without having read this book myself all I can do is guess, but depending on how it’s done I can see a few reasons that an author would prefer such an ending . One reason is it might seem more realistic, just how many heroes manage go through a whole adventure without being injured in real life? A second reason could be that the author thought that such a change in situation would cause more conversation about his book, he could potentially be planning a second version with an alternate ending as well.
    As I said, without reading the book I can only guess at the reason.

    1. Even if the plot required the heroes to be injured, or a change of situation was necessary, there are better ways than having a nurse come into a hospital room and spill all the details to the characters. I can think of one way – the author could show the events from another character’s perspective, possibly through a member of the rescue team, or even through one of the bad guys about to be overrun by the rescue team.

  3. Gede Prama · · Reply

    Thank you for sharing and Greetings from Gede Prama 🙂

  4. Well, these do all sound like fair criticisms for the story. I do have some liking for having some bits that are imagination-capturing but not much explained (or critical to the story) and the empty sea seems like that sort of thing, but I would be interested to see more of the boundary between the sand and the sea in that case.

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