Reviews for Deus Ex Machina, God from the Machine
Palantean Writer chapter 1 . 2/5/2012
Firstly, your synopsis: at first, I found that I stumbled over the sentence beginning, which is 'In a war-torn...' and the later 'follow the stories of...'. It felt to me as if 'follow should have been the start of a new sentence. The sentence structure is technically fine as it turns out, but it might be worth me pointing out that I nearly went arse over tit with it.

I'm not sure I'm very intrigued by the idea that the city has 'hidden mysteries'. I think it's just the fact that writers often state that there's a mystery to be known, but nothing more than that. I'd like to know at least a bit about what is so special about the mystery, even though that might be difficult to convey in just a few words (or characters, knowing how little space we at FP get to write our synopses). But personalising this mystery so I know what I don't know - if that makes sense - would make it more appealing to me.

Also, so far I'm not interested in the survivors' names. They don't actually tell me anything when all I want to know is whether it's worth clicking on this story and starting to read it.

The machines, the aftermath of the apocalypse and the daily horrors sound interesting, even though generally I'm a bit touch-and-go when it comes to dark storylines. Sometimes I really find them deep and rich in character but I can find them depressing, so I'll click in and see how chapter 1 grabs me.

"The cover was unmarked, and despite the cold and damp, the binding was un-damaged. He picked up the book, and sat down on the desk before opening it." Hmm. Okay. I love a good book as much as the next apocalypse survivor, but it seems a bit... targeted, for Mark to find this book and just sit down with it and start reading, for no apparent reason. I need a bit of a reason before I'll feel comfortable with this. Perhaps he's been walking all morning and wants to sit down, but because all around him is sadness, destruction and what have you, a book's a good way of getting his head out of all that for a while. I could go with that.

"The clouds did bring their frosted flowers," Maybe I'm just not a big fan of poetry, but 'did come' and 'did bring' grate on me. But it looks like Mark found himself in the house of a poet!

Reading on and seeing this storm start to brew, I'd like to say that I'd actually prefer the further explanation I gave above: to be able to sit comfortably with Mark and put my feet up just for a moment to read poetry that normally I wouldn't like but I bet I would because everything else is pretty bad by comparison, would be very pleasant.

I'm sorry, I'm starting to feel like I'm bitching a lot. But I find that your sentences came sometimes be very long and try to convey more than one idea. I also find that you use commas, sometimes when I don't think you need to. It's not a catastrophe or anything, more a style preference thing.

Now I'm really fascinated by these eyes! I'm guessing they're robotic eyes, but that leads me to wonder: what kind of robots would want anything from people? I look forward to finding out!

On another style note, you describe Mark's environment as snowy, shadowy and icy but you don't say that he's cold. So there's a bit of a distance between the facts of what's going on around him and the experiences he's having, if that makes sense. Somebody said once that they read to hold another human being close. I like to do this - to hold another human being close. As it is, with this I'm reading what Mark did and what his environment did.

But how does he feel?

Kudos to him for not being too bothered about the eyes, though. I think that on this occasion your description of him not feeling bothered about them comes more from his genuine nonchalance than any ommission on your part.

One final note on that: after reading that scene, I'm left with very little information on what Mark is actually like. Did he enjoy the poetry? What did he think about the weather turning? Did he not care about the eyes because he's depressed, or is he a tough guy, or does he know they won't harm him, or is it something else?

"...and weapons locker." So there's definitely something dangerous lurking out there. Your description in the sentence coming up to this bit sound quite homely and domestic. And then you plonk 'and weapons locker' in there as well. It's like finding a black shirt in a big stack of white - noticeable and pretty striking. It puts across to me that the danger in this world is a constant background thing, perhaps something everyone gets almost casual about. Mark seems to have done.

In a very short space of time you give me four more names: Claire, Valerie, Ed and Sam. But I can't get any idea of what these people are like purely by their names. I think it's worth giving each one some characteristic so this reader can go, 'oh yeah, Ed? He's the really badly organised one' or 'Sam, now he's managed to keep a dog throughout all of this which he loves'. At the moment there's nothing to distinguish them except names, which makes them all feel rather cardboard-cutoutey.

"Claire and her "family" all lived together..." Careful - infodump! I figured that they were probably all living together out of choice, most likely as a result of being thrown together by circumstances and then getting to know each other which would make it more likely they'd stick together. I'm afraid I'm going to have to invoke, 'show, don't tell' here.

"We're both busy. I'm the oldest, so I have to stay and keep watch, and Will doesn't have your experience, and he's younger than you. He has to watch the twins as well." Two things with this. Firstly, I'm starting to get a sense that Claire and Valerie obsess over age, when age is not necessarily a good indicator of life experience or capability in a crisis. Secondly, if you're a group in a dangerous situation, wouldn't it make sense to teach everyone to be as self-sufficient as possible so they can all be valued members of the team? If Claire keeps going out to get supplies then there's a higher chance she'll eventually be killed. Same way as it's always your favourite mug that gets broken. Why is nobody other than Will able to watch the twins?

Thank you Claire, for your answer! Although, I'm sure there's enough people in the house for her to take Will out with her to see how good he is at dealing with life as a scavenger.

"Come on boys, you're already eight for crying out loud, stop fooling around!" Valerie snapped." I'm starting to wonder what's up with Val - she's a bit tetchy, isn't she? And demanding. I've known people who get demanding when they're in a bad mood and I suspect she's got the same trait.

Which is always a fantastic quality to have in a claustrophobic survival situation.

"Yeah, and she died for her troubles, didn't she. Went out on a foraging trip just like this, and vanished without a trace." A lot of this conversation is feeling very tell-y. And this bit: "Despite all the time that had passed, Claire's sister was still a touchy subject." why feel the need to tell your reader that?

"There's no need for talk like that." Our Val's not much of a realist, is she? It's as if, if she treats the situation lightly enough that'll make it safer, which of course won't happen. But she's putting the others at a lot of risk because of it. On a similar note, I wonder if she watched the supplies dwindling, while this value of 'it's not such a big deal. Claire can solve it' running along in her head?

I hope Val gets challenged, at least on occasion.

"Tsh…fine, I'll do it. But it'll take me some time, and I'll have to travel quite a distance, I could be gone for several days, maybe even over a week." Again, this is very tell-y. Why wouldn't Val and the others know how long it'll take? If Claire's 'always' doing these scavenging trips then everyone'll be perfectly aware of how long it takes. Perhaps if this is going to be an unusually long trip because she has such a variety of things to get then fine, but I feel she'd be more likely to point out that she has to go beyond the edge of the city to get it, or something. Also, if she's got to get a broad range of different, bulky supplies and a lot of them, she's never going to manage that in one journey. She'd have to keep coming back to drop things off. And we're probably best not even getting into the issue of her desperately trying to escape someone or something dangerous while laden down with firewood.

Right, fair enough, she explains in the next sentence, but the conversation doesn't feel very natural. Like I say, it feels more like you're presenting the problem to me as a reader rather than letting me come to conclusions on my own.

One final thing: although you described Claire as ex-police, she doesn't seem to act on her training or to have much authority. All she's got is the fact that she's the main scavenger. As I said earlier, I think with her training she'd be most likely to take someone else with her so that she can be replaced if the worst happens, or at the very least so she doesn't have to be the one to go out.

- From We Return Reviews.
Dr. Self Destruct chapter 2 . 12/20/2011
Writing: I noticed some of your sentences can be wordy where they don't need to be. Sometimes it borders on being redundant. For example:

[Far away in a room several kilometers above the city floor, a small blip appeared on the [screen of a] monitor.]

Most readers will understand what a monitor is, and it's obvious this blip will appear on the screen of it, so removing 'screen of a' will help the sentence flow not be so thick.

Another example:

[The officer who had been sleeping slumped over in his chair with his back to the displays [up till this point] leapt up in his seat and spun the chair [around] to face the monitors.]

The bracketed words aren't needed to convey this message. Also, I think you're missing some commas. As it reads now it's a rather long sentence, and I'm thinking you might want to put some commas after 'office' and 'displays' to make 'who had been sleeping slumped over in his chair with his back to the displays' an aside. Also, if you want, you can make 'had been' into 'was'.

"The officer, who was sleeping slumped over in his chair with his back to the displays, leapt up in his seat and spun the chair to face the monitors."

I'm only being super nit-picky with this sentence because I think it is a perfect example to show a couple things that can be tweaked about the general prose.

One more example:

[Jeff dropped the radio [away from his mouth] and looked [over towards] Mathew. "So Mathew, what is it?"]

Simply stating 'Jeff lowered the radio' will suffice. The 'away from his mouth' is unneeded. Also, you can make 'over towards' into 'at' if you wanted as well.

'Jeff lowered the radio and looked at Mathew. "So Mathew, what is it?"'

Opening: I thought the opening paragraph was a little long and could do with being split into two. You can actually start a new paragraph with the sentence I used above that starts with 'The officer...'. Other than that, I thought this opening did a good job connecting with the previous chapter and it built some suspense. I think it's also a nice glimpse of the technology/resources the people have available to them in this setting.

Dialogue: I think your dialogue is very convincing with the professional tone it has and how the characters are communicating with each other. However, I do think the punctuation you use for the dialogue is sometimes off. For example:

["Roger that Corporal, report back as soon as possible, I want this intrusion cleared up."]

This dialogue, if read with the commas, sounds like the character is saying all of this without a break. I think those commas should be periods, because I can imagine a person pausing in this sentence were this being naturally spoken. Especially if it's an authoritative figure trying to stress the importance of a mission. Also, you need a comma before 'Corporal'.

"Roger that, Corporal. (here you could even add a speaker tag if you wanted to since there's a pause in the dialogue) Report back as soon as possible; I want this intrusion cleared up."

The final comma could be either a period, or if you're feeling adventurous, you can use a semi-colon.

Ending: I like that you end this chapter with some action. It's nice to see these machines at work and learning what they're capable of. I did think the action itself was a little wordy - generally you want your sentences to be short and as to the point as possible during high action scenes. It helps with the suspense. The line falling was a good way to create a cliff-hanger - I can see a reader really wanting to continue in order to see what happens to her.

I hope you found this review helpful!
Stephanie M. Moore chapter 1 . 10/26/2011
"He entered what appeared to be what once had been a bedroom, and stopped."

Omit the comma after and.

"The cover was unmarked, and despite the cold and damp, the binding was un-damaged."

Undamaged is one word; it is not hyphenated.

The poem is nice, very well written, but I think it's placement here in the first chapter might be a deterrent to prospective readers who don't want to focus on reading a poem when they're looking for a good action hook. You might consider showing only a piece of the poem- just a few lines to tease us- and introduce the entire thing at a later point. As it is, it's a little overwhelming.

In that same vein, I feel like your paragraphs are little long. It's hard to focus on five to six line paragraphs on a computer screen, and I would recommend breaking them up. It will also help the flow of the chapter.

Be careful not to overuse words. In the paragraph where you introduce the family, you use the word "group" twice in two successive paragraphs. I'd try to find an alternative.

You have some beautiful descriptions of their surroundings in the first half of this chapter. It feels like a very somber atmosphere, and the snowstorm really creates a chilling mood. Very impressed with that.

Overall, a very clean chapter. You have a really nice writing and style, and you manage to introduce some of the dangers your characters face here in the second half. It feels a little bit like an information dump... I'd consider sprinkling the details throughout rather than including them in a single paragraph... but that's a minor thing.

This a strong opening chapter, and it grabs my attention in a good way. Good job!
Ezekiel Finch chapter 1 . 10/26/2011
Hey there!

Thanks for reviewing me! I thought I'd repay that extra review you left as my thanks!

The first thing I want to comment on is the usage of this excerpt wedged in-between the first and second paragraphs. It establishes the scene, the tone of the story, and actually does a lot of the foundational work for you. You did not have to rely upon people talking about the Cataclysm and instead brought up the poem for us. It's smart and it really does work.

The second thing I wanted to bring up is the separation of the first two paragraphs from the rest of the story. It clearly distinguishes Mark as someone outside this group/family and makes the audience wonder why you put him here. Why is he in a home? Who is he? Is he an enemy to Claire, Valerie, and Daniel? It's going to be interesting to see how they all interact and collide at one point.

I also really liked this female empowerment theme you have in the first chapter. Claire is insisting that she should not be going out to forage and instead be caring for the children. I think what this reveals about her is that she's someone who isn't adjusted to this sort of world and desperately clings onto her previous role in society. She wants to be useful but she'd rather be useful in some other way that does not involve danger or using a gun. And yet we see Valerie, a strong and powerful woman, trying to reassert that Claire is part of this new world and she has a new role now. It's interesting to see someone who cannot adjust to this new world rather than someone who can adjust and fight zombies/aliens/ect.

On a technical note, in your second paragraph you move from inside the house to outside the house. It's as if the movie camera is changing directions and putting the focus on something different. Because there's a change, you might want to divide the second paragraph into two different paragraphs to highlight that shift.

"...they had had some kerosene lanterns, but they'd long since run out of fuel for them..."

The phrase "long since run out" sounds really funny. For me, the phrase sounds like an anachronism and just doesn't match the tone you created in this piece. This is a story about people trying to survive in a modern era, not people trying to survive in the 18th century wilderness.

"Yeah, and she died for her troubles, didn't she."

By the tone and context of the dialogue, the sentence should be punctuated with a question mark rather than a period.

"I may be "most suited" for getting this job done..."

Whenever you have a person say dialogue within dialogue (something I humorously call "dialoguge-inception") you should use single quotation marks.

"We need them, and we need them as soon as possible."

I don't think you need a comma here. The comma isn't separating or conjoining two independent thoughts or clauses.

"...I need you to go out and find some, as much as you can."

This sentence isn't very clear on what you want us to see. Is Claire supposed to find as many supplies as possible or is Claire supposed to bring back as many supplies as possible? If you remove, "and find some," and insert something to clear up the sentence, then it becomes more understandable.

Thanks for the review!

Ezekiel Finch
VelvetyCheerio chapter 10 . 8/24/2011
Hopefully Eric doesn't get himself killed trying to escape, though I suspect a horrible injury will befall him if he does.

By the way, was this two chapters in one? I didn't understand the "Oblivion's Prisoners" bit.

So 0.00 and 0.01 are going to team up? Sounds like a plan to me. They'll probably be strong enough together to stop this invasion of machines coming in.

I'll admit it has been an interesting read so far. You definitely know now to create a fantastic world, and there hasn't been a dull moment in the plot yet. I do advise that you take what little advice I have been able to offer, and if anything, go back through these chapters and trim a lot of the fat.

Or, if you want more detailed reviews, check out the Review Game link on my profile if you haven't already. Just be sure to read the rules before you play any of the games, 'kay?

I wish you happy writing! :)

Velvet.
VelvetyCheerio chapter 9 . 8/24/2011
I think I may have already mentioned this, but you have a lot of big paragraphs in this story, and I'm sorry to say this, but when I see them, I skip straight over them. More so in this chapter than the others.

From what I did read, it was nice to see 0.09's character introduced. I didn't quite understand why her dialogue was centered, though.

I wonder where 0.01 is going to take Mark. I have a feeling the others aren't just going to let Mark get taken away, though I doubt they'll know where to look, so...

So, is 0.06 evil or not? He obviously kills humans, but then he honors them? Is he just out for vengeance, or does he suffer from some sort of split personality?

Velvet.
VelvetyCheerio chapter 8 . 8/24/2011
This is the same as Chapter 7.
VelvetyCheerio chapter 7 . 8/24/2011
I'm surprised Claire got mad about Katherine's attitude when she herself told the Lieutenant to "shut up" before. Pot calling the kettle black?

It seems Claire is going to be joining this group after all. What about the rest of her family? Or are they just forgotten for now?

0.01's stay didn't last that long. I wonder if by city in the sky he means the Spires. It would be pretty nice if they managed to get there. Everyone needs to survive in this hostile world.

[While he could probably dispatch them with ease, 0.06 would prefer to avoid such unnecessary conflicts and maintain his passage through the tunnels unhindered.]

This particular sentence stuck out to me because it is a prime example of telling rather than showing. Telling is bad. Always try to give the reader something they'll have to visualize on their own, rather than just handing it to them on a plate. Life gets pretty boring when you're given everything without even asking for it.

There's no significance in being told 0.06 wants to avoid further conflict. I'd rather much figure that out on my own by seeing him ignore/avoid the soldiers that would come to attack him.

Velvet.
VelvetyCheerio chapter 6 . 8/24/2011
I think the only problem I had with this chapter was the fact that none of the Alphas' speech was put into quotes, which made it very hard to tell when they were speaking and when it was just description.

I mean, I get that they don't have mouths, though it's also not explained how they talk, but I think they should be given quotes as well. Dialogue is dialogue, regardless of who is speaking. Or, if you want, put it in italics. A little more difficult to read, especially in big paragraphs, but it's better than just having a chunk of dialogue with no indication of where it starts and ends.

Poor 0.01. I don't like this Fredrick character. 0.01 wasn't doing anything, really. He probably could have been a little more gentle when disarming Mark and his team, haha.

I figured one of the Alpha levels would go evil. With that much intelligence, and the fact that they just get smarter and quicker and better as the numbers increase... it was bound to happen.

I wonder if 0.18 is like a robot god or something. Some sort of machine that transcends all things earthly. That'd be pretty cool.

I am also going to suggest in future chapters that you cut down on how much information you give the reader. These big paragraphs are mostly information I don't really need to know. The average reader doesn't have the longest attention span. Give them all this background info, and they'll take to skimming until they can get to the action.

So, it may seem like you need to provide all this information, but it can in fact be counter-productive. You end up writing all this and the reader doesn't even spare it a glance.

It's cool to learn about the machines, but I didn't need to know how 0.09 ended up in the Underground. I also didn't need to know about the virus 0.06 created to control the robots. If anything, these things were explained after you wrote all that with 0,06 asking the soldier where they were keeping 0.09, and the Beta machines following 0.06's orders to the dot.

Regardless, I hope the Underground is ready for 0.06's fury when he comes storming down. They've already gotten a taste of it, it would seem.

Velvet.
VelvetyCheerio chapter 5 . 8/24/2011
I really like how this chapter was focused solely on Claire's experience in this new world.

The system certainly seems effective. I gather they must be out of range of too many of the machines, though, all things considered, it's never a good idea to have that many people in one spot. All the refuse, all the smells... I mean, I don't think robots can smell, but what about thermal imaging? If humans have it, machines must have it too.

It literally puts a whole new meaning to "hotspot".

Still, they do have weapons, so, I guess they're not entirely defenseless. I hope Claire takes the Lieutenant's offer and brings her family over. I mean, free food, what's better than that?

Nothing that really stood out to me in this chapter beside what I already mentioned in my first review.

Velvet.
VelvetyCheerio chapter 4 . 8/24/2011
Hmm, very interesting. The introduction of 0.01 is a pleasant surprise. He seems to be a friendly android like machine. I wonder if he'll help Mark and his team or if they'll get scared and try to kill him.

There is one thing I question about 0.01:

[If he had a mouth, he would have been grinning;]

It says here he has no mouth, right? Well...

[he was discussing his own theorems and plans to the scientists, chattering animatedly]

Before that it says he was talking. Or does he have a different way of speaking?

Sucks for Jack. The world just doesn't seem safe anymore. Too bad they didn't meet Eric and go underground. Maybe that would have been safer.

Though, with 0.01 shadowing them, maybe he'll protect the group, if they ask him to. He did create some of the machines that seem to be picking off humanity.

I wonder where this army of machines will go, and who they will attack. It's all very exciting.

Velvet.
VelvetyCheerio chapter 3 . 8/24/2011
[and if you listened carefully, you could hear the soft thrumming of what could have been a water boiler.]

I'd just like to point out that going from third person omniscient to second person isn't a good idea. If you want the reader to hear the sound of a water boiler, just say "there was a soft thrumming of a water boiler". Even better, include it in Mark's usual observations of things he hears.

As for this chapter, it was definitely exciting. Mostly Claire's part. It was a little tense having her fall for so long. Maybe she can get help to the rest of her family, if they don't kill her, of course.

I like how all these different parts are coming together slowly but surely. It does seem a bit haphazardous right now, but I think once all these characters find each other, the real fun should start.

Velvet.
VelvetyCheerio chapter 2 . 8/24/2011
I like how you've set this world up. I figure some sort of ice age came upon Earth and then robots took over, or something like that.

The conversation over radio was very realistic. It felt like I had an intercom in my ear and I was listening in on the whole thing.

["…Who the hell is that, wandering this far out from the city on their own;]

Again, it's just the situation like these that I would like to see a little bit of description added. Like, what exactly did he see? An actual person? A dark speck on an ice wall?

I like the idea of the Stalkers. I see them as almost insect like in my mind. Some sort of robot creature with six legs and glaring red eyes. They certainly aren't friendly, though.

I feel bad for Claire now. Hopefully the Corporal will save her, or something. Maybe she'll escape on her own. This is definitely a cliffhanger.

[he reached tapped his fingers on one of the buttons if the screen]

This was the only sentence I found any wording errors.

Velvet.
VelvetyCheerio chapter 1 . 8/24/2011
I like how you open this story with a bit of free verse from a possible survivor in this desolate land. At the same time that it gives me hope for the person who wrote the prose, it also makes me wonder what exactly happened for things to end up this way.

The scene with Claire and the others was also very insightful and how people have been surviving since this purported Cataclysm.

On to characters: So far, I am not able to glean much from any of the characters. :\ I understand that Valerie is supposed to be the tough on the outside, fuzzy on the inside leader, but I just didn't get that vibe from her conversation with Claire.

I think it would help if you added more description when the characters are talking to each other, or, to try and get a more realistic feel over the dialogue, imagine yourself as one of the characters and just feel their anger or happiness, or whatever it is you want them to feel.

Interesting choice to use bold rather than italics for stressed words. I think it would be a better idea to use italics, though. The use of bold draws the eye away from the text and onto the bolded word, which is counterproductive to the reader. Italics have the same effect as bold, but they're not jumping off the page. I can still concentrate on the rest of the story with italics.

Just a few things I'm going to suggest, and I'm sure you'll be familiar with one of these.

[He picked up the book, and sitting down on the desk before opening it.]

"the book and sat down" The tense changed in the second part of that sentence.

[one that looked just like any other, opened the door, disappearing inside.]

You're going to need to put an "and" somewhere in here. Whether it is before "opened", or before "disappearing". If it is before "disappearing", you'll need to change "disappearing" to "disappeared".

[Falls apart in winters grip.]

"winter's"

[Valerie was 23, Claire 18, Will 17, and the twins Ed and Sam were 8.]

I realize you may want to get some things clear about the age discrepancies, but I'll just say it: I figured out Claire's age after you mentioned Valerie was 23.

So, it is now repeated in the story that Valerie is 23, which, I'm pretty sure the reader got the first time. Also, it'll take a calculator to figure out Claire's age from that, and while it is pretty weird that eight year olds are being taught how to disassemble guns, it's not necessary to state their ages so plainly.

There are several ways to insert ages and hair color and all that jazz without every saying it directly. One way is to have the characters say it.

Claire to Valerie: "Will is seventeen! He should be old enough to get firewood by now."

or

Will to twins: "How about I let you two have your own guns when you turn eight?"

Twins: "We *are* eight!

Another thing I noticed was the dialogue tags. Like this one:

["I can take care of myself Valerie; like you said, I've done this hundreds of times before." She said to Valerie]

There should be a comma after "before" in place of the period, especially because you used "she said". If there's no mention of the speaker, then the sentence can end in a period.

Your description of what the world has become is on lock, though. I really liked the ending sentence of how Claire disappears into the snowy background.

It's definitely an interesting start. I have a feeling Claire and Mark's paths may cross very soon.

Velvet.
Luridpretty chapter 1 . 7/26/2011
The imagery that you create of this post-apocalyptic world is incredible. I'm liking that poem-type of thing that Mark found in the book, too, it's beautiful. 3