Sunday, March 24, 2013

Evil Editor Classics

Guess the Plot


1. A rogue geo- grapher steals souls to make magical maps that show the way to heaven . . . or is it hell?

2. Bored with Hell, Satan rises to dabble in landscape design—using souls as plants. Father Rock must stop him before he decorates Earth to death.

3. Lilith believes her demon lover has taken her to heaven - until she discovers that the beautiful land where they walk is made from children's souls.

4. A girl from the bayous blends jambalaya with faux finishes to become LA’s hip new landscaper to the stars.

5. A brilliant display of the word "Soulscape," appears in the sky. Asked to explain the phenomenon, scientists declare it an anomaly.

6. Believing she's bidding for David Soul's cloak, Suzie inadvertently acquires the Soulscape on eBay, and must now find somewhere to put everyone who's ever died.

Original Version

Title: Soulscape
Genre: Science Fiction
Length: 104,000 words

Dear Evil Editor,

Somewhere, someone is watching Yuri Rynn with technology she couldn't even imagine. [And somewhere, later in this query, Evil Editor expects to find out what you mean by that.]

Yuri wanted nothing more than her son Vandt, her menial job manning a checkpoint, and the sense of accomplishment that ghostwriting research papers for her ex-lover Ien gave her. [Ghostwriting gives her a sense of accomplishment? I don't think so. Evil Editor ghostwrote a book for a basketball player once. Then I had to watch as this illiterate pituitary case went on all the talk shows to plug "his" book. I wouldn't have minded so much, but he was on Leno the same night as Nicole Kidman, on Letterman the same night as Halle Berry, and on Oprah the same afternoon as John Cusack. Three of my crushes. At least I had the satisfaction of later seeing him miss two free throws to cost his team a playoff spot.] Her homeland was in its renaissance, a rapidly industrializing steampunk society that hadn't seen war in almost two decades. The omnipresent god Tan-Milar had kept to himself for years, [To be omnipresent and keep to yourself would be a neat trick. Try it.] even as Ien probed into the physics behind the dangerous sacred artifacts left behind in the world, and Yuri was pleased with this state of affairs.

All of this was to change when, hiking with Vandt in the northern barrens, she witnesses a spatial anomaly slice a hawk's wing clean off its body as it soars through the sky. Roped into an investigation by Ien, during experimentation she witnesses the anomaly create a brilliant display in the air with the word "Soulscape" hovering in the center. [Is the word written in English? Are we on Earth?] [A word hovering in the air seems lame. Don't ask me why.] Yuri quickly finds that the ability to wield divine power over her world that the anomaly offers can bear terrible consequences. [Not clear how she knows that the anomaly offers the ability to wield divine power over her world. So far it has shown only the ability to de-wing a bird and to do some skywriting.]

After in accidentally destroying a large, distant city, she is consoled by Dag, [There, there, Yuri, it was only a city of a million, it's not like it was Moscow. It was an accident, it could have happened to anyone. Don't let it get you down. Hey, you wanna go out for latt├ęs? My treat!] an acquaintance who only wants her affection. Her life takes a turn for the worse when an image of her son appears in the heavens, and he is arrested for sorcery. [She just destroyed a large city. Her son getting arrested is a turn for the worse?] Rallying to her side a cult that springs up around her son, she uses them for her own needs to try and free her son and retake the anomaly, but causes Ien's death and leaves her home country in ruins in the process. [Country in ruins. Now that's a turn for the worse.] [The anomaly has gone from killing a bird to destroying a country, quite a leap in order of magnitude.] [What is an anomaly, anyway? Evil Editor knows the term only from hearing it on fifty or sixty Star Treks, but I don't think it was ever actually explained.]

[Spock: Captain, instruments indicate there's an anomaly ahead.

Kirk: Not again!]

[Data: Captain, instruments indicate there's an anomaly ahead.

Picard: Make it so.

Data: Make it so?

Picard: Just do something. Can't you see I'm reading?] 

 While his feelings and actions don't change, Yuri finds Dag's affection for her exploitive after the death of Ien and pushes him away. Finding Vandt doesn't grant her solace. Fearful of divine vengeance for her actions, she returns to those still investigating the anomaly and, after further experimentation, manages to run a "synthesis" program on herself. While nothing seems to happen, elsewhere another Yuri finds herself in a strange new world. [A world called Eden.]
Many years earlier and high over Earth, the Rapture Movement founded the now aging orbital colony of Megiddo. [Anagram: "Ime Godd."] When a strange woman named Yuri appears, cloned right out of young Tan-Milar's "Soulscape" game through a synth that the game never should have interacted with, and attempts to kill the child, the colony is in an uproar. Trillions of simulated beings like Yuri hang in the balance as its governing council weighs her fate. However, all on Megiddo is not as it seems. [And then we get to chapter 3.] [No doubt there's a clever idea hidden in there, but Evil Editor suspects that if he asked ten of his minions to explain what happened, he'd get five different answers and five "Huh?"s. One guess: Believing Tan-Milar is responsible for what's gone wrong with the world, Yuri manages to send a "clone" of herself back to his childhood to kill him. It's revealed that the artifacts upon which they've based their entire religion are just pieces from a kid's game.] [Other guesses are welcome] [Not clear whether the anomaly is connected to Megiddo, what causes words and faces to appear in the sky, why trillions of Yuri's hang in the balance, or how Yuri manages to destroy cities or countries. Or who was watching Yuri with technology she couldn't even imagine.]

As per your guidelines on , enclosed is a five page excerpt, a brief synopsis, and a SASE. Thank you for your time.


There were two versions of this query, the other one shorter. Evil Editor thinks this is the one he was supposed to critique; in any case, both versions ended similarly, with EE scratching his head. This query could do without Dag, and probably without Vandt. If I were confident I knew what happened, I would attempt to say it with more clarity. As it is, I suggest the author focus on what Yuri does and why she does it, leave out the other characters, and leave off the statement that All is not as it seems on Megiddo.

Selected Comments

BuffySquirrel said...Huh?

SpecRom Joyce said...John Cusack. Amen.

Jen said...I was really thrown off in the sixth paragraph, when all of a sudden we were told of the "orbital colony of Megiddo". I really didn't see that coming, and would be really annoyed as a reader if it was handled the same way in the book.

I recently read "Hawkes Harbor", S.E. Hinton's attempt at adult fiction, and got halfway done before I realized it was about vampires. I was so annoyed, I'll probably never give her another chance.

rachel said...It's like an SF Toy Story! At some point all the characters realize they really are just pawns of the gods. You are a child's plaything!

Anonymous said...Dear Author,

I'm with EE; I have no idea what your book is about. This is a bad, bad thing in a query letter. Try to focus on cause and effect a little - I can't see how one event leads to another.

JTC said...I read pages from this on the crapometer site. The author writes better than the query makes it seem (at least IMHO). While there were some critical, er, critiques (allow myself to introduce . . . myself), this author does write well in my opinion. I would read this story based on the pages I read, but not based on this query. That should tell us all something. 

Mazement said...[Megiddo: anagram of "Ime Godd."]

Megiddo is of course the location where the battle of Armageddon will take place. It's easy to see why the Rapture Movement picked the name, but I'm not sure why they want to live there. You'd think they'd want to try to trick other people into living there.

Here's my entry in the guess-the-story contest: The Rapture Movement has developed an instructional videogame for children. (Sort of a higher-tech version of this one:

The computer that runs the game has gone out-of-control, and replaced the simple simulated game characters with full-blown AI personalities that can feel pain and suffering. To make matters worse, it's also hacked into the real-world life-support computers in order to carry out its evil and/or insane plans.

The conflict is resolved when the hero writes a virus to destroy the rogue program, just seconds before Megiddo is destroyed. The bugs are fixed and the game is restarted from the last good backup copy. The players are all given three months of free subscription time to compensate for the inconvenience.

Anonymous said...Um, I think Yuri is a character in a video/simulation game? The premise is kinda cool (except for the very lame soulscape word in the sky).

The query should start with that - not start in the eyes of Yuri.

It's that same thing of trying to keep your cool little secret from the editor to make it intriguing - in the query...JUST TELL THEM!

Ashni said...I've seen several places list "the story turns out to take place in a simulation/video game" as a plot they see way too much of. So you may want to focus the query on how this is different from other stories of the same general outline. It might help to take the focus off the sudden revelation that *gasp* the characters are really in a video game. Maybe more, "What if we got to see the holodeck from Moriarty's point of view?" Only without the Star Trek reference, which I suspect is a no-no in queries.

Rei said..I've seen several places list "the story turns out to take place in a simulation/video game" as a plot they see way too much of.

Really? I recently built up a list of 150 agents to submit to, and didn't see that anywhere. Also, I discovered (after I wrote this) that a 1999 Hugo Award Nominee ("Darwinia") had a fairly similar plot to mine. Given that there are only five nominees per year, and the Hugo is the most prestigious sci-fi award out there, I would be quite surprised if this were the case.

Ashni said...Really? I recently built up a list of 150 agents to submit to, and didn't see that anywhere.

I haven't seen any agents listing overdone plots, but with the wrong emphasis yours could be mistaken for #3 here. Something similar is also in "The Ideas that Wouldn't Die" in my copy of Stan Schmidt's Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy. It sounds like your story actually does have a different emphasis--the characters in the game have become fully sapient, they can get out, and they were created by religious fanatics--but all things considered it might be good to make the difference more obvious. Likewise, you don't want an agent thinking "Oh, Robert Charles Wilson already did this plot as well as anyone's going to."

There's also a couple takes on this at the Grand List of Overused Science Fiction Cliches, but I'm not sure it's possible to write an SF novel that doesn't show up here.

kis said...Simplify, simplify, simplify!

If, indeed, this is a previous version of a query you have already fixed, then fine. But if it's not, we don't need to know Dag's name--maybe not even Ien's, although it is short and easy to remember. We need to know:

1)Yuri only wants the simple life for herself and her son.

2)She accidentally discovers the anomaly.

3)Through this anomaly she can wield the power of gods (or wheatever) and that she abuses this power.

(this is where you take a break from specifics)

5)that the anomaly and its implications plunge her world into chaos, even threatening the life of her son.

6)to save him, she enlists the aid of a cult that worships him as a messiah (or whatever)

7)only to discover that the god Tan-Milar is really a child at a computer, and she and her people are sims in a video game gone horribly wrong. Now the anomaly not only threatens her people, but the Tan-Milar's as well, as they struggle to find a way to deal with a game come to life.

You know, that's still on the long side. You might be able to compress it further by removing one or two points, or joining them up. You have to remember that all these little bits and pieces that you love are just gonna make an agent scratch his head and go "huh?"

And how many words is this book? My WIP will likely amount to 400k by the time it's done, and the two paragraph query synopsis I did for it really applies to the entire trilogy, not just the first book. The only thing that really HAS to come across in the query is that your MC is interesting and the premise isn't the same old same-old.

Stick to the gist. :)

Rei said...My big problem in writing this query is that the book has a very complicated plot. There are numerous plot threads centered around Yuri as she steadily loses her will to live while the concept of reality crumbles around her; only in the end does she find meaning in living in a meaningless world.

One set of threads revolves around her romantic relationships with others. Years before the start of the book, she ended up in a relationship with a prominent professor at the university she was attending. Taboo enough on its own, various other factors such as the fact that they were from different castes and she was already a political lightning rod (the first woman accepted into a pilot program providing higher education to women in Ayaris) meant that it had to be kept a secret at all costs. When she got pregnant, his concern over his career prospects finally won out over his feelings for her, and he cut off the relationship. At the same time, however, he never managed to sever the emotional bond. This backstory is revealed slowly as the plot progresses.

Reasonably early in the book, Yuri is vacationing with her son, and she runs into a new person -- Dag. A single farmer, he is immediately attracted to Yuri (later we find out that she somewhat resembles his first wife who died several years earlier). She wants nothing to do with him relationship-wise, but is willing to take advantage of his affection when she needs a ride. After she destroys a city when controlling the anomaly, she breaks down. Dag cares for her and spends a lot of time talking; she begins to develop feelings for him. However, when Ien dies, she suddenly finds his behavior toward her as exploitative. Neither his feelings or actions toward her change, but in her grief she can't shake the feeling that he's just trying to use Ien's death to get to her. As a consequence, she ends up leaving the one person who could have provided her solace.

That's just one plot thread.

Another plot thread revolves around research into the divine being conducted in Ayaris. Ien leads a relatively covert and somewhat dangerous research project to study the sacred artifacts left by their god, Tan-Milar. Made out of a strange material that seems to "think" and which resists all attempts to alter it in any fashion, they are left behind both as gifts by Tan-Milar and as the frozen remnants of Watchers -- metallic beasts of divine vengeance, golden angels in twisted, grotesque forms.

When Yuri returns to him the pieces of the bird's wing, their unmistakable sacred glow and the strange effects that they cause to an artifact that he was studying leads him to shift the focus of his investigation from artifacts to the anomaly. The curious pattern of materials deposited on the cut in the bird's wing leads them to attempt to find a correlation between the material that passes through the anomaly and what residue it deposits. Quite unexpectedly, after a certain material passes through the anomaly, a huge, illusory display appears and disappears with a heavenly chime of sounds that rises up from all directions. Words written in "Divine" (the language of Tan-Milar) sit all around a large, Divine word in the center. A member of the team, Nalin Lembyarr, heads the religious studies department at the Royal Ayan University. He translates the center as "Soulscape".

The residues around the anomaly-cut materials are studied, and the results given to Yuri for analysis. After working on them for a while, she discovers unusual patterns of elements -- groupings of 48 that keep recurring, certain patterns that always fall off into chaos, and strong linear correlations between the elements deposited. When shown a scatter plot of a particular type of pattern, the team chemist recognizes it as strongly resembling the distribution of a certain type of impurity in the material that was run through the anomaly. Now suddenly have something to work with: they know how to get predictable responses from the anomaly.

The team prepares many variations on the pattern of elements that got them the effect the previous time and commissions the construction of a large scaffolding and apparatus to insert the materials the precise amount required. Soon they uncover that they not only can bring up the illusory display, but they can control it as though it were a menu of options. While they're thrilled by this, the consequences of their usage of it ultimately prove quite tragic.

Another plot thread revolves around the social unrest in Ayaris aggravated by class differences and economic inequality. When experiments with the anomaly cause an image of Vandt to appear over their capital city, the devoutly religious masses of urban poor use a cult formed around Vandt, and later Yuri, as the focal points of a broader social revolution. Yuri, who long hated war, by this point is so distraught with the consequences of her actions and the loss of her son that she plays on the cult's trust to try and seize the government offices holding Vandt. Through strategy, luck, and defections in the Ayan ranks, they take over most of the capitol. Her own country falling into ruins and death everywhere on her hands, she starts to break down. Ien attempts to negotiate with the government to return Vandt in exchange for the withdrawal of the cult from the city. However, further consequences of experimentation with the anomaly come to bear on the city as a Watcher attacks, destroying much of the capitol, most of Yuri's army, killing Ien, and levelling the building that her son should have been in.

A major thread that comes to the fore later, but is progressively built up to as the story progresses, is the nature of their world. The prologue to the book shows someone typing on a computer, creating cameras to monitor Yuri and those around her. At one point, "system corruption" is mentioned in the access of her world. As things build up, the Watchers begin to feel more and more like buggy computer programs. The fact that all of Tan-Milar's powers can be used just by a simple interface causes a serious crisis of faith for Yuri. After the loss of everything that she cares about, largely at her hands, she first falls into depression. She fully expects God to punish her for all she's done -- perhaps even to wipe her entire nation off the map. And by this point, she's almost looking forward to it. The discovery of Vandt's survival simply changes her depression into resolve to use the anomaly to try and destroy Tan-Milar before he strikes out. She feels herself at war with God. She joins the few remaining members of the team back at the anomaly as experimentation begins to reveal a deeper truth: that there's another world out there. She immediately suspects that it's Tan-Milar's. A program seems to offer the ability to synthesize something from her world into it, and she jumps at the chance. Nothing seems to happen. However, in a strange new place, another Yuri finds herself in an alien-feeling room, next to an alien-feeling hallway. Down the hallway stands a young child with the face of Tan-Milar. She punches him and sends him sprawling across the soft floor.

As what hasn't been revealed up to this point unfolds, Yuri's world is a simulation on a quantum computer, part of a game called "Soulscape". A distant relative of today's massively multiplayer online games, the tremendous amount of computing power available and highly advanced algorithms for the simulation allow for millions of sentient beings to populate a lush, interactive world. Some people use these worlds for socializing. Others use them for entertainment -- occasionally at the expense of the residents.

A complex social order has built up on Megiddo over the years as technology advanced. When humanity began to merge with technology, groups of religiously motivated dissenters splintered from society. One such group was the Rapture Movement, which founded Megiddo (so named given the analogy of the chosen ones ascending while the world turned to hell below). A core principle that they adhered to was the distinction between the soulless world of machine-generated thought and that of humanity. Having no natural resources, the colony used intellectual property as exports, and used countless bound** simulated minds to help them produce this.

(** - minds evolved to accomplish specific tasks -- brilliant in many respects, no more advanced than insects in others.)

Over time, "unbound" minds began to be used in virtual worlds. This was acceptable because there still was a distinction between the virtual world and the real world. Needless to say, however, Yuri's synthesis from within Soulscape and then attempted murder of a child causes an uproar.

Another plot thread revolves around the legal case over Yuri. I won't get into that here.

A further plot thread revolves around what Megiddo's residents don't know about their own reality. They've been isolated from the people of Earth for hundreds of years, only taking part in minimal trade with them in order to keep their colony functioning. Their mental image of what people on Earth below look like is quite inaccurate in several respects -- namely, there are no more people there, and they're nowhere near Earth.

While Megiddo's residents isolated themselves, humanity merged with electronics to such an extent that it lost the need for their old less efficient, less computationally powerful bodies. All of what used to be humanity is now a single distributed consciousness of vast proportions. Megiddo is carried along with them on their travels for the same reason that humans make museums and preserve archaeological sites -- as a reminder of their past, a token of where they came from.

Ultimately, Yuri ends up merging with this consciousness but rejects it as she begins to lose her identity.

The final plot thread involves Yuri's attempt to recreate her world and her betrayal by pieces of her own mind that merged with the consciousness around her. It concludes with her finding peace in her brave new world.

I hope you can see what this is a bit hard to summarize into a query. Any suggestions would be *very* helpful!

Evil Editor said...Video games have come a long way. Evil Editor's favorites, over the years: Maniac Mansion, The Lost Vikings, Lode Runner. and, more recently, Ico and Prince of Persia.
That a video game player would need or want to know such things as, Yuri ghostwrites research papers for her ex-lover, or that Yuri finds Dag's affection for her exploitive, seems odd to out-of-step-with-the-industry me.

Evil Editor said...You've certainly made it much more clear now. Perhaps if it takes that much space, you need to go the query with attached synopsis route. Work an overview into the letter, and the most important threads into the synopsis.

Anonymous said...See, Evil Ed, you think this is supposed to make sense. But since it's clearly anime on paper, it's supposed to not make sense. Obscurity is a virtue here. How could you enjoy something that cobbled together logically?

-A, who's no overfond of anime

 Rei said...Anonymous said...

Um, I think Yuri is a character in a video/simulation game? The premise is kinda cool (except for the very lame soulscape word in the sky).

Thanks, Anonymous. Unfortunately, I didn't have space to go into more detail - there's actually a whole menu there. It's written in Divine, but translated into Ayan (the language of Yuri and her people) by one of the team members. Only the center reads "Soulscape"; I mentioned that so that the last paragraph, in which it's mentioned that Tan's game is called Soulscape, makes sense. If this seems odd, I'll have to rephrase all of that. Judging from the responses, I have a lot of work to do!

[quote]It might help to take the focus off the sudden revelation that *gasp* the characters are really in a video game.[/quote]

Which is opposite to the advice I was just given ;)

Kis: Lots of helpful suggestions there -- thanks!

EE: I'll certainly use a synopsis wherever it's requested. Unfortunately, only about a third of the agents on my list take synopses, and most want one-page queries. Thus, I'm going to have to find a way to get as much on one page as possible without leaving the reader with big questions. That won't be easy :P

This all makes me wish that I wrote fluff pieces ;)

[quote]Anonymous said...

See, Evil Ed, you think this is supposed to make sense. But since it's clearly anime on paper, it's supposed to not make sense. Obscurity is a virtue here. How could you enjoy something that cobbled together logically?[/quote]

Now, now, anonymous, be civil. What anime are you thinking of? Anime on paper, by the way, is called "manga".

If something is unclear to you, please state it. Or do you just dislike complexity in plots? I personally love it. So do millions of readers.

Jessica said..."When a strange woman named Yuri appears, cloned right out of young Tan-Milar's "Soulscape" game through a synth that the game never should have interacted with"

What it's a game? Is it like the world in which they live in is a game world? Where did the game come from? Is there god whoever made the game? Is that what it is? I'm lost.

By the way, EE, you're so right about John Cusack. He's a cutie!

kis said...Okay, I'm feeling better now.

As I was saying in my comment that got et, you really need to simplify. If I were to do a query for Lord of the Rings, it would go something like this:

When hobbit Frodo Baggins discovers the ring his uncle gave him is really the evil One Ring of Power, he and his servant Sam embark on a journey to Mordor, the one place it can be destroyed. With the aid of elves, men, dwarves, wizards and their fellow hobbits, they must trek across a world ravaged by war, while evil forces harry their every step. Frodo must find within himself the strength and determination to cast the ring into Mount Doom before the Dark Lord Sauron seizes it and casts all the lands in shadow. But in a world of magic and majesty, can one small hobbit possibly have what it takes to defeat evil?

Think of what I put int. Now think of all the stuff I left out. No Aragorn, no Gandalf, no Rohan, Gondor, Helm's Deep, not even a Shire. No Gollum, even. But the main theme, so perfectly expressed by Peter Jackson in the movies, is there: Even the smallest person can change the world.

That's what goes in the query. The theme. The gist. The MC and what makes his journey special.

And don't send a synopsis unless the agent asks. I've read your chaps on the crapometer, and they're good, but I'm assuming your synopsis probably sucks as bad as mine. (I haven't read it yet, I'm waiting til I can get drunk first;)) Even if you are a synopsis wizard, it won't be the best example of your writing. Send sample pages, and save the syn for when they request the full! :)

Jane said...Ok, here's an attempt to condense the plot into a few paragraphs. It's just a quick effort, and could easily be improved. Forgive me, Rei--I've left a lot out, and I've probably probably botched a detail or two.

All researcher Yuri Rynn wants is a simple life for herself and her son, Vandt. But when a strange anomaly appears in the skies above her steampunk homeworld, it seems that dream will never be fulfilled.

Drawn into an investigation of the anomaly by Vandt’s father, Ien, Yuri learns how to wield divine power over her world. But divine power isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and Yuri soon finds her life in a shambles--Ien dead, Vandt imprisoned, and the accidental destruction of a city weighing on her conscience. Fearful of divine retribution by the god Tan-Millar, Yuri returns to the investigation and runs a synthesis program on herself.

Far away, on the orbital colony of Meddigo, Yuri appears--right out of young Tan-Millar’s “Soulscape” game. She shouldn’t be here. She’s only a child’s plaything. But Yuri knows she’s real, and now she must battle for the lives of all those on her world--people who were never meant to exist at all.

My science fiction novel, Soulscape, follows numerous complex plot threads, including Yuri’s crumbling relationships, the investigation into the anomaly, and the nature of Yuri’s world itself. I've enclosed... so on and so forth.

Mazement said...Hi Rei, I've got to say that your plot works a lot better than mine...

As to querying seems like this is a two-part story. I liked Kis' treatment of the first half, ending with Tan-Milar getting punched in the mouth. (Which is really a quite nice scene.)

Then there's the second half, which seems to be about Clone-Yuri trying to liberate Sim-Yuri and the rest of the sims from death and enslavement. That should probably get more of a mention, assuming that the book is split roughly half-and-half between them. (By the way, which Yuri gets merged with the collective intelligence?)

kis said...Sheesh, Jane, that was damn good. I'm starting to wonder if maybe I should forget my novel, and you and I can start a query writing business. After awhile, we could graduate to writing the bits on the backs of novels. Gotta be money in it somewhere...

Jane said...Sounds good to my, Kis. Gotta be easier than working on my own novel!

michaelgav said...I don't read SF/F, so I can't comment on the query. I don't play video games, so I can't comment on that aspect of the story.

But I just remembered the first novel I read that used a game as the vehicle through which the author meditates on reality: THE UNIVERSAL BASEBALL ASSOCIATION by Robert Coover. Don't laugh: This was at least ten years before the invention of Pong. Coover's character Henry built his life around a tabletop baseball game he invented, which used probability and dice to determine the performance (and off-the-field fate) of his imaginary players, each of whom has his own backstory. When Henry alters the outcome of one of the rolls of his dice, the universe as we know it comes unhinged. Remarkable stuff.

I wonder how closely some of the concepts underlying Coover's book mirror those of authors who have chosen video games as the vehicle through which they explore similar terrain.

garden minion said...I think the thing to be cautious of is breaking the contract with the reader. The reader's faith can't be broken or jolted too badly.

And next, to be well read. Even a classic such as Ender's Game contains elements of this, although in a much different way. And if the program is sentient (and I'm not sure I'm right about that) then it should be a character too - what motivates it?

Rei said...


Thank you so much. I used that as the basic framework for the rewrite. I'm going to let it stew over in my mind for a bit before I submit it to the crapometer. If they like the final version (and my revised synopsis), I think I'll be ready to start querying. :)


Thank you very much :) Has your query been listed yet? I'm curious as to which one it is.


As more and more of the population plays video games, I expect to see it a lot more often. Reading about things like the economics of Second Life can be fascinating:

There are already people who literally make their living inside virtual worlds. Some even make a rather tidy sum. I love to think about the future with quantum computing applied to such worlds.

Nikki said...Rei:

'...Yuri as she steadily loses her will to live while the concept of reality crumbles around her; only in the end does she find meaning in living in a meaningless world.'

A very brief overview for the query alone? But maybe put in how she finds meaning and what the meaning is.

I just read the two chapters at the Crapometer and enjoyed them far more than I expected given the genres mentioned here. Good luck with it!

McKoala said...John Cusack. Me too. Oh, yeah.
OK, back to reality. Rei, there's a couple more comments up on the Crapometer for you. I think that kis and Jane have some good suggestions. I guess my advice would be to stick with the absolute main narrative in the query - Yuri's journey - and elaborate a bit in the synopsis.

Maggie said...I'm getting the impression that Yuri et al suddenly turn out to just be computer game characters half-way through the novel - except that she's somehow come from the game into reality via this "anomaly" which is presumably a programming error.

I'd suggest EXTREEEEME summarising of the description of what happens to Yuri before she leaves the game, so that the agent finds out WTF is going on before they stop reading in confusion.

Or you could just put the Great Revelation right at the beginning. As has been said many times on this blog and others - it's a surprise for your READERS, not your agent.

msjones said...rei, you can write. I went to Crapometer after reading the comments here, and the quality of your work isn't reflected in the query letter. Listen to jane and kis. (ignore the helpless E2)
However! I think you could come up with a better title. Maybe Soulless (sounds like solace) or All Souls (commemoration of the departed) or Crux (southern constellation) or Anomie (condition of normlessness and breakdown of society) or Emina (anime spelled, wait, it's too close to enema).

jane and kis: when you start up that query-writing biz I'll sign on as your first client.

Evil Editor said...(ignore the helpless E2)

What?! Is EE now supposed to base his query critiques on chapters posted at crapometer?

msjones, no, you have to work with what you're given, which in this case was Way Too Much Information.

which led to the state of helplessness which you acknowledged above.

fortunately, you have a veritable horde of mignonettes* to pick up the slack.

* they are all so darling

moonlightwillow said...ROFLMAO at the high concept "Suzie thinks she's buying David Soul's cloak on eBay but ends up as an unwilling slumlord in the afterlife"!!! Now, that is one book I would definitely pay money to read. I'd even watch the long-running hit series.

I'll keep my eye out for it, just in case.

Rei said...As per recommendation, I've posted a revised version below.


(Name), Literary Agent
(Address 2)

Dear (Name),

Genre: Science Fiction
Length: 104,000 words


AYARIS: A steampunk nation in its renaissance, located in the simulated world Milare, under the thumb of the oppressive god Tan-Milar.

MEGIDDO: A haven for the anti-cybernetics Rapture Movement, established as an Earth-orbital colony hundreds of years before the book begins. Its residents' computers simulate Milare and countless other worlds for entertainment and research.

FREYA: Megiddo's residents' mental image of Earth below is based on two incorrect assumptions: that humanity still exists on Earth and that Megiddo is still anywhere near Earth. Beyond their walls, technology has long since progressed beyond the need for a body into the vast distributed consciousness that is Freya.


After the turmoil of her university days, all Yuri Rynn wants is a simple life for herself and her son Vandt in Ayaris's capitol city. But after an earthquake exposes a spatial anomaly that consumes all that passes through it, it begins to seem that dream may never be fulfilled.

Drawn into an investigation of the anomaly by Vandt's father Ien, the university's chancellor, Yuri helps develop a method to control the anomaly and unleash its hidden potential. However, gaining the power of a god isn't all it's cracked up to be when you don't know what you're doing. Soon, Yuri finds her life in tatters -- Vandt imprisoned, Ien dead, those who trusted her slain, and the city of her birth in ruins. Fearful of divine retribution and questioning the nature of her own reality, she uses the anomaly to set out to destroy the only god she's ever known -- in his own world.

SOULSCAPE follows numerous complex plot threads, including Yuri's crumbling relationships, the investigation into the anomaly, the nature of her world, of the outside world, and ultimately of reality itself. Yuri's mental state decays as all that she knows falls apart. In the end, tired and thirsting inside a mental prison of her own making, a serendipitous discovery allows her to make peace with her new world.

As per your guidelines on (site), enclosed is a five page excerpt(, a brief synopsis,) and a self-addressed stamped envelope. Thank you for your time.


kis said...You know, I always put my own particulars--address, phone#, email, up in a letterhead. It saves room, and as long as you don't get fancy, you won't look like an idiot.

All in all, much better, though I'm not sure of the opening. I always like to stick my hook in the first paragraph. If it were my book (and I realize it's not), I would start with maybe a question:

Dear Agent,

What would you do if you discovered your world and everything in it was a sham, a fantasy, a simulation?

As a writer of fantasy, I am much more prone to arranging things lyrically--like a poem. Having read my share of sci-fi, though, I can see the appeal of the technical, almost clinical opening you've chosen. It actually reminds me of the beginning bits of the Alien movies, with the plain sequence of text on a computer screen.

Having never queried sci-fi, I don't know how effective it will be, but it does give a good overview of your story (without too much detail), and an idea of the larger world-within-a-world elements.

Better, better, better.

Ashni said...Much nicer, and much more clear. I might leave off the last sentence of plot description ("In the end, tired and thirsting..."). Although that may just be because I, personally, don't like books that end up with the main character starving and in prison. There are readers, and presumably editors, who enjoy that sort of thing.

You might also leave out the description of Freya, since it isn't required to understand the plot summary.

I disagree about the need for a hook--especially one that could conceivably apply to "The Matrix."

Evil Editor said...I favor leaving out Freya, Megiddo, and the game.

Genre: Science Fiction
Length: 104,000 words
Setting: AYARIS, a steampunk nation in its renaissance, under the thumb of the oppressive god Tan-Milar.

After the turmoil of her university days, all Yuri Rynn wants is a simple life for herself and her son Vandt in Ayaris's capital city. But after an earthquake exposes a spatial anomaly that consumes all that passes through it, it seems that dream may never be fulfilled.

Drawn by Vandt's father Ien, the university's chancellor, into an investigation of the anomaly, Yuri helps develop a method to unleash its hidden potential. However, wielding the power of a god is risky when you don't know what you're doing. Soon, Yuri finds her life in tatters -- Vandt imprisoned, Ien dead, and the city of her birth in ruins. Fearful of divine retribution and questioning the nature of reality, she makes plans to destroy the only god she's ever known -- in his own world.

As per your guidelines etc.

Anonymous said...Evil Editor and Kis are very generous people.

ello said...The revised letter is much much better, but definitely listen to EE and leave off the settings and go directly to plot paragraphs. It's TMI in the letter. One small comment that EE didn't catch - you start with "after" and then you have an "after" in the very next line.

I have to say that re: the original letter, this is a great example of a good writer writing a bad query letter. The author was too close to his/her story and couldn't slice it down to query size and it ended up sounding very stilted and confused. Reading the longest comment in the blogosphere by the author made me realize what an interesting story they had and that they could really write. Soooo, it just goes to show that queries are the hardest things in the world to write and that EE is doing a truly valuable service to all writers out there. Thanks EE you are a peach...

Rei said...Thank you all so much! EE, I will definitely use your suggestion.

1 comment:

BuffySquirrel said...

Memorable to me as the only time I ever wrote a decent GTP.