Adventure Sci-fi

Grapeshot - Prologue

April 29, 2019
By: Goomba
User Level:
Average Rating: 3.25

     All was the sea. The sea’s chaotic undulation churned dense patches of foam that were the only interruptions in the sharp texture of the water. More than ten kilometers away and eight days previous, a filefish broke the surface of the ocean having mistaken a spot of sunlight for something edible. The eddies of that brief perturbation culminated in a small crest. It crashed into its twin at just the right angle, time, and velocity to cancel out the energy of both, distilling a still flatness into a square centimeter of the ocean surface. The flatness only lasted for a second. The filefish, having been eaten almost immediately after surfacing by a larger fish with better eyesight, had already become lost in the system of the ocean forever. Beneath the exact spot of the flatness bubbled a greater disturbance which would impact the system until the Central Pacific had vanished completely 3.8 billion years later.

     Over the next ten thousand years or so, semi-molten rock began to jut just above the ocean’s surface, soft bubbling fingertips paving a slag circlet. Within one hundred thousand years, that circlet had grown into a monstrous crown roughly hewn by sun and sea. Rain poured daily across the top of the island as water-laden winds struggled against the thorny peak of the volcano. These rains had already converted nearly a third of the hard volcanic rock above the sea level into microbe-rich soil, but the soil had lain barren for the past two years. Then, evolution. There was a binary change, the flip of a switch from off to on. A visitor had come to the island.

     The young seabird crashed into the rock as wind prevailed over weary wings. It was speckled with the seeds of a Pisonia; the bird-killer tree. Sticky barbs had reduced the sleek outline of the bird into a tangle of bent feathers. Having been uprooted from its home in a storm at the most unfortunate hour, it had remarkably managed a fairly directionless flight spanning three grueling days. Twice it had attempted to land and feed at the water’s surface, but the sap and seeds had compromised the bird’s buoyancy, and it nearly drowned both times. Battered and no longer able to lift itself through the winds, the bird lifted its head and surveyed its surroundings. Finding nothing which could aid it among the dark soil and stone, it knew that it faced the end. A tragic epic now concluded, the exhausted seabird warbled out one last baleful song which was snatched away by a gale. It then sank into the ground promptly, and died.

     Like the majority of pioneers, the bird had failed. Unlike the majority, the Pisonia had not. The unfeeling and unthinking had prevailed at self-preservation in the manner it usually did: through sheer maths. Eight seeds of the hundreds of thousands that the original Pisonia had cast off had found a new and most perfect home. There was no competition, no depletion of nutrients, regular rain, and plenty of room to grow. Within two years, the small tree had spread to cover the entire south side of the island.

     Its success did not go unnoticed. Other birds began to land and live on the island, bringing dozens of new plant species over time through accidental passengers and seedlings which sprouted from the stomach of those unlucky few which came freshly fed and then met an end through various means. Swimming reptiles and crabs followed, as did a haphazard few species of insect.

     Many millions of years of evolution worked on the small volcanic island as it rumbled and smoked away, developing new real estate to accommodate the smorgasboard of interested parties until it could no longer be called a small island. Tectonic plates steadily shifted during this time, creating brothers and sisters for the island which were adopted much more quickly by life than their older sibling had been.

     Then came the seafaring apes.

     If the island could have anticipated its place in the universe, perhaps it would have warned the humans. It may have told them to appreciate their lives, but never to count on them; to love and grow close; to respect their own power; to revere their powerlessness. Of course, the island could do no such thing. It was mere, unthinking rock, as blissfully unaware of the universe as its inhabitants were about the fate of their descendants.

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beautiful descriptions that need a point
van rated this work:

May 3, 2019, 4:12 p.m.

I'm going to start with a completely useless sentence. And yet, I must tell you filefish is one of my favorite words now. I just really like it. I don't know why. I digress!

The beginning could be tighter. I like what Vonnegut has to say about these kinds of beginnings: "Every sentence must do one of two things: reveal character or advance the action. Start as close to the end as possible. As soon as possible, give the reader a character to root for."
I know this is a prologue, and prologues are so tricky! Some editors I know flat-out refuse stories that begin with a prologue (which is why Rowling made her prologue chapter 1. She only changed the name, but look at what that did!). Of course, that doesn't mean EVERYONE dislikes prologues. I personally have nothing against them; they can be great and add plot points or scenes that wouldn't be able to be introduced any other way. What you need to do is ask yourself if this prologue is truly necessary to the story, or if you need to kill your darling, to quote Hemmingway. I don't mean to reference so many authors (sorry), but they were successful for a reason, right? At the moment, without having read the entire novel, this prologue has me a little lost. There's no character to root for, and we've started quite literally at the very beginning (millions of years, in fact). I agree with naricorn, I'd like more direction. I'd like a sense of building up to something, which you only hint at in the last sentence (which I liked, by the way!). Why should I care about an island, or birds, or even the ocean? What makes these descriptions (beautiful and lovely as they are. You do a good job with descriptions for sure) different than, say, a particularly literary textbook?
A suggestion: if you don't want to add plot to your prologue, you might be able to get away with it if you significantly cut this down. Condense the descriptions so the reader's mind doesn't wander by the time you've gotten to the important last sentence.

Your grammar, diction, and sentence structure are great. They're such important aspects to stories, and you've got them. A story can have the best plot and characters, but if the grammar is abysmal and the sentences are choppy, I just can't continue reading.

Last thing-- I'd love to read another chapter. I want to know what this prologue IS building up to. I'm really curious now.

Setting Pacing

Comment Rating: 5.0

Cool concept but would like more direction
naricorn rated this work:

May 3, 2019, 2:20 p.m.

*"The sea’s chaotic undulation churned dense patches of foam that were the only interruptions in the sharp texture of the water." Chaotic undulation and there being "only interruptions" in the water seem to conflict. Also, what is "sharp texture" of water? It's a comparison that doesn't clarify things for me because it takes me out of the story to think.

*"Central Pacific had vanished" - think you mean "vanished" without the "had."

*I like starting so broad in the beginning and following the ripple effect. I think the beginning can be more concise with shorter sentences for impact. They're a bit convoluted now. (Looking back at this after having read further down, I think you need more variety in sentence structure in general.)

*A lot of images are difficult for me to picture, like "soft bubbling fingertips paving a slag circlet." Maybe someone else might think differently, but I spent a lot of time trying to picture your setting imagery.

*I feel like this would be more impactful with more focus. For example, if you'd kept track of a certain location more obviously (like if there was some physical constant to ground this passage of time.) Otherwise, I feel myself drifting, wondering where it was going.

*How exactly is the Pisonia a bird-killer tree? Because of the sap and seeds compromising buoyancy? Isn't that particular to that seabird? I don't know how that function aids the Pisonia's natural fitness.

*"Its success did not go unnoticed." This seems out of place. Most of this piece is impersonal and unbiased--not that this sentence IS that biased, but it doesn't seem like birds would be evaluating and mimicking a tree's success.

*Given that this is a prologue and I don't know the specifics of where this going, I think this still needs more direction so I'm not feeling unsure as to the point of some descriptions. I want to know that this prologue serves a purpose.

Overall, great job!

Plot Pacing Sentence Structure Concision

Comment Rating: 5.0