Monday, 16 March 2015 02:35

Mentor's Critique - Earths

Sophie, I'm even more impressed with Earths than I was with The Wolf on the Road Home, though I realise I'm comparing very different genres. Your writing in this novel is confident and pacy, your characters are skilfully presented and you have a firm grasp of plot. You coax the reader on into the story by setting a series of challenges that range from simple What next? questions such as: Will Atlantia make Third-Earth Fighter status? to the tactical/moral Should Third Earth be invading Mundi?

Earths has all the makings of classic sci-fi because you have located both the personal and military conflict in an area where technology, invention and sophisticated weaponry are all-important -- interplanetary war.

Your main characters, Atlantia and Eagle, are military novices about to be trained as fighters, so we will see Third Earth's war machinery from the inside as their story progresses. This is a promise to which lovers of science-fiction will be delighted to respond. You have also cleverly made us crave more information about The Government that at present rules Atlantia's destiny, another bonus embedded in your first thirty pages.

Atlantia is an engaging protagonist. Getting a glimpse of her history in the first few pages of the book makes us sympathetic to her as a lowly scribe, especially since her heroic parents have quite possibly not been just 'retired' but eliminated. There's a hint that she'll end up vindicating their memory, which is intriguing. You have set up Eagle well, too, as a friend and ally. Again, there's a puzzling side to him; he obviously has ulterior motives that he's not yet ready to share with Atlantia. And who exactly trashed her room and stole the model tazer, later in this episode?

All these strengths and terrific potential are there to see in your first thirty pages: if you fulfil them, the novel will be a cracker. There's just one aspect on which I venture to offer a little advice: the science. Third Earth exists on futuristic high-tech, and to satisfy your sci-fi readers you need to firmly remind them of this whenever communications, space travel, missiles and other weaponry come up in your novel. A few examples in your first pages would repay attention.

The spaceships
Third-Earth's troop-carriers that 'shatter' over Mundi are said to be made of iron, which suggests to Eagle that the Mundens' planetary 'shield' somehow harnesses electromagnetic energy from Mundi's core. I know practically zilch about science but I do know that lightweight materials are being used in spacecraft in 2015: carbon fibre, titanium, aluminium ... I feel most readers will be unconvinced that iron is likely in space vehicles in 2145.

The model tazer
Atlantia designed and made this overnight. Where did she get the materials? Maybe you should have Eagle secretly gain entry into one of the government space laboratories. I suspect he's a good hacker, so he could get himself and Atlantia past the security.

Light energy and electromagnetic energy are of course related, but large and small devices normally employ either one or the other. Electromagnetic pulse weapons already exist and so do laser weapons. Atlantia's tazer ray combines both, but not in a way that clearly convinces us it's a weapon of the future.

Also a plot point: I wonder why it's stolen later? If Atlantia can make one, she can make another. If she'd spent hours designing it on screen, however, and then the project was wiped from the computer, that might set her back more effectively.

The model car
Why does Eagle create a physical blueprint? These days such a project would be designed electronically in 3-D using sophisticated software, possibly including CGI. No reason not to have the model also, of course.

The false message that later lures Atlantia from her room
Why is this on a piece of paper, with a blurred signature? It would be more consistent with high-tech Third-Earth practice if it came through her TV on a one-way channel exclusive to her commander. The villain may achieve this by hacking into the channel, then deleting the message and evidence as soon as Atlantia leaves her room to go to the 'meeting'.

Exploring science
Making all the above elements more scientifically plausible and inventive will be no trouble for someone of your intelligence, resources and skill. The basis of your novel is solid: some details just need to be more precisely defined.

All that's required is research into all the areas where the sciences impinge on your story. And you must seek the advice of helpful experts. It's easier to find these than you may think. For instance, when I needed to understand certain aspects of eighteenth-century experimental physics for one of my novels, it turned out that there were only two degrees of separation: I was able to confer with the very kind professor of physics who taught one of my close friends at Sydney University.

Apart from its crucial importance to your novel, there are other reasons for doing the research and talking to the experts: it's enthralling, it matures you as a writer, and it gives you unexpected, maybe even cutting-edge ideas that will enliven the work.

It was a great pleasure to read this much of Earths and I would rejoice to see it published one day.

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