Wednesday, June 13, 2018

QK Round 2 Match 7: Planet Panic vs. #HackTheVoid

Title: My Best Friend Runs Venus
Entry Nickname: Planet Panic
Word Count: 45K
Genre: Middle Grade Science Fiction


At 12.9 years old, number-obsessed Kade Walker has never heard of death. Literally. But neither has anyone else he knows. Kade is one of hundreds of kids "living" across the solar system through robotic avatars while their real bodies sleep in pods on Earth. Nothing can hurt him this way; the adults all said so. They just never said how to survive middle school with only 1.0 friends.

Kade's friend Princess Tamika would rather plot their next prank than expand their social circle. Lucky for her, his newest scheme covers both their goals. They're taking a diplomatic joyride across the solar system using an old teleportation machine that he's reconstructed. Tamika will thank him later. He's 63.1 percent sure of it. Unfortunately, the machine's not rigged for current use, so when Kade fires it up, he unwittingly kills a major security wall and releases an infamous hacker. Panic rating: ten times infinity.

First the hacker shuts down all communications with the adults. Then she devastates the security walls protecting Tamika and the other royal avatars. If Kade doesn't want to see his best friend used as a puppet, he needs to stop the hacker fast--even if that means waking up on Earth to fight with a body he never realized could be hurt.

MY BEST FRIEND RUNS VENUS (45,000 words) is an MG science fiction novel combining the virtual setting of READY PLAYER ONE with the adventurous planet-hopping of JACOB WONDERBAR

First 250

It wasn't the first time Kade had hacked the Venusian maintenance system, but it was one of the best. If he had to put a number on it--and there was very little he didn't put a number on--he'd give it a 9.7. He checked the cable leading from his tablet to the blocky computer box embedded in the burnt orange mountainside. Connection: serviceable.

Tamika leaned over to inspect his work. "Hey," she said. "What do you think our real bodies look like?"

Kade tightened his grip on the cable, causing a nearby rock to flicker. The dust around it swirled to match. "I... imagine you look the same, and I look like a person instead of a gargoyle," he said. "But, hey, no complaints. I hear Mercury's princess designed her social companion to be a purple unicorn."

Tamika blushed, and Kade's gaze dropped to his tablet. He flicked his right wing, bringing an overlay of glowing text into view. Ninety-eight more seconds for the code to run. Current time: 17:03:34. He'd checked the time twenty-three seconds ago, but whenever he wasn't reading data, he felt lost. The overseeing adults called it unhealthy. Healthy people could watch a sunset without calculating its luminosity every thirty seconds.

Healthy people sounded boring.

"Kade," Tamika whispered. "Something's coming."

Kade froze and scanned the area. His sensors detected a deep clunk-clunk echoing across Venus's stone-hard surface. Low volume, maybe twenty to thirty decibels. His first thought was that it was a patrol robot, but it was coming too fast.


Entry Nickname: #HackTheVoid
Word Count: 99K
Genre: YA Science Fiction - #OwnVoices Latinx


In 3023, millions of minds have been unknowingly trapped in a virtual reality world known as the Void. As these individuals can’t be disconnected without dying, their bodies have been placed in cryosleep by the U.S. Government. Only a few hackers can enter the Void and come back. Fewer are savvy enough to make a profit by doing odd-jobs inside for those interested in exploiting the virtual past.  

18-year-old Suzanna JimenĆ©z, the fierce and loyal leader of the most notorious hacker crew—the Ghosts of the Void—is one of these. She lost the last of her family when her sister was kidnapped. After years of searching, Suzanna is convinced her sister’s dead, and escapes the real world by spending most of her life inside the virtual one.

Then Suzanna receives evidence her sister’s alive from a government official and her teenage bodyguard, Akari Nakamura. All they want in return for the information on her whereabouts is for Suzanna to accomplish the impossible: find the creator of the Void in order to finally shut it down. A man who has successfully evaded the government for centuries.

Now, Suzanna must decide if finding her sister is worth risking the lives of her crew; if she is really willing to kidnap the daughter of the Void’s creator to get the job done; and if her crew is good enough to hack it through the virtual world before getting wiped out by its security system.

GHOSTS OF THE VOID has multiple (mostly #OwnVoices Latinx) points of view. And will appeal to readers of WantWarcross, and Otherworld.  

First 250:

Akari Nakamura stared at the blinking backup lights above the cafeteria exit, signaling a Code Black. Someone cut the electricity, killing the security system inside of California’s State Capitol building. She threw her granola bar aside and dashed out the door, then followed the winding corridors to the office of Representative Edna Rodgers. Once in, she pushed the heavy door into the wall until it closed, and darted next to her boss, who’d remained seated calmly at her desk, waiting for Akari with her customary stoic face.

“Don’t worry. I’ve got you,” Akari said. She took hold of the state-of-the-art Cobra stunner on her utility belt, her slender fingers finding their usual place of comfort. The familiar coolness of the steel in her hand instantly cleared her thoughts.

Stay focused, Akari, focus, she told herself, then let out a slow exhale and fixated on the closed door, its useless electric lock.

The back-up lights cast the carpet, ceiling, furniture, and their faces in an eerie red glow. As if blood coated the room. Was it a sign of what was to come? Akari was determined to make sure it wouldn’t be her own blood spilled today. Or the representative’s.

The door banged into the wall as someone forced it open, letting in the shrill noise of the alarms blaring through the hallways of the building.

A young man strolled in. Akari’s breath caught in her throat


  1. Judges, please reply here. Good luck!

    1. Planet Panic
      Query: Okay, I neeeeed to read this right now. The story set-up is fantastic, combining quirky details to endear us to your mc, right along with the conflict and stakes. This query is very well written, and I love the storyline. Comp titles are fantastic, too. In the last paragraph where you list the comp titles, I would say “…is a MG science fiction novel…” because when I see the letter MG, I automatically say Middle Grade in my head, and that should be preceded by ‘a’, not ‘an’. But there’s a very real chance that’s just me. :)
      250: You have such a great blend of tension, playful banter, and intriguing details in this sample. Right off the bat, within the first two paragraphs, we know about Kade’s number quirk, that he’s an excellent hacker, and that they don’t know what their real bodies look like. This is a lot to cram into such a short space, but you did it really well—nice job. And then the 250 goes on to include info about him looking like a gargoyle, the controlling adults, etc. But it’s all done in such a casual, light way, that it doesn’t feel like a lot of info to process. We get the info we need—just enough to hook us, without feeling info-dumpy at all. Really nice job on this. I wouldn’t suggest any changes at all.

    2. Ugh, word limits... Here's the second half of my comments:

      Query: I really liked this entry during the last round, and you did need to trim it down because it was long before, but I feel like an essential piece of information has now been lost in this revision. The fact that the people in the void are stuck in a cycle of repeating the same year over and over is an important piece of information, if you’re going to include the line about your mc being savvy enough to be hired by people wanting to exploit the virtual past. If we don’t know the people in the void are reliving the same day, then the part about exploiting the virtual past doesn’t make any sense. Of course, you can cut the part about exploiting the past from the query as well, and that solves your problem without adding a bunch of words back in.
      I would also suggest combining your two first paragraphs into one longer one, so that you have one meaty paragraph of set-up, and then you can dive into the conflict in the second paragraph. You’ve done a good job cutting the info in the first two paragraphs from your old version into what could be just one paragraph in this new version—It’s definitely more streamlined now, and that’s good.
      Lastly, in this line: “…find the creator of the Void in order to finally shut it down. A man who has successfully evaded the government for centuries…” I would re-word like so: “find the creator of the Void—a man who has successfully evaded the government for centuries—in order to finally shut the virtual reality down.”
      Also, I really like your nickname (#HackTheVoid) and I actually think it would make a fantastic title for the book. It’s unique and attention-grabbing.

      250: You’ve made some good changes here. It’s great that you’ve mentioned Akari in the query so that when we start in her perspective in the 250, it’s not so jarring. Also how she’s more hurried in the first paragraph. I’m worried, though, that the first paragraph includes too much of Akari’s movements. She threw her granola bar, dashed out the door, followed the corridors, pushed the heavy door closed, darted next to her boss. I’d cut this by half. We don’t need to know every move she makes. It’s enough that we see the alarm light go on, and that she throws her granola bar aside in her haste to get up or whatever. Then we can see her arriving, breathless, and fill in the rest of what she must have done along the way to get to her boss quickly.
      Alternatively, in order to avoid telling us so much about her actions, you can change the subject of the sentence and still get the same idea across. For example, you could try a line like this after the alarm lights start blinking: “Her granola bar fell to the floor and her boots smashed bits of it into the carpet as she fled the room.” That still shows her haste to leave, but the subject is different (the granola bar), and that breaks up the action a bit so we’re not just reading list of things she’s doing.

      I really enjoyed both of these queries/stories, and I’m so sorry I have to pick one. They both sound like fantastic books. But …

      Victory to Planet Panic!

    3. Posting for Jumping Jellybean.

      Planet Panic
      Query: Love the opening. I audibly “awwwwed” at 1.0 friends. It breaks my heart that middle school still sucks even for avatars…

      1st 250:
      Fantastic!! The only thing was I felt like you could delete the 2nd paragraph. We don’t need to know they’re avatars right away. I’d let that unravel a few pages in.


      These “millions of minds”, where did they come from? Poor, incarcerated, hospitalized, homeless? I’d like to know who and how these mind are chosen.
      Otherwise this query is super intriguing.

      1st 250:
      Love it, but nothing screams 3023 to me. References to granola bars, malfunctioning electric locks, blinking backup lights, all read very now, not at all a sophisticated future we all imagine.

      VICTORY to Planet Panic

    4. Planet Panic: This query starts with a fantastic hook and proceeds to describe a unique science fiction world through the eyes of our lovable protagonist, Kade. I get just enough of everything in the query from Kade's amusing obsession with numbers, to a few key details about his 1.0 and only friend, Princess Tamika.

      One spot that slowed me down a little was when you wrote "he unwittingly kills a major security wall and releases an infamous hacker..." First, the word choice of "kill" was setting me up for something else here, but then I was left to wonder if he freed this infamous hacker from some kind of a prison, or how this came about? I think you can get more precise with the language there. It also might be worth mentioning somehow what the roles of the royal avatars are on the other planets. Interesting that we developed all this advanced tech, but somehow reverted to monarchy.

      The First 250 left me with a lot of questions. You slide in talk about social companions and that Kade looks like a gargoyle. This made me wonder if robot Kade LITERALLY looks like a gargoyle, or if you were just saying that. And what is Kade's relationship to Tamika. Sure, they're friends, but is he a subject? Someone her parents found for her? The cliffhanger at the end doesn't quite grab me because I don't know if they're in a dangerous situation or if there are any stakes to a patrol robot (or some other kind of robot) strolling by.


      #HACKTHEVOID I must admit I read through this one in round one and was immediately drawn in by the story. I think you've made some great changes here from the original query.

      I love that you've moved the focus from the millions of minds trapped in the Void and returned it to Suzanna's sister where it should be. After all, who really cares about a million faceless people next to one girl trying to rescue her kidnapped sister, and the last surviving member of her family. I also appreciated it that you worked Akari into the query (so that I'm not as surprised by her in the first 250) and that you removed references to the thousand year imprisonment (which mostly just confused me).

      I love the moral quandary this story represents, as Suzanna debates if it's ethical to risk the lives of her crew on an extremely dangerous mission with incomplete information in order to try and save her sister. The grey doesn't stop there, with discussion of kidnapping the daughter of "a man who has successfully evaded the government for centuries."

      My main problem is that I'm still missing key details. It's unclear how kidnapping this man's daughter will get her sister back--a hostage exchange? Was the man responsible for kidnapping her sister? Will this be done in the real world or the virtual one? How does one conduct a virtual kidnapping? Is her sister trapped in this world or the virtual one?

      The premise is fascinating, I just want some more details.

      First 250: This section feels like a prologue to me. The problem is, I don't get a great feel for Akari's personality during this short clip, nor am I aware enough of the stakes of what she's doing to get completely invested. It's tough with such a small sample, but I was really expecting Suzanna traipsing through a virtual wasteland and instead got a nervous government official and her aid in a California state building.


      Tough decision, because both concepts are really creative and intriguing. But like Highlander, there can only be one, so...


    5. Planet Panic
      Query: What a fun query and premise! I think you did a great job of laying out the plot and you gave so much personality to Kade. I was a bit confused about Princess Tamika (if she’s royal, why doesn’t she have a lot of friends?). I would have also almost liked a bit more at the end to give a sense of where the story is going to go (will Kade team up with other kids in their own bodies? Will his mission take place on a particular planet or all across the system?). But at the same time it’s already quite strong.

      First 250: Just like your query, this was a great opening. We got both Tamika’s and Kade’s personality right away. When Kade describes himself as a gargoyle, I was hoping for just a bit more, because I found I couldn’t quite picture the character just off of that. A few more pertinent details might help, if you can slip them into the story in a natural way.

      Query: Great query and what a cool world. Reminds me of the Matrix almost. I would have liked the first paragraph to be a bit shorter, so that we can get to the character and her story quicker. The mention of Akari also threw me. Now that I’ve read your first 250, I understand why you wanted her in the query, but it seemed like an odd detail to add at the time, considering she’s only mentioned briefly once in the query.

      First 250: Great first 250. I liked the tension and the action in it. I would have liked a bit more internal thought from Akari throughout this, though. I was a bit lost about who Akari was and what she was doing, even knowing that she was a bodyguard. I think that a few more internal thoughts would help ground the reader into what is happening.

      These were both such great entries, but I felt that Planet Panic was a bit clearer in what was going on, so victory to Planet Panic!

    6. Hi All!

      Remember this is a subjective business, so take what you want and leave what you don't :) I'll be starting with Planet Panic.

      I really loved that you added Kade's number obsession into the query. I think it endears him to the reader and makes us understand him a bit more. That being said, I would almost change 12.9 to twelve years nine months or something along those lines because I reread that sentence multiple times to catch your meaning. I liked the set up of his joyride across the galaxy and how it was because of his decision that the hacker is released! It really makes for a great story. As for your first 250, they were tightly written and moved the plot along. I have no complaints of suggestions! I got a great sense of Kade and who he was, which is always a huge bonus in middle grade.


      I have a massive soft spot for people trapped in virtual reality. I really loved the set up and how Suzanna has made her living off the Void. What I wasn't certain of is if Akira was Suzanna's bodyguard or the government officials. I understand why you include Akira, but the Segway into introducing her seems odd. Maybe include why they are forced together instead? Like if the government official forces Akira along to keep tabs on Suzanne or something of the like? As of right now, she just seems put in there because she is your first POV.

      The first 250 I really enjoyed! Akira seems smart, competent, and an all around interesting character. I definitely wanted to keep reading! However, I'd have to ask if this is the best place to start your manuscript? Suzanne seems like the driving motivator throughout your query and it might benefit readers to ground them with the character you've introduced them to, then switch to your other POV's. I LOVE multiple POV stories and I definitely think the fact your manuscript is a multiple POV can be a strength. But all multi-POV stories have the "main" main character. Everyone shares the stage and contributes to the book as a whole, but there is a "main" main character who really drives forward the plot (Like Kaz in Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo). You've set this up in a way that Suzanne is the "main" main character, so you should start off on that foot and follow it up with Akira if you can.

      Victory for me goes to #Hackthevoid. It has all the elements of a great read and I'd love to continue reading it! I liked Panic Planet a lot, but this just really called to me. And I think the author can make it more cohesive for the next round.

    7. The Queen of ThornsJune 16, 2018 at 12:39 AM

      Greetings, Kombatants! Queen of Thorns here with feedback and a vote. Please bear in mind that my feedback, like all feedback, is subjective.

      Planet Panic:

      Query: I actually have just one question about this query. Why would saving people from the hacker require Kade to actually occupy his body with his consciousness? I understand that's dramatic and totally something you want to talk about here because it upends the security he's lived his own life believing he would have. However, it seems like an arbitrary choice because of an absence of context. Does he realize that he and the hacker must share the same vulnerability: their actual bodies? What's the strategy here? Teasing THAT will help give that cliffhanging moment more resonance with your query reader.

      First 250: The Princess and Kade has a solid character chemistry and comes off clearly in the first page, and you end in a place where tension builds without seeming superfluous. Perhaps clarifying the simulated physical environment they are in will help the reader picture what it means to have "someone coming," though?


      Query: Why do we get Akari's name in the query? I understand she is a POV character, based on the first page, but it seems very strange that you place the stakes of the story on your MC and her "crew," which presumably means the hacker group she leads, and not Akari, et. al, right? Is there a way to either clarify Akari's lasting importance to the conflict and thus make the first page and first chapter read as more relevant, or is it necessary to name her at all at this early stage? Also, you have a sentence fragment at the end of your query, which might work fine if you were in the descriptive, back-cover-blurb, voicey part of the document still, but this is just functional, comp title info, and thus you should make sure you're grammatical and save artistic diversions from formal style for the rest of your writing.

      First 250: this is an Action Opening kind of thing, which can be a tough sell, as the immediate plunge into things happening and high stakes is supposed to draw the reader in. However, at this stage, I don't know Akira, who she is caring for, etc., and I don't care about them yet. I would strongly suggest you reconsider whether your first 250 words is the right place to hit the reader with the action mallet. Could it wait for the third or fourth page, even, giving us a chance to get grounded and invested?

      With respect to both the query and the first page, my vote goes to Planet Panic.

      Good luck, Kombatants!

  2. Planet Panic


    I think you have nailed it!
    The one thing I could pick on (if I had to) is the sentence “They’re taking a diplomatic…” Since the query is in present tense (as it should be), it may seem like they are actually doing it, and then the trip ends as he fires up the machine in the next sentence. It could be fixed with a colon maybe. If it has to be fixed at all.

    Great job!

    250 words:

    This is perfect! I think you did right in keeping the “that” in the last sentencešŸ˜Š

    Good luck!

    #Hack the Void


    This is so much clearer now.

    I would consider saying Suzanna receives the information through the government official’s body guard. Maybe even say she gets it from “Akari Nakamura, a government official’s bodyguard.” To make the inclusion of Akari in the query less random.

    I still think you could give more details as to how this mission risks the life of Suzanna’s crew. Why does hacking the virtual world put them in danger of getting wiped out of the system this time? I got the impression they do this all the time.

    250 words:

    Should it be “Someone had cut the electricity…” in the second sentence?

    The next sentence is a bit long. It kills a bit of the emergency Akari must be feeling. This also applies to the long introduction of her employer. Could you refer to the Representative as “her boss” here, and give her name and title later?

    Other than that: Great job!

    Good luck!

  3. Planet Panic

    I love the number details. I'm not really sure how you can take a diplomatic joyride in a teleporter, like a piece of information is missing, especially how this equates to a prank. Otherwise though, good work

    First 250, I was confused for a second re: wings before I realized he was being literal about looking like a gargoyle. Did he get a choice in being her social companion? The questions I have can wait, though. This is a good start.



    A good improvement from the last one. It's nice to have a grounding point for the character the story starts with, and you cleared up some of the things that confused me before.

    First 250, the only thing I have to say is "No, don't waste a good granola bar" but then it's probably not real anyway. This is ALSO a good start.

    This one's gonna be tough for the judges. I don't envy them.

  4. Planet Panic

    This entry has a fun concept and great voice. I was a little unclear how activating an old teleportation machine could unleash a hacker...but that's the kind of question that's hard to address in a query, so I'll take your word. :)

    This edition makes it more clear that Kade's avatar really IS a gargoyle. Funny, and make you wonder what his princess/friend was thinking when she made that call. Maybe mentioning it in the query would make that conclusion even more intuitive? But I think your first page did a good job spelling out the situation.


    I feel like this query has a few too many moving parts. I understand the Void...sort of. It's a vast, sentient consciousness of people who would be dead IRL. I'm unclear what the allure is for hackers to access it, though. Susannah likes spending time there...but she's forced into a position of pulling the plug on all these undead minds in exchange for info about her sister. Seems like this would be some kind of heinous war crime, but I get the idea the government is in favor. Not sure what her bodyguard has to do with the plot.

    In the 250, I'd like to feel more closely tied to Akari. Maybe a little more characterizing detail before she's thrown into a state of emergency? I know something bad is about to happen, but I'm not sure why I should care about Akari, except that she like granola bars (me too) and seems competent.


    Oh my gosh your query is so sleek and to the point. Excellent job. My only quibble is wondering if, since the ending sentence of "he never realized he could be hurt" you should *start* with the concept of "hurt" rather than death *or* end with "he never realized could *die*"

    Your first 250 is also great. The numbers are repeated enough to be clearly important. Still love the bit about "healthy people".


    Hm. On one or the other, I don't have any real troubles with your query or first 250. But Your query features Suzanna as the main character. The first 250 is about Akari. I don't think this is a huge problem, but if you *can* put Suzanna first, it might be worth pondering.

    In the query: "A man who has successfully evaded the government for centuries." is technically a full sentence (has subject object verb) but feels fragmentary... like it's waiting for something to come after.

    "points of view. And will appeal" should probably be a comma.

    First 250

    "Someone cut the electricity, killing the security system inside of California’s State Capitol building." this sentence should probably have "had" as in "someone had cut" the power because it is describing a reason for the sentence before.

    Cool ideas, everyone! Excellent job!