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First Page: The Feral Queen, genre Science Fiction

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***

I had my leather armor on, buckling the straps before I realized I had decided to go outside. Part of my mind gibbered in terror as I slipped on my boots and shrugged into the straps that held my pneumatic weapon. But it was a very small part. The rest of me was either desperate to get some fresh air or panicking that the lizards might have turned on the generators.

The lizards were the major lifeform on Eade, the top of the food chain. No other creatures even scavenged their dead bodies, not even insects.

They averaged about eight feet long, with triangular heads, six legs with clawed, talon-like feet, and long thick tails. Some were bulky, some were whip-thin, some had thick scaly folds of skin, and others’ skin clung. Their colors ranged from black-green to alarm yellow, but they all had similar faces on the backs of their heads. Those were non-functional, like false eye-spots. The faces on the reptiles had not only black eyes, but dark nostrils, and pinched, scaly lips as well.

Their real faces were mostly blunt, fanged mouth, white on the inside, a black tongue with a long fork, and round, black, bottomless eyes. They were intelligent.

I emerged from my treehouse into the storm-charged air. There was a new smell. I hurried through the bonre orchard, dodging through the underbrush and flinching at every vine I imagined was a lizard’s tail. The stillness – nothing shrieked as I passed, no insects whined, no lizards snapped. My skin burned with the static in the air. At the edge of the clearing, I threw myself on the ground and crawled. Up ahead, some monstrous black thing hovered over the compound, stinking of metal and exhaust. After a few minutes, my perceptions righted themselves and I recognized the thing – it was a spaceship.

I huddled in the dirt, too confused and afraid to get up. People, bulky in orange hazmat gear, were climbing in and out of the spaceship, carrying things in and out of the colony compound.

I crawled backwards, back among the trees to press against a boulder.

I missed my mother.

There was a sound nearby – a dry branch cracked about eight yards behind me, to my left. A footstep.

I was still hidden from view, but the orange-suited people probably had tech that could find me.

A scent in the still air – a lizard, young, probably old enough to feel the pull of rut but too young to participate. Much too close. And hungry.

Another human footstep.

The smell from the lizard sharpened, and I jumped up, spikes ready.

But it wasn’t after me.

What came next scared me like nothing else – a scream of pain from another human.

I dove toward the sound, ducking around the trees that were between me and the struggle. The man sprawled in the dirt, his arms waving feebly as he kicked at the thin writhing lizard that latched on his leg. I fired eight spikes in rapid succession at the lizard. They pinned the lizard to the ground, but it was still alive, pumping venom even as the brackish blood streamed from the punctures. I tackled it, wrenched the jaws open and wrestled the man’s leg free, and then broke the lizard’s neck over my knee. I dropped it, shuddered convulsively, and shot a few more spikes into its head before I turned to the man.

I hoped he wasn’t dead already.

 

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

19 Comments

  1. Anonymous
    Jun 25, 2011 @ 06:12:43

    I like the setting, and the hints of a larger story, but there’s way too much exposition for me. Don’t just vomit out all the information about the lizards – let me learn it as we go.

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  2. JenMcQ
    Jun 25, 2011 @ 06:46:47

    I liked the author’s voice. I liked the premise. Always a fan of people in Hazmat suits stumbling out of spaceships. Hell, I even liked the lizards pumping venom. Science fiction is a genre I am discovering I need to give a bit more attention to, as I suspect I will really enjoy it.

    But… I was struck with the notion that this didn’t seem to start in quite the right place, at least not for me. I am all about starting with action, but this was almost TOO in the action. It made the melding of backstory (the lizards are top of the food chain… I miss my mother) far too jarring.

    Good luck with this!

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  3. Gianisa
    Jun 25, 2011 @ 07:18:13

    I agree with the first two comments. You’ve got a good story going on, but there’s the info dump about the lizards that breaks up the action. If the humans are new to the planet, then your character (or somebody) is going to have to do some exposition about the lizards anyways. Dump the three paragraphs about the lizard biology until later on when it makes more sense for your character to be talking about them. I think it would be an interesting scene for the protagonist to have to explain to another character about the false face.

    Some quibbles:

    The rest of me was either desperate to get some fresh air or panicking that the lizards might have turned on the generators

    I get what you’re trying to say here (body is moving before brain catches up) but there’s something slightly off about this sentence. I think that it’s the mention of getting fresh air.


    No other creatures even scavenged their dead bodies, not even insects

    Unless the insects are different from ours in the way that the lizards are, this sentence is really jarring and pulled me right out of the story. Insects scavenge anything that works as a food source. If the insects are not our insects, then you’ll need to expand that section when explaining about the lizards.

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  4. kali
    Jun 25, 2011 @ 08:49:35

    I’m always up for science fiction that promises strong characterization, and this has potential. A good voice, good setting, and interesting perils that make me worried for our heroine’s survival. There are grammatical problems and places where necessary (for me) information is either missing or overdone, but these can be easily fixed with the help of an experienced beta reader.

    Nits:

    Agree on the info dump on the lizards. Only give as much as necessary for this scene to make sense, eg, that they’re a dangerous native lifeform.

    “I had my leather armor on, buckling the straps before I realized I had decided to go outside”

    Mixed verb tenses, a comma splice–I had to read several times before it made sense. This first sentence would be a killer for me if I were picking the book up in a store.

    “I emerged from my treehouse . . . I hurried through the bonre orchard”

    An example of missing information that again, made me stop. When I looked closer, I realized that all I needed was a brief phrase or sentence moving her from the treehouse to the ground, eg, “I slid down the rope,” or “I jumped to the ground, the servos in my suit absorbing the impact”

    “My skin burned with the static in the air. At the edge of the clearing, I threw myself on the ground and crawled”

    This felt like inverted cause and effect, but I can’t figure out in which order the actions should really be. Should it go like this? She’s almost at the clearing, her skin burns with static, she throws herself on the ground.

    “I jumped up, spikes ready.”

    I stopped at this, wondering if *she* had spikes, or they were part of her armor. Only after reading on did I realize they were part of her pneumatic weapon (and as someone who loves pneumatic tools, I like the weapon–but I also wondered where the compressor was.)

    “I missed my mother.”

    A great deal of emotional information packed into one observation, both of her past and present. Works for me.

    “I hoped he wasn’t dead already.”

    Excellent scene break. Even though I had to fight my way through some of your paragraphs, I really wanted to read on.

    I hope you finish this and are able to find experienced beta readers.

    Good luck.

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  5. theo
    Jun 25, 2011 @ 08:51:22

    I don’t care for first person. It’s very hard to write well. In this case, I think this needs a lot of editing. If I were the main character, I wouldn’t be thinking about all the different kinds of lizards. I’d be wondering if I was going to survive.

    If your heroes of the story are the lizards, I might sit through that lengthy explanation. If your narrator is, cut it. You can point out a bit of what they’re like as the narrator kills them.

    Leather armor on, boots strapped, a part of me panicked at the thought of going outside to face the lizards on Eade. Desperate for fresh air after being cooped up in my tree house all night, I strapped on my pneumatic weapon and stepped out into the storm charged air. Would I survive this time? God, I hoped so.

    Is your narrator male? Female? Young? Old? I have no idea except that he/she misses mom. I’m older and still miss mine so that gives me no sense of the main character.

    I can’t really tell much about the voice because of having to sift through information overload. Edit, rework and you might have something here.

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  6. Anonymous
    Jun 25, 2011 @ 09:25:45

    “I had my leather armor on, buckling the straps before I realized I had decided to go outside. ”

    It´s a no go from here. I can not go past this first sentence. Mixed verbal tenses but not even going to that, it is stupid. “I realized I had decided”? I understand one can make subconscious decisions, but it´s an oxymoronic expression, and one which stops me right there from relating to the character.

    Also if the intention of the first sentence is to have a hook for the reader, a leather armor is not enough hook. Bad first sentence. Past that, nothing to hook me on the scene. Lizards. I get it, I just do not care.

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  7. DS
    Jun 25, 2011 @ 09:53:03

    Liked it, But then I like science fiction. Agree with problems with first sentence. I would definitely read on though.

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  8. Bren
    Jun 25, 2011 @ 10:18:44

    I love speculative fiction however most of this did not work for me. I think you have an interesting set up but you need to rework your beginning:

    –Delete entirely the 2 paragraphs where you did nothing but describe the lizards

    –Make your sentences shorter, punchier. and use stronger verbs (especially for the verb “to be”) ex.
    I had my leather armor on. The leather straps fitted into their buckles. In a daze, I had decided to go outside. Part of my mind gibbered in terror. I slipped on my boots and shrugged into the straps that held my pneumatic weapon. But it was a very small part. The rest of me craved some fresh air. I was also panicked that the lizards might have turned on the generators.

    –I have no sense of who this protagonist is. Man or woman? Human or alien? Why is he/she hiding from the humans loading up their spaceship? Why is he/she living in a treehouse on a planet full of hostile aliens? Why can he/she smell so well? Some of this you can leave dangling as a hook for later but not all of it. Give us some sense of why this person is here and what he/she is doing. Scientific mission? Shipwrecked? etc.

    You spent 2 paras talking about the lizards and I have little sense of the POV character except maybe that he/she misses his/her mother. That disjointed sentence was very jarring, by the way, and had nothing to do with the rest of the passage.

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  9. B
    Jun 25, 2011 @ 10:57:27

    I liked it. My only gripe is that I couldn’t suspend my disbelief that nothing would scavenge the dead body of a lizard. Everything gets scavenged, even top predators. I can’t believe in a world where critters wouldn’t touch dead meat. Especially insects. It just doesn’t make sense to me.

    I’d also like to see more about the narrator. It was more that halfway through that I realized it wasn’t human, and I’d have liked to know if it was male or female.

    SF is a difficult genre to write, but I think you did a very good job :)

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  10. katieM
    Jun 25, 2011 @ 13:30:48

    I agree with some of the corrections offered. I love science fiction and I would read more of this if I knew more about the lead character.

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  11. dm
    Jun 25, 2011 @ 13:57:15

    Muddled.

    I had my leather armor on, buckling the straps before I realized I had decided to go outside. Part of my mind gibbered in terror as I slipped on my boots and shrugged into the straps that held my pneumatic weapon. But it was a very small part. The rest of me was either desperate to get some fresh air or panicking that the lizards might have turned on the generators.

    It’s not just the prose that’s muddled. This character doesn’t know his own mind. He is uncertain how he feels about buckling on his armor and slipping on his boots. You pile on responses–gibbering in terror, desperate to get fresh air, panicking about lizards–without stimulus.

    You follow this with three paragraphs of information about lizards that we don’t need yet. Then you plunge us into an action scene with no objective, in which the character runs toward an unspecified goal/stimulus and then you interrupt this action scene with an unmotivated rumination about how the character misses his mother. Then an unnamed character is attacked by a lizard, and your protagonist kills the lizard.

    Buried somewhere in there is a story catalyst, a change to the protagonist’s status quo, the arrival of a spaceship.

    Reading this is rather like being given measured quantities of yeast, flour, salt, and water, and being told to close my eyes and put it in my mouth and chew, and pretend it’s bread.

    Modern commercial fiction, the stuff we pay to read, is composed of scenes and narrative summary. Scene construction is exactly like building construction. You can’t just pile timbers up and expect the thing to stand. It needs structure. The sequence in which you do things matters. Scenes require objectives, obstacles, attempts to overcome the obstacles, and they should end in disaster, creating the objective for the next scene. You character has no goal or objective in this scene. What is it he wants to do? And what stops him? Is he trying to reach these generators? Then tell us this up front. Why does he need to reach them? What will happen if he doesn’t? And how does he feel about this possibility?

    I’m going to make an educated guess here and say that the stimulus that gets your character into his armor and out the door is that spaceship. In which case, why isn’t some evidence of the arrival of that spaceship your first line? Why don’t you tell us about the sonic boom or the earthquake that heralds its arrival? What purpose is served by hiding the ball here? What storytelling advantage is gained by making all of your character’s actions, for the first five paragraphs completely unmotivated by any stimulus?

    What came next scared me like nothing else – a scream of pain from another human.

    Because I don’t know what your character wants, and I don’t know how he feels about anything that is happening, I arrive at this line, which should intrigue me, should be part of your hook, and I glide on by. Good scene construction, stimulus and response, and articulated character emotions highlight important content. Keep it from getting lost in the muddle. I can fill in the blanks here, because I’ve read the passage several times, and guess that your character is more afraid of humans than lizards, that the spaceship is a bigger threat to him/her than anything on this planet, but your passage doesn’t actually convey this. Instead of showing us that humans are more dangerous to our protagonist than lizards, you show us that lizards are dangerous and humans are unaware of them and our protagonist can handle lizards so all is well in the world. Danger averted. No tension here. Just when you should be upping the stakes and beguiling me into reading further.

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  12. Kristi
    Jun 25, 2011 @ 15:07:25

    I absolutely agree with the last comment, and I wanted to add, pay attention to what your character knows, and more importantly, what he/she doesn’t know.

    Your character is talking about spaceships and haz-mat suits like they are commonplace and those things aren’t strange to him/her, but then reacting as if the character has never seen a spaceship. If he/she doesn’t know what a spaceship is, why is he calling it a spaceship?

    Make sure your world building is organic and makes sense. If nothing gets rid of the bodies of dead lizards, then how do lizards maintain their numbers without overpopulating, and also, why isn’t the planet covered with dead lizard corpses? It takes a long time for a thing that large to rot with no help.

    If your character is wearing all leather as armor, and living in a wooded place with trees, how did he/she get a metal weapon? Who mined the ore? Is it from another planet?

    Now the biggest issue is the infodump, so you have to learn to handle your world building carefully without over explaining.

    Some tips on how to do that are to have your character think about things as he/she interacts with them. I may be wrong, but I have a hard time picturing a pneumatic gun made out of wood, so I’m going to assume it would have to be made from an inorganic compound.

    To explain the gun you have to give us the thoughts of the character as he has a cause to think about the gun.

    For example:

    I loaded the spikes into my gun, but the pneumatic compressor was jammed again. That blood-sucking Norban at the forum sold me a piece of junk. I’d call it worthless, except he took me for seven hundred chips.

    In this little bit, suddenly we know a lot about this world, including how they trade, where they trade, and that this character is capable of being swindled, but for whatever reason has to make due with what he/she has.

    That is purposeful detail. Right now your detail is for detail’s sake, and it isn’t integrated into your narrative.

    Good luck with it. I also love Science Fiction.

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  13. Melisse
    Jun 25, 2011 @ 16:06:34

    I liked it. It does need some tightening up and editing, but the world and incident is intriguing. The first person didn’t bother me, and sometimes that is an issue for me, but I was pulled in pretty seamlessly. Best of luck finishing and publishing.

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  14. Gwynnyd
    Jun 25, 2011 @ 21:10:12

    I agree with most of the comments, but the one thing that didn’t bother me was the non-degraded-by-insects lizards. I must have read a lot more SF than most, because my first thought was, “Aha! That means the lizards are ALSO not native to this planet.” What I got from the excerpt was that the POV character was born/abandoned/marooned on this planet with the evil also-not-indiginous lizards and POV character had never seen *other* humans besides mom.

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  15. eggs
    Jun 26, 2011 @ 04:18:20

    I agree with Gwynnyd that the lizards are obviously alien to this world if they are not a part of the ecosystem. If this is not the case (i.e. lizards ARE native) then that sentence will create a wall banger for most scifi readers when they find out.

    I think the story so far is good, but agree that the first person POV requires strong characterization, so that we know where the POV is coming from. In this case, we know nothing – the main POV is coming out of a void, and it’s hard to care about a void, especially when we are learning a whole heap about lizards.

    So, it looks like you’ve got a good story on your hands. I certainly want to know what happens next! BUT, because you’ve decided to go with the first person POV, it’s crucial that you establish a strong reader connect with your main character, and you haven’t done that.

    Personally, I hate first person POV, and won’t read it unless the book already has rave reviews. You need to balance your desire to write in the first person with the potential for reader alienation. If it’s important to you, then read a lot of opening chapters of popular first person POV’s and dissect how they sunk their emotional hooks into their readers. Twilight has been analyzed to death in this respect, as a golden example of successful sinking of the emotional hooks.

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  16. BlueRose
    Jun 26, 2011 @ 06:16:10

    I
    I
    I
    I

    Very boring to read so many sentences starting with I all in such a short snippet.

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  17. Anon
    Jun 26, 2011 @ 07:38:49

    Thank you all very much for your input – I’m having an awful time writing the beginning of this story and I was pretty sure I’d lost perspective on it (as evidenced by the infodump – sorry!). First-person POV was a bit of an experiment and I’m thinking I began about a paragraph too late into the story.

    Thank you all again for helping clarify the issues this beginning has. I’ll be reworking it, this time in 3rd person, beginning where Asha (the pov character here), while waiting out the end of the two-week-long rut, hears the sound of engines, which she hasn’t heard in eight years… :)

    P.S. Gwynnyd – you are perceptive!

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  18. Deb
    Jun 26, 2011 @ 10:14:51

    Hi,

    Possibly interesting world — a Lost World kind of feel
    I think you’re better off getting rid of lizard descriptions – just show us when character encounters. simply mention them as enemy/danger.
    Even when little one appears, don’t have to go into much detail – maybe explain more when character explains to the man being attacked or his comrades if he’s dead.
    With the deletion of the lizard info block, this brings reader closer to the more interesting action and suspense of the spaceship and the attack.
    Also, gives you space to go beyond where you stopped.
    Thanks for sharing and good luck

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  19. KMS
    Jun 28, 2011 @ 15:29:00

    The first two paragraphs were enough for me to judge on. Sci-fi is my favourite genre, and I wouldn’t read this if it were the only thing in the house. I’m not going to give you specific critiques, you’ve received enough of those already. Frankly, I think those kind reviewers are wasting their time.

    Take a writing course, an Intro to Creative Writing workshop if your local community college offers one. Everyone has a story inside them, but your communication skills need to be honed before you should consider sharing yours with the world. In short: learn to write, try again.

    ReplyReply

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