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  1. Hi Liz, The beginning of this story created a strong sense of wonder and curiosity for me, which are my top prerequisites for sci-fi and fantasy. On the way, my interest grew when I got to the part where the Deathless was eating breakfast and the foxes were running outside. By the end, I was satisfied that the main idea was indeed interesting and had potential to create a good payoff. However, it broke my suspension of disbelief in several ways: - climax/mystery resolution. This was the biggest hurdle. Instead of letting the forest burn, the Deathless could've simply stopped smoking the moss. What he said (that they decided to let the forest go so that humanity stops relying on them) doesn't make sense because they could've decided to start aging at any time. No one forces them to smoke the stuff. - the utopia: The Deathless are presented as a utopian meritocracy, which is incompatible with the very nature of humanity. We're all a mixture of good and corruption. One has to wonder how long would it take for the first scientist to let his wife stay in the room with him. How long until they'd change the very law so as to enshrine their own interest. If these people are inhumanly incorruptible (for the sake of argument, say the smoke changes them, even though this doesn't come across from the story), how long would it take them to realize that deciding to let others die is supremely immoral? It took me minutes. That includes animals and plant life. For a utopian society they're not doing a good job, leaving foxes suffer. (Psychopathy/sociopathy are not good explanations either; it would indeed result in lack of empathy but would give them a strong desire to rule forever.) - utopia (b): so we have a super smart elite watching out for the interests of humanity but apparently don't care to educate people. The POV character doesn't know about an epidemic from 300 years ago. Don't they have internet? With a super smart elite, technology would advance like crazy. Disease isn't forgotten just because it's eradicated. We eradicated plague but still have the cure for it. We also remember smallpox well. - Planet of Hats: Not all people think alike so how did all the Deathless agree to commit suicide by forest burning at the same time? How come not even one of these smart people realized they could just stop smoking? - meaning of life (Planet of Hats b): Not all people think alike and so at least some would be fine with living eternally, or at least a lot longer than 300 years. Our loved ones die every day, not only from old age but from cancer, heart disease, suicide, and yet we live on. We find meaning in life not only by living through others but by doing interesting things, dedicating our lives to charity/volunteering/good causes, doing research etc. and apparently smart people find meaning in life easier because they keep themselves entertained, at least as long as they're healthy and not bankrupt. Plus, even if all their wives and husbands died, surely they had children and grandchildren and they'd have been interested in maintaining a living connection with those children, which would prevent them from getting lonely. For example, Anne Rice wrote a 6,000 yo vampire, Aunt Maharet, whose origin was the ancient Egypt and who dropped in regularly to protect her family, care for them, shower them in gifts and other material advantages, and love them - whenever she wasn't busy doing cool vampire stuff. Life has meaning beyond the death of our loved ones or we wouldn't be able to live knowing one day we'll lose them anyway. Life has meaning even beyond our own death. Besides, smart people would likely not allow themselves to be put in history as the cretins who let the forest burn. - eternal all-consuming love: Only a very few lucky people love their spouses with intensity until the end of their lives. As you advance in age, you realize they may die long before you and you'll have to live your hardest years on your own. It's a chance many of us take knowingly. On the other hand, humans are adaptable enough to get over the deaths of loved ones, especially when modern marriages break apart more often than not. In this scenario, at least a few scientists would hook up with each other. Maybe some of them weren't even married to begin with. Maybe others weren't interested in marriage, or even relationships. Takes all sorts to make a world. - nukes: why would they have used nukes and risk to contaminate the forest, and also provoke nuclear winter? The thing with nukes is that they're only scary as long as no one uses them; after that, the other side has nothing left to lose. Modern military strategists know that and that's why no one used nukes ever again after the big booboo in Japan. Besides, this isn't the sort of conflict for which you use tactical nukes. It's the sort of conflict in which you use ground troops because you need to be able to not only take, but also hold the ground. You go in with ground troops, establish perimeter, and then build the mightiest antimissile shield the world has ever seen.- the non-research researchers: with a scientist elite, it's impossible the forest wasn't researched to death to find the mortality cure. Being a scientist isn't a profession, is a way of life dominated by curiosity. It itches and it burns and it doesn't let you sleep. You don't have a choice, you must find out what the deal is, and 300 years is plenty of time for that. At the very least you take samples and cultivate them in secret before you burn the forest (but you do it with years in advance to make sure you can grow them elsewhere and the magic still works). All this being said, the story is very interesting. My suggestions are: - either you do worldbuilding until these questions are addressed and change the outcome to whatever fits the world logic; - or accept that this was a dystopia disguised as utopia and think who'd have the interest to keep it that way, burn the forest at the end, and why. Make that the villain. - meaning of life: it's possible that the theme of the story, which is meaning of life for immortal humans, needs a novel-length exploration. Either of these will ensure a satisfying climax and resolution. Minor sidenotes: - when I read "Pablo noticed that his face looked slightly green", it made me think the Deathless was a zombie, impression which persisted for a while, especially in light of the past epidemic; - when I read about the forest fires, I almost dared hope it's Australia or something. Then again, everything happens in North America.
  2. Now this I wasn't aware of, I thought they're both gender neutral. I looked it up while reading and found this resource where zie/hir is gender neutral https://lgbtrc.usc.edu/trans/transgender/pronouns/ and this other resource where xyr is again gender neutral https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/xyr, hence my original take. That's very cool! ... I don't think it's too long, you need reaction scenes and the characters need to talk these things at some point. I didn't see any information that can be removed without loss of meaning either. Since it's a short chapter, you could maybe simply follow the characters into their next action scene.
  3. to clarify, for me as a someone who's always been somewhere between demi and grey, ranging up to a-, it's jarring to get to be introduced to someone's gender characteristics first. It feels like a violation to not know their taste in music, or their humor, or their favorite color, their favorite author, taste in clothing, or if they have siblings, but to know about their gender identity. And then at the end to be accused of disrespect when my own position with respect to gender dynamics is negated simply because I'm being pegged down as someone I'm not. I've come out and said it. Stereotyping is also disrespectful, especially when I'm not arguing against gender neutral pronouns (I am using gender neutral pronouns in my novel too) but against too many different words that mean the same thing.
  4. I was not suggesting you are and am not asking to know about your medical history. Mine's a sensitive subject for me as well. I did in fact hear people without anything as much as a broken nail claiming they wouldn't give away their condition and found it unbelievable from my perspective. You can imagine it was jarring to hear it - I guess I was complaining. i am happy to edit my original post if you could indicate how to edit the sentences such that it's still clear which sections I'm referring to. I have temporarily removed the quotes' middle sections until you reply.
  5. I was not arguing for a gender binary. I was arguing for a single set of gender neutral pronouns regardless of the homeworld new characters come from. He, she, and xyr or they or zie but not all 3 of them.
  6. i am not arguing against diversity but I am saying that using two sets of pronouns with identical usage is unnecessary. There was a set of gender neutral pronouns introduced for W Wob and now there is a second set, which as far as I can tell does exactly the same thing, for P, whom I lost track of. I don't know their species or how they dress or their role in the plot or in the council but I know a new set of pronouns just for P.
  7. “They shared secrets, yet..." to "disturb the air around them.” -- Every time the horse is mentioned, she is suggested to be unable to speak. The “needed no voice” seems to say that it’s no problem for communication that the horse can’t speak, which is like saying she strictly can’t speak. “The girl-who-had-been-a-horse the nine" to "gathered would have noticed?” -- Because of omniscient, this para doesn’t indicate that it’s the POV of the 9 advisors that the horse can’t speak. Then this seems to be confirmed by “her dark eyes spoke volumes”, which suggests she doesn’t have the ability to produce sound. This wouldn't be unique as the Little Mermaid remained mute after she transformed in the original Andersen fairytale. Then later on there’s another departure from omniscient and a cross into the POV of the 9 “The horse-who-" to "scholasticism alike”. Readers who see omniscient would assume the narrator is giving them the real story, unfiltered through POV. Then “It was a shame that the girl [...] and her sister could no longer speak” added confusion. This reads like they literally can’t speak and furthermore, adds on top of every other suggestion that the horse can’t speak. I don’t know how the horse can tell who wouldn’t listen to her anyway without giving them a chance first. Moreover, she doesn’t seem to speak to anyone and the breaks in omniscient suggest she doesn’t have a full level of human cognition. As a pet owner and a parent, I will say preemptively that not having full human cognition is not a reason for discrimination when it comes to loving that being – just in case my words might be misconstrued. I hope it’s clear what causes confusion re the horse’s ability to speak. Now about the ableism point. Much like horse and mare get conflated in normal language to generalize and streamline, the human species is the only one we know of to be endowed with high abstract cognition. The hallmarks of this ability are behavioral and a major behavioral clue is the ability to speak given all the necessary equipment. On the other hand, the word ableism refers to disability discrimination, i.e considering people with disabilities inferior. It’s rather harsh to make an ableism claim based on a comment about a horse in a fairytale and as a disabled person I’m surprised to be confronted to it. Sadly I see the word “ableism” flung around lately by people who aren’t disabled themselves and don’t know what it means to have your life made harder by some deficiency. Some of these people even claim they would keep their disability if they had one – if you hear of any willing, I can give them mine.
  8. This was a shorter chapter that seems more like a reaction scene with elements of planning to the end. Pg. 1 – Hand D is such a cool name I wish their species was called that – much like the face dancers in Dune – instead of L Shades of black are a thing, there’s no less than 24 of them. Instead maybe you could say she saw colors she didn’t have a name for and was pretty sure didn’t exist. Having 10 species with as many genders and dozens of named characters and political factions is confusing enough, especially without clear ways to separate each visually, so having separate pronouns for each species (now hir and zie) is too much worldbuilding for me. I want to just follow the plot instead of being swamped in so many cultural differences. Surely if the Net can pass something as complex as emotions, it can also simply specify the gender by which each character likes to be addressed and then unify them all in English to streamline the show. I understand the problems of political correctness and representation nowadays but this is, after all, primarily a novel and the secondary aspects should not be given more attention to than or hijack the action. Otherwise it risks becoming Anvilicious. In short, I personally don’t need to know about these people’s genitals as I’m never going to ask W Wobn on a date – I’m sure W’s an upstanding Prophet but our senses of humor differ too much. Also I don’t even know what P is or what he looks like so knowing his preferred pronoun is superfluous. Pg. 4 – In O’s speech paragraph “If he wasn’t careful, he was going to show some ankle doing that.” This seems like O’s thought, not R’s? Pg. 5 – “Why did two more appear” – from M’s battle with a creature I knew they must be like the Arid… but now I’m convinced they travel in pairs because of the thing with the 2 instances, however that works (I didn’t read book 2). So I’m guessing S, E, and I already have the answer to this and now we’re seeing 2 more groups arriving to those questions. Is that correct? Pg. 6 – “As long as both twins are with him, the three form an imposing trio” – Repetition, I suggest changing to ‘together they’re an imposing trio. Pg. 7 – “as only one with his inflated sense of self could” – R’s comments make her seem annoyed at everyone all the time or at least she seems to dislike them all. That entire para is a mix between O and R and their respective streams of actions and dialog need to be separated in different paras. “were you just planning on spilling the twins secrets without their permission” – what O was saying about the LC smuggling a Dra seed on his ship seems like a major plot point that needs to be shared with allies as soon as possible. Keeping it a secret makes no sense even if it’s sensitive to someone, and anyone should be sensible enough to see that. It doesn’t make R’s seem more trustworthy but less mature. Pg. 9 – the last sentence looks extraneous to me. Ending with R’s statement is punchier in my opinion.
  9. Pg.1 – chapter opens very cool with the sentient S Beast doing coordinate calculations. I really would like to get more visual info on how this scene looks like. Does everyone speak the hand sign language used by TD? Pg.2 – “To me!” M called, bringing the others back to him.” – I’d rather have him call them and a reaction line showing them hurrying to assemble around him to show action in the scene. The orange grubs don’t seem threatening – perhaps the description should capture the shell articulations of their plated armored backs, menacing glitters hidden deep in sockets of their armor, and sharp teeth and claws or something. Pg.3 – the grubs escaped the building but no one is pursuing them to kill them? Pg. 4 – so they go out, see a moving shape, G yells ‘there’ and it’s another person. This confused me a lot, I was still expecting them to try and pursue the creatures that escaped and can wreak havoc through the city. Instead of trying to solve the more urgent issue of the creatures, M wants information from this person, which is strange in the circumstances. Pg. 5 – the talk of whose fault it is seems superfluous as it seems to condition the maji’s action on whether it’s their fault; in an emergency they are oddly focused on where the blame goes Pg. 6 – I like M more than S; he’s got more personality and internal dialog, which S is missing. However, the political side isn’t very interesting, because it’s mainly evoked through a deluge of names. It could become interested if M had personal interests there. “M watched K and how easily she supported G. He really should design a S Beast conveyance of his own, though maybe with less personality. K was an amazing person, but he wasn’t looking to revive any more dead friends or relatives. He’d left enough of those behind him.” – Gorilla in the phone booth. Big one, batting his hairy chest saying ‘look at me’. All I want to know now is M and K’s backstory and how this resurrection business works. Pg. 7 – “A group of seventeen maji was an intimidating force” and “There were hints of the creatures […] and M was certain there were more than just the two” – and yet the group wasn’t doing anything about the creatures. It’s counterintuitive. Even if the maji had their own interests to take care of and were so self-interested that they didn’t care what happened to the people in the street, they could’ve been attacked by a gaggle of these creatures so they should’ve acted. Pg. 8 – the majus stopping to talk to them quite at length downplays the importance and rush of the evacuation. There seems to be little urgency on all sides in response to the creatures killing people in the street. The characterizations and descriptions placed here also slow the pace of the emergency scene. Ideally they should come as the group heads to the Spire and end before they start talking to the majus. Pg. 9 – “So far the invaders seemed to be avoiding the Spire.” – Having just arrived at the scene, M is there for too little time to be able to judge this, since he has no information about the creatures’ numbers Is K’s armrest described anywhere else before this? I don’t know what it is and how it looks like so having it mentioned here is another gorilla in the phone booth, competing with the first. Now they can beat each other’s chests. Pg. 10 – it’s confusing how TD can stammer if he’s using hand sign language Pg. 11 – “large predatory fish” – it’s the second time the orange creatures are compared to sharks in this chapter. It’s clearly sharks so it’s time to call them sharks or find other similes if mentioning sharks would ruin the worldbuilding too much. To me it looks like these characters might’ve well heard of sharks since they have so many world to draw reference upon. “Mandamon had no idea if one of them had made a sound” – they were all talking “fin straightened to a blade” – if the fin is on its back like a shark’s, what does it mean that it straightened? It can’t impale them with a fin that’s on its back. Pg. 12 – characterizing Gre and having TD speak in the middle of the charge is breaking the action. Better show the charge instead of TD’s sentence, which is on the long side for a tense moment M’s internal dialog is too long and unconcerned for a tense moment I’m only inferring that the creature is charging straight at M from the reactions of those around him but it’s never shown it’s charging and where it’s heading. Showing the charge would contribute to tension. “He positioned the portal sideway, edge-on in the air, something he had never purposefully done before.” – good one! I definitely like M Pg. 13 – “There were holes in his coat and in his shoes. He liked those shoes.” – this is the type of writing emotion I like most. It’s not overly expressed, or told straight, it’s implied by what the character is thinking, and I fully feel the disappointment of losing a great pair of shoes. damnation it! Pg. 15 – “like a treesloth in his knothole” – I like these comparisons. I can tell what they mean and they do an excellent job evoking the world. Pg. 15 – “No. No more hiding.” – I like M more than S. M is more of a developed hero whereas S is a kid who lives a lot internally and a little externally, and has little to make him interesting.
  10. Sorry for the delay, just recouping now the unexpected break I had to take over the holidays. Here are my comments on chapter 2 - will upload chapter 3 and 4 soon. I’m not completely lost but there are clearly things I don’t know, the most interesting being the other minds in E’s head. I can kind of guess how Time and the facets work though, and I have a feeling E might have absorbed other Es from different facets but am unsure if this is indeed the process. It’s still hard to picture what’s going on. Probably due to skipping the second book, I find it hard to get into the romance, so my take on it is likely not representative. However, when things get emotional in pages 3-5, the emotional part is more telling than showing. I generally find that with emotion a mix of showing and telling is ideal. This isn’t to do with my investment in the romance but to the way emotion reads to me on page in general. I don’t mind it but should still make the point about the super-alien looking aliens. If all the different species can co-inhabit the Net, which offers one set of living conditions to all, then it’s strange they evolved to be so different in morphology – up to breaking suspension of disbelief. I am personally happy to play along and ignore the problem but not all readers might agree. End of pg. 15, from ““Will you be all right…” to “He had grown in the last few days.” – this reads like a reaction scene dropped in the middle of the plot. It’s pulling the handbrake so ideally reaction scenes should be kept separate. Also telling he had grown may come across as jarring to some readers, ideally growth should be convincingly demonstrated. Moreover, to me personally it reads very meta, i.e. character development, so it pulled me out of the story. On a different note, I recently had a Fridge Horror moment, albeit not at the fridge. So, is the Net… taking the emotional information it’s passing around from the body language of characters or lifts it straight from their minds?
  11. Stating the obvious – this is storytelling in omniscient. Pg. 5 – It’s unclear how the prince is in love with the horse since the horse can’t speak. And is it a horse or a mare? Pg. 6 – only paraphrasing here: ‘the sacrifice was great but mere friendship could not compare to love’ – but it was just said the prince loved the horse equally so this part is confusing. Pg. 6 – The girl&horse's acceptance of everything is breaking suspension of disbelief. It’s still not clear if the horse gained human-like behavior or not. I assume it did but am unsure since the prince's love isn't a reliable confirmation. Fun ending. I’d expect the 9 new horses to be less well-behaved and a lot angrier with their condition, but this reads like a children’s story or an Aesop so within this framework it makes sense to simplify character emotion/reactions. -- Anything that you didn't understand or that I wasn't clear about. The magic system, but it’s clear it’s not within scope of the story to explain it. -- Anything I might have hinted that would happen but didn't (promises I made but didn't keep) No. -- Is the queen okay? She’s fun but the first time she’s mentioned it’s out of the blue; by that point I had no idea there was a queen. Then I couldn’t tell right away if evil queen or simply the prince’s mother. The first instinct was to think she’s evil queen because of tropes. It's unclear how she's so accepting of her son marrying the stable girl and the horse instead of brining a sturdy political alliance but I can ignore that in the context. -- How much do you hate those guys? They seem to be vilified by simplifying them – but then all the characters are simplified. The 9 don’t seem to have a strong motivation to recommend the horse to be killed and so they’re reduced to single-trait villainy. But this stopped mattering to me because I liked the ending and simply accepted them as the bad guys. -- Am I bashing around too much with the clue hammer at that one point? What point is that?
  12. Late due to the holidays but here are my comments. The story seems a memoir in that it’s telling rather than showing. In this case, the telling is atmospheric but with the trade-off that it feels like one emotional note, nostalgia. To this feeling contributes the relatively unvarying sentence length around 30+ words. This structural invariance makes sentences hard to follow and focus hard to keep. There’s a lot of foreshadowing of something ominous, the fog, the eyes, the vanishing ginger cake, but some of the other background detail could be removed, e.g. parts of the cooking, preparing, moving things etc. They make the story feel long although not much is happening. On the other hand, there seem to be things happening in the present, like decorating the tree, but they aren’t dramatized – again memoir-like. The sugar and bird ornament remarks telegraph the girl will die. In page 7 more atmospheric description which could be shortened. The atmosphere is already set and we’re curious to see where it’s all going and see the payoff. I didn’t understand the ending, why would the grandmother come and take the girl, where would they go, why no one remembers her, why there’s a frost ring in the bed. I don’t understand if this is magic realism or some magic system. There’s also a great amount of foreshadowing that seems to supply the mechanism of the magic system, like the light, but I didn’t understand how it all comes together. The story read like a dream.
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