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Hyper-hyphenated Hyperspace

By Patrick Rochefort, member

Nov 8, 2015: Disclaimer: This review is provided as part a mutual review agreement.

2 out of 5 Stars

The Good: When it hits its stride, Warbler reads like a good science-fiction-in-space television drama. Tight stakes are set, character succeed and fail on their merits and flaws, dialogue is snappy, and real consequences are visited on the poor bastards by a hostile universe.

The Bad: When it is off its stride, Warbler reads like a bad science-fiction-in-space television drama, with stilted and pretentious dialogue, and intolerably implausible characters. The passive voice is over-used narratively, weakening the critical opening paragraphs of the story.

The Ugly: The use of narrative interjection and parenthetical hyphens throughout the story is throw-the-book-at-the-wall infuriating. Some later chapters need a proofreading pass.

Critique follows:

For better or worse, Warbler reads like a television science-fiction series.

At its best, Warbler’s sense of scope and scale can be taut, tight, and tense. Dialogue can be snappy, events and drama unfold, and it can seize and engage the reader.

At its worst, Warbler can read like the worst of bad sci-fi TV scripts, with atrociously stilted dialogue, confusing action sequences, and a loss of coherence that approaches the literary equivalent of ‘shaky-cam technique’.

There are critical flaws in this work that have damaged its rating. On the basis of story idea, I’d be prepared to float this as a four-star review, but the execution suffers terribly on a few key points, in order of importance:

1) The use of parenthetical hyphens in the work, and hyphens overall as punctuation, is atrocious. They were intended to be used as interjecting information for the reader’s benefit, but instead they repeatedly knock the reader off of the rails. As a mechanism, they are grotesquely overused in this story, especially in the early chapters.

2) The author frequently interjects narrator commentary into a portion of exposition, like so: —> As the Commanding Officer she had a small office-read as ‘miserable and cramped office’-attached to her private cabin.

Once or twice in the story would be a forgivable sin, but this sort of narrator interjection occurs repeatedly, and often accompanied by those parenthetical hyphens.

3) The use of narrator-interjected adverbs is common, like so: —> She also obviously wore a Truekeeper on her wrist-in the fleet, everyone wore one.

However, that line precedes any explanation of what a Truekeeper is, or why it matters. The narrative voice often suffers from these "as you should already know" moments.

4) When the dialogue gets on stilts, oh boy, those are some tall stilts: “You’re likely speaking the truth, Midshipman-however, please understand that I dislike that agency, and do everything in my power to make their lives hell. If you happen to be one, I would highly suggest staying out of my way.”

5) There’s a lot of elements in Chapter 2 that would have been better served up to the reader in Chapter 1. The story doesn’t really hit its stride until the end of Chapter 3, and I felt that a lot of that came down to the choices of timing. Scale, scope, and stakes aren’t really established until the end of Chapter 2, and that’s a long way to ask a new reader to trust you on the plot.

6) "Five minutes later, it happened." Every word and line in a story should count, and once in a while this story drops that ball badly.

7) So our Captain Shan is 19 years old, but in command of . . . anything, really. Also she wrote a paper at age 14 or younger that apparently revolutionized some higher math used by the space-folding pilots? And somehow instead of being safely kept in R&D where a brilliant scientific mind like hers should be, she ended up in command of a ship?

Boy, they are /not/ kidding about nepotism in their military! I often found my suspension of disbelief with this character broken. She’s just not believable, conceptually.

I appreciate that once she’s in command she’s shown to make a lot of bad decisions; those seem realistic enough. She’s got some terrible judgement, sometimes. But there’s not much support in this story for why she was in the position to make these terrible judgement calls in the first place.


Pardon the pun, but this was work that happened in a vacuum, and it shows. There’s solid ideas waiting to be found in this story, but it’s clear to me that it wasn’t subjected to enough critique early enough in its development to shed the bad habits and parts that just don’t work.

I rated this story 2 stars, but I think it has the solid skeleton inside it to support 4 stars, with a lot of rewrite and clean-up of bad habits. Even just cleaning up all the hyphens and bad narrator-interjection commentary would raise this to an easy 3-star.

Aside to the author, Joseph Vozzo: This is work that would definitely benefit from a dependable cadre of beta readers, and a trip through the Hemingway Editor ( Acquire both, and you’ll find your work improving drastically in very short order. Read your work out loud, especially your dialogue, and you’ll very quickly figure out how to un-stilt it without sacrificing what you want to say. My co-writer Keith and I both took the time to read through your story. We both agree: We want you to keep writing, but we think your work can (and will) be much stronger with some critique and tools.

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