A Sci-fi tale - help required - constructive feedback welcome.

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This is the start of my latest Sci-fi novel. I would be very grateful for any feedback from such a discerning audience. I am preparing it for publication.

 

Yes - the humour in the story is intended.

 

Chapter 1 - The beginning

 

I suggest we have a tea break, Lat suggested testily.

 

No. Zag said firmly in his most authoritative voice. Not until we have finally agreed on this damn mission statement.

 

The committee had been in session for three weeks now - a whole, unprecedented three weeks, twenty one flaming days, without so much as a break, not even a lousy toilet break. It was true that a Gordian’s metabolism could put up with such insults but it was far from desirable and did little to ameliorate the disposition of the reluctant participants. But Zag saw it as a necessary evil. There was work to be done. In just under three months’ time they had been promised a full inspection and everyone knew what that meant. President Bog had introduced the new austerity measures and was looking to cut to the bone. He considered arts, science and most other things, including aliens, especially aliens, frivolous and unnecessary. The cards were on the table for the Gordian Institute for Extra-terrestrial Research and Conservation, or GIERC, as it was generally known. Bog was not renowned for his love of anything other than business and the bottom line, and aliens were definitely not profitable enough. Besides, they were ugly and revolting. In his book they were worse than Gordian ballet – and Gordian ballet was renowned for inducing catatonia and suicide. The future for the institute looked dire.

 

But Zag, the assistant Director, was determined not to go down without a fight. Despite his present fury - directed at Director Zor who, as usual, was nowhere to be seen, because he was off gallivanting around the galaxy as per bloody usual, he remained passionate about the place. Zag cherished the institute with all his heart and truly believed that the work they performed was inspirational and exceedingly important in such an increasingly uncaring universe. Without the institute’s efforts thousands of alien species would now be extinct. To his great satisfaction they had, against all the odds, successfully reintroduced a great array of alien life back into the wild. Then there were the educational benefits to consider. Generations of young Gordians had their empathic glands fully charged through a single visit to the institute. They learned to value the range of alien life out there and see them as fellow sentient beings, not mere objects to be exploited, or lesser creatures destined to disappear for ever. Aliens were important. They had feelings too. Thanks to the Institute many youngsters took that message on board. There was hope. While the institute existed there was hope.

In Zag’s opinion Bog was a philistine, a monster of the first order. He represented all that was retrograde and soulless. The world he wanted to create was as grey and boring as Briscow’s synthsoup – and Briscow’s synthsoup made distilled water taste positively tangy.

 

It was true that the planet had a few financial problems but it did not have to be one long decline into economic madness and uncaring exploitation - did it? There were better ways. The Institute for Extra-terrestrial Research and Conservation clearly demonstrated that and was, in Zag’s eyes, the last bastion of civilisation. If it was the last thing he did Zag intended to ensure that their crucial work continued and that the cretinous Bog did not get his way and close it down. Despite his ire at the irresponsibility of Zor, he was resolute to do all in his power to keep the place open. To that end he had brought the committee together to review and update their policy books. Everyone knew that paperwork was the key to success. When the inspection team arrived he meant to present them with a set of documents that were not only first class but would demonstrate quite clearly the essential nature of their work and its value to Gordian society. No self-respecting inspection team could argue with that, could they?

 

The major obstacle to achieving this laudable aim seemed to be the committee itself. Individually they were all as passionate and committed as Zag. The problem was that none of them agreed on how to go about achieving their aims. Indeed, deciding on the actual aims was nigh on impossible. Every one of them held a different vision that they sought to promote. No two of them shared a view and none of them were prepared to compromise. In that respect it was a fairly typical committee.

 

Dut and Lat were utterly impossible. Zag could not fault their spirit or intent but they were so irrational that it drove him crazy. They both wanted to take the work of the institute out of the confines of the galaxy to the universe beyond. Their ideas were so far-reaching and grandiose that they did not have an ice-ball in hell’s chance of success. Every time they opened their mouths it was some other ridiculous plan to take their work to some distant far-flung backwater tucked away in the middle of some megallanic cloud that could never, in a billion bloody Sundays, gain funding or achieve anything worthwhile, just because there was a rumour of some weird bunch of aliens who were on the point of dying out. As far as Zag was concerned Dut and Lat were out with the fairies. He was already drawing up plans in his mind to have them elsewhere when the inspection team arrived. If the chief inspector got one whiff of those two then he reasoned that the game was up.

 

Then there was Mut - on the face of it quite rational and down to earth. At least he wasn’t cooking up fanciful schemes for some plasma based life inhabiting a sun the other side of the universe; he was quite OK with focussing nearer to home with life-forms that bore some resemblance to Gordians and so could be in with a chance of being recognised, even by meatheads such as Bog, as being alive and having intelligence. The problem with Mut was that he did not value paperwork. He hated bureaucracy and begrudged every minute spent doing it. Reviewing the policies was tantamount to torture for Mut. He wanted to be out there collecting alien specimens, harvesting and observing them. That was laudable but not helpful when it came to the bloody inspection. No matter how hard Zag tried to impress upon him the need for planning, management of resources, or strategic thinking, Mut simply did not get it. He wanted action. No matter how much Zag explained that all action depended on clear philosophy or else it broke down into anarchy and chaos, Mut simply went deaf. It was like talking to a brick wall. They had been in session now for three weeks and had not yet been able to agree on the opening mission statement. As the policy booklet was 500 pages long, and the mission statement merely one paragraph, it did not bode well for the completion of the task in time for the inspection.

 

Zag looked sternly round at the other three with a fierce gleam in his eyes. We will bloody agree on this mission statement before we take any break or sustenance, he asserted fiercely. He glared round at them one by one daring them to contradict him. They’d been at this for twenty one days and he was pretty much at the end of his tether. If they so much as blinked he’d explode.

 

But a tea break would refresh the mind and enable us to work more efficiently; Lat persisted, not at all intimidated by Zag’s most fearsome scowl. He lolled on his couch looking bored and could not care less how angry that made Zag.

 

Can’t we simply gather together a huge number of new specimens to impress them with? Mut enquired for the umpteenth time. Surely they can’t fail to be impressed by all the conservation work we have undertaken? He was usually a staunch ally of Zag’s but was greatly irritated by the way the inspection was diverting attention away from the aliens they were caring for. He wanted to get back to work.

 

No it bloody wouldn’t, and no we bloody can’t, Zag insisted, on the verge of going volcanic. All we bloody well have to do is agree a simple statement. That’s all. Then we can take a break and refresh our bloody minds. He was in danger of losing it and he was experienced enough to know that losing it was no good to anybody. If you lost it you lost. Those were the rules of committees.

 

He looked around the committee room at the three blobs that confronted him. He was the only one of the four of them who now retained his shape. At the beginning of the meeting he had decided on a bipedal sylph-like form which he always found rather elegant. The others had adopted an array of other equally impressive though less formal shapes. The institute did not go in for uniforms or even standardisation of body shape. They preferred informality. Zag was a little miffed by this policy. He rather thought that a nice uniform coupled with a pleasing form created an aura of professionalism. He was not impressed by the dress of his fellow senior team colleagues or their chosen body shapes. Lat had settled for a rather ugly quadruped of garish colour, probably intended to challenge Zag’s supremacy, and the other two had adopted variations of the bipedal model with an array of rather ostentatious testicular embellishments. However, all that had now gone. The three of them had given up all pretence of maintaining any morph and were lolling around in their seats in unrestricted masses; masses that were now noticeably smaller than when they had begun this exercise three weeks ago.

 

Zag, well aware of the way this committee operated, had looked to focus their minds on reaching conclusions by depriving them of nourishment or relaxation until the task was complete.

 

As usual it was a tactic that had not borne results. But then nothing ever did, whatever he tried.

Now, he pleaded, softening his tone with a great effort. Can we just focus for once and agree this simple Mission Statement so that we can move on to the rest of the document. We have been three weeks on this one simple statement – three bloody weeks! I would remind you that the inspection team will be all over us in less than three months’ time. At this rate we’ll hardly have got started let alone have a set of documents to impress them with. He slumped back on his couch in frustration. We are in grave danger of having our operation closed down. Now can we please get a grip? He looked around the group appealingly.

 

Nobody said a word. They all glumly stared back at him with the most dejected, bored expressions on what passed for faces.

 

Right! Zag sat upright and pulled his body into an even tighter shape. I shall read it to you one more time and hopefully this time we can all agree that it puts the principles of GIERC in a nutshell, Zag said, desperately trying to summon up some modicum of enthusiasm for the task. His patience was so threadbare that his raw emotional state was hanging out for all to see and that wasn’t good.

 

Nobody spoke. They were used to Zag’s enthusiasm and tactics. They had all now resentfully reabsorbed any orifice that might have been used for vocalisation and were glowering at him through numerous optical devices. Zag took that to mean that he had some kind of tacit agreement so he read the statement that had taken three weeks in the making.

 

The principle aim of the Gordian Institute for Extra-terrestrial Research and Conservation is to preserve endangered species of life in the Milky Way Galaxy.

 

Zag glared round at the three of them daring any one to contest the statement.

 

Finally Lat broke the silence. I still think we ought to include something about study in there, Lat objected. Study is an important part of our purpose.

 

And some mention of the wider universe I think is essential, Dut said morosely. We should show that we are forward thinking.

 

For the love of Heaven, Zag shouted, throwing his four manipulators in the air in exasperation. We can put in about the rest of the stuff later on. Of course research and study are important and eventually the rest of the bloody universe. But right now we have a sodding inspection and they won’t give a sod about all of that. They just want to shut us down. Can’t you see that? He looked round at the three of them pleadingly. It was evident from their petulant scowls that they couldn’t. They were tainted with idealistic fervour. They’d rather sink with their principles intact rather that swim with them compromised. But this is our one fundamental purpose – our mission statement. One bloody thing. That is all. One bloody statement – one crucial essence of purpose. Can’t you understand that? By the end of his harangue he was bellowing. His body had turned an angry blue and protuberances were beginning to burst out all over his body. It was not good.

 

They all looked at him with an air of resignation and sour resentment.

 

Right. Right, Zag said, pulling himself back into a semblance of calm and adopted a more conciliatory tone, reabsorbing the nascent limbs and organs, allowing his skin tone to lighten and with a great effort resuming his controlled body shape. He was determined not to let it get to him. Are we agreed, he said in a quieter tone, that this is the primary fundamental purpose of the institute and should be our mission statement – yes or no?

 

Isn’t it exactly the same as the mission statement we started with three weeks ago? Mut muttered.

Comments

opher goodwin Added Oct 5, 2017 - 3:13pm
Constructive criticism is welcome. I am looking to knock this into shape in the next week so that I can publish the week after.
Stone-Eater Friedli Added Oct 5, 2017 - 3:52pm
Opher
 
Keep on, its good. But I can't judge it since my level of imagination stops at music LOL. Maybe it's because I have such a bad vision that I never developed to read a book and "see" it on the same time. I read it and it captures me but I can't IMAGINE scenes.
 
I guess one can't have everything !
Dave Volek Added Oct 5, 2017 - 5:00pm
Orpher
I gave this a quick read (on my way out the door). The amazing part of this story is how well you have set it up for the reader. While reading SF, I often have to read the first few pages over at least twice to get to the flavor of the story. Not in this short story: I got the characters and setting more or less intact on a first quick read. 
 
Maybe the satire to the current political situation helped my engagement.
 
But not really being a creative writer, I cannot help you much more.
 
opher goodwin Added Oct 5, 2017 - 7:17pm
SEF - thanks for that. Appreciated.
opher goodwin Added Oct 5, 2017 - 7:18pm
Dave - that is encouraging. I am glad it's accessible. Did the humour come across?
Saint George Added Oct 5, 2017 - 9:03pm
Why is this an example of science fiction?
Saint George Added Oct 5, 2017 - 9:20pm
I maintain that the following two examples say exactly the same thing:
 
https://archive.org/stream/annakareninatols00tolsiala/annakareninatols00tolsiala_djvu.txt
 
Original, non-science-fiction version:
 
"ALL happy families resemble one another; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. All was confusion in the house of the Oblonskys. The wife had discovered that her husband was having an intrigue with a French governess who had been in their employ, and she declared that she could not live in the same house with him. This condition of things had lasted now three days, and was causing deep dis- comfort, not only to the husband and wife, but also to all the members of the family and the domestics."
 
 
Modified, "science-fiction" version:
 
"ALL happy Gordian Hives resemble one another; every unhappy Gordian Hive is unhappy in its own way. All was confusion in the artificially-intelligent-habitat-grid of Zak's Hive. The Life-Bearer-Vessel had discovered that her Committee Protector was having an intrigue with a 4th-dimension Gordianoid who had been in their employ as a cyber-translator, and she declared that she could not live in the same Hive with him. This condition of things had lasted now three planetoid rotations around their double-star, and was causing deep discomfort, not only to the Committee Protector and Life-Bearer-Vessel, but also to all the members of the Gordian Hive and the cyber-droid-caregivers."
 
A one-to-one substitution of sci-fi-sounding words for the original 19th century words does not make the original Anna Karenina into a science-fiction novel.
Michael B. Added Oct 5, 2017 - 9:25pm
Opher, I gleaned through your post, I can tell you're British, lol. I will snag your names for a alien-related joke, here goes:
 
One day, an alien potentate named Zag and his Number 2 named Zor landed on Earth, but their scanners must have been faulty because they wound up next to a gas station in the middle of Bum-Fuck-Nevada. Zag walked up to one of the gas pumps, thinking it was a resident of those parts.
 
"I am Zag, Highest Leader of the Gordians and Conqueror of this pathetic world! Bow down before me, you sub-creature, and pay tribute!"
 
The gas pump, not surprisingly, stood mute and still. "Do you not hear me, sub-creature!!!", asked Zag, obviously annoyed. Zor worked up the courage to say,
 
"Your Supreme Highness, I have a bad feeling about this...I think..."
 
"SILENCE ZOR!!! HOW DARE YOU CHALLENGE ME IN FRONT OF NEWLY-CONQUERED SUB-CREATURES!!! ONE MORE UTTERANCE FROM YOU AND YOUR FATE WILL BE WORSE THAN THEIRS!!!"
 
Zor clammed up immediately. Zag pulled his giga-mega-vaporizer-disrupter-agonizer pistol and pointed it at the gas pump. "Alright then, sub-creature, have it your way!!!" After Zag fired his weapon at the rude, crude, surly and uncooperative gas pump, a tremendous explosion occurred; the aliens were blown approx. 5 miles away, but somehow survived. Zag shook it off and then said, "I obviously underestimated their powers of resistance!"
 
Zor, pissed off at how this turned out, couldn't hold back any more;
 
"Your Highness, that's what I was trying to tell your dumb fucking ass. Any creature in this galaxy that has a dick so fucking big and long that he has to clip it to the side of his head to keep it from dragging on the ground should, never, EVER be fucked with!"
Saint George Added Oct 5, 2017 - 10:00pm
You might want to follow the general practice of screenwriters: open with conflict. A simple rearrangement of paragraphs can accomplish this:
 
""For the love of Heaven!" Zag shouted, throwing his four manipulators in the air in exasperation. "We can put in about the rest of the stuff later on. Of course research and study are important and eventually the rest of the bloody universe. But right now we have a sodding inspection and the Inspection Committee won’t give a sod about all of that. They just want to shut us down. Can’t you see that?"
 
"I suggest we have a tea break", Lat suggested testily. The other two committee members nodded their heads and clapped their pods in agreement.
 
"No!" Zag said firmly in his most authoritative voice. "Not until we have finally agreed on this damn mission statement."
 
[Zag] looked round at the three pleadingly. It was evident from their petulant scowls that they could not see that. They were tainted with idealistic fervour. They’d rather sink with their principles intact rather that swim with them compromised.
 
"But this is our one fundamental purpose – our mission statement. One bloody thing. That is all. One bloody statement – one crucial essence of purpose. Can’t you understand that?"
 
[Blue with rage, supernumery protuberances began to burst out over his head and body with their characteristic – and embarrassing – popping sound. Zag hoped it wasn't noticeable.]
 
[And pretending not to notice, they all looked at Zag with an air of resignation and sour resentment.]
 
* * *
Etc.
 
To make this chapter work, Opher, you need do two things: 1) open with conflict, and create a plot trajectory that appears to follow a predictable path but then closes with a surprise — the "cliffhanger" — which you then use to structure the conflict for the next chapter. And 2) establish the traditional "ticking clock", or "deadline" for the mission statement committee by making explicit the time limitation: e.g., the inspection committee is en route, and is chaired by a Gordian who, of course, despises Zag for some previous one-upsmanship — and will arrive in the Gordian equivalent of an hour.
 
Just some suggestions.
 
I'm assuming that the conflict you want to explore in Chapter 1 is that between Zag and the others regarding the urgent need of a mission statement
 
opher goodwin Added Oct 6, 2017 - 3:38am
Saint - Thank you for that. I found that intriguing. Perhaps the setting in the future, the fact that it is about an alien culture on a far off planet gives it a slight Sci-fi theme? However, I was not greatly concerned, in this book, in creating a distinctly 'alien' set of aliens. In fact quite the opposite. Despite their alien bodies I wanted my aliens to be distinctly human. They are indeed exaggerations of the human condition.
You are quite right the basic  interactions of the social structures were intentionally representing similar relationships that are human. That was the intentional motive for the humour.
What I was attempting to do was exaggerate these aspects in an alien setting to create a scene that was mirroring human behaviour in a ridiculous manner. There is an element of farce about it. Through that humour one can then explore human motives and interactions through these aliens.
In that respect this is not a Sci-fi book.
opher goodwin Added Oct 6, 2017 - 3:40am
Michael - Ha ha - great joke. Loved it. Thanks.
opher goodwin Added Oct 6, 2017 - 3:43am
Saint - I like what you have done here very much. Thank you. It is very astute. I will go off and review the chapter along those lines. Your input was very valuable.
Mark Hunter Added Oct 6, 2017 - 4:43am
I think Saint George might be right on the rearrangement, to start with a bit more action and draw people into the story that way. As for whether it's science fiction, my definition casts a pretty wide net. By the narrowest definition most of the best SF out there (including my new novel) ... isn't. Well, maybe not entirely for my novel. Just the same, a lot of SF is designed throw a light on modern society.
opher goodwin Added Oct 6, 2017 - 4:48am
Thanks for that. Saint was very insightful. I will look at it with fresh eyes. It is always good to gain objectivity.
Saint George Added Oct 6, 2017 - 5:00am
You're a gentleman and a scholar, Goodwin.
 
Yes, I understood what you were doing stylistically: satire, essentially. A few points, though:
 
1) Not sure it was clear to the reader that it takes place in the future. For example, "Star Wars" was supposed to take place "a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away" despite the high-tech capabilities of the story-world; so viewers are meant to understand that the story they are watching happened in a distant human past. So I have to wonder whose future you have in mind when you say that the setting is "in the future": our human future? or the Gordian's future? The former is irrelevant to the story (thus far) because humans don't appear in the storyline; the latter would be puzzling because we readers don't know anything about a Gordian past. It may, of course, be a non-issue, depending on how you develop the story.
 
[That said, a distant human past was also irrelevant to Star Wars because humans like us never appear in the storyline (the main characters are human-like, but obviously not humans on planet earth). I believe George Lucas wanted that opening screen-text about a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, in order to reinforce the "mythic" quality he was striving for, having been influenced by writers like Joseph Campbell. It was obviously a successful choice on Lucas's part.]
 
2) I realize that what you posted was simply an excerpt of a draft, but I wonder about the following: do you outline the structure of the story before writing? I know (all too well) that outlines are a chore-and-a-bore because they require a purely logical approach to writing — a concentration on pure structure — rather than a purely inventive approach. But you might find that successive drafts become more fruitful as you polish a character's actions and dialogue because you already know the purposes of your characters and the goals toward which their choices move them.
wsucram15 Added Oct 6, 2017 - 5:16am
Opher..
Im not good with sci-fi. But I can edit.  Soften the first few paragraphs. The reading smooths out during the confrontation.
 
Relax, let the characters unfold, the reader has to become involved in the story and what could happen instantly.  In fiction, if a story does not pull me in on the first page I wont read it.  There has to be something about the character or story that makes you want to see it through...and its usually in the first paragraph.
 
I agree with the first post by St George. Introduce the characters during the conflict. Give a little spots of humorous detail alter.  Include the inspection and the pressure in the beginning...for suspense.
 
The mission statement by Zag could that you bring up in the beginning could be an easter egg for the remainder of the story..Do the other characters get their money and disregard Zag, due to his persistence? Only to find that their actual mission needs his focus and goals, to make the team work effectively against some sort of threat.   IDK..not a scifi person.
 
 
opher goodwin Added Oct 6, 2017 - 5:20am
Saint - I think many elements that you refer to become clearer as the story progresses. When humans appear the setting is much in the future. That puts a time stamp on it. I did not want to develop any picture of Gordian society or history apart from the interaction with the story. I left that to the readers imagination. What I wanted to create were alien characters that were extremely human in nature while being morphologically different, advanced yet very much the same as us in thoughts, personality and emotional baggage. That was the basis for my satire.
In many ways I chose to use different styles in different settings. The Gordians are deliberately rather farcical and exaggerated, almost cartoonish. Other elements are not quite so exaggerated. Some elements are standard Sci-fi, others not so much. I wanted variation.
In the past I have written in a number of ways. Some books I have carefully scripted out. Others I have allowed to flow and develop. There are good and bad things about both methods.
This one fell between the two. I had a rough sketch coupled with a set of characters. I developed it with ideas that came up as I was writing. The initial draft was only 45,000 words and was written in three weeks. The rewrite built around that and stands at 76,000 words.
I found your comments very incisive and thought provoking. I have been ruminating on them. I am very grateful for your clarity. I am also impressed with the way you did it.
Saint George Added Oct 6, 2017 - 5:25am
In fiction, if a story does not pull me in on the first page I wont read it.
 
One good reason to open with conflict.
wsucram15 Added Oct 6, 2017 - 5:50am
That is what I said...St George.
wsucram15 Added Oct 6, 2017 - 5:57am
Opher..I apologize if I offended you.  My daughter didnt speak to me for days.   She had the same issues, her book was a period piece and she did a good bit of research.  In the very beginning (first page) she was inundating the reader with complicated descriptions when al she had to do was pull it back a notch and let it flow. 
Then get to the details of each nuance bit by bit.
Its like writing a song...you need a hook.   IDK, its just what I was taught in creative writing.  But unlike yourself, I have only written my life, and never touched science fiction.
opher goodwin Added Oct 6, 2017 - 6:10am
Saint - Yes I agree. It is good to have the objectivity. Writing is too subjective. Action.
opher goodwin Added Oct 6, 2017 - 6:16am
Jeanne - thank you so much. You and Saint have given me a way forward that I will try to take on board. It was just what I was after.
I find that writing takes you over. When you read back you read it as you wrote it. It is hard to get a wider perspective. It is only through the lapse of time or the input of others that things become clear.
The strange thing I have found is that if I read my work over the shoulder of someone who is reading it I have an instant objective view.
I am grateful to both of you. It is just what I was hoping for by putting the section up here.
Fiction is so different to other forms of writing isn't it?
opher goodwin Added Oct 6, 2017 - 6:19am
Jeanne - you certainly haven't offended me. I've been writing much too long for that. I am not precious about my words. I want to improve it. That's why I put it up. I thought there were some discerning individuals who were perceptive and would enable me to develop it. You don't get improvement through praise do you?
It has worked and I am grateful.
Saint George Added Oct 6, 2017 - 6:36am
Sincere thanks, Opher.
 
My thinking on story-structure in general — something that used to be called "storycrafting" many decades ago — was honed by doing some script-doctoring for beginning screenwriters. Their main problem, I discovered, was not lack of imagination; they had plenty of that. It was, rather, lack of a reliable technique and a basic misunderstanding of the concept of "drama" and "conflict." If they were assigned to write a screenplay for a twenty-minute "short", they would invariably begin with so much unnecessary back-story to explain the main character's psychology that by the time they got to the inciting incident — the event that kicks off the character's desire to meet a challenge presented to him — 15 minutes of screen-time have elapsed, leaving 5 minutes to tell the story. So one of the key skills they needed to sharpen was awareness of relative magnitude: the time allotted for their story in relation to the initiation of the conflict and the number of obstacles (challenges) the main character will encounter and overcome in order to get to the next part of the story (i.e., the next scene). Novelists need to do this, too. At some point (preferably sooner than later) they need to decide how long the entire work will be;, how many chapters it will have; how many scenes (one chapter = one scene?); where the "high point", or climax, of the story occurs, etc.
 
Beginning screenwriters also routinely used a predominantly introspective, psychological style in writing, reminiscent of 19th century novel writing: "Joe sat in the chair and thought about his rival, Bill, whom he suspected of having an affair with his wife. Just thinking about that made him feel intensely angry. Bill must have noticed because he seemed nervous."
 
Words or phrases like "thought", "suspected", "thinking", "angry", "seemed nervous", etc., are interior, psychological terms. A novelist 150 years ago could get away with writing something like that but not a contemporary screenwriter, who has to write what the camera can photograph:
 
"While sitting in the chair, Joe stared icily at Bill's monogramed shirt and tie — the same monogramed shirt and tie in the honeymoon photo of Joe and his wife gazing down from the mantelpiece — and began to grip the arms of the chair so tightly that the sinews and veins began to show. Bill slowly turned away from Joe's stare, and cleared his throat with a stuttering cough just as a single drop of sweat meandered from his brow onto the shirt, producing a dark streak."
 
Good, bad, or indifferent, the point is that the first is entirely interior, while the second is something a camera can photograph. Additionally, one can see with one's imagination what is occurring in the second version, without the writer having to state explicitly, "Joe was angry", "Bill was distraught", etc.
 
I think a more perception-based approach to narrating a story such as a novel, novella, or short-story, has advantages over the more old-fashioned (and more cumbersome to read) interior-psychological approach; for one thing, from the reader's perspective, it's much more vivid, helping to put him in the scene as a viewer.
Saint George Added Oct 6, 2017 - 6:42am
The initial draft was only 45,000 words and was written in three weeks. The rewrite built around that and stands at 76,000 words.
 
It's interesting you say that, Opher, because rewrites are usually shorter than first drafts. The "usual" method is to over-write in the first draft, and then pare it down in later drafts.
Stone-Eater Friedli Added Oct 6, 2017 - 7:07am
Wow.
 
This is an interesting read. I once wanted to write a book about my travels, but could neither find a start or a how-to at all. I guess one needs a flow-chart. I mean, how can you write a fictional story about your life ?
 
Impossible LOL
 
BTW: Glad to see real experts at work here. Maybe it will be useful for me once when I get so old that only strumming the guitar or writing will occupy me ! Anyway I'll keep that thread.
opher goodwin Added Oct 6, 2017 - 10:01am
Saint - it was obvious that you have a professional angle on it. Your insights are just what I was hoping for when I put it up. Just the boot that I needed. You and Jeanne have helped immensely.
opher goodwin Added Oct 6, 2017 - 10:10am
Saint - That is nearly always the case. But in this instance I was on a ship and I had good time without distraction. The story and characters were in my head and had been for some time. I gave a little time to map it out and then wrote in one long stream. It took three weeks and it was there. What I had produced was the bones of the book. It was different to what I had started out with. The rewrite was to put the flesh on those bones. Now I am coming to the editing and that is where it will get pared down and altered to make it more readable.
My major problem is that I have too many ideas and not enough time. I have three books written in first or second draft and have just published one. I have another book in my head (all written last year)but know I have to spend time getting these three right before I start on that. It is frustrating because I never catch up and it is the initial writing I enjoy. The rewriting is OK and the editing is a chore. There are totally different skills involved in these three processes. I am not good at editing.
opher goodwin Added Oct 6, 2017 - 10:12am
Sef - I've written a few based on my life. The one I send through to you had a lot of biog in it mixed with other stuff. I am interested to hear what you make of it and if the structure works. It was a weird one.
Goofin' was based on a few 'On The Road' biog experiences couple with some biog of Roy Harper and his mad youth.
opher goodwin Added Oct 6, 2017 - 10:16am
Sef - giving biog a structure is quite easy really. You have to have a start, a finish and a journey. My Rock memoir is a biog of my life with Music. I called it In Search of Captain Beefheart because I felt my experience with music was a search for that excitement and exhilaration that good music brings. I've experienced it a lot and I go searching for the thrill. I did not know what I was looking for but I know when I find it. Captain Beefheart were the most exciting band I ever saw - right up there with Hendrix and Cream. So I realised after the event that that was what I had been searching for.
Stone-Eater Friedli Added Oct 6, 2017 - 10:38am
Opher
 
I know what you mean, but....my life had so many breaks...from Switzerland thru Asia and the Pacific, work in Australia and NZ. life in pacific atolls to the US and Canada and finishing off in Africa as I hope and believe.
 
There's no red line in that - maybe only the search for myself which I actually found in Africa.
 
But that is neither enough for a documentation nor a fiction novel ;-)
Mark Hunter Added Oct 6, 2017 - 11:33am
My final stories are always longer than my first drafts ... all my writer friend are surprised by that, and I think some are a little envious.
opher goodwin Added Oct 6, 2017 - 11:47am
Sef - sure it is. You can decide what your idealistic motive was and sketch out a structure based around that. Split it into 12 parts (chapters) give a focus for each of those 12 of what your aim was in that part. It all comes together at the end in what you did or did not discover.
Whittle it down. Focus on one aspect.
What you did, what you thought, what happened, what worked, what went wrong, why, how did it make you feel, what adventure, what experience - how it all fitted together in your quest.
in 1971 I set out on a quest to....................... in 2017 In look back at the journey and wonder if I've found what I was looking for. Life is a journey. We never arrive.
opher goodwin Added Oct 6, 2017 - 11:48am
Mark - there is a big difference between a rewrite and an edit isn't there? A rewrite generally makes the book longer. Editing cuts it down.
Mark Hunter Added Oct 6, 2017 - 11:54am
True enough!
Dave Volek Added Oct 6, 2017 - 12:35pm
Opher:
Last night when I first read the story, I was a little pressed for time. But I could see the setting was well done--for this reader anyways.
 
I had a little more opportunity to read the story this morning. Again, there was no going backwards to figure out what the current paragraph was saying.
 
I saw four layers of sub-plots woven into the story: (1) the state of politics in the USA and UK today, (2) the relevance of bureaucracies trying to justify themselves, (3) the frustration of committee work with head strong individuals, (4) the chair trying to push his own agenda onto a band of (supposed) fools. You got all that in about 1500 words. Very good.
 
I also found the comments quite interesting. I have little talents or desire for writing fiction, so I can't say whether the comments are valid or not. But it was great that they offered you a piece of their mind, and I'm sure there is something there to help you make the story better.
 
I have been going through a re-read of Asimov Robot and Foundation series (interrupted by few recommendations from friends and now one of your books). In a narrow sense, Asimov is also not a SF writer. He is more of a sociological writer, using the background of SF to create worlds that shape stories to help us learn about ourselves. This little story of yours does the same thing. And yes, I enjoyed how the gordian bodies were used to display emotions. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
opher goodwin Added Oct 6, 2017 - 12:43pm
Thanks for that Dave. I appreciate you taking the trouble to do that. I'm glad you picked up on the themes in there. It was what I wanted to build on. But the important thing was to make the story readable and interesting. That was what I was looking to do with the next phase of editing. To that purpose I have had some great help on here.
What was the book of mine that you plumped for?
Even A Broken Clock Added Oct 6, 2017 - 12:52pm
Opher, I sensed a real link in the work to Douglas Adams. As a matter of fact, in my mind I was substituting Vogons for Gordians as lovers of bureaucracy. In that case, your character who hates filling out forms will be the worst fit of this group in the organization.
 
The only constructive criticism I would have is to scrub all traces of Earthno centrism from the text. I think the only example of that was the Milky Way galaxy - even if it is our galaxy, they'd have a different name for it (Maybe the Snickers galaxy).
Stone-Eater Friedli Added Oct 6, 2017 - 1:41pm
Opher
 
...I will have the time in ... 2019 I guess. The rest of this year is not much going on, but next year will be a lot of work !
Mark Hunter Added Oct 6, 2017 - 1:44pm
Hey, you just got compared to Asimov and Douglas Adams!
wsucram15 Added Oct 6, 2017 - 3:41pm
SEF..now its your turn to write a book.  Think about it....ehhhh
 
Opher ..I am sure this will be good, anything from someoens imagination for that long that knows how to write, is going to be good.
Just slow down and let the characters in your mind flow to the page.  
I could never write fiction...I write short stories quickly but long things I write in sections as they come to me, then rewrite to edit.
 
opher goodwin Added Oct 6, 2017 - 6:19pm
EABC - thank you for that. I will take that on board. I am getting such good advice.
Who can help being influenced by the great Douglas Adams. If only I was half as good.
opher goodwin Added Oct 6, 2017 - 6:20pm
SEF - that's when you need to get to it. You'll enjoy it. If you need any help just ask.
opher goodwin Added Oct 6, 2017 - 6:22pm
Jeanne - you have to let the long things flow and grow when the ideas come and go. They take you over and write themselves when you are in the zone. There's not much better.
Thanks for your encouragement.
John Minehan Added Oct 6, 2017 - 7:09pm
It's interesting.
 
One thing that stuck with me is how long can a "Gordian" go without a bathroom break and how does that impact their culture? 
 
Would creatures that had a very long digestive process have better meetings or worse meetings?  Would they tend towards GEN (R) Powell's "paralysis by analysis?"
 
You tend to go (as many British writers tend to) toward SF as satire, while US SF tends towards a variety of attempts to answer John W. Campbell's challenge, "Show me a creature that thinks as well as a man, or better than a man... but not like a man."
 
DC Comics in the US (Superman and batman and all of that) have an al;ien race as recurring characters called the Gordanians, I don't know how litigious DC is about minor characters.
 
Certainly, a good start.
opher goodwin Added Oct 6, 2017 - 7:28pm
Thank you for that John. Not all my Sci-fi has been satire but this one is.  I'm not a big fan of DC comics and have never heard of the Gordanians. But thanks for the heads up on that.
There are a number of intriguing questions regarding Gordian metabolism and morphology but they were not avenues I wanted to investigate in this book. I treated them as incidental and used them to create difference and colour. The thrust of the book was a satire on human culture plus a commentary of a number of pertinent aspects that are of concern to me.
Tamara Wilhite Added Oct 6, 2017 - 7:56pm
Interesting, entertaining.
 
Can use some deliberate pruning. Here are some examples:

The world he wanted to create was as grey and boring as Briscow’s synthsoup – and Briscow’s synthsoup made distilled water taste positively tangy.
Sentences like this should be shortened. "The world he wanted to create was as grey and boring as Briscow’s synthsoup" OR "he world he wanted to create was as grey and boring as Briscow’s synthsoup which made distilled water taste tangy."
"he had decided on a bipedal sylph-like form which he always found rather elegant" can be shortened to "he had selected an elegant (to him) bipedal sylph-like form".   


You're doing good introducing characters but going on wa-a-a-ay too long. Example:
"At least he wasn’t cooking up fanciful schemes for some plasma based life inhabiting a sun the other side of the universe; he was quite OK with focussing nearer to home with life-forms that bore some resemblance to Gordians and so could be in with a chance of being recognised, even by meatheads such as Bog, as being alive and having intelligence."
"At least he wasn’t cooking up fanciful schemes for some plasma based life inhabiting a sun the other side of the universe, and he could focus on other species and see others as intelligent. The problem with him was that he hated bureaucracy and this meeting was torture for a creature who wanted to be in the field collecting specimens".

"Zag said, desperately trying to summon up some modicum of enthusiasm for the task. His patience was so threadbare that his raw emotional state was hanging out for all to see and that wasn’t good."
becomes
"Zag said, desperately trying to summon up some modicum of enthusiasm for the task, his patience and form threadbare."

Another thought: publishing it here for review makes it very difficult to publish elsewhere, since many of them want first rights and don't want something available elsewhere. Even if you delete it here, it is likely cached elsewhere on the internet. Not as much of an issue with a book as a short story.
opher goodwin Added Oct 7, 2017 - 4:21am
Thank you for that Tamara. Very helpful when I get down to the editing. Thank you for taking the trouble to read it and come forward with those pertinent suggestions. I'm very grateful.
opher goodwin Added Oct 7, 2017 - 1:17pm
Thank you everyone - this has all been extremely helpful. I will now go away and edit bearing all this in mind. Cheers.