Monday, September 11, 2006

New Beginning 109

May 3, 2102
Eight miles southwest of Lone Pine, California (abandoned)

The San Fernando Valley was alive. Alive in the precision columns of fan palms lining the bulletways, bowing at trendy youth in stainproof khamees making out to atonal electrosynth as they flew past the endless sprawl. Alive in the towering shopping centers bustling with jaded teenagers visible from the slidewalks through translucent field emission displays that hawked herbal smoothies and cosmetic surgery with flawless CG models. Alive in the fountains and fluorescent green lawns evaporating the precious water diverted from the Owens Valley to feed the cottonball clouds that blemished the sunbathing sky.

The Owens Valley, on the other hand, was dead.

Cam looked down at the dry bed of Owens Lake. Robbed of its moisture by its southern cousin, the valley was a barren wasteland of arsenic-laden salt flats and red pools of halobacteria. In the distance, Keeler Fog lifted off the playa, thousands of feet high, and drifted toward the Inyo Mountains to powder coat the manzanitas. The thought occurred to her that, were it not for the success of the San Fernando Valley, this panorama would be teeming with life. And for the fifth time on the trip, an image of Elly jumped into her head, clinging to her thoughts and refusing to leave. Hours ago, she'd given up trying to make the image go away. The Owens Valley was just too potent a symbol.

Elly had felt it too, the same connection to the flora and fauna of Owens Valley.

This is for you, Elly, Cam thought as she rappelled down the face of the dam and positioned the explosives. The San Fernando Valley, alive with carbon-copy corner restaurants and electricity-sucking vanity, would soon be no more.

Continuation: Kathleen B.


Virginia Miss said...

Kill the parenthesis in the first sentence. In fact, re-do the first sentence altogether.

The first paragraph was so full of new words and concepts that I couldn't take it all in at a comfortable pace, and I gave up after that.

I suggest you feed new words to your lazy readers at a gentler pace. Bulletways, khamees, and atonal electrosynth told me lots about the setting, (and intrigued me) but field emission display (a clunky sentence) and CG models were overkill.

Bernita said...

Think there are some tense problems here.
It's good though, and the local specifics and "in" words didn't bother me.

Cathy Writes Romance said...

Well-written overkill, is my initial impression. I get a picture of the place, but very little about your protagonists, and I don't really care until I know them, and right now they are a bit too intense.

whitemouse said...

What bothers me about this is that it's all telling. World-building is a different sort of backstory, but it's still backstory, and you shouldn't clog your first page with it. Get us hooked on the story first and then feed us information about the world as you go along.

As things stand, there is nothing here to make me care about reading on. Who are the characters going to be? What problems do they face? Is there anything about them worth sympathising with? All I know is a bit about the world Cam lives in, that Cam knows/knew someone named Elly, and that there is some pain associated with thinking about Elly. This is too much window-dressing, and not enough substance.

I think you've done a great job of building an intriguing world quickly, and you can certainly write well, but my interest has not been piqued. I'd suggest working hard to get your story front-and-centre.

Kathleen said...

I appreciate what the author is trying to do, but it ends up being overkill.

"In the distance, Keeler Fog lifted off the playa, thousands of feet high, and drifted toward the Inyo Mountains to powder coat the manzanitas."

This sentence is a perfect example - I see what you are trying to describe, but it doesn't work. what is Keeler Fog? what is "the playa"? how does fog "powder coat" something (which implies snow)? What are manzanitas? You don't want to make it too hard for the reader to comprehend your story.

Good luck author!

Jeb said...

For an example of unobtrusive world building with rising tension in the opening paragraphs, I instantly thought of Anne McCaffrey's 'Dragonflight'. Not that there aren't edits I would make (and she opens with a character waking up, which is hideously overused now, but in 1968 not so much), but for immediate identification with a character in an alternate world, this opening is spot-on.

(my word veri is so long and irrational that I'm tempted to scratch this post just to get an easier one - I'm sure not going to type it TWICE)

Anonymous said...

Thanks, everyone. I was trying a different style, and I guess it didn't come across very well. Just a quick note: The original formatting was not as EE posted it. It read:

May 3, 2102
Eight miles southwest of Lone Pine, California (abandoned)

The San Fernando Valley . . .

I don't know why he tried to merge half of the header and the first sentence.

Do continue commenting, though -- any responses will help. Just as followup, the next couple lines are:

"Camille? Are you okay?”
Cam looked uphill at her father as he backtracked toward her. He looked into her eyes, staring at her pupils, then once again pulled out a gas chrom and took a sample.
"Dad, why do you keep doing that?”
Luis looked at the device until it chimed, then read the screen. “Hmm? Sorry. It's work."

Within the next page: Cam's father gives the impression that something about his biotech company's current contract is very unnerving, and it's revealed that they're heading to watch a massive asteroid impact the coast, 300 miles away that will wipe out LA and Cam's home.

Within the next five pages: The asteroid strikes, but it's only the number two news story: right behind an inexplicable, worldwide hacking attempt that compromised fourty-six billion machines and threw global financial markets into chaos. Cam has good reason to suspect that the same forces behind it have designs on her. The night before, her phone was hacked by someone using her ex-partner Elly's face, revealing private details of the lives of Cam's loved ones and talking about the apocalypse.

acd said...

*counts* 236 words in the original beginning! Some of these might be funnier if they were forced to cut off at 150.

Anonymous said...

Kathleen: "powder coat", as a verb, is a painting term, not a snow term. It involves applying the pigment as a fine, electrostatically charged dust. A "playa" is a salt flat; it was just mentioned in the previous sentence.

Is the vocabulary problematic? I only expected Keeler Fog and perhaps manzanita to be unfamiliar terms to the reader, both of which should be understandable from context (Keeler Fog is the name for the dangerous Owens Lake dust storms, and manzanitas are a type of tree)

I have a rather large vocabulary that I use in my daily life, so sometimes I have to be reminded which words that I use are a bit esoteric. :)

Evil Editor said...

I don't know why he tried to merge half of the header and the first sentence.

Ah, if you guys only knew what condition your stuff shows up here in. Often they show up with no spaces between the words at the end of one line and the beginning of the next. No space between lines. Not that that's anyone's fault, and I'm sure this isn't the first time I've gotten it wrong.

Evil Editor said...

And then I have to deal with the fact that after I add the continuation and move it into blogger, the formatting goes away again most of the time. In any case, it's fixed now.

Anonymous said...

That explains it. :) Darned email!

Kathleen said...

A "playa" is a salt flat; it was just mentioned in the previous sentence.

so was "halobacteria".

Xenith said...

It isn't necessarily the vocabulary that is confusing but the combination of new words/idea all together in a sentence

Names of characters + names of places + directions to orient with + new concepts + new words = a lot of work in each sentence

otzmxm said...

Author, I expect most of EE's minions have large vocabularies--some of us, however, don't live in California. Most of your problematic words appear to be localisms. By themselves, those might be defensible. Mixing them in with techno jargon and SFnal neologisms is too much.

xiqay said...

I kind of liked it. The time and setting are very clear. They anchor me, the reader and make me want to keep reading.

I did get just a bit tired of the fragments (alive...alive..alive...).

And from "The thought occurred to her..." I felt less enthralled. The thought is too apparent, doesn't need to be stated. The jump to Elly is too obscure; it needs its own paragraph and a smoother transition. And the "five" itched--made me wonder if that was a significant number or just randomly chosen. I don't need to be wondering about such mundane stuff.

Just my first impression. Good luck.

xiqay said...

I've read the comments now, too.

I wasn't bothered by any of the words except Keeler Fog, which I didn't know. (I don't live in California, either, but I know that a manzanita is a tree, etc.) And even Keeler Fog didn't slow me down, I figured it must be some type of pollution.

But I do agree that some of it is overkill and you could probably do without field emission display and CG models.

HawkOwl said...

Ok, I was totally with you until you told us what the plot is. :) I'm so not into hackers and asteroids. Pretty good opening, though.

Having recently read a bunch of very cool Milieu openings with no drama, I have to recant my previous stance on opening with drama. I'm quite happy to start with a neat setting ("the river flowed both ways"), an interesting idea ("it is a truth universally acknowledged"), or even an unrelated style exercise ("it was the best of times"); just as long as it doesn't start with a character not doing anything or an event not happening just now.

That being said, I kinda have to agree as well with the "too much" comments. At first it was quite Barjavel, but then it got to be "hey, can you stop thinking of more ways to tell me it's the future?"

Adele said...

I disagree with the overkill comments. This looks like a good beginning to me and I would have read to the next page. I've read enough sf that none of those words tripped me up. I didn't know what Keeler Fog was, but with the "powder coat", I figured it was a dust cloud (sinister? I'd have to read to know for sure.) I know what a playa is and what manzanitas are and I think if you remove them, your setting becomes bland.

Your first two paragraphs set up a contrast between the artificial life of one place and the lack of life of another. The only suggestion I would have made is to definitely have something happen in the third paragraph, which you showed you do in your comment.

Kanani said...

Okay, so you can write. Interesting images--though not necessarily original, full vocabulary, some awkward phrases (translucent field emission displays) and also overdone.

Pull back a little bit. Save some up for later on. You don't have to hit the reader with everything all at once.

BuffySquirrel said...

Okay, I don't often say this, but this has too many adjectives for me. Precision columns, fan palms, trendy youth, stainproof khamees, atonal electrosynth, endless sprawl. I think there's only one noun in that sentence that doesn't have its adjective. The writing starts to have an annoying rhythm of adj+noun, adj+noun. It might be better to cull a few.

I may never say this again!

Skott Klebe said...

I think that the problem with the first paragraph is that the only verb is 'was', and that's in the first sentence; the rest of the paragraph is parallel sentence fragments with loads of subordinate clauses. Look again at your William Gibson and your Neal Stephenson - they do the noun blizzard, too, but also mix in enough verbs to keep the reader moving.
I think that the parallel structure of the frags actually hurts more than it helps, because the parallel phrases are too long to resonate comfortably.
The Keeler Fog got me, too; why was Fog Capitalized?

Skott Klebe said...

See how this sounds:
The San Fernando Valley was alive. Along the bulletways, great green fan palms bowed at trendy youth in stainproof khamees making out while flying past the sprawl. In the towering shopping centers, translucent FE displays hawked herbal smoothies and cosmetic surgery at jaded teenagers on the slidewalks. Precious water, diverted from the Owens Valley, evaporated up into cottonball clouds from fluorescent green lawns.

There's a lot of great stuff in the original opening. I dropped the parallel structure, turned the fragments into sentences that featured the great verbs the author had buried in subordinate clauses. I also added 'great green' before fan palms for rhythm, and trimmed a little.

Kate Thornton said...

I'm probably in the minority here - okay, I *know* I'm in the minority here but I liked it - maybe for all the wrong reasons. I love the Owens Valley and am familiar with it. The setting rang so true for me that I would have read on even if there *was* no story. I have spent a lot of interesting time at the Caltech Owens Valley Radio Observatory. It's a unique place, and I was flabbergasted to see a story set there.
I once bought and read a perfectly tedious book by Anthony Hyde (China Lake) because it was set in China Lake.

Kanani said...

Yup, Scott. You nailed it. Nice edits. Now get back to work editing that book you've volunteered to write for Paris Hilton, okay?

Anonymous said...


Great suggestions! I'll definitely be incorporating some or all of them.

Fog is capitalized because it's part of a proper noun: Keeler Fog. Like "Gulf War Syndrome". It's not just "fog" from Keeler (a town on the east side of the lake), but a specific thing.


It's good to know that my research payed off. :) I spent many hours on it, digging up obscure maps, photos from all sorts of places and angles, journals of people who've hiked there, etc. I've never been able to visit, but I've had a strong interest in the area ever since I saw David Maisel's "The Lake Project".

Unfortunately, it's only the scene for the first ten pages or so. The MC and her father are backpacking in the High Sierras. They start out west of 395, head west (south of Owens Point), then past the Cottonwood Lakes to partway up Cirque Peak.

Ashni said...

I'd have to be in the right mood to read it, but this is a style that appeals to a certain sort of reader (the kind who likes William Gibson in larger doses than I can handle). In the right mood, and with enough really subtle incluing (inclueing?) to not lose me completely, I'd enjoy this, vocabulary level very much included. And the plot sounds cool.

Skott Klebe said...

Paris who?
That would take a lot of nouns, but they'd all be pretty small.

Skott Klebe said...
Keeler is a proper noun, and s/b capitalized; the USGS sez it's a kind of fog, not capitalized; it's clearer that way, anyway.