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Survey

This is a story i wrote a few years back. I submitted it to asimovs, but it was rejected. I would appreciate any feedback. Ive not changed it in anyway since i wrote it, though i have been tempted to a few times.

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Survey

The ship named Seeking Aleph began its deceleration just on the outskirts of the as yet unnamed planetary system. The ship had been running for months now with the only controlling influence being the sentient on-board computer. Now it was time for the crew to wake.
The cryopod ejected a stream of cold air as it opened. A few of the lights on the built in display turned from red to green. Captain Miinor Ortieth was always the first to be woken after interstellar travel. For a man who captained an epsilon-class marauder, this was a little bit unusual. But then, so was the man. Ortieth slowly climbed out of the cryopod and stood with a slight swaying motion. It was always like this after interstellar travel, but he was used to it by now.

"Computer, wake Surveyor Jiya Seraanis. Authorisation Captain Miinor Ortieth, Code 1-2-6-Zulu-Delta."

"Code verified. Authorisation accepted, will now proceed with cryogenic re-animation sequence."
Jiya Seraanis climbed out of the cryopod and stood to attention before the captain, with her back straight.
"Jiya, start waking the rest of the crew. I want this ship back to ops status in 2 hours. Also there will be a command group meeting once we are at ops." Said Ortieth.
"Yes sir!"

To Ortieth, talking to his crew like this wasn't derogatory; he was giving them a challenge that he knew they could handle. Other crews aboard epsilon-class ships usually took around 4 hours to bring a ship up to operational status, but his crew was the best. They prided themselves on being so and had no less time for slacking than Ortieth himself had.
Ortieth walked into the main command area, taking in the scene at a glance. The view from the main screen was as spectacularly empty as usual, with only a hint of the planet they had been woken up to investigate, in the bottom corner.
"Jiya, Orta. Status report."
"Sir, were are at fully operational status. Nothing further to report." Said Jiya.
"Thanks. Orta?"
"Yes sir. All offensive and defensive weaponry are armed and ready sir."
"Thank you. Well done crew, I think you just beat your own record - that’s only been 1 hour 30 minutes to go from stellar mode to full ops."
A wave of smiles passed around the room.
" Now, down to business. Jiya, what to we have?"
"Well sir, the system is a typical type-b system. We have various planetary bodies, including some gas giants, most of them are tech-free, but I am getting positive readings for technology artefacts."
"Do we have confirmation of civilisation?"
"Yes sir. The planet is in the current temperate zone for this stars type. My scans show evidence of at least a stage 2 civilisation. The may have also progressed to stage 3 sir, which as you know involves establishing the 1st off-world colony, but we would need to be closer for more detailed analysis."
"Ok. What about the outer planets?"
"They are untouched by civilisation sir, we have no evidence of the usual mining associated with these types of gas giants, especially the larger one. I would say that this civilisation did not reach stage 4 or 5 sir."
"I concur. Helmsman gor'an, take us into the edge of the inner system, about 20 million kilometres from the main planet."
"Yes Sir" said Gor'an.

The ship decelerated once more and moved into position. Jiya took some more scans and reported on her findings to Ortieth.
"Sir I have confirmation of a stage 2 civilisation, there is no evidence of stage 3 so it looks as if they did not get to that point. It does seem however that they had a regular service to orbit. As there is no colony off planet, and judging by the amount of debris around the planet, they had an orbital presence. At this moment in time, I cannot judge what form these took."
"Ok, so what do we have?"
"It looks as if the planet has been devastated by armaments, there's no major life signs left, but we may have some remnant tech artefacts and some bacterial spores. There seems to be a major spaceport on one of the continents, which seems to be more or less intact. I recommend we take down one of the landing craft and scout the area."
"Agreed. Computer prep the landing craft"
"Command Acknowledged. Landing craft preparation commenced."

The landing craft skimmed the atmosphere before heading in at a shallow descent towards the decaying ruins of the spaceport. Ortieth had in front of him a display, which the computer had made up from the data its sensors were picking up. He had a clear vision of the spaceport as if he was gliding in on a clear day, instead of what was really around the ship. The planet was in the middle of a nuclear winter, with storms raging across the planet, and the real visibility was down to about 2 feet.
"So, Jiya. What is your opinion of what happened here?"
"Well sir, I would say that there was some sort of war, which resulted in the use of primitive thermonuclear weapons which resulted in the devastation around us."
"It does seem that way. Any ideas to the cause?"
"Who knows sir? It could be any number of factors. What I would say though, is that it couldn’t have been important enough to destroy the entire planet."
"I agree, such futility. What a waste of resources. Oh well, let’s go see if we can find anything remaining."
They continued on their descent, landing in a hail of dust and debris at what looked like the main reception area of the spaceport. Ortieth opened the door of the craft and stepped into the darkness in his radiation suit, followed by Jiya and Orta.
"Situation report Jiya"
"Well sir, the radiation levels are high, but way below the tolerance levels of our suits. We will be able to stay out for about 10 hours".
They walked around to the main concourse. There were various signs around but one stood out as being the main focus of attention.
"Jiya, see if you can get a pattern recognition on these signs to try translate them."
"Yes sir."
A few moments passed as Jiya passed her scanning device over the various signs around the concourse.
"Sir, I have a match. There is enough dialogue here to enable translation."
"Ok, so what does that main sign say?"

"Welcome to Earth"

Cheers for the comments

Cheers for the comments everyone. I think its about time i gave this one a re-write. Although i think cutting a thousand words may be a bit drastic as its only 1092 words long :)

It was pretty much one of the first short stories i finished and i think i've learned a bit since then, though we'll see.

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Te audire no possum. Musa sapientum fixa est in aure.

That was an obscure joke.

That was an obscure joke. Supposedly you can cut 1000 words out of *anything*. Including things which have had 1000 words cut out of them.

Start the story with the

Start the story with the line "Ortieth slowly climbed out of the cryopod and stood with a slight swaying motion." Work in the rest of your backstory later, or even leave it out entirely. See if you can cut out a thousand words which do not advance the plot or set up the ending or by tightening up the dialogue.

This is a 'punchline' story and, as such, it works OK. However for a major market like Asimov's it is a hard sell because it has been done many times before. (Major markets will not accept any of the old saws in punchline stories; for example the only survivors of a crashed spaceship being named 'Adam' and 'Eve'.)

Good Reason

"Major markets will not accept any of the old saws in punchline stories"

And there's a good reason for that too. In most stories, the idea has been done before by somebody else. That's just the way of things- since a punchline story is almost always defined by that punch, it's hard to really "own" a punchline story.

I always advise, if you're going to be writing a story that depends entirely on a twist ending, check yourself against this list. I actually use that list as a resource for any story I'm working on- it's a good way to cut through bad or overused ideas. Alternatively, it also helps when writing comedic/parody stories by giving a reference of overused tropes that can make a decent joke.

"See if you can cut out a thousand words..."

I've always found that nearly every story can be improved by cutting something.

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Some Thoughts

First thing I noticed was the jargonization. I'm not a big fan of tech jargon in sci-fi (ironic?). It reminds me too much of the MST3K episode Overdrawn at the Memory Bank. The line where he gives the computer the order to unfreeze his sidekick? Just tell me he gave the order. The individual words don't really matter- they're made-up tech speak.

Speaking of speech- there's way too much dialogue and nothing happening. I can't really "see" the ship, or the environment. The characters might as well be floating in the void for all that I can get a feel for what's going on.

Finally, the idea- the "twist" ending- isn't a bad twist. But it's been done before, from old "Twilight Zone" episodes to The Planet of the Apes. Most good ideas have been done before- there's nothing wrong with covering ground someone else already has. But if you're going to do that, you need to make sure you're showing us something new. Which means you need to build up the Universe around us, you need to make sure that, when the twist hits, we're totally blindsided by it and stunned. That can't happen if you haven't taken the time to build up the characters, the setting.

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