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20190603--The Kraken's Daughter--Star Light, Star Bright (4500, V)

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STANDARD DISCLAIMER: For demographic information, keep in mind that I am a white male nearing his thirties, married, with two young children, and come from a background of being LDS, conservative, and with a long history of chronic depression, so these things may color what I say during review. I try to be as open-minded and unbiased as possible.

Hello, @The Kraken's Daughter and welcome to Reading Excuses! Since it looks like I might be the first one to post, let me just congratulate you on your first submission and give you a little idea of what to expect.

In Reading Excuses, we love to dig into submissions and tell you what works, but more importantly what doesn't, or what glaring flaws might be present that could otherwise negatively impact your piece. Sometimes, our critiques might seem harsh, but know in advance that we are harsh lovingly--if we didn't care or if we thought nothing of your piece, we wouldn't go into the effort to sitting down and trying to tell you what doesn't work. Take our criticism--and our praise--with a grain of salt, and if you have any questions, feel free to ask! Many here are published authors (even if self-published), but many more are in the process of trying to get published, so there are a wide variety of experience levels for you to draw from.

Also, I'm Alderant! I'm kind of known for a few things, both on the Shard proper, as well as in here. First, I'm very longwinded. I try to be as thorough as I can be, though that can be difficult sometimes if I get distracted. I tend to use spoiler tags heavily, not because I'm hiding something, but because it helps limit the amount of visual space I take on the forum page (you'll see why). I also have a habit of being a bit harsh when it comes to feedback. Sorry about that in advance.

To begin with, let me explain my general formatting for critiques. I have three sections: nitpicks, inconsistencies/concerns, and problems. Nitpicks are things that don't necessarily impact the story at large, but are something that personally does gel for one reason or another for me. Inconsistencies and concerns have largely to do with content, whether or not something seems out of character, falls into a common bad fantasy mistake, or any number of general writing errors. Problems are things that I feel need to be reworked. Not all critiques need all three of these sections, but some do.

Finally, I recognize this is sci-fi. I haven't read nearly as much sci-fi as I have fantasy, but where I might have lacked in reading sci-fi, I have watched and played a ton of it, and many of the same principles apply in noting quality sci-fi visual medium, as literary.

Now that that's said, on to the critique.



My very first nitpick (and only nitpick, it turns out) comes before I've even opened your piece. PDFs are a very difficult format for me to use (especially because of my thoroughness), because they do not allow line highlighting/copy-pasting. If I want to pull any prose from your piece in order to highlight a point, or show you how something might work worded a little differently, I have to type out the quote completely by hand. This is fine if the quote is only a few words, but if there is a paragraph or series of sentences we want to draw from, that can make this process very, very fatiguing and unnecessarily time-consuming when spread over the course of a couple of hours of writing/reading. Word documents (.doc or .docx) or even Rich-text formats (.rtf) are far better for this purpose, in my opinion, since they can be opened up in Word or even Open Office, if you don't have access to Word. Further, there is Word Online, which is free to use and only requires a Microsoft account.



Pg. 1


Okay. We're starting off in a kind of generic sci-fi/star trek setting here--namely, a named starship. That doesn't thrill me off the bat.

>> "But no star would naturally pulse in the Fibonacci sequence or the first ten digits of pi." << Don't start a sentence off with a conjunction if you can avoid it. It creates an "And another thing" author-esque convention that makes it sound like a lazy other. This sentence reads with the same meaning if you say "No star would...digits of pi, however." Further, for consistency's sake (and since the Fibonacci is an effectively endless sequence that would make it very difficult to use once you get past ten) if you limit either of these to the first six digits. Pulsing eight times recognizably, without it being registered as a sequence in its own right is already quite odd.

>> "Switching sails" and the ensuing paragraph on page 2. It seems a bit weird to me that a) there's a sail trailing behind the ship for propulsion, b ) that there is a laser that is seemingly stretching across several systems at least to propel their ship, seemingly without an upper range, and c) that it would be able to apply counter force to then slow the ship. Typically--and especially over such extreme distances--ships would have their own form of propulsion and would potentially have a "quantum-entaglement" or "ansible" form of communication. Ansible propulsion (which is what this seems to be) is a bit weird. Also, lasers travel in straight lines...so any kind of three dimensional movement is going to be difficult.

Pg. 2


J - I feel like you're missing out here by referring to J so passively. This is our first indication that a non-human is on board--this is the perfect opportunity to wow us with something new and different.

Huh? Waited for an answer from what? Did they find a sign of life? Did they find a station? Why would they start broadcasting if all they're looking at is the star system? Did they arrive at a planet?

Pg. 3


Why do we have a scene break? I don't feel like the last scene reached a suitable breaking point.

J is an alien. Why does he behave like a human?

Pg. 4


“The question is, where are they? Why haven’t we seen their ship or station or whatever they have?” << That's my question. If there were no signs of life, why would they broadcast a signal in the first place? If your only source of data is a long-range scan for something that might have existed in the past, why would you assume that there is an existing sign of life without any further, local scans?

"J rolled his shoulders in his species' equivalent of a smile" << Since I don't know what his species looks like (other than a presumably green variant of human, given the lack of description), I don't understand why this gesture is important. If he's humanoid and has lived amongst humans for a while, one would assume he's picked up some of their culture and would know what a smile is. I really need more detail on this species.

>> "He suggested that these people" << Unless everyone thinks these are humans, it would be better to call them a "species" or some other scientific designation. People implies humanity.

>> "starfaring" << "spacefaring" is more accurate. "Seafaring" vessels travel through the seas to reach distant places, "spacefaring" vessels travel through the void of space to reach distant planets. "Starfaring" implies they travel through stars...which is pretty highly unlikely.

>> "SGS" << This is an all too common habit--Don't use an acronym to refer to something without explaining to the reader what that acronym means. Same with protocols and procedures--unless keeping the meaning behind the acronym hidden is a critical plot point (in which case you can have characters remark that no one actually knows what it means and hypothesize), when you repeatedly use an acronym (or protocol, or procedure) that has a vague name without telling the reader, it comes off like you're trying to hide behind the name because you don't actually know what it is or why it's important--it's just there because "it sounds sci-fi"

>> "the language of my people" << If he can use the name of another language, one would think he'd just use the name of his own, too. Like, I speak English. I don't speak the language of America.

>> "“Sir! We’ve got it! I mean, we’re getting it! I mean, we’re getting something!” Yan, the night shift communications specialist, had sprung up from her seat." << I thought we were in his office, not the bridge?

Pg. 5


Wait...did we change scenes again? What melodramatic phrasing? I'm really, really confused now.

>> "stimulated some brain regions and depressed others" << Mm...be careful. Speaking of depressing regions of the brain might create an undesirable parallel to neural-atypical behavior. Further, putting off the need to sleep is kind of a misnomer--the body always needs to sleep. It's just that these kinds of things usually correspond to increasing adrenaline or other stimulants within the body to keep it going. Brains--and many other parts of the body, but especially brains--need sleep in order to regrow synapses and other connections.

I still don't know what the SGS is.

Why are we going on about the T when I still don't know what J is?

Ouch. You have a guy with a scottish name as an engineer. You're drawing a lot of unfavorable parallels to Star Trek now.

Why are we so focused on T potentially working, when there's been absolutely no change in the response? This seems like a logical folly on the part of the captain.

Pg. 6


I'm unconvinced. There wasn't nearly enough build up that the recipients of the signal understood anything, and without understanding what the SGS is, I'm left without any way to believe that this sudden turn of events is anything other than Author Plot Device.

"Y's translation program" << If we know nothing of this civilization, then why is Y's program able to translate it? Unless the signal is coming back through in T, which we've had no indication of.

This sudden inclusion of G throws me for a curve. Is this a former lover, deity, something else?

Bottom of page 6: I'm starting to get bored. Nothing is happening, and there is no internal consistency to drive things forward. It's very loose and author-driven, rather than tight and character-driven.

Pg. 7


Sentient star? That's interesting.

Time skip. Why do you keep changing scenes every time things start to get interesting? And I don't mean that in a good way.

Pg. 8


How on earth would the laser have gotten them back home? A laser is an A-B device, meaning it goes from point A to point B. It can't pull backward--that's a traction beam, not a laser.

I'm starting to skim. This is usually not a good sign.

I didn't know that civil war was something we were going to be concerned about. I assumed this was an explorative/adventuring type of sci-fi based on how it was presented so far.

Pg. 9


And another scene break.

Pg. 10


Now we're concerned about a crew member? Despite no indications of incivility or problems?

And another scene break.

Pg. 11


There's been no build up of this new existence. One minute we're discovering it, the next we're weeks later with an established relationship. You've given me nothing to be attached to.

Pg. 14


Okay...so there was a mutiny attempt, but it failed, and all of this happened off-screen. We get the two in charge, and he doesn't put them in the brig? Lock them in their rooms? He just suspends their ranks, takes away their guns, and locks them out of the bridge? For a mutiny attempt, that's barely a slap on the wrist!

Wait, it was E's signal that drew them? I thought it was long-range scans? <Goes back to page one to check> Ah. It was a signal. I really feel like this needed to be built up more if it was supposed to motivate them to go across systems to investigate.

And another time skip.

I skimmed the rest of this.


There are a number of problems within this piece that contribute to an overall lack of anything interesting actually happening, but I want to focus on four in particular:



The first, is one that I see a lot with new submitters--it's all tell. I feel nothing for A, despite the fact that he's the main character. I feel nothing for E, which is sad because E is a sentient star--I should be in awe of this! I love sci-fi, and discovering new things! Why don't I love E? Well, it's because you never gave me a reason to love it. Instead of spending time building the relationship between E and A, you skipped all of that, and then jumped to having the relationship established. Even the ending line, "having become friends" rings hollow because there was never any friendship created. And that's true for a lot of the story--something interesting begins, and then it jumps scenes to move onto something else you want to tell us about.

The second, is that your plot is a hodge-podge mess. It seems like you were trying to hit every standard "sci-fi drama" point to build the tension, but what you achieved was actually the exact opposite--for me, at least. If this is supposed to be a story about the discovery of new species, of befriending unknowns, then why does the civil war/mutiny have to be a plot point at all? Make the story about the drama of forging a bond and creating an understanding between species! If the story is about the tension of creating and maintaining an interstellar governing body with six different sentient species, than why are we focusing on this star at all? If things are so tense back home that one attack can effectively neuter every FTL ship in the Confederacy, not only does that demonstrate complete incompetence on the governing body's part, but that also means that the Confederacy probably wouldn't be promoting exploration missions.

The third--aliens. Why do we even have aliens in this story? Is it because they're a standard sci-fi convention? Because I can think of at least two shows I've watched that were sci-fi and had only humanity in them. You hardly give us any detail about these aliens--one of which is serving on the ship. The aliens provide nothing to the story, aside from colorful flavor--no different moralities to create conflict, no intriguingly unusual behaviors (they pretty much act like humans), and it seems like they're there for the sole purpose of saying "hey, this is sci-fi!" Which is sad, because aliens are awesome, and one of the sci-fi writer's best tools to show just how diverse and awesome the galaxy (or universe) is.

Fourth, and most important, because it's related to the last three points: I have no idea what the point of this story is. What made you decide to write this? Why should I care about this story? Why should I care about the MC? J? E? Sci-fi is so much more than simple space exploration--it's a statement about humanity, about our precognitions, and about our place in the universe. Halo is a deep military space opera about humanity's struggle to survive in a galaxy bent on our destruction, what our potential as a species might be. Mass Effect is a space opera about humanity's breaking into the stars to discover that they're only one sentient race amongst many others, as well as a philosophical question on what constitutes being "alive" (and so much more--great sci-fi series). Battlestar Galactica is a sci-fi story about how humanity's worst enemy is always itself, and takes place almost exclusively within the purview of ships. Star Trek is about how we never really know what's next, and how fascinating the world could be if we took the time to look. Arkane Studios's 2017 release of Prey (note, I'm referencing a lot of games here) is a look at the Fermi paradox, as well as a philosophical question about what morality is.



It seems like the majority of your familiarity with sci-fi (based on my reading of this) extends from Star Trek--and if so, I would really suggest you explore a lot more sci-fi. Sci-fi is a rich genre with endless possibilities--from Interstellar War, to unfathomable technologies, to "Going where no man has gone before". If you do have more experience with sci-fi than just Star Trek, then I would recommend going back and looking at what these other sci-fi experiences convey and accomplish. Think about the larger picture, and not necessarily what happens, specifically.

Your piece, at its heart, needs focus. With so many things that could happen within sci-fi, we need something to attach us into the story and make us care, first and foremost. In a large, multi-book space opera, you can afford several different things happening like you have in here, because they can be seeded and handled in individual volumes. In a short, 4500-word story however, focus on one idea, and develop it to fruition. Make us care about the characters so that we feel invested in the story. Show us the world the story takes place in--if that's the ship, then wow us with the ship. If that's a planet, expose us to what's different and tantalize us with details--not too many, but enough to get us wanting more.

And now that I've ripped your piece to shreds (sorry), I want to offer you some praise. You have interesting ideas here--ideas that I really do want to know more about. I want to know more about this star. I want to know more about these aliens you've created. I want to know more about this universe. Take your time, explore, and really show us what you envision in your head--it's sci-fi, after all. :)

And I want to leave it at that. I know this is harsh, but I'm hoping that, with what I (and the others here) say, you can take that information and go back and bring us something that wows all of us. I, for one, am looking forward to it.

Good job on your first submission!

Edited by Alderant
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Hello! I'm still working on my backlog, so I don't have a crit yet, but I'm just dropping in here to note that PDF as a file format is 100% acceptable in this critique group! It's in our welcome rules post, in fact.  We like it because of how easy it is to view on just about any device, operating system, program or app. You'll see several professional submissions calling for pdfs as well, at least as often as a doc. Speaking of, we specifically don't allow the newer docx as a filetype, as it (still) has some compatibility issues with some combinations of devices, apps and operating systems. @Alderant, you shouldn't be having so many problems copying from a pdf, unless it's specifically had copying disabled. I found this guide on Adobe's website  -- do those steps not work for you? 

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Just now, industrialistDragon said:

Hello! I'm still working on my backlog, so I don't have a crit yet, but I'm just dropping in here to note that PDF as a file format is 100% acceptable in this critique group! It's in our welcome rules post, in fact.  We like it because of how easy it is to view on just about any device, operating system, program or app. You'll see several professional submissions calling for pdfs as well, at least as often as a doc. Speaking of, we specifically don't allow the newer docx as a filetype, as it (still) has some compatibility issues with some combinations of devices, apps and operating systems. @Alderant, you shouldn't be having so many problems copying from a pdf, unless it's specifically had copying disabled. I found this guide on Adobe's website  -- do those steps not work for you? 

Happy to be corrected. I don't have a working acrobat on my computer. Personally, I hate PDFs because they are really difficult to work with if you don't have acrobat (they don't open very well on my phone, either), but the rules are the rules--and it's been a while since I've read them.

That's also why it's in the nitpicks--it's something that doesn't work for me, and something I'll always complain about. I'll just change the 'we's' to 'I's' (I'm used to professional dialogue in communications, so we = I to me) so that any confusion is cleared up. Thanks for the reply.

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Allo Daughter of Calimari,

Velcome! And thank you muchly for submitting. I'm gonna add a disclaimer real quick here before I get into your story: the only sci-fi I intake nowadays comes from comic books and manga. 

I will give this story credit for its considerably brisk pace, but other than that, I did not find a lot to keep me interested. Like Alderant said, I see a lot of Star Trek in here, with the whole formula of discovering planets, a captain protagonist and most of the side-characters being officers of particular importance/rank. The main crux of the story here is that there's not much to get invested in emotionally, and no major problem other than what can be boiled down to, "Our ship broke down." Not only that, but every conflict concluded much too neatly. Ship gets stranded? Ship gets un-stranded. Running low on food? We'll just drug everyone so they're not as hungry. Crew member assaulted? Perpetrators demoted. Nothing is lost, nothing is gained. There are no real consequences; the characters (none of whom we particularly get to know, not even Captain S.) don't change. Everything wrapped too neatly. 

Also, while the idea of a sentient star can be interesting, you have to do more with that idea than just having it talk to the captain. Sentient interstellar bodies have been done before (see Sto-Oa, Mogo, Ego) and they usually have some sort of personality to humanize them. If you're going to make E an emotionally detached entity, I would go into why E is detached. Is it due to their vastness? Their age? Beyond "Wow, we're talking to a planet," there wasn't enough spectacle there to make it seem wondrous.

In summation, I think you need to do more with the idea of a living star and give actual, tangible consequences to either your characters' actions, or events beyond their own control. Otherwise, the story has no teeth.

Here are my page by page notes. 

pg. 1:

"Had the system truly been abandoned for uncounted centuries, the signal they’d detected the last cry of a long-dead civilization? Or was he about to make one of the most momentous discoveries in human history?" I think it would be a momentous discovery either way. 

"But no star would naturally pulse in the Fibonacci sequence or the first ten digits of pi." I have no idea what that means or why it's important. 

pg. 2:

"In its exploration of space, humanity had found life on any number of worlds.I'd rephrase. That's not a definitive number. It's 'whatever number you want it to be.'

"J’s people had physiology that was compatible with serving on the same ships as humans." Could you describe what they looked like? Also, there is a noticeable repetition of the word 'only' in this paragraph that I would try to cut down on.

"The two thumbs on each of his hands were no shorter or thicker than the two fingers, but humans called them “thumbs” because they were opposed to the other digits." The quotation marks are unnecessary. 

pg. 3:

"The blaring intercom interrupted A’s dinner. “Answer call.”" This transition is much too abrupt. Could you find a better way to segue into it? 

“A species capable of manipulating the total energy output of a star!” I can't see how their conversation could have lead to this conclusion.

“If they’re friendly and willing to share their technology, it could represent a quantum leap forward for the I.C." This dialogue is expository and cliché. It would come off better as A's inner thoughts. 

pg. 4:

"Since that’s our primary method of detecting other ships..." Here's more exposition. You have a lot of dialogue where you have characters telling each other info they all ought to know.

pg. 5:

"A wasn’t supposed to be awake, but he couldn’t bear to sleep through the moment that would change humanity’s course forever." This is another abrupt transition. It also takes until the end of the paragraph for me to figure out where he is. 

"He cringed at his own melodramatic phrasing..." This doesn't really work unless the previous sentence is an actual inner thought. Because they're not his words, they're yours. 

pg. 6:

"He was glad they weren’t sending visual imagery, since he was sure he had a silly grin on his face." I think first contact with a new species ought to elicit a more visceral reaction than a grin. 

"“Sir,” M suggested." That's not a suggestion yet. 

“If they’ve sent out a lone explorer into deep space, and that explorer is still capable of functioning, they must have a very different psychology than any of the six known sapients.” This really confuses me. First off, why would the explorer not be capable of function. And two, if the explorer is capable of functioning, how exactly does that lead this character to assume this new species has a different psychology from the six sapients? 

"Or at least, not the wrong thing." I'm pretty sure that would also be the right thing. 

pg. 7:

"Human is a name for me, for many of the other people on this ship, and for the people on Earth and at Tau Ceti. It’s a name for all of us together." Wouldn't it just be easier for him to say his species is called humanity? 

pg. 8:

"There was a long pause, uncharacteristic for the energetic communications officer." This is more unnecessary exposition that you could probably do without.

"Call an emergency meeting of the senior staff." Why doesn't A ask how the laser was damaged? 

"The night shift commander shook her head, blond braid swinging back and forth." That sounds like one violent head shake. 

pg. 10:

“You’re my ship’s doctor. Anything related to the health of the crew, whether physical or mental, is your purview.” Pretty sure a ship's doctor would already know this. 

"She lived through the worst of the time when they were cut off from the rest of the IC by the design flaw in the FTL drives." I would at least have A react with surprise to this expository dialogue. That way, it has an impact. 

pg. 11: 

"None of the scientists on board thought it was likely that E would be able to produce the intensity or coherence of light needed replicate the K laser’s function..." How exactly do we know this? Did they tell A this?

pg. 12:

"A’s thoughts had been consumed with the fate of his crew, but E’s words made him feel a spike of sorrow for the other being." I have trouble believing he'd feel sympathy for an interstellar body that talks in a monotone. 

"The CR—technically the PSDF..." I don't think that the CR sounds like it needs to be capitalized, while the PSDF is too long and formal to be just a 'technical' name. 

"Those s’s didn’t sound right." I think it would be a lot simpler if A just thought there was something off about M's voice. 

pg. 13:

"As one, the bridge crew swiveled in their seats to face A." I feel like that's too dramatic of a collective reaction to hearing someone got punched. 

"White-knuckled grips on chair arms." Same issue.

"He didn’t fidget, and he only broke eye contact with one to gaze at the other." Why not just "he looked at them both"? 

"He counted in his head and switched every thirty seconds." That sounds more funny than it does intimidating. 

"E had glared at C when he broke their silence," I feel like this would work better if placed when C talks to the first time. 

I apologize if I come across as harsh. I want to see your story improve, and if you choose to revise it, I would absolutely read it. Please keep submitting! And thank you for doing so.


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Congrats on your first post! Always happy to have new people on the board.


Generally, I was confused. I don't know what this piece was supposed to be. It's one part military, one part wonder-sci fi, one part space opera, and one part Star Trek fan fic. For a short story it would be best to stick with just one subgenre and one or two tropes. Otherwise the piece ends up scattered. 

I'm also missing buy-in. We don't get enough on the star to be excited it made a friend. When was it established that the star was lonely? Why would anyone care? Why would the star care at all about beings so small? I would need a lot more emotional buy-in from this work to really get invested.

With that said, it has good bones and I think if it got cleaned up it could be a really cool short!


11 hours ago, Alderant said:

Ouch. You have a guy with a scottish name as an engineer. You're drawing a lot of unfavorable parallels to Star Trek now.

Glad I wasn't the only one who saw this

11 hours ago, Alderant said:

Even the ending line, "having become friends" rings hollow because there was never any friendship created.



As I go

- 'Lovelace' is the name of the ship in the very popular space opera series Wayfarers by Becky Chambers. Definitely should find another name. I realize its also a historical ship name but since the Wayfarer's series is so recent and so popular, it'll ring a lot of bells you probably don't want rung

- so is it pulsing Fibonanci or Pi? Which one?

- names with an apostrophe in them are very fantasy, just FYI. 

- pg 3: we knew on the first page that the signal wasn't random. It seems silly to confirm that here. Slows pacing down

- pg 4: It's becoming hard to stay focused. I don't have the sense of wonder I would need for this to stand on its own without characterization and social interplay, and I don't know enough about the characters to be interested in them. There does not appear to be stakes other than renewable energy, but since I have no idea if Earth is running out of energy, this doesn't matter much to me either at this stage. Lacking investment.

- pg 7: oh, that's a nice twist! Definitely needs to come earlier though, since a lot of getting here was fluff. This would work as the hook on page one nicely

- pg 8: wait, there's conflict in the galaxy? An attack? this seems to come out of nowhere

- pg 9: alien using a human metaphor seems weird

- pg 11: confused. Is this a wonder-at-the-galaxy science fiction, an action space opera where we stop some colony uprising, or something else? You're setting up a lot of tropes and then not following any of them. Also I'm getting a very strong Star Trek vibe

- pg 12: I don't understand why the star cares at all about humanity. If the star is lonely, that needs to be established

- you have a Scottish engineer? Is this a Star Trek fanfic? Cool if it is, just wondering

- pg 13: I don't understand why the crew is getting into fights. What is the conflict? What are the stakes? I'm so lost

- pg 14: there's military on board? This is far from a military sci fi so this looks like another truncated trope


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Hello and congrats on posting your first story to crit! I usually love Star Trek, and all things Trek-adjacent, so I was really excited to read this. However, I, too, was confused.

I couldn't figure out what sort of story this was, so I wasn't able to form a cogent criticism of it. For me, what I view as too stereotypical, or too generic, or not realistic enough depends on what type story I'm reading. If this is intended as a parody, for example, I would have different criteria for it than if it was intended as a homage. If this started as a fanfic and evolved, I would view it differently than if this is intended to be a wholly original world.

Additionally, I'm seeing elements of multiple Trek series being referenced here, though it seems to mostly be the original it's pulling from, and I found this to be confusing as well. So for instance, if this was intended to solely comment on TOS, then I would find the references to other series to be a problem, but if this is an homage or pastiche, those other references would be more acceptable to me. 

Because this hews so closely to the source material I was unable to figure out just what exactly I was reading, and so I don't know how to parse what happens in it. 

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Welcome to Reading Excuses! Everyone else pretty much get here before me, and have a lot of the same things to say. Personally, I liked the story of the sentient star, and I think this could be expanded to fill the whole short story, rather than just a bit. I was also confused at the two other subplots of getting stranded and the not-traitor shipmate. There's too much going on here for a short story and it just ends up being diffuse. Many of the most important emotional reactions are glossed over or skipped past.

I think if you picked one theme and ran with it, you could pull a really good story out of this.

Notes while reading:

pg 1: The first paragraph is pretty good, but could be edited down and punched up a little more.

pg 1: "But no star would naturally pulse in the Fibonacci sequence or the first ten digits of pi."
--Which is it? These are very different things. I assume the star did one of them.

pg 2: approve of the light-sail.

pg 3: “The signal has changed, sir. It’s now repeating our
Standard Greeting Signal.”
--What signal? We missed the part where the alien species answered a hail...

pg 3-4: a lot of maid-and-butler infodumping here.

pg 4: "the language of my people"
--does J's people not have a name?

pg 4: “No. So far they’re just continuing to repeat the SGS.”
--This lets down the tension of this section. I want things to progress fast to get me into the story.
--especially since you do have them getting a different signal in the next sentence.

pg 5: "He reached up and let his fingers brush the electrodes"
--where is this? In his bed? In his room? So far we haven't seen any description of the ship, and I don't know where anything is placed.

pg 5: "He rubbed his hand through the stubble on his chin as he answered."
--wait, is A on the bridge? I thought he was in his room. Definitely needs some more blocking to show us where things are happening.

pg 6: “We are representatives"
--I really doubt he took 37 hours to come up with this. It's a pretty standard greeting.

pg 6/7: The "confusion" here is not that hard to figure out. It's a lot of back and forth to figure out the name for E's group/species. I like the reveal, but it could be more succinct for better impact.

pg 7: "Further communication with E had established..."
--This sort of drains the tension. There could be a lot more emotion with this discovery.

pg 8: "their interstellar laser is damaged.”
--hmmm...this sort of comes out of nowhere, and there's not a lot of reaction to it. In addition, would they have noticed this already as the laser would have cut off? Or do they have FTL communication that the message got there before the light cut off?

pg 8: "while the FTL ships were out of commission. We finally get them back up and running again"
--wait, they have FTL ships? Why are they using light sails?

pg 9: “I need everyone working on possible mitigation strategies"
--I'm sure an organized fleet would already have emergency procedures in place for if/when a light source gets cut off through uncountable millions of miles of space.

pg 10: “I’m worried about Al.”
--Had to look up who this was. I think she's only gotten two lines.

pg 14: This situation with Al possibly being a traitor sort of came up from nowhere, and now it's taking a lot of page time. I want to get back to the story about the sentient star...

pg 15: "obvious dedication to finding some way out had convinced everyone she really did have their best interests at heart"
--eh, and that crisis is over as soon as it starts. There needs to be a lot more tension here.

pg 18: I like the resolution of the ending, but this story is lost in the other events.

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Hello. You’ve probably not met me, judging that you’re new and I’ve been away for a bit. Anyway, I’m aeromancer, I like sci-fi. Nice to meet you. Now, for your story, there are a few interesting parts. Firstly, the story wasn’t all that interesting, but seeing how late I am, there’s other people who commented on it. So I’m just going to talk sci-fi.

The sci fi part was good in conception, flawed in execution. Let me break down some of the major problems.

Spaceships: Laser sails, aka solar sails are really awesome. Problem is, you’ve got them doing a few things they can’t actually do. Like reconfiguring to slow down. You specify laser, which are photons. You can do a bit more with ionic plasma, but not moving backwards. Also, you can’t return on the same laser you use to get to places. Doesn’t work. Current plans for photon sail probes are merely for sending back data, they’re lost causes. And firing lasers from your own ship at the sail won’t help any more than trying to power a sailboat with a turbine strapped on it. Oh, also you don’t have time gaps in communication, don’t take into account time dilation, and you have FTL ships which are being unused for some reason.

Aliens: In a short like this one, aliens are basically eye candy. (Minus the sun, of course.) That’s fine as far as I’m concerned, but I want the good stuff. Describing aliens as five-limbed isn’t enough, are they trigonal biplanar, prehensile tail, what? Having a sun as an alien is sufficiently foreign that you get a pass, though I seem to recall Saga of the Seven Suns doing something similar, take a look if you’re interested.

Energy Requirements: The sail needs to be the size of a country (not a small one, mind you), the laser station is going to exerting so much force that if it’s one a planet, it’s on is going to have the atmosphere plasmafied, if it’s on an asteroid the asteroid will knock Kepler from its Keplerian orbit and sent it spirally out of the system, and if it’s free floating … actually, that’s be fine but the laser will be clearing the system as well just in the opposite direction. Also, as much energy as that is, a sun has more. A rough calculation indicates something like 100,000,000,000 times more energy per second. If anything, it wouldn’t be tired but exhausted from trying to hold back.

That said, the premise is great for a sci-fi short. Stranded crew need to interact with a sun to get back home and have to deal with some inter-crew tensions. Story needs to be wound a bit tighter together, and the sci fi needs a bit of touch up, but I’d love to read this if you submitted it again.

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Thank you all for your critiques. I'm honestly blown away by how detailed and thoughtful all the responses were. I've loved sci-fi for a long time--as many of you guessed, Star Trek was my formative influence, but I'm also a big fan of Babylon 5, Firefly, Ray Bradbury, and Tim Pratt's Axiom novels--but I haven't really written any before. Reading through the draft myself, I felt like it needed a substantial amount of work, but couldn't pin down how, so I really appreciate everything you've given me to think about.

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@The Kraken's Daughter Welcome to the group! I'm new too. :)

To the story...

The following comments are based on a dry run. I haven’t read your topic or any of the replies or other critiques, and the comments are written as I read. I will make additional comments at the end once I have completed the story. Sorry in advance for any redundancy or if I hit on a topic that has already been covered.


- That’s quite the name!
- Where I come from Lovelace is a health system and attached to hospitals. I’m pretty sure it’s a regional thing so not everyone will immediately think of this, but it was the first thing to come to my mind when I saw the name of the ship.

- “But no star would naturally pulse in the Fibonacci sequence or the first ten digits of pi.” - This is a great hook and so succinct. I like it


- “Ab watched as the sail folded itself into an arrangement…” Reminds me of Treasure Planet.

- Maybe “sentient” beings instead of “thinking”. Non-sentient beings still think.

- Do J’s people have a name?

- Are the thumbs opposable?


- A blaring intercom seems like a design flaw. Can he not change the settings?

- “Someone must be present in the here…” Not necessarily. Could be automated or programmed to parrot. I imagine pirates would do such a thing.

- “quantum leap” Not only did I think of the TV show but I also don’t think it’s correct scientifically speaking either.


- They could 100% definitely still be unfriendly. This is too quick a dismissal on Ab’s part.

- It seems strange that Ab doesn’t consider non-corporeal entities or AI. It could also be an entity like Ego AKA the Living Planet.

- Once again J’s people are not named.

- I’m also getting a very “one planet, one species, one culture” vibe here, and I’d stray away from that. It’s a trope that was made cliche long ago.

- I feel like they should already have a universal “Rosetta Stone” ready to go.


- I have a pet peeve about characters physically reacting to their own internal narrative/thoughts. When Ab cringed, so did I.

- If Angel the Series taught me anything it’s that having your sleep taken out is a no-no.

- Is T-a-l-a-r the name of the entire species? This goes back to what I mentioned before. Humans aren’t all the same and nobody would use a blanket term like “human language” except maybe somebody who was completely ignorant of our culture. I don’t want these characters to come across as ignorant.

- Info dump about the “bees” seems unnecessary considering we haven’t even seen one yet.


- Ego the Living Planet it is! Name even starts with E.

- The B-a-r-n-a-r-d-i-a-n-s are J’s people?

- Why are the B and the T capitalized but not humans?


- So up until this point I was enjoying the story immensely but changing the purpose of the story like this sends up a red flag. It went from a story about discovering an alien entity to a story (I assume) about how to get home. The reason this sends up a red flag is because I am now expecting this new plot line to take over and I’m afraid the original plot line is only there to set up a Deus Ex Machina later in the story, like using E’s power to send the ship home or something. Hope I’m wrong.

- A lot of factions coming into play. Perhaps too many for such a short piece.


- “They’re clearly not the most colorful flowers on the vine...” I don’t like this since it’s obviously a take on a human adage but it’s coming from the mouth of an alien.

- “I need everyone working on possible mitigation strategies…” Ab is not coming across as a strong leader. He needs to have his own ideas here and give orders accordingly.


- Who is Al? (Went back and saw she was mentioned once before.)


- Another plot line revolving around Al introduced ⅔ of the way into the story makes me feel like a] it can’t possibly have a satisfying conclusion and b] the story is trying to do WAY too much.

- Nothing about Ab has shown me that he is capable of miracles. In fact as the story goes on I’m starting to dislike how reactionary he is. I haven’t seen him do anything competent or even give hint that he is a good leader yet

- And there’s that Deus Ex Machina I was afraid of.


- “They had adopted a protocol of waiting for fifteen minutes before declaring an end to the conversation.” Why? Couldn’t they just say something like “Over and out”?

- Ok. I am struggling to like Ab at this point. There is no reason for a confrontation with Al and C and Ev if Ab was doing his job as captain. He should’ve gotten in front of it immediately.


- Did I miss a mutiny?


- I mean, I guess it’s a good thing that Ab shows some backbone and initiative here, but the confrontation was really his fault and this feels like an overreaction. This reminds me of the multitude of bad bosses I’ve had in the past who get upset at their underlings because of their own incompetence.

- “cocktail of drugs” I thought they didn’t use chemicals for stuff like this anymore?

- I really hate the term “show don’t tell” because it’s overused and rarely correct, but it applies here. We see Al one time as basically a throw away character and then we literally never see her again despite the fact that there’s a whole plot line about her. We’re told here that she’s doing stuff but from a reader’s mindset I’m struggling to see why she exists at all.


- At this point you’ve already tied everything up and all that’s left is for E to send them home, and I find myself fighting the urge to skim to the end.


- Alright. Tied up just about exactly like I expected.

The Good:

I like the way you write and honestly I like the story that you’re telling--overall. You’re good at descriptions and your exposition never feels forced or info dumpy. You also have a good handle on pacing. E was introduced at the exact right moment and the plot lines have a nice narrative flow. All the plot lines (E, getting home, and Al) come together at the end, which shows an inherent understanding of story structure.

The Bad:

The story is predictable. Your main character is not proactive enough especially considering his position on the ship. There’s too many superfluous characters and factions. The bees serve no purpose in the story except to exist. But why not just have it be J’s people since J is a character who actually does something? Al’s plot line doesn’t work. It only serves to introduce more throw away characters. Many of the characters could be combined and make the story stronger. The person who tells Ab about Al possibly being a traitor could be the one who confronts her. The bees purpose could be given to J’s people.

The Ugly:
This doesn’t work as a short story. I said your exposition doesn’t feel info dumpy, but in the end some of it ends up being completely unnecessary to the story, like the bees. There’s too much set up and too little payoff. In a lot of ways it feels like a much longer story being crammed into 18 pages. Or a much shorter story being padded for length.


Edited by hawkedup
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5 hours ago, The Kraken's Daughter said:

Babylon 5, Firefly, Ray Bradbury

3 of my favorites!

B5 is actually a fantastic example of a show making the “one species, one culture” thing work. It’s portrayed as being a byproduct of galactic expansion travel and politics. Remember the episode where Sinclair introduces the senators to someone from every faith on Earth and it’s this endless line of different people from different religions? Powerful stuff and really helps to justify the trope. So it definitely is doable. 

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Very excited to read a new on the RE forum :) 

(page 1)

- I like the title. I'd be surprised if there were not other SFF stories with this title, but what the heck. I like the first line. Cool name, not difficult to pronounce as long as I take care to get it right first time. (For about 15 years, I though Aragorn was called Aragon... :unsure: ).

(page 2)

- About a page in and I'm definitely enjoying it. Space exploration, varied crew, the unknown ahead: what's not to like?! I thought you conveyed the background of how humans came to be in space well. Not heavy expo, enough headlines to involve me, but back to the action before it becomes a drag.

- "with this level of technology" - What level of technology?

- "waited for an answer" - to which question? (Bit unclear).

(page 3)

- The repetition of the word 'signal' is a bit awkward.

- It's just more professional: don't need the '-sounding' bit.

- "Barnard’s Star"- <sigh> Puts me nicely in mind of earlier Larry Niven.

- "flushed a deeper green" - hmm, green skin: interesting. Hard not to picture the credits of the original Star Trek.

- "without ever taking his eyes off the tablet" - What tablet? J's tablet? I need more clarity here.

- "signal has obviously changed, which means it isn’t just a pre-recorded message" - I don't see how this follows. Surely the spacefaring nations must have tech that could make a signal change automatically. Might not the planet-dwellers have the same tech? They might all be dead, but the equipment is still functioning. I think this conclusion is a bit lazy.

- "quantum leap" - Lol, great show.

- "Inter - solar" - Excellent. I like this. Very subtle, and clever, I think. This is a great example of avoiding low-hanging fruit, I think. It's easy enough to call the thing 'Interstellar', but why accept the most obvious nomenclature? Well done :) 

(page 4)

- "If they were unfriendly, they could have obliterated us the moment we entered the system." - Not necessarily. They might be unfriendly cavemen, for example. They might be unfriendly superhuman without a system-spanning weapon. Just because they can't strike across interplanetary distances, doesn't automatically make them friendly.

- When did A take the time to sit down?

- What's T-a-l-a-r?

(page 5)

- I am really enjoying the classical style of this story. Don't take that the wrong way. It's intended as a complement. It really puts me in mind of many of the earlier SF stories of the 60's and 70's. The prose is very clean; the characters maybe fit into classic moulds of crew members but, to be honest, after the all the gritty realism of grim-dark and steampunk, Dark Fantasy, etc. this is refreshing.

- "that stimulated some brain regions and depressed while depressing others" - Not keen on the word 'depressed'. I suggest this as being more immediate, flowing more smoothly, imo.

-  Also, if he's supposed to be sleeping, why is he wearing equipment that is intended to keep him awake? I would have thought he would be wearing a sleep aid. That's certainly the way I was reading it, until I got to that part of the sentence. It seems counterintuitive.

- "but it could still only go on for so long" - This bothers me too. The technology, presumably, can go on for as long as it's got power. Surely, it's his ability to tolerate its effects that can only go on for so long.

- This explanation of the Tal comes too late for me. I needed it the first time they were mentioned.

- "their five limbs" - Just excellent. Puts me in mind of Mote in God's Eye, which is one of the formative works in my SFF upbringing. Symmetry, schmymmetry, I say.

- "Mac was an engineer..." - and therefore instantly becomes my favourite character. I think we can all agree that it's no accident that your engineer character has a Scottish surname. <a proud Glaswegian engineer, @Robinski polishes his fingernails> (Dear G-x-d, I just tagged myself, sorry about that. It was funny at the time... :unsure: Yes, I've had a glass... Oh, no: the Scottish stereotype subverts itself and the world explodes). <meanwhile, back with the matter in hand...>

- "but he had spent a fair amount of time on ships" - Why is this statement contrary to the fact that he's an engineer? Surely all ships must have an engineer on board, and therefore the 'but' here is superfluous.

- Ah, I see he's a scruffy individual (stubble). Normal service has been resumed.

- "so the ships that first took people to those settlements" - awkward phrasing, even for character dialogue.

(page 6)

- "I am from here." - That's just perfect. I love that. A statement of individuality.

- "a silly grin" - lovely character note; simple, uncomplicated, joyful.

- "six known sapients" -  I struggled with this a bit. A we saying then that there is only one sapients pieces on Earth? Okay, there is only one with the 'sap' but in the title, but...

(page 7)

- "please forgive any offence" - I know it's dialogue, and he can say what the heck he likes, I just thought he might say something about any offence being unintended.

- "word for star." - Boom!! That's a fantastic line for a break. That's how you do breaks. Excellent :) I did get just a tad turned around here. So, Y is Tal; fine, but it left me trying to remember what J is, and I couldn't.

- "the past week" - Ooh, big jump. I feel like I must have missed out a bunch of really interesting stuff.

(page 8)

-  Oh, yes. J's a Barn; I remember now.

- "FTL ships" - Are these different from the light sail ship they are on? I'm just not clear on the message here. So, the FtL ships have just been repaired, now the light sail ships are disabled. So, an FTL ship could be sent to rescue them?

(page 9) 

- "one of the most brilliant medical minds" - Hmm. Is he not far too valuable to send on a mission like this, then?

(page 11)

- Ooh. Good conflict. Enemy within is a trope I enjoy. I find myself asking if A is the only female character that we've seen so far. Some of the characters are not especially memorable.

- "greatly willing" - This is not a pretty phrase, from the grammatical viewpoint.

- "If it is decided to be impossible" - nor this. I'm thinking 'that it is impossible'.

(page 12)

- "watch those people die" - I don't buy this at all. This is the first emotional note that has thrown me off completely. A is feeling sorry for the planet because it might have to watch his crew die?!?! There is no way anyone is that selfless or sensitive.

- A's thoughts about sims and sabotage threw me. The s's thing: I was confused.

- And again I'm confused by A's reaction. Why is he more concerned about Mac? As the captain, he should be more concerned about Al, and the incident that Mac is reporting. Clearly, he's well enough to make a report. I think A's focus here is not the right one in this situation.

(page 13)

- "E had glared" - This phrasing takes all the immediacy out of the situation, compared to if she was actively glaring at him now, instead of the in the past. It's very passive.

(page 14)

- Again "suspicions were justified" - surely would be better as 'suspicions are justified'. The situation has not yet been established. Active, positive phrasing is much more engaging than passive (obvs).

- "what this was about" - The situation is still ongoing: suggest 'what this is about'

(page 15)

- "dismissed" - Booyah. I really enjoyed A's hard stance with them; very commanding.

- Ooh, big jump. I'm trying to decide if I feel I've missed out on anything. Not sure I was expecting the marines to take their censure that easily. And I'm disappointed that we don't get to see Al's reaction to being accused. She was the centre of that whole conflict just now, and we don't even get to see her on screen?

(page 16)

- "each time E itself up" - missing word, I think.

- "inched closed to their target" - So, are they moving towards Earth/Alpha Cent, are the en route? I don't think it's not clear that they've begun their journey.

- "manipulations of his own substance" - The planet was neutral before, was it not? Why now is it male? I feel like there are no prominent female characters in the story, and the one that is, Alice, seems to get no dialogue. I think the gender balance of screen time could be much fairer.

(page 17)

- "genderless voice" - I'm thinking that the slip to refer to the planet as male was just that, a slip?

- So wait, Al is communicating with the planet, but we don't get to see Al on screen in her moment of triumph? Boo; that's poor show.

(page 18)

"This is having become friends?" - this is awkward phrasing again. I think the payoff line of the whole story deserves better, punchier, phrasing. And then of course it's repeated. But is this grammar, the planet's mode of speech, actually supposed to sound awkward and affected? If so, I don't think that comes through strongly or clearly enough for that to land, it just feels to me that the grammar is off.


I really enjoyed the story. The prose is excellent, and the dialogue is very readable: it's slightly dated, but I thought that was your intention, to place this story in the style of this classic SF exploration stories of yesteryear, and I thought you did that very ably.

I raised some issue as I went, of course, as noted above. By far the most troubling element for me was the way that Al, who--in conjunction (see what I did there ;) ) with the planet--saved the day, was given no voice and no active presence in the story. That feels wrong for me, it feels like men getting all the screen time but not doing the work. It makes me ask if Ab actually deserves to be the main character. How much did he actually do in that situation? He suspended two soldiers for attacking the most important character to the crew's survival, an attack we do not get to see, for the same reason. I just wonder if Al is not in fact a better main character for this story.

I very much enjoyed reading this though. You've got a strong ability with the mechanics of the story, I'm just not sure that the message of friendship is no overshadowed by the way the story treats Al.

Thanks for submitting! :) 


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On 04/06/2019 at 4:59 AM, kais said:
On 03/06/2019 at 5:37 PM, Alderant said:

Ouch. You have a guy with a scottish name as an engineer. You're drawing a lot of unfavorable parallels to Star Trek now.

Glad I wasn't the only one who saw this

Really? Someone will need to explain why that's an unfavourable parallel.


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1 hour ago, Robinski said:

Really? Someone will need to explain why that's an unfavourable parallel.


For me, its because it comes off as extremely derivative. Star Trek's probably the most well known sci fi experience, and its most recognizable engineer is a Scottish guy, so having your only Scottish guy on the spaceship be the engineer is unfavorable. Because not only is it cliche, but it draws an immediate parallel to Star Trek in a way that makes the author seem to be lacking creativity. Or at least, thats my opinion.

Unless its Trek fanfiction. But thats an entirely different beast.

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Welcome to Reading Excuses, and I'm sorry I'm a little late to reply. It looks like you already have a ton of feed back (which I haven't read yet) so I'll try to keep my comments brief.

Overall: I loved the concept of a sentient star making contact with people, and I wanted the story to focus more on this. You had a lot of detail about the political structure of the people on the ship and it distracted me from the part of the story I was really interested in -- the interaction between the beings on the ship and the star.

Did the beam have to have been sabotaged? If it just malfunctioned, then you could take out a lot of the distracting backstory about the separatist and the two military crew members assaulting someone who was from the separatist planet. 

Throughout the story, I did have a hard time following POV changes and keeping track of some of the different characters. 

The star deciding to help them seemed almost too easy.

As a reader, I'd rather see less of the crew and the politics of the galaxy and more of the relationship one person is building with this star.

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