Three flying saucers
Fellow blogger Kal Spriggs responded to my last call for authors, and provided an audiobook version of The Fallen Race. In doing so, he’s given me a bit of a puzzle: I don’t think I can write a one-size-fits-all review; whether you’ll enjoy this story or have no interest in it will largely depend upon your tastes as a reader. Hopefully, I can let you know which group of readers you fall into.
I place the story within the military and space opera sub-genres of science fiction. If the rise and fall of nations, or a clash between space fleets, interests you as much as inter-personal conflict, then this story may be for you.
The story is primarily plot/event driven. The main character is reminiscent of the hero in Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet series; he spends his time dealing with problems which pop up, rather than struggling with internal demons or moping when the action is over. If you are tolerant of stories that aren’t character-focused, then this story may be for you. Personally, I think there is room for plot-driven stories, and in my recent review of the Power of Six, I mentioned that many great science fiction short stories revolve around an idea or technology rather than a character. There are even stories which depend upon the setting; Larry Niven’s Ringworld and The Integral Treesare the first ones that come to mind.
Much of the story is episodic, with a new character, alien race, or problem being introduced in each chapter. This structure is a bit different from most novels, but shouldn’t be too unusual for fans of sci-fi TV shows. It would probably work well as a serial, but unfortunately, I don’t think there’s a real market for those at the moment.
One of the things which Kal does well is create bad guys who are really bad; you’ll want to see them bite the dust. In one case, it’s a traditional bad guy (actually a gal) villain, but in other cases, it’s an organization or entire race of aliens. These bad guys are believable; it’s easy to imagine people or aliens behaving in such a manner.
Kal also comes up with a believable solution to a difficult problem faced by all writers of military sci-fi: the “good guy” characters have to face a force more powerful than their own, yet must be victorious in the end. Apparently “Goliath stomps David” doesn’t make for a very interesting story. I think if you fed every work of military science fiction into an artificial intelligence, it would determine that the key to victory is to be the smaller or weaker force at the start of a battle.
Let me know in the comments section whether this sounds like your kind of story. Kal has also just released a sequel, The Shattered Empire, and I believe he plans to continue the series further.
If you’re willing to brave the spoiler dragon, you’ll read about a couple of fairly minor issues which distracted me briefly. Let me know what you think about those issues; I’m curious whether my thoughts are atypical.
MINOR SPOILERS BELOW – ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK
There are two instances where a fleet commander abandons his mission, and his entire nation, because a psychic tells him it’s necessary for the future of the human race. I’m not saying this couldn’t happen, but I needed some more backstory to make it seem rational, such as recounting a historical event where an admiral ignored a psychic and his nation was destroyed. In at least one case, the fleet commander had personal and professional reasons not to trust his own empire, but it still seemed to me that he still accepted the psychic’s word a little too readily.
The story also makes use of the technique (nearly ubiquitous in science fiction, so perhaps I’m the only one bothered by this) of introducing a type of person/place/thing which the reader can’t possibly understand, then explaining it later in the story. I feel that if something is implicitly understood by the characters, then it should be immediately revealed to the reader as well. Along these lines: in the middle of a dialogue, it is revealed that the characters’ nation has fallen to an alien attack – 4 days ago. That’s the kind of context the reader needs at the start of the dialogue, and there was a missed opportunity to show the emotional reactions of the officers and sailors as they learn the news.
Thanks for the review. I was intrigued by the two points you raise at the end. In a sense they both have to do with leaps of faith: the first one by the character, the second one by the reader.
I agree with your first point (it does sound like a leap of faith would require some insight into the character’s reasoning), and wonder about the second. With scifi/fantasy one obviously needs to introduce a number of unfamiliar elements. Readers need to have faith that these will be explained later in the story, and that their patience will be rewarded.
Having said that, this is generally true of artifacts, technology, surroundings and races; not plot elements. In the example you provide, it does seem like a missed opportunity.
“With scifi/fantasy one obviously needs to introduce a number of unfamiliar elements. Readers need to have faith that these will be explained later in the story, and that their patience will be rewarded.”
There was a time when readers of sci-fi/fantasy, at least, seemed to understand that not everything will be explained in complete detail the moment it first gets introduced in the story. Readers were more likely to trust the author to let them know whatever they needed to know, when they needed to know it, and “wait and find out” was part of the fun. Now authors are expected to thoroughly explain every detail immediately, even the unimportant ones… and do it without disrupting the flow of the plot at all and without any hint of the much-hated info dump.
Perhaps I’ve become one of those problem readers who demands instant gratification, or perhaps I’ve just read so much sci-fi at this point that I’ve grown tired of the pattern of introducing futuristic-sounding words or phrases in the opening paragraph/chapter.
I may have even become so impatient that I now have the same attitude towards plot elements….
Instead of reading something like this:
“He took his pills and rushed out the door; he had to reach Omnitron before the third chime.”
I’d rather read:
“He took his anti-telepathy pills and rushed out the door; he had to reach his workstation at Omnitron before the third chime, or his daily food ration would be cut in half.”
Am I being unreasonable?
No, that’s not unreasonable at all. Good writing does insert little bits of detail into the narration like that.
The readers I don’t understand are the ones who want EVERYTHING explained in full detail, all at once, but somehow without having any kind of info dump even though ANY detail is an info dump in their view. In your example, that would mean a full history of Omnitron and an explanation of how the characters in this story ended up on food rations in the first place… and these things must be explained at once instead of dolled out through the course of the story as such details become relevant to whatever is happening, but without any telling –.it has to be SHOWN, and it can’t be extraneous detail and it cannot slow down the pace of the story and it has to be revealed all at once even if the mystery is part of the point of the story… and gods help you if you ever use a flashback, even one lasting no more than a paragraph.
Mutually exclusive requirements, in many cases, but somehow writers are supposed to do ALL of those thing anyway. I’ve never seen it done, and the people who demand it cannot explain how it can be done or point to an example of writing that managed it, but nevertheless, it is required.
(I hate anti-telepathy pills. They taste like stale garlic, and they never work anyway. 🙂 )
Wow, where have you seen this? Reviews of books you’ve edited?
(anti-telepathy pills give me bad dreams if I take them at night)
My dear Commander â
I have attached for your consideration my short story Title 1030. It has been rejected by Analog and Fantasy and Science Fiction, whose editor noted dryly that the story âdidnât grab his interestâ. I hope it has a different effect on you.
Currently I am in the midst of a [gulp] novel that I am writing in conjunction with NaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month, which is November and, wouldnât you know, the deadline is November 30. As I only stumbled on it October 30th â although I then remembered hearing of it last year but too late and thinking, I could do that! â I had no time to prepare a plot, character sketches, or anything else other than the concept and working title, The God Algorithm, which have been rattling around in my head for years. However, E.L. Doctorow said that âWriting a novel is like driving at night: you can only see as far as the headlights, but thatâs enough.â It turns out thatâs true â¦ for a crappy first draft, anyway. I have no expectation of finishing the story in 50,000 words. Itâll be book one of who knows how many. If I can get it on Amazon as a free Kindle I will be over the moon, as that was how I discovered Wool.
At any rate, if you care to give it a read and can get past the first three pages, Iâd love to get your constructive criticism.
Josh, I don’t think attachments work here. If you’ve given up on getting your story published, you could post a link to a file on your own blog or website. There are a number of other magazines you could try, but if I remember correctly, most of them won’t accept anything that’s been available on the web. You mentioned your desire to someday publish on the Kindle platform; you could use your short story to practice formatting and publishing.
Once you finish your novel, I’d recommend not publishing it too quickly; make sure you run it by some beta readers who aren’t afraid to be harsh. Most successful novels have probably been looked over by a professional editor as well. Two really sharp editors have made comments on this post; perhaps I’ll persuade them to do a Q&A one day, where they can address the concerns of aspiring writers.
Good luck, and let us know what you decide to do with your stories.
I prefer a balance of plot and character; introspection is good, but several chapters of moping instead of trying to DO something about a problem gets tedious.
This novel sounds interesting, although there are times when I’m in the mood for military sci-fi/space opera and times when I’m not. (When I’ve just finished editing one of my clone’s novels is NOT a good time for me to read another novel of the same general type.) A clash between space fleets is more interesting to me if the story also goes into WHY the conflict is happening and how it affects individual characters that I care about.
“…a psychic tells him it’s necessary for the future of the human race. I’m not saying this couldn’t happen…” — Based on my reactions to fiction I’ve been reading recently, this part of the story has the potential to annoy me A LOT if it isn’t handled well. (Does the author really use the word ‘psychic’? That would annoy me. In science fiction, there are better words for it that don’t have the same ‘woo-woo’ connotations.)
Thomas, see my response to Sue, below this comment. At the moment, I can’t remember whether the author used the word psychic or my brain just oversimplified; since I only have the audiobook version, it’s not easy to go back and check.
Great review, PDC. As far as the psychic is concerned, I can see why this would be problematic since this is not a character-focused story. Assuming this is a world like ours, where some people believe in psychics and other think it’s nonsense, you would need a grasp of the character to understand the decision. (But if this was a world where psychics are part of the landscape, I wouldn’t bat an eye.)
It looks like I made that aspect of the story sound a little worse than it was. The psychics also have other (demonstrable) powers, such as telekinesis. There were also historical events where psychic families (the ability seems to be inherited) were imprisoned and/or exiled. Knowing those facts, you might believe that someone could see into the future, but you’d still have to think about whether they were telling you the truth!
[…] a new review up for The Fallen Race from Planetary Defense Command. He reviewed the audio version. Check it out, and be sure to check out some of his other […]