Critique #16

December 15th, 2012

This scene comes to us courtesy of M.H. Mead’s Taking the Highway of the Detroit Next series, which just released on December 1. I’ve read it and the other Detroit Next novels, and they’re pretty awesome near-future cyberpunk. Available from all online retailers.

Setup: Taking the Highway takes place in near-future Detroit. In this scene, detective Andre LaCroix has been temporarily suspended from the police force, pending an investigation. However, his partner, Sofia Gao, tells him they got a tip from an informant that will break open their case and vindicate Andre. The informant has set a meeting in one of Detroit’s abandoned neighborhoods. They have no choice but to go. We have some lively dialog and detailed description as they drive to the meeting place, and then…


“I just want to see if there’s anybody in the area if we need backup.”

“Backup?” Her voice shaded between amusement and scorn. Andre understood. If she were on her own, without a disgraced partner in the car, then maybe she could ask for some. As it was, unless things went very shitty very fast, they were on their own.

Sofia spun the wheel around a sharp corner with an obstructed bend and stood on the brakes.

The active and passive restraints held Andre tight against the passenger seat, but his head still bobbed forward. Across the narrow road, two derelict cars, burnt-out minivans from thirty years ago, stood nose to nose, their side-mirrors sticking out like handles. [Good setup of the scene here, minimal but evocative of the feeling of being trapped in an ambush.]

Sofia swore and was about to move to reverse when a gunshot slapped her window, fogging it white-gray in an instant. [I really like this.] She and Andre ducked down, fighting their seatbelts for room just as the window sagged and fell away, followed by the one on Andre’s side.

“Yes, backup!” Andre yelled over the thrum coming from his implant. Sofia must have triggered the alert and a single, deep note pooled at the base of his skull. Designed to resonate with the hypothalamus, the signal acted like a battle cry, triggering an adrenal surge from the nervous system. Fine if you were on the receiving end, but the person triggering it was usually panicked enough.

Sofia fumbled to draw her weapon.

Andre grabbed her wrist. “Get us out of here!”

Rounds impacted the doors with ineffectual thumps. The lightweight memory plastic between the panels was designed to absorb and disperse crash energy, but it had the added benefit of making the doors nearly bulletproof. [This sentence slows down the urgency a bit. You could probably say something simpler, trusting your audience to sort out the rest. Also, couch it in Andre’s perceptions. Something like: They’d told Andre at the Academy that memory plastic made doors bulletproof. He was glad they’d been correct.] Sofia reached for the shift lever again and flinched when several rounds entered from each side and blew out the rear windows. She ducked in the seat and pushed the accelerator to the floor panel.

The swoop of elation Andre felt as they surged backward was as short as their movement. They hadn’t gone three meters before they were thrown against their seats and ground to a skidding stop, the left rear of their car now raised off the ground by whatever they’d hit. Fire from the right impacted the windshield. The slight tilt forward pushed them against their seatbelts and left them hanging, helpless. They’d hit hard, but not hard enough to trigger the airweb system. [Great paragraph!]
Andre tore off the restraints and kicked his door open. He nodded to Sofia as she freed herself and followed him. [Is she unable or unwilling to get out her own side, which would be faster? And if they’re being shot at from both sides, wouldn’t they be in the best cover possible by staying in the bulletproof car until it becomes a necessity for them to leave it?] Using the open door for cover, they scrambled out and around the rear of the car. Both of them had drawn their weapons and crouched against the ruined rear bumper of the Banshee where it angled up and onto the wreck of yet another junker, this one unburnt. Everything about the car—except the tires—looked like it had been rescued from a junkyard. Who put new tires on a car like that? [Not sure this observation is necessary. It wasn’t behind them before; it’s pretty obvious somebody rolled it behind them. Things like this can drag down an action scene. It’s not bad, because you keep it brief and tie it into the narrator’s perceptions, but consider whether it’s needed at all.]

Sofia was breathing hard. [“Panting” might be a stronger, more active term here.] A cut near her right eye trailed a thick line of blood down her cheek. Fat drops fell from the line of her jaw. “Where the hell did this thing come from?”

Andre risked a look and saw the driver side door hanging open, a glimpse of something dark and lean running farther along the street they’d turned in from. She ran like a panther, black hair flying, disappearing around a corner. “I’d say that’s the lid on the pot.”

Gunfire continued to impact the car—cars now—but it had slowed. The three-round bursts had stopped and the attackers, whoever they were, were using single shots, conserving ammunition. Or, Andre thought grimly, trying to make us think they’re low on ammo. He touched Sofia’s cheek and held up his fingers. “You’re bleeding.”

“Nicked by the windshield glass,” she said impatiently. “I think those are Ingram nine millimeter, the longer barrels for accuracy.”

Andre was glad Sofia’s mind was still working, analyzing, but her assessment was depressing. Nobody wanted the gunpowder shooters anymore. Everyone wanted light and quiet and odor-free, so Ingrams were everywhere on the black market and clips were cheap. These guys could shoot all night.

[You’ve got a great little action sequence here. I think the pacing is very well-done, and you have an excellent blend of urgency and dialogue. When all I can do is figure out a minor tweak or two, it means you’ve done a good job. Thanks for submitting your scene!]

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *