2015-02-20

"Critique" or "Review"?

At some point I guess I have to grade and make a reply to this "critique", but still "processing."

Hey Jay! Here to crit you, though I'll be nice since this is your first time under my scrutiny.
Disclaimer: Everything said in this crit is my opinion. If you don't like it, ignore it. If you have questions, feel free to ask me.
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Masae plodded aimlessly, her long jet-black hair stringy and stuck to her back, to her shoulders, to her chest. Her skin glistened, slick with sweat. Her thin, white maternity robe lay in a damp, disused heap on the floor. Louise, her midwife, gripped her hand, held her arm. Tokuro hovered close behind. Her feet ached like never before. Her slight form exuded a determined strength, but she had been tired for some time now. She was half trudging, half being carried, down this ancient road to motherhood, a road not free of dangers, but the hormones and the anticipation of the enormity of what was about to happen pushed such ruminations from her mind. The pain was in a way a welcome end to the waiting and discomfort of pregnancy. Soon Louise would get her into the pool, the contractions would come faster and faster, and as Louise told her, she would push and push whether she thought about it or not. Labor took up more and more of Masae's attention, pushing away all else, her husband Tokuro, and the others awaiting the arrival of the second child to be born to their little group since their adventure had begun.
Okay. Interesting opening. Not really a fan. Nothing is happening. It's all thought about what is going to happen. Why not start this thing at the actual birth?

Other than that, I'm going to have to comment on the flow. It's... touch and go. It feels pretty choppy, for instance:

Louise, her midwife, gripped her hand, held her arm. Tokuro hovered close behind. Her feet ached like never before. Her slight form exuded a determined strength, but she had been tired for some time now.

Why are all those such short separate sentences? Who is Tokuro? I feel lost already. All I know is this lady is walking to a place to give birth but this paragraph is so long and moves so slowly I find myself not caring. I don't know her, I don't know the pains she's gone through, her personality, the importance of this. At the beginning of a story, long exposition paragraphs like this only slow it down and take away from the hook. I don't feel drawn in.
Louise put her arm around Masae, "You seem tired. How about we get you into the pool?"
Should be a period, not a comma, after "Masae."

This dialogue is a little... redundant. It doesn't give anything, just repeats what we already know and what you spent a gigantic paragraph telling us.
Masae nodded weakly. Tokuro took her other arm and guided her toward the tub set into the floor.
Wait, they're at the pool? I thought they were walking to the pool? Where are we? Where's the scenery? I can't picture anything about this other than long black hair on Masae. Describe more. It's an opening. Your readers are like lost little puppies who need to be guided through the unfamiliar territory.
Tokuro, Jean-Luc, and Louise helped her into the water.
Stop name dropping. Who are these people? What do they look like? You said Louise is her midwife, Tokuro is her husband, but who's Jean-Luc? What type of POV is this? Third limited? Omniscient? It seems like limited but at the same time it's very disjointed.
The warmth and support of the water eased the pain, the weariness, the soreness in her feet, her back.
"Oh," she sighed, "I should have gotten in here sooner."
"Just try to relax," Louise soothed, "It will all happen naturally by itself."
I'd cut the "by itself." It doesn't give anything to the story.

Period, not a comma, after "soothed."
"Really? I don't have to...?"
Okay, so, she's in a bath. How does she feel? What's she thinking about? Is she worried about the baby?
"The main thing is not to get too worked up. Your body knows what to do," Louise assured her, "You will find that when the time comes, you will push the baby out automatically, when your contractions really get going, get close together."
Period, not a comma, after the first "her."

So, I'm not really a big fan of all this dialogue explaining how a woman gives birth to a woman who's already given birth once before. It's giving me a lot of exposition I don't need to know. Show it. Don't tell us.
Smiling weakly, Masae looked back and forth between Louise and Tokuro, in the water on either side of her, both holding her hands.
She winced as each contraction came.
Her mouth worked wordlessly, opening and closing, and she gasped as her contractions seemed to blend into one another, becoming one long clench, "Euuuuuuhhhh," she groaned.
"Respire, respire, doucement," Louise urged, "Breathe, just try to breathe. Think of your body, feel your body, not anything else. You are a little animal. Be in your animal self. It will all take care of itself. It doesn't help to think about it."
Masae could feel her body, some new part of her body, begin to push as if it wasn't really under her control. She felt things move, she felt she couldn't stop it, it hurt, it ached, but she didn't want it to stop, pause, take a break, it hurt, it HURT, it was urgent, it had to keep going, she had to keep going, keep going. She was in her animal self. Everything was now. The pain was now. She knew it would end yet she didn't know it would end, but everything was fine. Everything was now. No mind. No fear.
"Euuuuuuh-AAAAAAAHH!" she half-moaned, half-screamed, squeezing Louise's and Tokuro's hands, pushing down on their arms, almost lifting herself up in the water.
Her eyes and mouth clenched shut and then relaxed and she sagged into their arms, panting.
"Vas-y, pick up your baby," Louise ordered.
Masae opened her eyes to the swirling trails of blood in the water, reached down between her own legs, fumbling, grasping, impossible lightness supported by the water turning into weight as Louise helped her bring the tiny, mottled package up to her chest, the purply-pinkish lumpy cord snaking over her belly off into the water and back up into her. A sense of relief and a tidal wave of emotions and hormones rushing over her, she stared uncomprehendingly at this newly-opened gift, wanting this moment to last forever yet yearning to know what would happen next. Tokuro eagerly leaned in, his face also one of someone beholding a Leprechaun or other such marvel. The child was waxy, streaked with blood and slime, distended like some familiar object extruded into a can for storage or shipment. Before he and Masae could take it all in, the mouth opened like a wire tugging at a hinge and a bizarre yet deeply satisfying and reässuring little cry escaped.
"We did it," she said softly to Tokuro, her eyes welling with tears.
"You just rest here now," Louise said, "and get to know your new little daughter. The placenta will follow soon and then we can cut the cord off of her."
So, I'm not really sure why you decided to start here. It's not a very friendly scene. It's a very odd, graphic description of a woman giving birth. Interesting, I suppose, but I guess knowing you're male makes me kind of hesitant to believe that you know what it feels like to have a baby. I'm drawn out of the story and I keep wondering how you know any of this. I think it'd be more interesting from the father's POV. He's a man. You're a man. Plus, I'm pretty sure when a woman's about to give birth she doesn't think about anything other than what's happening. No retrospective, no talking about her animal self. All she's worried about is the baby.

But a father? He's outside the situation. He can see, he can think, and it's my opinion that that's a much better way to introduce the story to us. You can have contemplations, you can have exposition. You can talk about many more things than you can from the POV of a woman in labor.

Also, weird place for a dialogue tag.
Masae looked up at her with wide, liquid eyes, "Thank you, Louise."
Period, not a comma after "eyes."

"Masae looked up at her with wide, liquid eyes" is a full and complete sentence. Adding on "Thank you, Louise," without any kind of connector makes it an incomplete sentence. Either add a dialogue tag, or put a period after "eyes."
Louise responded by gently nudging this tiny new life, just liberated from its mother's body, toward Masae's breast.
Louise's matter-of-fact confidence did not dull the wonder Masae felt as her baby rolled its cheek to find her nipple and latch onto it. She knew it was instinct, the one true instinct that the human animal possessed, but she couldn't help but marvel. Her baby was already a little person acting out of her own volition, her own initiative, to feed herself, to obtain what she needed from life. It had already begun. Masae realized at that moment that she as a parent was merely a guide, a helper. Any illusions of being a creator or in control vanished, faded away like a morning mist in the strong light of the morning sun.
Most babies don't start actually start breastfeeding for a few minutes. It takes them a bit.
Louise placed her hand on Masae's head and stroked her hair, "What will you name her?"
You're really bad with commas where there should be periods around dialogue.
"For a boy we thought of Ken," Masae said to Tokuro, who nodded in reply, "And for a girl we decided on Michiko."
Why Japanese names?
Louise called out, "Voilà! Michiko is born!"
And then Louise's name is French. That's a super weird combination. Where are we? What time period?
Applause erupted from the other room. Louise and Jean-Luc hugged and kissed one another warmly.
Masae lolled in the tub, exhausted, half-floating in the warm water, Tokuro still by her side. Baby Michiko squirmed but a little, exhausted as well, lazily sucking on her mother. Masae smiled weakly, closed her eyes, dozing, mouth slightly open.
Tokuro looked brightly at Louise, "No problem?"
Louise smiled a tired smile and nodded, "Pas de problème."
Masae roused with a look of discomfort on her face, "Something..."
"It's okay. Here," Louise fished around in the water, gently pulling on the cord and drawing up a shapeless, red, spongy blob, "You two are now completely separated," she smiled.
Masae studied the placenta in Louise's hands with a mystified look.
Everything I've heard from friends who are mothers say that the placenta part is often as painful as pushing out the actual baby. Might want to do some research on that one.
Jean-Luc proffered a basin, and Louise placed the placenta into it. She cut the cord and knotted the end, placing the rest of the cord with the placenta, "Are you ready to get out?"
Also, why are you explaining all of this? I still don't see this as a good opening. In a movie, sure, because the action is faster and you can see/hear everything. But here it's mostly thought and odd imagery that doesn't exactly keep me wanting to read.
"Yes, I think so. I should take a shower."
Louise and the two men helped Masae up and out of the pool, and rinsed her and Michiko off, patted them both dry, and wrapped Michiko in fresh towels. They eased the two of them onto a nearby mat covered with blankets and pillows where they quickly fell asleep. The two tiny families curled up together around the sleeping Masae, Louise's tiny newborn daughter Gisèle gratefully attached to her own mother's breast. She, too, seemed tired after the fraught and drawn-out wait for her new playmate, Michiko.
The rest of the last generation of their group to be born on the planet Earth already grew in their mothers' bellies. Will watched the three other women chatter in hushed tones after the two new mothers had gone to sleep in the other room. His own wife, Keiko, would give birth to George, fully expected that her new baby would connect her to the other women in a way she had never quite been able to manage before now. Otherwise, she didn't expect it to interfere much with her life or her work.
Mary was more apprehensive. She had always thought of motherhood an inevitable, but sincerely hoped that her baby would bring a closeness with her husband, Joe, that had been lacking. She regretted not having chosen to be her own person before having to prove here and now that she could be a mother to the generations that would follow her on their long voyage to colonize another star. She worried that this child would not give her the soul-healing she craved for herself and Joe, that perhaps it would be another burden on top of all the others, and she saw stormclouds of depression gathering on the horizon. The experience of watching Masae give birth just now, and Louise before her, filled her with doubt, confronted her with the idea that she could not control it by willpower. Louise and Masae both seemed to withdraw into an animal place where it was just them and the pain and joy of birth, hanging suspended in the eternity of that moment which lasted for hours, holding onto the faith that they would make it through to the other side, even though they didn't know what that other side looked like.
Mary did not have that faith that it was all right. She did not want to be alone with herself in that center of now, even for a brief moment. It made her very uncomfortable. It terrified her, in fact. She had tried to talk to Masae, asked her if she needed anything, hoping for some clue how to hang onto the web of control Mary had built around herself. Masae refused to come out of that animal center she had slipped into in the process of bringing her little daughter into the world. Louise sent Mary away. Why couldn't they take even one minute to talk to her? She just wanted to help them, after all. Why weren't they grateful? Mary would have welcomed help in their place, and have been polite enough to respond.
Adèle would give birth to Auguste. Everybody would like him, but he would also present a number of problems to their little band. Will worried about Auguste before he arrived. He and Tokuro had discussed their concerns about the mission team, about its stability, and about whether they would even be allowed to go at all. They were all living together in the biodome, surrounded by plants and animals selected and engineered to live with them and sustain them and their children and their grandchildren's grandchildren on their journey through the emptiness of interstellar space. Tokuro and Will noticed that Adèle and Joe seemed to have grown very close. They wondered what the managers of the project would do if Adèle's baby were born not with her husband Harold's African features but instead with Joe's European ones. This seemed likely, and Will devised a plan, a pact that all of them would make together, and he entreated Tokuro to help him convince the rest of the group to accept it.
So, everything else in this is telling me what's going on and what's going to happen. It really draws away from the rest. You're explaining all of this to me, but why? Why should I care?

Show don't tell is a huge factor here. You're telling me things. Show me. If all of this is important, then show it in a scene. Don't tell me in narration.
Closing comments
It's... interesting. Not really what I want out of an opening, but it's okay, I suppose. I suggest starting closer to the birth and cutting out the last few paragraphs. You chose one specific birth to show. Why that one? Should I care? If so, you should focus on the baby, not other people.
Who is this band? Where are they from? Nothing is explained that needs to be explained. I have far more questions than answers at this point, and it's not exactly helping me want to read more.
Questions that should be answered in a chapter 1:
Where are they?
Who is the main character?
What does the main character want (grand scheme)?
Who is important in their life and why?
Things like that.
Good luck with edits. Hope this was at all helpful and that you get many more crits after this.
~Lin

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