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Entry #13 (A SF) - Beta Project 2022

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Sage

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Manuscript Title: VENGEANCE
Manuscript Genre: Second-World Political Sci Fi, Adult
Manuscript Word Count: 40,000 (projected; novella)
Is your manuscript finished?: N
Any trigger warnings? Genocide

Hook:

When Maeve’s brother is yanked from her grip and hurled into a van, never to be seen again, she knows he fell to a horrific program that targets people because of their genes. Maeve’s brother had a trait that could undercut the single most powerful industry on planet Turaset—the combustion industry. To protect people like her brother, Maeve earns a seat on the council and begins writing civil protections law. But nothing in politics is quick, and what Maeve keeps secret is that she, too, has this dangerous ability. It’s only a matter of time before the thugs who abducted her brother turn their sights to her.

First 750 words:

On long-dead Earth, back in the early twenty-first century, a five-year water crisis in the state of Michigan exposed ten thousand children to toxic levels of lead. During this time, the auto industry received the pristine water it needed to keep operations running smoothly.


CHAPTER ONE



What puzzled the two women most was the toxicology sheet.

The rest of the report lay in line with what Berna and Maeve had expected. Changes to fish populations, perturbations to sediments, microbial counts—these all indicated the Turas River had undergone significant environmental degradation. But the toxicology made no sense.

If the city’s river was contaminated with coal ash, then lead and mercury and other pollutants should be detectable, and yet the chemical sheet showed none of that. Just normal levels of ammonia and phosphates and such, things found in any body of water.

“Someone took a bribe,” Maeve muttered. She stood over the worktable in Berna Vanther’s dimly lit office suite, her shaggy hair falling forward.

Next to her, Berna slid the microbial analysis closer. Pathogens were blooming downstream from Garco Industries on a repeating ten-day schedule. “Quite possibly. Hard to imagine this level of bacterial growth, with this kind of regularity, in a healthy river.”

“Hard to imagine clean water at all, given the stench.” Maeve straightened, cracked her spine, and removed her blazer. “Someone bought off the chemist,” she repeated.

“And not the microbiologist? It doesn’t make sense.” Berna needed the report to make sense. Her son’s attention had worsened by the year, his grades slipping and his erratic outbursts coming more frequently. But even if she could prove his problems traced to lead, and even if she could prove that Garco’s waste lay behind that, she had little confidence they’d be able to fix the problem. The industry always found ways to keep inspectors out.

Today’s job was proving the link existed. That was the first step toward cleaning the river, and with summer heat bearing down, baking the continent from one end to the other, Berna knew another school year would soon be on them. Parents and teachers alike would turn their attentions from summer vacations to how the children were failing academically.

“What about the pathogen counts?” Maeve asked, leaning closer to see. “Those might convince—”

“They’re not enough.” The words came harsh, and Berna flashed a smile to soften her tone. “But you’re right. It’s the best we have, and that’s where we’ll start.”

“It doesn’t take a chemist to see the pollution,” Maeve said quietly. “Anyone can see it.” Her nerves spiked with the words. She was working up to an admission, one she rarely made outside the family.

“Trash and litter is one thing. We need data on the things we can’t see.”

“Like elevated levels of aromatics.” Again, Maeve’s words were quiet. “From evaporation off the river spray.”

Berna frowned, and an awkward silence crept between the women. Maeve felt a flush begin at the base of her neck, then Berna said, “Yes. Like that. An enrichment in something that traces to coal. We can’t see aromatics.”

Maeve’s flush deepened and spread, and Berna held her tongue even as she wondered, as she had before, if Maeve carried one of the ancestral traits. Perhaps the rare gaiakennen genes, said to impart a deep, instinctive communion with nature. Perhaps one of the time-slip abilities, or even aerovoyancy, with its supposed ability to see the components of air.

Of course, asking after someone’s genetics was out of the question, due to the baggage these traits carried. Some led to insanity; others, like aerovoyancy, carried a stigma. Rumors had sprung up that aerovoyants were being targeted, even killed, but details were sketchy. No one admitted to having the genes.

Berna returned her attention to the report. The suite fell silent, save for the faint sound of automobiles and an occasional carriage from the avenue below. Across the hall, out of earshot of these two women, other senior councilors, in their single-room offices, called donors or planned out new allegiances amongst themselves. Two reviewed notes for that afternoon’s meeting. On the first floor, below, junior councilors shared an office with the probationary councilors. Normally Maeve would be down there, in her tidy and organized corner, working in her bespectacled way. She’d have her head down as she penned out ideas, which had nothing to do with pollution and everything to do with safeguarding aerovoyants.

A knock sounded, and both women looked up.

What do you look for in a beta?

The manuscript is workshopped and partially but not fully polished. It won't be queried ... but I'd love it to be as strong as reasonably possible. I'm looking for a beta who is comfortable reading a narrative told by an 'engaged narrator' (~omniscient voice). If the beta can tell me when that narrative voice works, and when, instead, it slips into nasty, nasty head-hopping, I will be overjoyed. Also, please mention the standard things: plot holes, characterization, description, etc.
 

Sage

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What puzzled the two women most was the toxicology sheet.

I really like this opening. To be fair, I'm a chemistry nerd. But I think it's quite intriguing!

“Someone took a bribe,” Maeve muttered. She stood over the worktable in Berna Vanther’s dimly lit office suite, her shaggy hair falling forward.

I love that they immediately jump to this. (As it's a pretty reasonable explanation.)

But even if she could prove his problems traced to lead, and even if she could prove that Garco’s waste lay behind that, she had little confidence they’d be able to fix the problem. The industry always found ways to keep inspectors out.

While this feels reasonable, I do wonder then what her goal is, I guess, if that makes any sense. Being able to say, "ah hah, here's the explanation! Also, it does no good" feels maybe a touch passive as a goal. I don't know that this is a terrible thing (at least early on in a story, where the characters have room to evolve), but I do wonder if this might work slightly better if there was something more active that she could pursue.


She’d have her head down as she penned out ideas, which had nothing to do with pollution and everything to do with safeguarding aerovoyants.

This is intriguing. I wonder whether it should be fleshed out more (since I suspect this has to do with whatever the main problem of the story is, although it's hard to tell from this toss away line.)


Anyway, I really like this, so not many critiques. If you're interested in having me take a look at the rest of the manuscript, I'd be happy to!
 
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Entry #13

First 750 words:


On long-dead Earth, back in the early twenty-first century, a five-year water crisis in the state of Michigan exposed ten thousand children to toxic levels of lead. During this time, the auto industry received the pristine water it needed to keep operations running smoothly.


CHAPTER ONE



What puzzled the two women most was the toxicology sheet. [I like the immediate tie-in to the lead poisoning epigraph. I don't usually like epigraphs, but this redeems it somewhat.]

The rest of the report lay [Wrong verb. "Fell"? "Aligned"?] in line with what Berna and Maeve had expected. Changes to fish populations, perturbations to sediments, microbial counts—these all indicated the Turas River had undergone significant environmental degradation. But the toxicology made no sense.

If the city’s river was contaminated with coal ash, then lead and mercury and other pollutants should be detectable, and yet the chemical sheet showed none of that. Just normal levels of ammonia and phosphates and such, things found in any body of water.

“Someone took a bribe,” Maeve muttered. She stood over the worktable in Berna Vanther’s dimly lit office suite, her shaggy hair falling forward.

Next to her, Berna slid the microbial analysis closer. Pathogens were blooming downstream from Garco Industries on a repeating ten-day schedule. “Quite possibly. Hard to imagine this level of bacterial growth, with this kind of regularity, in a healthy river.”

“Hard to imagine clean water at all, given the stench.” Maeve straightened, cracked her spine, and removed her blazer. “Someone bought off the chemist,” she repeated.

“And not the microbiologist? It doesn’t make sense.” [I'm glad that there's not a simple mustache-twirling villain who bribed the chemist.] Berna needed the report to make sense. Her son’s attention had worsened by the year, his grades slipping and his erratic outbursts coming more frequently. But even if she could prove his problems traced to lead, and even if she could prove that Garco’s waste lay behind that, she had little confidence they’d be able to fix the problem. [With Berna's expertise, she could easily test her home water for lead. That would bypass the need to solve an industrial corruption mystery. Why hasn't she performed that test already?] The industry always found ways to keep inspectors out.

Today’s job was proving [I prefer "to prove." As written, it's a bit of a garden path sentence. My first thought was, "Today's job was proving difficult," and then I realized I had confused things.] the link existed. That was the first step toward cleaning the river, and with summer heat bearing down, baking the continent from one end to the other, Berna knew another school year would soon be on them. Parents and teachers alike would turn their attentions from summer vacations to how the children were failing academically.

“What about the pathogen counts?” Maeve asked, leaning closer to see. “Those might convince—”

“They’re not enough.” The words came harsh, and Berna flashed a smile to soften her tone. “But you’re right. It’s the best we have, and that’s where we’ll start.”

“It doesn’t take a chemist to see the pollution,” Maeve said quietly. “Anyone can see it.” Her nerves spiked with the words. She was working up to an admission, one she rarely made outside the family.

“Trash and litter is one thing. We need data on the things we can’t see.”

“Like elevated levels of aromatics.” Again, Maeve’s words were quiet. “From evaporation off the river spray.”

Berna frowned, and an awkward silence crept between the women. Maeve felt a flush begin at the base of her neck, then Berna said, “Yes. Like that. An enrichment in something that traces to coal. We can’t see aromatics.”

Maeve’s flush deepened and spread, and Berna held her tongue even as she wondered, as she had before, if Maeve carried one of the ancestral traits. Perhaps the rare gaiakennen [This Greek root mixed with German are offensive to the pedant within me. I could be placated by Erdekennen. :) ] genes, said to impart a deep, instinctive [Sounds "instinctual" to me, but either one is probably fine.] communion with nature. Perhaps one of the time-slip abilities, or even aerovoyancy [Great word], with its supposed ability to see the components of air.

Of course, asking after someone’s genetics was out of the question, due to the baggage these traits carried. [This is exposition. You have people in the scene who are in this exact situation, so you should be able to make this concrete. You could even illustrate the rule by showing the consequences of a faux pas. Or mention a friend that is in the hospital.] Some led to insanity; others, like aerovoyancy, carried a stigma. [The stigma is anticlimactic compared to insanity, so maybe switch those. You'll want to specify one instead of "some" if you do that.] Rumors had sprung up that aerovoyants were being targeted [Targeted how? Maybe "harassed" is more to the point.], even killed, but details were sketchy. No one admitted to having the genes.

Berna returned her attention to the report. [Color was rising on Maeve's neck because she's so close to a confession. It's disappointing that she chickened out. I feel let down. If she's not going to say anything, then I'd prefer the above to be tweaked so that she is scared about how secretive she needs to continue being.] The suite fell silent, save for the faint sound of automobiles and an occasional carriage from the avenue below. Across the hall, out of earshot of these two women, other senior councilors [By "other," you mean that Berna and Maeve are councilors? I feel like I must not have paid attention. If I wasn't supposed to know this already, then reword that to lead lazy readers like me more gently.], in their single-room offices, called donors or planned out new allegiances amongst themselves. Two reviewed notes for that afternoon’s meeting. On the first floor, below, junior councilors shared an office with the probationary councilors. Normally Maeve would be down there, in her tidy and organized corner, working in her bespectacled way. She’d have her head down as she penned out ideas, which had nothing to do with pollution and everything to do with safeguarding aerovoyants.

A knock sounded, and both women looked up.

The premise comes across strong. The world-building works for me. These abilities sound like great foundations to a fantasy world, and I've never heard of them before. I like that Berna and Maeve are allies but also experience tension between themselves, because it promises conflict. I also like that the ambivalence of the evidence shows that the antagonist will be more than a flat, evil monster. The prose style is pleasing, and none of my LBL suggestions are important to its success.

Mainly because of the epigraph, I'm worried that the novel aims to be a parable against industrialization. The nature of all the abilities reinforces my concern. You'll need to take extra care not to be preachy in the first few chapters, so you can convince me that this book intends to stand on its merits. Obviously, your theme will warn against capitalist excess, but every time you say it out loud, you'll cheapen the experience.
 
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Entry #13

Manuscript Title: VENGEANCE
Manuscript Genre: Second-World Political Sci Fi, Adult

Hook:

When Maeve’s brother is yanked from her grip and hurled into a van, never to be seen again, she knows he fell to a horrific program that targets people because of their genes. Maeve’s brother had a trait that could undercut the single most powerful industry on planet Turaset—the combustion industry. To protect people like her brother, Maeve earns a seat on the council and begins writing civil protections law. But nothing in politics is quick, and what Maeve keeps secret is that she, too, has this dangerous ability. It’s only a matter of time before the thugs who abducted her brother turn their sights to her.

Right off the bat, I’m curious as to why only her brother was targeted here. If it’s gene-based, and assuming they’re blood-related, then Maeve should be a high-priority target for the program immediately, not someone they come after eventually. It seems odd that they’d take their time enough that she can earn a council seat and start making laws. It strikes me as potentially high-profile actions from someone who should be keeping a low profile.

First 750 words:

On long-dead Earth, back in the early twenty-first century, a five-year water crisis in the state of Michigan exposed ten thousand children to toxic levels of lead. During this time, the auto industry received the pristine water it needed to keep operations running smoothly.


CHAPTER ONE

What puzzled the two women most was the toxicology sheet.

The rest of the report lay in line with what Berna and Maeve had expected. Changes to fish populations, perturbations to sediments, microbial counts—these all indicated the Turas River had undergone significant environmental degradation. But the toxicology made no sense.

If the city’s river was contaminated with coal ash, then lead and mercury and other pollutants should be detectable, and yet the chemical sheet showed none of that. Just normal levels of ammonia and phosphates and such, things found in any body of water.

“Someone took a bribe,” Maeve muttered. She stood over the worktable in Berna Vanther’s dimly lit office suite, her shaggy hair falling forward.

Next to her, Berna slid the microbial analysis closer. Pathogens were blooming downstream from Garco Industries on a repeating ten-day schedule. “Quite possibly. Hard to imagine this level of bacterial growth, with this kind of regularity, in a healthy river.”

“Hard to imagine clean water at all, given the stench.” Maeve straightened, cracked her spine, and removed her blazer. “Someone bought off the chemist,” she repeated.

“And not the microbiologist? It doesn’t make sense.” Berna needed the report to make sense. Her son’s attention had worsened by the year, his grades slipping and his erratic outbursts coming more frequently. But even if she could prove his problems traced to lead, and even if she could prove that Garco’s waste lay behind that, she had little confidence they’d be able to fix the problem. The industry always found ways to keep inspectors out.

Today’s job was proving the link existed. That was the first step toward cleaning the river, and with summer heat bearing down, baking the continent from one end to the other, Berna knew another school year would soon be on them. Parents and teachers alike would turn their attentions from summer vacations to how the children were failing academically.

“What about the pathogen counts?” Maeve asked, leaning closer to see. “Those might convince—”

“They’re not enough.” The words came harsh, and Berna flashed a smile to soften her tone. “But you’re right. It’s the best we have, and that’s where we’ll start.”

“It doesn’t take a chemist to see the pollution,” Maeve said quietly. “Anyone can see it.” Her nerves spiked with the words. She was working up to an admission, one she rarely made outside the family.

“Trash and litter is one thing. We need data on the things we can’t see.”

“Like elevated levels of aromatics.” Again, Maeve’s words were quiet. “From evaporation off the river spray.”

Berna frowned, and an awkward silence crept between the women. Maeve felt a flush begin at the base of her neck, then Berna said, “Yes. Like that. An enrichment in something that traces to coal. We can’t see aromatics.”

Maeve’s flush deepened and spread, and Berna held her tongue even as she wondered, as she had before, if Maeve carried one of the ancestral traits. Perhaps the rare gaiakennen genes, said to impart a deep, instinctive communion with nature. Perhaps one of the time-slip abilities, or even aerovoyancy, with its supposed ability to see the components of air.

Of course, asking after someone’s genetics was out of the question, due to the baggage these traits carried. Some led to insanity; others, like aerovoyancy, carried a stigma. Rumors had sprung up that aerovoyants were being targeted, even killed, but details were sketchy. No one admitted to having the genes.

Berna returned her attention to the report. The suite fell silent, save for the faint sound of automobiles and an occasional carriage from the avenue below. Across the hall, out of earshot of these two women, other senior councilors, in their single-room offices, called donors or planned out new allegiances amongst themselves. Two reviewed notes for that afternoon’s meeting. On the first floor, below, junior councilors shared an office with the probationary councilors. Normally Maeve would be down there, in her tidy and organized corner, working in her bespectacled way. She’d have her head down as she penned out ideas, which had nothing to do with pollution and everything to do with safeguarding aerovoyants.

A knock sounded, and both women looked up.

Honestly, I’ve read this twice through and I don’t have anything to comment on that’s not a personal thing (like “it’s weird that this seems like a completely normal modern world but knowing it’s a different planet”). This is very clean. Even the omniscient POV, which usually is a hangup for me, is pretty good. My only advice would be to make sure the plot hole suggested in the hook is not actually there, because it feels like a major potential issue.
 
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Hook:

When Maeve’s brother is yanked from her grip and hurled into a van, never to be seen again, she knows he fell to a horrific program that targets people because of their genes. Well, there's a lot to unpack there. Maeve’s brother had a trait that could undercut the single most powerful industry on planet Turaset—the combustion industry. not sure how genes and combustion relate? To protect people like her brother, Maeve earns a seat on the council I absolutely imagined this like "the City Council" and had real questions. and begins writing civil protections law. How long ago was her brother taken? I imagined that happened when they were kids, and now she's grown up to fight against injustice, but now that I'm here, I wonder if that happened last year, and everyone is an adult? But nothing in politics is quick, and what Maeve keeps secret is that she, too, has this dangerous ability. It’s only a matter of time before the thugs who abducted her brother turn their sights to her. Just from reading the hook, I'm really curious how anyone knows what kind of genes people have?

First 750 words:

On long-dead Earth, back in the early twenty-first century, a five-year water crisis in the state of Michigan exposed ten thousand children to toxic levels of lead. During this time, the auto industry received the pristine water it needed to keep operations running smoothly.


CHAPTER ONE



What puzzled the two women most was the toxicology sheet.

The rest of the report lay in line with what Berna and Maeve had expected. Changes to fish populations, perturbations to sediments, microbial counts—these all indicated the Turas River had undergone significant environmental degradation. But the toxicology made no sense.

If the city’s river was contaminated with coal ash, then lead and mercury and other pollutants should be detectable, and yet the chemical sheet showed none of that. Just normal levels of ammonia and phosphates and such, things found in any body of water.

“Someone took a bribe,” Maeve muttered. She stood over the worktable in Berna Vanther’s dimly lit office suite, her shaggy hair falling forward.

Next to her, Berna slid the microbial analysis closer. Pathogens were blooming downstream from Garco Industries on a repeating ten-day schedule. “Quite possibly. Hard to imagine this level of bacterial growth, with this kind of regularity, in a healthy river.”

“Hard to imagine clean water at all, given the stench.” Maeve straightened, cracked her spine, and removed her blazer. I saw in the beta note that the POV is omni. I'm not really feeling that here, and I would be happy to have a bit of a wider angle of their office, how long they've been at it, etc. “Someone bought off the chemist,” she repeated.

“And not the microbiologist? It doesn’t make sense.” Berna needed the report to make sense. Her son’s attention had worsened by the year, his grades slipping and his erratic outbursts coming more frequently. But even if she could prove his problems traced to lead, and even if she could prove that Garco’s waste lay behind that, she had little confidence they’d be able to fix the problem. The industry always found ways to keep inspectors out.

Today’s job was proving the link existed. That was the first step toward cleaning the river, and with summer heat bearing down, baking the continent from one end to the other, Berna knew another school year would soon be on them. Parents and teachers alike would turn their attentions from summer vacations to how the children were failing academically.

“What about the pathogen counts?” Maeve asked, leaning closer to see. “Those might convince—”

“They’re not enough.” The words came harsh, and Berna flashed a smile to soften her tone. “But you’re right. It’s the best we have, and that’s where we’ll start.”

“It doesn’t take a chemist to see the pollution,” Maeve said quietly. “Anyone can see it.” Her nerves spiked with the words. She was working up to an admission, one she rarely made outside the family.

“Trash and litter is one thing. We need data on the things we can’t see.”

“Like elevated levels of aromatics.” Again, Maeve’s words were quiet. “From evaporation off the river spray.”

Berna frowned, and an awkward silence crept between the women. Maeve felt a flush begin at the base of her neck, then Berna said, “Yes. Like that. An enrichment in something that traces to coal. We can’t see aromatics.” Am I missing something? I don't know what makes this part of the conversation different from the previous one.

Maeve’s flush deepened and spread, and Berna held her tongue even as she wondered, as she had before, if Maeve carried one of the ancestral traits. Perhaps the rare gaiakennen genes, said to impart a deep, instinctive communion with nature. Perhaps one of the time-slip abilities, or even aerovoyancy, with its supposed ability to see the components of air. Cool.

Of course, asking after someone’s genetics was out of the question, due to the baggage these traits carried. Some led to insanity; others, like aerovoyancy, carried a stigma. of what? why? Rumors had sprung up that aerovoyants were being targeted, even killed, but details were sketchy. would like something connecting these thoughts. It was hard to be sure because no one admitted to having them. No one admitted to having the genes.

Berna returned her attention to the report. The suite fell silent, save for the faint sound of automobiles and an occasional carriage from the avenue below. Across the hall, out of earshot of these two women, other senior councilors, same question as in the hook - I don't know what the Council is or does, or what one has to be to be on it. They just sounded like researchers or scientists here. in their single-room offices, called donors or planned out new allegiances amongst themselves. Two reviewed notes for that afternoon’s meeting. On the first floor, below, junior councilors shared an office with the probationary councilors. Normally Maeve would be down there, in her tidy and organized corner, working in her bespectacled way. She’d have her head down as she penned out ideas, which had nothing to do with pollution and everything to do with safeguarding aerovoyants. With an omni POV, I would love more insight in a moment like this.

A knock sounded, and both women looked up.

It's an interesting set up! The genes make more sense in the open than they do in the hook. I admit, I am a little bit "so what?" about the issues. These things exist, even the characters aren't sure they can make changes, and none of it feels timely? I am going to take a guess that the knock at the door is about the change that, but I would have loved something more direct in the opening before it to feel like Maeve and Berna were already "in the fight" so to speak.
 
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Entry #13

Manuscript Title:
VENGEANCE
Manuscript Genre: Second-World Political Sci Fi, Adult
Manuscript Word Count: 40,000 (projected; novella)


Hook:

When Maeve’s brother is yanked from her grip and hurled into a van, never to be seen again, she knows he fell to a horrific program that targets people because of their genes. Wowzers. How does she know this, though? Maeve’s brother had a trait that could undercut the single most powerful industry on planet Turaset—the combustion industry. To protect people like her brother, Maeve earns a seat on the council and begins writing civil protections law. Is this something she does after his kidnapping to try and help him? If not (it doesn't seem like it), we're sliding backwards in time here. But nothing in politics is quick, and what Maeve keeps secret is that she, too, has this dangerous ability. It’s only a matter of time before the thugs who abducted her brother turn their sights to her.

I get a very strong sense of your situation, but very little sense of character motivation. The kidnapping sets up an obvious caper/heist/mystery thing where Maeve has to get her brother back and take on big industry while she's at it. From that beat, though, everything goes backwards in time, and is really just scene-setting when I'm much more interested in what Maeve does to advance the story (presumably about her brother).


First 750 words:

On long-dead Earth, back in the early twenty-first century, a five-year water crisis in the state of Michigan exposed ten thousand children to toxic levels of lead. Is this so different than current-day Earth? During this time, the auto industry received the pristine water it needed to keep operations running smoothly. Which I get is part of the commentary, and sure, but when you open with "long dead Earth" you're priming me to look for cause and effect, and draw conclusions from that. Instead, the allegory feels very, very didactic and I still can't use it to get any real sense of the setting.


CHAPTER ONE


What puzzled the two women most was the toxicology sheet.

The rest of the report lay in line with what Berna and Maeve had expected. Changes to fish populations, perturbations to sediments, microbial counts—these all indicated the Turas River had undergone significant environmental degradation. But the toxicology made no sense.

If the city’s river was contaminated with coal ash, then lead and mercury and other pollutants should be detectable, and yet the chemical sheet showed none of that. Just normal levels of ammonia and phosphates and such, things found in any body of water.

“Someone took a bribe,” Maeve muttered. She stood over the worktable in Berna Vanther’s dimly lit office suite, her shaggy hair falling forward.

Next to her, Berna slid the microbial analysis closer. Pathogens were blooming downstream from Garco Industries on a repeating ten-day schedule. “Quite possibly. Hard to imagine this level of bacterial growth, with this kind of regularity, in a healthy river.”

I'm with you up to here where the situation feels very urgent and yet detailed enough to support that. We have a clear anomaly, and that's cause to do... something. Probably something exciting.

“Hard to imagine clean water at all, given the stench.” Maeve straightened, cracked her spine, and removed her blazer. “Someone bought off the chemist,” she repeated.

“And not the microbiologist? It doesn’t make sense.” Berna needed the report to make sense. Her son’s attention had worsened by the year, his grades slipping and his erratic outbursts coming more frequently. But even if she could prove his problems traced his problem to lead, and even if she could prove that Garco’s waste lay behind that, she had little confidence they’d be able to fix the problem. The industry always found ways to keep inspectors out.

Today’s job was proving the link existed. That was the first step toward cleaning the river, and with summer heat bearing down, baking the continent from one end to the other, Berna knew another school year would soon be on them. Parents and teachers alike would turn their attentions from summer vacations to how the children were failing academically.

And now you're losing me because the something hasn't happened, and the story sliding backwards in time again, explaining stuff that already has happened. That deepens the situation, but you've pretty much already got me with a villain poisoning the river. Mostly this just tells me how horrible that is. I know. Now I want something to be done about it. How do they prove the link exists? That's what today's about, not school terms.

“What about the pathogen counts?” Maeve asked, leaning closer to see. “Those might convince—”

“They’re not enough.” The words came harsh, and Berna flashed a smile to soften her tone. “But you’re right. It’s the best we have, and that’s where we’ll start.”

“It doesn’t take a chemist to see the pollution,” Maeve said quietly. “Anyone can see it.” Her nerves spiked with the words. She was working up to an admission, one she rarely made outside the family.

“Trash and litter is one thing. We need data on the things we can’t see.”

“Like elevated levels of aromatics.” Again, Maeve’s words were quiet. “From evaporation off the river spray.”

The nitty gritty science of this might be interesting if the problem was introduced or framed in a different way, as more of an anomaly and less as a sure thing. Since they already know the river's dirty, I'm primed to want to know what they're going to do. I understand that a lot of scientifically proving something is testing and re-testing one's hypothesis, but that only matters if I understand the full stakes of the hypothesis, and if the hypothesis isn't already taken as a given. If not, it's just testing and re-testing.

Berna frowned, and an awkward silence crept between the women. Maeve felt a flush begin at the base of her neck, then Berna said, “Yes. Like that. An enrichment in something that traces to coal. We can’t see aromatics.”

I'm also starting to want the situation fleshed out towards those stakes. There's a little bit of conflict between these two, which is intriguing. Who is Berna? Is Maeve asking her a favour, hiring her, or what?

Maeve’s flush deepened and spread, and Berna held her tongue even as she wondered, as she had before, if Maeve carried one of the ancestral traits. Perhaps the rare gaiakennen genes, said to impart a deep, instinctive communion with nature. Perhaps one of the time-slip abilities, or even aerovoyancy, with its supposed ability to see the components of air.

For me, the sci-fi element comes in too sharply. It feels like it should be the first thing mentioned in a scene where they're trying to assess pollution levels and pin it on big industry. It also feels like it should be obvious. If this is the one big piece of magic, it's typical, even in harder SF, for that to exert a strong shaping influence on what's happening. But instead, this could be Earth (save that you told me it was gone).

Of course, asking after someone’s genetics was out of the question, due to the baggage these traits carried. Some led to insanity; others, like aerovoyancy, carried a stigma. Rumors had sprung up that aerovoyants were being targeted, even killed, but details were sketchy. No one admitted to having the genes.

This aside doesn't really go anywhere, either. It doesn't change the state of play in this scene, develop any information in it, or resolve anything. Maybe the wrong place to introduce this element.

Berna returned her attention to the report. The suite fell silent, save for the faint sound of automobiles and an occasional carriage from the avenue below. Across the hall, out of earshot of these two women, slightly odd POV hope given we were just quite closely in Maeve's head other senior councilors, in their single-room offices, called donors or planned out new allegiances amongst themselves. Two reviewed notes for that afternoon’s meeting. On the first floor, below, junior councilors shared an office with the probationary councilors. Normally Maeve would be down there, in her tidy and organized corner, working in her bespectacled way. She’d have her head down as she penned out ideas, which had nothing to do with pollution and everything to do with safeguarding aerovoyants.

This connection helps, but you also just told me her work has nothing to do with pollution so why am I here?

A knock sounded, and both women looked up.

What do you look for in a beta?

The manuscript is workshopped and partially but not fully polished. It won't be queried ... but I'd love it to be as strong as reasonably possible. I'm looking for a beta who is comfortable reading a narrative told by an 'engaged narrator' (~omniscient voice). I am this, and generally I don't mind how you handle it here, but I think your transition from Maeve to broader omniscient exposition could use a bit more padding. Often, in omni, it helps to use plot and tension to lead from one topic to the next, and I think that's missing in this opener, which might be why I caught that hop. If the beta can tell me when that narrative voice works, and when, instead, it slips into nasty, nasty head-hopping, I will be overjoyed. Also, please mention the standard things: plot holes, characterization, description, etc.



This is generally easy enough to read and flows right along. The dialogue is good and there's even a goal... it just doesn't seem like a terribly important one, except that it's taken as a given that the river pollution is bad, and the scene never develops why or why it matters so much to these characters. The danger in writing a subject you're passionate about is it makes it harder to remember to build the functional connections for the reader.

I'm also confused by the sci-fi element. The genes are cool and the one thing in this scene that connects back to the hook, but the bulk of this is spent analyzing water like they're in Michigan--I actually thought they were for about 350 words and this was a flashback. It seems like you have an interesting setting here with, presumably, interesting political pressures and different agendas. Instead the water testing is portrayed... exactly like it would be done today and, quite frankly, I'm bored. I know it's science and I respect the science, but there's a reason TV shows skip this stuff.

Mostly I want the story to start. You promise me a kidnapping and I expect to be thrown into a world and a crisis right away. Given this is a novella, I don't know that you can burn words on a scene that isn't driving the action forward.
 
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Entry #13

Manuscript Title: VENGEANCE
Manuscript Genre: Second-World Political Sci Fi, Adult

First 750 words:

On long-dead Earth, back in the early twenty-first century, a five-year water crisis in the state of Michigan exposed ten thousand children to toxic levels of lead. During this time, the auto industry received the pristine water it needed to keep operations running smoothly.

I read this in a very pre-Law & Order episode voice. I'm hoping that this is in fact meant to be presented like an entry from a history book (or equivalent in your SF world) and will have some sort of citation afterwards for color. For now, it's doing a fine job of telling us where to expect to go in the next scene and that it's not modern day Earth.

CHAPTER ONE

Oh, by the way, I'm an aquatic toxicologist.

What puzzled the two women most was the toxicology sheet.

My first expectation upon reading that was that you were about to talk about a dead human and what chemicals were in their body (which was logical in that they could use that to trace back to the coal plant they're going after). The reason for that is that in the aquatic toxicology world (in the U.S., at least), we don't call the report where the chemicals in a sample of water are analyzed a toxicology report. Aquatic toxicology is actually using representative species to assess the acute and chronic toxicity of water to vertebrates, invertebrates, plants, and embryos. And even then, we call them "toxicity reports" in my lab (other aquatic toxicology labs may vary). What these women are looking at is the chemical analysis. But I have heard "toxicology" used many times for studying the chemicals found in humans (on TV, I admit), and a little research tells me that it is an appropriate term for such. So it's a) an easy assumption to make, b) probably only something someone who deals in water is going to know, and c) totally up to you whether any of that matters in what appears to be a post-Earth world (though, to be fair, if all the other science words still work, this might as well too)

The rest of the report lay in line with what Berna and Maeve had expected. Changes to fish populations, perturbations to sediments, microbial counts—these all indicated the Turas River had undergone significant environmental degradation. But the toxicology made no sense.

If the city’s river was contaminated with coal ash, then lead and mercury and other pollutants should be detectable, and yet the chemical sheet showed none of that. Just normal levels of ammonia and phosphates and such, things found in any body of water. I feel like this needs some rephrasing. No two bodies of water are going to be the same, and even non-manmade situations can cause differences in chemistry and water quality measurements.

“Someone took a bribe,” Maeve muttered. She stood over the worktable in Berna Vanther’s dimly lit office suite, her shaggy hair falling forward.

Next to her, Berna slid the microbial analysis closer. Pathogens were blooming downstream from Garco Industries on a repeating ten-day schedule. “Quite possibly. Hard to imagine this level of bacterial growth, with this kind of regularity, in a healthy river.” Sure, but heavy metals and other chemicals don't have a direct relation to bacterial growth, and in fact could kill it off. Bacterial growth itself could be the cause of some of the problems they're mentioning. So now you're looking for what's causing the bacteria to grow, and I haven't seen a direct link to the coal plant from what they've said.

“Hard to imagine clean water at all, given the stench.” (Again, bacteria could be the cause of that. May be an opportunity to describe the condition of the water in more qualitative detail -- what does it smell like (an ammonia smell would make the ammonia levels suspect, a sulfur smell would make you look at sulfides, etc), what does it look like, are there cenospheres on the shore (I've been on my share of coal plant fly ash ponds), any discoloration, how turbid is the water?) Maeve straightened, cracked her spine, and removed her blazer. “Someone bought off the chemist,” she repeated.

“And not the microbiologist? It doesn’t make sense.” Berna needed the report to make sense. Oh, is this Berna's POV? I thought it was Maeve's. It's not necessarily defined as Maeve's but we focused in on her first, so that was my assumption. Her son’s attention had worsened by the year, his grades slipping and his erratic outbursts coming more frequently. But even if she could prove his problems traced to lead, and even if she could prove that Garco’s waste lay behind that, she had little confidence they’d be able to fix the problem. The industry always found ways to keep inspectors out.

Today’s job was proving the link existed. That was the first step toward cleaning the river, and with summer heat bearing down, baking the continent from one end to the other, (That's probably helping the bacterial growth) Berna knew another school year would soon be on them. Parents and teachers alike would turn their attentions from summer vacations to how the children were failing academically.

“What about the pathogen counts?” Maeve asked, leaning closer to see. “Those might convince—”

“They’re not enough.” The words came harsh, and Berna flashed a smile to soften her tone. “But you’re right. It’s the best we have, and that’s where we’ll start.”

“It doesn’t take a chemist to see the pollution,” Maeve said quietly. “Anyone can see it.” Her nerves spiked with the words. She was working up to an admission, one she rarely made outside the family. So now, I'm not sure whose POV we're in Maybe it's omni. Yeah, looking again at some of the narrative, I could buy it's omni.

“Trash and litter is one thing. We need data on the things we can’t see.”

“Like elevated levels of aromatics.” Again, Maeve’s words were quiet. “From evaporation off the river spray.”

Berna frowned, and an awkward silence crept between the women. Maeve felt a flush begin at the base of her neck, then Berna said, “Yes. Like that. An enrichment in something that traces to coal. We can’t see aromatics.” But can you test for them is the real question? That's what we're actually talking about, right?

Maeve’s flush deepened and spread, and Berna held her tongue even as she wondered, as she had before, if Maeve carried one of the ancestral traits. Perhaps the rare gaiakennen genes, said to impart a deep, instinctive communion with nature. Perhaps one of the time-slip abilities, or even aerovoyancy, with its supposed ability to see the components of air.

Of course, asking after someone’s genetics was out of the question, due to the baggage these traits carried. Some led to insanity; others, like aerovoyancy, carried a stigma. Rumors had sprung up that aerovoyants were being targeted, even killed, but details were sketchy. No one admitted to having the genes.

Berna returned her attention to the report. The suite fell silent, save for the faint sound of automobiles and an occasional carriage from the avenue below. Across the hall, out of earshot of these two women, other senior councilors, in their single-room offices, called donors or planned out new allegiances amongst themselves. Two reviewed notes for that afternoon’s meeting. On the first floor, below, junior councilors shared an office with the probationary councilors. Normally Maeve would be down there, in her tidy and organized corner, working in her bespectacled way. She’d have her head down as she penned out ideas, which had nothing to do with pollution and everything to do with safeguarding aerovoyants.

A knock sounded, and both women looked up.

What do you look for in a beta?

The manuscript is workshopped and partially but not fully polished. It won't be queried ... but I'd love it to be as strong as reasonably possible. I'm looking for a beta who is comfortable reading a narrative told by an 'engaged narrator' (~omniscient voice). A ha! If the beta can tell me when that narrative voice works, and when, instead, it slips into nasty, nasty head-hopping, I will be overjoyed. Also, please mention the standard things: plot holes, characterization, description, etc.

So my biggest puzzle is why this post-Earth world has such current-world technology like coal plants and automobiles? Is this an alien planet experiencing similar circumstances? I can buy coal plants on an alien planet, but is the automobile really what would be developed there? If it's human, how did we get to a new Earth-like planet and not get past the need for cars and coal? It says "second world" in the genre, which I normally interpret as more like an alternate reality, but the preface specifically says Earth is now dead, suggesting this is in the future.

The transition from real-world science to sci-fi was a little murky for me. It doesn't help that aromatic often has a pleasant connotation to it and we were talking about smells, that there's a chemistry-related aromatic, and now we're talking potentially something some people have the ability to see. Then we switched to these special genes that people had that gave them super-human(/alien?) abilities. I'm totally down for it, but I was in the mindset of current-event problems, especially with the introduction about Flint's water supply (which I really liked, but I wonder if it might cause others to feel surprised), so the switch seemed abrupt to me.

Otherwise, the piece works very well for me. Most of my notes are just food for thought from an aquatic toxicologist POV.
 
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Woollybear

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Thank you so much for the critiques ... and the extra critiques! Bless you all. These help my next draft.

Several critiquers see a mismatch between Maeve in the hook and the open. I admit I threw the hook together last minute, for this project. I knew it didn't mesh... but I needed a hook to enter....

So I apologize.

But! Your feedback on that, in particular, has helped me figure out how to address an ever-present concern, in all of my stories, of 'why my world seems so much like Earth.' You've given me an answer that works in this case, since I'm trying out omniscient. I can use omniscience in the blurb, and establish the answer to 'is this Earth' (while also telegraphing that this is an omniscient story with multiple agentive characters and problems.)

This will work. Thank you for the lightbulb!
 
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Woollybear

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And now, several weeks on, I've incorporated the feedback. What a wealth of expertise we have here! Thank you again.
 

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