Thank you to the author and to Ms. Shreditor for their efforts. See you next week!
The God Complex
by S.L. Seele
I step from the bottom rung of the ramp and plant my feet firmly on the powder this planet calls soil. An orange cloud mushrooms up around my calves and coats the neoprene suit I wear with chalky residue. Hanson walks toward the caves carved into the adobe cliffs. Little orange puffs trail behind him. I groan. Of all the inhabited planets I have cultivated, this has to be the most barren.
In five long steps, I’m beside Hanson. His eyes flicker to me then away, and his baby-smooth face pulls into a grimace. I know it irritates him when I outdistance him without trying. Even though we’re the same height, my five-eleven frame consists of more legs than torso. Hanson, on the other hand, was shortchanged on legs—pardon the pun.
“Lose the smile, Spider-girl,” Hanson grumbles.
Oh, was I smiling? I do my best to match his grimace—and stride—and return my focus to the mission. Data received from the unmanned probe revealed this planets population to be sparse, extremely primitive, and confined to this one area with an abundance of natural resources. That’s one reason I accepted this assignment. They don’t come much easier. Just take a shortcut through a wormhole, land a shuttle where the primitives are sure to witness it with fearful awe, and wait for them to fall at our feet and worship us like we’re some kind of Rock Stars—pretty standard on archaic worlds. Then it’s a matter of training the natives to harvest the resources needed, designate areas for human colonies, and I’m home in time for my sister’s wedding.
It looks like it will be easier than I thought. When our ship arrived, we found no sign of life, or of the so-called, abundant resources, even after orbiting the planet twice. I sent a crew to repair the unmanned probe, and shuttled down with Hanson to confirm the lack of life and resources before we head for home. But from the looks of the caves ahead, someone lives here.
Ms. Shreditor's Comments
It’s difficult to “shred” a sample like this. What can I possibly criticize about a first page that feels this close to ready? There are some minor technical issues here and there, but nothing egregious—and certainly nothing worth picking apart in this column. I found myself reading this not as an editor, but as a reader.
Brief aside: It is very rare that an editor gets to read a manuscript for enjoyment. I was discussing this with a relative who is an avid reader last week. He noted that I rarely get to read books for fun because my job is to fix what’s wrong with the manuscript. He was half right. The way an editor reads a manuscript is worlds apart from how he or she would read a book for pleasure. But I enjoy reading books from that editorial perspective, too. If I didn’t, I’d have made a really bad career choice.
My point? I was able to sit back and enjoy this first page. I found myself latching on to “Spider-girl” and Hanson because the narrative dropped so many compelling details about them. We only get one line of dialogue between them, but it’s enough for us to understand the relationship between them. Perhaps most telling, however, is the look Hanson casts at Spider-girl in the second paragraph. In this look we see insecurity about his short legs, frustration that he’s been outdistanced, and perhaps even unresolved feelings for Spider-girl. While the exact relationship between them hasn’t yet been spelled out, I get the impression that they’ve been close friends for a long time.
The story creates for us, the readers, a world that is vividly barren. The use of color is really effective here, between the orange “soil” and adobe cliffs. World-building is a crucial element in any sci-fi or fantasy story, and I finished this first page with a fairly clear sense of where these characters are and what their surroundings look like.
Most impressive about this sample is the author’s ability to shift seamlessly between the past and present tense. This may seem like an elementary concept to the readers of this blog, many of whom are seasoned writers or editors, but I see more verb tense issues in my travels than I can mention here. Here, we have an author with really keen syntactic instincts. For the most part, the writing flows beautifully.
Please do submit this manuscript when you’re finished. It feels ready to me. I think a lot of people reading this blog would love to find out what becomes of these two characters and who/what inhabits the caves they've discovered.