Sci-Fi Sample: Tale of the Draggon

The following is chapter one from a book I wrote in 1984.  It is part of a trilogy.  The publishing houses refused it back then.  After wall-papering my office with rejection slips (it was a small office) I packed it up, tucked it away and forgot about it.  A recent decluttering brought it to light again and I’m thinking of producing it as an eBook.   I have always considered fiction to be my weak suit.  Please read this sample chapter and give me your opinion as to whether or not this book has potential to sell.  This is a Sci-Fi book, if you hate Sci-Fi, you are excused, thank you for coming, I hope to see you next time.  To the rest of you, if you saw this as a sample of the book, would you find it compelling enough to buy the book?

Thank you for your input, feel free to be honest, that is what I am asking for.

Revised per suggestions: 4/15

Tale of the Draggon

Book One:  The Equarian War

 By:  Allan Douglas

 Chapter 1: Planetfall

Garthaak throttles back to reduce speed as their ship feels the first tugs of atmosphere.  This will be an unconventional, and dangerous, approach; dropping rapidly through the atmosphere to minimize the chance of detection, then hugging the surface as they make their way to an unauthorized port of entry.  It must all be done as quickly as possible; in and out, fast and clean.  He points the nose of their small ship directly at the planet and calculates the speed to keep the ship just to the safe side of incineration.

Koni scans her board, looking for signs of trouble.  She and her three crewmates had made many runs in the modified little starship. Rough atmosphere, heavy loads and fate tended to fry circuits and ancient components. Koni stays busy keeping their ship operational anytime they enter an atmosphere. But she enjoys the challenge.

The sky changes from black to blue-green.  Wispy white clouds­ rip past the forward window.  The green smear of landscape resolves into a nubbly­ multi-hued fuzz.  ­The surface below grows more distinct as they descend; a river meanders across the scene like brown yarn on a green­ rug and grows larger as the emerald sphere resolves into a lush tropical planet; fuzz turns to nubble,­ patches of color sharpening against the backdrop of jungle.  A few small lakes ­become visible as the surface rushes dizzyingly up at them.

Just when it seems ­that the little craft would surely auger into the jungle landscape, Garthaak ­pulls the ship’s nose up, opening the throttles and pushing the suspensor ­generators to full power.  Engines roar to life, thrumming through every fiber and bolt.  The ship ­shudders violently as the stumpy suspensor wings claw at the air and shove against gravity.  A multitude of ­items rattle and clank inside lockers.  Massive branches reach upwards, ­ready to snare the vessel.  The tiny freighter ends its headlong descent and ­wallows downward through its suspensor field, nose angled up, generators ­screaming as they fervently try to repel the fast rising ground.  Garthaak gradually eases back on the suspensors and levels out.  The ­craft shoots forward, riding on its suspensor field, just above the treetops.

Koni unclenches her fists, allowing the blood back into her fingers.  All­ but Garthaak share a common sigh.  He merely tosses a smug look over his ­shoulder at the others as he keeps the ship skimming along at a very high speed, ­the jungle a green blur as it passes close below them.  The ship rolls side to side as Garthaak winds his way through the taller trees in order to stay glued to the jungle canopy.

“There.”  Fothaak’s bony hand curls in on itself, leaving a single ­knobby brown digit pointing toward a smudge on the horizon, “That must be the ­mountain range.”

“Yes.”  Garthaak agrees, “And we must not give ourselves away by going ­over it.  There is a pass somewhere; the only way through.”

Fothaak compares the shape of the mountains rising before them to those ­represented on the chart, “There it is.” he states, waving vaguely at the window.  Garthaak swings the ships nose over a bit.  “No, the other way you fool!  The pass is right there, I’m sure of it.”

“Fool?!  I am your captain.  You will address me as such!”

“Hah!  When you’ve earned my respect you shall have it.”

“Boys, boys;” interjects Koni from her station behind Fothaak, “we have no time for sparring, let’s just get this done, shall we?”

Gornoth shot her a disappointed look from across the aisle.  Being Calamarian her three shipmates love a spirited argument.  Being the only non-Calamarian aboard sometimes forces her to be the voice of reason.

“You had better be right about that pass, Fothaak.”  Growls Gornoth, seated on the lounge at the engineer’s station behind Garthaak, “Or we are going to­ disappoint our clients by burrowing their shipment into the side of a ­mountain!”

Suddenly a small aircraft bursts up through the foliage ahead of them and fires several rockets at the lighter.  Their ship jolts as one of them strikes.

Buzzers sound, bells ring and a myriad of small lights begin flashing on­ the command cabin’s console panels.  Koni’s dainty fingers fly over her­ keyboard, isolating the damaged circuits and routing power through usable ones. ­She barely notices as Fothaak and Gornoth back off of their lounges and bolt through the cockpit door to ­take up posts in the engine room.

Garthaak dodges the oncoming menace and shoves the throttles forward.  He tests even Koni’s faith in his skill as he skims the tree tops at this ­extreme speed.  She gasps as he swerves around the occasional taller tree, dodging missiles hurled at them by the aircraft.  The G forces are no longer compensated for by their artificial gravity.

Her work done, Koni clings to the arms of her lounge as she watches the mountains rise higher above the jungle.  She unconsciously clenches her teeth, hoping they can out run the fighter, hoping the pass will be where ­Fothaak said it is and unobstructed, hoping the fighter pilot was not ­calling more of his kind into the chase, hoping the ship would hold up ­under the strain, hoping…

The mountains loom above them now.  Her view is obstructed by Fothaak’s lounge and Garthaak’s bulky form.  Garthaak reduces speed and guides the lighter into the long, ­twisting mountain pass that appears suddenly before them.  His faith in Fothaak’s abilities belie the impression he’d created earlier.

Their instruments show ­that the fighter was far behind but still in pursuit.

Watching the gyrating mountains through the front window as the lighter ­rolled through the turns makes Koni queasy.  She turns her attention to the ­tactical scope in an attempt to pacify her stomach.

She sees that the nimble fighter is negotiating the pass much faster than ­they could and closing rapidly, though the pilot seems less skilled than­ Garthaak. Being a winged aircraft, it should have been able to make much crisper ­turns than it was.  Again and again it sloughs through a turn without banking­ enough, coming dangerously close to the rocky walls of the pass.

“Ha haaa!”  Shouts Garthaak as the lighter wallows through the final­ curve and accelerates into open air.  The fighter comes into the bend right ­behind them, fires several missiles then disappears from the screen, crashing into a rocky outcropping at the mouth of the pass.

In the distance ahead Koni sees a sheer sided, bone white mountain standing ­like a lone green-helmeted sentinel over the entire valley.  The ship stumbles ­as the fighter’s final salvo seeks them out and makes contact.

The thundering roar of major components exploding pushes Koni’s heart into ­her throat.  She fights with panic as a screech like that of bad chalk on a­ blackboard fills the ship and it rolls sideways, smashing into the trees.

The last thing Koni sees is Garthaak slapping the suspensor field controls ­to maximum and fighting with the ship’s guidance system even as the ship’s nose­ slams into the Equarian soil

* * * * *

Join the Conversation

24 Comments

  1. You have a solid story here but the opening paragraph needs work to get a little more oomph before you lose your reader. Grip the reader, give them a reason to continue reading. Maybe flip the story and begin with the landing?

    Good luck it sounds interesting.

    1. I had hoped that alarms sounding and crew members scrambling about the cabin of a space ship would do the trick, but apparently not. There is not really much action there at all is there, mostly the “argument”. I could move all of that deeper into the story – to a point where Garthaak is semi-conscious and remorseful over the death of his friends, thinking back on their childhood together and how they came to be where they were. It has too much exposition, this dialogue could help break that up.

      Thanks for your input Sheilagh, I’ll work on that.

  2. Allan I like to watch sci fi movies but I personally never buy sci fi books.

    However I’ve read the chapter… and it didn’t grab me in any way ( sorryyyy)

    I thought this….it didn’t get me thinking that something sinister this way cometh and the clues are in this chapter so spot the “hot cues” that make you want to read on.

    I would think the bits about possible smuggling should come later. “we were entering through a port where no one ever dared to venture unless they were doing something illegal or on a mission to blah blah blah” (building the suspense and intrigue)

    Thats my two penneth.. my first and probably last book critique ever lol… I won’t be giving up my day job!

    God loves a trier the eh? Good luck with it.

    If you cant sell it why not open it up to beginner critiques.. let people explore and try things out with it, maybe adding new paragraphs and reinventing it with you? That’s thinking laterally but it could be an exciting new thing to do.

    Ok I’ll sign off now as I’ve waffled enough as usual

    🙂 Karen

    1. Thank you for your remarks Karen. That is the trap fiction writers can fall into: knowing what’s coming and allowing the “build-up” to be too slow. That is of course the wrong approach. As you and Sheilagh have pointed out, if the story does not grab the reader by the brain stem right off, it probably won’t sell. Especially if this is the sample chapter I offer. I will look at moving this background info deeper into the story.

      I have seen one or two other sites where people were developing a book as as group-project. That is an interesting thought. I’d have to do some research to see how that is done so it doesn’t end up being a mash-mash of styles and directions.

      Thanks for your time and trouble!

  3. You’ve misunderstood me my fault I fear I wasn’t clear enough.
    This part is good I would use this
    The ship is an old class-three lighter which had been heavily modified for deep space ­travel. It was originally built for shuttling cargo from a transport ship to either another transport, an orbital storage facility or down to a planetary space port. The star drive engines were cobbled in after the lighter had been decommissioned from an already long and productive life. Koni and her three crewmates had made many runs in the modified little starship. Rough atmosphere, heavy loads and fate tended to fry circuits and ancient components. Koni kept busy keeping their ship operational anytime they entered an atmosphere. But she enjoyed the challenge.

    As their ship feels the first tugs of atmosphere, Garthaak reduces speed to prevent­ them from being incinerated.

    The sky gradually changes from black to blue-green. Wispy white clouds­ rip past the forward window. The green smear of landscape resolves into a nubbly­ multi-hued fuzz. A river meanders across the scene like brown yarn on a green­ rug and grows larger as the lush tropical planet rushes dizzyingly up at them. ­The surface below grows more distinct as they descend; fuzz turning to nubble,­ patches of color sharpening against the backdrop of jungle. Small clearings ­become visible, then the structures of individual trees. Just when it seems ­that the little craft would surely auger into the jungle landscape, Garthaak ­pulls the ship’s nose up. Opening the throttles and pushing the suspensor ­generators to full power, he tries to prevent a crash.

    Engines roar to life, thrumming through every fiber and bolt. The ship ­shudders as the stumpy suspensor wings claw at the air and shove against gravity. A multitude of ­items rattle and clank inside lockers. Massive branches reach upwards, ­ready to snare the vessel. The tiny freighter ends its headlong descent and ­wallows downward through its suspensor field, nose angled up, generators ­screaming as they fervently try to repel the fast rising ground. Garthaak ­nudges the throttle a bit more, gradually easing back on the suspensors, leveling out. The ­craft shoots forward, riding on its suspensor field, just above the treetops.

    Koni unclenches her fists, allowing the blood back into her fingers. All­ but Garthaak share a common sigh. He merely tosses a smug look over his ­shoulder at the others as he keeps the ship skimming along at a very high speed, ­the jungle a green blur as it passes close below them.
    Introduce the reader slowly to characters show us why we should like them. You have talent and this would be a good book with a little revising .Good luck hope this helps.

        1. I also just received my copy of Notes From An Alien; I’ll try to get that read ASAP. I’m not a speed reader though, to me a good novel is like a glass of fine wine; I like to savor the words, let them roll around in my head as I read them. The best proof of a truly great novel is when my wife has to come poke me because calling from across the room didn’t grab my attention away from the book.

  4. Hi Allan. I’m not a big fan of sci-fi either but as far as my feedback goes, I think any book has to have that fresh and original feel to it. I’m not sure but as I’m reading the chapter, it failed to bring any expression to my eyes. However, I think this is very healthy. A lot of successful authors just kept on writing. And a lot of them, these authors admit, they aren’t really proud of releasing to the public. Just keep the faith!

  5. Exposition should be held off (to some degree) until after the bumpy landing, so as to peak a readers interest in the conflict. Also, some sentences are very wordy, “less is more.” In this chapter, their situation doesn’t feel life threatening. Perhaps the use of short spurt sentences in some places would relay their dilemma more accurtately.
    Interesting enough to read more though.

  6. Hi Allan,
    I think you’ve got the beginnings of an interesting tale – but FAR too much scene setting and description. You need to plunge straight into the action. One of the major problems is your viewpoint, I think. I know many sci fi writers use omniscient viewpoint where they tell the story ‘from above’. However, it is very difficult to do well. My main piece of advice would be to tell the story from the viewpoint of ONE of your main characters – and stick to it. That would entail NOT dipping into the head of any of your other characters while in the same scene. By all means have another character tell the next slice of the story, but ensure this happens after a scene break or new chapter. This gives your character more punch & is also a more modern approach – a lot of editors & agents are looking for ‘character-led stories’ these days and this is what they mean. You give us a lot of description about the action, but don’t go into your characters’ heads – we don’t know whether they are afraid or excited as you don’t tell us what they are thinking. It’s like we’re watching them on a screen without being able to see the expressions on their faces. I’m not sure about the present tense, either. Particularly as in places, it slips into past tense. Bear in mind it is extremely difficult to fully sustain and think carefully why you decided to write in the present before continuing.
    Also check your punctuation – “Ahhh!” shouted Gathaak. Because it is a speech tag, the ‘shouted’ doesn’t have a capital letter. If it had been a gesture tag, it would.
    I’m conscious that it sounds like a litany of moans, but the writing has energy and your prose is fluent and well expressed. But before you take it further, I’d advise a MAJOR rewrite and maybe hiring a good editor experienced in fiction writing to help you tighten up the story.
    Good luck 🙂

    1. Thank you for your advice, sjhigbee. I too do not care for the present tense. I original wrote it in 3rd person past tense, but the editor I hired insisted that present tense would make it more active and engaging. I am currently in the process of re-witing the story and am going back to the past tense. Another reader make the same suggest of eliminating the set-up, so I re-wrote this chapter to begin with their plunge into the atmosphere. I can go back and fill in who they are and why they are there later.

      The POV issue is an interesting point. I can not write the book from the POV of any one character for none of them are in every scene, I may be able to tell the story though the eyes of 4, maybe 5 characters. I’ll look into that possibility, Thanks.

    2. Oh, rats… I went back and found that I’ve already got the revised version up. If this is still too expository, then maybe there just isn’t enough action in this chapter to be worth keeping. 🙁

  7. Garthaak throttled back the small craft as he felt the first tug of the plant’s atmosphere. His fingers tingled in anticipation – after the long journey locked on auto-pilot, it felt great to once more flex his skills. Especially as this particular approach would be stretching said skills to the outmost. They’d all agreed that dropping through the atmosphere quick and dirty to avoid detection would be the best way to go. Well… mostly agreed, he amended, noticing Koni’s set face and white-knuckled grip on the monitoring key.
    The sky changed from black to blue-green. Garthaak felt himself grinning as the wispy white clouds ripped past them…

    1. There’s plenty of action here – honest! And I love the story start, you just need to flesh out your characters. Look at how the likes of Philip Palmer tackle viewpoint, rather than John Ringo, who tends to go for omniscient viewpoint – which is really tricky to do… I’ve given you a short example in my previous commentary – apologies if you think I’ve mangled your writing, I just wanted to try and demonstrate how I think you could take this to a successful conclusion. Be honest – I’m a bit dubious about your editor’s idea of present tense. A lot of readers in this sub-genre will find this really jarring, especially as you are finding it difficult to write naturally.

      1. No apology needed: I’m grateful for the advice. Present tense does not come naturally to me, I don’t care for writing in it for most things. A few pieces turned out well but by and large I much prefer past tense – for reading as well as writing. The editor was one I hooked up with through Writer’ Digest magazine. I thought that would be safer than picking a name out of a directory. When I do it again I’ll have to ask around for recommendations. Thanks!

    2. Ah, I got ya. Still third person, but not… well, hopping about on POV. I didn’t realize I did that so much until I went back an re-read it with that advice in mind. I’ll take another stab at it with this in mind and see if I can’t stabilize the scene and personify one of the characters more fully. Thanks SJ.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

The Broken-Down Temple
Movie Review: Alien Fury, Countdown To Invasion