Wednesday, June 14, 2017

QK Round 2: Asteroid Snacks vs. Super Powers and Problems

Title: The Crows of Phobos
Entry Nickname: Asteroid Snacks
Word count: 84K
Genre: Adult Science Fiction


Baku makes rent by doing odd jobs for her landlord and kills time flying her ship around the asteroid belt, hitting up seedy convenience stores for MSG chips. When she runs out of fuel and siphons some from a luxury cruiser, she sets in motion a series of misadventures that permanently alleviate her boredom.

The owner of the cruiser, Genevieve, forces Baku to pay for the fuel she stole. The only object of value Baku has is a silver coin she keeps as a good luck charm. Baku hands over her Siriusan denarius that, unbeknown to either of them, is worth millions of Ganymede Guilders.

The coin isn’t just valuable, it’s trouble. Possessing it leads Genevieve into the hands of paranoid but affable crime lord, Erik. Baku rescues her, and a friendship develops between the two women, but their subsequent attempts to evade Erik lead them into the world of forgery and organized crime.

When Erik captures Baku and holds her ransom, Genevieve forges art to secure her release. But Erik needs more than just art. He needs scapegoats to take the fall for the interstellar revolution he’s fomented by supporting two opposing sides of a Siriusan political conflict, and he isn’t afraid to doom Genevieve and Baku in his stead. Baku and Genevieve must ascertain his plans and subvert them or they’ll be captured and shipped off to Sirius.

First 250:

The Fly n’ Buy mechanic lay hibernating behind the checkout counter, his segmented body curled into a ball, his hundred eyestalks gently entwined. Above the till hung a sign that read ‘Pump Out Of Order.’

Baku shrugged off her irritation at having flown there for nothing. At least she’d gotten out of the house and filled a few of the many empty hours.

She roamed the dim aisles, loading her hand basket with gummy worms, condensed potato starch chips, and a stale, greasy donut from a rotating hotdog heater. The Aldebaranians who worked this asteroid outpost never knew quite what to make of human food. They roasted coffee beans in the popcorn popper and dumped buckets of cold, gelatinous soup in the slushy machine.

Baku placed her basket on the counter. She fished in her coat pockets for coins and dropped a handful in front of the till. A Cordelian thaler and two Callisto rupees tinkled onto the silicon countertop.

The clerk trained one eyestalk on the coins, then on Baku. He motioned with a claw for more.

Baku dug deep in an inner pocket and found an Io yuan beneath a lump of lint. She dropped it beside the other coins. The clerk scooped the money into the till and placed the items in a bag, donut first.

“Thank you,” Baku said, having acquired all the accoutrements of identity she could afford. Maybe one day she’d spring for a soup slushy.

The clerk replied with a grunt that wasn’t altogether unfriendly.


Title: Engine of Change
Entry Nickname: Super Powers and Problems
Word Count: 100K
Genre: Adult SciFi


Seeing twenty-seven-year-old Jenna downing shots at the local dive bar, you’d never guess she was once the feared supervillain Engine. That’s because everyone knows Engine is dead, just like the rest of the Specials–the teens who ten years ago tried to take over the world.

Or so the old fabricated headlines read. Jenna would tell you she and her friends were trying to help.

Burdened with anger and guilt over being the last of her kind, all Jenna wants is to be left alone in the secret life she’s pieced together in New York City. That dream dies when the man who created the plague that eradicated the Specials threatens humanity with a new strain of the virus, and a government agency aware Jenna survived demands her help. Help she has no intention of providing until they blackmail her with the only thing she would care about: secretly held survivors of the original infection.

Now Jenna must overcome her demons, revive the leader she was, and save the world. After suffering through the genocide committed against her people, she's not sure she can. Or should.
First 250 words

The worst thing about having gained immortality at sixteen was being treated like a scamming teenager any time I wanted a fucking drink.

“ID,” Jimmy said as I climbed into the rust-red swivel seat at the middle of the bar. He leaned over the stained bar top and eyed me like I’d trailed dog shit in on my shoe.

I ripped open my wallet, nearly knocking over a half-empty glass of skunky swill someone had abandoned. “I’ve been in here a hundred times. Why are you still being a tool about this?”

Jimmy flicked his bald head up and to the right, at the fist-sized black camera aimed at the bar. His engorged belly swung around under his blue sweat-soaked t-shirt. “Because I still don’t buy that you’re twenty-two, Jenna.”

He was right, I wasn’t twenty-two. I was twenty-seven, but got carded everywhere. I couldn’t even buy cigarettes without catching grief. Immunity to physical addiction was a nice perk to the whole doesn’t-age-or-get-sick thing, though. Take that, Philip Morris and Anheuser-Busch.

I yanked out my well-fabricated driver’s license and passed it over. Jimmy looked at it just long enough to satisfy a judge, and handed it back. “The usual? Beer and a bourbon shot?”

I nodded and jammed my ID back into my wallet.

The place was pretty empty; only three sad sacks scattered around, hunched in shadows, nursing their regrets. Of course it was a Tuesday at five PM and the place was a dump.


  1. Judges please respond with your feedback and vote here.

    1. No One Of ConsequenceJune 14, 2017 at 1:19 PM

      Not going to say a ton about this because I critiqued it in the last round. The plot and the stakes in the query are clearer now. The final paragraph, especially, is good. The last sentence could use a bit more oomph…shipped off to Sirius doesn’t seem like horrible stakes (because I don’t really know what that means.) It seems like an opportunity to inject a little of the voice that’s present in your first page.

      Not sure I have anything to add on the first 250 that I didn’t say last time.

      Query: Not sure how I feel about the second person in the beginning of the query. It works. But I think it could work in third person, too, and I don’t think you gain enough from the second person to make it worth it.
      The phrase ‘she would care about’ near the bottom of the next to last paragraph feels off.

      First 250: Love the voice. It conveys…I don’t know…something that fits about the character. Like she’s young, but she’s tired.

      JUDGMENT: This is tough. I think the query is probably stronger on AS, but I feel like the writing sample is better on SP&P. It’s a close decision, but I’m going VICTORY to SUPER POWERS AND PROBLEMS, with a very strong recommendation that you rework the first half of the query before the next round.


      Hmmm. I’m not digging this query. I think it’s a tad on the synopsis-y side of things and could use some punch, some voice, if you will. I do like the first paragraph. I think you can combine the next two paragraphs and tighten it up: give us Genevieve catching Baku and Baku paying with the coin, then move on to the main conflict that the coin is trouble. For the last paragraph, I think you need to explain what Sirius is, or just say space jail to cut back on the number of foreign terms.

      I like the 250 a lot. Nice intro to this world. Very organic with the MC’s actions. Get some of this voice into the query!


      Well, I’d totally read this! I like the query. Wondering if “trying to help” would be stronger if you added a sentence after it about how she/they tried to help and was rebuffed. Ex. “But hey, if humanity thinks it has what it takes to defeat XXXX on its own, so be it. Jenna’s fine on her own.” Then you can go straight into the next para, “In fact, all Jenna wants to do is . . .” I just think if there was some way you could add just a detail there it would spice it up a tad more.

      For the last paragraph, does “survivors of the original infection,” mean other Specials or her friends? Because if so, I’d go with that instead of “survivors of the original infection,” as knowing her friends are alive heightens the stakes/conflict.

      Love the 250. No suggestions there!

      This is another great battle. The 250s shine on both. Because one query is a bit cleaner, I am going with . . .


      Love the premise. Love the image of your gritty, apathetic, unwitting heroine. My only major gripe is that there are too many names and proper nouns for me. In the second paragraph I’d consider taking out the proper names for currency and subbing something more generic, and then try to rework the last paragraph a bit to make the stakes for everyone a little clearer and also limiting the number of names if possible. Other than that, I think it’s fab and absolutely something I would love.

      Your first sentence is way too wordy for me. I’d rework and condense to be punchier. I love the image, love the worldbuilding already, so I really want it to pop.

      LOVE THE SECOND PARAGRAPH. Wowzas. You are good at this worldbuilding thing. 3rd paragraph – again too many foreign proper nouns in one sentence for me. I’d cut one of the currencies and maybe “silicon.” 4th paragraph—don’t understand the “accoutrements of identity” line. Must be missing something. I’d consider cutting it even if I’m just dense. It’s wordy and doesn’t seem to add to your story.

      Wowzas. I really love this.

      Overall strong first paragraph, but I’d like a stronger verb/phrase than “take over the world.” I also think something’s missing in the next line, about “they were just trying to help.” Feels like it could be worded a little punchier. I think it’s that both phrases (take over the world and trying to help) feel like borderline clichéd sayings to me. I think the sentence that ends in “help” should have an em dash after it rather than a period. I think “revive the leader she was” could be worded differently. It feels a little awkward to me. Overall I think you did a great job of making the stakes and plot clear for the reader.

      (I’m no agent and this won’t affect my vote, but using The Specials reminds me a bit too much of The Uglies/Specials series. Also…this feels much more YA conceptually than Adult. Now, this may just be me, but I mostly read adult SF and I something about the voice of the query could be tweaked to make it sound a bit more adult. Just my opinion, though!)

      Yeah, okay, loving this voice. THIS feels adult. I think your query could use more of it, honestly. Maybe throw in a cuss word, even.

      I’d take out “tool.” Unless this happens next year, it loses the futuristic feel of your world.

      I really like this opening. A lot. Openings are so tough, and I think yours is a great because it introduces your character and some major premises without info dumping or rushing action. Well done!


      #$!(@$! This is hard. I really like both of these entries so much. Adult SF is my lit love, even though I write for kids, and I would happily devour either of these. I absolutely think both of you are incredibly talented and that these entries will go far, and I wish you both the best of luck. I think your 250s were neck-and-neck and pretty damned close to perfect. I think both queries need a bit of reworking, but since I have to make a choice, I am going to vote for the one I felt needed less, so….


    4. Forgot to sign my name on the above vote, sorry!
      -Molly Millions

    5. Finally, Adult sf entries! Excellent...

      Crits first, vote last. Here we go:

      Asteroid Snacks:
      There are a LOT of character names and world-building terms getting dropped in the query, which is a common struggle in sf query writing. I encourage you to try trimming out some of the names, or shortening the sections where they are used. I was particularly puzzled by Erik, because that's a masculine-associated name with a character who is identified as female. I'm not sure if this is a gender-fluid character or just a name choice with potential problems, but it did throw me a bit. Is Erik's name being Erik integral to her character, or can it be shifted slightly? There's enough abeyed understanding of world- and narrative-building readers of sf have to do without also juggling names that can add to confusion if there's not a good reason to invoke that confusion.

      The first 250 was strong, nicely paced, with plenty of campy details that give it a kind of The Fifth Element-meets-Waypoint Kangaroo feel. A lot to love there, and I would read on based on page one.

      Super Powers:
      Your query letter is lean and clean, which I like, with clear stakes and nice combination of internal and external conflict. The first page sings with voice and attitude. And, of course, you have a redemption arc-oriented plot, which is one of my trope-trigger weaknesses.

      By a nose, and with some regret because I love the bold camp of Asteroid Snacks, I'm voting for Super Powers and Problems.

      Good luck!

    6. Asteroid
      This reads more like an episodic synopsis rather than a query. Your story is buried which will make it hard for the reader to get to the hook. What is the inciting incident…the thing that sets your MC on her journey, where she has to make a decision to go or stay or ??? I’m not sure you’ve really given us the hook other than Baku and Genevieve have to figure out Erik’s plan or they’ll be sent to another planet? I think you spend too much time on all the events that lead up to this.

      You have good details and worldbuilding and tone here but I do feel it reads a bit heavy…there are so many details that I don’t think we get to settle in with your MC and feel what they’re feeling. Make us feel for your character and you’ll have us hooked.

      Super Powers
      This line doesn’t make sense to me: “Jenna would tell you she and her friends were trying to help.” When you say, “secretly held survivors” do you mean that they are Specials? And I’m not really feeling the stakes as dynamically as I’d like. Save the world or what??

      If she’s immortal, what’s the danger in trying to save the world? Otherwise, I like the writing.


    7. Creature of the SeaJune 15, 2017 at 9:51 PM


      Honestly, this reads more like a synopsis than a query. This happens and then this happens and then that happens. It wasn't until I reached the final paragraph that I felt like I got a glimpse of the true story about art forgery and scapegoats and the interstellar revolution. The rest feels more like setup. I would suggest finding the heart of this story and putting it up front. Otherwise you're going to lose an agent's interest quickly. I'm also not entirely sure who your protagonist is--Baku or Genevieve--since the focus seems to switch back and forth, which is problematic. There's some great stuff here, but I'm left feeling confused as to what this story is truly about.

      Now the 250 is another story. This is quirky, entertaining, and left me smiling. I love the juxtaposition of the familiar with the alien, and how the Aldebaranians didn't know what to make of human food. It really sets the tone, and the voice is fantastic. Great job!


      I really like this query. I love the idea of a supervillain turned reluctant hero. My one main question is a story question. If the government is holding onto other secret survivors, why do they need Jenna? Why can't they use one of the other survivors? Is there something that makes her different? Also, at one point you mention the Specials being her friends but there's also mention of genocide which feels bigger, like an entire race. So does she even know those that are being held? Or is it just the idea that there are still survivors of her own kind? I think the stakes need to be just slightly clearer in this regard. Otherwise, fantastic query.

      The voice is great in this 250. My only quibble is that I don't buy the whole ID thing if she's genuinely been in there that many times. It feels too hand-of-author to me, trying to work in her true age. Otherwise, great stuff.


      This is the hardest one for me so far. The query is much stronger for SPAP, but I was much more engaged with the 250 of ASTEROID SNACKS. Why can't I vote for them BOTH??

      ASTEROID SNACKS, I think you have my heart, but ultimately I have to give victory to SUPER POWERS AND PROBLEMS.

    8. Professor McGonagallJune 16, 2017 at 2:15 PM

      ASTEROID SNACKS: Congratulations on your entry and making it to round 2! This is a very strong entry, and other than a few comma nitpicks, I think the query is very strong. In the first sentence I think you need a comma after landlord to make it a little clearer, and in the third paragraph I think you don’t need the comma after Baku rescues her. See, I told you they were nitpicks! I enjoyed the 250 very much – I especially liked the humor and the little details, like the different kinds of money, and the clerk’s eyestalks.
      SUPER POWERS AND PROBLEMS: Congrats on your entry and making it to round 2! I really like the premise of this book. QUERY: There is a lot of good information here, but also some that is missing. You say Jenna and her friends were trying to help and also say she’s the last of her kind, but that’s all we get, and it left me confused. You say later there was a genocide of her people, but I’m not sure why. Can you focus more on the present conflict, and perhaps weave the information about her past in with that? You have a great story idea here – I just think it needs to be clearer in presentation. FIRST 250: Enjoyable and well-written.
      Congrats to both of you and best of luck!
      I really enjoyed both of these entries, but because I think the query is stronger,
      Victory to ASTEROID SNACKS

      Query: I’ve think you’ve got too much going on in your query, as well as too many proper names and new terms for a reader to absorb. Can you streamline/cut a few? Re: your stakes: Consider bringing Sirius in earlier and explaining why it’s bad to be shipped there. Since I don’t know what or where it is, it doesn’t increase the tension.
      First 250: I loved the humor and voice in your first page. I’d definitely read more.

      Query: I really like how you lay out your goal and stakes. My only suggestion is to tell/show the reader who the Specials are. Unless that’s just their title. I get hints, however, that they have some sort of power? Maybe I’m reading this wrong.
      First 250: Another entry with excellent voice & humor! I finished your 250 eager to read more.

      Wow. What a tough choice. It’s like the Voice: Michelle matched up two great entries and made it impossible to decide.

      But this is Query Kombat, and we have to declare victory to someone. My choice is . . . *sigh*


  2. Fellow Kombatant here, not a judge. (Thank goodness. This matchup is so tough. I really think these both sound terrific.)

    Asteroid Snacks

    Great query. Love the line "permanently alleviate her boredom." A couple nitpicky comments. I suggest tweaking the following line very slightly to read: "The coin isn't just valuable. It's trouble." I know it's not proper grammar, but I think you want the punch of the period rather than the pause of the comma. If not, maybe add "though" to draw out the pause.

    In the last paragraph of the query I got a bit lost in the detail and the end felt like a bit of a letdown. It doesn't feel very dire to get "shipped off to Sirius." Can you lose a little detail and amp the tension with some uncertainty about their fate so it feels more threatening?

    Overall, I really think it's a strong query and the 250 are fantastic. Would definitely read. Can't wait to see it on the shelves of my local bookstore. Nice work. Good luck in the Kompetition!


    Super Powers and Problems
    Another very strong entry. I do not envy the judges in this matchup.

    A couple nitpicky comments on the query: I think you need commas in the following sentence, "and a government agency, aware Jenna survived, demands her help."

    Very strong ending. I might add a single word, making this sentence read as such, "But after suffering…"

    Your 250 are terrific. Great voice. I would definitely read this book.

  3. Hi there! Fellow Kombatant here, take my advice with a grain of salt. :)

    Asteroid Snacks


    Love the intro. And you do a great job of highlighting your world-based terms with knowable descriptions for easy comprehension. I'm only slightly confused as to why Baku would rescue the woman who just demanded payment, unless they were somehow found by Erik together. Also, the impact of being shipped off to Sirius doesn't ring with the effect that I think you want, as we don't know if it's a perilious location or something else entirely.

    First 250:

    I love your descriptions. You really paint a picture, and I'd definitely keep reading. Great work!

    Super Powers and Problems


    You're query is really strong. I really don't have a lot to give here. Love the idea and the setup. Curiousity question: does Engine need to be italicized in the first instance if it isn't in the second? What does it add by being italiciczed?

    First 250:

    I'm so thankful I'm not a judge. I know I've said that a few times over now, but seriously. Your voice is killer. Personally, I'm glad you decided to keep the swear words. It really speaks to your character's disposition and outlook, and it's an adult novel, so it's not entirely unexpected. This story is right up my alley, and I would read it in a heartbeat.

    Good luck to you both!

  4. Another non-judge kombatant here ...

    Asteroid Snacks

    Query: This sounds so fun and adventurous! Questions I had: How does the coin lead to Erik and why don’t they just give it to him instead of the art for the ransom ... where does this coin fit in to the rest of the story (or is its sole purpose to lead them to Erik?)

    250: I love your set up and can picture what this might look like. What I want to know is how old is Baku because (as both a middle grade and adult writer) this reads more middle grade to me than adult – especially with the types of food listed. Is there a way you can make it known this is an adult shopping and not a child?

    Super Powers and Problems

    Query: This sounds great as well – I love the concept! I’m confused about the govt agency blackmailing Jenna and why they would have other survivors in secret. Why are they important to Jenna?

    250: Your first sentence is the best. You did such a great job of capturing her attitude and angst in just a few lines.

    Congratulations to both of you on two fabulous entries! Good luck!