Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Face-Lift 165


Guess the Plot

The Shattered Dome

1. As the shuttle streaks toward the domed cities of Mars, crack pilot Ralph O'Bannon cuts the thrusters. But not soon enough.

2. Norbert Poindexter's fussy habits are almost as well-known as his shiny bald head. But his holiday at Miss Turdle's B & B is cut short when he questions her housekeeping habits while she is cleaning out the fireplace.

3. As the dome surrounding her farm decays, Juliet must decide whether it's better to stay and starve, or follow her neighbors to the domed cities on the moon.

4. Terrorists have blown up the Capitol with a remote-control aircraft. Can a young Congressional intern find her way through the wreckage of the tunnels and save the vice-president?

5. The Dome is all that protects the colony from deadly radiation. Installing a satellite dish on it's fragile surface would risk catastrophe - yet the colonists yearn to discover the outcome of Big Brother 6789.

6. Two small time crooks barely getting by in quarantined post-Third World War Washington, D.C. mug a visitor to a shady gentleman's club and end up with a high-tech weapon and a way out of the city.



Original Version

Dear Agent Orange:

The Royal Republic of the Southern Moon faces a crisis. Some of the provinces are nearing revolt, dangerous anarchists are burning down crops, [Of all the ways to destroy crops, one would think burning would be the last method chosen on the moon, where all oxygen would be man-made and precious.] the trade balance with Earth is worsening, [Earth is tired of sending up Tostitos and DVDs and sushi, and getting back nothing but moon rocks. We've got moon rocks out the wazoo.] and the Northern Federation has begun to grow more powerful and unstable. Is the only way out of this dilemma to start a war, while it can still be won?

David Cruz sure hopes not. He’s an East American corporal, posted to the moon as part of a growing but still secret military commitment. [The military is committed to protecting the government's share of the vast natural resources on the moon. Specifically, rocks.] He goes where his country tells him to go, [but he wasn't supposed to take it literally when his sergeant told him to go to the moon.] but is less than eager to have his first combat experience involve dying on a far-off rock, defending corrupt allies in a war that means nothing to him. [When it's so much easier to stay on Earth and do the same thing.] And with everyone back home pretending the coming war isn’t happening at all, David just hopes he will still be able to respect himself when it’s over.

For Juliet Engel, the problems of the coming war are even more basic. Her ex-fiancé Nathaniel has joined the army, and one by one her neighbors all follow suit. This leaves her alone on her farm in a slowly decaying dome, forced to deal with shrinking harvests [One way to deal with shrinking harvests: put your farm outdoors, so the crops can get rain and sunlight. Just a suggestion.] and rapacious war profiteers, and to discover--the hard way--whether she will starve, go mad, or survive.

The Shattered Dome is a completed 85,000-word science fiction novel which tells the history of the Great Lunar War through the eyes of its participants. We meet eight principal diarists, across a spectrum of Lunar and Terran society, whose lives cross in unexpected ways, and whose personal stories become threads in the fabric of the larger tragedy. Using these diaries and other primary-source documents, such as letters, memoirs, court transcripts, newspaper stories, headlines, songs, screeds, [Congratulations! It took almost four months, but someone finally said the secret word. Screeds. Now I have to come up with a new one.] and poems, [You forgot rock operas and obituaries.] the novel creates a society on the verge of tearing itself apart. [These screeds etc. sound like the kind of stuff you'd need if the war were long over. Up until now it felt like you were telling the story as it happened.] It’s a society where the destruction of a dome—leading to the certain asphyxiation of an entire city—can go from being an unthinkable crime to representing the necessary price of peace.

I’ve enclosed the first ten pages for your perusal, [Amazing. This time it took only nine seconds for someone to say the secret word.] and a return envelope for your reply. Thank you very much for your consideration.

Sincerely,


Revised Version

Dear Agent Orange:

The Royal Republic of the Southern Moon faces a crisis. Some of the provinces are nearing revolt, anarchists are destroying crops, and the Northern Federation has begun to grow more powerful and unstable. Is the only way out of this dilemma to start a war, while it still can be won?

David Cruz sure hopes not. He’s an East American corporal, posted to the moon as part of a growing but secret military commitment. He's less than eager for his first combat experience to involve dying on a far-off rock, defending corrupt allies in a war that means nothing to him.

For Juliet Engel, the problems of the coming war are even more basic. Alone on her farm in a slowly decaying dome, she must deal with shrinking harvests and rapacious war profiteers, and discover--the hard way--whether she will starve, go mad, or survive.

The Shattered Dome is a completed 85,000-word science fiction novel which tells the history of the Great Lunar War through eight of its participants. Using diaries and other primary-source documents, such as letters, memoirs, and newspaper stories, the novel depicts a society on the verge of tearing itself apart. It’s a society where the destruction of a dome—leading to the certain asphyxiation of an entire city—can be an unthinkable crime . . . or the price of peace.

I’ve enclosed the first ten pages for your perusal, and a return envelope for your reply. Thank you very much for your consideration.

Sincerely,


Notes

It takes a lot of people and a lot of weapons to have a war. And it takes a lot of air and water to support a lot of people. Presumably you've covered these obvious objections to a Lunar War.

I'm tempted to suggest that if we actually somehow set up domed cities on the moon, it's unlikely they would go to war with each other, especially as they would have to stay in their domes to breathe, but mankind being one of the stupider species in the galaxy, I wouldn't put it past them.

It might be good if the characters you choose to mention (David and Juliet) are two whose lives cross in an unexpected way. If these two never meet, maybe you should choose two who do, giving the impression that there's unity to the book, that it's not eight independent stories. If the lives of David and Juliet cross, can that be worked in? Maybe it's not necessary, but it might be worth looking at.

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

I would send this one back with the recommendation to either make the science and plot fit the moon better, or change the venue to someplace with an atmosphere!

The basic elements sound good, but juxtaposed with the moon - bang the gong, you're done.

Anonymous said...

Love GTP #1. It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "crack pilot."

Anonymous said...

"Kumquat" makes a great secret word. But don't tell anyone.

Anonymous said...

- I hate having more than one first person character.
- I hate casts of thousands (or in this case, 8 primary characters).
- I hate stories told as "diaries and other primary-source documents, such as letters, memoirs, and newspaper stories" to any large extent.

And I especially hate it when all these things are crammed into 85,000 words.

Guess I won't request the partial. ;-)

[Sorry author -- like they say, you can't please them all.]

HawkOwl said...

I couldn't stand to read past the second paragraph of the query. If I had, I'm thinking I'd agree with Anonymous 19:56. However, Fake Plot #1 dovetails nicely with the "city of sin" idea from Face Lift 155. Now if I can work in the shagged-up Chinese clown gods in fuck-me shoes and the avocado sewer of death, I might get through NaNoWriMo yet.

Author, good luck with your project.

pacatrue said...

Well, I am someone who doesn't mind the idea of war and political intrigue and all that stuff on the moon - science be damned. We humans love war and we'd figure out a way to make it happen no matter what. So I like the idea very much.

I do however worry as well about letters and memoirs and stories and newspaper clippings. It can work. The great War of the Newts comes to mind. But it's a hard sell.

Good luck.

Dave said...

My only comment would be that the eight stories should tie together by more than just the war on the moon.

writtenwyrdd said...

I would recommend that if you are bothered by science fiction presented via journals, etc. that you read Heinlein's Podkayne of Mars. (And the science is well done.)

I have to agree with EE about the war on the moon concept having problems. But that doesn't mean the story wouldn't work if I read it. I just wouldn't be interested based on how it is presented.

I am an avid sf/f reader and detest obviously flawed science. Just my bias.

HawkOwl said...

They could have the war in tunnels. Presumably there's a lot of tunneling already from all the moon-rock quarrying - now let's do some sapping and some explosions. Ta-da! War on the moon!

six characters in search said...

Hey, thanks everyone.

I'm kind of surprised that people wouldn't assume that I'd done my homework. You don't think that I've made entire editing passes at this thing for the sole purpose of catching any cases where I've forgotten I'm in a world with no atmosphere (and 1/6 earth's gravity, and month-long days, and no tectonism and therefore no mountains, and widely varying surface temperatures, and so on and so on)? Well, I have. But it seemed to me like the query letter was the wrong place to talk about all that. Because if I talk about stuff along the lines of how the Agricultural Revolution, in the first and early second century after settlement, made the moon self-sufficient in food and water, or how the weapons that rely on combustion-type reactions are hooked to the soldiers' oxygen tanks, so you can't use those weapons if you're on a longer mission, all of a sudden I don't have space for the plot! Am I wrong about this? Serious question: don't acquisition people in SF assume at the query stage that the technical details like this are taken care of, and focus on whether the concept and the writing are any good?

In any case, it's clear that I need to rethink the query letter, since it seems to be drawing such a negative reaction.

Oh, and the eight people do tie together, and in some fairly surprising ways in some cases, though I've been very careful to avoid the Stunning Coincidence, which I loathe.

As for moving it to someplace other than the moon: that would never work. Why? Well, for one thing, the lack of an atmosphere is kind of a plot point, as I'd hoped the query had made clear. For another, the whole point to the thing, when I started back in 2003, was to write a book about people dying on a godforsaken far-off place for dubious reasons, while people back home pretend it isn't happening. (Sound familiar? No, the book is not itself a screed--the plot sort of took over.) But the metaphor breaks if you make the war happen anyplace more pleasant than the moon.

Thanks again, everyone. Keep commenting if you have something to say.

Anonymous said...

I would send this back with a "not right for me" because I have several problems with your query:

Royal Republic of the Southern Moon
How do you have a Royal Republic since one of the key characteristics of a republic is that it doesn't have a monarchy?

and the Northern Federation has begun to grow more powerful and unstable.
How does that work, exactly? Unstable nations don't tend to be powerful and powerful nations aren't unstable.

He’s an East American corporal, posted to the moon as part of a growing but still secret military commitment.
Who is committed to who? I assume East America and Royal Republic have some kind of secret deal going on. But you mention three countries and never explicitly state which ones have the deal. And I want to know what is East America? Was there a civil war? Did somebody secede? I'm irritated that that wasn't mentioned, but that's probably because I'm American.

Her ex-fiancé Nathaniel has joined the army, and one by one her neighbors all follow suit.
I find it hard to believe that farmers would abandon their farms to join a bogus war. I find it harder to believe that the govt. wouldn't discourage farmers from abandoning their farmers since soliders need food.

dying on a far-off rock
This annoyed me because the moon is the closest rock to Earth. Pluto is a far off rock.

and to discover--the hard way--whether she will starve, go mad, or survive.
Go mad? Why would Juliet go mad? Millions of civilians survive living in war zones without going mad. Why is Juliet so mentally fragile? Also, if two of your three options are starve or go mad, I don't think there is an easy way.

Most of this is personal reaction but since I found the query mildly vexing I wouldn't chance the book.

BuffySquirrel said...

I don't so much have a problem with war on the moon as with farming on the moon. It's a bit like going to Antarctica and trying to grow rice. There's nothing on the moon, it strikes me, that's conducive to farming. You'd be better off doing almost anything else. Maybe try to find a more plausible industry? For example, something that's too unsafe to be carried out on Earth, or something that benefits from the low gravity (eg building spacecraft, which are tiresome to get out of Earth's gravity well).

Anonymous said...

I am just a reader but I think I would like this book. I am buying the author's explanations of the science behind his plot, and even if there are holes in it, it requires only the same suspension of disbelief as a boy wizard or a hobbit in a hole in the ground.

Evil Editor said...

I'm kind of surprised that people wouldn't assume that I'd done my homework.

Actually, I assumed you had, as stated in my first note. However, it wouldn't be difficult, given that many aren't convinced, to change the first paragraph to something like:

The year is 2121. Terraforming has rendered Earth's moon livable, but instability in the northern provinces and anarchy in the south are leading to crisis, possibly even war.

Reality Check said...

Author--if you think editors will "assume" you've done your homework, then you've never read a slush pile. You have no idea how dreadful most of the manuscripts in that pile are. You have no idea how much bad/nonexistent research is in there. After reading slush for a while, you begin to assume that everything is crap. That's one of the reasons it's so hard to get out of the slush--you don't get any benefit of the doubt. I know many slush readers start out feeling really hopeful, determined to find that hidden gem, but it doesn't take long for the grind to wear you down. (Yes, I've read slush myself. I know what I'm talking about.)

You don't have to do pages of exposition to explain your premise, but it would help your case a lot if you demonstrated in your query that you've done research and that your premise is plausible. Otherwise, your target audience (agents and editors) will probably assume you haven't.

HawkOwl said...

Maybe you can redo the homework assignment about the mountains, then. The moon does have mountains. Just because it has no tectonic activity right this moment, doesn't mean it never did.

I think no one will assume your book holds water scientifically, because most don't. And if you're gonna throw anything like "terraforming" or sustainable agriculture or much less sustainable economy on the moon, you can't expect anybody to think your science is gonna be plausible.

Why can't we suspend disbelief like this is a hobbit? Because it's not a hobbit. Tolkien, and the better variety of science fiction writers, tell us "let's just say that this exists - now what would happen?" People like KSR go "I'm gonna prove to you that the world is as it isn't, and then if there is time, we'll see what happens." We're being force-fed bad science and, generally, bad plotting. We don't suspend disbelief because a) they're selling it too hard and b) they're self-satisfied about it. You sound like you're gonna be the KSR type.

Fortunately for you, there are people who buy that stuff.

Christine said...

Why would anarchists destroy crops? Isn't that usually a job for the millitary?

Anonymous said...

This sounds like a "dove" attempting to write a novel centered around a war (a la "Pearl Harbor" -gag). Please, leave the war stories to the "hawks".

It sounds like you would like to write an epic love story more like "Gone With the Wind". In that case I say go for it, but make sure you understand the focus of your own story. -JTC

Bernita said...

"Scorched earth" policies may be implemented by any group, regular or irregular.

MaryKaye said...

Don't forget that if something in a query draws too many demands for explanation, you have two choices; you can say more about it, or you can say less, hopefully avoiding raising those questions in the first place.

I can't say which is the better strategy here, but do consider them both. You could pitch it as a character-centered story and mention the setting only briefly.

Anonymous said...

Gee, Hawkowl, thanks for explaining the paradigm for when someone can suspend belief and when someone cannot.

Who knew?

writtenwyrdd said...

Author, I'd have to say that the point isn't that you did or didn't do your research; it's that if your query letter makes it sound like you didn't, the agent or editor will assume you did not.

I would have to see the actual piece to say you didn't know your head from a, well, you know what I mean. :)

BuffySquirrel said...

I have no idea what acquisitions editors assume, but I know that reading slush (and stories posted in online workshops) provides ample evidence that assuming the writer knows what they're writing about is an error greater even than the ones they frequently make.

"Europa, the largest moon of Jupiter...", for example.

HawkOwl said...

Anonymous 1:19 - Would you like me to explain the difference between those can read and those who can't, too? You're the latter. The author asked "why aren't you people suspending disbelief" and I answered him. You don't like how this translated once misread by you, eh, that's your problem.